Commentaries - September 2011

Content | Form | Im-material – Five Years of CONT3XT.NET
Content | Form | Im-material – Five Years of CONT3XT.NET

 Internet-based writing and art works emerge from, refer to, and thus must be understood within the complex context of the internet, which is in fact a conglomeration of contexts operating in concert (or not). For their function and for their intelligibility internet-based works are dependant upon the internet and all its vagaries, from the constraints of its physical infrastructure to the menace of its crawling bots, from the Babel babble of its code languages to the competing messages of its surface contents. How can works created for and within this highly provisional, seemingly immaterial, endlessly re-combinatory context be read, watched or understood in any other?

 This is precisely the question that the Vienna-based collective CONT3XT.NET has been relentlessly asking of itself and of others over the past five years. Co-foundes Sabine Hochrieser, Michael Kargl, Birgit Rinagl, and Franz Thalmair take a translation approach to curatorial practice, exploring new creative territories and practices oscillating between the virtual and the real by reformulating the immateriality of the internet into the physicality of paper, space, performance or other public presentations. On their website they state: “Always starting from the idea of the context as the most indecisive and variable but relevant constraint of any situation, the collective analyses the spatial, temporal, discursive as well as the institutional framework that conceptual artistic practices are rooted in today.” Over the past five years they have collaborated with a wide range of media artists, theorists, curators and writers working at the nexus of contemporary visual, textual and networked practices to develop networked projects, exhibitions, publications, lectures and public presentations.

Past CONT3XT.NET projects have included:

 Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read 2010 - ongoing

 Übersetzung ist eine Form. | Translation is a mode 2010

 Rich.txt—Art Language Technology 2006 – 2008

 Tagallery — Meta/Collections of Meta/Data 2007

 The most recent project undertaken by CONT3XT.NET is the publication of  Content | Form | Im-material – Five Years of CONT3XT.NET, a print book which loosely documents projects undertaken by the collective over the past five years with an eye toward noting which tendencies have emerged in internet-based writing and art practices in that time, and which have dissipated. The larger project, for the book as well as for the collective, remains one of context.

 In their introductory essay, co-editors Sabine Hochrieser, Michael Kargl, Birgit Rinagl, and Franz Thalmair ask:  “Why is it still easier to get an entire museum collection on the Internet than to get a single work of Internet-based Art in a museum space? [...] The book “Content | Form | Im-material” analyses how artistic creation on—and based upon—the Internet and the processes of its re-formulation in the real space can be developed in order to find appropriate presentational modes, suitable for both sides—the Internet and the art world—in favour of interdisciplinary discourse.”

 Content | Form | Im-material – Five Years of CONT3XT.NET will launch at Kunstraum Niederoesterreich, in Vienna, Austria, September 15, 2011, from 7 p.m. For more information, please visit: CONT3XT.NET

In French, the word for experiment is expérience, and thus the idea of carrying out an experiment is closely linked with the idea of undergoing an experience. So one may wonder as to what kind of experiments are going on around poetry that help foster not only the poetry itself but also help others experience it. In Canada,  some of the more daring and current essays/essais in poetic publishing, poetic mentoring and poetic diffusion include BookThug and The Toronto New School of Writing, Le Quartanier in Montreal, No press in Calgary and Nomados Press in Vancouver. 

Run out of Toronto, BookThug is a restless thug! Poet and collaborator Jay MillAr began publishing chapbooks in 1992, under the name Boondoggle Books and eleven years later, transformed Boondoggle Books into BookThug, publishing (and at times re-issuing) tradebooks, chapbooks and other ephemera of poetry, fiction, essays and Danish literature in translation, with a vision to enrich and evolve the tradition and conversation of experimental literature. What I most appreciate about BookThug is not only that they dare to make smart and aesthetically considered books, but also that they are always trying to think of how to evolve the conversation between all those who encounter or could encounter experimental works. One of the ways they are making this possible is through The Toronto New School of Writing, a project founded by MillAr and Jenny Sampirisi (BookThug’s managing editor) in the spring of 2010. Through this school, BookThug writers offer courses, workshops, close readings of poetic movements and even one-on-one manuscript development as “manuscript midwives.”

Le Quartanier, operated by Éric de Larochellière and Karine Denault in Montreal is, in my opinion, BookThug’s French cousin, and is as wild as the wild boar in its name. Focusing on experimental poetry, novels, essays and chapbooks, Le Quartanier has a very similar philosophy in terms of the kinds of works they produce and how the books look and feel. In this digital age, if one is still going to produce a book object, the object needs to make sense as an object and have reasons for it to come into being as an object, and Le Quartanier and BookThug are two presses that keep this in mind.

No press is a one-man operation out of Calgary, handled by visual poet, essayist and writer derek beaulieu. No press, which stands for “no promotions, no advance, no problem” makes handmade chapbooks and leaflets in editions of between 10 and 80 copies of visual poetry, poetics, non-linear writing, conceptual writing, unusual poetry and the occasional fiction. And since beaulieu noticed that book reviews were becoming a scarcity in Canada, he also began a series of pamphlets called “The Minute Review” in which he solicited book reviews from writers across the country.

Another interesting micro-press is Nomados Press run by Meredith and Peter Quartermain in Vancouver. They also print in a chapbook format in editions of between 75 and 150 copies and, as their name implies, they are nomads wandering over the literary landscape and focusing on some of the most adroit and progressive contemporary writing.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Global Warming, & the Marshall Islands

High tide season on the Marshall Islands. Photo by Nick Wardrop
High tide season on the Marshall Islands. Photo by Nick Wardrop

Kaia Sand

Ideas, poets?

I queried poets in my commentary “An Ellsbergian task for poets,” reflecting on the language shortcomings of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” How might poets bring creative language skills to full-force to motivate action toward a climate phenomenon that is mostly in the future? I was grateful, then, to receive an email from poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, forwarded by Jacket2 editor Jessica Lowenthal. Jetnil-Kijiner began with a Marshallese greeting, “Iakwe,” and described her “urge to respond” to my query:

“I don't have the term you're looking for regarding a more poetic terminology for climate change,” she wrote. “However, being a resident of the Marshall Islands, a tiny atoll that is currently being swallowed up by the sea, I've written a poem on what I'd like the world to know about how some of us Marshall Islanders feel about climate change.”

Intrigued, I followed Jetnil-Kijiner's link to the poem, “Tell Them.”

The poem begins with the description of a gift to "friends in the states"—earrings in a basket—and spirals outward toward many things that she'd to impart to people in the United States ("and when others ask you/ where you got this you/ tell them...")  including this:

tell them about the water

how we have seen it rising

flooding across our cemeteries

gushing over the sea walls

and crashing against our homes

photo of a cemetery on the Marshall Islands by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Water moves differently among cemeteries, sea walls, and homes. It moves horizontally, a plane of water, in a cemetery, flooding. Rising, rising, rising, when water suddenly exceeds the height of a sea wall, it gushes. While a sea wall is made to confront water, a house is threatened by water's crashing.  To impart the urgency of global warming, Jetnil-Kijiner created dynamic images of particular immediacy —water moving through three Marshall Island locales. The poem continues:

tell them what it's like

to see the entire ocean level with the land

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner has attempted to "tell them what it's like" through other media, also, collaborating with the Univeristy of Hawaii Sea Grant Program on a video, "Hide Tide in the Marshall Islands.

A poet, writer, artist, and journalist, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner studied creative writing at Mills College and taught as a Student Teacher Poet (STP) with Poetry for the People. She has participated in Youthspeaks Hawaii, the artist collective formally known as The Bombshelter Crew and the queer Pacific Islander artist collective One Love Oceania (OLO), and Voices of Our Nations (VONA). She has also performed “Iep Jaltok” at various solo performance theater venues including City Solo, Third Root Art Collective's “For Colored Girls Only” show, and CounterPulse's “Words First.” She currently writes the blog Iep Jaltok (yiyip jalteq), the title of which refers to “a basket whose opening is facing the speaker.” The term, Jetnil-Kijiner writes, also is used to describe "female children" who represent "a basket whose contents are made available to her relatives. Also refers to matrilineal society of the Marshallese."

Here is Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner performing “Tell Them” at Poetics Crossroads: An Open Mic with Swag, in Berkeley, California.  

Read the entirety of  “Tell Them” on Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner's blog, Iep Jaltok.

I re-read Ron Silliman’s June 4, 2010, blog post yesterday with renewed excitement and trepidation. He describes a personal archive of recordings of poetry readings that is remarkable (for its size and range) but also alas typical in the sense that there is no economy to support its being made available — or even for its preservation. If you read what Ron has to say here please be sure to look also at Steve Fama's comment.

Red Room at MWF

Clubs and Societies badge
Red Room's Clubs and Societies badge

Clubs and Societies is the latest project of Sydney-based poetry organisation The Red Room Company. Last weekend I saw some results from this project at the Melbourne Writer's Festival. The concept is to link a poet with a club or society, and to commission them to write a poem about this contact. The two examples on display were poets Ali Alizadeh (assigned the Existentialist Society) and Omar Musa (Motor Gliding Club), who performed their poems at the event. The brains behind such Red Room schemes is Johanna Featherstone, who MC'd. What was fascinating beyond the novelty of bringing the existentialists and motor gliders into the context of poetry and the Writer's Festival, was seeing poetry framed and produced for a select audience, and being able to observe the reception of the poems.

Ali Alizadeh at MWF. Photo by Tim Grey

We heard from the clubs and societies' representatives, and we heard the poet's impressions and what they did with them in a poem. There was a time-stopping moment when the guy from the Motor Gliders made a 'joke' about someone with a name like Omar crashing a glider into a building. Featherstone deftly rebuked him, saying 'they were more used to poetry prejudice than racism' and the night continued. Alizadeh's poem was framed in a narrative, of going to the society to hear them debate about 'Love'. And in a sense these were conceptual love poems performed for the men beside the poets. They were gift poems, on topics dear to the 'fanatic or afficionado' (as described on MWF event description). We could see (what I read as) both pleasure and bemusement on the poems' recipients' faces.

Omar Musa at MWF. Photo by Tim Grey

While Alizadeh, who had his own take on existentialism (not to mention love), was on relatively firm ground, to make a bad pun (puns being best reserved for poetry really), Musa's poem was a reaction to his first experience of motor gliding (meaning a motor is used to get the glider into the air, and then turned off). As I heard it then, Musa's poem was not so much a representation of an afficionado's experience, which presumably is fairly relaxed, but a rather anxious, first-timer's one. I heard a mounting tension in the longer line attempts at something poetic - and then - what worked much better poetically, Musa's list of short lines: such as 'the air', 'the swoop' etc.

Finally, I want to mention something curious: which is the anecdote told by Phil from the Motor Glider's that described his reason for agreeing to the poet's involvement. He said that though he had no other poetry in his life, he had an aunt who'd memorised Banjo Paterson's The Geebung Polo Club (weirdly another club poem), and that he later memorised it to read it to her during her dementia.

There was something satisfying in hearing poems written for others (and of course, in a secondary way for us as well): but in understanding not the poem, but rather how and why it was constituted for a primary audience, and witnessing its reception at that moment in Melbourne CBD, 2011. Yet, as the Banjo anecdote proved, it wasn't so far from something that could have happened in 1893.