Sophie Calle, “Exquisite Pain #71.”

List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the Commissioner of Immigration at Port of Arrival
Required by the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, under Act of Congress approved March 3, 1893, to be delivered to the Commissioner of Immigration by the Commanding Officer of any vessel having such passengers on board upon arrival at a port in the United States[1]

1. No. on list
49 x 49 (7 x 7 = 49)

2. Name in full

3. Age

One and Three Chairs

4. Sex


5. Married or single

Painting to Hammer a Nail In

6. Calling or occupation
I Like America and America Likes Me

7. Able to read | write
I’m Too Sad to Tell You

8. Nationality
Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole

9. Race or people

One Billion Colored Dots

10. Last residence (province, city or town)

House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home

11. Seaport for landing in the United States

The Residue of a Flare Ignited Upon a Boundary

12. Final destination in the United States (state, city or town)
Thirtyfour Parking Lots

13. Whether having a ticket to such final destination

Protect Me From What I Want

14. By whom passage was paid

Pay Nothing Until April

15. Whether in possession of money, if so, whether more than $30 and how much if $30 or less

Take Care of Yourself

16. Whether ever before in the United States, and if so, when and where

Following Piece

17. Whether going to join a relative, and if so, what relative, their name and address
Portrait of Iris Clert

18. Purpose of coming to the United States

Untitled (Cowboys)

19. Ever in prison, or almshouse, or institution for care and treatment of the insane, or supported by charity. If so, which?
Untitled (Placebo)

20. Whether a polygamist?
Don’t Postpone Joy, or Collecting Can Be Fun

21. Whether an anarchist?
I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art

22. Whether under contract, express or implied, to labor in the United States

Workers who cannot be paid, remunerated to remain inside cardboard boxes

23. Condition of health, mental and physical

Statue of Venus Obliterated By Infinity Nets

24. Deformed or crippled, nature, length of time and cause

I Am Still Alive

25. Height: feet. | Inches.
100 Boots

26. Complexion

Vanilla Nightmares #3

27. Color of — Hair. | eyes.
Artist’s Shit

28. Marks of identification

12 Months with Postcards From Today of Kittens

29. Place of Birth. Country. | City or Town
Exquisite Pain

1. These were the questions my Sicilian great-grandparents were required to answer when they immigrated to the United States ca. 1900.


There is a morning when it rains in the corner of everybody’s bedroom.
Jack Spicer, excerpt from Oliver Charming’s Diary (1953)

I started a Tumblr in 2011 and called it Little-Richards. For it, I took screenshots of all the dick pics I received without solicitation from dating apps I sometimes use to flirt with other users. I applied two filters to each image. First, a nice sepia tone (Am I projecting? This is very common.), and second, a soft-focus, so as to strip each dick pic from its original context as misfed courage, and hopefully get to a place where each dick can tell me it knows what I want. Maybe something soft, but likely nothing at all. Then I posted them. 

If Little-Richards is any good — and it may not be (none of the photos have gotten any likes) — it is because it stops short of benefiting the real-world context it came from. The conceptual operation at the heart of the project — that I would screen cap these images, fuck with them a bit, and repost them onto an ongoing Tumblr account — doesn’t provide a specific point of entry “into” the piece as a viable channel through which its viewer might gain access to its lurking compiler, nor anything necessarily to do with that compiler’s penchant for lurking, or for looking at dick pics. Rather, Little-Richards hopes to expose no more than the possible behaviors that such a penchant allows for. The preference to look at dick pics, here, is merely the hollow condition that led the compiler to feed on the dicks in the first place. Otherwise, I can say that if Little-Richards is any good, it is because the title makes a pun on the R&B singer’s name and then follows through, with the appearance of many dicks, which are, for the most part, not little. In any case, it is a good idea to bite back the boner that feeds you. If that’s not your thing, fine. Here are three hundred ways to pull out.

Imagine Brown

I went to Brown in March as an “artist in residence” for Interrupt3, a three-day conference on the intersection of art and text and digital things. I was anxious when I arrived because in the days before leaving people had asked me repeatedly what I would make once I got up there. I had no idea.

As soon as I arrived in Providence, I began seeing signs with the words “Imagine Brown” everywhere. They were on lampposts and banners and posters all over Brown’s (quite white — qhite?) campus.

Once at the studios, I stepped outside for a cigarette, hiding from the rain beneath a huge IMAGINE BROWN poster strewn along the whole wall of the arts building. Brown was begging to be imagined and I was there to be imagining.

I gathered everything brown and free that I could find in a fifty-footstep periphery of the studio. I photographed it with David’s fancy DSLR and printed it with the huge printer we were given access to. Brown, Imagined — here:

1 blondie
1 brownie
1 chocolate chocolate chip cookie
1 coffee cup
1 copy of the back of literallydead
1 Gertrude Stein quote from Tender Buttons
1 Helen Mirra/Fred Frith record, “Quail”
1 Klaus
1 necklace
1 notebook that belongs to Michael Anzuoni
1 paper bag
1 pencil sharpener
1 sunglass case
1 trash can
2 boxes
2 leaves
2 packs of RAW rolling papers
2 pairs of glasses, both sun and regular
2 sheets of recycled paper at different stages of wrinkling
3 cigarette butts
3 pieces of cardboard, varying sizes
6 of the wooden sticks you use to stir milk or creamer into coffee
8 rubber bands

Blunt Objects

Blunt Objects is a collaboration between Sophia Le Fraga, Shiv Kotecha, and Alejandro Crawford, produced for Divya Victor’s Jacket2 feature devoted to plural and global Conceptual writing and other cultural productions. 

On Pince
Alejandro Crawford

Imagine Brown
Sophia Le Fraga

Shiv Kotecha

Nice Dream?

Heriberto Yépez: Allegory and radical mimesis

Still from Voice Exchange Rates. Walter Benjamin notes that the image of the skull is especially fit for allegory in that it poses “not only the enigmatic question of the nature of human existence as such, but also of the biographical historicity of the individual.”

Heriberto Yépez, Voice Exchange Rates, 2002. Is unoriginality already the preferred condition of USAmerican experimentalism?

“Talk-It,” the speaker-cum-software bot of Heriberto Yépez’s video-poem “Voice Exchange Rates,” describes itself as a technology “designed to help poetry return to the righteous path of the avant-garde” by automating the poetic endeavor: the program reads, translates, and composes in a variety of languages and registers in accordance with the preferences of its human user. This hypothetical division of the writing project into specific but related labors — the completion of which is achieved by outsourced procedural means — forces us to consider the stakes of such extreme mediation in literary practice, and to weigh the costs of jettisoning the “human” from artistic production.

We might begin by contemplating its assertion that the “next Octavio Paz is going to write like The New York Times.” Here, Yépez illuminates and contests the protocols that regulate the admission of nonnative, polylingual, and transnational voices to the institutionalized “avant-garde” tradition. Inevitably, the tariff assessed on these poetries is one of deracination: a body of writing only becomes properly saleable once it is stripped of its material and cultural specificities. By naming this gatekeeping as another syndrome of globalization, the poem poses a critical challenge to the literary institution of Conceptual writing: is it really so aesthetically subversive to write like The New York Times within the confines of the art institution — or, rather, to reframe and concretize this writing as commodified word-object — when this very same institution already imposes a regime of prescribed unoriginality (better yet: fluency) on writers who do not fall within its racialized and nationalistic tradition?

For Yépez, we sense, the proposition of “uncreative writing” threatens to recapitulate the globalizing logics that treat immigrant populations as reservoirs of disposable, recombinant, and plastic laboring subjects. If his work flirts morbidly with the obsolescence of the individuated and coherent speaker,[1] it does so with the most pointed allegorical interest. We might say that “Voice Exchange Rates” works as a “radically mimetic”[2] demonstration of the technological processes by which literary subjectivity is policed and homogenized — albeit one that signals the metonymic relationship between this phenomenon of exclusion (or selectively allocated and highly qualified inclusivity) and the larger patterns of sociopolitical marginalization and worker precaritization that order and stabilize the neoliberal state.

It is in this curious respect that “Voice Exchange Rates” shares much with the avowed methodologies and goals of the most visible exponents of Conceptual practice. I would furthermore hazard that the poem offers a prescient corrective to their well-documented (and eagerly claimed) critical failure before the fact. The piece is interested in contesting original authorship; it makes use of textual reframing; it is sensitive to the aesthetic and formal suggestions of nonliterary media; and it, too, theorizes writing in terms of the systems and technologies that facilitate its delivery and distribution. But at the same time, it is unwilling to marginalize or suspend political urgency in order to ventilate these concerns; rather, it sees these problems as inextricably related. This is to say that while the poem “mirrors” the “leveling and loading media” that govern the artistic production habits of a complacent neoliberal avant-garde, and even, perhaps, “[replicates] the error under critique,” it refuses to feign historical disinterest in the course of this performance, or to confirm the structural resignation that has defined the institutional commentary offered by the bulk of Conceptual writing — or, at least, its most visible practitioners and exponents.  

Do Bush-era announcements of the “end of history” find their correlate in aesthetic affirmations of unoriginality and resignation? Yépez anticipates and rejects both of these propositions in this work.

Place and Fitterman acknowledge that the embryonic situation of this aesthetic development is a “repressive market economy.” For them, this operational predicament is “banal, [but] nonetheless true,” and more importantly, inescapable. Indeed, its very banality stems from the impossibility — hence familiarity and redundancy — of successful escape from market logics. But where Conceptual writing has, in the main, formulated its critique in materially dehistoricized and aesthetic[3] terms — that is, in terms of the obligations (or liberty) to discard narrative in the wake of the “historical leveling”[4] effected by the inception of the digital archive — Yépez examines the collapse of authorial and historical stability as a politico-aesthetic crisis that can be negotiated only through the proliferation of voices and authorships. I want to propose “Voice Exchange Rates” as a model for ethically and globally interested conceptual writing precisely because it eschews self-congratulation and insouciance: it offers incisive critiques of the imperialist tendencies of the Conceptual turn in poetry,[5] even as it turns an eye to the ways in which authorial subjectivity is fractured, deauthenticated and selectively reconfigured under regimes of postindustrial capitalism that increasingly take shape along transnational lines and within digital spaces.

1. Yépez has described poetry as “series of techniques to construct — or, if [we] prefer, deconstruct — the subject” which rely on numerous literary figures, structures, and platforms, including voice, here “[understood] as the ways in which mind and body materialized, the patterns in which change interplays with memory.” (Heriberto Yépez, “Ethopoetics, What is it?,” Poems and Poetics, np.)

2. I’ve pulled these terms and concepts from Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman’s Notes on Conceptualisms (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009). But I do not intend to map their analysis onto Yépez’s work. Rather, my aim is to signal descriptive correspondences between these respective aesthetic accounts, which engage concomitant politico-aesthetic problems with varying degrees of commitment and urgency.

3. Of course, it would be inaccurate to say that the exponents of self-branded Conceptual writing have totally ignored the question of history. It is clear, for instance, that they maintain an interest in the question of technological advance and its impact on the history of twentieth-century art; and it is on this basis that they stake their claim to artistic relevancy: “In the 1990s, with the emergence of the Internet, as chronicled earlier, uncreative writing developed as an appropriate response for its time, combining historical permissions with powerful technology to imagine new ways of writing” (Kenneth Goldsmith, “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?,” in Against Expression [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011], xxi).

4. Consider, for example, Kenneth Goldsmith’s remarks on the remixing opportunities afforded by digitization, delivered in conversation with Dale Smith.

5. I do not mean to suggest an unspoken affinity between Yépez’s work and the appropriative or procedural strategies that tend to dominate the landscape — and the discourse of Conceptual practice. See, most recently, his essay “El escándalo del sujeto concepto: Kenneth Goldsmith,” trans. Guillermo Parra.