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.”
In “Miss Scarlett,” Place appropriates Gone with the Wind in a more overtly discomforting way than in her “White Out”:
Dey’s fightin’ at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett!
Dey say our gempmums is gittin’ beat.
Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen ter
Maw an’ Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen
ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh,
Gawd—Ah ain’ nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett.
No’m, he ain’ at de horsepittle.
Let’s note (with Brian Reed) that a poem like “Miss Scarlett” is written for our digital world of searchable copies. Because of these digital copies, readers can type a phrase into Google and quickly locate the source text: in this case, all the words spoken the maid Prissy in a section of Gone with the Wind.
Iterative poetics can serve as a mode of questioning political authority while remaining conscious of the danger that one might be merely repeating what one seeks to overthrow. But some contemporary modes of iteration seem more concerned with contesting other forms of authority. These forms of authority include, as we have seen with Prigov’s 49th Alphabet, the cultural authority of classic writers, as well as the economic authority of copyright and intellectual property. These two forms of authority are sometimes, as in the examples I turn to today, intimately linked.
Take, for example, appropriation artist Richard Prince’s recent work The Catcher in the Rye, in which Prince seemingly demands to be sued by publishing a copyrighted classic that has sold millions under his own name. Iterative strategies have also been used to challenge the copyright of another fiercely protected US classic: Gone with the Wind. Iteration here also becomes a way to respond to a more pernicious form of cultural copying: stereotyping.
For all their twists and spin, poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Charles Bernstein seem strikingly direct in their politics when compared to Vanessa Place and her poetics of iteration. Where in a work likeWorld on FireBernstein clearly attacks the US invasion of Iraq, Place, like some other conceptual writers, seems to reject the idea that we might change the world by transforming our language. Indeed, at times Place takes direct aim at texts that seek a revolutionary change in the social order.
For instance, in her “Boycott Project,” Place reproduces feminist classics such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex with all female-gendered words replaced by their male counterparts. (See Place’s The Father & Childhood.)
The following dialogue was composed partially in-person and partially via e-mail. The initial conversation was a symposium held at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts between Tania Ørum and Vanessa Place, on the occassion of the Danish publication of Noter om konceptualismer (Notes on Conceptualisms). As this conversation was the impetus for the series, it made good sense to start here.
Tania ØrumNoteson Conceptualisms is co-authored by Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman, so it seems appropriate to present it in a joint discussion. And since conceptual writing is an international phenomenon, it seems equally appropriate that the discussion should take place between an American writer and a European scholar.