Let’s have no more “I will pick no rose, lest it fade or prick me”. No matter how often you write this it smacks of insincerity. Especially when you also write of night skies that look like “Jerusalem! … mountains that touch[ed] the sky, and brooks that sang like bobolinks.” You add “I will give them to you, for they are mine, and “all things are mine.”” This sounds peculiarly American to me, not only because I first heard it in the voice of Jack Kerouac; “everything belongs to me because I’m poor.” His is ultimate truth, routinely misunderstood, though not by you. I was running last night after a long day ended with evocative Dhokla. Out in the middle of London under a bright sky, upon the Millennium Bridge as bells chimed the quarter hour before midnight. While crossing I realised that running here is a boast of residence. The great river, peculiarly low in tide, echoed my possession. I’ve taken to running on the road itself, marking it as mine. Opening out strides, I left behind a day brimming with love in a faster time than ever. I called out to friendly foxes and allow the porcelain tulips another night of potency. Poor as I may be, everything belongs to me on the “unhoused” bridge.
A previous post on Mohamedi referred to my catalogue text from 2001. Now I’m posting my short review of her recent retrospective exhibition as it appeared in the UK. I was pleased and proud to write something on a show that went almost unnoticed -and was certainly not engaged with- in the UK [again], but there’s much more to be written about her work and its contexts.
For now, here are scans of the pages in Bidoun [below; click to enlarge]. Let me repeat that it’s essential wherever you are in the world to see the work itself -to stand in front of the drawings in particular- whenever the opportunity arises. Until you do you will have missed an important 20th Century artist and maker of our new world.
I’ll return to Nasreen Mohamedi at greater, speculative and more definitive length in the future…
I finally made it back to see Cerith’s show at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard which is, I want to emphasise, just off Piccadilly in central London. The show closes on May 22 and I urge you to drop by to catch a stunning and substantial installation of recent works which makes the space live so well that it claims possession of it.
My hopes were high for this show but I had to rush through an opening that was as busy as you might expect to be somewhere else. As a result I didn’t quite trust my impression that CWE had drawn all the currents in his work together into something quite so winningly complete. That is -at its most elemental- influence and intellect, taste and fancy all deliver something complex here that is coherent only as visual art. It’s clarified resonance would justify permanent -or DIA-style- installation in the site.
A peculiarly all over the place month made returning impossible, but the work lingered and I had to see it again especially if I were to scribble something here…
I first met Slavoj Zizek in Bloomsbury in 1998 to conduct a relaxedly spontaneous, short but full-blooded interview in what I was to discover is the authentic Zizekian mode. I knew his work, had seen him speak, admired his reworking of various Idealists more than the brilliant-but-familiar bug-eyed film theorist and, armed only with a dodgy autobiographical preface, wondered about who he was. I’ve just found the 22,000 word transcript of that first meeting. Afterwards we wandered through Georgian Squares in the University quarter and he graciously accompanied me as far as possible whilst exchanging gossip eagerly, before cutting back to a meeting.
That initial meeting was something of a rehearsal for a plan for me to go to Ljubljana -before easyjet!- to spend a week doing a series of focused interviews. Whilst in that memorably lively city, Zizek would introduce me to key figures from Slovenia’s recent underground; activists, politicos, Laibach, Mladen Dolar and the Lacanian gang, etc. Those sessions produced 14 hours of tape containing dense and agile theorising, but the generous backers of my trip bottled out of publishing the resulting coup [editor had been ‘moved on’, their ‘reliable’ stand-in quoted Bertrand Russell approvingly, as in ‘the only thing I know about Hegel is what Bertrand Russell said…” Weep] -as was always an open possibility. A possibility that had liberated me to do it fully and properly.
Thereafter, there were some telephone conversations and emails and Zizek sent me his “Kosovo 4.99” piece on the double bind of supporting exceptionally belated foreign intervention to stop Serbian fascism’s campaign of ethnic cleansing; Against the Double Blackmail. A phrase from a clarifying phone call I made to him went in to the first substantial piece published on him in a UK journal [below] around publication of The Ticklish Subject and The Zizek Reader in 1999.
The so-called “Kosovo 4.99” text Zizek sent me was then staged as an exhibition of wall-texts [with a pirate radio installation by Gregory Green] at Cubitt Gallery and as an insert in the pages of Third Text magazine. I came across the original email to me with that ‘lost’ interview transcript. At the time I asked Cubitt to remove the note from SZ with thanks to me from their website because I was embarrassed! Somehow, they took the whole text down instead. After all this time, I’m linking to a pdf of it below with no shame at all.
“Robert Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, shrunken-down form. These narrow strips of paper (many of them written during his hospitalization in the Waldau sanatorium) covered with tiny ant-like markings only a millimeter or two high, came to light only after the author’s death in 1956. At first considered a secret code, the microscripts were eventually discovered to be a radically miniaturized form of a German script: a whole story could fit on the back of a business card. Selected from the six-volume German transcriptions from the original microscripts, these 25 short pieces are gathered in this gorgeously illustrated co-publication with the Christine Burgin Gallery. each microscript is reproduced in full color in its original form: the detached cover of a trashy crime novel, a disappointing letter, a receipt of payment.”
Taken from the very great New Directions’ site here.
These texts have been translated by Susan Bernofsky, who is also still working on her Life of RW…
Otherwise, with so much now available of Walser’s it might be easy to have overlooked Speaking to the Rose Writings 1912-32, published by Bison Books [here]. Most of these 50 ‘microtexts’ were previously unpublished and have been translated by Christopher Middleton.
Here is JM Coetzee on two of Walser’s novels in the NYRB 2000.
Here is Benjamin Kunkel’s recent New Yorker profile 2007.
I just want to flag up this exhibition curated around Morton Feldman which I haven’t and won’t see [partly because I’m away doing a Residency myself during June] with its intriguing catalogue which I’ve also not seen yet.
Kevin Volans has a piece in the catalogue [and a slightly out of date website here]. I caught his 60th birthday performance a few months ago [Wigmore Hall, Nov 09] which was excellent. Afterwards he described how he’s increasingly reliant as a composer and performer on visual art’s receptivity and commissioning resources.
Music-wise, there’s still a performance to come of Rothko’s Chapel and Words and Music by Samuel Beckett on 30th May by the Crash Ensemble here.
Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land is the kind of passionate polemic that Britain no longer does. It’s objective is to define the barbaric state we’re in in such a way as to generate articulate responses that will change it. The tool is an accessible discursiveness aimed explicitly at youthful agents of change.
Urgency is required because, as Judt says in his opening line, “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today.” Urgency also reflects the author’s suffering from the terminal effects of a rare form of motor neuron disease. That this book arrived so soon after his heroic October 09 lecture at the Remarque Institute [see link below], is to the significant credit of all parties.
Judt’s introductory mapping continues like this; “For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose”. He concludes his book thus; “if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge.” But “our disability is discursive”; to act requires words; the articulation of a common purpose, including a recovered ability to preach what social democracy at its extant best practises.
Judt argues that the last 30 years have been aberrant and corrupting and he is largely right. He argues that the years between 1989 and 2009 were wasted on locusts and he is not entirely wrong. His polemic is broader than this though; it’s the loss of the 20th Century -with its significant if sporadic advances in civility- that he laments. More positively, he goes on to argue that what he calls the ‘left’ must celebrate and defend its achievements, though I don’t think he has Hardt/Negri in mind.
Polar Bear gave a free concert in the QEH foyer as part of the Ether Festival on Friday 23 April and it was … “following”. They have their new cd Peepers out and are on tour until October to celebrate it and you can join in through their website here.
I’d never caught them live before and they were brilliant; tight as performers, expansive as musicians, maxed-up jazz-men especially with their unlikely innovations involving a guitar and box of electronic tricks. Jumping, infectious, toughened up by indigenous anarchism and … “following.” Peepers captures all the peculiar liveliness of the band live very well.
If you know Polar Bear already then you don’t need me to say anything, if you don’t then I have a feeling there’s nothing I can say that will get you over the levée. Except this; trust me!
I took along someone who for reason of age alone is new to jazz -certainly live- and once the buzz of a packed-in audience faded a kind of bodily confusion set in which took a track or two to change and for my little friend to find his own way in. A particular unusually compressed sound made and repeated by one of the sax players triggered the change and then my friend quickly engaged the jazz of it; the expansive wrapping and precise rolling of Seb Rochford’s drum playing, the brittle electronic sounds of Leafcutter John and his skanking guitar, the biting double bass of Tom Herbert and the explosive tenor sax playing of Pete Wareham [and stand-in? Shabaka Hutchings too].
There was a nice moment when Seb Rochford introduced the track ‘want to believe everything’ saying “when I wrote it I was thinking about keeping faith in people and with, like all the bad things happening in the world, people are always telling us to just keep your faith … so that’s what I’m finding, you know, just to try to keep that. So that’s what this tune’s about” and as he did so the sun fell into the window behind him in such a way as to backlight his architecturally frizzed hair from behind. It didn’t seem inappropriate or anything less than just jazz.
There are lots of ways of trying to say this but Polar Bear are uniquely of the now. They’re doing their own thing on a new label, are as good as it gets and gracious with it. Don’t catch up with them later/one day, be sure to catch them now.
Here’s a clip from Later … in which they perform the title track from Peepers. As good and faithful as this is, it looks and sounds as if they’ve been confined to a small box…