conceptual writing

Nice Dream?

Allegory and radical mimesis in Heriberto Yépez

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?

Critical color theory

On Angelica Dass and Divya Victor

A collage of photographs from Angelica Dass’s ongoing Humanæ Project appeared on the cover of the “The Trouble With Race” issue of Foreign Affairs magazine in March 2015.[1] Dass’s photographic pairing of human skin tone with swatches of PANTONE® color was selected for an issue slated to spotlight the global failure of multiculturalism.

Disaster and revival

On Cha, Goldsmith, Pendleton

The first issue of 'Art in America,' which appeared in 1913, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's 'Exilée and Temps Morts: Selected Works.'

I am going to discuss three examples of Conceptual writing. My purpose in doing so is merely to define one of a larger set of questions. Defining questions is going to be more productive than pretending to have answers. I don’t want to even seem to be making an argument about these examples; that would truly be shortchanging the artists’ efforts.

'Antígona González'

On necrowritings and disappropriation

Mexican writer and academic Cristina Rivera Garza introduced the term disappropriation (desapropiación) in her essay book Los muertos indóciles (Tusquets Editores, 2013). Based upon the idea that language is a common good, the term indicates that the writer who works with documentation is actually disappropriating that language in order to give it back to the community. For the benefit of the collective. This testimonial is the poetry of the people. The question “Is appropriation OK?” has been rendered pointless.

Software as lip service

Jennifer Walshe's Snapchat scores

Milker Corporation's Snapchat feed.

If, as Miranda July messaged, “texting is tacky,” “calling is awkward,” and “email is old,” then Snapchat, insofar as Irish composer Jennifer Walshe’s Milker Corporation has come to utilize its API, is tasteful, adroit, and original.

Doggedly conceptual, impishly ephemeral, hers is an MMS all so simple:

1. Go to “My Friends”
2. Tap the “+” sign
3. Search for user “milker_corp”
4. “Add”

On Weiner, Acconci, Perreault, and Graham

Hannah Weiner (left) and Vito Acconci (right). Portrait of Vito Acconci courtesy of the photographer Gesi Schilling.

Before she matriculated to clairvoyant grande dame of the Language poets, Hannah Weiner was a Conceptual writer, performance artist, and lingerie designer on the Lower East Side. In light of Divya Victor’s call for this forum, I want to briefly address her Conceptualism. The tricky part is that little record of her early activity has survived. Her collaborator John Perreault reports that she set fire to the documentation of her Street Works and performance projects of the 1960s.

On dakim's '34 Fragments'

One curious aspect of so-called Conceptualism is the form’s latent interplay of excess and insufficiency. If a given Conceptual work privileges dissolution, then what precisely is being dissolved? Is the text meant to serve as the deleterious excretion of a corrosive authorial edifice? Or is the authorial edifice also in on the decay, and so reified? And if dissolution is part of the game at all, then why is its published output so frequently beholden to relative girth and overload?

Messing with the beholder

Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen' and embedded Conceptualism

Reproduction of Adrian Piper's 'Calling Cards' (undated). http://www.spencerart.
Reproduction of Adrian Piper's 'Calling Cards' (undated), which Piper distributed when racially insensitive statements were made in her presence. Calling cards also addressed sexual harassment and other issues.

Dear Divya,

You conceived this forum in the midst of attacks on Conceptualism for being a pain machine wielded by and for white people. I wondered whether your goal was salvific: could Conceptualism’s reputation and potential be rescued, could its soil be aerated and fertilized, could histories, lineages, practices, and ideas not normally associated with the current branding of Conceptualism become part of our sense of it.

Angelo Suárez's 'Philippine English' and the language of Conceptual writing

Pages from the opening chapter of 'Philippine English.' Courtesy J. Gordon Faylor.

I would like to consider Angelo V. Suárez’s Philippine English: A Novel (Gauss PDF, 2015) as a testing ground for the political work Conceptual writing can accomplish. This means historicizing before interpreting.

The blackness of Holly Melgard's 'Black Friday'

One of the questions I want to ask given the failure of some recent so-called Conceptual poetry is, what are metaphors for the production and experience of black life that do not primarily reproduce the trauma of antiblack racism? What metaphors, although historically part of the maintenance of white supremacy, can be repurposed in the service of sustaining black life? And how?

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