The seminal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry artwork is a case of 500 5″ x 8″ index cards each with a short typewritten poem, or sentence.
Bury Art Museum and the Text Art Archive have bought Edition of ‘W’ of a newly discovered batch of 26 that were printed at the same time as the original 1978 print run of 200, but lost until 2011.
Grenier has said that the unbound index cards are an homage to Robert Creeley’s, ‘Pieces’ which Grenier said accomplished steady sounding of the voiced process and real-time experience. (See/hear interview between Grenier and Charles Bernstein).
Of the 500 cards there is no relation of one poem to another – apart from the ‘fictions’ makes when read when made. Also, in Grenier’s performances of the work we can hear the sound quality and verbal events that each card brings about. Each utterance is an obscure, limited sentences that introduces a possibility wide field of possibilities.
They are very literal, simple words that have a projective capacity and in the way of sound poetry, create an extra-linguistic “reality”’.
Most of the poem cards were written in New Hampshire where there was “lots of white space around”.
Over the next few weeks I will interview Gallery Directory, Tony Trehy and Grenier researcher, James Davies (both poets themselves influenced by Grenier) to find out more about what this acquisition means to the Bury Art collection and the Text Art Archive, and also to practitioners in the UK.
Today I met with the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s Archivist, Gary Haines. Gary is coincidentally a fellow School of Art Birkbeck researcher as well as being the key body in charge of the Whitechapel’s vast archive of records produced by the Gallery from the past 100 years, including publications, rare documents, artists’ letters, photographs, graphic works, press records, exhibition plans and installations, recordings on tape and videos of artists, critics and curators.
The Whitechapel Archive is the perfect model to gauge and consider the systems in place in the Text Art Archive. The huge size of the Whitechapel archive underlined the necessity to keep archives somewhat loose, let its organisation anticipate a researcher’s wanderings, rather than strictly map them; do not lose sleep over ‘best practice’, let the logic and idiosyncrasies of the material guide how you structure the collection.
Here it was wonderful to see the feedback between the archive and the gallery – however they do not archive the actual art works, the ‘WAG Archive’ is mainly composed of exhibition material, admin and catalogues, press cuttings and education packs. While there is a generative and key system of exchange between the collection and the exhibition galleries, the archive a primarily document-based.
The reading room and archive exhibition room was definitely inspiring in terms of what can be set up as a space for engaging with archive material within the context of gallery curation.
It was a pleasure to talk with Gary about the practicalities as well as the intellectual practices of archiving. As researchers we shared a perspective on the various ‘ways into’ the material aspect of archives and how a priority for a project like this is to balance preservation with access. How one can experiment with access to the material however is what will make this project innovative – as well as the accessioning of artworks with the records.
Last week I made a trip to Denmark in order to make connections, see different art archives and attend a conference on curating sound art-archives.
On my first day I met with the wonderful artist and writer Ida Marie Hede Bertelsen in a bar in Copenhagen.
We talked about our current projects and some book-works she is involved in and her forthcoming publication. She is going to hopefully send some work to the archive.
The next morning I got up very early and took a plane to Aarhus. When I arrived I went straight to the Kunsthal – an art gallery and key international project space directed by Joasia Krysa.
The seminar was on curating sound art archives and was part of a three-stage seminar series on curating sound art. The seminars are organized by LEA and the LARM infrastructure Project (www.larmarchive.org). In close Collaboration with Kunsthal Aarhus, ZKM – Zentrum für Kunst und Medietechnologie, Goldsmiths, the Courtauld Institute, The University of Westminster and OCR (Operational and Curatorial Research). The event in Aarhus was introduced and hosted by Morten Søndergaard who opened up the ideas around interactive sound archive designing and how this specifically relates to the archive of the Finnish artist Erkki Kurenniemi.
The first presentation was by the artist group, Constant, who at Documenta 13 in Kassel had that curated a project that experimented in interactive installations of Kurenniemi’s vast and discursive cassette archive of ‘sound diaries’. Constant described that their challenge with this material ranged from the sheer vastness of the archive, to the ambiguous material of Kurenniemi’s sound documenting (sometimes interviews, sometimes humming and talking to himself in the car, sometimes intelligible nonsense, sometimes clear theorisations on art and science, sometimes reading out passing cars’ license plates), as well as the ethics of essentially making public the private records of people implicated by the audio – some cassettes even contain audio of Kurenniemi having sex . Therefore the processes through which the sound data had to be made accessible had to cushion and protect the individual characters in the diaries, filter and frame the large amount of material, as well as best representing the spirit of the archive. The key philosophy Constant appropriated in their approach was one of ‘random access’.
‘Random access’ was the answer to the question: what you do with a mass of unformed, unorganised material, how do you build an interface that maintains the integrity of the archive. For Constant this involved placing a series of algorithms onto the raw, digitised sound data. One such algorithm was called ‘Gradual Average’ which overlaid the sound information, each tape at a time, gradually and then gradually unlaid them, providing a spectrum of sound information. Within this spectrum what became clear – which hadn’t been apparent in the arduous process of listening to the tapes individually – was that Erkki’s voice (whether talking, humming, nonsensing) was the predominant sound in this archive.
Constant’s use of these devised software mechanisms for framing the archive also raised the question of what their role is in making the archive accessible: where they simply composing a new sound piece from the data? Were they behaving as artists, curators or archivists? For them the question was easily dismissed, what was important was the valued access to the archive.
This was a question that came up through the day – was the creative designing of interactive archives being an artist? Or another role? For me the question was to be turned on its head. What do the innovative interactive interfaces do to the role of the visitor-researcher and how does it frame their encounter? What do these instances of ‘archive roulette’ do to the archival knowledge? Or, what kind of archival knowledge is gained from these encounters? This is a question I put to Morgens Jacobsen who curated an intriguing sounding ‘audiobar’ with sound files coded into different coloured bottles that could be played at a specially designed bar. This took random access and interactivity to a new level that even more so raised the question archive knowledge. Jacobsen right emphasised the value of the kind of ‘stumble-upon content’ and the kind of knowledge-experience this allows.
The exhibition on at he Kunsthal was called CERTAIN PECULIAR THINGS AND IDEAS, OFTEN FAILED (OR, ON HUMANS, MACHINES AND RUNNING ALGORITHMS) and was part of the same season of programming by SYSTEMICS #1 and was, in itself answering some of the questions being untangled in the conversation.
That night I was introduced to the another major art location in Aarhus, the incredible Godsbanen. An enormous arts complex in an old railway station. Located at the Godsbanen at the Aarhus Literature centre who are currently working on a new Art Writing programme and masterclass. At the Godsbanen, introduced to me by Anne Steen Himmelstrup, they even have small apartments – where the train drivers used to sleep – for residencies and overseas guests. Like me…
The next day saw the beginning of a series of talks hosted by the literature centre as a launch to their art writing project – also held at the Kunsthal. I was lucky to catch the first talk by Caroline Bergvall who has been a major informer to their project.
Caroline’s talk was typically invigorating to my thinking about writing practices and: writing as articulation’; approaching material ‘illogically’; testing the smallest point of language materials; ‘body-led speech’; how to learn from and converse directly with other artists through their archive.
The art writing programme is certainly one to watch and I’m excited to see it develop.
I had to rush from there to the airport and fly back to Copenhagen.
Having been trained in creating an intellectual structure for the archive and database, I now see the project in all its complexity more clearly, if not, less clearly. The task as i see it is to create an archive from a series of conversations; a process of exhibitions; a collection that hasn’t settled and an art project that is still in process.