Monday, June 30, 2008

reCOLLECTing 2

Here is Emily DeDakis offering her words on her words. Let me explain; Emily's piece responded to the visual appeal of text, literally, as she decided to use her own prescription, minus thirteen, minus eight as the point to which she turned text into a visual comment.

On spare used glasses, Emily placed text that came from varying sources: such as engineer Charles MacDougall, composer Hamilton Harty, and poet Helen Waddell; all from various archives and sources from around QUB.

Emily also placed text on the shade of the accompanying lamp - a lovely nod to the bedside reading habits that most of us have.

Again - photo courtesy of David Timlin.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

reCOLLECTing - the Picture-Text exhibition

Here are a few snaps taken by David Timlin of the exhibition of pieces that we worked on this semester. It was a very exciting project, led by Sylvia Grace Borda, Sinead Morrissey and guest artist, J. Keith Duffy.

We had the opening on Thursday night and according to sources, the gallery reckon that there were between 350 and 450 people visiting the exhibition. Wow. That means a lot of drinks consumed; a lot of discussion with the artists in question; a lot of attention on an idea that was simple in premise but had so many different and interesting interpretations.

Yesterday we had a gallery/artist led talk, where artists were able to guide the public through the exhibits, explaining the rationale for their work and methodology.

This is Twy Miller, discussing her work. She did big prints that combined two images (old library and new library in process of construction) and a smaller set of pictures using a stereoscopic camera that could be used to take stereo pictures which she then mounted onto card that can be viewed with a special viewer (see below).

I'll do pictures in a separate post over the next few days :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

You hate that book - but why?

There's a veritable feast of critic's names featuring in this article in yesterday's Sunday Times. They were asked what their most hated book was and why. The answers are interesting in that they highlight the usual considerations: good or bad writing, style and length, and genuine entertainment; as well as more personal ones.

For example, Bryan Appleyard isn't that keen on Henry James' 'The Awkward Age,' saying that although the behemoth of critics, F.R. Leavis might have loved it, it didn't mean that he had to and besides, 'Leavis was mad.' Good on ya, Brian, I often thought that meself.

I remember reading 'The Portrait of a Lady,' or rather wading through all the accumulated clauses, sub-clauses and gluts of psychological description and wondering if I was ever going to get to the end of it. Mind you, there was a good reason for me having to wade through it: it was part of my 19thc literature course.

Funny thing was, by the end of the course and the book, I had learned to love it - the slowness, the deliberation and the really rounded characters (plus I sped-read past the boring bits). The 19thc is a foreign land to us here in the 21stc - they did things differently then and probably didn't have a remote control to flip between things when they got bored. They even did bored differently. They called it 'ennui.'

So, I'm sure there must be books that you detest - why don't you tell me what they are, and why!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Good Book or Stating the Bleeding Obvious?

I was visiting my friend in Belfast yesterday and she's got a pretty battered copy of Art & Fear. It's one of those books that you pick up and read, quickly immersing yourself, where you find yourself nodding your head vehemently, agreeing with most of the points that it makes.

If you're at the point, either as an artist or writer, where you're wondering what the point of it all is: why you've taken all the right steps to learn your craft; why you've spent years practicing that craft; why some stuff is accepted by others and why some stuff is detested, then this could prove a book beneficial to you as a companion to read on those nights when you feel that your work is worthless, stupid and what is the point anyway.

Or, you could equally read this book on one of those rare days when you've had a good idea, and it has worked its way onto the page/clay/canvas/photographic paper and it's nearly, nearly there, but you feel that something is blocking its completion.

It is a book about ideas, and of ideas. Yet it is explained in such a down to earth manner that you forget that it is a book of abstract concepts, which confirms and argues past all those long-held suspicions about art, the making of art, critical evaluation and reputations, and art academia. Put a copy on your wish-list or treat yourself and get past the fears that hold you back in your art.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wife in the North

Judith's 'Wife in the North' gets its own promo!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Even more Mairead

Sheesh. I'd just got going last week and then life and the furious writing of some poems got in the way. I'm now waiting for results from the MA... and I'd better get on with this hadn't I?

'Life is Too Easy,' is a poem that grabbed me, because of its theme of the repetition of life. It begins: 'Saturday comes round & you clean your house. What could be easier.' Right now, I'd disagree with the easiness of cleaning anything, but that's just me. Grrr.

Anyhow, back to Mairead: 'Everything you put out of place during the week you put back in place.' Yes, but if you have six kids, you not only have to put everything that you moved back, you have to find everything that has not only been moved but probably used to fuel some weird game that they were playing (in their head!). I digress!

Later, the repetitive tasks even get on Byrne's nerves; 'You haul stuff in & you haul stuff out. You go to work. You come home.' But this is where the turn comes,moving outwards from the situation: 'There is no earthquake in your city & your parents or your children don't disappear. You are not 14 & about to be married off to a cousin who will beat you.' How safe our lives are in comparison to others. We shouldn't forget that sometimes :/

I do like the resolution for 'Rose-Colored Spectacles.' It begins with the premise of checking in one's 'rose-colored spectacles to test the rougher selvedges of life.' Sometimes we have to deal with these aspects and we forget about the armour that we use to fend it off. In this case that leaving off of armour can leave us open: 'Reality can be the closest imaginable thing to delirium tremens.' Especially when that reality is a 'mean-faced white pimp' who pulls 'his car across the sidewalk in front' of people. Indeed, 'another name for rose-colored spectacles is car.' How much we forget sometimes how modernity and our beloved consumer goods do shelter us from what we don't want to deal with. Except Mairead says it much better than that!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Mairead: Chiasmus and Circus

I know what you're thinking - this is a slow read. But I'm as usual juggling all the responsibilities that family, young and old, entail!

"Chiasmus," from Talk Poetry, is a unique take on the aftermath of a split. The word itself is very interesting. Wikipedia tells us that it is 'a figure of speech in which two clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a bigger point.'

In this poem's case, the point is partly how intertwined the lives of a couple can become, as 'When you marry & divorce your dreams get mixed up.' Seems a simple premise, taking the mick out of the female dream of cosying up the home, 'You wanted an overstuffed leather living room set,' and then conflating this with the male dream of going out and conquering the world: 'and next thing you know you're heading an expedition to the South Pole and making a pretty good fist of it.'

But the other point of the poem is that things go on after a break-up: life after a break-up pretty much like an expedition anyway? So, I like this poem for the feeling it leaves behind: its hopeful without being maudlin, upbeat rather than whinging; we try, we fail, we fail better, as Beckett once sort of said. Nothing is perfect.

"Circus," looks into the dualism or binary qualities of the body, again with that quirky humour that Byrne just can't suppress. It begins: 'There is so much emphasis on the individual we forget how much a person is actually a double.' We are doubled, though aren't we: we are a product of a process that took one set of genes from a female, and another from a male and combined them in the gene washing machine to make another person. Byrne goes on to show how complex our bodies are: '2 shoulders, 2 arms, 2 lungs, 2 kidneys, 2 testicles, 2 ovaries, 2 bums, each one divided in two... We are actually 2 people in one.'

The poem then extrapolates showing how our single/dual units seek a further pairing in couples: 'And what do we do? We pair up. We get married, shackled, whatever... We are already getting quite enough action being 2 people in one...' Oh the complexity of human beans!

Byrne then throws in a concrete example of procreation: 'Ben Franklin... the 15th child out of a total of 17 born to his mother... Mrs Franklin... a woman or, practically two women, who had 17 children proceed through her, i.e., 34 or 38, (keep up!) in addition to providing accommodation for the regular visits of Mr Franklin.' It's that slipping in there of Ben's father, Mr Franklin, and his 'visits' that make this poem so wryly humorous.

The poem ends by going to the cellular level: 'Is it any wonder we thought of mitosis and meiosis and all that. It's written all over us...' Indeed it is - our genetic code is a mighty wonder sometimes and putting it in such a straightforward (!) way makes it seem much more alive than a dusty textbook.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mairead Byrne and Can You Die of Eating Pancakes

Great title, isn't it? Who'd have thought that the making of one's favourite pancake could turn into such an effusive poem. This one is really representative of Byrne's voice: it's got such verve and life infused into it; such a sense of fun that you can't help but go along with the premise.

The poem moves from musing to pancake and back again, but the switchback approach works here, and this poem really fills out its prose block. A wee taster:

I was frying this pancake with butter so you can imagine the effect on the apple & how delicious it all smelled. I had to go out of the house (it was cold) & come back in just to truly appreciate the aroma. Ever notice that the only time you really get to smell your house's smell is when you come in from outside?

Now doesn't that make you want to go make your own pancake - with a smile on your face as well. This is one of the points of Talk Poetry: some of it is just about grabbing the fun from our lives and nailing it on the page. Yum.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

NaPoReMo and Talk Poetry

You can blame Rob MacKenzie for this one. Back in May he suggested buying and reading a book of contemporary poetry closely across the month and then posting thoughts and comments blogwise to get across a sense of the book.

There may be more than one book here, but I'll make a start on Talk Poetry by Mairead Byrne, available through Amazon and many other stockists. I was going to work on this for my MA, but found myself questioning my own poetics so much that I had to set it aside!?!

Byrne is an exiled Irish poet living in Providence, Rhode Island, US, since 1994, where she presently teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her poetry has evolved over that period of time and looks towards the poetry of the US. I'm thinking Alan Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Walt Whitman (but that only scratches at the surface) as I read the book, which comprises prose poems that sizzle and dazzle off the pages at you. Talk Poetry is alphabetically organised, which takes chronology out of the frame. According to Byrne, italso makes it easier to find poems in readings: saving you pfaffing about with page markers.

The opening poem, "America" bounces along with the energy of a golden labrador. The voice sounds like someone talking - an American and conflating things that are in the US and things that aren't: pointing to a sense of ignorance, enthusiasm as well as that sense of imperial ownership (please excuse blogger's messing up the prose blocks):

We got all this space & democracy & everything & just the greatest music. Like Chuck Berry & Buddy Holly & Elvis & Bob Dylan & Bob Marley & Van Morrison & The Beatles & Vivaldi & everything.

The reason why I think of Frank O'Hara particularly is the WE LOVE YOU WALTER, that comes after the conflated namechecking of various poets and writers, again from both inside and outside the US. O'Hara's Lunch Poems include "Poem" about Lana Turner's collapse, and ends with the humorous line, 'oh Lana Turner we love you get up".

Byrne's "America" goes on to play with the understanding of imperialism too:

You're not going to catch me saying civilization began with the Mayflower! None of that shit -- I mean how did those people BUILD those things. THE PYRAMIDS. I mean people still don't understand the physics of it. They had to had rollers or something. No, King Tut is as American as as anyone in my book.

By the end of the poem, we understand this speaker as someone eavesdropped on. We're still not sure about the inclusivity of the speaker's viewpoint. Talk Poetry is a good descriptor for the tone of this poem, giving a skewed view like this at the start of the collection.

Poor eldest ant-hill-mob inmate begins his career in state examinations today with the Junior Cert. Now we see whether the weeks of study will stand to him.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Something out of the Ordinary

On Friday, as part of my celebration of getting over the MA, I went along to the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast to the launch of the joint exhibition of Willie Doherty and Gerard Byrne's pieces that represented NI and Ireland jointly at the Venice Biennale 2007.

Doherty's 'Ghost Story,' was an eerie video-sound fusion(voiced by Stephen Rea), very contemplative and thought-provoking. I loved it, despite the competing voices of people shmoozing outside the installation. The images used country and urban scenes and made you feel slightly dizzy.

Byrne's '‘*ZAN-*T185', also a video/sound piece, was filmed in New York and was harder to appreciate with the noises outside: a second viewing would be needed for me to appreciate it properly.

If you happened to be in Belfast you could do a lot worse - I enjoyed them very much!