In this commentary, I want to contrast two artists’ visual prosody. In previous commentaries I have paired an artist and a poet. In this case, both of the writers are artists and have practically never been called poets. Here I am interested in setting Adrian Piper and Hock-E-Aye-Vi Edgar Heap of Birds side by side, and as an heuristic, specifically, two pieces: Piper’s Concrete Infinity 6” Square (1968) and Heap of Birds’ Vacant (1995). My excuse for pairing these examples is not art- or literary-historical so much as it is guided by the motif of a “derelict void.”
The event was called “What Oozed Through the Staircase: A Winter Afternoon of Surrealist Writing and Music,” held in the middle of the surrealist exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, January 26, 2014. Surprised that the event wasn't being recorded, I brought out my smart phone and captured the audio as best I could from the fourth row. I also made a video recording of the final performance — a surrealist game. All this is now available at a special PennSound page.
Sunday, January 26, 2014, starting at 2 PM, in the Special Exhibitions Gallery of the Perelman Building, Philadelphia Museum of Art (free after Museum admission). Kenneth Goldsmith, Tracie Morris, and Marina Rosenfeld.
Above: a photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald of Kenneth Goldsmith in his final appearance as Poet Laureate at MoMA yesterday, reading from Seven American Deaths and Disasters in front of (and here gesturing toward) Andy Warhol’s Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times. (Photo cannot be reproduced without permission from the photographer.) On March 20, 2013, Goldsmith gave his "poet laureate lecture," titled “My Career in Poetry, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Institution”; this was recorded and is available as a video here. Seven Deaths was recently reviewed by Dwight Garner in the New York Times.
In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Museum of Modern Art presented “Transform the World! Poetry Must Be Made by All!” For a full hour, the galleries came alive with the sounds of spoken word, as poets read their own works and those of others. Ranging from emerging to established, from conventional to experimental, the poets demonstrated the varieties of U.S. poetry today as they performed under and in front of works of postwar modern art in MoMA’s collection. This event was organized by Kenneth Goldsmith as part of the “Artists Experiment” initiative. Lawrence Schwartzwald witnessed the event and took the photographs reproduced below, which are used with his permission; republication by permission of the photographer only.
My final post takes a very local turn. Like Prigov’s Little Coffins, New Zealand artist Campbell Walker’s 2012 work The Crime LINKS in the Smoke is an undead work that plays on the print book as both fetishized object and repeatable copy. The Crime comprises cut-up pages from detective novels that were burnt in the fire that destroyed Raven Books, a secondhand bookshop on Princes St in Dunedin, New Zealand. Walker’s book is a memorial both to a particular shop and to the town where it was located. Dunedin, the small city near the southern end of New Zealand where I live, is known for its penguins and sea lions but also for its crumbling Victorian grandeur. Now mainly a university town, Dunedin was once New Zealand’s largest and most prosperous city, and the energetic local cultural scene today springs partly from the spaces opened up by the slow urban decay of a city that never grew. Walker’s work links the fate of Raven Books and Dunedin to the fate of the print codex at a time when bookstores everywhere are closing their doors and e-book sales are increasing exponentially.
When Dmitri Prigov explores the relationship between the book as material object and endlessly repeating copy, he anticipates a similar interest in the relationship between copy and singular material instantiation in Anglophone conceptual writing. One of the leading figures in conceptual writing, Kenneth Goldsmith, began his artistic career, like Prigov, as a sculptor. Among his early work, Goldsmith’s iterations of Steal This Book illustrate his interest in the book as both copy and unique material object. His two versions or copies of the book are both monumental copies of Abbie Hoffman’s 1971 counter-culture classic. One was made of lead and weighed 150 kg, the other was seven feet tall — both were too big to be stolen.
Goldsmith has since then produced a number of works that explore the iterations of the book through conceptual writing. For example, in retyping the New York Times and publishing the result in book form, Goldsmith transforms the disposable newspaper into a monumental brick-sized book on a par with the largest of the modernist long-poem masterworks, such as Pound’s Cantos or Olson’s Maximus Poems.
On December 9, 2004, Al Filreis brought together two very different Cageans — Jena Osman and Kenneth Goldsmith — for a conversation with the students of his Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course. This was the first time that Osman and Goldsmith were recorded together, for beyond their shared interests in John Cage’s aesthetic and documentary poetics, they are very different poets. Osman is known for her disruptive, experimental poetics — collaging and intervening in existing texts — while Goldsmith’s works are defined by their uncreativity, where the texts are presented whole.