Poetics: theories of literary making; forms and discourses. Material: the physical, rather than the stuff of
MATERIAL POETICS ANCA GALLERY 24 AUGUST – 11 SEPT ’16 opening 6pm 24.8 by poet melinda smith anca gallery 1 rosevear place, dickson act 2602 wed-sun 12-5pm
thought; the matter out of which objects are made.
anca australian national capital artists
CAREN FLORANCE ak a ampersand duck, is an artist w hose work focuses on the book and the printed word. she uses tr aditional letterpr ess and bookbinding processes in contempor ary contexts. car en works in the anu printmedia workshop and at the universit y of canberr a (uc) and is a doctor al candidate at uc.
Material poetics is, as usual, a matter of translation and context. Poet Charles Bernstein says ‘Poetics is the continuation of poetry by other means’ (1992: 160); so too, material poetics is the continuation of materiality towards other meanings. Every discipline has its own perspective on what materiality means to its work. Writers think about the various applications of material words to form metaphors. They also riff upon the material processes of writing: pencils, pens, keyboards, screens, fingertips. Visual arts and craft disciplines – when they are resisting pure optical ity – work with ‘direct engagement with specific material properties’ (Adamson 2007: 39), which means foregrounding the qualities that belong to that particular material: e.g., the heavy softness of lead; the fluidity of paint; the bite of acid; the clarity of glass. These elements can be explored/resisted/expanded on a purely physical level, but when you add an exploration of what associative meanings can be embedded in a material, then we are moving closer to the way writers think, and closer to material poetics. Not only is lead heavy and soft: it lines caskets; prevents x-ray vision; forms printable letters; draws a line. It has connotations and associations, different for everyone according to their experience and understanding. These contextual associations can become building blocks, allowing the material/s to carry/project/represent the artists’ desires in a way that (hopefully) offers further possiblities for the viewer/reader/audience to find their own message. Messages change over time, and the ‘familiar’ can never be taken for granted. Material poetics is two-pronged: it is performing Heidegger’s ‘thingness of the thing’, and it is embuing the thingness with one’s own knowledge of its context and history to tease out new connections. It is performance, spectacle, dialogue, negotiation and degustation all rolled into one.
touching/reading/touch is a small series of publications that demand physical engagement rather than the receptive separation usually required in a gallery. Each piece explores its own production and invites the reader to be curious and interactive. The physical distance of making is one of time and place, yet here we are, you and I, sharing the experience of touch.
touching/reading/touch 1 Touch to Activate (2015). Letterpress & offset ink on paper. 2 Mark (2009). Letterpress on paper, sewn. 3 Swipe (2015). Photocopy on paper, hand-sewn. 4 Touch 00100000 (2016, above). Typewritten paper, coil binding, jar, tweezers.
UK FREDERICK & KATIE HAYNE have collaborated on several art installations and artist books including a series of works about their stolen car ‘georgia’. uk frederick is an artist with a long term research interest in the role of mark-making and creativity in generating affect and belonging; as well as the reception of text and image. She has a background in archaeology and visual anthropology and a phd in visual arts from the australian national university. katie hayne’s art practice is in painting and photomedia and she is currently studying an mphil in painting at the anu school of art. she is also a research officer in the university of canberra centre for creative & cultural research.
This work is a response to a series of Australian rock formations that have become sites of vernacular inscription and place-making. Amongst them is Thunderbolt Rock, Nambucca Heads’ V-wall, Sisters Rocks and closer to Canberra the smaller but curiously specific Birthday Rock just outside Braidwood. The unique position, structure and surfaces of these geological outcrops has led them to become significant landmarks in the human imagination. They are important on many levels: as part of a deep Indigenous cosmo logy of country; as way finders in a colonial map of discovery; as nodes in a historic landscape of pastoral settlement; and as contemporary sites of community identification and belonging. Over time, they have become sites of mark-making and subsequently emerge as places of return and secular ‘pilgrimage’. Distinct from the aesthetic of the urban street art environment, these painted rocks enfold a sustained chaos of commemoration, whereby amateur writers leave their messages as an act of personal writing, and local tradition. A resulting palimpsest of words that are both legible and illegible: written in anonymity for anyone to see, their meaning comprehensible only to those members of the community to whom they speak. As strangers we only gain sight of their value in glimpses, as fragments of earth and aerosol messily entwined.
1 Love on the Rocks (2015, above). Acrylic on flaked dacite Dacite flaked by Tim Maloney and UK Frederick 2 Talking to strangers (2016). Reclaimed graffiti, rocks and spray paint. Dimensions variable.
NICCI HAYNES has a bachelor of science (hons) from universit y college cardiff (wales, uk) 1985; and a bachelor fine arts (hons) from the austr alian national universit y, canberr a 2007. she curr ently works in the printmedia and dr awing workshop at the austr alian national universit y.
‘I have come to realise that the central thing I wish to communicate is communication itself.’
The shape of words Image characters and their image lives coexist with the living, breathing world. The written word belongs to both the material and the image realm. Gerald Murnane (2014) speaks of writing’s other-worldliness with overtones of both religion and particle physics: ‘my Holy Trinity: images, feelings, words. Those three are the basic components of my universe, the sub-atomic particles of all that matters – images, feelings, words.’ Yet elsewhere Murnane refers to ‘the varying shapes that a sentence may take’, making writing into a tangible substance, to be moulded like clay. The solidity of writing is nowhere more extravagantly proclaimed than by James Joyce’s assertion that an entire city could be reconstructed from the words of Ulysses: ‘I want...to write a novel about Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book.’ (Budgen 1934:34) And yet in spite of his claim regarding the capacity of language its inability to render the non-material world eluded Joyce. Declaring ‘One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot’ (Tindall 1936:18), Joyce went on to construct the edifice that is Finnegans Wake in which he re-shaped language to the extent that it ceased to be recognisable as writing in English. ‘…I felt I could not, use words in their ordinary connections. Used that way they do not express how things are … the conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious…’ (Ellman 1983:546) My own inability to capture by means of language what I might describe as the contents of my mind causes me to abandon words altogether and focus on their properties. A fragile grid of fine wires, a delicate net of woven hair, a mess of black threads: these are my texts.
The work exhibited in this exhibition consists of alphabet letters suspended in a clear liquid. After arranging the letters in such a way, an image came to mind from the transcript of a talk given by Gerald Murnane titled ‘The Breathing Author’ (2007). The writer reported: ‘Most of my pieces of short fiction have begun with a single image.’ In a further text titled ‘Why I write what I write’, Murnane (1986: 514–17) states: I write sentences. I write first one sentence, then another sentence. I write sentence after sentence. I write a hundred or more sentences each week and a few thousand sentences a year.
The alphabet letters in the liquid brought to mind images of the crystals I grew from a single salt grain as a child: the crystals propagating unpredictably in many directions. I imagined a single letter proliferating, growing first into a word then a sentence, more sentences, a few thousand sentences …
Words (2016). Glass, liquid, glass.
SARAH RICE is an art-theory lecturer, visual artist and writer. she straddles the theory/practice divide by drawing on both her phd in philo sophy and her graduate diploma in visual art. she writes art catalogue essays, gives poetry readings, runs ekphrastic poetry workshops, and writes poetry in collaboration with other visual artists.
We are for the texture of words as well as the text; we are for the sensation as well as the sense; clarity and obscurity are measurements of density (speaking bluntly); the words themselves matter less than the manner of their coming (The Saying and the Said); a poem is crafted, formed, given shape. We mould meanings, bend words to our purposes. This act of creation brings the text alive under our hands. Words touch us.
If words were is a series of multidimensional, mixed-media works; some framed and some ‘found’ and altered. The words and texts are excerpts from my poetry. I use ‘used’ sandpaper to reference sensation; the softness and hardness of our speech on a scale or continuum, along with feathers, fur, hessian etc. These works explore tactility, and often incorporate braille. I also use an assortment of fishing tackle to show how words ‘hook’ us in and ‘catch’ hold of us, and what ‘return’ our words have when we go ‘fishing’: the beauty of the dancing fly, the lure, the bait, the sinker, the throwing out of the line. If words were (2016). Mixed media.
One of the trickiest things about poetry is that I am no longer sure if I prefer the taste of the cherry, or the feel of the word in my mouth. This line comes from one of my many poems about the materiality of words, in all their edginess, their softness, roundness, sharpness, fullness. Words have corners one can bump into, but they also have texture, tone, taste, spiciness, bitterness, opacity, pressure, weight. We try to hold on to them, but they have a hold on us. How we hold them, how we pass them to each other, and how we receive them is the question. Perhaps the answer, an answer, (the proposal in both my poetry and in my visual work in this exhibition), is to think of words as concrete, as material, as having substance. Perhaps if we treated words as things with edges, with body, with warmth we would handle them differently. For me, this exhibition starts with a thought experiment (as in the following poetry excerpts): ‘If words…’ If words had a weave we would feel when our lover spoke to us in hessian when we needed satin taffeta … … if words spoken could be felt like Braille a sensitive perception of the digits, under the fingertips … … If we could ink up our words like a thumb-print, analyse the friction ridges … … words are hooks for fishing with… … Words put their hands on us and press…
JEN WEBB is distinguished professor of creative practice at the university of canberra, and director of the centre for creative and cultural research. a poet and researcher, she is lead investigator on the australian research council discovery project ‘understanding creative excellence: a case study in poetry’ (dp130100402).
In 2015, curator John White made me the gift of a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which he had found in a junk shop. The flyleaf was inscribed ‘To Henry’, from ‘Blanche M Adamson’, and dated December 1914. Some detective work followed, and Blanche appears out of the shadows of history as a vital, passionate, empathic and fiercely independent woman. Out of the material of historical archives, a body of poetry has emerged, written by me and by my colleagues in the Prose Poetry Project. A material object; a person who exists only textually; a body of material produced to invoke her, to re-engage her material presence: this is poetry. This work is a fragment of her story.
Blanche (2016). Installation, mixed media.
The feeling of being; the speaking of silence Word made object; object that calls up the words in which it might have a public identity. Poets wrestle with this gap between word and object, thing and expression. ‘Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself‘ (Stevens, 1983: 565). ‘No ideas, but in things’ (Williams, 1958: 163). We understand that a pebble is ‘filled exactly / with a pebbly meaning’ (Herbert, 1993: 114) and needs no other purpose. We sense somehow that ‘there is in the orange a yearning to recover its content after having been subjected to the ordeal of squeezing’ (Ponge, 1972: 36–37). Knowing this, knowing the thingliness of things, the actuality of their own fullness, their own identity and being outside the discipline of language, we are nonetheless compelled to try to realise them in words. We are caught between wanting to make representations, and wanting simply to present. The poet’s dilemma; the human’s dilemma: buy into language, and you agree, implicitly or not, to the gap between the world for itself, and the domain of language. Refuse to buy into language, and you will not exist, as such, within the community of human beings. What Lacan calls the Symbolic propels each of us into fullness of language, emptiness of sign. It forces us to leave behind the domain of the (capital R) Real. There are few, if any, bridges between the speaking self and the Real. No matter: we step nonetheless blindly, blithely, into the space between, stepping on air, not looking down. Don’t look down! (‘Look into the abyss too long, and the abyss will look back into you’: Nietzsche (2002: 69).) And if from time to time a fragment of the Real reaches up and seizes me by the ankle, I will clutch onto a paradigm, or a syntagm—onto anything related to the construct of language—and avoid the impossible fall. Or find an alternative logic. Hunt out ways to articulate the feeling of being. Plain words and structures. The what-matters of the world. Get your hands dirty. Start to think in material, and not in language.
JORDAN WILLIAMS teaches literature at the university of canberra. she makes works that combine text and various media, predominantly screen and textiles. her research uses issues of poetic form, techn i que and materiality in poetry to illuminate connect ions and tensions between artistic works and poetic utterance, modes of representation, sensory experience and the tangible world.
This work is a poem. I declare it to be so because it is made of words. It attempts to manipulate its readers into receiving it as a poem because it is arranged into lines and poems have lines. Don’t they. It borrows words from The Idiot’s Guide to Poetry, from Christann’s Miller’s version of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and from Mary Kinzie’s A poet’s guide to poetry, all of which, in their own ways, have something to say about the line in poetry. Yet because they are selected somewhat randomly (the artist’s predilection for juxtaposition of the poetic with the quotidian was a factor, I confess), this experiment can be argued to achieve its poetic effects largely through lineation. Just as in the poem on the page, the lines on the flat plane of the work move the poem through space and create meaning in the process. The silk lines on the work’s surface move backwards, forward, upside, downside accord ing to their own fancy. There is no concern for syntax, meaning, discourse, narrative. Only for the movement that is the line and the meaning that is made out of that motion.
Lineation - The technique of making lines of verse that involves also the rationale for breaking the lines, whether by closure...or by enjambment...(Mary Kinzie, A poet’s guide to poetry) We cling to lines. They stop us from becoming lost, from floating away. In poetry, especially free verse, or even more so in ‘experimental’ forms such as l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e poetry, lineation serves to set us adrift in order to expand the range of possible interpretations and responses. Conceptually, the poetic line is far closer to the idealized geometric idea of the line as breadthless length: a useful concept related to flow, but dangerously susceptible to breakdown when tested. Gerald Bruns suggests (after Wittgenstein) that ‘what we take to be poetry cannot be exhausted by examples, because examples are always in excess of our experience and understanding. Anything goes, even if not everything is possible at once.’ This accords with my own obsession with making poems out of all sorts of things: always involving words, but words and images, words and metal, words and sound. My words, found words, stolen words.
Lineation experiment, (2016). Silk, inkjet print on silk, cotton, silk thread.
REFERENCES AND SELECTED READING Adamson G. 2007. Thinking Through Craft. Berg. Anderson, K & Perrin, C. 2015. ‘New Materialism and the Stuff of Humanism’ in Australian Humanities Review, 58: May. http:// www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/ Issue-May-2015/anderson&perrin.html Bernstein C. 1992. ‘Optimism and Critical Excess (Process)’, in A Poetics. Harvard University Press. Bird T. 2011. ‘Figuring Materiality’ in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 16: 5-15. Bryant LR. (2012) ‘What are Singularities’ at Larval Subjects. https://larvalsubjects.wordpress. com/2012/06/14/what-are-singularities/ Budgen, F. 1934. Conversation with Joyce in Zurich in 1918 recorded in James Joyce And The Making Of Ulysses. Carroll M. 2014. ‘Write this down: Phenomenology of the page’ in Strange S, Hetherington P and Webb J (eds) Creative Manoeuvres: Writing, Making, Being. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 83-94. Derrida, J. 2005. ‘Paper or Me, You Know... (New Speculation on a Luxury of the Poor)’ in Paper Machine. 41-65. Stanford University Press. Dworkin, C. 2013 No Medium, MIT Press. Ellmann, R. 1983 (1959). James Joyce. Oxford University Press. Fleming, J. 2001. Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England. University of Pennsylvania Press.
MATERIAL POETICS: A MANIFESTO 1 everything has its own poetics. 2 the material affect of things can be enhanced by careful consideration of their poetics. 3 the poetics of things can be combined to form new poetics.
Heidegger M. 2008. ‘On the Origin of the Work of Art’ in Farrel Krell, D (ed) Basic Writings. HarperCollins, 143-212. Herbert, Zbigniew. 1993. ‘Pebble’, in WQ vol 17 (Winter), 114. Kirschenbaum MG. 2008. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lacan, Jacques. 1956. The Language of the Self. Johns Hopkins University Press. Lorange, A. 2014. ‘On Language as Material’ in Das Super Paper 33 (Nov): 36-40. Murnane, G. 1986. ‘Why I write what I write’, Meanjin 45:4 (Dec) 514-17. Murnane G. 2014. ‘The breathing author’ at https://biblioklept.org/2014/02/27/thebreathing-author-by-gerald-murnane/ Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2002. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (trans Judith Norman). Cambridge UP. Ponge, Francis. 1972. ‘The Orange’, in The Voice of Things (trans Beth Archer). McGraw-Hill. Stevens, Wallace. 1983. ‘Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself ’, in The Collected Poems. Knopf. Tindall, WY. 1996. A Reader’s Guide To Finnegans Wake. Syracuse University Press. Williams, William Carlos. 1958. Paterson. New Directions.
4 words can be poetic, but poetics are not necessarily words. 5 everything that is material has poetic potential. 6 anything worth doing is worth a poem. 7 nothing is only black or white.
Published on Aug 22, 2016
Published on Aug 22, 2016
Room Brochure for the group exhibition 'Material Poetics': Jordan Williams, Jen Webb, Sarah Rice, Nicci Haynes, Katie Hayne, UK Frederick, C...