Shelf for a lost voice, towards the next book: ‘Singed: A Transmission of Muted Voices, After the Fire’
‘Can you explain yourself?’ I was asked once.
‘Explain myself?’ I replied, echoing one of Isak Dinesen’s dreamers and remembering Orson Welles. ‘You are asking much. You might say: “Disguise your meaning into such phrases as I am used to hear, which mean nothing”.’
Then I lost my voice.
Voice I do not know what I say, you do not know what you seek, I cannot seek you. I seek your refrain. I do not know what takes shape between this rusty syntax and the firm voice. I do not know what takes shape between this rusty discomfortable syntax and your firm voice. I do not know what shapes, and what it takes to measure these undulations and the wavering. I do knot. I do not, no. I knot. I do not. I do not, no. I do not know. I do knot. But to say: the muteness, the effort of voice, its words, their knot.
No need for subtitles: I want to write a voice which is not over.
‘Our songs will all be silenced – but what of it? Go on singing.’
Orson Welles, F for Fake.
Concrete poetry, originally a literary movement heavily influenced by Modernist art (Constructivism and Concrete art), appeared in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland in the mid 1950s. It was characterised for privileging the visual (typographical) arrangement of words over more traditional elements of the poem (sound and meaning). Adopted by visual artists and incorporated into art practice during the early and mid 1960s, it became an international phenomenon through a network of magazines, self-publishing and a few influential exhibitions before fading away in the 1970s. Over the last few years a number of new exhibitions and publications are proof of a renewed interest in the relation of experimental literature and the visual arts, and particularly, Concrete poetry.
A cross section of the Beezer Numskulls brain of Grimes Minor. This fermenting pile of volumes is dipped into, skimmed, gleaned & repeatedly plundered through the decades: from childhood mis memories on the Freud set, an extra chasing a sister and a hoop, to the potatoes and poitin of Flann O’Brien’s punctured Irish Romance, to the storyboarded hunt for Moby Dick – harpooned before I was born, signs and symbols of seamanship, quality drawing-ness of Ardizzone’s watercolours, Things to Make and Do – but mostly just in my head.
Alice, always there, read to me, read and re-read to my daughter – more codes and illusion, to tartan clan flattists, Lorenzetti battling The Jocks and The Geordies, the Japanese warriors and seashore patterns of plants and creatures – monsters cobbled from misfitting parts.
My shelf contains books – from anthropology to poetry to social psychology – which have guided, inspired, provoked and travelled with me over the last 15 years of my art practice. Many have been core texts in my ongoing enquiry into the nature of – and inter-relationship between – gift, grief, debt and conflict, as well as the historical and critical connections between written, textile and digital cultures.
On each shelf is also one of my own written texts which have either been performed, written into or published in parallel to my artworks and which are connected to and cross-reference many ideas within the featured books on the shelf.
This is a small selection of books from the Autodidact Library, a collection of books by, for and about autodidacts. The autodidact, latent in all of us, is at worst malleable, liable to infatuations and skittish, and at best open, diligent, and free in the pursuit of knowledge. This library features critique and commentary; books on how to study; fiction about autodidacts; books and plays by self-educated authors; polemics on self-directed learning; and manuals and factual books which might be of use to the autodidact. It was originally conceived for the exhibition Bookbed at Peckham Platform, as a proposition positing the public library as a site of self education.
This will start out like a journal, a few notes to show books and documents in the library and archive of this house, a means to reflect on my pursuit of living as a writer, reader, translator, editor, artist… Though I’ve written books that reference and highlight others, such as A Public Intimacy, or Spread Wide, or Performance, or Lisbon, as well as editing books and magazines, as well as numerous translations … all of which reveal particular interests at particular times, this display will overlap or intend to reveal other dimensions. I’m not striving to ‘make it new’-er – that is impossible at this stage of my course.
We are publishers. We love artists’ books. We love to cook. We love to travel.
The 100 Page Book is a vast category of books that persists as hunch, hint, predilection and possibility across my reading. I wonder if some typology, both system and chance, illustrative and prospective, can be found through putting a selection of such books together on a (The) Library shelf … After making a first selection of 20 books for The Library I found an old paperback of Denton Welch’s I Left My Grandfather’s House. It was 145 pages, but more importantly suggested the space of such books to be a proposition about geography, landscape, the reader-writer-walker’s entanglements in places, times and tenses, moods, unwanted conversations and ditches.
I have not chosen these books randomly [for The Vancouver Bibliography]. I was interested in the physical spaces of the library and the localisation of books within stacks, I also wanted to find familiar books and things I already knew. The act of browsing under the circumstance is as much informed by a given spatial organisation of the books as it is by my knowledge of certain books. It is also determined in the first instance by the availability of those books in that particular library at Emily Carr University, a collection aggregated over many decades for the purpose of art education. Finally, the physical proximity of a book to another is not the guarantee of any intellectual relation between them even if this occasionally happens as books are often organised according to library science by theme, subjects, etc. In this gambit, I was pitching a form of intellectual musing against the taxonomy and organisation of the library.
Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph is one of the first and so far key surveys of the use of photography as a medium in Conceptual art. It includes a wonderful, perceptive essay by Anne Rorimer, one of the major writers and curators of Conceptual art in the US. International in scope and with key, well chosen images, this publication includes an artist book insert by Allen Ruppersberg. I love Raid the Icebox 1. The deconstructing of the high, educating morals of the museum by Warhol, and his inspired choice to include broken and discarded items in the show, curated as per a junk shop and not a museum, is still remarkably experimental, and long overdue a revisit. Scars sings to me of its time; a wonderful way to ask people to reveal themselves via their scars. What they choose to say or construct tells the reader much about their personalities. The cover photocopy of a gunshot wound marked with the words ‘See what my mother did to me!’ says it all. Allen does a great job in Artists’ Magazines of pulling together information on well known, and lesser-known publications, in the process laying down the historical texture from which the zine erupted.
Stanley Milgram’s experiments, made a few years after Wilhelm Reich’s death, are like a coda to his work. Milgram’s volunteers display a lack of confidence in themselves and a lack of sympathy for one another. They give lethal shocks to other volunteers at the command of an ‘Experimenter’. Their actions can be seen through Wilhelm Reich as the consequence of accumulated inhibitions developed to defend ourselves from the fluid expansion and contraction of the libidinal impulse. Reich understood inhibitions to have a physical expression in the reflexive locking of muscle groups against a prohibited impulse. He suggested that these tense blocks armour the body and defend it from making spontaneous responses that would otherwise provoke punishment. As inhibitions accumulate and further muscle groups are deployed to deaden sensation and contain the repressed anger and desire, the body develops a kind of rigid exoskeleton. The circumstances under which these inhibitions accumulate – and in whose interests – is studied in The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year, who, after resigning from teaching, used his experiences to comment on education. The book traces the origins of mass compulsory education to early nineteenth century Prussia and argues that it was instrumental to Prussia’s widely admired industrial growth and its frightening military success. He points out that within ten years of Prussia’s meticulously coordinated attack on France in 1870, most European countries had adopted similar systems. Early twentieth-century educators refined the new tool and their sponsors explored its totalitarian possibilities intent on providing subjects who could complete Milgram’s test of humanity. AS Neil was a friend of Reich’s. He founded a school where children are not compelled to attend classes and the rules are debated every week at a meeting where each child and teacher has one vote. The school was thriving when I visited it four years ago.
We have made a selection of texts that fundamentally responds to two aspects. First, they have been written by artists with whom we believe to share a common approach to the practice of writing within the visual arts. Second, and no less noteworthy, they are available online thanks to platforms that put their two cents to generously contribute to the free circulation and distribution of knowledge.
I don’t want to be a librarian. I prefer bookshops. If I make it about self-conscious posting and self-conscious writing and self-publishing and instant publishing and automatic writing and instant writing and automatic publishing and online platforms and virtual shelves … then will you also let me sell things, or at least, give them away?
‘We stand before a work of art with no hope of understanding it and no choice but to try.’ – Dave Hickey. My shelf begins with the reference tools I keep on my desk that help me make books: New Hart’s Rules settles obscure questions of punctuation or style; the Pantone Colour Bridge book comes to the rescue when selecting covers or needing an understanding of colour in a work of art and The Elements of Typographic Style gives me an inside look at the various issues and decisions facing a designer. These books are inherently about structure, order and hierarchies; yet many of my other titles look at breaking with the systems that are already in place. With Mining the Museum, The Invisible Man, Catch-22 and Tristram Shandy, each challenge an already inherent structure; respectively the museum, race, war and biography. I also look at different types of writing about art that, for me, have expanded the field: Paul Cézanne, Letters; Bridget Riley, The Eye’s Mind; Michael Bracewell, The Space Between and Dave Hickey, Pirates and Farmers. Viewed together, these books have all informed my attempts to understand art and to create more books that invite others to do so.
The books that I first selected for this site featured artists’ writings, volumes that I had felt moved to purchase. The works of these chosen artists, whose careers I have seen unfold, have been continually enriching, and their words have helped me to more fully appreciate their art and to enlighten me about art and life in general. I have since added other titles that go beyond the visual arts. Several of these – now indispensable books – were, strangely enough, discovered as remainders or in book sales, and were by authors about whom I had previously known nothing. As this shelf gets longer some of the new additions fit with previous choices, while others are simply personal discoveries. Latterly I have revised my selection to accommodate an emerging pattern: foursomes!
Each one has been put aside at my flat: our poems placed head to toe, his novel still wrapped, her words translated into English, Charlotte’s letter to Emily. It’s good to have something longer, to turn several pages. At first they started as mementos of special occasions. Later they came more often, almost every week. Sometimes a useful item will sit next to an enigmatic one. And yes, the holidays will come.