To create the paintings above poet and artist derek beaulieu read the Thursday July 18, 2002 edition of The Calgary Herald, and continued, over the next two years, to read the same day's newspaper... That alone is a feat, that alone is a complete reversal of the deeply ingrained instructiveness of our culture, how we are supposed to ingest materials at particular speeds. A little like cracking open the opium vial, rather than allowing the slow drip... However, like conceptual poet Kenny Goldsmith, or fellow Canadian poet, Christian Bok, beaulieu did not stop there. After exhaustively reading every page of the July 18, 2002 Calgary Herald, beaulieu "reconstructed each of the 124 pages as a full-scale painting."
There was nothing particularly eventful about July 18, 2002, other than the fact that papers were produced and consumed, largely unconsciously. beaulieu says:
I wanted to explore the way that information is presented to us, and the way that we are informed by its packaging. The newspaper is taken for granted as an “artless” media, a utilitarian media devoid of non-informative spaces. This is clearly not the case.So, we see a colour coordinated layout of the system of transmitting information. The solid black of what must be an ad, speaks volumes I think. The newsier items usually regulated to the bottom inner corner. Having spent my early teenage years working in a newspaper I get a certain satisfaction out of this show. There is a lot of discussion about placement and percentages per page, there is a lot of play in terms of headlines and cut-lines. The editor of the small paper I worked on from age 15 to 17 would often sit around and embed coded messages denouncing a particularly despicable politician...but I digress. There is much more than placement here. And like an editor/publisher, beaulieu examined the layout of the paper and recreated his own system:
I created a representative system based not on the specific content of each article, but rather on the over-arching subject matters of those articles: international, national, provincial and local news, entertainment, sports, business, health and ever-present advertising. These differing subjects interact in a grid structure resembling Piet Mondrian’s highly modernist geometric paintings.Of late I have been a aspiring to a hum in my own work, a wall of words that might replicate the glaze paintings of Marcia Hafif, or a room full of Agnes Martin. Pure colour, or pure form, seems the only acceptable response to the virulent misuse of words, the way that politicians disabuse them, clinging to various meanings at their convenience. As if in the ultimate transubstantiative moment whatever Bush says at a given moment is truth because he said it, no matter what the meaning might be...
What beaulieu achieves here makes me see that this is possible, this finding meaning in alternate ways. As beaulieu notes:
Reading the newspaper in a typical fashion – reading the actual content of each article, following fractures across pages and eliding the advertisements – prompted Marshall McLuhan to observe that reading a newspaper was an experience of Cubism in the everyday world.Yes. And more than ever we need to take words to task. We need to think about what are the white hots, how we are shading what ideas we are ingesting. Consider the following:
I assigned each category a different hue, and then each article within each category a varying shade of that hue: 30 international news reds, 9 national news yellows, 11 provincial news browns, 12 local news pinks, 28 entertainment blues, 32 sports greens, 19 business purples, 10 health oranges.What an amazing system we are all unconsciously subscribed to.
What do we want poetry to do? A friend asked me this recently over a cup of coffee in Soho as I lamented the lack of direction and passion. What indeed. Do we want our poetry to make people feel good about their inaction? Do we want porchverse, as Lisa Robertson so piercingly mocks it in The Weather. Or do we want to make visible the architectures we are all ingesting?
In Counterblast, McLuhan stated that “the newspaper […] structures ordinary unawareness in patterns which correspond to the most sophisticated maneuvers of mathematical physics and modern painting,” and the newspaper has continued to be an inspiration to artists who seek to interpret and “make strange” the quotidian information contained in each issue. For a year Nancy Chunn rubberstamped and collaged on top of every front page of The New York Times creating Front Pages. Kenneth Goldsmith’s DAY transcribes every single word in a single copy of The New York Times into a single monolithic volume.
As I laboured through the series of paintings, the vocabulary of The Calgary Herald was systematically replaced with colours. Naphtha Red, Turner’s Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Phthalocyanine Green, Dioxanine Purple, Perinone Orange.
<br>Like any constraint-based project despite the restrictions I placed on language the form itself asserted a moment of chromatic editorializing: what had been lengthy reports on the Klein** government’s drought relief effort were now simply fields of Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber.What I want is precisely this: to see what I am daily ingesting in an entirely new way. And to have that done in innovative, thoughtful ways. To be as fully conscious of my surroundings as I can be, and to be astonished, yes, and of course, to come back to words. Or, at least to poetry. For more on derek beaulieu see my posts on his href="http://lemonhound.blogspot.com/2006/04/no-press-calgary.html">Winnipeg Suite here, some thoughts on concrete poetry here, and my mini-review of Shift & Switch here, and finally, beaulieu's essay on concrete poetry can be found on ubu here, and this just in, a <a href="http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/beaulieu/">page of his own on the Buffalo Poetics site.
**Conservative Premier of the province of Alberta