Friday, February 06, 2009

Catching Up

After a terrific reading by Kit Robinson & Diane Ward at the Poetic Research Bureau, we headed down to Chinatown where William E. Jones was holding a book release party for his latest project, Heliogabalus. In this, the third book in a trilogy of textual appropriations, Jones collaged various texts about the Roman emperor (who was somewhat of a gender bender, at least in myth: he supposedly married a man named Zoticus, wore excessive make-up and powder, and asked several physicians to equip him with female genitalia -- though most of this is likely apocryphal) with vintage ads and photographs from 70s-era magazines. The design, apparently, exactly mimics a magazine called After Dark.

Woids ‘n Aht: Speculations on the Expanded Field of Writing, a panel of visual artists who use text prominently in their work, was held the next day at MOCA. Mary Kelly, David Bunn and Charles Gaines each presented papers and examples from their work. I was especially interested to see this panel in light of a recent conversation over at K. Lorraine Graham’s blog about avant-garde writing and art and the pressure in each field to make overtly political work. Kelly and Gaines, especially, could be described as artists who foreground the political. Unfortunately they were the least compelling on this day. David Bunn, on the other hand, was a revelation.

Bunn, as I wrote below, acquired the archive of two million reference cards from the LA Public Library when the system went digital (a photograph of his studio looks like the giant archive where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ark) -- he now creates art, poems and artist books with the language on the cards. In the image below, for instance, Bunn created a poem by looking up all the titles in the reference library that begin with the words "Why Does".

The issue of "poetry" as a problematic discourse in the field of art came up during Bunn's talk. According to Bunn, when he first contemplated creating poems in the late 80s/early 90s, he had to face the fact that he would be working in a field that had been totally discredited, maligned and ridiculed by the art world due to its perceived "subjective affect", senimentality and emotionalism. Poetry, he implied, did not engage in critical thinking, and Bunn was a conceptual artist for whom critical thinking was paramount -- how could he possibly write poetry? These sentiments were later echoed by Charles Gaines when he claimed that his total non-commitment to poetry stemmed from the idea that "You can't think and have feelings at the same time."

One hardly needs to point out that this is a sort of caricature of poetry -- of romantic effusion and Hallmark card horridness. I suppose the artists just weren't (aren't?) aware of the history of poetry -- that by the early 90s, (before then, even!) there were several strains of poetics that held the same sort of suspicions about subjective affect, emotionalism, sentimentality, lyricism, etc.

Later that night I ate some foie gras cotton candy. It was basically a big hunk of foie gras atop a lollipop stick, wrapped in sweet vanilla. You eat it in one bite. Sweet, salty, gamey. And surprisingly very tasty.