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Tag Archives: poetry

Post-Art

What is the difference between artists and poets? What does the nuances, the trace elements, of these two different words mean for the way that culture workers understand their work? I’m not sure and I have lived in shared houses with both. I have called myself an artist and a philosopher but I draw the line at being called a ‘poet’.

Will Coles, Pussy Riot mask, Hosier Lane

A century ago I would have still been talking about poetry with the Dadaists in Berlin but by 1919 Hugo Ball had already distance himself from Dada.

“Conclusion: that the political action in Switzerland no longer makes sense, and that it is childish to insist on morality in the face of these activities. I am thoroughly cured of politics too, having already given up aestheticism. It is necessary to have a closer and more exclusive recourse on the individual basis: to live only on one’s own integrity, and to renounce completely every corporate activity.” Hugo Ball 24/5/1919

Avant-garde art, poetry, political action or social practice; the emptiness of Dadaist nihilism is such that each interpreter’s transfers their own desires and expectations on to it. From Johannes Baader, the Berlin Dadaist who in 1919 showered the inauguration of the first German Republic with his home-printed leaflets, Das grün Pferd (The Green Horse), to Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk prayer’ performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012, many people have taken a creative approach to politics.

However, I have growing doubts about this whole art thing. Why would anyone want to be an artist? I admire the people who quite art: Marcel Duchamp and that minor Renaissance painter, I forget his name, who tired of all the talk about perspective gave up art to become an innkeeper. (I’d like to drink to him.)

Why should artist be regarded as some kind of panicle of human achievement? The romantic middle class self-indulgent masturbation fantasy believing that they are expressing some vital essence for the good of humanity.

Art, the great appropriator comes into the room, and tells you that your stuff is part of its grandiose definition. It is the kind of blatant theft that it would make Jeff Koons and Richard Price blush with shame that they had been so modest. It is so colonial; items of cultural and religious significance are appropriated. From prehistoric cave paintings to religious material; every artefact becomes art. Anything that fits the current idea of art becomes the property of the Republic of Art; for “Art” like “God” is eternal, universal and vaguely defined. At the very least the word ‘art’ is over extended and is a poor model for culture workers.

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I am not Schwitters either.

“Up the stairs he went, and once more rang Grosz’s bell. Grosz, enraged by the continual jangling, opened the door, but before he could say a word, Schwitters said “I am not Schwitters either.” (Hans Richter, Dada, art and anti-art Abrams, 1964, New York, p.145)

I am not Schwitters either so I don’t know who is Schwitters. To understand a person from only one perspective is like looking at a silhouette, there are only two diamentions. The more views, the more contradictions and a three or four dimensional character starts to take shape

Hans Richter account of Kurt Schwitters “a first class businessman, a born shop keeper” (p.149) is markedly different from that of  E.L.T Mesens, of a man travelling third class with a very small suitcase that contained nothing but a spare celluloid collar for his thick flannel shirt and bunch of his Merz publications. Kurt Schwitters is best known for his Dada collages but he should also be remembered for his great modern poetry.

Schwitters cover trial

Three Stories: Kurt Schwitters by Kurt Schwitters, Jasia Reichardt (Editor) (Tate Publishing, 2011, London) is a small 32 page hardcover book with three stories and a poem by Schwitters. There is also an introduction by the editor Jasia Reichardt and an essay about Schwitters by Mesens.

The only images in the book are a couple of small marginal illustrations that accompany “The Flat and Round Painter”. This fairy tale is an absurd allegory about why all paintings are now flat. It was written around 1941 when Schwitter’s was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man.

“The Idiot” was originally written in Norwegian and was translated by Schwitters into English. The setting feels very Norwegian although there are no definite references to any particular location.

“The Landlady” 1945 is a short sketch of an “intelligent” landlady who would make Basil Fawlty appear reasonable.

For me the best part is his “The London Symphony” written in 1942. The realism and urbanism of this poem is truly radical as all the lines came readymade, composed from the hand painted advertising signs that Schwitters saw on the streets of London.

“Tribute to Schwitters” by E.L.T. Mesens was commissioned for ARTnews in 1958 and has been unavailable since then. There is also Ernst Schwitters reply to Mesens is a previously unpublished response by the artist’s son Ernst Schwitters and a response from Mesens. Mesens raises issue Mondrian’s attitude towards Dada and this is part of the dispute with Schwitters’s son.

Another point of difference of opinion is over the quality of Schwitter’s treatment in the English internment camp on the Isle of Man. Mesens claims that he enjoyed it but the artist’s son, Ernst Schwitters, who was in the interment camp with his father, disagrees. Although a Belgium citizen Mesens was involved and informed by the English especially Roland Penrose with whom he ran the London Gallery.


Poetry of Proper Nouns

The act of naming is an on going process where we are all poets in a communal enterprise that stretches back thousands of years. The act of naming is the secular baptisms of the everyday. The declaration of a new name is a form of poetry – the reduction of poetry to a proper noun – the Dadaists and the Lettristes wanted to take the reduction of poetry further to single letters and phonemes.

It is a type of poetry consisting of only a few letters, a couple of words yet so much can be generated with a proper noun – sounds, mystical observations, wit, evocation, even satire. A name can refer to other names to evoke historic or metaphoric meaning or simply be a pleasing play of sounds. There is the religious mystery of names, or the philosophical problem of how a referent connects to the referred; a proper noun a name generates an image in the mind.

Lench’s blockbuster since buffed

“Language is a virus from outer space and saying your name is better than seeing your face.” – Wm Burroughs

The act of self-naming by a person, a group, a band, a crew  –creating on a new name as a new identity the nom de plume, nom de guerre, a tag (nom de rue) is different from the poetry of the common names given to plants and animals or to the nicknames given to people. It is an autonomous self-conscious action consequently often far more artistic because it is not bound by official titles or the dictates of the masses.

Self-naming entered art at that the moment of modern magic when the word “Dada” was selected at random from an encyclopaedia. And the Dadaists were equally busy reinventing themselves making an art of creating new identities: Jan Hertzfeld became John Hartfield, Marcel Duchamp became Richard Mutt and then Rrose Selavy and Arthur Craven was an invented identity by Fabian Lloyd. There was another point in the 1960s when there was a change of band names from straight names to poetic names. And then a point in the late 1970s when musicians adopted names that no-one could mistake for their real names: Johnny Rotten and the rest.

The story of how the name developed is a standard question for reporters. Endless articles have been written about band names – Blah Blog, a Melbourne blogger comments on the poetry of band names in Arthouse line-ups. It appears to be such a trivial issue but it raises a profound philosophical question of names and identity – the new name subverts the authority of the state or the mass to name things.

From the names of the gangs of New York City, to avant-garde art groups, bands, punks, street artists and taggers the poetry self-naming exists in defiance of the paternal right to name. Auto-baptism is the poetry of ontological anarchy.

“They say of God, ‘Names name thee not’. That holds good of me: no concept expresses me nothing that is designate as my essence exhausts me; they are only names.” – Max Stirner The Ego and His Own


Spray the Word

Deciding to complete my view of current street art exhibitions I bicycled to the The Library Artspace to see “Spray the Word”. The bicycle ride along the Upfield line in Brunswick and through the underpasses under Royal Parade was another exhibition of street art. Some of the pieces were so fresh that you smell the paint.

The GST crew has painted a colorful new piece north of Brunswick railway station. It is a beautiful piece with fantastic characters and creative use of aerosol techniques.

In the bicycle underpasses under Royal Parade the former railway tunnels have been decorated with graffiti; one a legal street art project, the other one anarchic.

“Spray The Word” is a collaboration between Australian and Brazilian stencil artists and poets. There is a delight in collaboration in street art; arranging contact between artists and is generally effective. Online electronic translators and virtual contact make international communication and collaboration possible.

There are about twenty images in the exhibitions all of them combing one-line poems are combined with stencil art images. The combination of text and images are natural for street art. Project coordinator James Waller and the rest of the team should be congratulated for assembling this exhibition.

Ozi, a stencil artist from Brazil has created some of the best images in the exhibition. His bold two-color stencils on the patterned surface of shower screen vinyl were slightly damaged as they were posted rolled up but these small paint chips adds to the image. I also particularly admired Satta van Daal’s ‘Femscape’ and his collaboration with Seldom in ‘POP’. Brazilian stencil artist Bette has a distinctive folk style.

The Library Artspace is in the former library of the former St. Joseph’s College in North Fitzroy. It doesn’t have any books and shelves left, just a glass-fronted office, a large flexible space and a smaller projection room. The Library Artspace is part of J-Studios where some of the exhibiting artists work. 


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