Considerations

The Word As Bait

As a child learning to write, these lessons in script were also the cultivation of a graphomaniac impulse. I would discover the shape of a word and I would write it over and over again, a long list of conjuring things into being, the world taking shape around me by virtue of writing it into existence. Of course, not actually making the world, but making my understanding of it. And still, to this day, this is how I lure meaning from experience and observation, how the struggle to precisely name the electricity of living is imperfectly resolved: in the translation to language, in the passage from hand onto page.

Although I write primarily for some semblance of emotional and intellectual order, what was first adopted as a survival strategy has become a professional tactic: my writing practice prefigured the central methodology of my curatorial practice. When I look at art, I need language to know what I see, to understand what I feel. Texts—essays, dialogues, incendiary screeds—oftentimes accompany the exhibitions I make. I do not intend them to function as explanation machines, but maybe the writing can encourage a slowness in contemplation. Curating is an opportunity to contribute to discussions around aesthetic and performative strategies that address the complexity of shared social spaces. My hope is to use language to linger in this process of self-reflexivity, the imperative incumbent upon myself foremost.

If writing is bait for my own construction of meaning, then maybe the word can be bait for yours.

Compositionally, my predilection towards language structures the way I propose relationships between the components of an exhibition, where I am less concerned with history than I am with poetry and dialogue. The strategies I use to arrange objects in space I have learned from those I use to organize ideas on the page—synonyms for the sea do not make a poem (or, not necessarily), and neither does a collection of objects, whatever material or thematic repetition they may perform together, make an exhibition. As the poet and activist Jackie Wang has said, to create a space for the imagination is to create a container for the un-containing and un-leashing of desire. The container should facilitate generative encounters and provide a ground on which energizing and magical experiences can take place. For me, the art is always in what happens during the encounter, for writing is first and foremost ENERGY and CONNECTIVE TISSUE—a relation. Its not the textual objects but the bonds that matter.” [1] A concern for language has taught me to pay attention to the spaces between things, to pay attention to the invisible but felt relation. Although all exhibitions ask to be read by their audience, by prioritizing strange intimacies and interruption I think a different kind of reading becomes possible—less about the right kind of scholarship, more about promiscuous curiosity. What is the bond that is being made through encounter? I cannot predict it, though I work to generate it.

The Iof the exhibition is an assemblage of the artistsworks, spatial conditions and social context, a kind of collective thinking that tends toward narrative. But the Iis unruly and speaks out against itself. It continues to talk after my back is turned, rewriting itself through encounters with its audience. If my first job as a curator is to compose, to write, then the reciprocal expectation is to heed the dialogue that rises, to find myself reading the traces that remain. My earliest impulses to write brought the world into existence. What is brought into existence now, or what I hope I am doing through this cultural work, is to encourage what might be delicate to come into the form of something more robust, giving ideas material form so that they make take root in others. And we will be bonded.

[1] Wang, Jackie. “Aliens as a Form-of-life: Imagining the Avant-Garde.” In The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility & the Avant-Garde, eds. Lily Hoang & Joshua Marie Wilkinson, 325. Lebanon: Nightboat Books, 2013.

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Considerations

A Specific Poetic Literacy

In Susan Howe’s The Spontaneous Telepathy of Archives (2014), she quotes Robert Duncan on the specific capacities and compulsions of poetry:

The secret of the poetic art lies in the keeping of time, to keep time designing or discovering lines of melodic coherence. Counting the measures, marking them off, calculating the sequences; the whole intensified in the poet’s sense of its limitation…one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding (17).

Which she later follows with her own theory:

Poetry has no proof nor plan nor evidence by decree of in any other way. From somewhere in the twilight realm of sound a spirit of belief flares up at the point where meaning stops and the unreality of what seems most real floods over us (63).

Where they first seem to counter each other—Duncan’s suggestion of poetry as order, Howe’s claim that the poetic moves against imposed logics—they come to echo each other in their measurement of poetry’s force residing in its capacity to mirror in a way that exceeds the image itself. For Duncan and Howe, the reflection engendered through the poetic use of language is somehow greater than the thing it describes.

This more than cannot be for the poet alone: to read these texts means to apprehend both an appearance of an event and a performance of it, where correlation does not strictly hold. To read poetry, on these terms, means to feel the space between the thing itself and the effects of contact with it. The intuition of this discrepancy must be a reason why, to write. The apprehension of this discrepancy is, then, a specific poetic literacy.

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Considerations

That Writing Takes Advantage

Marguerite Duras, naming the referents and compulsions and privileges of writing, in an essay entitled “The Death of a Young British Pilot”:

Emotions of that order, very subtle, very profound, very carnal, and essential, and completely unpredictable, can hatch entire lives in a body. That’s what writing is. It’s the pace of the written word passing through your body. Crossing it. That’s where one starts to talk about those emotions that are hard to say, that are so foreign, and yet that suddenly grab hold of you…I write because of the good fortune I have to get mixed up in everything, with everything; the good fortune to be in this battlefield, in this theatre devoid of war, in the enlargement of this reflection.

My own writing process often feels dire. It is difficult, emotionally strained work when trying to shape ideas so as to share them with others, and it is desperate work when trying to process the intensity and despair and joy of living for myself—how else to make sense of this thing called living? I adore the work as I resent it, and I’m grateful that this is the way for me, through language. So it is good to be reminded that this labour is actually living itself, a kind of living possible only in the luxury of having access to the silent, still places of contemplation, to observe the charge of experience as it ricochets through the cellular networks of flesh.

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Considerations

Curriculum Notes (Pato/Moure)

Cut from many different chapters within Chus Pato’s and Erín Moure’s Secession/Insecession (2009/2014), some notes toward a theory of poetry (in a summer where I’ve set a curriculum to understand that form of language):

Moure: “Fiction allows us to inhabit the mind of another without urgency, increasing capacities for empathy and reducing the need for cognitive closure. Poems, being ambiguous, activate cells in more areas of the frontal cortex” (30).

Pato: “I speak of the impossible coincidence of languages and world, of the fracture in which the I of a poet is constituted, of how the poem is an emotive-cognitive writing that touches the world, of how a poem is a passion of language” (51-53).

Pato: “It could be that poet is one whose disposition coincides with the identity of a given language. The identity of a given language, any language, utters the world but its declarations don’t converge with the world.

Perhaps (psychology?) being a poet means assuming the caesura, constituting oneself in secession, in the very impossibility that languages might link words and things. A poet asserts I     I is a deserted site, a silence, a cut, a distance” (119).

Moure: “I hesitate to say anything about poetry except: it is a conversation we speak into, an our consanguinity in words (material effect) matters” (120).

Pato: “In a poem objects don’t exist, nor emotions, nor feelings, only words that are the irremediable absence of the aesthetic they provoke” (125).

Moure: “Poetry, it is said by this me which is not me, is a conversation, or a texture like a shawl and each one of us weaves our own particular corner, or the bit where we gently hold its edge, aware that others are pulling gently as well on the surface of the textile, contributing their own gesture to the whole. And none of us produce this whole, not on our own, not with our friends alone. None of us are this whole nor can any of us speak for this whole that is poetry, we can only bring our hands’ work into the conversation, and raise not just our voice but our ears to it, to listen,

as listening affects the bones inside the ear and the balance of fluids inside certain membranes

listening alters the cells” (148).

Moure: “And so what if poems are cryptic, this protest just annoys me, poems activate more areas of the human cortex than do non-ambiguous speech, they bring excedent light and hormonal energy into the dark matter of the frontal cortex; where we read literature we equip our brains to deal with ‘ambiguous speech’. We realize the ambiguity of all speech, all mouths opening, and where in the mouth the accent is. Location, fear, passions, humidity” (150).

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Considerations

The Coming Revenge

In Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue (2015), she wonders:

To what degree are creative acts antidotes to the desire for cultural or institutional revenge (91)?

Kapil is writing the story of a race riot through a collection of images. Or scenes. Where the voice that tells the story seeps through into the Ban that portends to hold the collection together. It is a story told through averted vision. For the multiple Bans of the novel, there is the text as some sort of permanent marking around what is otherwise a nothing, a negation. The writing is an act of refusal, but there is not yet revenge. I believe that is still to come. I believe it—the creative act—is not an antidote, not entirely. Though something is made possible, which might just be revenge itself.

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Considerations

Failing amidst an army

In conversation with a dear friend recently, she was describing the desire to fail more, which to me sounds like the reciprocal impulse of bravery, a position that makes risk-taking possible. The future may come as we imagine it, or it may come otherwise, but there is only life as it is already if we do nothing. I was reminded of our conversation as I read through the final episode of Juliana Spahr and David Buuck’s An Army of Lovers (2013). Set in five parts, each perhaps related to the others, the central characters wonder at the futility of artistic creation, knowing that music cannot cure disease, that poetry cannot stop the warming of the climate and that performance art cannot end the practice of torture. The book ends with a glorious, extended call to act none-the-less, specifically in collaboration, despite the fact that circumstances may remain unchanged—because in the acting there is an electricity that is transmitted amongst us.

“We want art that makes us wet and driven, driven to flail and whelp and court failures in our impulse to action, again and again, failing with ever more grace and cunning, until futility becomes the magic that when dissolved beneath the tongue of all those ready to bark leads to ever more fruitful inquiries, for our bodies are bored by answers, which is why we wish to striate and rejuvenate the questions, even if in our questioning some of us are led to then ask how might we refuse this, refuse all of this” (139).

And I was reminded of my dear friend and how much I want to fail with her again. That thing between us is its own kind of life, and we can tend to that as a political gesture, encouraging each other to believe that music or poetry or performance can come to bear on the world outside of our intimate connection. Even if it can’t. Or, not in the ways we imagine it.

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