Essay by Anne Gorrick: Taking Text Outside = Interstitial Acts

 

I.

“We’re anxious for signs, indications, for some founding echo to our all-too-precarious existence, our so-called being here.”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

Let’s think a bit about textual art that is ephemeral, outside, fugitive; text that isn’t carved into a building or a street or a stone or a wall.  Let’s note the diminutive textual adventure.  The infinitesimal moment.  I want to think about earth texts beyond shelter.  Going outside brings the death in a little, releases the work into the air.  Poem as prayer flag.  Poem as act against the immaculate.  Text as emphatic and intimate protest.

These textual events are micro-rituals, work as interstitial acts that help us move between events, environments, each other.  A piece of fishing line holds the fragile nano-fibered sheets of paper together.  “Installation Poetry” or “Land Poetry” or “Site-Specific” Poetry.  The pristine papered world of the indoors suddenly molds and crushes and rots outside.  The poetry becomes much more like, of, as the body when we take it there.

Here.  Airborne.  Slipping away.  Melting.  Receding.

Corn Snow Poem and photo by Geof Huth

Corn Snow Poem and photo by Geof Huth

Huth’s verbo-visual creations that focus on the textual materiality of language(see below) allow us to talk with the seen, the attenuating and touch the world.

Few visual poems these days function as poems do. Instead, they encompass a wide range of verbo-visual creations that focus on the textual materiality of language. The form includes poems written as mathematical equations, collage poems, xerographic pieces that include no words but concentrate on the meaning that has built up within the shapes of letters, and even asemic writings in invented scripts created to mean through shape rather than word. Visual poetry is written for the eye, but its methods and intentions, even in those works most limited in their verbal content, are always poetic, always compelling the reader forward into the transformative power of language, always entranced by—and entrancing through—the text that is before us.  – Geof Huth in Poetry

 

II.

“In reading vestiges such as these, interpreting their tenuous messages, we might occasionally, uncover a long lost ontology of our own.”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

Many artist/writers work within the descriptor “visual poet.”  Here, White puts poetry in the proxy body and invites it, dares it to walk down the road.  Poetry outside is unprotected, an interrogation of our physical vulnerabilities, our mortality, which is something of a constant erasure in America.

Fatigue Gardner (2016) by Helen White

Fatigue Gardner (2016) by Helen White

As our lives become increasing screens-sized, bringing the textual work outside begins a conversation between monumentality and intimacy, landscape vs. type.  Maybe we don’t like this, or it’s uncomfortable to feel the smallness of our work.  Poetry outside is naturally illuminated.  It recalibrates in changing light. The booked word, the indoor word, is very different from text hung on the world.  Maybe we are reduced to our proper ratio outside, necessarily conceptual.

 

III.

“…we have come to investigate our own capacity to give expression to an underlying sense of life-oriented, life-perpetuating determinants.

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

Thinking about taking text outside, I consider how this act is as an essential one of protest.  When it needs to be said, when our lives depend on it, when we cite the necessity of social justice, we begin to note and display despite the rain or the wind.  When it needs to be said, we take it outside, in all its fragility and profound requirement.

Photo by Alice Teeple

photo by Alice Teeple

Of course there’s another vast world of outdoor text, and that is public anonymous (to a random onlooker) art, graffiti art.  I am dying to find out who my local artist is who tags TACO around town.  The elements degrade it, public entities attempt to erase it, and still it notes our existence and our protest and the finely tuned typography of the hand that writes/paints/draws it.  The ephemeral handmade below against the sturdiness of texual advertising/merchandising.

Photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis

photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis

 

IV.

“Each of us, I suspect, has a landscape of our own”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

In November 2013, I brought one my poems to my favorite Catskills stream, and let the stones and water “read” it.  I wanted a new readership.  Often I feel post-audience, so what better timeless audience could I find than bringing my inside to the outside, to install text in nature.  The poem endured a fair amount of battering, a natural criticism.

I needed help to make this project happen, so I asked my husband, Peter Genovese, and our good friend Nancy (N.F.) Huth to come along to help with issues both practical and documentarian.  Our dog Tiny also came along to provide his own brand of “assistance.”  It was a cold, initially rainy day.  Our down jackets were starting to slick over.  My hands in November reddened in the water, claws by the end.

I took a long poem, and connected the pages in a row using fishing line taped to the backs of each page.  The pages laid out in a line with space between each one.  The idea was to let this go down the stream and let the water interact with the text, the paper, one pre-iteration of trash.  Nancy and I brought our footage of it together in a short, rustic film.

photo – AG

photo by AG

At the end of the day, we picked up all the paper fragments that, Osiris-like, flew apart in their travels downstream.  Then we crushed them into balls studded with sticks and leaves, tangled with fishing line.  We let these dry out over the coming weeks above the woodstove.  What began as a poem, scattered.  Pressed together again, they reshaped.

V.

“The artifacts “speak” if we know how to “listen,” if we learn how to interpret the operative details by which they might be identified.  In this sense, the artifacts themselves are like words.”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

On a momentarily tangential note, I am President of the Board of Trustees of Century House Historical Society in Rosendale, NY (www.centuryhouse.org).  We have a well-preserved and accessible defunct cement mine, an industrial cathedral, on our property (the Widow Jane Mine) where we hold a gamut of arts events.   An all-volunteer organization, our mission is to preserve the history of our local defunct cement industry.

To more fully investigate this history, this year we held our third annual outdoor sculpture exhibition, IN:SITE, curated by Natasha Brooks-Sperduti and Jenny Fowler.

Trust me.

I have occasional raptures about how about how the inevitable outcome of failed industry is art, but that’s another story.

In a conversation I had with artist Jeffrey Benjamin during the exhibition opening, he introduced me to the phrase “shovel test pit,” an archeological term meaning a standard method of survey.  Essentially the careful grid to study the makings of a piece of ground, this idea could also stand in for act of textual making, when as poets, we document the unfolding around us.

Two artists in this year’s show investigate textually the land on which the art stands.

First, in Katie Grove’s Study of a Square Foot of Earth in a Poem I – III, the artist takes a square foot of earth and examines it piece by piece, listing them in detail “revealing the layers of the forest from the sky to the soil.”

photo – AG

photo by AG

“I sited the three pieces nearby each other to create continuity, but gave them enough space that they would be diverse. I then began the tedious process of examining and listing every single piece from the top of the leaf letter down into the soil in each square foot site. I then took these lists home and typed them out, word by word on plant dyed fabrics strips (goldenrod, sumac, and black walnut) using a manual typewriter. Since I knew that the exhibition would be up for almost 3 months I wanted to use fabrics that would react to weather.  To rain, sun, wind, and time. Will the words begin to bleed? Will the colors bleach? I look forward to returning and documenting the process.”

Clearly, text outside invites the spiders.

Groves brings her scrolled works into the environment.  They touch ground and reach into air, creating conduits of text that discuss, navigate, translate, negotiate the very world we move through.

 

VI.

“For the past, properly interpreted, clarifies the present: gives us – on occasion – startling glimpses of our own reality.”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

Artist Samuel Coren is the other artist, whose work in IN:SITE distributes a documentary text throughout the landscape.  Coren’s piece Passages is “a history wherein the images of things begin to give way to the things themselves.”  Coren dove deeply into the history of the property, with the invaluable research assistance of founding member Gayle Grunwald.  His history on paper is scattered around the site, dug into ground, hung and weighted by stones, attached to fishing line with clothes pins.  Like the history itself, Coren’s work will weather and fragment as the season wears on.  It’s already scattering.

photo - AG

photo by AG

 

VII.

“Haven’t we here an instance of pure translation?”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

Bringing the text outside becomes fonted huge in the work of Rosamund Purcell.  In her 2006 project “Bookworm,” she leaves books to mingle and attenuate and mold outdoors, leaving their traces behind.  Their temporal photographable.  How is it exactly that paper is like the body?  Once it WAS the body in manuscripts made of skin.  Vellum is calfskin, while parchment is from any other animal.  Since Roman times, skin made into books.  Several sheets of vellum together are called a “quire.”  A choir of skin.

8-rosamund-purcell

photo by Rosamund Purcell

The book begins to move.  Into degradation.  It grizzles.  Outside.  Off the shelf, the time of the world pours over it, and it becomes more itself as it becomes something else.

 

VIII.

“It was nothing more, of course, than image, than an imaginary reconstitution of a stray object.”

Gustav Sobin from Luminous Debris

I recently read at the NYC Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island.  We brought our bodies to the ferry, and crossed water to land, already a micro-odyssey.  We walked our bodies along the outer loop road, past the new hills created by Dutch landscape architect Adriaan Geuze, past the weirdly inside/outside pseudo prairie cabin by Rachel Whiteread into the salty, baity smell of river-meets-ocean.  The rainy day blew itself out into pure humidity.

9-governors-island

Sun-burned, sweat-soaked, thirsty by the time I read, I watched poets carried around their rained-on, smudged sheets of poems.  Books curled on tables.  The indoor poetry moved outdoors was displeased with itself, those pristine flat pages now made unwelcome and damp gestures.

I can clearly see why poetry converts from paper to air/object when it travels outdoors, mostly to preserve itself in concept/voice/materiality.  Our bodies are put in minor harm’s way, buffeted by the elements as we take text outside, away from the sedentary Olympics of our desks, into some possible difficult pleasure.  To borrow an exhortation from Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out.  Take your body outside with its poems.  Read them.  Walk it around.  Let it all scatter.

 


Photo by Peter Genovese

Photo by Peter Genovese

Anne Gorrick is a poet and visual artist who lives in West Park, New York. She is the author of five books of poetry: The Olfactions: Poems on Perfume (forthcoming in 2017 from BlazeVOX Books); A’s Visuality (BlazeVOX, 2015); I-Formation (Book 2) (Shearsman Books, Bristol, UK, 2012); I-Formation (Book 1) (Shearsman, 2010); and Kyotologic (Shearsman, 2008).  She collaborated with artist Cynthia Winika to produce a limited edition artists’ book, “Swans, the ice,” she said, funded by the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY and the New York Foundation for the Arts.  She has also co-edited (with poet Sam Truitt) In|Filtration: An Anthology of Innovative Writing from the Hudson River Valley (Station Hill Press, 2016).

With poet Melanie Klein, she curates the reading series Process to Text, which focuses on innovative writing from in and around New York’s Hudson Valley.  She previously curated the reading series Cadmium Text from 2006-2014.

She also co-curated the electronic poetry journal Peep/Show with poet Lynn Behrendt, which is a “taxonomic exercise in textual and visual seriality.”

Images of her visual art can be found here.

She is President of the Board of Trustees at Century House Historical Society, home of the Widow Jane Mine, an all-volunteer organization.