Sunday, 9 September 2007

Learn (not) To Read (the handout)

Four original 'Typings' by Christopher Knowles were on the wall at Tate Modern (London) in 'Learn to Read', an exhibition of work by 'artists who play with text and erasure'. Knowles, a prodigy best known as theatre director Robert Wilson's teenage collaborator in 'Einstein on the Beach' and other stage pieces, only came into my ken last year through wonderful performance readings by Chris Goode. They are copious and highly patterned rotes and transcriptions of conversation, radio patter, song titles and lyric fragments, couples' names, a family slide show, verbs with their gerunds ('so to do is as the e and the ing thing to do of the words'); very dynamic and rhythmic, and somehow, despite (or due to?) a apparently complete absence of acquired sophistication, delightful to New York school-influenced sensibilities. I hadn't fully appreciated that on paper they are also immaculately designed typestracts, making full use of coloured ribbons etc. (Can't find any images on the web.)
Nothing else in the show seemed really exciting; one or two were (imo) conceptually feeble, daft, or badly executed; most were at least slightly intriguing. NB someone with more knowledge of the fine art field would doubtless have found far more to admire. There was evidently a lot of allusion and citation to earlier conceptual art. The interpretative text in the handout seemed generic and banal -- is it me?? -- and may have jaundiced my view of the work. (I know it's not easy to write about this kind of art.) Those I liked most, generally due to their material aesthetic (often on paper directly tacked on the wall), were as follows:
By Sue Tompkins, sheets of newsprint with one or two very brief, almost unassociable, textual fragments typed on. With irregular and partial folds, presumably due to the process.
By Vittorio Santoro, phrases of ambiguous but perhaps vaguely ethical import, in pencil in childlike handwriting and odd spacing (reminiscent of Cy Twombly), e.g.
with the same words in a single line and cancelled, beneath, so the whole sheet was a kind of minimal landscape.
Lia Perjovschi's mind-maps as wall drawings. At one level I think these are really 'not art', but I do quite like the way they look, variable disks constituted by handwriting.
Anne-Lise Coste: apparently enlarged doodles, airbrushed.
The non-linguistic aspects of Simon Evans's collages on paper were pleasant: one included a circular relief in pencil-sharpenings, the other a constellation of cigarette burns. The words were autobiographical indices ('weaker friends want their sympathy back'; 'It's winter now and the trees are pretending to be dead').
Jonathan Monk sent a sentence in English to a translation service, sent the result to another, and so on and so on, ending with a transformed version back in English. One or more poets (especially Harry Gilonis) have been playing the same Chinese whispers with free online translators for quite some time now. Monk's output was the series of versions, on the letterheads of the various firms. There were unresolved things about this work: the set of languages was that found along the Edgeware Road, yet the selected text had nothing to do with that location but was a macho aphorism about the art impulse by Carl Andre, that had its own problems. Still, it was all quite nice ...
Two little collages by the Scottish artist Kevin Hutcheson used torn-off bits of magazine print, including text ('islands of ... aspects of' ...), like very minimal Schwitterses. These were potentially the most interestingly poetic, least resolvable pieces I saw. Or else just the emptiest ...
In other media:
Peter Coffin's big white neon scribble, especially as placed to create a whole reflection in the front window of the Level 2 gallery, was charmingly spectacular.
A little animation by Mario Garcia Torres (possibly a re-make of someone else's work??): in small handwritten capitals, jiggling about, a bit hard to read, "until it makes sense". Ah. Walk away now, stop looking/thinking. Very true.
I quite liked Shannon Ebner's photographs, despite being completely unconvinced by her scenarios as significant engagements with language.
Key work: Bethan Huws used a black signboard system with white moveable letters, reminiscent of those found in greasy spoon cafes, to mount a couple of texts, especially:

*substitute 'exhibiting'.