November 1st, 2016 / 11:22 am
I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women
Edited by Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, & Vanessa Place
Les Figues Press, 2012
455 pages / $40 Buy from Les Figues Press
One half of a knucklebone or other object was a common object to carry in ancient Greece as an identifier to whoever carried the other half: a symbolon, the root of the word symbol. A symbol is a half-thing but of course most things are half-things; otherwise, what is language for? It fossilizes the potential of objects into meaning. Art has that to deal with. Language that knows it is art, on the other hand, seems to seek objecthood.
A walk through a regular art museum might have you thinking art is paintings. A distant second to that is sculpture, then drawings and prints, etc., and the farther the object deviates from these materials (or if the object was made for any other purpose than aesthetic contemplation, say, a quilt), not only is it less likely the object will be canonized (without any modifying category) as art, but the more the object will require mediation, textual padding between audience and object.
Perhaps what makes a work Conceptual, then, in visual art and in writing, is that as an object it attends to its physical deviation from canonical works but also shifts its weight to its context rather than its object. “A construction [is] a beginning of a thing,” wrote Yoko Ono in her Conceptual art book Grapefruit, and in this view, an object or a text is an idea’s anchor that begins, rather than completes, the idea.
The writings in I’ll Drown My Book are surrounded by frames: two introductions and one afterword by the editors. Each selection is then also followed by a writer’s statement, often a description of the work’s procedure or a response to the term Conceptual as it applies to her work. This textual-framing reminds me very much of how the visual arts are presented, propped by text panels in galleries and museums, battened by artist’s statements in magazines and catalogs. And ultimately, Conceptual writing itself is consciously framed by the Conceptual art movement of the 60s and its earlier predecessors in Dada and related movements; solidified by Duchamp in 1917 in his defense of his readymades which refused to supplement art objects with context but instead supplanted them with context. But Conceptual art, just as it is in writing now, never came to define a precise artistic practice, and because of this it became a convenient bag to throw anything that didn’t seem like art. In other words, art that was hard to sell: performances, happenings, instructions, installations, ephemera, sounds, silence. In dematerializing of the art object, artists were certainly responding to the hyper-commodification of contemporary art and its increasingly opaque economics.
June 5th, 2012 / 12:00 pm
by Jennifer Tamayo
Switchback Books, 2011
88 pages / $18 Buy from Switchback Books
If “flesh is the reason oil paint was invented” as de Kooning claimed, then the natural antithesis of oils are collages, and it seems no coincidence this method is increasingly popular in art and literature as the materialization of an ideal smooth whole flesh feels rejectable in this era of multi-medium hybridity. Where a lens is fragmented so fragments the subject even beyond lenses; and tidy categories of language, race and gender follow, as in Jennifer Tamayo’s collection of poems/images in Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes.
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October 10th, 2011 / 12:00 pm
The Size of the Universe by Joseph Cardinale [FC2] This is one of the most spiritual books I’ve read in a while, reconceiving memory and mourning and expectation and instance and the animal under god all in six semantically locked stories of beautifully rendered post-Beckettian sentencery: really really refreshing and powerful in a really moving way. Having read certain of these works in past issues of New York Tyrant, I had high expectations already for Cardinale’s full throttle, and even more so the work as a whole functions as a bigger unit, each portrait of ruptured emotion-memory and space fractal mapping kind of splintering and biting into the others, a shell of shells. Logic, faith, lost revelation, searching, repetition, lurching to change the body, histories: “She said as they grow older one eye moves to the other side and the skull twists after it.” A son and mother wait for the reappearance of a water-walking figure they can only assume is god coming across the face of a drowned city; a man enrolls in astronomy classes after the death of his wife in search of sense from math and madness; a child hides in a tree from his sister and stumbles and disrupts space-time. In Cardinale’s pacing, soothe-speak voice portraits of what could seem mass-histrionic, terrifying are somehow dream-made and real once, touching a space that touches back. “And yet if we all joined together to make a living animal out of nothing we would eventually give up.”
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A Little Middle of the Night by Molly Brodak [University of Iowa] The image on the front of this book resembles two things, at least: first, perhaps, a ridiculously fat white gravelly tree rising from a mottled puddle up to a eggy mountain fog that caps the sky; and or second, perhaps, a mushroom cloud explosion placed casually among a landscape of bottlebrush trees, the destruction contained to something like a summit where the apex of the hurt casually, menacingly gathers. I don’t know where the image came from, or how intently it was aimed at the book, but the description of it in my head is more the poems than the image really; the images here, the ideas in them, contain at once a calm air of remove and something of great lurking, a color underneath a ledge. “Once I / woke up laughing. / Saw the limbs of the pine / row and paw. / I heard bells, split geologic. / Did anyone take a photo of me / while I was in the coma? / Why no.” There seems a brain wanting damage and not getting it fully, or not the right way, here in the midst, something joking with its sores, not impressed by lighthouses but still inside them. Ideas snatches from out of old books and placed in between what happens on a paper table or “where my power creeps out.” It’s creeping out all over the place. It’s a milk bath.
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Nick Demske by Nick Demske [Fence Books] I got excited about the results of 2010’s Fence Modern Poets Series contest immediately when I knew that Joyelle McSweeney was the deciding judge; that meant the book was going to bat its face at some shit, make new words, be wild in the eyes and knees and chestmeat, give me something to laugh at in the black parts, go whoa a lot, read while standing up, get slurred the fuck up. Indeed, Nick Demske’s Nick Demske is a mashup city of where am I’s, and who is tickling my other body? “I reinvent the solar / Powered flash light every night. I malfunct / Ion like an elapsed R&B singer’s wardrobe.” Demske freaks words apart, gets nasty a lot, says things you might imagine muttered on gas or syrup. You just want to quote and quote it. “I’m going to buttfuck / you in the mouth. I know where you live.” or “God is a virgin, / Which explains a lot. God is a Christian, / Initiating full-blown AIDS like foreplay.” I mean I’d take this thing to the White House and sneak in the back with some candy and a big torch if being rad wasn’t illegal. Just as fast, too, the getting fucked gets fucked and goes back to real hell logic, real you-can’t-do-this-in-comedyland: “I like banjos. I like / It’ll grow back. You are the first black / Person I have ever met in real life. This / Alcove a strobe so ablaze with resplendence / The sun itself cast doth a shadow! O my nasty God. / Votive pyromania. You people.” Yeah, buy this motherfucker and get busy eating a big one.
December 21st, 2010 / 10:54 pm