Michael Jackson Logo Love Poem

» Meeting Room

By Timothy Murray

Judith Hamera: I love this logo very much, and I think it absolutely indexes the idea of the human motor.

“JH: flat hips facing forward…
lower body and multiple hinges…
friendship and invocation of Fred Astaire…
lyrical rather than percussive…
whitened rather than Africanized…
restricted nature of movements implied in the logo…
human motor as a heuristic device…
movements that look mechanistic…
modernity needs its ruins”

The logo is a strategy of involvement in which instantaneous familiarity accrues time and again–we are already so involved in logos, new or old, that moments of self-aware involvement hardly, if ever, occur.

Legwork: On what level is this idea of the human motor functioning?  Rhetorically speaking, would you call it an allegory? Are you allegorizing Jackson’s life?

We stole Michael Jackson and currently brand ourselves with his pop-and-locked legs, among the other eight of the plurality of our logos.  Is this an assault?  On intellectual property?  An assault at all?  This is not the question because the whole wide world operates through a poetics of appropriation.

JH: I think Jackson is an allegory for the human motor.  I think the human motor is both a heuristic device and a way of describing some of the precision of the movements.  What makes the human motor so useful for me as a heuristic device is the way that the mechanism meshes so cleanly with some of the dynamics I see in Jackson’s dancing.   In some ways he embodies movements that look mechanistic, the pop-and-lock movements being the most obvious example.  Certainly other scholars have said this, that that sequence of movements in the hip-hop form of dance is mechanistic and recall the human motor.  But I also think that for Jackson what makes the human motor such a useful heuristic is the fact that his greatest success as a solo virtuoso peaks with the decline of American industrial prowess.  In some ways, he invigorates in the States a nostalgia for an industrial past that is already vanishing because he incarnates these mechanistic movements.

…poetics as “a self-reflexive moment within practice that creates grounds for new meaning.”1

: A Dis-analogous Poetics of Logo Analysis, Celebrity’s Affective Agenda and Michael Jackson Appropriation

appropriation (art), logo, poetics

test your knowledge: logo extraction quiz

LW: The way in which this transition we see from industrial to post-industrial modes of living or social forms or relating, a coming to terms with or trying to understand Jackson through this allegorical lens helps us understand the current historical moment or a socio-historical economic situation.  I’m really interested in the condensation of this celebrity that you’ve chosen.  For what does he become a condensation?

Like Michael Jackson, we appropriate poetics not as a frame in which to force disparate elements for the sake of unifying their meaning or drawing easy parallels.  I appropriate poetics because poetics is axiomatically appropriation–an assimilation of concepts not into a governing framework, but an assimilation of concepts into a domain of ownness.

Judith Hamera is Professor of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University.

JH: I think Michael Jackson in his prime becomes a way to talk about nostalgia for a vanishing industrial infrastructure and a vanishing industrial way of life.  I think the literature on industrialization is so replete with images of urban industrialism as dystopic, with images of the industrial as alien to the human body, alienating.  I think what Jackson presents on stage is a way for people first to recognize that there’s a complex of values associated with industrialization that become nostalgic now that they’re vanishing.  The image of self-fashioning, the image of mastering the machine or becoming machine, and the pleasures and perils that are inherent in that.  And above all, the ability of industrialization to act as a force for social mobility.  Jackson exemplifies all of these things in ways that I argue nobody has recognized.  It’s very interesting to me to compare Michael Jackson’s photo with Ronald Reagan, an absolute nadir of American industrialization, with Elvis Presley’s photo with Richard Nixon, arguably at the apex of American industrialization.  That Presley-Nixon photo– Presley embodying the rural Southern boy who plays black music and brings a kind of earthy authenticity to an alienating industrial infrastructure–is book-ended by Michael Jackson, the young black man whose social mobility every step of the way was fashioned by industrial discipline, industrial infrastructure, shaking the hand of the man who more than anyone else was responsible for implementing foreign and domestic policy decisions that led to decline of American industrialization.  Does that make sense?

Poetics as a mode of being rather than merely a genre is exciting because it changes the emphasis to dis-analogy rather than analogy.

Legwork is a Chicago- and Berlin-based collaborative concerned with situational articulations and circulations of meaning, ranging from figurative to discursive.  Its web presence is at legwork.cc

LW: Yes, definitely.  I’m wondering why locate such importance or why search for such meaning in a performer?  What is provocative about that?  What motivates you to do that, aside from the fact that you’re a performance scholar and obviously interested in performance and dance.  Maybe you can speak to this figure of the performer as the embodiment par excellence of a socio-historical phenomenon.

What I don’t want is a categorization of poetics, particularly as a thought-analogue to the logo.  A poetics of the logo or vice-versa would just lead to digital or visual poetics, where the discussion centers on the medium and its infinite context-generating faculty.  With the visual turn in all of life as we know it, the medium supposedly disappeared, but in said disappearance actually became the suck-focus, and then the whole wide world ended up more mediated than ever before, even though it always already was and always will be.  Mediation is not scary, nor is it a problem. It is material with which to work.

JH: I think performers certainly do embody key, and you used the phrase, “metaphorical condensations,” key metaphorical condensations of particular socio-historical moments, but they do so by giving their audiences an object of affective identification.  I’ve been wanting to write a Michael Jackson book for a very long time, and the book that inspired me to do this is called Mourning Diana about Princess Diana, with whom of course Jackson has some affinities.  There were several very compelling arguments in that discussion of responses to Diana’s death that argue that the affect that’s released in the time of her death was a reckoning with the demise of Thatcherism.  There were really a wonderful series of arguments about celebrity as setting an affective agenda, giving permission for particular types of emotional investment, which because they are so public, fly under the critical radar and therefore hide from plain sight.  So I was very interested in the affective work of a virtuosic young black man at a prime moment in America’s industrial life, precisely at the peak where that industrial momentum begins to decline with all of the infrastructure of racist histories of industrialization, all the possibilities of social mobility embodied in industrialization.  It seemed to me to look at Jackson on stage, I could actually unpack the ways in which his audiences might be reassured of the mobility, the power, the potency, the inclusivity of industrialization through a haze of nostalgia even as that infrastructure was already vanishing.

LW: Maybe you can talk about this vanishing infrastructure of industrialization in connection with the appearance of such a logo as ours.  I really want to go for this reflective level of why would such a logo as ours appear in whatever context you see us to be moving in?

Michael Jackson, the lower half of whose body comprises Legwork’s current and most readily identifiable of its logos, is an allegory for the human motor.

JH: I don’t see your logo as pointing toward the decline of industrialization.  I see your logo as capturing precisely the period in Jackson’s career that I was most interested in talking about, which is Jackson at his virtuosic peak.  If you think about the counter-image, that final set of dissolves on Jackson’s face, with that ominous music, what I want to set that to… is an equivalent video of the infrastructure of Detroit around Motown, where you begin to see that equivalent dissolve of that equivalent music of these declining industrial monuments that gradually become, a) unrecognizable, and b) visibly decrepit and ravaged in some way.  I don’t see your logo gesturing toward that ravagement.  I don’t see your logo gesturing toward the formulation I used in the paper, which is, “Modernity needs its ruins.” It needs its virtuosi but it also needs its ruins.  It’s Michael Jackson’s bad luck or good fortune, depending on how you put it, that he was able to occupy both ends of that continuum in a very unique way as incarnating both the promise of industrial modernity and ultimately its decrepitudes, and in the eyes of the popular media, its depravities and its displacements.  But I don’t really see your logo going there, and one of the reasons I’m really drawn to it is because I really believe it captures that industrial human motor potency that is Jackson at the height of his career, probably 1979-82/83.

We embrace a kind of collaborative-self-promotion.

LW: What I’m interested in there are what these echoes of the afterlife are that you touched on in your presentation in Berlin as also a kind of coming to terms with a post-industrial era.  My question would be almost predictive for you as someone who has studied celebrity as setting an affective agenda.  What would we now see, or what can we expect in terms of a proliferation of images or the changing constellations of affect in relation to MJ?

Ultimately, what we don’t want is interpretation or description or analysis, even though these are necessary and helpful for storytelling, which is also necessary.

“Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn…”

JH: I don’t know how this will work specifically with Michael Jackson, so I’m not sure how this is going to fit, but I think the proliferation of celebrities focused on work, and particularly reality celebrity focused on work is where this is going next.  I think I made this as a kind of glib, off-the-cuff remark in the panel.  I think in the U.S. there’s an incredible proliferation of cooking competitions with abusive chefs yelling and screaming at workers, people who are lumberjacks, people who work on vessels that catch crabs, there’s ice-road truckers, there’s a fetishization now of images of work, what we think of as quasi-industrial work as a way of displacing the anxiety of the fact that America doesn’t make things anymore.  What’s interesting to me is that nobody’s talked about Michael Jackson (I don’t know why this isn’t absolutely obvious), that Michael Jackson is an industrial virtuoso that Motown has absolutely self-consciously modeled on Fordist studios.  The entertainment industry, or as we said when we lived in L.A., “the industry,” these are all industrial products.  Instead this has been relocated on individual working bodies so that the individual working body is fetishized in a competitive setting as an analogue for an increasingly depleted industrial job market where people don’t make things; they serve other people.  I don’t know how that works necessarily with Michael Jackson other than I’m trying to insert him into this conversation.  I think what people remember Michael Jackson most for, is precisely this kind of consumerist, spectacular aspect of his celebrity.  They don’t remember him as someone who made things.  They don’t remember him as someone who made dances.  They remember him as someone who shopped a lot–as in the Martin Bashir documentary, where he looks rather addled and he’s walking through some garish emporium saying, “I want this, I’ll take this, I want this, I’ll take this.”  I think it’s his excesses that will be remembered as an allegory for the predations of a consumer society.  I don’t think he’s being looked at as an avatar for industrial nostalgia.  I think reality celebrities are filling that role.  I think Michael Jackson did it first and did it best.

We hereby appropriate poetics, which is appropriation.  We also appropriate academic discourse.  And we appropriate Michael Jackson again and again.  A poem?  The whole point is that poetics allows one not to be too concerned with genre.

Here with poetics I’m not talking subject-object distinctions to be overcome by mediation.  I’m talking practice, practice performing itself in fresh combinations, in, but not exclusively according to, its various contexts.

So far the dis-analogy of this exposition may indeed be emancipating somebody from the compulsion of analogous thinking.

“pink gators, my Detroit players”


1 Watten, Barrett.  2006.  “Poetics in the Expanded Field: Textual, Visual, Digital…”  In New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts and Theories, ed. Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss, 335.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

I Need the Owl: Poetry and the Visual

» A Piece
By Kerry Featherstone

Photo: Zoe Childerley

Laxmi Visits

Dropping suddenly,
the owl flies wordless
over Tarai.

The inspection circle
drawn close to earth on a
white wingspan.

So women sweep
peach speck into the yard with twigs
and bustle.

Faces turn up
between greased flames lit with oil
and slick shadows

Laxmi watches:
the jungle night full of ambition
for next year.

Childbirth, wishes,
painted wide on the veranda
in fruit-paint.

No flooding, just the
rice in its careful boxes
praising Laxmi.

All of Tarai
is a woman’s canvas drying
in Tihar light.

She flies south,
smiling in her journey over houses

And beyond our plot,
as dawn comes through feathered clouds,
an owl hoots.

Kerry Featherstone

Grass’s Messenger

at the end
at the very end’s

sudden tight grip
sorrowful as leather

it was the vole’s subsonic prayer

that lit the snow
in the barn owl’s ghost

and closed

that owl’s eyes
whilst the lights

of a town
in a world’s background

drank dreams
from sleeping heads.

Mark Goodwin

I Need the Owl: Poetry and the Visual

This short piece is intended to be a reflection on how visual art can inspire, or be articulated by, poetry. There’s a deadline, I’m writing quickly, and I’m thinking through my own processes of writing, as well as how I would express that as a ‘Lecturer in Creative Writing’. This is a piece of writing, therefore, that is intuitive and based on my own experience. It’s about praxis; how I’m implicated.  The relationship between the visual and the poetic that I’m describing necessarily includes me. You have your own, and I’m interested in knowing how the three of you are getting on.

In early 2009 I participated in a commission for the Whitewall space in Milton Keynes, England. Along with poets Mark Goodwin and John Gallas, I wrote accompanying poems for a series of photographs by Zoe Childerley. The photos had been taken in a range of locations in Asia and for Zoe represented elements of myth and folklore from those countries. Our task was to respond to them. The photos were hung on the big white wall, and the poems stencilled onto the white background alongside them. Then we had a beer and went home. We don’t really know what happened next, or what the response was, so I’m going to discuss my take on the process.

I don’t like to see these issues in black or white, so let’s consider a spectrum of colour. It’s an apt enough metaphor for the subject, so let’s see where it gets me. It seems to me that the poetic response to visual art can go from the abstract to the programmatic, and fix any point in between. At one extreme, the image, colours and medium are completely disembedded from the artist and the context of the artwork. At this point, the poet looks at the art and responds with no concern for the intentions of the artist, or for the title, or for the location of the work (literally in terms of physical position or metaphorically in terms of the relationship with the artists other work, or pieces that deal with similar subjects). At the other end of the spectrum, the poet tries to tell the story of the piece. At this end, the emotional response of the poet is subdued (although ever-present) to the exigencies of explaining a narrative.  Of course, most poetic responses will occupy a ground somewhere in between: coloured by some emotional response, but faithful to the named subject matter, or briefly referencing the narrative whilst writing a piece that only shares some tones with the visual.

I’d like to discuss two examples. Zoe Childerley’s photo shows an owl, poised with wide wings over a field of green. Lights shine in the distance. The lighting is dramatic, as is the poise of the owl. The movement suggests a before and after: this photo is a moment, not a state. Zoe explained that in the belief of the Tarai people, Laxmi flies over the earth in the form of an owl, blessing the houses of those who have lived well that year. I’m in business. That owl is one image in a narrative that is now shared by the visual and the poetic. So I’m working in colours that have already been supplied, and I’m writing a companion piece. Yes, I’m present in my breathless response to the image, but the story is to the fore.  I’m using place names, details of tangible things, describing a process with several agents. There are women bustling, Tihar lights, rice in boxes. I’m trying to unlock the story. An imagined ‘we’ enters the narrative in the last stanza, but nobody knows who that ‘we’ is.

Mark Goodwin, on the other hand, captures the moment.  There’s no cultural context: the place is everywhere; the time is now. Owl, vole, lights; that’s all you get: it’s all the poem needs.  My Tarai, with its specific kind of lights, is instead ‘a world’s background’.  The barn owl is not Laxmi but simply ‘that owl’.  Mark’s poem starts with a sudden end, and ends with a dreaming background.  Mine also starts suddenly, but the place is named, and the poem ends with dawn.  Mark’s poem kicks suddenly through a narrative that takes no longer than the photo; mines seems to move in different directions, and implicate a larger cast.

Neither of the examples describe responses at the far end of the spectrum I’ve described above: they are both positioned somewhere in between. Both poems see the owl as an owl, and place it in a narrative, albeit narratives of differing length and focus. In crude terms, Mark’s poem says “this is the moment of my seeing the moment of the photo” and mine says “this is how the moment fits into its context”. Of course aspects of those subjective positions cohabit each poem, but you see what I mean. At the other end of the spectrum, a writer might discard the owl: “there’s a blurry block of creamy-white colour above darker bands. It’s all surface. Who needs the owl?” Well, I think I do.

This is not simply a question of unpacking the varying degrees of narrative present in the project of any given visual piece. It is possible to write a narrative response to Rothko’s massive blocks of colour, as it is possible to respond in a personal or abstract way to Tracey Emin’s ‘Tent’ or to Dutch genre painting. As a teacher, I work a lot with visual art and tangible objects, but I try to make students aware of the possibilities in any piece, rather than closing down the response by suggesting that each one is better suited to writing from any specific position on my abstract/narrative spectrum. The participants in a workshop are encouraged to bring their own light to the piece, and to see what colours are refracted out.I don’t want to go deep into the pedagogy of teaching creative writing here, because I’m still watching the owl, and I want other people to see the owl as well. Suffice it to say that the specifics of language, culture, age and motivation are a part of the context here. The individual who has never seen an owl will respond differently from the birdwatcher who fights to save the habitat of living owls. Some of the participants may be owls themselves. These require careful handling.

So what are the students trying to do?  Describe that owl? Write about any old owl? Imagine their own owl? Respond to the inner owl?  Any of these is fine, it seems to me.  My job as a workshop leader is to help them to understand something about the owl that they’re seeing, and to express it in a way that makes sense to them and what they are writing.  At one end of the spectrum, the image is catalyst to a story that they already have, and will help with the start of telling it.  At the other end, they will feel the ‘sudden tight grip’.

So.  I need the owl, but I understand those who don’t.  That’s not to say there’s no spontaneity or personal reaction in my poetic response to the visual. It’s just that I’m less likely to disembed it from the artist’s project, the cultural context and the narrative that suggests itself.  Perhaps there’s a selfish need to be implicated: to control that narrative, or to introduce myself into it, even if only as the teller.  Perhaps there’s a fear of not being implicated, of being left outside.  Whatever the reason, this is my process of response to the visual.  It’s narrative-based, and involves me more than that might suggest.  I’ll show you the owl, but in doing so perhaps I’m also showing you me.

Kerry Featherstone, Loughborough, 13/08/2010

1A note for those who hate owls. If you’re deeply uninterested by the owl, or even sickened by its owlishness, write about that. The writing will be just as good as that perpetrated by the owl lovers.

Stripping Away The Visual

» Database
Egle Obcarskaite talks to Carrick Bell

Reconstructed ROV Video 12
1m excerpt from 2m30s single channel video (projection)

Reconstructed ROV Video 1
2m15s excerpt from 8h25m single channel video (projection)

Egle: Hey, what’s up?

Carrick: I work now on pieces that are based on the oil spill images. I started capturing still images, in sequence of them. And I became pretty obsessed with it. I’d sit for three hours, and screen capture over and over, and I take the still images, and get rid of all of the textual information in the video, for instance, depth details.

E: When you think of working with these images like that, this kind of working, capturing, deconstructing them and then putting them back together — in your perspective, what does it bring?

C: It was a reaction to my first response when I saw the videos, way back in May, when it was on a single channel live feed of the oil that was erupting. It was really visually stunning. So I ended up sitting there for several hours just watching it, not knowing what to do with it. I stayed like that for a month, just looking at a shot of the really banal metal pipe leaking stuff. And I was also doing it in my old apartment, where the internet connection was really bad. I was interested in what at the time was actually super high quality imagery that people nearby could see, and for me it was super jumpy, grainy, pixelated. What interested me also, was the difference between the pure unfiltered view and the one that is totally mediated by the infrastructure in between the camera and me. So that is why I started taking stills. My seven year old computer could not even handle doing video captures, so I was  trying to reconstruct the fullness and smoothness of the image from something that was totally disconnected, jagged, and not so much old. And you don’t get that smoothness in the finished product. You get smoothed over pixelation I guess.

The one thing that interested me was also distorting duration a lot in these. So this is a two minute clip. This video would actually be a little over eight hours, but this is only a two minute clip, and it only is dealing with two still images and it is just a very long, animated fade between them. So all this content is just the result in attempting to combine these two still images. There are others that take the opposite approach to duration. So it’s a series, but they’re always going to be installed in the context of each other and always in the exhibition format, not the screening format. In addition to these videos, there are also videos of a sort of a failure to transmit any of this information, which for some reason they communicated by black, gray, and green screens.  Those are actually captured with video, set up still, and sort of a video degree zero clip, which always goes with one of these, so they’re always going to be in the context of each other.

E: What about the context? You took images from the actual situation. Do you totally detach them from it, or what kind of role does it still play in it?

C: All of my videos for the last couple of years have always dealt with cinematic narrative. Removing key path plot sequences out of the narrative structure and presenting them on their own. So I have always been interested in this question of how the context is either made legible or is totally ignored. Like these — the only signals of their origin is the title, which is Reconstructed ROV videos, which is not helpful. But I’m interested in that because I don’t know that having them in their proper context, which is this, actually contains anything more substantive than information. But it’s not something that I have a thesis on. It’s more a speculative gesture of mine. To see what function those images have when they are abstracted from their context.

E: How did you move from literary theory to your artistic practice?

I was interested in the percentage or the ratio of language that didn’t have the communicative function. So that could be whatever. If you want, you can call it poetic share.  The part of language that either resisted communication, or gave false starts to communication. Or looked like it was communicative but was actually empty speech. I started focusing on the materiality of the letter as one way of dealing with that. So instead of dealing with strings of words and sentences, I was dealing just with the material components of the letter as it means playing with the language.  I started writing theory papers that were illegible. Not because of the way language was used, not because of any syntax, but because they were literally visually impossible to read. The typography was so manipulative to an extreme degree, that you could not make out words. It would start start as a paper on Derrida, but you could not read it. Just visually you could not read it.

I did it for a year, while staying a literary theory major.  Then I slowly moved off of the page, but still was using text as the key component.  I did large-scale installations that continued to play with that question of legibility, and slowly moved from language to objects. However, I was using the same structure of legibility and illegibility, and was focusing only on time instead. I had a lot of process-based sculptures that were interested in how you could interpret and dig out the origin of particular marks.  I was rebuilding Corbusier’s modular form into miniature buildings and then impressing my body on them, and setting that singular object out.  I was interested still speculatively in how much of a narrative and the history you could write from those traces.

So it was interesting that you said — let’s talk about poetics…

E: You know we came up with this topic almost randomly. And out of sort of nostalgia for those moments when we just started experiencing all the magnitude of creation through language. To talk of it now is rather a romantic and even a bit banal gesture. But then again — why not? To me the problematics of it was always interesting, as it for instance comes from the philosophical discourse, where poetics was considered a way of saying the unsayable. From here I started thinking, maybe poetics in art might be considered as showing the unseeable…

C: I feel that a lot of that language in art is usually used in a negative way. When somebody says somebody’s work is poetic, it’s a way of saying it is literary.  There is a whole of mid-century American criticism of literary art. So if somebody’s work is metaphorical it is a weakness, because it is not dealing with what is present, its own materiality.  It’s trying to be about something.  That is an existing prejudice for me. Because the people that want to make work about something are maybe going to say that maybe it’s practice-based work. In some of my old papers I wrote how much I hated video.

E: But you do make video now.  How long ago was that?

C: Six years ago. And I started to make videos two and a half years ago. I was writing it when I was doing all the text-based work. I didn’t like that video presented this image of itself as being about speed, and especially the internet-based video. As something opposed to language. I was interested in language having all of those characteristics. And I didn’t like video because it set up the false opposition between something analog and situated and relatively permanent like language in its functioning referentiality, how it concretely referred to states of being.  As if video would add to it something broader and would be capable of more connections and less sort of being about that… down in more fluidity, and those were all things I wanted to attribute to language. So I hated video for certain usurping that I thought ought to be attributed to language.

E: What happened? Did you discover something else to it, or did your position change?

I think I still am operating in the same framework, just with some shifts. A lot of times I make video that is hyperactive, or it is very much about its mode of distribution on the internet.  That’s a specious thing.  So maybe some of my more recent work will look hyperactive, but actually it would be a single play [that even when the work looks hyperactive, it is only the result of slight manipulations of a single scene that actually remains the same, in spite of its apparent instablitly]. And I am always inclined to group all of my work together and to say that no matter what, it is a continuation of the same investigation, and it ends up getting me into a lot of difficult positions.

E: Taking video images, cinematic footage looks like tracing something, and I can’t help thinking of that something as some story lines, that it is narrative. Sorry for that…

C: It’s OK, I talk about narrative. I’m really interested in it. You can’t tell it from my work maybe, because I try to radically exclude narrative from my work, but I do it because of how interested I am in it.

E: I have to admit that one of the first things I looked at when I browsed through your website was your artist statement. Because when I am interested in an artist’s relation to narrative, I always think of how are they position themselves contextually (or maybe linguistically), which is what a statement ideally is. And many, many artists declare statements nowadays. And thus they create a language-based framework, or package of what they do. And for me this contextualizing oneself, whether consciously or not (that might also be merely a marketing move), provides a paradox. Because no matter what you do, your work just does not escape a context.

I think the way you write about your work it is negotiating between ideas of the work being able to be autonomous or not.  Maybe you can do an interesting little genealogy of the modes of narrative about the statements, because they do stand in the junction between whether the work has to be entirely situated or ought to be entirely self-sustained.  I don’t know that I have put a huge weight on statement, but I think they probably receive a lot of weight. Am I satisfied if someone never reads my statement and never looks at my work?  That’s totally fine!  It’s a hard thing to talk about because it is along this line how much your statement has to do with your work. And how much having a statement has to do with whatever professional practices.

E: What do you think of if someone has this necessity to read the statement before even looking at an artist’s practice?

Maybe. I usually try not to do that. Not dogmatically, but out of curiosity. And when I see the statement completely abstracted and which doesn’t try to situate the work at all, I am usually very suspicious, and if I see the opposite, if I see that it really tries to nail down every position of the work, which ends up meaning that you prefer a sort of compromise between the two.

E: Right.  Because I think that you can see two ways of taking up and reading an artist statement. You can use it functionally, technically, as a tool of reading also an art work. Like a translating, decoding tool. Or you can actually think of the very fact of two levels — a figurative and a textual — appearing next to each other, and you can try to get to perceive the body of work, its nature, its becoming, its issues through thinking around what this being-placed-next-to-the-contextual-statement brings for it, or what kind of impossibility it represents. But one has to put effort into such an understanding.

That is to keep using literary figures, but it’s like setting artist statements as a decoding tool.  Or setting up something parallel and analogical, maybe that is how your work functions.  That is an ideal type. I don’t know if it is coming here, but I know definitely in the States there is so much research-based art, that the writing ends up being an abstract of the research that has been undertaken. It is also the way of contextualizing, but it is also a way of avoiding having to be prescriptive about how the work’s received, and also avoiding not talking about it at all. So there are two poles that I am really suspicious of.

E: I was interested that in the first sentence of your statement you talk about both narrative and abstraction. I thought it goes pretty well with the given context of addressing poetics, which in some cases might be considered as a way of making abstraction from an explicit, literate narrative.

C: I think I write a new statement every couple of months.  I am sort of insistent (maybe in a reactionary way) of claiming sort of relationship between everything I do. Every time when I make a piece, I end up writing an artist statement.  Because what I did this week casts all what I did six years ago in a totally different light.

But the narrative and abstraction thing is really interesting to me because literally the way I produce my abstraction isn’t by pulling it away from material, it is by keeping too close to it, if that makes sense.  I make a lot of abstractions in my work, but it is always from spending too much time on concrete details of the material I have.  So I think it is a reversal of maybe the everyday use of how abstraction is created, namely by pulling away.

E: What if you were not writing statements at all?

C: Well, if you take out statements entirely, then you have to take out titles entirely.

E: Right, titles — yet another dimension of poetics in art.

C: And then I don’t know, once you start pulling out, then I cannot be there either. If we’re starting to peel things away from this contextual framework surrounding the visual work, on the one hand assuming that the visual work is the center of it all, and if you’re going to start stripping things away from it, you have to strip away all the statements, its titles, its association with a concrete producer, you have to get an anonymous YouTube account, and have no name. Which is of course something that people do.

E: I could say I am a terrible viewer/perceiver of art. I always get lost. When I end up in an exhibition, let’s say a group exhibition, with no exhibition plan, no names or titles of works placed next to them, I feel totally disabled. Maybe it is because of my discourse-related background, but I always look for texts. So when I don’t even have names of artists, I really feel disabled.

C: Yeah, the name.  I guess there are a couple of different takes that you have on the name.  Sometimes the name may just be a way for somebody not to look at something.   But knowing that one thing is connected to another can make an awful some good.  Only in the context of a previous body of work, or objects in the series. So what context objects need. Do they need to be seen always in relation to other components of its series?  Like a sentence, maybe it doesn’t make any sense if it does not refer to a sentence before it.

E: That’s what I’m saying — so often I feel this need to have this knowledge so I can relate it to pre-existing context.  But what?  Does it mean I am failing as an art spectator because I don’t have the ability to perceive an art work per se?

C: But even in this scenario of work with no title and no name and no language anywhere around it, it is still contextualized in other ways. Not least by other work that it is surrounded by, but just by being in the gallery in the first place. So this is still nothing else than talking about the autonomy of an art object.

E: Which I cannot perceive — an art object as purely visual.

C: But who can do that?  No, I’m not asking rhetorically, I’d really like to meet the person who gets into the context as pure visual something that they see.  But why would you want that?  Yes, I am trying to separate images from their context, but then what I am actually interested in happening, isn’t necessarily visual.

E: May I ask you about painting?  This very old dichotomy of either script, or image, either writing, or painting.

C: I think painting is tricky.  The guy who finally made me feel comfortable with painting, was Hamza Walker from the Renaissance Society in Chicago. He is a great curator and teacher, and he runs this seminar once a year, only on painting. The head of my department was the curator who now only curates community-based and social practice art. In that background you always see social project-based artists. And you are supposed to dig deep and find whatever was behind the subject. But Hamza Walker he was the first I heard saying, “No, you can just look at it and stop there.  You can just look.”  It was so liberating to feel that I can look at the painting and stop there.  That was the first “teachable” moment he had.  The second one was that he was talking about painting and drawing.  He tried to explain to one artist who was doing drawings, that he was bringing too many references to other artists, and that it had not enough of him. And he said, “Think of all of the painting and drawing you can remember. All painters and drawers are in a slide file, in a library.  What you need to look through the slide drawers, and see where maybe a slide is missing between two, and maybe there is a tiny gap that you can squeeze into.  And then you go there.”  So this was his advice.  Subsequently, the kid he was talking about did that.  He found his little niche, and now if you see his work you know instantly who it is.

That little drawer goes too for abstraction. Because it is styles and references to somebody else, ways of paint and color handling, whatever.  And it is a syntax  of abstraction, which is exactly what abstraction resists.  It is coming into language and legibility before you take the structure of language, which is a nice way to understand how abstraction–which can seem so taste-based– can also spit into something that is close if not identical to the structure of language.  And I think painters are the best people to approach talking about painting, because they know so many references, in order to find their own niche.

E: So what would you say are the first associations when I say ‘poetic art’?

C: I would ask you to clarify what you mean by it.  I don’t know if it brings any information.

E: Of course. But the idea of this game was to give this vague term and find out what are spontaneous associations that people have to it. Almost like on a shrink’s couch 🙂 …

C: Late ’90s, American slick minimalism.  Ann Hamilton, not in a good way.  I cannot give any follow-up to that, because you never explain such responses. But it’s hard for me because when you talk about poetics I go to specific time and place.  I go to French theory in the 60s.  So I immediately talk about literature and literary theory, and all these degrees have analogues in visual criticism at the same time. It feels like a little trip to the street.  And then the question is what relevance it has. We end up talking so much about how to approach a singular piece of art, and I don’t know if you actually approach art as a singular object ever anymore.  So I don’t know how to map that question on to actual experience of art now.

The Poetry Is Always Swirling

» Media Monitor
Egle Obcarskaite gets answers from Trong Nguyen

Legwork’s tribute to the poetic beauty of all of the Reality TV shows that have
been or will ever be created on art and artists. With inspiration from Work
of Art: The Next Great Artist
, that was the cultural high-point of the summer in the USA.


I propose this title that you see above as a leitmotif for the exchange which will follow. I would not argue that there is nothing unclear or contradictory in this formulation. However, put in this way, it presents three moments that deeply interest me at the moment. First of all, poetics, which is the term that has not (and won’t have) any clear definition in the context that I am operating here. To some extent it is indeed related to what we understand as “poetry”; however, in choosing it I deliberately keep (and even increase) the intensity of the unspeakable, unexplainable, the aesthetic something that it has. Or, as we used to know it in the context of poetic experience — something mystical. In a weird way this draws my mind back to the etymology of the word, namely, the ancient Greek word poieisis, “to make” or “to create.” Largely through the work of Aristotle poetics has also lost this object-related connotation in favor of puristic creation of language-based forms (allow me to generalize a bit here). However, what about making objects? Exactly, I want to talk about objects. About making things. Especially that poetics never left them, right?

There is a second moment that interests me. We do sometimes talk about art pieces being poetic. We do talk about a bus ride being poetic, or a date at Starbuck’s being poetic. Is it repetition, the sound of it that makes something poetry? A Form? Aesthetic experience? The exposure of modified — applied, exaggerated, pimped — environment? There comes a third moment that interests me — I think I can see the model of a reality show resembling the poetics in art. And by that I mean poetics as something which is constructed, formulated according to both pre-existing patterns and presuppositions of major qualities (be it beauty or meaning or whatever simulacrum), but in the end is still unable to be articulated and therefore to be tracked down. But there is some mystery there that makes it attractive as hell.

What I propose in the following is a list of sentences without an end. Basically I do not want to ask questions. I give you the sentence to complete (if some of them are already completed — then to follow up). And I leave you all the liberty of reaction. You may complete a sentence, you may skip it, you may cross out a sentence, or start a completely new one. The only rule is to react to them. No reaction is also a reaction.


— I don’t know if art needs poetics artists as its spine …. but I hope it does. I suspect it does. Art in essence is poetry, a formal language, something that articulates, broadens, loosens the limits of what is possibly understood.

— If poetics in poetry is the virtuosic usage of language, then poetics in art is the virtuosic acting of physical displacement… Maybe it is more of a virtuosic arrangement of ideas and forms? Artists paint with with paint as much as they do with concept.

— Building up the status of an artist reminds me of creating a poem, with all the necessary rules, required forms, rhyme… “Status” is the blunt necessity or aspiration of being an artist, that comes with the commercial evolution of the work itself, whereas poetry denies crudity at every turn.

— The art that is real as reality itself, must provide heroes… Temporary ones, which are not “real heroes.”

— Probably it is most easy to talk about poetics in art when having in mind transgressive pieces… Not necessarily (though this initial reaction is transgressive). Every art object can be said to have less or more poetry, so in that regard, it is always easy talking about its poetics.

— Daring to make things in art is also poetic, …. The “risk” is the initial step to any worthwhile creative process. To living, even. To make is to have dared. Poetic? Maybe? Stupid? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

— One can speak of the production of an art piece, one can speak of producing a poem, yet in both cases there is nothing romantic to it; it is as technical as producing a TV show. But it is exactly this technicality, that determines the poetics of the end product… Agreed, in physical terms. However, in cognitive or conceptual terms, the poetry is always swirling.

— Repetition is an amazing quality — it plays with expectations of spectator, it promises to disappoint, and does so without spectator noticing it… which is why history repeats itself again and again.

— I like to think of the artistic practice in which I am involved as an opposition to anything easy. I believe in treading.

— The fact of the matter is that there is no physicality, no object-hood; there is just our desire for them… But our desires are weak, lack the faculty of articulation, and are incapable of seeing without the visual complement.

— Traveling around Italy I can really see how poetics conquers art I can’t separate art from poetry. I can’t look at the colors in Michelangelo’s tondo at the Uffizi without thinking why, how, or wow. I can’t separate myth from reality from art from poetry from comedy from tragedy. I can’t stop looking at Cellini’s “Perseus” without thinking that of the artist’s autobiography, of the subject’s story which would have been impossible without the bronze statue itself.

— We need stories being related to objects, to our heroes, to that bar we go every week to meet our friends… We need stories, period. We have to talk, we have to share, we have to be human. We don’t care what it relates to because that is relative.

— When I think about tension in art form, I remember… Ulysses’ bow.

— And of course, showing off is a poetic form that is shared by both the nature of art, and by the nature of reality show… “Showing off” is another branch of “communicating,” and that is what art does. Television does that too. Both narrate a tale. Both have their commercial tendencies. Both are mating acts, showing the peacock feathers in an effort to enrapt and possess the viewer.

— There is one art piece of mine — or of someone else — that I could write a poem about…  I’ve never written a poem about another piece of work (mine or anyone else’s), but I have written poems that inevitably romanticize what I am feeling and experiencing. I have made works that incorporate poems. So in that regard, the poem becomes another art element mixing the media.

— Poetics of art manifests through expectations, it is like writing a travel guide, where you create a vision of a space, and make those who read it believe it actually exists … I always want the work of art to be more than what it is capable, so in that sense, it always fails a little. My expectations of the work and what the viewer actually gets out of it will probably never be the same. People generally romanticize artists and the art they create, so the “poetics of art” begins the first chapter with it already being manifested. Furthermore, whether it fails or succeeds in creating and “realizing” this untraveled realm doesn’t seem pertinent.


Killing the Author TrendMatrix Again

» Testing Ground

By Egle Obcarskaite, Timothy Murray and Tobey Albright

Humble Authorship/ Jean Baudrillard Died/ Intellectuals to the rescue!!/ THE AUTHORSHIP is: AUGUST GOFORTH, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, who is also an intuitive-mental and psychophysical spirit medium./ self-authorship in liberal arts education/ That’s Not Michael Jackson’s Song/ some gay-ass ’80s shit: the author’s singular presence on the literary landscape/ DEATH OF THE CURATOR eventually comforting us through inevitable reification/ an uncommonly good reader certain of his books and himself/ with an artistic approach that is as conceptual and analytic as it is poetic and existential/ RIP j.d. salinger/howard zinn/ ‘I meant to write about death but life came crashing in, as usual.’ Virginia Woolf, diary entry, 17 February 1922/ What gets to the real people? A classic classic essay by Roland Barthes revisited at guardian.co.uk / Don’t be afraid of death, dear Author. You can still keep your things with you for a while. / And I wondered, what actually legitimizes one as an author. / Authors die, but legends do not./ Did she die? Or was it a fake, a play, a staging?/ Serious abstract of a serious text on a serious problem: After the linguistic and anthropological turns, we are now in the middle of the visual turn. In an attempt to articulate what could be a genuinely visual moment in literature, narrativity and visuality are brought together in the notion of a visual act. Interdisciplinarity is also there./ Killing the author who killed the art history?/ Becoming Duchamp by Sylvere Lotringer/ Author, media, authenticity… Identity Identity Identity Identity…/ Aren’t you just convinced: SUPPORT LIVING ARTISTS!!!!/ Those 60s… Nowhere without conceptual art./ Was hoping someone had written about the death of e-flux, but instead found this article about zombie’s and the death of death./ The spectacular death of Jeff Koons marks the death of the blog author./ Eternal Death‽


Killing the Author TrendMatrix

» Intellectual Trends Digest
By Legwork

Humble Authorship/ Jean Baudrillard Died/ Intellectuals to the rescue!!/ THE AUTHORSHIP is: AUGUST GOFORTH, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, who is also an intuitive-mental and psychophysical spirit medium./ self-authorship in liberal arts education/ That’s Not Michael Jackson’s Song/ some gay-ass ’80s shit: the author’s singular presence on the literary landscape/ DEATH OF THE CURATOR eventually comforting us through inevitable reification/ an uncommonly good reader certain of his books and himself/ with an artistic approach that is as conceptual and analytic as it is poetic and existential/ RIP j.d. salinger/howard zinn/ ‘I meant to write about death but life came crashing in, as usual.’ Virginia Woolf, diary entry, 17 February 1922/ What gets to the real people? A classic classic essay by Roland Barthes revisited at guardian.co.uk / Don’t be afraid of death, dear Author. You can still keep your things with you for a while. / And I wondered, what actually legitimizes one as an author. / Authors die, but legends do not./ Did she die? Or was it a fake, a play, a staging?/ Serious abstract of a serious text on a serious problem: After the linguistic and anthropological turns, we are now in the middle of the visual turn. In an attempt to articulate what could be a genuinely visual moment in literature, narrativity and visuality are brought together in the notion of a visual act. Interdisciplinarity is also there./ Killing the author who killed the art history?/ Becoming Duchamp by Sylvere Lotringer/ Author, media, authenticity… Identity Identity Identity Identity…/ Aren’t you just convinced: SUPPORT LIVING ARTISTS!!!!/ Those 60s… Nowhere without conceptual art./ Was hoping someone had written about the death of e-flux, but instead found this article about zombie’s and the death of death./ The spectacular death of Jeff Koons marks the death of the blog author./ Eternal Death‽

The Locus of Poetry

» Co-working
By Ryan Nance1

So, it’s telling that in this prose that I am writing, my first tendency is to reach for a definition of poetry, for my own, for someone else’s (Hass’ lovely ‘a poem is the score written for the symphony of the singular human voice’ is a favorite) or a historical pedigree (something half-remembered about poem and cheetah having the same Indo-European root, something to do with creature or creation). I started thumbing through my old and loved American Heritage Dictionary’s appendix… but then put it aside for later.

The impulse of prose is to haul the goldfish that lives deep in the well up to the surface with whatever bucket-type implement there is at hand. Poetry (creation of the non-prosaic sort) has an impulse to jump into the well.

So often I get asked about a poem’s meaning, and this is certainly indicative of how poetry is taught, viewed, shared and feared. It is a meaning-making game in the eyes of man, a demi-god’s pantomime.

There is something to Hass’ definition that avers the meaning, that puts it in its proper place: the mind of the reader as the poem and its sibilants and consonants, sounding so much like recognizable language, pass simultaneously though the lips and consciousness of the reader. As much as I wish (as a poet) that poetry were a master at words playing with words, the commonest of materials, it is really an act of imaginative reading. A poem does not exist until it passes through the reader’s eyes, lips and mind. The reader creates the poem at the moment of reading, much the way that a musician creates the music from the score he is given.

And it’s clear how taking all of the audience and making them the artists is a real departure from how poetry is so often thought of and talked of, whispered of, feared, explicated and venerated.

One of my favorite ways to talk about this is to point to a favorite word-poem and insist that the poor soul I am ranting at read it aloud (to me if they are so bold, or around the corner if not):

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell
read by Ryan Nance2
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Most do pretty well through most of the poem, imitating the poet-voice they’ve heard somewhere, in a recording, at school, or from some elder somewhere. But then they get to the very last sentence, the second half of the last line, and in reading it aloud they realize they need to make the meaning before they can utter the sounds. What DOES that line mean? they wonder silently in all of their human curiosity, and they realize, as they take their first tentative step that they don’t know if they chose the path the author intended (Oh! if only Rilke were here to tell us the meaning! they lament).

Ultimately they either use their imaginations to instantly—at the provocation of this string of letters arranged in some particular order—create something, to become the demi-gods themselves… or they view it as a cryptological artifact of some greater existence.

I know that a lot of the classmates I had in graduate school, far more published and lauded classmates than I, and most of the professors, award-winning, immovably monolithic masters, would not only disagree, but scoff at and dismiss this idea.

No, wait, that’s not fair. I don’t know at all what they would say. I did a little ploy there, a trick of the logic, see?

It has occurred to me that poems are little word-machines that measure the effects as they break across readers’ faces. These days, I am a web worker. My title is User Experience Designer, which is a mealy mouthful. One of the first principles that I learned to hang onto when working at designing the users’ experiences is that it is the user’s experience. I can’t have their experience for them, and that changed my thought process in a way that brought me back to writing poems. The poems I’ve written are unplugged machines until they are read. Often they are read aloud by me, which is something else to talk about, but it is when they are read aloud by others that they really come to life.

And that is a simple fact: that I as the creator, as the poet, as the mind and spirit that arranged the sounds and images and words and lines, cannot ultimately bring the poem to life.

While speech implies presence (even if it is telepresence or time-shifted presence), the written word necessitates absence. And just writing that line brought to mind the question of locus. Where does the poem reside? In the classical and ancient times when there was no writing, or no writing beyond tallies and ledgers, how did poems exist? Or more correctly where did they exist?

It’s much like asking where music exists. In his Languages of Art, Nelsen Goodman draws a sharp distinction between painting and music in terms of the singularity of the work. Music is by default plural: even the same musician playing exactly the same notes in exactly the same way doesn’t create a copy of an original that existed in some other time or some other place. A painting is by default singular: even the same painter, painting the same images with the same brushstrokes in the same way ends up with an original and a copy. Certainly action painting, sensitive to that question of locus, worked to undermine the singularity of painting, but the very process ensured that there were multiple originals rather than a plural work of art.

I had the great fortune to study ancient Chinese calligraphy with a visiting professor, Robert E. Harrist, Jr., who was also the guest curator of an exhibit at the Met called the Embodied Image. And it seemed to me almost ridiculous the heights that the Chinese (and then later the western) scholars took the art of calligraphy. It was after all, decoration, right? The art was alongside the calligraphy on the scroll they shared, the poetry was in the language it was writing down again. How could calligraphy as an art stand beside poetry and painting?

Again, those questions about locus. Whose art was this? Whose art was painting even? Or music?

There was an old Chinese grandpa, a retired general from Chaing Kai-Shek’s army, living a quiet life in Taipei when I met him. He’d been educated in a very traditional Chinese sense, with a strong emphasis on writing poetry, practicing calligraphy, reciting philosophy. There were afternoons when he would shut the sliding panel doors of his study, unfurl a blank scroll on his padded table, weighing each corner of it down with a stone polished through repeated human contact. He would grind his little ink stone, mixing in the water, getting the consistency right, inspecting the hairs on his brushes. It was all so rhythmic and beautiful. And such a ritual. I certainly could understand the appeal.

He would sit with his back as straight as when he’d been instructed as a primary schooler in his chair and write out, without much of a pause, a 60 character poem, a famous one, one of his favorites. Almost always the same poem. I could never get the name of the poem or poet out of him, and I certainly couldn’t read his flowing grass script, such were the abbreviations and elisions of the proper characters. But the scrolls, after his 45 minutes of intense writing, were gorgeous. The kind of thing I would have loved to have brought back and put up on my wall, pointed to over a balloon goblet of Malbec at a dinner party with smart friends.

He would let each scroll dry for half an hour or so, sprinkle some cornstarch powder over the top, shake it clean, roll it up and stick it in a cabinet with several score other scrolls (many most likely of the exact same poem). It puzzled me a great deal. Here I was thinking he was trying to perfect the scroll, repeating the same poem again and again.

One day I asked him about it. Why do you keep writing the same poem? All the scrolls are beautiful. Do you expect to get an even more beautiful one some day? I imagined an answer very different than what I got. He said something to the effect of writing the poem was the best way he knew to experience the poem.

Often I have heard the complaints of the death of poetry, death of reading, of literature, of art. I hear that the audience is too ready to be seduced by (first) the movies, television and (now) the Internet. Too caught up in the material these days to have the patience, skill or inclination to be bothered to take the active and imaginative role as the audience of Art. This is simply bullshit, the nostalgia that always shimmers the air with its searing heat as we look behind us.

There was a time when everyone who mattered in (any particular) society had read the same poems, memorized the same lines, practiced the same forms. It was also true (and nearly always forgotten) that “everyone who mattered” was a very different (much smaller and less inclusive than most of us could stomach these days) group. It makes most of the lamenting seem to be from those who have some vested interest in the canon, since it is the canon that has died, been overrun and outmatched by the unprecedented abundance of poems, poets, forms, voices, intentions and types of art. More people, and a larger percentage of people, read and write poems (in all their forms) than at any other time in our history. There are more books of any sort and more readers, reading more, more styles. There are works of poetry or fiction, rap lyrics, folk lyrics, thrash and post-punk lyrics, multi-media, multi-dimension performance poems that break into the space of the everyday, in invisible ways and in very, very visible ways.

And those that complain about any type of creation as being smug, or high fallutin’ or opaque are simply reading the wrong poems for them at that moment, and those who complain about any type of creation as being base, or stupid, or lowbrow, or commercial are simply reading the wrong poems for them at that moment. Or perhaps it’s not the poems that they are really concerned with at all. I know that I, as my high school self, complained about Dickinson as being “so blah” and “so opaque (I felt powerful just wielding that word of revolution, of refusal, of usurpation as a mere 16 years old!), and I believed it at the time.

Some poets and poems concern themselves with extending the canvas, some with adding contour and shading.

2     Archaic Torso of Apollo, read by Ryan Nance.

Editorial Unedited: Edition Poetics

» Editorial Unedited

To make an issue on Poetics is probably the same as to make an issue on… hmm… everything.

If a concept is being used as a central focus for constructing a discursive unit around it, then this concept should at least come with a clear definition on what it should mean in the given context.  Otherwise one would end up writing an encyclopedia, right?

And of course, we had to have a look at an encyclopedia. And here is what we have found in one of them, in the Third Edition of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics:

“This is a book of knowledge, of facts, theories, questions, and informed judgement, about poetry. Its aim is to provide a comprehensive, comparative, reasonably advanced, yet readable reference for all students, teachers, scholars, poets, or general readers who are interested in the history of any poetry in any national literature of the world, or in any aspect of the technique or criticism of poetry.

It provides balanced and comprehensive accounts of the major movements and issues in criticism and literary theory, and discussion of the manifold relations of poetry to the other fields of human thought and activity — history, science, politics, religion, philosophy, music, the visual arts. “

This claim for an ultimate answer to the ungraspable and un-answerable, which extends through decades (the forth edition is probably on its way as we speak)–one mustn’t read the rest of the 1500 pages of the book because poetics manifests its essence in those first couple of passages.

Such an ultimate statement, however, is not what Legwork does. Legwork is rather interested in spontaneous reactions to concepts, ideas and visual impulses. That is why we approached creatively active people with a simple, “Hey, let’s talk about poetics, shall we?”, hoping for their spontaneous outcomes.

We didn’t think the free associations that we would pull out of those that might respond to us could help, in a very mystical psychoanalytical way, uncover the hidden unconscious of our shared symbolic habitus.  But we thought it would be fun to see what strings people have attached to this concept.  Poetics.

And then of course it ends up in the discourse.  Like it was never there.  Ha.  We ourselves implied one of the ways for this to happen: everyone starts using the word poetics in an adjective form to describe the visual.  It implies the old metaphysical problem of the image’s relation to the word.  And their competition in representation–whichever represents the world better.   When both of them realize in failing (as we know by now, representation is itself an oxymoron), the moment comes when there is no more sense in defining the concept of poetics taken as a central concept for an editorial issue.

Of course, we did not exhaust the subject, and we do not provide answers. We displace it from being super serious.  We massage it a bit.  We take this concept of poetics as a bowl of popcorn while watching our Friday movie.




Berlin has a lot of free or really cheap conferences (except for the communism one, which cost 57 EUR).  Communism for 60 EUR.  No joke.  This is all to say, in June, Judith Hamera gave a rousing talk about Michael Jackson at Prekäre Exzellenz, where a lot of good heads gathered in the name of virtuosity.  The content was stirring and delivered with broadcaster fervor.  I was jazzed.  Then we talked about our logo, appropriating MJ, and the affective agenda of celebrity.  Poetics entered from the back door and displaced it all.



Egle met Carrick Bell, a Berlin-based American artist.  He moved to artistic practice from the field of literary theory when he got interested in the failure of language to be communicative. Working with abstracting images from their context, he nevertheless says that it doesn’t mean they are primarily visual.

The functional vagueness of poetics as ‘being whatever’ is carefully implied through a speculative proposal to approach art as a reality show.  Legwork got in touch with New York-based artist, writer and curator, Trong Nguyen while he was traveling on holiday through Italy.  Trong agreed to take part in our poetic experiment and reacted to some pretentious prompts that we sent him via FB.

And, of course, we could not have missed the chance to have a poet in an issue on  poetics.  Kerry Featherstone was very kind and generous to share one of his poems as well as his writing about the difference between articulating the visual and being inspired by the visual.

And our TrendMatrix, this time proving that the trend to kill the author is not dead. And probably will never be.

Last but not least, the poetic beauty of the current issue is crowned with the pictures of LW’s inaugural event, Legwork Performance Series, Edition 1: Adoption.  Check it out and find your favorite picture with the artwork baby.  Millions of thanks to the evening’s photographer, Bradley Wester, and to everyone who participated in the photo shoot and performance!


Legwork Performance Series, Edition 1: Adoption

» Legworking

Art Press Release


Legwork Performance Series, Edition 1: Adoption

The creative practice of the collaborative Legwork resides in following an intuition for transcending boundaries of categorization, identification, and embodiment, any of which could be expected at any moment to materialize through a clearly defined medium. This intuition bonds with a distrust in fixed identities, as they predetermine actions, objects and phenomena and thereby exclude their becoming potentialities.

Legwork’s practice is choosing various ways of articulating this basic position and its possibility for transformation at any given moment.  The collaborative engages in the creation of non-textual articulations of its position parallel to and in dialogue with its editorial activities and active participation in the surrounding context, which happens through processes of observing, reflecting, articulating and sharing in discourse-based knowledge.  These non-textual articulations often move into the field of the performative and the visual.
Each outcome should be regarded as an occasion of the practice rather than as its artifact, although the presence of qualities of the latter should not be overlooked.

After participation in a discourse-related artist workshop, the publication the two first issues of its editorial project, and the creation of its choreographic video, Utopia, or Tobey’s Not Here, Legwork has organized this first performance as the beginning of its performance series—a series of occasions, the continuity of which is presupposed.

Performance in the case of Adoption is understood as a simultaneous condensation and expansion of Legwork’s existing practice and is intended to manifest the collaborative’s becoming. It might be considered a ritual in which fun and irony are operative.  It is also a mildly constructed gathering of people who wanted something to do and somewhere to go tonight. The idea of the performance came into being through a series of conversations that the members of the collaborative are always having and had while reflecting on the ways they would position the function and basic character of their current collaboration.

Adoption is centered on performing references to rituals of adoption.  The adopted baby is made from a Tasha Edenholm reborn kit.  A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl and clay play doll that has been transformed in order to achieve as much realism as possible in resembling a human baby. Tobey Albright, a member of Legwork, created the doll in his individual art practice and made it in his own image. This baby is a performative work intended to embody the organic nature of discourse as it renders relations and their correlating conversations part of the object.

The object inheres not in itself, but as an attempt at its own articulation and materialization. With the object of the baby, Legwork builds its collective history through the idiom of performance, where the very practice of the collaborative is the object of inquiry.  Legwork is an object that, with a certain self-awareness, leaves itself open to its own constitution as elicited by a particular frame or context, as these inform how Legwork manifests its practice in the world.  The reborn baby as becoming social object appears ritualistically in the performance as a metaphorical condensation of Legwork’s becoming a group, while retaining each member’s singularity. Through lifelike social scenarios—i.e., participatory photography in front of a balloon wall installation, a reading of the baby’s astrological forecast, a family photo album slide show, and enjoying cake together—we produce relations to and through the baby, one another and participants.

Legwork is interested in staging as symbolic reference, insofar as this symbolic reference explodes its own actuality.  To put it as simply as possible: Adoption is a symbolic reference via a simultaneous direction and indirection, that is, a reference that questions the symbolic status of its own representation. Here staging emphasizes the parallel between the social situation of adoption (creating a new social unit without biological predetermination) and initiating a collaboration (establishing a creative unit which is supposed to become one body, but nevertheless does not overcome the primary differences among the bodies that form it).
Through adoption, we claim beginning rather than birth and thus disavow a romantic idea of the collaborative as one in which we become one and think as one, where backgrounds disappear, as this is impossible.  Adoption in this context should not be mistaken for an explanatory metaphor.  The very fact that we place these phenomena in one discussion is the message, the meaning or explanatory relation of which emerges through an individual’s participation in the occasion.  Participants place themselves in the situation and become both the medium and the message in the process of meaning-making, unless, of course, there is no meaning to be had at all.

Adoption and the creation of a new collaborative are related to one another through a desire for newness, for new forms of life and modes of sociality, for something that was not present and to a certain extent was never possible before. Overcoming impossibility is what characterizes both situations, and it becomes the primary motivation for the establishment of both units. The fact of their actual existence, however, validates their very being as ‘beyond impossible,’ and to this end manifests a possibility for articulation in the gap between media.

Adoption puts forth neither a predicted time framework nor an imposed distinction between audience and performance.  The medium used is naïve in that it is the carrier of a message to be represented.
The ephemeral nature of the performance is not considered a problem.  The baby will return to Chicago with its artist in a cardboard box.

Further, this performance is not an allegory of social, economic, or political issues.
Legwork came to this performance from a shared moment of initial collaborative meaning-making and excitement.  As collaborators, the experience of the evening is bound to produce us in different ways than non-collaborators.  We are equally bound to share meaningful moments and other wholly non-catholic moments.

A classical understanding of performance comes undone because we partially abandon the intention of fulfilling performance expectations.  If you come here and eat cake and dance and enjoy yourself, this is but one of many welcome possibilities.

Through the performance as non-descriptive, non-referential and non-illustrative, the object of the action, namely, the collaborative’s becoming, will lose its concrete materiality.  It will, more interestingly, become more than material, hyper-material even at the same time. It will be as material as the non-allegorical balloon wall, and as real as the take-a-picture-with-the-baby photo shoot could ever be.