KATHY ACKER & MCKENZIE WARKThe forthcoming book I’m very into you features an email correspondence that took place in 1995 between writers Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark.
I’m very into you, edited by Matias Viegener, will be published by Chiamus Press in January 2014.
by Kathryn Mockler
At the hospital there was an extreme doctor who managed to convince all the doctors and nurses and all of his patients to stop treating themselves. What they didn’t know was that all of the studies she cited were bogus. She wasn’t really interested in medicine. She was interested in rhetoric. She had wanted to be an English major, but her family would not pay her tuition for an English degree. No one ever asked to see the studies she referenced. They just trusted that she knew the results, and she paraphrased them in such as way that no one contradicted her. She had established authority because she had practiced medicine for over 50 years. Soon the hospital became the place where people came to die and no one was healed there anymore. They closed all the MRI labs, x-rays became a thing of the past, and they ceased treating people for cancer. What no one knew was that this was her plan all along. She liked the idea of tricking everyone; it felt to her like an extended April Fools’ joke. You actually believe we shouldn’t remove the bullet from that kid’s chest? Okay, she thought, if you’re all that stupid, we’ll just sit here and watch him die while his parents weep and thank me for my trouble. She saved the hospital a bundle, so the administrators were happy. It was one of those cases where someone who was doing a bad thing was believed by everyone to be doing a good thing like when McDonald’s commercials feature kids in wheelchairs or single moms.
she’s totally gross when trying to be sexy she’s still a bitch she’s just protecting her own interests the only thing I am sure of Kathryn looks out for Kathryn I wanted her dead but if she does stay on his side then she may live FINALLY dumb bitch I punched my TV screen when she said I fucked him I’d bash her if I saw her in life why the fuck did she go meet him she should have spoken to her husband first then go meet him so FUCKING STUPID she’s money hungry you will meet people in life with punchable faces Kathryn is one of them bitch doesn’t understand dinner small talk I really really want him to just smack her over the face with his metal crutches and end the bitch someone should shoot her that’s all I have to say I’d totally fuck her I will wack this bitch I would never lay my hands on a women but I would dead set fuck her up with a chain saw not a team player goddamn I hate this vindictive bitch hoer I’m waiting for him to kill her I want to fuck her face with a cactus fuck this bitch whore slut she’s a piece of shit we need to somehow trick this bitch onto a rocket and shoot it into the fucking sun or a black hole either one is fine fucking hate this bitch shittest wife and mother award goes to Kathryn fuck her fat sea cow head such a fat fucking head WHY IS SHE SUCH A CUNT finally I’ll be honest bitch is such a buzz kill Kathryn needs to die she was cool then she fucked him who is she I just want to ask who the fuck is Kathryn wish he would round-house kick her to the jaw such a fucking bitch FUCK YOU KATHRYN FUCK YOU dam hoe kill her dumbass Kathryn is the biggest bitch ever fucking hate that slut I fucking hate you bitch quality somebody slap this broad there is hope for humanity after all fuck Kathryn in the nostril with a red hot poker normally people look a lot nicer when they smile but when she does I get scared rotten fag hag I have this theory that if you cut off all her hair she’d look like a British man sometimes I dream about killing Kathryn those dreams end wet and sticky she’s gotta go this bitch shit cunt words cannot describe how much of a fucking mole she is I’ll kill this bitch with fire she’s a dumb hoe bag fucking hate this bitch she does me in hard what a filthy fukn slut royal pain in the ass hope she dies badly oh my god yes btch needs to shut the fuck up and suck his dick just do it you dirtyyyyy little whoreee hahaaaaa I friggin’ can’t stand her filthy slut I woulda backhanded the bitch fuckin’ ruins everything such a crazy bitch I hope she get’s cancer and dies get off the dick and on the pip bitch you need to shut your mouth and cook your son some mother fuckin’ breakfast I hate this fucking slut I hate this gonad crushing slut it sure seems like she’s finally standing by her man
The Saddest Place on Earth by Kathryn Mockler
Reviewed by Stephen Osborne in Geist, 89, Summer 2013
Pavel Büchler, Studio Schwitters, 2010. Sound installation, loudspeakers, table and computer. Courtesy the artist and Max Wigram Gallery, London.
On Reading Postscript
by Kathryn Mockler
August 6, 2013
In his 1971 piece, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, John Balessari sends a handwritten note and video of him writing “I will not make any more boring art” to students at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design who then are instructed to write this sentence on the wall of the gallery. While Baldessari sets the project in motion, he does not execute it or even attend the exhibition. The text and the performative gesture substitute for the art object.
Compare this with Vanessa Place’s Statement of Facts, currently featured in The Power Plant’s exhibition Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, in which she uses legal documents from her job as a lawyer and presents them (unaltered for the most part) as a literary work. Here the conceptual premise is not asking us to replace art with words but is asking us to accept pre-existing information as literature, narrowing the gap between life and art. According to Craig Dworkin, in his introduction to Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, “the guiding concept behind conceptual poetry may be the idea of language as quantifiable data.” Conceptual writing is interested in information-as-literary-content and the repurposing of language by any means: stealing, reinterpreting, copying, restricting, or cutting.
Although they share some similarities in their investigations of originality and creativity, it’s a mistake to see the conceptual artist and the conceptual writer’s gestures as equivalent. Dworkin describes how 1960s conceptual artists construed “language itself as art and the art object as a text to be read” in order to challenge art aesthetics, skill, and materiality. Since poetry is made of words, using words doesn’t challenge poetry or literature in the same way.
Most recently conceptual writing has come under attack by various factions of the literary community, and there is a pervasive for and against attitude when it comes to contemporary discourse on avant-garde writing. Part of this reaction stems from the fact that conceptual writing critiques traditional notions of literary writing—from how it is generated to what constitutes a literary work—and this seems to really hit a nerve. While the discussion may be lively, we actually don’t have to look at conceptual and literary writing from an either/or point of view. It’s possible to see that both genres have value for different reasons and to see conceptualism (in it’s various manifestations and approaches) as another tool in the writer’s toolbox as it has come to be seen in the art world.
Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, curated by Nora Burnett Abrams and Andrea Andersson, is comprised of works in a variety of media by over 50 artists. It’s the first comprehensive exhibition to tackle the frequently misunderstood genre of conceptual writing in the context of some of its conceptual art influences, and for many the exhibition serves as an introduction to this form of writing.
Postscript is divided into five conceptual approaches—appropriation, translation, transcription, constraint, and redaction. Since it’s not always clear where the work in one category begins or ends, and many of the works transcend their categories or belong in one or more, the groupings help provide context without being overly prescriptive. It’s a loud and dense show, sonically dominated on either side of the gallery by Pavel Büchler’s sound installation Studio Schwitters (2003) and Dexter Sinster’s video Identity (2011).
The exhibition focuses on conceptual writing from the 1960s to the present, and many of the works in the show converse with each other or with early conceptual projects. For instance, João Onofre restages a 1972 John Baldessari film in his 2003 video Catriona Shaw sings Baldessari sings LeWitt re-edit Like a Virgin, extended version. In the original film, Baldessari sings American artist Sol LeWitt’s text Sentences on Conceptual Art in hopes of bringing LeWitt’s work to a larger audience, an ironic and humorous statement on the disconnection between art and the broader public and between conceptual art and video and the popular art of the time. The re-staging of Baldessari’s piece with Scottish pop singer, Catriona Shaw, to the tune of Madonna’s Like a Virgin renders LeWitt’s original text incomprehensible, and all we hear is the familiar refrain of the pop song. In this game of video “telephone,” the original message is lost, reinforcing Onofre’s concern that by “applying the conventions of the present” to past artworks, we risk misunderstanding the art of the past.
The works of Derek Beaulieu in The Newspaper (2002-04) and Paolo Piscitelli in Out of Print, Travel (2008) allude to photographer Sarah Charlesworth’s 1978 conceptual project Modern History where she removes the text from the front page of 45 international newspapers, leaving only the newspaper headings and the photos in their original placement on the page. In addition to redacting information as Charlesworth does, Beaulieu and Piscitelli’s also rematerialize the newspapers from which they are working. Over a two-year period, Beaulieu read the July 18, 2002 issue of the Calgary Harold and translated all 124 pages into paintings coloured-coded by subject matter, and Piscitelli created 3D sculptures of the June 15, 2008 New York Times layout using wooden clothes pegs. The repurposing of this media allows us to step back and think about our relationship with the newspaper as an object—a timely reflection given the crisis facing print journalism.
Conceptual writing often concerns itself with setting an idea in motion and examining the results of a constraint. It celebrates elements that directly contradict or critique what is considered traditional literary writing in terms of content, process, and product. Postscript presents text projects by Andy Warhol and Kenneth Goldsmith, both of whom use constraint to broaden the boundaries of what it means to create a literary text. Andy Warhol’s iconic a: a novel (1968) transcends our understanding of “the novel” and the process by which it is written since it is comprised of a transcribed taped conversation between Warhol and Ondine, an actor in Warhol’s Factory studio, over a two-year period. Here the content—the conversation—is just as important as the process. Warhol enlisted four typists who transcribed the tapes according to their own styles including all typographical errors. The result is a transformative work that is part documentary, part performance, and part time capsule. Kenneth Goldsmith applies a Warholian constraint to the concept of his 1996 work Soliloquy which is presented here as a floor-to-ceiling installation. The text consists of an unedited transcription of “every word Goldsmith spoke over the course of a week” in April 1996. In both Warhol and Goldsmith’s texts, the banal is juxtaposed with the dramatic, and the constraint, which sets each work in motion, substitutes for an imposed narrative structure. The result is a raw, sprawling, and, at times, unreadable text that opens the parameters of what constitutes a literary product.
Transcription can also be used as a powerful tool for political critique as Luis Camnitzer does in Memorial (2009). This moving installation honors the 300 victims of Uruguay’s military dictatorship who were “disappeared” from 1973-1985. Camnitzer reinstates their names into the Montevideo phone bookand displays them on the wall as a tribute to the lost citizens of the country in which he was raised.
Appropriation has the potential to link past conversations into a present discourse. An historical artifact—the medieval Bayeux Tapestry—serves as the source material for Michelle Gay in Battle Game (1999-2000) and Fiona Banner in 1066 (2010/12) but each approach their subject in entirely different ways. Gay’s digitally printed tapestry juxtaposes 1990s game code with the historical artifact as a comment our narratives of war and how they may be reinterpreted through technology. Banner’s 1066 image-to-text translation of the Bayeux Tapestry’s depiction of the Battle of Hastings not only pushes us to question the ideology presented in the tapestry, but also critiques the way we come to understand and pass on history.
In their video, To the Reader (2011) Robert Fitterman and Tim Davis display Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 poem “To the Reader” on the wall of the gallery alongside a video comprised of a series of vignettes of people reading the poem in their workplaces. Baudelaire’s poem admonishes the reader for the sins of the world and the reader’s inability to do anything to change the plight of humanity. The subjects in the video are filmed behind deli counters, in plant and pets stores, in pharmacies, in dentist examining rooms, and in cramped office spaces. The readers appear vulnerable with their stilted renditions and by posing in their place of work surrounded by cluttered desks, discarded take-out containers, or like the pharmacist and deli clerk with their faces obscured by tall counters. The dentist reads the poem while a patient waits behind her in the dentist chair creating an awkward tension between the two. These readers have been asked to read a poem they likely would not have read otherwise—a poem that implicates them in the downfall of humanity. Are Fitterman and Davis aligning with Baudelaire’s view that boredom is the sin that threatens to destroy humanity or are they countering his view by making the subjects in the video more human than Baudelaire’s depiction of the readers he’s addressing in his poem? Interestingly a conversation between Fitterman and Davis and João Onofre’s also emerges since the former are asking us to consider Baudelaire’s poem in a contemporary context—a gesture that Onofre warns can lead us to misunderstanding past works.
In much conceptual writing, the skill or artistic mark (if one finds it necessary to discuss the works in such terms) is in the curatorial and juxtapositional choices that the writer makes using content that already exists. In Dog Ear (2009-10), Erica Baum creates fragmented but precise found poems by photographing the dog-eared corners of books. This series experiments with the experience of reading and reinforces that appropriation and reframing can produce compelling poetic gestures.
Just as conceptual artists asked their audiences to rethink art objects and the act of viewing art, conceptual writers are asking their readers to rethink literary objects and the act of reading. But unlike the art world, which came to terms with conceptualism as a legitimate method for making and thinking about art many years ago, the literary community still seems to be at odds with conceptual writing practices even though many contemporary writers like Elizabeth Bachinsky, Sina Queyras, Aaron Kunin and many others use conceptual methods in tandem with traditional literary modes.
Conceptual writing offers its audience, among other things, a unique point of view, depth, humour, and space for critique. Operating somewhere between art and literature, conceptual writing sets about posing questions and initiating conversations. While many of these conversations do challenge traditional notions of literary expression, it’s safe to say that literary writing is not in danger of becoming obsolete—in fact, like all art forms, it benefits from the critique.
If you are interested in checking out Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, it runs until September 2, 2013 at The Power Plant in Toronto: http://www.thepowerplant.org/
On August 8, 2013, there’s a Poetry Salon at The Power Plant in which local writers respond to some of the work in the show with readings by Gary Barwin, Sonja Greckol, M. NourbeSe Philip, Jenny Sampirisi, Adam Seelig. Moderated and Curated by Margaret Christakos: http://www.thepowerplant.org/ProgramsEvents/Programs/Other-Programs/Poetry-Salon.
Dworkin, Craig and Goldsmith, Kenneth, eds. Introduction. Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing. Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2011. xxxv-xxxix. Print.
Wye, Deborah. Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004. 188. Print.
“Pardon me,” I said. “I thought you were a hillbilly dancing to Aretha Franklin with a fat raccoon.”
“I’m not,” he said. “But haven’t I heard that line before?”
“You have,” I said. “It’s from a Richard Brautigan book—only the narrator mistakes a woman for a trout stream, and I’m mistaking you for something else.”
“Brautigan’s line is better,” he said.
“Yes it is. Because it’s timeless. You can mistake a woman for a trout stream at any point in history,” I said.
“The English teacher would call that plagiarism,” he said.
“She would, but the English teacher is not a credible source because she wants to kill herself,” I said.
“The English teacher wants to kill herself?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “very badly.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because she’s fat and no one will marry her. Because she’s in a book club. Because she has a sign above her desk that says—I love chocolate. Because she really does love chocolate. Because she wanted to do other things with her life. Because she ended up teaching grammar and composition at the community college in the town where she was born. Because she teaches her students to think and write in the exact same way—for a paycheque.”
“Is she fat like the raccoon?” he asked.
“Yes, exactly that fat,” I said.
by Kathryn Mockler, August 2, 2013
Here is Gary Barwin’s Poem: OLD SONG, FOR A HILLBILLY AND A RACCOON DANCING TO ARETHA FRANKLIN ON THE PORCH
Here’s the video that inspired the poems: Hillbilly Dancing to Aretha Franklin with a Fat Raccoon