Friday, March 04, 2011

Poetry After Conceptual Art

Presentation by Jeff Derksen as part of North of Invention
Introduced by Bob Perelman
Followed by comments from Christian Bök, Lisa Robertson & others
At the Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

I take conceptual writing to be a significant nexus of the possibilities that poetry brings as a historical genre, as a troubled commodity, as an artistic practice within an expanded field, and as a form of knowledge. As my title implies, I hope to trouble the temporalities of conceptual art in order to open possible trajectories for conceptual writing or conceptual poetry. So while I'm wary of the heroic periodising of conceptual art, I'm also approaching conceptual writing as itself being in an emergent moment rather than it being a residual aspect of conceptualism.
[. . . ]
It is out of this post-conceptual landscape, itself a reaction to the golden age of conceptualism, rather than a universal extension, as in, we're all post-conceptualists now, that I wish to use Jeff Wall, the photo-conceptual artist from Vancouver, his other tale of the productive failure of conceptualism to look at five aspects of conceptualism that can shape a temporally-jigged and slightly decentred reading of conceptual writing.

Jeff Wall, from the essay "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," quoted by Derksen:
The historical character and the limitations of conceptualism stem from its intellectual and political location midway between the Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Society of the Spectacle; that is, between the acerbic defeatism of the Adorno-Horkeimer position, which sees art as a transcendental concretion and emblem of existing unfreedom, and the desperate anarchism of Debord's indignant cultural terrorism.

Objecthood to Publicness!

Michael Nardone lives in the Northwest Territories.
New poems to appear in Hobo and Poetry is Dead.


Lemon Hound said...

Vancouver and Vancouverites have their own idea of conceptualism and conceptual writing. It has always fascinated me...

Michael Turner said...

Thank you for posting this, Michael.

A few things. First, Wall’s essay was first drafted in 1981. Second, it begins with Dan Graham’s unrealized Alteration to a Suburban House (1978), a work that Wall recognizes as a critique of conceptual art, “where conceptualism is the discourse which fuses together three of the most resonant architectural tropes of this century (the glass skyscraper, the glass house, and the suburban tract house) into a monumental expression of apocalypse and historical tragedy,” “a critical memorial” to conceptualism’s “inability to critique art.” Third, the work, described by Wall as “a profoundly expressive work,” came at a time when “conceptualism’s suppression of the expressive element in art, once seen as the movement’s radical achievement, is decried as the source of its failure and collapse.” Fourth, Graham’s achievement, according to Wall, is the opening up of “a new period in [conceptual art’s] interpretation,” a post-conceptualism, if you want.

It might be worth noting that Alteration came at a moment when German neo-expressionist painting (a la Baselitz and Immendorff) began to exert influence on emerging New York painters (such as Basquiat and Schnabel). Also worth noting was that 1978 marked the beginning of government deregulation in the United States and a commercial art culture reinvigorated by those who stood to benefit from deregulation, such as those on Wall Street, both as consumers of large scale neo-expressionist painting (for homes big enough to dwarf them) and as museum trustees. Whether these political and economic shifts had bearing on North American poetry is another matter. Off-hand, I would say that the “work writing” that was happening on the San Francisco waterfront was a response, as was the Vancouver Industrial Writers Union, which included Erin Moure as an early member.

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks Michael, and Michael T., particularly for the history of the Wall essay.

To me Wall's notion of conceptualism is one of the more exciting ideas--I am always looking for writing that comes anywhere near the experience of encountering a Jeff Wall image.

Very little of it does.

Understandably the kind of conceptual writing we are currently engaged in is antithetical to Wall's vision.

Both the west coast variant, and the Place/Fitterman/Goldsmith drive.

I have argued elsewhere, and must do so more vehemently and widely, I think, that conceptualism offers an essential and urgent way of rethinking a vital feminist poetic...

Michael Turner said...

I await that argument, Sina, as well as your definition of “we.”

I might have added in my comment that had I attended the North of Intention symposium I would have geared my comment towards Christian’s own comment about the “expressive,” or “expressionism”. Further to that, allow me to add a text by Wall’s teacher, Ian Wallace, written in 1968 and included in the UBC Fine Arts Gallery’s 1969 Concrete Poetry exhibition, curated by Alvin Balkind and Michael Morris. The text, entitled “Literature –Transparent and Opaque”, can be found here:

Lemon Hound said...

Well, when I said "we" I meant the current discourse that has arisen out of the axis of Goldsmith/Place/Fitterman/Dworkin etc. The Against Expression "brand" of conceptual writing.

Having said that, I recognize that conceptualism is not new, and that even as I listen to Derksen posit a logical (and instinctually familiar to me) foundation, for lack of a more precise word, for a west coast conceptualism, I understand that even in that locale their are strands of conceptualism (your own ideas, Michael, for example).

I do sense an argument for a kind of conceptualism that is different from the Fitterman/Place etc., strand of writing, not opposed perhaps, but in tension with.

Part of my interest in conceptualism also has to do with a means expression, or of new expression, but even still, my ideas would not meld with those texts referenced by Derksen...or they aren't as scaffolded...

But I need to work this out and the above is roughly speaking. I hope it makes some sense. Why can't I spend some time in Vancouver tracing some of this out, damn it!

Thanks for the essay, I'll get my hands on that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the refusal to resolve is more interesting than the perpetual pendulum between a fictitious subject and object. Perhaps the itch to express is simply that, and simply ongoing. Perhaps there is no post- because the post- is, as has been alluded to, embedded in the being. Perhaps writing differs from art by nature of its more facile and more (con)strained communications. Or communicative capabilities. It is interesting that, although the bulk of literary product for the past several hundred years has been of the expressive variety, that a (relatively brief) move against expression calls for immediate humanistic tempering. The crimes that have been committed during the period of (in the name of) expressionism nothwithstanding.This is not quite an aesthetic argument, but it is perhaps worth noting that lyricism has a problematic ethic. And that this is part of the critique of the lyric (and other modes of expression) as an aesthetic technique.