Laynie Browne, Rodrigo Toscano, and Michelle Taransky joined Al Filreis to talk about Robert Fitterman’s Sprawl, where (as K. Silem Mohammad once observed) “the mall hasn’t been this scary since Dawn of the Dead.” It’s Dantesque, notes Rodrigo in this conversation. The arrangement of the parts wants its readers to be lost, says Laynie, exactly as mall developers and architects encourage consumer misdirection and dislocation.
As Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag amongst others have told us, when it comes to photographs, the caption is essential in relation to what we think we see: if the contextualizing text is changed, the meaning of the work as such will change significantly. In this light, it might be interesting to ask: what happens to the caption when there is no longer a photograph to contextualize? When the caption is isolated, it now refers to a referent that is no longer there. That is one of the issues raised by the American writer Robert Fitterman in his book Holocaust Museum, first published in 2011 and reprinted several times since in the US and in Great Britain.
For a few months in 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a small exhibition of photographs by John Divola titled As Far As I Could Get. The exhibit encompassed one square room presenting prints from four different photographic series. In the title series, As Far As I Could Get, Divola has placed his camera on a tripod and set the shutter on a ten-second timer. As he starts the exposure’s countdown, he runs off into the distance marked by the camera’s gaze.
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 other day I mentioned Rob Fitterman's new conceptual poetics project, and got a lot of positive response to it. My favorite literary photographer (as regular readers of this blog already know), Lawrence Schwartzwald, found this wonderful photo of Rob standing in front of the Ear Inn. We think the date was January of 1992.
I'm pleased to have had a chance to read the manuscript of Rob Fitterman's new massive conceptual writing project, called Holocaust Museum. It is now being sent around to publishers. The book will consist of a list of archival materials, organized under headings ("the science of race," "shoes," "mass graves," "uniforms"). The image above (sorry--it's taken from a Word document version of the typescript) shows a portion from the chapter of "family photographs." The effect of the project is realized most acutely only after one has read dozens or hundreds of items on the lists. One begins, blearily, weakly, to be half-conscious of the upsetting juxtapositions. Of course holocaust materials are loaded ipso fact with dramatic ironies, especially all the prewar stuff. The caption of the last-listed photo is of course a poem: "A group of young people pose outdoors in the snow." I could write three interpretive pages--traditional poetic close reading--of that line. That, too, would be ironic.