Wednesday, 24 June 2009


On 17th June I went to the exhibition POOR. OLD. TIRED. HORSE. at the ICA in London. Named after the 1960s magazine run by Ian Hamilton Finlay, POOR. OLD. TIRED. HORSE. is 'an exhibition of art that verges on poetry', including 1960s Concrete Poetry and Text Art by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Henri Chopin, Ferdinand Kriwet, Liliane Lijn, Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Christopher Knowles, and artists from that period who used text in some way such as Robert Smithson, Philippe Guston, Alasdair Gray, David Hockney, and some more recent artists who make text based art: Anna Barham, Janice Kerbel, Sue Tompkins, Karl Holmqvist, Matthew Brannon and Frances Stark.
     I was really delighted to see the 1960s concrete work, especially an installation of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Sea Poppy I as a large wall painting. It was also wonderful to see dsh typewriter art as framed originals rather than as reproductions in books. I have the Finlay in my copy of Keith Tuma's Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (New York: OUP, 2001), but it really is much more impressive as a large wall painting. Liliane Lijn's rotating text cones set on record-player turntables (photo above, from the V & A collection) are great, Ferdinand Kriwet's stamped circular aluminium signs playing on power and sex language, Carl Andre's excerpts from Shooting a Script, Christopher Knowles' 'typings' from the 1970s, patterns made with the typewriter matrix, that look like carpet designs incorporating text. All this work is really worth seeing and the material that extends the show is compelling at first, especially the Philippe Guston / Clark Coolidge collaboration 'I am the First' (1972). After that, there is a quite a bit of material that is interesting but doesn't really manage to take the Text Art concept anywhere. I don't think that contemporary Text Art is represented well in this show.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


I was in London for the Royal Literary Fund Summer Party (thanks to Steve Cook of the RLF for a great spread and good company) so I went to see the  exhibition Richard Long: Heaven and Earth at Tate Britain. I've seen lots of Long's work at different galleries but I haven't seen a really big show before. The large scale mud wall paintings and the installed stone sculptures really have a strong physical impact when gathered together on this scale and Tate Britain can show this kind of work very effectively. The other work is documentation of events, especially walking and making land art out in the landscape. So what you see is a record of something already over and the work is conceptual, communicated through wall-painted lists and photographs which have their own generic aesthetic: the lists assembled in large scale Gill Sans capitals, typically in red and black. The photos usually empty of humans except the evidence of Richard Long's own low impact interventions: walking to make a line in grass or moving some local stones about. 
     There is something unsatisfactory about work that is communicated only through documentation. It's like having a theatre programme to a show you couldn't attend. So for me the wall paintings and sculpture installations have an important function in the exhibition, even though they undermine the conceptual purity and the aesthetic of minimal environmental intervention in Long's work. The impact of hand made work that is there in itself is a crucial experience. The work wants not to be Romantic about the landscape, but the life story of a singular walker in the UK and in remote wilderness locations all over the world, cannot help but establish an heroic artist explorer like a posh Victorian mountaineer at the centre of the enterprise. Even so, it is very moving to have this record of a life work of great clarity, intelligence, and environmental concern. 


The first Exeter festival event for me this year was Courtney Pine at the Northcott Theatre. This was a great jazz concert, Courtney Pine's band are all great musicians and they got plenty of scope to demonstrate their individual talents. This performance was part of the Transition in Tradition show promoting his latest album, which is conceived as a tribute to Sidney Bechet. I was frankly amazed at the range of this band, extended treatments of New Orleans, French and traditional Jewish music and great improvised solo and sustained ensemble jazz, the audience was wild with enthusiasm for the band. All the future dates and albums are listed on his own site here

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Last night I went to see cris cheek perform at Studio 3 in Dartington. The new performance work in progress was called Monday Morning, on and offing God's Commons. Some torn strips of text fragment and other material on paper was collaged into a palimpsest of printed and handwritten language and also neatly woven to make partly readable text surfaces that had been photographed and were projected as a changing backdrop. In front of this, lit up by the projector and casting shadows on the back projection, cris was reading from hand held text and from the text on the wall.
     Some earlier versions of this performance, incorporating documentation of projection and previous live action were also part of the projected sequence, which included interiors and architectural forms. There was an intermittent scratchy violin sound track, previously treated voice recordings and the whole event was driven by cris's extraordinary capacity as a voice performer. There were at least two cameras documenting this event, so I'm hoping someone will be able to provide me with an image or two for posting here. Thanks to Larry Lynch of Dartington College of Arts for putting on this wonderful event.
     It was great to see cris perform at the superb Dartington studio 3. I haven't seen him for a few years, last time I think we had lunch with a big crowd at Ravi Shankar's in Euston, when Bob Perelman was working for a year at Kings College in London. Cris is now on the faculty at Miami University of Ohio, in Oxford, Ohio.

Books received: cris cheek, part: short life housing. Toronto: The Gig, 2009.