Archive for March, 2011

99 Problems: Housekeeping

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011


Excerpts from some recent writing:

Sofia Hultén’s “Pressure Drop” at RaebervonStenglin, Zürich, on

“…On the other side of this musical (and formal) spectrum was Ninety-Nine Problems (2010), a waterfall of locked padlocks that streams in a vertical line down a wall, a circle of keys hanging next to it. I once pictured this work hanging above Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s couch, then wondered if its endgame charm would register with Jay (its titular author) himself. His “99 Problems”—racism, poverty, sycophants, not the ladies, though—can point to Hultén’s, which are… what, exactly? If the “Why?” of her works barely registers, so charming and dementedly painstaking are their individual biographies, there remains the problem of their ouroboros-like solipsism. For Hultén’s body of work imagines a world of objects freed from both their utility and from time and space as we know it, gleefully bouncing back and forth between their original and altered states, without pressure to conform to one or the other. Form, here, in its fluid and myriad morphology, becomes all…”

“The Nose of Michelangelo” at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zürich, in Frieze

“…Galerie Peter Kilchmann’s own white cube in the city’s Löwenbräu Brewery Complex (the epicentre of Zurich’s blue-chip art scene) is currently being torn down, so this temporary show was mounted in two buildings with a long, intriguing history. Just off the Limmat River, Marktgasse 4 and 6, also known as ‘zum Judentempel’ and ‘zum goldenen Schild’ (Jewish Temple and Golden Shield), respectively, have been utilized in myriad ways (as a Jewish school, a restaurant and a 419-year-old apothecary that only closed in 1994) and have been partly rebuilt several times, culminating in labyrinthine interiors that include medieval, Baroque and Art Nouveau features. The admixture of works on view profited from these charged atmospherics, while the leftover furnishings added a welcome counterpoint. Fabian Marti’s Contemplating the Now (2010), for example, a campy, Constructivist floor sculpture and a large Inkjet print, was accompanied by a crew of green velveteen chairs whose damaged wicker bottoms tufted out like sprays of bamboo…”

Falke Pisano and Ana Roldan at Kunsthaus Glarus, in Art in America

“The documentation of performance art has been a regular guest at the contemporary art table since the 1970s. Such documents once stuck to a standard format: dry black-and-white serial photographs or straightforward video shot from a single point of view. More recently, it has been the props of performance works—often formalist objects or texts that address ideas of performance—that fill art spaces with intimations of movement but remain, nevertheless, still. Yet “Dynamo” (2008-10), a recent installation that documented a previous “performance” by the team of Dutch artist Falke Pisano and Zurich-based Mexican artist Ana Roldan, flipped the script of both aforementioned approaches, while ably taking each into its purview…”

Yorgos Sapountzis’s “Sculptures and Mirrors” at Freymond Guth Fine Arts, Zurich, on

“A few weeks ago I found myself in the winter chill outside Kunsthaus Zurich, watching a trance-like Yorgos Sapountzis methodically pace the platz as he dragged a tattered bouquet of bright, flag-like fabrics attached to poles behind him. After herding the audience about like an expert cowpoke, he and his two festively dressed female attendants (looking ready for a freak folk concert in more pastoral pastures) disappeared behind Rodin’s imposing Gate of Hell, which famously fronts the Kunsthaus. Suddenly a racket of noise—amateur banging, thunderish clapping—began. The Greek artist reappeared, stormed into the crowd, then just as quickly disappeared into traffic. A tram rolled past, some polizei nosed about, and the performance was over…”

Rough, Loose Nuns: Poesie, Translatory

Monday, March 7th, 2011


From Frieze (the essay is not online, so here in its entirety):

Ventriloquism, collaboration and translation in recent poetry publications

‘How beneficial it would be […] to gain a vision of the irreducible differences which a very remote language can, by glimmerings, suggest to us,’ wrote Roland Barthes in his 1966 tribute to the idea of Japan, Empire of Signs. This observation, translated from the French by Richard Howard in 1983, comes in the middle of Christian Hawkey’s newest poetry collection, Ventrakl (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). This is not surprising in itself: The ‘remote language’ Barthes speaks of can be understood literally as a foreign tongue, just as it might be construed as the language of poetry itself – ever remote from everyday life, even as it glimmers at its perimeters. In the case of Ventrakl, however, Barthes’ quote takes on a larger meaning. This myriad, beguiling book bills itself a ‘[collaboration]’ between the American poet and the celebrated Austrian Expressionist Dichter Georg Trakl. Trakl, of course, has been dead a century, and, as Hawkey points out in his book, at the time of its writing he did not understand German.

Tellingly, Ventrakl’s title inspires a rush of associations: ventriloquism, ventricle (its homophonic translation), Trakl’s name, and, weirdly enough, Ven aqui, or ‘Come here’ in Spanish. This last meaning is clearly of my own devising, and yet it is Hawkey’s own fast and loose approach to the translatory mode  that set me on that associative path. For it is the idea of translation, in all its multivalence, that is investigated here. As ‘Trakl’ hilariously tells Hawkey in one of the interviews that punctuates the book’s verses, prose poems, biographical sketches, and photographs, ‘Don’t be so literal. You’ll never get anywhere.’


Thus the methods of translation that Hawkey applies to Trakl’s oeuvre include traditional, computer-generated and homophonic (Hoffnungslosen, or ‘the hopeless’, becomes, evocatively, ‘rough, loose nuns’); translation by gun (‘shooting, with a 12 gauge, an open Trakl book from a distance of ten feet, then translating, with a dictionary, a remaining page of perforated text’) and pickling (Hawkey left a Trakl book in a water jar until the pages ‘dissolved into words … rearranging themselves’). Actualized or not, these last two methods – witty, desperate and inspired – recall the restless works of Chris Burden and Tony Conrad, likewise attempts to gain ‘a vision of the irreducible differences’ when they had themselves shot or pickled film in a jar. Ventrakl is beautifully paced and brilliantly drawn. Yet despite its formal variety, it often feels like Hawkey is simply trying to get a handle on Trakl’s inimitable autumnal atmospherics, from the herald of war to the dark hum of forests and their colour-coded referents: red deer, black wind, brown children, green silence. At times the book resembles a studied fan letter taken to outsized proportions – which might be an act of translation itself.

But if translation is ‘an art that involves the re-creation of a work in another language for readers with a different background’, as critic Malcolm Cowley once said, Monica Youn’s odd, shimmering Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010) might be understood as equally translation-minded. Youn’s subject is George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip, which appeared in the US from 1913 to 1944. Set in a cactus-strewn Arizona, the comic delineates the unreciprocated love of Krazy for Ignatz Mouse, who often lobs bricks at the cat’s head. More striking, however, is the poetic American patois in which Krazy waxed love and philosophy. ‘Why is “language” Ignatz?’ Krazy asks in an early comic. ‘ “Language” is, that we may understand one another.’ ‘Can you unda-stend a Finn or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher, huh?’ ‘No.’ ‘Can a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher unda-stend you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then, I would say, language is, that we may mis-unda-stend each udda.’

Youn draws on that ‘mis-unda-stending’ in its most celebrated artistic form: unrequited love. She takes the poetic potentiality of Krazy’s devotion for her gorgeous poems, which one more than suspects only use the love object Ignatz as a cover. No matter: it is this palimpsestic approach – Herriman’s strangely brilliant oeuvre shimmering up through Youn’s lovelorn lyrics – that gives her book its meaning. Like Hawkey, she quotes her subject at will: ‘For tonight I am a window / in a cottage by the sea,’ goes her willowy poem ‘Letter to Ignatz’, spinning a comic in which Krazy sings, ‘For tonight, I emma widow – inna kottidge by a sea.’ The layers of translation here run deep, as the lyrics themselves are gleaned from a 19th-century Ozarks folk song. Elsewhere, Youn infuses Herriman’s sketchy, black-and-white desert with the vivid erotics of her project: ‘The rawhide things of the canyon straddling the knobbled blue spine of the sky.’


If Ventrakl and Ignatz undertake the translation of a specific body of work, Kathleen Graber’s The Eternal City (Princeton University Press, 2010) is slightly larger in scope. Her affecting, studious collection converses with the canon of western philosophy: Augustine, Aurelius, Benjamin, Barthes – and that’s just the first two letters of the alphabet. Her titular city is both Rome, which her beloved Aurelius presided over, and, more abstractly, the profane, ever-less-classical present, which is presented as a kind of metaphoric city of beautiful, crumbling edifices shadowing a blander if more blinding suburban architectonics. But if Rome signifies loss, so does the present-day of her poems, which brim with departed relatives, lost childhoods, a domestic reliquary like the “junk drawer behind the stove”. In long, careful lines that unfold deliberately across the page, Graber attempts to translate the lessons of our philosophical forebears for our contemporary experience, while continually coming to grips with the idea that “If you live / long enough, you realise that you are not / the person you were.”

Glosses of Aurelius’s late Meditations infuse a cycle of poems that follows the speaker as she cleans out a house, cataloguing its contents. Reflecting Aurelius’ Stoicism, Graber’s tone is stoic in the extreme, though at times she breaks into poetic flight: ‘Loneliness, our one defendable empire. Aurelius, too, / loved metaphors: the inland lake on the island Aenaria; in that lake, / there is another island, it, too, inhabited. O, my acrobats, in the dark / capital of nested boxes, be with me always, secure & tumbling.’ And: ‘Your words, Aurelius, have found me, / but you could not.’ This lament seems to echo across all three books, and through all attempts at translation. Your words, Trakl, and yours, Ignatz, have found me, but you have not. What is this other language? Furthermore, what is this loss with which it confronts us? At once tribute and tributary to a larger body of work, it appears that translation is, like poetry itself, only the beginning of understanding the remote worlds that beckon. Or, as Henri Michaux put it (in a translation by Richard Sieburth) in the epigraph that begins Hawkey’s Ventrakl: “Grasp: translate. And everything is translation at every level, in every direction.”

—Quinn Latimer


West to East: Like a Licked Sunset

Saturday, March 5th, 2011


From East of Borneo:

Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer West has been making her remarkable ‘cameraless’  films—in which film stock is treated with myriad substances, from household cleansers to campfire smoke, and subjected to indelicate acts, like being licked, hammered or skateboarded on—for over a decade now. Quinn Latimer talks to West about this alchemical meddling, drugstore culture, riot grrrls, very long film titles, and an even longer list of influences ranging from Dutch masters to Len Lye to the gilded mythology of the Golden State.

Quinn Latimer: I was struck by something that the curator Valerie Cassel Oliver wrote about your films: that, rather than embracing the iconic cultural moments they explore, in “an act of sentimental or reverent nostalgia [you] extend them through reinvention.” 1 This seems to me so true about your work, which could easily be steeped in nostalgia—with its reclamation of experimental-film traditions and its celebration and critique of past cultural moments: sixties-era happenings through nineties riot grrrl. Yet your work isn’t nostalgic in the least. Is this something you ever worry about? You’ve mentioned in the past that you usually don’t use old film projectors to project your films, because the whirring sound is too nostalgic.

Jennifer West: First off, the fact that nineties riot grrrl could be read as nostalgic is crazy but true. It still feels like we are coming out the nineties, waiting for the 00s to define themselves as an era—though it was twenty years ago now. But to get back to your question…

[read entire interview here]


Jennifer West, Nirvana Alchemy Film, (16 mm black & white film soaked in lithium mineral hot springs, pennyroyal tea, doused in mud, sopped in bleach, cherry antacid and laxatives – jumping by Finn West & Jwest), 2007. 2 min, 51 sec.


Jennifer West, production still (top) and film still from Jam Licking & Sledgehammered Film (70MM Film Leader Covered in Strawberry Jam, Grape Jelly and Orange Marmalade – licked and sledgehammered by Jim Shaw, Marnie Weber, Mariah Csepanyi, Bill Parks, Alex Johns, Karen Liebowitz, Roxana Eslamieh, Chaney Trotter & Jwest- (a filmic restaging of moments from Allan Kaprow’s ‘Household’), 2008. 3 min, 17 sec.


Jennifer West, Topanga Beach Houses Imminent Domain Rewind Film (16mm film print rubbed with aloe vera gel, smeared with Sex Wax surfboard wax, butter, grass, hole punched – still photos of the Topanga Beach community in the 1960’s and 70’s before the houses were bulldozed and burned with the Imminent Domain Law – movie stills from “Muscle Beach” and “Cosmic Children” – found photographs from the Int’l Surfing Magazine (Jim Fitzpatrick), Malibu Times (Gary Graham), Marlies Armand, Jeff Ort, Woody Stuart and John Clemmens), 2010. 2 min, 47 sec.


Jennifer West, filmstrip from Regressive Squirty Sauce Film (16mm film leader squirted and dripped with chocolate sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise & apple juice), 2007. 3 min, 36 sec.