Thursday, April 15, 2021

Remembering Mhairi

 

We met as Sparks — Diverging Flints

Sent various — scattered ways —

We parted as the Central Flint

Were cloven with an Adze —

Subsisting on the Light We bore

Before We felt the Dark —

A Flint unto this Day — perhaps —

But for that single Spark.

                                                        (Emily Dickinson, from Wikisource, public domain)


That's a poem for her, my long-ago friend. And now, bells for her...

Long ago, Mhairi gave me Tori Amos's To Venus and Back, and today, a year on from her passing, I listen to "Bells for Her", the live version from that album. There's also a beautiful original studio version of this song on Under the Pink.

As I've mentioned before, Mhairi played the piano (beautifully), and often played Tori's music on it, as well as more classical and experimental work.

One year today she has been gone.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

On Karl Wiebke’s Art (2021): the interior and exterior spatiality of work and making

by John Kinsella

I have known Karl Wiebke since the mid 1980s, after he migrated to Australia in 1981. Karl was born in Germany, where he held his first exhibition of painting (at Die Malwand, Rotenburg) and studied fine art from 1972-76 at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Hamburg, with further exhibitions at Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst (1977/1980). 

I first came across Karl in Fremantle where I frequently visited (and later lived for while) on bouts of protest and dissipation. As a poet who at that time was focussed on writing (or thinking) poems out of what I experienced in accordance with what I read, visualised and heard, I was excited to come across Karl’s work of commitment and daily application, something I was very much unable to sustain at the time. 

But I was also interested in Karl’s open but very specific view of art in the world, and heard him jamming on a guitar with other artist-musician-practitioners (whom I knew in differing degrees) on various occasions (and am pretty sure I was at his last public gig with ‘Paint Kaput’ at the Cave Bar in Fremantle — one of my haunts of the time — in 1991, but I could be misremembering the occasion), and very early on spent some hours here and there zoned out on the studio floor where he made art and played with others, being politely coaxed out after I had crashed out. During that period, I lived for a couple of months in a shallow cave behind a screen of bushes facing Bather’s Beach under the Fremantle Roundhouse Gaol (with its horrendous history). 

Karl was always kind and generous, willing to talk about art and tolerant of my misdemeanours of behaviour and creative distractibility. At times, I would come across him after he had returned from visits to India or elsewhere, and he would be particularly open and brimming with creativity — once he specifically invited me to see his work-in-progress (rather than my just turning up with someone else or somehow). 

I came across Karl’s work before I met him —it was the 1983 exhibition at Praxis in Fremantle (an array of his painted sticks leaning against the wall: I was overwhelmed and thought of it as an installation poem). Yes, I certainly remember seeing his work first at Praxis (Fremantle, not the earlier Murray Street gallery in Perth). He seemed to be part of the new Perth-Fremantle modernism, but also outside it. Internal and external, and this really interested me. 

I think I probably met Karl socially (at a friend’s house or at a glass-maker’s factory or at the Stoned Crow... I can’t recall) before meeting him in situ, painting. I later saw him at work at Bannister Street Studios, and also in the back garden of his home (if I recall correctly— I was there with another friend), and then more committedly at his studio in the old Fremantle Fire Station, where on a few occasions I saw different drip layers of his pedestal of paint as it was being built-up over the years (Monochrome painting 1984-1991), as well as his many-layered sculpted paintings/gougings, revealed the very essence of what it is to make a painting. 

Karl’s painting is about practical work and also about the work of thinking. What is unseen in the painting, what is underneath, has visceral meaning to the ‘appearance’ of what is seeable. The long-term engagement (almost a painterly contract) to making an artwork, and being able to commit to such making for all the flux and changes of time — a duration that realigns the temporal — fascinated me. In the same way as the bands of paint on sticks struck me as being like narrow vertical poems of different length stanzas with different intensities, bringing to mind distended and extended colours as vowel sonneteering à la Rimbaud, I always left his studio with answers to formal problems in shaping, lineating and making poems. 

I feel I write poems of the external world — the natural environment — with an internality, and I think Karl paints to make painting both internal and external as per his ‘following’ of Theo van Doesburg’s annihilation and renewal of art, and the notion that concrete art speaks to the individual (the old) and the universal (the new). One thing I feel is sometimes missed by critics when considering the universalism of Karl’s art is the intense localism that comes with where and how a piece of art is created over time. If the De Stijl manifesto speaks of sympathising ‘with all who work for the formation of an international unity in Life, Art, Culture, either intellectually or materially', then the practice Karl developed in Germany necessarily alters in experential dynamics when made in Fremantle, Perth, or Melbourne, because the conditions of making shift. 

These shifts are noticeable in the way paint applies to a prepared (or not) surface, the rapidity with which it drips and dries, how it mixes or doesn’t mix (more ‘time’ of setting between layers means resistance... and I often think of electronic resistance colour codes and ‘ohm values’ as a kind of code for control of creativity... brown red orange yellow as markers of tolerance) in different atmospheric conditions (working close to the sea is different from working away from it). Also, the social-demographic conditions of materiality shift between localities, as well as across time, and, in doing so, change perception and process. 

If in eschewing symbolism, the artist changes the terms of referentiality in a painting, they doesn’t necessarily change the way a viewer (or experiencer’s — touch, smell, even the sound of a painting being made) searches for symbolic meaning, even when they are directed not to by descriptions of intent (a critic’s imposition more than the artist’s). Karl is aware that his purpose is his purpose as artist, and that the viewer will make their own purpose. That is not a problem, and is in fact an energiser of a commitment to paint across a lifetime with a purpose to make and build on that making. 

I admired (and admire) Karl for his work ethic, and I was also mindful of how such a personal commitment did not prevent him from communal and social generosity. Many people knew Karl ‘back in the day’, and his respect for many different kinds of making — making outside an aesthetic hierarchy, but with a commitment to work and building — seemed socially as well as materially just to me. 

Again, we might think of Theo van Doesburg and his ‘The End of Art’ — ‘Aestheticism has infected and diseased us all. (Yes, us.)’. Modernity is always about negotiating internal spatiality with the pressures of external mass-producing, and the artisan aspect of Karl’s work-habits are, it seems to me, very much connected with meditative repetition that is a ritual to allow spiritual questioning — in other words, the work-ritual prevents internal existence falling into repetition and anodyne ritualistic responses which prevent contact with creativity. So work and repetition are not habit, but absolute necessity. 

External process brings internal freedoms. And always that complexity of texture: smooth drips of paint that look/feel like rivers, bridges, valleys, hills, roads and even like the body... And the codings of colour that are concrete, plastic, and realisable in the world. None of this is ‘symbolic’ by design, and it is always new.

Over the years I have written many poems (and articles... and also an exhibition opening speech) out of experiencing and thinking about Karl’s work in terms of the making of poetry, including writing poems inside the catalogue reproductions of his painting hoops/rings/circles. There is an interesting ‘bio’ page on Karl at his regular gallery Liverpool Street Gallery extracted from an article by Margaret Moore (published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 46, October-December 2008), and recently I have written a series of poems on his 2020 exhibition, ‘Seven Paintings’ :

Graphology Ratio 39: On Karl Wiebke’s Seven Paintings 2020

G7 Orange, 2020

Across the decades of work, Karl,
apotheosis is in the wrist and eye, a pattern 
of days and aqueous humour floaters
fielding vision to remake inversions,
a microscopy of lucid orange to trail 
flagella on their paths across the slide 
of purple-mauve pooled echoes.

G7 Grey, 2020

Immediacy is grey in the compressed
vessel where spectral suppresses
to highlight, burst into pre-cursive
search for vowels and immense
looping eruptives, qua rewriting
storage to allow more uptake, out-
flow, time to reconcile dusk as dawn.

G7 Muted White, 2020

House of cells is engram of mosaic
to address figure to figure in the colour
chart test to lift out numbers and letters,
to go against marbled waters
still on surface but a micron beneath 
shifting curves to hexagonals — what
pushed into field of muting so vigorously?

G7 Red

Masks of paint-theatre fall-and-rise
and fall risen to make happy sad, sad happy;
in alert mode we sit on tipped seat-edges 
waiting for upraising curtain point
of attack but peace reigns in draft 
redraft final moment closing lines curtailing 
perpetual wonder of endless drama.

G7 Blue, 2020

Resolved a long time ago now active
as irresolute so decided upon, so back
& forth to cover ground with swirl
and shimmy in sky-water interface
ingredients of equilateral and isoleles
letter-curves to lift blue shadows 
to sink and float and sign-out vapour.

G7 Dark Blue

Bluefire jellyfish signatures epochs.
Stingers wave tentacles and are tentacles.
Folders merge chirography — systems
ail and effuse to rise an oxygen-surface dichotomy.
We swim lexically and are stung. We stroke. Submerge.
Following to surface is more than gill, more than gasp,
and not those bends in a doctrine of signatures.

G7 Pink, 2020

Touch washed blood picture report as bubbles
pop and flatten to trail back a scene of mixing 
or even source of pigments; gentle surge regular-irregular
to answer exquisite critic’s conundrum of pulse,
that quixotic histology of pink promising to flush
buddings out; but intense to examine each variation, 
each exception, those myriad conversations, our moods.

Also recently, a family member ‘unearthed’ the painting below made sometime during the early 90s, I think. Karl and I did two of these — Karl did the ‘base’, and I painted lines from my poems over the top. One I returned to Karl for him to add layers over, and one I kept and lost (now found!). I have no idea what became of the other one, but below is a photo of the one I held onto — the words are from my poem ‘Helen Frankenthaler’s Interior Landscape, 1964’ along with ‘stimuli’ additional words that were intended to open the interior of the painting and the text. I have also written many poems on Frankenthaler's work, and it seemed interesting to me at the time to create a conversation via physically applied text between the different spatialities of these painters. I think poetry can facilitate such conversations without imposing or co-opting. I have always been interested in the physical act of writing, which in some ways I equate to painting (in other ways, not), and to graphologically bring the two modes of making and cause-response together was quite exciting. I wish the project had gone further!


Karl Wiebke and John Kinsella — 'No Graffito' Painting/Poem





Wednesday, March 31, 2021

In Memoriam Urs Jaeggi (1931-2021)

by John Kinsella


Urs Jaeggi has recently passed in Germany at the age of 89. As followers of this blog will know, we saw him in Zurich as recently as January 2020, just as and before the world fragmented and writhed with the Covid crisis. It was an incredible interaction — bringing with it an entire notebook of collaborative fusings and dialogue, for which I will always be grateful. And Urs finally got to meet Tracy and Tim in person, though he had spoken with Tracy on the phone from Berlin to Paris decades earlier. 

A remarkable person in all ways, Urs challenged and changed discourse as an academic, and as an artist pushed his practice into completely original and absolutely committed modes of articulation. In all his creative work he was able to converse between interior and exterior worlds — within himself to test the boundaries of what arts practice might be, committed to enacting his work honestly, and uninterested in the ‘fashionable’. He was a practitioner of great integrity. Writer, sculptor, painter, drawer, poet, performer, creator of texts, he was one of the most widely informed, read and sensitive people I have ever known. His imagination merged with knowledge, and both were remade.

Urs was born in Solothurn, Switzerland, and though spending much of his life in Berlin and later Mexico City, he made frequent journeys back to Switzerland, often to see his very long-lived mother. I remember Urs saying that the journey on the train was useful to him for his work, allowing him to focus; I have often wondered if that was because he was so interested in the tension between ‘permanence’ (unattainable) and flux (what we live in). He seemed fascinated by the in-betweenness of things. 

I first met Urs at the 1995, 62nd World Congress of PEN, and we immediately sparked. He was moving between zones in a physical sense, and he was also deep in a change in his practice: from more conventional narrative to a highly disrupting alterity of expression — one that energised language/s, offering an alternative fluidity of philosophical encounter with ‘being’ and materiality. 

We both discovered we had a strong interest in Deleuze and Guattari, and agreed we could write a cross-language textual work that operated as a body without organs we would reterritorialise and also deterritorialise. We promised each other to keep in contact and work together. 

It happened sooner than I expected, because within months we were swapping constructed typography-orientated texts via fax, and this continued when Tracy and I took up a residency at Varuna writers’ house not long after (Blue Mountains, New South Wales, far from Western Australia... and these ‘shifts’ would be part of the dynamic of our interaction from then on). 

Faxes would come into the communal fax at Varuna overnight, and I’d collect them in the morning and send off as soon as I’d configured my D & G response. This continued when Tracy and I moved to Cambridge. Eventually, the book was finished — or had completed being ‘compiled’ — and I photocopied half-a-dozen sets and sent them to various people, none of whom have any idea what became of them now. Long time ago. Urs had a set in his art studio, and I am hoping it remains among his papers.

Urs and I went on to read/perform together (Hamburg, East Berlin, etc), and to conduct a variety of collaborative textual experimentations. We fell in and out of contact over the decades, depending on the run of our lives. At times our exchanges were intense and all-consuming. Each of us took work done with each other into our way of seeing, into our wider ‘practice’.

Looking back to the first time I published Urs — Salt Number 8, 1996, I remember the excitement and dynamism of our earliest encounters. He was an enthusiast for challenging textual and knowledge conventions within Euro-paradigms, and dismantling narratives to investigate what informed them. An investigation that always had purpose: to find ways of liberating text that convention might force upon us. Urs provided the cover image of that issue, and a couple of pieces that are below:






Over time, I will try and place some of our other collaborative work on the blog (there were about half-a-dozen extended ‘projects’), but for now I will sign off with a poem I wrote after hearing of Urs’s passing, and also one (accompanied by a note of thanks and greeting) I wrote a decade ago as part of a celebration of Urs’s life.


Villanelle In Memoriam Urs Jaeggi

You’d have broken the form down into fragments
of speech, questioned the mechanism, undone the quotes
that bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

I will remember for us the interplay of documents
and voice in the East Berlin literature house, the notes
of breaking the form down into fragments.

I will remember for us the non-alignments
of syntax and image, freeing picture house endnotes
that bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

I will remember Deleuze and Guattari enjambments,
the wolf in a shadow of the tower — unlearning rote,
as we broke up the form and followed the fragments.

I will remember the depth of ink and the dénouement
of a rocking horse in your Berlin flat, later of Zurich and litotes,
refusing to bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

For more than a quarter-century we worked by increments —
our ‘Tractortatus’ trying to respell propositions and essences — afloat
on your sculptures of consequence, lines worked into fragments
freeing the philosopher from a position, all circumstance.

                                              ---

           for Urs’s 80th birthday:

Happy birthday, Urs. I thank you for your friendship and for sharing your work with me over the years. Working with you on various collaborations, including D & G and most recently the Tractortatus texts, has been an ongoing revelation about the possibilities of art and language. You are the embodiment of the Renaissance artist and thinker — all is in your ken — but in a truly contemporary way. 

Here is a poem based on a few factors: visiting your apartment in Berlin in the mid-90s; the painting used as the cover image for Salt magazine number 8 (1996); and very distantly, your wonderful poem-text ‘Miles’, published in the same issue of Salt

I often think of our performances together in Berlin and Hamburg. You are the liberator of the word! 



Pause
for Urs Jaeggi’s 80th Birthday

In the room the room
you offered the staying 
place the rocking-horse
room where night-fright
made no horror and no
shadows just the zoo-light
carried in from wanderings
about the wall machine
down ergo silence of cabinet
of sketches expressing
shudders and stillness
an ergonomics of presence
where comfort allies
with friendship and intensity
with sincerity and circles
wavering circles and souls
stepping down and out
through window and image-bank
in book-frame and covering
voices with plausible trance
or entrance — thankyou
for the cover the glint
and gleaning of salt
and movie-time rescue
like risk like announcement
overtalking to echo
through theatre and audience,
failsafe nor forget-me-not rhizomes
tunnelling streetworks
cloistered or blossoming in window
of multilingual fruitfulness,
no imprisonment in artifice
or maybe freedom in artifice
but not ‘officialese’ (you made
your escape! you sculpted
plastic form office throne
choke of narrative, storyline
fame left on the altar),
degrees of ranks blown
in by Peter the Great
and no notice taken
or left freehold resurrection
poem of provinces — dead 
souls — no, no estates
made from transfer or silence:
third persons telling their tales,
folk tales and heritages,
red and blue witches,
sagas   epics   prophecies
I heard Khlebnikov asleep
reciting asleep I was awake
asleep near the rocking-horse
childhood recognition of apocrypha
I was part of we all were you’d think
or you were too and I detailed
the twists and scrunches
of paper that made up
your eternal poem your
challenge to rock the horse
to rock the boat
to rock the monastery
of learning and blight,
chronicle   recital   ode
paint hunger form
catacoustics 
of inner-city apartment
as generous as caverns
and sky, ‘(dritte Lektion)’
in the mineshafts of wonder,
investigation, breakthroughs,
sticking-your-neck-out
loyalty of palette is body
of palette is opening colour 
outside its spectrum
without the inducements
of colour, refraction, spectra,
prism analogies, dispersion,
diffractions the clamour
for laws we never want,
we pass without pause:
sharing is silence and noise
and the joy of knowing.
Bonding and making,
rooms to fill and empty,
all made in the shades
of living contrapposto.

with very best wishes, 
from John Kinsella



Friday, February 5, 2021

Poem (in memoriam Sean, d. 1981)

Forty


I have to imagine your grave today
since there's no visiting —
& there is fire, as well as distance
& decades between.

It might be dulled or overgrown,
inscription chipped off or greying —
every sibling's name & He is Risen
no longer legible, meaningful, like those

you & I would try to decipher as children
walking around churchyards, certain
such mute & sunken slabs had nothing
to do with us, just sweetly sad,

fearsome if stepped on. Your vases dry,
there won't be flowers now, though early
on I'd arrive to find someone else had
tended you, & spend the day wondering:

places you marked in other lives.
On the long road for years there was
a van that sold bouquets, opportune
as mushroom after death-rain,

servicing that end of things. Gone, gone.
After these forty years I scarcely know
what to say to you — my living on
has said everything for me.


                                  Tracy Ryan