Friday, December 10, 2010

A poem by Chris Martin (part II)

Reading Dana’s great piece on
ease. Uneasiness
leading everywhere at once. On labored seas
of greased thought. How the beliefs
slide into caprice. Salt
caught in an unknown wound. Gravel
corroding a once
solid grave. But surely to startle
tune into foot-fault, toe spitting over
the melody’s surface. To suck
dust from a moony footprint or
print money by dusklight.
“Respiration” was always coming
on back then. Visibly shaken. Fuck it.
Roam the Empire State or Roman? Cuss
long. Blast holes in the night. Kiss
the eyes goodbye I’m on the last train.

--from Every Time I Decided Not to Set Myself on Fire

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Paul Thek and the Art of Failure (Notes)

Here are some notes from an essay I started working on today addressing the work of Paul Thek.

Installation art, before it was absorbed by the practices of artists and curators who could perceive its salability and various ways to preserve its memory, was a medium of failure. And this is perhaps why Thek invented it (however inadvertently): because he is an artist of failure, sublime failure. Why does Thek fail? What is the failure which he embodies, expresses through his body of work but through the installation works especially?

The installation works succeed precisely where they deliberately fail to produce a reproducible or representative object. This fact has been cited time and time again. That through the installation format Thek’s work not only lost in market value (at a time when the market wasn’t nearly as hyped as the one of today); but more so, the possibility of its being cared for by museums, galleries, and other institutions of art's valuation (despite the fact that Thek showed in some of the venues now considered the most significant for visual art in Europe in the 60s and 70s). This desire for the work to be unrepresentable, for it to remain live and to only produce ephemera—relics which may or may not be cared for—is part of Thek’s intention which I particularly respond to. And we can trace this intention through a number of different elements in Thek’s work. Namely, his use of ephemeral materials such as newspaper (for nearly all of his “paintings”), chalk, and even sand (for a sandcastle reproducing Bruegel the Elder’s “Tower of Babel”). If the Technological Reliquaries may be said to take Conceptual and Minimal art ‘down’ from a Neo-Platonic realm of ideational givens to the suffering of a soma, then all of the work relates a form of suffering through the effects of time, history, and labor—the approximation of a lived duration which imagines anything that could be preserved, and that could thus continue to exist outside its immediate presence, as ‘dead’—a relic or ruin. Whether as calculated fuck you to an American art world that had forgotten Thek, or to a world which he would have liked to have abandoned for nobler ideals (charitas and agape for instance), the work—despite its intense materialism—embodies a set of ideals; ideals of another world. Ideals of a better world, I think Thek would have agreed. Not yet-to-come, but always (at least potentially) 'here and now'. Especially now.

Art can be an exodus from art. It is as such in the work of Thek, and many of his contemporaries. Art as reproductive, violently reduced to an object. Art reduced to a saleable, possessable, preserveable thing rather than something binding, acting as a kind of social material, a participative-communal property. Many of Thek’s works attributed to him were in fact made in a workshop-like atmosphere, in which the artist’s collaborators (who were also his friends and apprentices) would have much to contribute, and whereby the social activity of the workshop (how someone cooked and arranged a particular meal, for instance) largely determined “product” (what was produced as installation, if only so that it could be eventually devalued and neglected by curators and potential collectors alike).

Interview with Adam Pendleton (in BOMB)

My interview with Adam Pendleton will appear in the upcoming winter issue of BOMB, which drops next Wednesday. Here is a preview.

Pendleton is a rare artist in his ability to synthesize disciplines and mediums, and to steer with collaborators toward “total works,” which yet remain drafts of a larger essayistic practice. His works—like those of his many avant-garde forebears—are experimental in the truest sense. He sets up a laboratory in which our social and political desires can appear, however fleetingly. Historical materials (images, sounds, and printed language) become a point of departure for making present what cannot be grasped by representations of history (narratives, archives): the emergence of events and situations, which can only become known retroactively. Recent live art has rarely been more conscious of its origins in civil disobedience and the civil rights movement, where we view the body as a site of social antagonism, and as a “case” for struggles for recognition and justice. With Pendleton’s work, even though we are often left with aporias and blind spots, we feel the force of historical matter self-organizing and finding form beyond representability and essence. We discover the protest of the object—works of art and performance resisting their subsumption by common epistemological frameworks and modes of narration posing as truth.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A poem by Chris Martin

Check out this lovely poem by Chris Martin, from a forthcoming book called Every Time I Decided Not to Set Myself on Fire

So what if these were notes not
for something more
finished, but for something more
like ruins, not Gothic
Revival Horace
Walpole fakes, not stonewashed
jeans, but real ruins, lived-in
to death, a little ruin
of a typewriter that bit
ribbon after ribbon
until every blackened tooth
smashed, guiding a whole polis
of letters into the skies
and trucks and boxes? Say
these ruins were like no
other ruins in
that they were (not actually)
invisible, as in invisible
to commodity, like no one
would ever stand in front of them
in a photograph, or rub one
of their crumbly faces, or point
at a cluster of dots
on some cheap map, but ruins one
could only stumble
upon like it was someone else’s
life left between a stand
of hairy pines, and no one thought
to walk there again, it wasn’t
a way anyone going
somewhere would go, a huge fucking
mess, not left to someone
to deal with, but devastating
in its beauty
because it’s someone else’s so
gone you just know
you’ll never know anything
factual about it, or the person
whose life it was and now
only is, this gorgeous
nothing pointing
everywhere but at itself, this event
you (now) and only now (you)
are allowed to see, an event
that barely even unfolds, but just sits
there in all its inaccessibility
like a flood that isn’t
a real flood because it never moves
and it can’t be a real event
because there aren’t any streets
to walk home on, or string
to unravel, there is only this ruin
running in place, that no
one else will ever happen
across, that absolutely everyone
will miss, just as you have
missed everything else, some fat
animal staring at a reason, some bear
furrowing, so that
soon even
you will miss it, this ruin, this impossible
strip of “life” that will
drift with other endless parts
of you you lost
along the way, over all
this time, will shift
like another gleaming doorknob
in Brigadoon, so as always
to stay where you are
not, a great big floating thrift store
of late appendages
like a fool fingering walnut shells
to remember the meat.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Rebecca Davis's what I'm saying is born from the weather (in Brooklyn Rail)

In the new Brooklyn Rail I have a short review of Rebecca Davis's what I'm saying is born from the weather, which appeared last month at Judson Memorial Church:

Can dance help one to understand weather as a “thing”? Can the body become synched with climatic substance? Can it undergo or embody the weather as a substance? The title of Davis’s performance comes from a book of poems by the Colorado-based poet Eric Baus, called The To Sound. In his book, Baus cracks open a poetic syntax in order to put it back together again, in the process helping his reader to understand and explore a poetic grammar. One could read Davis’s dance in a similar way, in that it may also attempt to represent the weather as an ordering of both discursive and sensory experience.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Intro for Thalia Field (at SEGUE)

Here is my all too inadequate introduction for Thalia Field, who performed with an ensemble including Jena Osman this past weekend at SEGUE series. Reading Field's work last week got me thinking again about exactly what we mean when we call poetry (or anything for that matter) "experimental." Likewise, I was sent back to other poetries which incorporate both essay, play, and 'thought experiment' into a verse-like mood of texture. Zukofsky's Bottom: on Shakespeare; many of Susan Howe's poems and essays; Rosmarie Waldrop's lovely essay, "Alarums and Excursions" among others....

For over a decade Thalia Field has been providing us with a literature at the boundaries of poetry, theatre, fiction, philosophy, and essay. Through her work genre and disciplinary boundaries become confused to say the least. More accurately, we might say that the confusion of genre, discipline, and field gives way to a more holistic and open investigation of thought through a writing practice.

As such, Field takes up the work of a truly “experimental” literary genealogy, one which recalls essayists such as Montaigne and Emerson, but perhaps finds most of its purchase in a heuristic approach to composition which grew out of early modernism, and continues to this day. In Field’s most recent book Bird Lovers, Backyard (New Directions, 2010) she evokes an experimentalist genealogy through the controversial figure of ethologist Konrad Lorenz, whose essentialist views about animal behavior coupled with Nazi sympathizing reflect what is troubling about anthropomorphic approaches to animal biology. Through Bird Lovers, Backyard, Field proves that writing can problematize methods of experimentation extended historically and laterally from the natural sciences.

In another book published by Field this past year, A Prank of Georges (Essay Press, with Abigail Lang), Field and her co-author take up Gertrude Stein as a kind of muse. This is fitting given Stein’s dual backgrounds in experimental psychology/neurobiology and literature/visual art. The title of the book comes from a line of Stein’s, “Prank could be called George if one were used to it but one is not,” and the book indeed is a prank if we think about a prank being related to grotesque and harlequinry (two genres Field draws upon throughout her work).

There are so many things to recommend about A Prank of Georges, which weaves a tissue of quotations from various strands of philosophical, literary, scientific, and etymological texts in order to explore the function of naming for construing and constructing identity—a problem which obviously fascinated Stein from The Making of Americans until her late works about fame and celebrity. What is striking about the use of quotation in this book is how unique quotations become like players in a dialogue—speaking their lines, performing certain actions; acting!

The directness (and direction) of this discursus I find attractive and true to Field’s and Lang’s muse who through composition as explanation was able to grasp philosophical difficulties associatively, synaesthetically, and emotionally, finding form in apparent chaos, performing witz through structural adequacies. What if the essay was just a matter of sequencing, editing, design—many of the movements from A Prank of Georges seem to ask? What if what we called “poetry” demarcated the ‘text’ after a discursive scaffolding had been removed?

In Field’s writing thesis disappears giving way to what the writer, in the spirit of Stein’s death bed repartee, calls “an ecology of questions.” A Prank of Georges, like so many works by Field, brings us closer to thinking in its state of flux, movement; as it is forming and deformational (monstrous, sublime). In which we see, and feel demonstrably, thought taking shape, as a kind of extensive dramatic action among the literal letters. Letters as actors, as players.

A Literal Blood (Installing Spirit)

belatedly, after Paul Thek
composed on World AIDS Day

No sex here,
no content
except what
survives as joy,

and praise fail-
ure which becomes
you not nailed
to anything

no concept but
suffering a
semblance nonetheless,
so real was it

inside us and
embodying and gut-
ted, metaphor
the ongoingness

of notebooks,
eternal sketch
of that towering
to topple a wreck

subsides in unful-
fillment, time
runs out but your body
afflicted was free,

its total simul-
taneity like a
sympathy atoning
for nothing

all language becomes
a love letter,
all drawing
describes a pun

on sunset, on relic,
on humility
the world continues
to end

though neither
spirit or body appear,
no soul outside
of history

art is uncleansed,
a literal blood,
uncleansed would be
a place to begin.