Friday, May 27, 2016

Artist/Poet/Bookmaker Marcel Broodthaers

Bookmakers know of Marcel Broodthaers most notably because of his 1969 version, Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard, of Stephane Mallarmé's original 1897 Un Coup de dés. Mimicking the length of each line of text of this already visual poem, Broodthaers created a black bar for each, making a book that looked completely redacted, blacked-out.

But I did not know Broodthaers (Belgian. Pronounced Bro-tars) was a poet himself, or that he made other books, or how devoted to and interested in typography and art he was. He was a multi-faceted artist. I was very excited to be in New York when the exhibition of his work was at the Museum of Modern Art. It was to be the only showing of his work in the United States.

Véritablement (Truly), 1968.
An image of Broodthaers"writing out Jean de La Fontaine's fable The Crow and the Fox."
(quotes from the wall text)

An invitation, printed letterpress on magazine pages. 1964.
I know letterpress printers who do this today, but had not seen any historical examples until this one.

Pense-Bête (Memory Aid). 1964.
A visual, partially redacted book.

Papa, 1963/1966.
mirror, partial chair, eggshells

L'Objet écrit (la bouteille de lait) (The object [bottle of milk]), 1967.
canvas, milk bottles, wooden shelf

Maria, 1966.
dress, hanger, shopping bag, eggshells

Étagère (Le D est plus grand que le T)
(Shelf [The D is bigger than the T]), 1966-68.
letterpress on canvas, painted shelf, cut photos, cardboard tubes, paint, printed card

Quatre pipes alphabet (Four pipes alphabet), 1969.
painted, vacuum-formed plastic.
This technique was typically used for advertising signs of the day.

Oh, we really did want to touch the typewriter.

At one point in 1969, Broodthaers created his own museum of modern art,
with the department of eagles.

Broodthaers frequently used eggshells and mussel shells in his work. In addition to his interest in flat letterforms and wordplay, he clearly liked texture and physical objects.

The Ballad of a Star over Reading Gaol, 1975.
A painted reduction and experiment, based on the 1897 poem by Oscar Wilde who wrote it in the Reading Gaol prison.

The white room, 1975.
"a faithful reconstruction of the interior of Broodthaer's apartment…"
A sign painter, as per instruction, painted "words related to art and art making" on the walls.

Some of his tools. 
I realized that the French stencils I have look exactly like the p in the upper right.

An alphabet rug made of quartz sand. Look, but don't walk.
The wall text says there's a "printed terry cloth towel" in there, somewhere.
Perhaps it is the guide for the stenciled letters?

I had read a review of the show before I saw it, then read it again afterwards. It seemed to me that the reviewer either didn't quite get why Broodthaers made what he did, or wasn't interested in the concept of playing with text as an artform. I felt that the work was perfectly suited to both the poet and the visual artist. What was curious to me was that the only work I knew of his before seeing the exhibit, the redacted poem, had no words at all. How could I have not seen anything else?

I bought some postcards in the museum. The cashier asked us if we liked the show. "Does anyone ever say no?" She said a man came in and said it was too crowded. Not the people, the work. There should have been more space between it. It turned out he was from Belgium. "You get him all the time," the cashier said to him. "This is our only chance, so we want to pack in as much as possible." The man said he saw her point.

I left the exhibit with a sense of satisfaction, inspiration, and well-being. This is the kind of show I like to see: words, images, letterforms, textures, objects, stencils, assemblage. Eventually, I suspect I will have to buy the catalogue, Marcel Broodthaers.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Albert & Apollinaire: Calligrammes

I've always loved the visual poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire's 1918 Calligrammes. Type that is shaped on the page is appealing to me. What would this poetry sound like if sung? Composer Albert Behar has answered the question his way, written up in his notes as a "song cycle for soprano and accordion that celebrates the 100-year anniversary of Apollinaire's visual poetry." The newly reopened Berkeley Art Museum featured Behar's work—its west coast premiere—in a concert on the eve of May 21, 2016, and I was very happy to be there.

The program was an unbound booklet made from four folded pages. I immediately wanted to sew mine together. (Albert told me he had asked for them to be stapled.)

 Albert played the accordion and sang with Ariadne Greif. The costumes, made from cloth printed with lines from Apollinaire's text, are by Gretchen Vitamvas. He said later that the cloth was printed digitally, laid out so that the text would match up when cut up and pieced and sewn together. Another appealing craft.

The performance was joyful. The two of them had great chemistry as they acted and sang playfully, their faces expressive. It was fun having the original text in front of us to follow as they went, seeing how Albert interpreted the lines. It was polished and clear. It felt like we were inside a book.

I introduced myself to him afterwards. When he was fifteen he attended a summer program at the college where I teach. He was in my ten-day bookmaking class with a friend. He said he thought I looked familiar and remembered that some of my books are in his grandparents' collection.

His grandparents, the Sackners, own The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.
One of his books was made of handmade stencils of a lava lamp.

At that time he told me he was a musician. He was a talented composer, even then, and he is quite successful now. I knew he wasn't going to continue making books, but he has, in a way.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Art of the Book at Seager / Gray Gallery

On view until June 5, 2016, The annual Art of the Book exhibition at Seager/Gray Gallery features a variety of artist's books, from conceptual works to altered books to mixed-media unique books to wall hangings, to traditional fine press books. On my visit there, 19 May 2016, the sunlight glowing through the front window and skylights made it almost unnecessary for gallery lighting, and the space looked so beautiful that Donna had nearly forgotten to flip the switch.

Images of all the work are available in the printed exhibition catalogue and online at the Seager Gray website. I've included links to the closeups in this post. 

From the doorway you can see an installation of 49 printed handmade books hanging on the wall, "Red, Yellow, and Blue" by Alice Austin (right), and a wall hanging, "Almost Red" by Emily Payne, made out of found book cloth and book boards (and Donna Seager at the desk).

At the front of the gallery, the work feels summery, linenlike, with primarily natural materials and the colors of old book pages.

Barbara Wildenboer's framed work consists of finely cut, sculptural, altered books. The book on the pedestal is by Sarah Brown, titled, "84 Hours," which was the work week for William Wood, a bookbinder in 1788 (full story at the link).

My neighborhood of "HOUSEWORK" is displayed just behind the wall, in the  far left corner.

I love the intimacy of the back room of the gallery and the built-in counter. There are books that have pages cut and excavated, to create a kind of layered tunnel book effect. There are sculptural books made from old tools, book pages referenced by pieces of cut and sewn zippers, a skyline painted on books, images created from cutout letters, and many more. It's interesting to see the progression of the book as art and how it relates to a gallery setting. The book has become more of a material to sculpt and shape. Collage, alterations, and appropriations have become acceptable, widespread, and desirable.

A basket of gloves sits by the front door, available so the viewer can read and handle the books, but there were not as many books to read as I like. I am not ashamed: I have a bias. I miss the old book show days where text was prominent and the literature was as important as the art. Luckily, reading definitely has a part in this show. Julie Chen's new book, Bitter Chocolate, points to those days: a wonderful combination of writing, research, sculpture, invention, and imagery. Charles Hobson has a lovely new book with photocollages by his daughter, photographer and artist Mary Daniel Hobson, featuring Amy Hempel's short story, The Man in Bogotá. Inge Bruggeman's book, Nowhere to go is subtle and beautifully printed. And Ken Botnick's award-winning book Diderot Project is also quite remarkable. Aside from Julie's book and mine, though, I am not sure if there were any other books with original text by the maker. Curious, that. I'll be including a very brief excerpt from Julie's book in the summer issue 4.2 of Star 82 Review. Coming very soon!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pipeline: A New Quilt

Some time the end of March, beginning of April, I cut up three pairs of pants. Some shapes were regular, some not. I liked the irregular ones better, and so the quilt grew. It grew on its own at first, but on one of my walks I realized I may have been subconsciously influenced by the work on the water lines up the hill. I couldn't avoid seeing them as I skirted about; my usual route was closed. I gradually noticed the patterns, then intentionally patterned my quilt after them. The black and green were leftover from this past year's previous quilts here and here and here. The white was mostly from scraps of a trimmed canvas dropcloth.

The beginning.

Seeing the road.

The finished quilt. The symbols I used for quilting were taken from orienteering control descriptions for river/stream/watercourse and pipeline. Orienteering is a sport in which participants must get through a course and locate specific places with a compass and a map.

The small, deep blue square near the upper left was from the inside of a pocket.

With river embroidery/quilting: 

The pipeline embroidery/quilting:

Denim is so beautiful in its many colors. 

Next quilt will be from my wanderer's old jeans.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Water Bill, River Bill, Rain Bill: Felted Collages

I always have a project so I can procrastinate the project I'm working on. Last week, instead of finishing the neighborhood of HOUSEWORK, I had the urge to make felt, which led me to these collages.

My working title, the title of a poem I wrote last summer is "The Back Side of Make," which was something of a kaleidoscope or collage itself. But, in reality, these demanded the following titles.

Water Bill

River Bill

Rain Bill

Some of the imagery is playing off of a quilt I'm working on called Pipeline, part of a body of work I have in mind called Water & Power. Some of the scraps are from cloth I printed for the HOUSEWORK project.

What's going on here: wet felted white wool with black or red in-between the layers; needlefelting from the front; needlefelting from the back; sewing machine stitching; hand stitching; original printed fabric (my design) from the front and from the back; clear vinyl; needlepoint mesh; sticks picked up on my street. Security-lined business envelope reference with abstract cancellation marks; thinking about water in the context of billing or owing. Zoom in to read the texts.

Last summer's poem:

The Back Side of Make

this see-through piece
of paper held with tape, its

four letters seen by window light
formed by opening a mouth,
a pencil box, typewriter case,

a dusty cutout of a woman, seated,
bent over something frayed and

silky, a tangled silver thread of hair
eyeing the needle on the table
pointing to fingers

glued in place
her face

turned over, it’s mirrored,
translucent, no longer human
save the shape

I just want a word with you,
its meaning clearly made.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Star 82 Review Special Flash Issue: 50/50-word Stories

Star 82 Review Special Flash Issue 50/50-word stories is now live!

Now in its fourth year, Star 82 Review (also written as *82) is the online and print literary and art magazine that I produce at each equinox and solstice, or thereabouts. In this special issue, which I've added between Spring 4.1 and Summer 4.2, each piece is only 50 words long. Part prose, part poem. The words in these stories are stepping stones; the writer plans the landscape, the reader plants the gaps. So much happens between the words and in the reader's imagination. Each work shelters an emotional treasure.

It is particularly exciting to feature related art from the authors or their friends/colleagues. Support the magazine by ordering a lovely 66-page print copy or subscribe today.

And on Amazon. A subscription and/or custom choice of 4 issues is available in the nevermindtheart Etsy store. 

Connect with Star 82 Review on Facebook.

José Angel Araguz
Paul Beckman
Charlene Logan Burnett
Jonathan Cardew & Matt Ritchie
Chelsey Clammer
Victor Clevenger
Marion Cohen
Wesley Cohen
Dawn Corrigan
Ryan C. Daily
Carol Dorf
Jennifer Fliss
Joachim Frank
Casey Hampton
Brianne Holmes
Kate K Lore
Mohini Malhotra & Rasha Amin
Todd Mercer
Lynn Mundell
Jefferson Navicky
Toti O'Brien
Scott Ragland
Charles Rammelkamp
William Reichard
Eldon Reishus & Robert Del Tredici
Rosemary Royston
Daryl Scroggins
Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Steffi Shook
Scott Smith
Carole Stedronsky
Autumn Stephens
Tricia Theis
Robin Turner
Marcella Vokey
Julie Wenglinski 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Adjunct Action in the Bay Area

It has been over a year now that adjunct professors in conjunction with SEIU Local 1021 have been negotiating a first contract at California College of the Arts (longer for those at San Francisco Art Institute). We turned in a full set of proposals last August that detailed 1-3 year contracts (most of us are semester to semester) job security (we can be let go at any time) and healthcare benefits (only available to those who teach a certain number of classes), and although we have made some progress, we are still waiting for management's response to those substantive issues. We are told they will come soon.

The Open Engagement conference, with a pre-conference symposium co-sponsored and held at CCA,  was held last weekend at the Oakland Museum of California, and many adjunct faculty, students, and alumni turned out to voice support and to point out the hypocrisy of art colleges that speak of social justice, yet don't follow up at home. Ironically, the topic of the conference was "power."

In the book The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Karen Kelsky (2015), she writes in a chapter called, "Leaving the Cult" that all the work an adjunct does: the service to the college, the devotion to the students, the loyalty, "will be rewarded with permanent employment at that institution (virtually zero possibility)." She is right. No matter what we do, we are expected to keep doing it, but are rarely rewarded for it. We love our job, we love the students, we have a passion for our subjects, and universities exploit that love. Most of us are asked to do work beyond normal prep and teaching and student conferences for no additional pay. We are not compensated for overtime; we are asked to work for free. Kelsky writes, "Unionization is one critical alternative in this process…virtually the only thing that has ever effectively intervened in adjunct exploitation at a collective level." There is power in a union.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Degas and Monotypes at MoMA

On our latest visit to New York City, we spent a full day at the Museum of Modern Art. (Granted, we ducked out for lunch and to buy shoes in the middle, but we came back for the rest of the day.) Two exhibits were particularly memorable. One, that I will describe today, was a showing of Edgar Degas' monotypes: A Strange New Beauty, which will be on view until July 24, 2016.

A monotype is both a painting and a print. The artist paints onto a plate, which could be made of copper, zinc, Mylar, glass, or other smooth surface, places a sheet of paper on top of the plate, then runs the plate through a press. The painting is now printed on the paper. With this technique the artist has slightly less control: the final image changes under pressure, and lines can blur, fields can widen. But Degas, who used the monotype as an experimental platform, appears to have controlled his prints masterfully, or at least had a master printer at hand.

In the May 12, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books, there is also a review of the exhibition, and a bio of Degas (we will have to suspend our judgment about his character for the sake of his art) and a nice description of  his process. Most of the prints are in black and white, but he generally pulled two: the first, which was fully inked, and the ghost—the ink that remained on the plate after the first print. Often, he went back in with colored pastels to enhance the ghost. In this exhibit, some of the prints and ghosts with pastel enhancement are paired (an achievement since most had been long separated at birth). He also worked in at least two different techniques: "dark field" and "light field." The first meant inking up the plate and is a subtractive process—wiping, scraping, smudging or drawing away the lights. The second is an additive process; the lines are drawn or painted in black, the whites left blank.

A few images from the show. There is also a catalogue Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, edited by Jodi Hauptman.

Here is the first that struck me. I kept going back to look at the rendering of the top hat. (A digital zoom will not display the marks properly, however, and I didn't take a closeup.) Titled "The Two Connoisseurs (Les Deux Amateurs)" c. 1880. The linework seems loose, yet the men, so detailed. This appears to me to have been done in a "light-field" manner.

 Here are some ballerinas, separated at birth in France, but reunited in New York City.
Definitely created with the "dark field" technique.
"Ballet Scene" c. 1879.
(You can see a closeup in The New Yorker article April 11, 2016.)
Original on the left, ghost with pastel on the right. 

And here are two connoisseurs who found the magnifying glasses placed strategically in holders around the galleries.

Up close, the markmaking is exquisite.
"The Fireside (Le Foyer [La Cheminee])" c. 1880-85.
The wall text says that Degas used his fingers, a rag, and a stiff brush to create this scene.

"Getting into Bed (Le Coucher)" c. 1880-85

And through the magnifying glass. 

The wall text reads: "…the visible fingerprints are a reminder of the artist's hand,
the role of touch in the making."

Fingerprints, brushstrokes, pastel marks—all are indications that someone was there. Through Degas's work we find the ghost of the hand that made them more than one hundred years ago. And a very fine hand it was.