Sunday, December 28, 2008

Michael Kelleher reading through his library is def. one of my favorite things going right now.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A's to Thom's Q's

Hi Thom,
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to answer. Today is Dec 17, exactly a month since the reading which prompted your questions; as you know, it was in part the accident of calendar dates---the Nov 17th reading being symmetric with the still-upcoming Jan 17 reading---that suggested the ultimate performance to me, so I thought I’d answer by marking the midway point.

What is communication?
This is a good question but is so huge I feel it requires me to either give a complete disquisition, or else be reductive & clever. So it is very hard to answer. In order to get timely to the rest of the questions, let’s say that for the duration of this Q&A (as into the future for all our expanding conversation), communication is a thing we hold open between us, for the sake of an as-yet undefined exchange. It’s both threatening and gentle. You would like to know something, but I’m not certain the complete scope of what it is you want to know. I’m going to proceed based on your cues (signals), which are questions, and send cues & signals back to you, in the form of answers and further questions.

What is the relationship shared between communication and art?
I think it might be the possibility of artifice.

What is the relationship shared between your work and 70s “Live Art” (or performance-based art)? Participatory art? Tactical Media? Procedure-based art and writing? Land Art?
I don’t think about a shared relationship so much. ( I have to think about “participatory art” right now a lot at work, & feel really exhausted and irritated by the phrase. It’s too broad.) Elise Ficarra suggested to me about my own work a long time ago its distinctly ‘relational’ qualities. But I’m a poet, not a performance artist, or a visual artist, or a “social-practice” artist, I don’t think of my work under those terms, I think under the terms of poetry. I don’t think of my work as ‘procedural’ either.

To what extent do you feel you are extending the problems of New York poets such as Vito Acconci, Bernadette Mayer and Hannah Weiner? To what extent would you like to or feel you do complicate these practices?
I wish I were my idea of the Vito Acconci of Seedbed, my idea of the Bernadette Mayer of Studying Hunger, my idea of the Hannah Weiner of Code of Signals. But I am myself. I don’t think of myself as complicating those practices, I think of my work as extending its own problems and complicating its own practices. My work probably has more to do with Bas Jan Ader’s falling pieces and his ultimate disappearance and with Walter Abish’s 99: The New Meaning than it has to do with any of the artists you suggest above. I’ve been thinking about Bas Jan Ader for about 15 years and about 99: The New Meaning for about two weeks.

Where does poetry currently stand in relation to visual art?
Poetry is indigent and visual art is corporatized. POETS and ARTISTS seem to have very little exchange (“communication”) between them. Contemporary poetry and contemporary art seem to me both largely risk-averse pursuits. POETS and ARTISTS risk very little. I think ARTISTS take slightly greater RISKS than POETS because the gamble can win them MONEY. Which is ridiculous! POETS are nothing but risk if they are properly attending to poetry. Plus they have NOTHING to LOSE! Don’t you think?

With the rise of “social networking” tools such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as life-simulators such as Second Life, how should or could we, as culture workers/artists/thinkers, reenvision communication and participation as problems for our work?
I appreciate this question but, presented as a problem, it is not one I keep in front of me as part of my work. Also, I am not interested in making prescriptions for other people’s practice. What does interest me is the way I find myself using these tools as further sites or playpens for poetry. What do the 140 characters of the Facebook status update make possible for me as a poetic? More direct: what kinds of poems do I get to write now that I have the 140 characters of the Facebook status update as the site, and can surreptitiously and intravenously feed my colleagues, & my cousins I haven't seen in twenty years, little eyedroppers of poetry via my "status" update output. An invisible antidote to the surreptitious and invisible intravenous extracting and amassing of personal information that is the FB ethos? (LET YOUR LIFE BE A COUNTER FRICTION TO STOP THE MACHINE - Henry David Thoreau) What do other people do with their tools? That interests me a lot.

But Thom, what do you think? I'm maybe lazy, & I don’t want to think/write about how or if to take this on as a problem or responsibility of the poet. But I do want very much to know what you think about this.

You have referred to both TAXT books and your reading performances as "site-specific". How do you understand the term "site-specific" in relation to your work?
I’ve asked the poets who do chapbooks for TAXT to conform their work to the physical site—24 pages, 8.5 x 5.5, including title and end page and plus cover (always blank). Some of the writers have manipulated the terms of the space to suit their work (Michael Nicoloff’s text was only 20 pages, so we added a double cover) and some of the writers have conformed their text to the demand of the site (Eleni Stecopoulos cut many pages of her original text to fit, and we added the single black-out page to re-assert the darkening of the room she’d employed when reading the text in performance). IE, I commission a work for the space, and then wonder what will the person do with that space. Whether or not anyone has REALLY thought about what they’ve done there as specific to the TAXT site (ie, something that could not exactly be done elsewhere or in any other way) I don’t know. Let’s ask them: TAXT poets?

My reading performances have often but not always been direct responses to specific physical spaces, specific social groups, and specific kinds of institutional demand. I do also sometimes just carry in writing and read it. But I’m very interested in thinking through questions of space and audience, live space, and live audience, and expectation, requirement, demand.

You are asking me these questions because of what I did at the Poetry Project on November 17 2008.  I thought for quite a number of months about what to do for a New York audience. My performance work has been relational and specific.What could I possibly do for the New York poets? I hadn’t been in New York in more than ten years, and I had never been to the Poetry Project. I’m even embarrassed to say that I didn’t know it was in a church for actual (I think I thought this was metaphor) until someone wrote to me the week before and said, do you know how to get to the church and then described a fucking church to me!

At any rate, I spent many weeks thinking about what I should do. For a long time, for New York, I was writing ‘a talk’ about my job, which I took on last year in my own mind as an extension of a poetic, an opportunity to put my ‘paper architecture’---I said this in the interview and I can't believe they still hired me---into actual practice. So for awhile I was writing this talk, describing my job and how it was a (failing?) poetic. I was going to be talking about how no one can see that it's poetry once it becomes a cause & effect of my day labor, but that it was actually a very specific kind of poem, very considered, as form, and as content, & as measured out in space and over time; I wanted to say I was attempting many new forms, all the time, in most cases textless, because this is what I was doing, quite consciously, in the day job. I was calling this talk “You went to the conference speculating on the expanded field of writing, and I went to work”.

But the more I thought about this, and kept writing it, the more I realized I should not WRITE it at all, I should just try to SAY it, extemporanously, something I am very bad at doing, as that would more actively reflect the fragile, invisible, always-fucking-up-ness of my job-as-poem, and also the absence of a tangible, containable product commonly called “poetry”; it would also demonstrate the kinds of questions I’d been asking of poetry, via performance, here in my west coast town, where my community is quite generous with allowing me space & time to consider these questions publicly.


What (if anything) do the terms “virtual” and “actual” mean to you? "Possibility"? "Potential"?
When I am working at home and I come up against some kind of wall or block, I take a shower, often multiple showers in a single day. I have just stepped out of the shower.

In what ways do you imagine any current artistic practices to be effectively social and/or political?
I’m less interested in artistic practices as effectively social and/or political than I am interested in persons (who might be artists or poets) and how they are effectively social or political. An artistic practice that does not extend to a personal one is valueless. And possibly vice-versa.

In what ways can participatory and extemporaneous performance practices be considered more ethical/emancipatory than object-based ones?
I wouldn’t claim in either direction. Although I described above at too much length my own performance at the Poetry Project, you haven’t asked after it specifically in your questions; by not asking after the specifics, but by asking after an ethics, I am concerned you state for me that by having done what I did, I make a universal ethical (or emancipatory) claim. What I did was make the most ethical decision for my own work. Also, I gave what amounts to, for me, an object-based performance. I was invited to read at the Poetry Project, which means, to me, that I was invited to bring the work that I do, and the questions that I consider in my practice, and ask them in the presence of and together with the good and attentive audience who might be there. Is that not what we all do, and wish for, under the best and most ethical circumstance? I have been for a number of years asking what is the form and benefit of (and yes, the ethics of) the poetry reading, but well beyond that I have been asking what it might mean to respond to the site and the situation I find myself asked to enter. I have asked myself what it means to read ‘my writing’ and then I have asked myself, of course, under these terms, what ‘my writing’ is.

I certainly don’t feel everyone should get up and make an ass of themselves doing something they are bad at in order to prove the case of an alternative object. My aim was to test myself, to again test the limits of “a reading” and to try a new form. I had an opportunity to make something, in this case, to write two site-specific readings at one time (but of course then neither of them quite happening at or in their own “time”). I was investigating other things that are of greater interest to me than emancipating the poetry reading or audience or inviting audience participation, ie I wanted to think about: time, space, audience, confession, disclosure, accident, presence, absence, performance, exchange, intimacy, fear, vulnerability, ineptitude, honesty, artifice…

Why, in the past decade, do you think (re)enactment has become such a popular art form across the arts, but especially in visual art? Why not so much in poetry/conceptual writing (Kenneth Goldsmith's Day and Rob Fitterman's reenactments of the Grand Piano project aside)?
Thom, I am so sorry, I am really unsuited to making grand statements of why, or why not, especially in fields I know almost nothing about (all fields). A curator I work with said recently he thinks re-enactment is a method of truth-finding. You turn it over and over and over and over in order to know the truth of the thing, to feel it, to demonstrate its real truth, which might be separate from an original understanding of its own truth. (Something in me killed it in me, it wasn’t me. Re-enacted, was it me?) But I think I disagree, except in terms of an aggregative truth, as in what more can be added to the truth of that? This afternoon an aging self-described Bay Area conceptual artist told me he thought Chris Burden was absolutely right to refuse even to discuss Marina Abramovic’s request to re-enact one of his early performances, as reenactment is nothing but spectacle and theater.

My own work has taken up re-enactment often, but I have never thought of it as ‘re-enactment’. I’ve thought of it as metonymy exploded to maximum view.

If this is a meme, I think this means I’m to pass it along to others. Thom will you answer these questions? I also ask Joseph Mosconi.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008