Words are people’s kingdoms

Ok, so I really have been quite laissezfaire about this blogging malarkey (a fantastic word, which apparently doesn’t have a concrete history, thought to be Irish or Cockney)…so I must start writing more often and, as I’ve said previously, in more shorter bursts…that’s what blogging is about though right? Since I last spoke to you I’ve been intrigued by the power of words and how they really are people’s kingdoms…I know I spend too much time with them….reading, writing, typing, describing, speaking them…language, linguistics, semantics, textuality, intertextuality, interpretation…I could go on. I think I might be word obsessed sometimes. I often think in words or the spelling sequence of words rather than pictures, images or colours. Letters. Typography. Fonts. It makes me smile thinking about the word “word”.

Anyway, what has been happening? Well I got caught up over half-term week project managing an Education and Outreach event for Wolverhampton Art Gallery called ‘We ♥ Wolverhampton’ where the local community got involved by telling the gallery what’s their favourite place in the city and why, by bringing in a photograph of that favourite place, or submitting it online. We had a good response and some beautiful images…now to whittle down the hundreds of photographs. Take a look at them. Apart from that “employed” work, two other worlds of work have been happening more for the “self” – writing an article/exhibition review for a-n magazine, and all things to do with ‘Words Are All We Have’, my artist’s books and book arts project.

a-n magazine requested I write an 800-word review on the exhibition ‘Journeymen’ at the Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, in a VERY short turnaround time…that’s reviews for you. As I am very familiar with  writing for a-n, the gallery due to curating a show there, and the Directors having studied over ten years ago with one of them (how has it been ten years?!), it was easy to jump straight in and write. The show exhibited new commissions and previous works by two male artists David Blandy and Antii Laitinen. As I have written in the article “their performances are derived from ritualistic and durational travel-embedded type quests, within culture and the self.” I don’t really want to say much here about it as it’s all gone in the review for the April issue of a-n magazine. I promise once it is published I’ll post a link or a scan of the article on here. Some photos of the private view night are below just so you can get a feel of the works…

On Wednesday afternoon, I had a meeting with Birmingham-based artist Dr. Bharti Parmar. She contacted me a couple of weeks ago as regards ‘Words Are All We Have’. I’ve actually had quite a few responses from people of all ages and career levels…I’ll talk further about some of the other submissions later on in this post. So after seeing Yanyan Wang discuss her PhD studies and concerns at the research cafe (a meeting between faculty and research students at BIAD), I jumped on the number 35 bus from the city centre and headed over to Bharti’s house arriving late afternoon. She took me into her office, where we chatted about her and my PhD research as well as the notions examined within my project. She specifically contacted me to tell me about a limited edition book called ‘The Shipping Forecast’, which involved the use of typewriters and typewriter errors. I apologise if the images take a while to load, I reckon I forgot to downsize them.

Bharti made ‘The Shipping Forecast’ in 1998 for the Birmingham Arts Trust as part of a book festival examining British identity, for her specifically the routine of the weather embedded in the British psyche. She used the lyricism of the shipping forecast as the concept for the book, using different fonts and types throughout to represent the different look and feel of the words that the broadcaster would read out. It was to look like a captains log book where the text in red showed the coastal stations…looking different on the page to how they are read out, sounding like a British lullaby. For her, it was a mediating and fantasizing process, interpreting how you check the weather whilst feeding her interest in amateurism. The specific pages show above reference the typewriter and again the idea of recording errors ,which could have occurred when reading out the forecast.

We spoke about many other things such as texts that examine the inverse perspectives on internationalism, the two books Terra Incognita’s ‘Empire and I’, and the South Bank Centre’s ‘Exotic Europeans’. The funny thing was we discovered that her daughter and I were both born in the same hospital…Heavitree Hospital in Exeter, Devon…also we were both somehow related in some sense to the ministry, she was a minister’s wife, I was a minister’s daughter. It made me smile how when paths cross, you can share more things in common than you think. A nice moment in time.

Bharti introduced me to a concept that she thought I would definitely include as part of a future body of (art)work…that of ‘palimpsest’. Now I wasn’t familiar with the definition of this term, but as soon as she started explaining it…”layers of text and meaning erased”…it sounded perfect, certainly in relation to my practice and to ‘Words Are All We Have’. So a palimpsest is (according to your average internet dictionary) “a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.” It really is the layering of text and meaning…building, re-building, writing and re-writing of (hi)stories. I particularly love this quotation by Russell Hoban…

“Language is an archeological vehicle … the language we speak is a whole palimpsest of human effort and history.”

So we will see where palimpsest takes me. We know it will be to my kingdom of words. What words will they be?

Onto another submission to the ‘Words Are All We Have’, this time from Barrie Tullett and Philippa Wood of The Caseroom Press – an independent publisher based in Edinburgh and Lincoln and a fantastic book arts/typography hub. I think I’ve met them before at the Manchester Artists’ Book Fair but our memories both evaded us. Barrie kindly sent me a typewritten letter along with a copy of ‘The Ghost in the Fog: XXV The Corrections’ (as shown below), which although not directly linked to the typewriter, it ‘documents documents corrections made by the editors, translators and contributors to How to Address the Fog: XXV Finnish Poems 1978-2002. Published in 2005, the original went through five sets of amendments. This book reveals those changes. Only the corrected text, the marginal notes and the proof-readers’ marks remain, forming a different kind of poetry – one of an accidental, concrete kind. It is a book of absences.’ Therefore it links to the idea of a history of errors. It is such a special publication. I particularly like works that investigate the voids within writing and texts…the anomalies, the things that going missing, get erased or forgotten about…the unseen processes that complete a final text. 

Barrie also suggested I look at a series of works called ‘Purgatory’ – typewriter illustrations for Dante’s Purgatory that are part of an ongoing series of typographic works based around The Divine Comedy. Very appropriate works.

Philippa submitted a book called ‘The Last’, a ‘typographic record that explores responses to a series of questions that aimed to examine a particular moment in time – or as one respondent replied – ‘a strange snapshot of my life’.’

..and she also submitted another of her works called ‘Annoy Brian’…

The Flickr stream for The Caseroom Press and Philippa Wood’s Flickr stream are something else…I’d take a look if you are into anything related to typography or book arts. ‘Words Are All We Have’ is turning into such a fantastic project, and as ever with things like this it is always interesting to see different people’s interpretations of the theme. I’ll post more of others submissions later on in the week as I start writing the conference paper for ‘type writing’ symposium, which I’ll be giving next week.

Any other thoughts I ask myself? Only a couple of other things to note. I got accepted for the conference ‘Boundaries? New Histories of Art, Architecture and Design’ at the University of Bristol on the 27th April 2011. I submitted a paper entitled ‘Transcultural Translation – Writing Contemporary Chinese Art History’ which will discuss how the identity of contemporary Chinese art today “translates” from a Chinese to Western perspective and context through the use of and understanding of recently coined terms in China and the West. In a response to the public’s need for critical engagement, to look beyond the local, regional and national to the international sphere, and an art historical desire to constantly redefine the current status of contemporary Chinese art, I will discuss the use of two specific terms, ‘glocal’ and ‘transcultural’. I’m scheduled in at 2pm on the day…a good time to be at so I can relax for the rest of the afternoon, and let’s hope its fruitful. A real broad mix of research students from various creative disciplines are presenting so lets see what happens.

One last note…my New York buddy and artist/academic friend Basem Hassan sent me this fabulous image from this years Armory Show in New York…artist is unknown. Basem knew it would be right up my street. It made me miss New York. I ♥ New York.


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