Monday, 28 July 2014
9th July 2014.
We got to the gallery before opening time at 10 am expecting a big queue but it was fine, only about 20 people ahead. Gallery staff dressed in black walked along the line with leaflets and warned us that watches, phones and bags would have to be stored while we were in the gallery. 'You can stay as long as you like', they said 'but only one admission per day'.
We were met at the entrance by Marina Abramovic who shook hands and said 'Good Morning' to each person who went in. Then we went through the entrance hall to a room with lockers. I removed my jacket but was turned back because I'd left my watch on.
We went into the first room where there was a group of black uniformed young people on a central raised platform, just a step up, and a few chairs round the outside of the room. The staff picked on individual people, held their hands, and took them up onto the platform, whispering instructions into their ears. Each audience member and a uniformed staff member stood together with eyes closed, holding hands for a few minutes, then the staff member left them to it. I watched this for a while, sat down and took some time to get used to the room, everything slowed. The group on the platform was turning into mostly audience. My daughter Lucy had gone on to another room.
I went to the entrance of the second room, a long gallery. Marina Abramovic, in the same black outfit, came up and took my hand and led me to the end of the room. She told me I was to walk as slowly as possible up and down the room seven times. She walked beside me, still holding hands, so that I could slow down enough to be in step with her. 'It is important to complete seven lengths of the room', she said, 'four times will be boring but after that it is bliss'. Then she moved away.
Quite a few people were in the room going up and down, each more or less successful in getting out of the way of oncomers. It seemed a very long time to do one length of the room and turn at the same pace. The floor was tiled in rows I think, certainly there were stripes on the floor. Lucy was already walking her own line. After a while a man in a red monk's habit came and walked beside me on the next row, shoes off, wearing deep red woollen socks. His head was shaved. I was feeling hot in my shoes and stopped at the end of the second round to take them off. I noticed the other walkers, some of them were started off like me by Marina or other staff members. They would walk together with an audience member for a little while. This was a durational performance made by the audience who became the performers. And the task was so simple that they needn't be nervous or worried about exposure or failure. To me it seemed to be an occasion of mindfulness set up for participants out of the simplest means, with Marina and her assistants framing and helping it to run.
It took a long time to finish the seven lengths of the long room, as slowly as possible; it made me aware of my pace and balance, the overall awareness of gait: proprioception. I could see others stopping and starting, avoiding, leaving, speeding and slowing down. There were smiles as I repeatedly met particular people on the way, which was a pleasure. When I had completed the seven lengths I put my shoes on, turned and walked out of the room. Marina came up and put her hands on my shoulders and smiled. 'So you survived it then', she said. I agreed, happily, and went to the next room.
The third room was set up with small individual tables and chairs set in rows, just like an exam hall. I went just inside, looking for Lucy, and a black clothed young woman came up and asked me if I wanted to take part in the activity. I did. She took me to a recently vacated small table with a pile of rice and lentils, a piece of paper and a pencil. 'People are separating the rice and lentils and counting them', she said. So I sat down and made a start. At first I wondered if I could be bothered to do this pointless task, feeling a dupe of the set up, doing something that would be immediately undone. But I started to do it and became quite engrossed in picking out the green lentils which were thicker and thus stood a little proud of the white long grain rice. Like the slow walking it was a good task for someone always plotting and worrying about the next thing -- a good task to establish a mindful present awareness -- the simplicity and lack of strategy in it helped to establish that. I didn't go blank exactly, but I kept my eyes on the rice and lentils, getting them spread out a bit to make the separation easier. Lucy was in the row ahead of me and she finished before me and went out of sight. Some people walked in between the desks looking at those of us who were completing our task. I wondered how long I had been there and if Lucy might be waiting, needing to leave. I decided to just carry on and continue the task until it was finished, it didn't look as if it would take that long. I had a big circle of green lentils and a bigger one of white rice. When I looked at the paper I saw that the previous person had written '500 lentils, 500 rice (estimate)'. I added '(certainly a lot)'. Then I went out to the locker room where Lucy was waiting. We had used just the one locker and I had the key. When I got my watch back I found we had been inside for two and a half hours, fully involved for all that time. I wondered if the red-clothed western buddhist monk was a plant.
Marina Abramovic and her assistants carried out a low key performance that enabled the audience to perform themselves within a framework established by the artist and the management of the venue that commissioned the piece. It put me into a state of mindfulness for two and a half hours, without any religious language or imagery. It massively exceeded my expectations. I had previously read some bad press stories about Abramovic online but this was a good experience.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
I went to the letterpress workshop in Plymouth yesterday to print the Orcombe.com edition of Bob Cobbing's wonderful poem 'Wan Do Tree'. I really like the practical process of printing, working with the machinery to make something beautiful, and it's a special pleasure to work on a Cobbing piece. Each print day requires planning and preparation, trying out various design ideas and then working out what can actually be done with the equipment and available type. There are other people working in the print shop on completely different projects and I couldn't get anything done there without the 'old school' printer technician Paul Collier who runs the place. So it is in various ways a collaborative effort. The photo above shows the type for 'Wan Do Tree' set up in my favourite press, furniture clamping the composition in place, with ink-charged rollers ready to go. The colour is called boysenberry and it looks rich on Somerset satin paper.
My first experience of printing machinery was learning to print on an offset litho machine in the basement of the Poetry Society, this was at Earls Court Square (London) in the early seventies, and it was Bob Cobbing who taught me how to print. The machine was used for the large format Poetry Review edited by Eric Mottram and it was possible to print there just by asking if you had the front. I made some pamphlets and sold them door to door in South London. I also learnt silkscreen on very home-made equipment about the same time. Bob printed some of his Writers Forum books there as well as Poetry Review, and used the printing process for direct composition, just as he did on mimeo and later on a photocopier. There's an excellent piece by Lawrence Upton on Bob Cobbing here.
'Wan Do Tree' is copyright (c) Bob Cobbing 1977. I'm grateful to the Bob Cobbing estate for permission to make my new edition which is available only at Orcombe.com
Saturday, 14 June 2014
Great to see so many Exeter people there including Lewis expert Alan Munton, the curator Cristina Burke-Trees, and Martyn Windsor from CCANW. Thanks to Jaime Robles and Mike Rose-Steel for inviting me to speak and for organising the event. The meeting was to explore future collaborative projects in philosophy, art, technology, english, hopefully right across the spectrum.
Thursday, 10 April 2014
I just got a copy of my latest publication Nevermore from ZimZalla run by Tom Jenks. This is a standing poem in the form of a zigzag folding card with a silkscreen text printed on both sides. A tribute to the poet Robert Creeley, the text in full is a variation on the statement 'form is never more than an extension of content' attributed to Creeley by Charles Olson in his 1950 essay 'Projective Verse'. My poem is designed as a portable Creeley memorial, alluding also to Olson and (because of the title) further back to that pioneer of American poetics Edgar Allen Poe. Ideally this piece would be made in wood and fabric and installed as a free standing folding screen with a face size of just under six foot square.
The folding card is 350 gsm Antalis Perfect Image printed by Handbench Screenprint.
The black side of the sleeve cover is letterpress printed in three kinds of Univers type and the red side is a purpose-made ZimZalla rubber stamp, both on 300 gsm Somerset printmaking paper. This is a hand made edition of 40 copies available only from ZimZalla.
Thursday, 23 January 2014
|Exmouth from the train at Starcross|
I got an early train to Plymouth University on Tuesday to take part in a letterpress printing induction in the Faculty of Arts Scott Building, with writers Anthony Caleshu, Angela Szczepaniak and Jamie Popowich. The three-hour workshop was run by Paul Collier -- a printer, technician and teacher who is in charge of the outstanding type collection located in Plymouth. There is a large range of lead and wood types which are no longer manufactured commercially. I understand that the collection is of national importance, there is certainly no other collection like it in the region. So it was a privilege to have a demonstration of how type is composed and how some of the different kinds of printing machinery work. We set our names and some lines of type and they were combined into a column that we each got to print on good quality paper. It came out OK for a first try, the feel of the impression on inked paper does it for me, beautiful. My first books were pulp novels printed letterpress by NEL in the early 1970s and I saw each one first in a heap of galleys with I think three pages on each long sheet, very different from the current digital print.
I'm hoping to get some new work made in letterpress over the next few weeks.
|The printshop at Plymouth University|
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Still on show at Bury Art Museum (5th October 2013 to 1 February 2014) is the exhibition Time for Light which comprises works by Grazia Toderi, Brass Art and Tony Lopez.
Grazia Toderi's video installation Atlante Rosso (2012), a huge disc of revolving lights accompanied by machine-like sounds, seems to be based on night time illuminated cityscapes seen from the air. Brass Art's new installation of The Air That Held Them is three large fabric heads that slowly inflate and individually collapse, filling up the main gallery and creating a strange spooky atmosphere. My neon Are We Not All Palestinian?, manufactured in Manchester in 2012, is shown for the first time in a gallery with Trespass a neon piece in a suitcase by Brass Art.