Thursday, February 02, 2012

Michael Turner curates Concrete Poetry

Can we say the more conceptual a poem the closer it gets to art? Can we say there is a precise moment in which conceptual writing became an art form. Or when conceptual art bled into writing, or poetry in particular? What might the differences between east and west coast conceptualists be? Or, is there any way we can trace influences over time and geography? Michael Turner seems to be one who is attempting to do some of this work. From an interview on Here and Elsewhere:
H&E: As a writer, does some of your personal interest in working on this exhibition come from the show’s exploration of text and its visual and poetic possibilities? 
MT: As a writer I can do a lot of things. I can put a book in a bookstore without being there to shelve it, just as I can get into your head and play with your mind. Curation is a writer’s medium. The essay is an exhibition, a sculpture — and the written essay is there to make sense of it as such. I am interested in the relationship between written and visual practices, and this led me to the writers, artists, dancers and filmmakers associated with Intermedia (1967-1973), of which Michael was a member. Some of the Intermedia writers were making concrete work well before Intermedia started, writers like bill bissett and Judith Coithorne, both of whom are included in the show. What is of interest to writers and artists exploring concrete poetry is not its expressive potential but its materiality, which often begins with the letter (that is the pun that emerges from the show — the letters we send to our friends and the letters we arrange to address those letters to them). The poet bpNichol was obsessed with the letter “H” — the eighth letter of the alphabet. Look at the two together — the “H” and the “8″. I imagine what Nichol liked best about the “H”, what distinguished it from its corresponding number (“8″), was how an “H” is just an “8″ with its top and bottom open. If Greenberg were alive today, he might suggest that writing has been surpassed by oral and pictorial forms, or by code, so if it is to continue, it needs to examine itself, explore its form, perhaps through abstraction or collage. Something similar happened in the mid-1950s with the work of concrete poets associated with the Noigandres group in Brazil and Europe. It was inevitable that this kind of exploration should happen, given what happened to painting after WWII. That it happened in many places at once, independent of each other, is testament to its inevitability. The emergence of concrete poetry — the way it emerged — is an example of the far-reaching effects of modernism.

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