Arts Writing Symposium at Whitechapel Gallery, June 18th - 19th, 2009

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Day One: Organized by Maria Fusco
As described on the Whitechapel website.

The first in a two-day series of events exploring the possibilities of contemporary arts writing.

“Ow, I seen it wive at me out of the winder, wailed the boy, and I don’t like it.”

Inscribing, reasoning and prospecting around the shore of M.R. James’ 1904 supernatural short story Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, this event observes inscription as a methodology for art writing through a range of critical and creative presentations; examining where meaning might take place, and reasoning backwards. Featuring a rare screening of Jonathan Miller's 1968 film version of the story. Speakers include Beatrice Gibson, artist, Jennifer Higgie, writer, Craig Martin, cultural geographer and Alexandre Singh, artist. Organised and chaired by Maria Fusco, Director of Art Writing, Goldsmiths College and Writer-in-Residence, Whitechapel Gallery.

This two-day event is part of a series of symposia organised by Birmingham City University , Chelsea College of Art and Design, Goldsmiths College and Reading University to develop an Art-Writing Research network. Presentations and papers produced for the symposia will be published by Article Press, Birmingham City University.

Fragments from Fusco's Introduction

  • The Day: Fusco came to organizing this event with an attitude of openness, with no clear expectations. Approaching the symposium as an apparatic (apparatus) procedure (but what does this mean?), Fusco was unsure if all "the stuff" would sit well together. And in fact it didn't, despite Fusco's noble attempt to trace connections. Many themes and issues were thrown up in the air, floated without really being engaged. The upside: there was room for interpretation; the downside: it was a missed opportunity to explore mechanisms (apparatuses) for facilitating interpretation. Labouring to interpret structure(less) production grew tiresome. Many of us, myself included, left early.
  • Miller's film version of "Whistle, and I’ll Come to You" was screened in two parts. Commissioned for Omnibus as a documentary rather than creative practice, it's strange film that's neither scary nor comic. Fusco observed there's something about its crapness that makes the film unsettling…It’s about relish….
  • James' The Ghost Stories: Tell the same story over and over again; all of them focus on the agency of an antiquarian object that may or may not bring about change in the narrative…. For Fusco, this affords a useful vector for writing about art objects. When the character sees the inscription on the whistle, there’s a moment of shock, recognition, pleasure and disorientation… and oblique memory in a way, which can be compelling.
  • Thoughts on critique: It should be a procedure of induction rather than deduction; itshould involve working in the margins, the inside meaning of something.
  • Thoughts on direction: Focusing the steady gaze; Blanchot’s: Orphic gaze…inspect…vaporize…transform…; backwards reasoning in writing is temporal in nature… Enact critical judgments through question after question rather than answer after answer…
  • Writing's relationship to its subject: Writing that harbours its subject, it problematizes and harmonizes. Fusco understands arts writing as writing with contemporary art practice, something also explored in Craig Martin's talk (see notes below)

"Suspension and Disorientation: Some Approaches to Writing With..."
Craig Martin

  • Thinking through the weather - The elements as a metaphor
  • Martin uses the experience of fog-bound scenario to think "with"-"withness” is key – to think through this experience - writing and space
  • Consider the materiality of fog - and how it relates to its surroundings...there's a thickening of space
  • Fog immerses us in space in a material space… conditional engagements with the spatial. Can writing be considered through a similar lens?
  • Questions: Where does writing look from? Can writing ever approach its object of study and as such consider it from a critical distance? Isn't a "genuine" approach always speculative?
  • Situating itself…opacity of fog as a trope to think of closeness. Writing may be located in the midst of the object
  • Martin rejects simple notions of distance and the idea of explanation – think about methodology - of proximity and writing, with matter coding of thinking...Mode of thought – how fog might exceed itself and act as a catalyst for other modes of thought…
  • Blachelard talks about the "material imagination" – see Stephen Connor's work – potency of matter; the material world…
  • Jane Bennett – speculative ontostorpy (?) – elaboration on Whitehead’s work on speculative metaphysics…
  • The creative process that’s indefinite and incomplete… distance is questionable… near and far aren't clear… density and dislocation…the horizon disappears… one looks to the horizon as a focal point in the distance… reference
  • Writing itself is a process of ordering - stable and objective perch from which to approach reality
  • Blachot: Can writing indeed apprehend the disaster? We’re already there…writing is disaster…
  • How does writing look at its object of study…Writing is immanent to its object of study… interested in relationship between writing and its object of study
  • Rebecca Solit - A Field Guide to Getting Lost – calibrating norms of distances are absent…voluptuous surrender
  • Navigation – banal and sophisticated task but to become lost involves a different kind of school
  • Benjamin – disabling experiences in Berlin...Fog resituated the distance… the troubling difficulty of Benjamin's wooded space. Space respatializes space…
  • Michel Serrs… The space of the middle The Troubadour of Knowledge Middle = passage between two shores – closeness as disorientation
  • Writing and object become one in a spatio-temporal moment…
  • Anchoring, tethering space… fog horn… lighthouse – reinstatment of an artificial reference point…Fog signals penetrate through fog to restore clarity and distance…limits are restablished… Known and unknown are separated once more.
  • Enlightenment project of disenchanting matter…safe distance between subject and object can be reestablished…
  • Stranded, immersed, opaque… contingent terms… in a foggy landscape… Sound beacons that beckon… Representations: Images – horizon is fixed… but actually, the horizon is only temporary stability… We run towards it but we can never reach it because it’s already here.
  • With material process… harness the materiality of elements… energetic implications… spatial and textual terms… hearing, squinting, through the fog… there is an immanent proximity within this object of study that may offer alternative vantage points.

A Performance by Beatrice Gibson (with readers George Clark, Mike Sperlinger and Jamie McCarthy), A vertical reading of BS Johnson’s House Mother Normal

  • The performance breaks down the production of the film into moments that are experimental and emergent
  • Geriatric comedy set in an old people’s home… nine monologues that disintegrate in coherence…
  • Subject: the challenge of recollecting a life… big silences… structurally, the book is built around a single event…
  • Vertical reading will attempt to make audible the polyvocality of the novel
  • Explore the genre of the scrip as an expression of language… It's a graphic surface and it's heard sense
  • Description of the performance: Gibson and co read the monologues simultaneously. It's hard to say for whom the experience was mroe exhausting: the readers or the audience.

Discussion of The Morning of The First Day

  • Trying to digest the morning session, Fusco addressed relations among the presentations. Where are these? Where do they go?! What’s next?! How do the texts point in another direction?
  • Looking obliquely at an area of art writing… through various methodologies… Based on today's examples: There’s not an intention of creating a method that can be replicated…
  • Fusco self-identifies as an "editor" rather than a "curator"
  • Gibson: She wanted to do a more performative inquiry…Wanted to “do” something instead of presenting "about" something... A positive movement rather than something finished
  • Points of intersection between the presentations and film…Temporal meeting points… For example, in the reading when things come together…It’s interesting, but also false cohesion…Blanchot and Bachelard…when things meet…interstice…Things meet temporarily and then they part…and the important thing is that they jell temporarily and then they pass…writing is always temporary…there are moments of clarity and moments of opacity as well.
  • One has a responsibility to problematize rather than harmonize one’s subject and it seems an important time to this because there aren’t many things that smell like art right now…Problematizing is also unsatisfactory because you’re never sure if it’s done properly….
  • Audience Comment: the turning of the pages in Gibson's reading was like an horizon, a point of orientation (Connects to Martin's talk)
  • of language…the tension between the two…this piece residing in the fog Martin described…and that’s how these things cohere….
  • Martin: He's also struck by moments of clarity…Points of searching for some clarity…moments on appearance…we tend to look for points of clarity…it was nice to find the calibrating point of the lighthouse in the fog… and this made sense of the experience…and he wonders if we’re not always looking for these horizons.
  • Gibson: Reference to Barthes's Rustle …it’s this rustle….stammer of a machine stopping working. It’s when a machine stammers that it acknowledges it’s doing something…. Desire to get House Mother Normal off the page and have it articulate, to have it… chorus
  • House Mother Normal functions well spatially because the reader has to build up a picture… the reader has to remember and hold all the book in her hand at the same time because she conflates the singularity and plurality at the same time…. You‘re able to hold the information through the anchor points…but it also disintegrates a normal reading structure…writing with and writing through… there’s a formal embodiment of his work… Construction! Final Page.
  • Audience Question: How had Gibson prepared? Performing and being performative…How did she decide the readers were going to be reading from the page or reading… where in the text... what about pace?
  • McCarthy talked about a sense of timing…and also, the significance of the text itself and how it’s worked/works…. Aware of silent gestures going on…. A fellow reader's finger running down the page… singular and collective breathing….
  • Gibson: There’s something happening between music and text... It’s dramaturgy…and vocal articulation… Script sits between these two things…
  • Audience Comment: There is something about he role of the producer… there’s something about teaching your reader how to read… not what to think but how to read… How to access the material…
  • Fusco was very interested in how you calibrate… when you’re done… when you know you’re at the shoreline… When you start writing and stop and what you end up with… temporal moments of interstice… and finishing off
  • Audience Question for Martin: Implications for reader; protocols of the page…reading practice and speaking practice…What are the implications for the reader when it comes to speculative methodologies?
  • Reading itself is very tentative… The temporal aspect of reading… The subjectivity of the reader… emphasis on ethnography… interrelationships between writer and reader…especially about time…
  • Audience Comment for Gibson: Was it important that the original form of the text was meant to be read on the page rather than aloud? This seems very different from Sara Kane's work
  • Gibson: She was seduced by her own desire to hear House Mother Normal read aloud..the author didn’t originally write it as a script… The reason for reading out a script… There is a sense of the collective as a character as well…
  • It’s also all about point of view… people are very much dominated by their own memory and experience…and how to accommodate various points of view…

Assembly Instructions (lecture)
Alexander Singh

  • Used overhead projectors.
  • This presentation had been previously shown…a quick summation: Originated from some thoughts Singh had had about the creative process: disjunction of ideas that produce alt. realities…. Thought processes are most vivid when you’re dreaming, drugs…mentally ill – (19th century idea – perhaps the they’re just dreaming). The way voices create relationship between things…
  • Inductive and cumulative, the creative process can happen very quickly….
  • Singh recently did an exhibition in San Francisco – large mentally ill population.
  • “Manhole” – “Mayonnaise”…The slippage
  • The dream state – the mind is able to make many ideas and do so very quickly because not rational…and when you wake up, it’s like a deck of cards…the mind is very flexible and/or mutable….
  • The Omega = the big idea – you’re trying to use words and language to rationalize… there’s no ”apple shift E” – flatten down and the moment you do this you lose it…either in the dreaming state or the rational state….
  • Left with answers but not questions…and so the house of cards falls apart.
  • How does a dream work?
  • Pyramid of associations…Aristotle = work on memories…working through associations…causal chain, associative chain…
  • "A" and "B" may share something…. Edifice of Associations… This happens a lot in humour… Linear association, causation chain…circuits bend reality
  • Take "A" and "E" and make knots
  • Cross-linear association – two dimensions
  • Work of art - We have the conclusion and then have to work backwards… A good writer manipulates a reader into doing this work…writers are very good spin doctors.
  • Apple… Alan Turing - Was obsessed with the story of Snow White
  • Multiple conclusions
  • Dream state – associations in three dimensions…many pyramids

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