Saturday, 12 December 2009

Lecture on the Eternal Network and Sound Poetry

These are the lecture notes for a two-part presentation I put together and delivered, with Warren Fry, Julian Mathews, Brad Chriss, and Tim Campbell, to some students in American University in Washington, D.C. back in September. The first part deals with the Eternal Network/Mail Art and the second part with sound poetry, presenting both as sustained practices of correspondence and direct communication operating on Zoum principles, rather than as Artistic practices with aesthetic motivations.

Both were organised historically, and both (especially the lecture on correspondence) attempt to realign the traditional canons and emphases on priority that tend to cling to radical activity. In both cases I located the beginning of my narrative with the 19th Century Symbolists, though both could as easily have been traced earlier.

In the case of Correspondence this meant ignoring Ray Johnson (sorry, Ray), expanding upon the ways in which zoum correspondence played a practical role in sustaining the international dada community, and beginning with an explanation of the epistolary poetics of Mallarmé and the Symbolists and the role of correspondence in the organisation of international Symbolism. During the lecture, students sat at various islands of desks with communal stacks of add & pass sheets and supplies to occupy them while the lecture proceeded. (An exquisite corpse spontaneously generated by the class during the lecture will be published in the second Exquisite Crypt volume, docked for January publication).

The Sound Poetry portion began even earlier with the Bouzingos, through Symbolist performance technique a-la Valéry and Mallarmé; the traditional emphasis on Dada is maintained but with a more honed emphasis on the social roles that the various dada sub-forms played within the contexts of the Dada cabarets of which they are rhetorical gestures. A number of examples were performed; for the Fluxus Poem, Waren enacted the lightswitch piece by turning out the lights, leading to a coffee-stain on the back of a Bob Cobbing books being read aloud by us and a couple of wrangled students by cell-phone light, followed by a Post-Neo Splat Poem in the dark.

I don't know why blogger insists on some passages being arbitrarily black, but don't have time to figure it out.

The notes:

PART 1 correspondence art focus

INTRO- Briefly describe what people see before them;

  • pieces of paper with various things done to them by people from all over the world
  • things to do things with
  • feel free to do things with these things as you listen to talk, or as you ignore it
  • different things at different stations, move around if desired

  • Won't mention many specific years or names-though happy to do so after or in q & a
  • instead, focus on gradual developments and groups- since groups are the main concern for us today
  • Don't worry about keeping track of specifics--general drift of development & range of potential within correspondence

Art as object of contemplation vs. Art as Tool (Ends vs. Means). WHAT is an audience?

  • Distinction between artist-audience model and circle-of-friends model
  • Avant-Garde as community founded on latter model who highjacked the techniques and strategies of Art to try to change consciousness & human interaction.

  • Some argue that the avant-garde is not even primarily an artistic movement but a social, political, philosophical utopian experiment

Symbolist Correspondence-- 1880s-90s

  • approached corrospondance as 'art', with 'art' or semiotics in turn approached as atheist mysticism, ex. Mallarme, Jarry, Wilde
  • Symbolist community used networks of this correspondence to establish and coordinate friendships, philosophical discourses, cross-publication, lecture and reading tours, translation projects, theatrical productions, donations for monuments and commemorative books, alternative to publication, etc. across national/linguistic barriers and literary traditions--French, Belgian, British, Polish, German, American, Italian, etc.

  • Heretofore, French was typically the 'International language'--still limiting

Zaoum (pre-wwI) as meeting of the Avant-garde with researches into subconscious/asemic communication
  • Visual Poetry
  • wider implications than within this one movement
  • From Zaoum to correspondence art
  • correspondence art as form of international communication
  • ex. Italian to Russian Futurism

Dada/Merz (1916)--Much corresponence is partially or entirely graphic and/or asemic

  • use of key words, sometimes asemic, in zaoum connection
  • ex. Merz--origin of name in collage

Fluxus-- (1950s-60s) Flux Boxes

  • Flux Warehouse & correspondence-order model

1960s-70s Development of Correspondence lists & multiple intersecting networks

  • Becomes known as The Eternal Network

1980s-90s International Mail Art Congresses & All-Network Congresses

  • People increasingly focus on correspondence/mail art/networking as distinct rather than supplemental practice
  • deprofessionalization of community (not all artists)
  • some people stop calling it Art--term's usefulness is over
  • Shift in focus to collaborative model (describe)
  • Add & Pass sheets

1980s on--Monty Cantsin, Karen Eliot, Luther Blissett, et al & Neoism

  • only possible from within a correspondence art community

Correspondence art as medium of communication between various experimental communities of 1st and 2nd World countries as South American, Eastern European & Japanese networks proliferate

  • petitions, underground news, etc moved & circulated through network
  • ex. Serbia & Open World

Movement of mail art online

  • structure of correspondence art prefigures internet to great extent
  • networking sites
  • ex. heteronyms on facebook/myspace--analogy of avatars to heteronyms
  • ex. openfluxus
  • email/blogs for digital correspondence art
  • correspondence art archives/blogs
  • ex. textimagepoem

Physical mail art not slowed by net, but journals & other Network community organs have been

  • correspondence Art Journals
  • similar purpose to net presences, but still PHYSICAL & playing with what real correspondence is
  • ex. Open World continues
  • ex. Synapse (correspondence art w/ other work in same communities)
  • ex. Hat (same but differences in schedule & consequences)
  • ex. Letter Founder (curation based on correspondence chedule)

Mechanics of contemporary correspondence art

  • contact, not “quality”, is prerogative
  • materials ex. rubber stamps, collage, multiple photocop
  • passage back & forth between digital & analogue formats, evolution of pieces through multiple archiving
  • Contact Lists & addressed signatures

This is the present here in front of you.

Questions etc. & keep making

PART 2 perf. poetry focus

Idea of using experimental art for new forms of communication not restricted to international level

  • Avant Garde has always tended to form groups, formal or informal, who use their own communities where they live, or assemble informal colonies in the midst of various cities, as experiments in new modes of social life

Many people in avant-garde movements belong to both a local manifestation of a group and a national one

  • ex Dada, Futurism
  • many belong to multiple movements simultaneously as well
  • (correspondence art glue for these relationships)

Performance Poetry one form among many of strategies active on local level

bear with me...

Bouzingos Songs (describe) 1830s

  • semantic content secondary to social action
  • Used as social tools & as social bonding rather than “expressions” or entertainment or display of skill.

Symbolist Declamation (brief) 1890s

  • viewed music as different order of communication than language
  • reading literature aloud, if artfully done, could utilize both levels of communication
  • ex. Valéry spent two hours training a singer to recite a poem
  • recommended ignoring meaning of words while performing
  • describe Mallarmé's projected 'Book'
  • designed for living rooms & familiar groups of people
  • different in each performance

Futurist Poem ~1910

  • onomotopeaia
  • ex. Balla, Canzone, Maggio (trans. “Song, maggio”)
  • no instructions for score--implications
  • how scores affect poem's social dynamic
  • every scoring method developed has continued to be used for past century

  • Relation of Italian Futurism to Zaoum principles

PERFORMANCE: Bald Mountain Zaoum Poem

Dada 1916

  • Dada Cabaret as collective experience--describe
  • Poems serve as moments of condensation within denaturalized environment--
  • Development of different kinds of perf. poem with different relationships between viewers and performers & between performers themselves
  • Phonetic Poem
  • PERFORMANCE: Karawane
  • mysticism/priest
  • Merz Poem
  • relate to correspondence art & collage, name of Merz
  • Ursonate--performance poem as shamanic/meditative ritual
  • PERFORMANCE: pornographic i-poem
  • Simultaneous Poem
  • PERFORMANCE: Apocalypse Crunch
  • coordination, relationship amongst performers
  • Bruitist Poem
  • PERFORMANCE:White Giant Leper
  • performer vs. audience, reversal of roles
  • relate to bouzingos

Fluxus--Instruction Scores 1950s-present

  • performed sometimes in festival context, sometimes in familial context, sometimes alone

Visual Scores

  • PERFORMANCE: Cobbing: back of interview book PULL FROM AUDIENCE 1960s-80s
  • Surprise performance from audiences as asemic 'meeting', shared experience w/out history

  • Schematic/Collaborative scores PULL FROM AUDIENCE
  • PERFORMANCE: Be Blank Consort Caw Huff
  • named after talismanic phrase BE BLANK from certain circle in Eternal Network
  • Written through correspondence art network--extension of 'performance' beyond geographic locality
  • sometimes use correspondence art as basis for scores
  • membership varies from community to community when performing--implications





For More:

Online (Gigantic source of avant-garde sound poetry, film, scores, texts, etc.) (huge Networking archive & blog) (essays & histories of correspondence art) (electronic correspondence art community blog) (Post-NeoAbsurdist performance poetry)


Brotchie, Alastair & Gooding, Mel, ed. (1995). A Book of Surrealist Games. London: Shambhala Redstone Editions.

Caws, Mary Ann, ed. (2001). Manifesto: A Century of Isms. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

correspondence Art

Duncan, Michael & Kristine McKenna. (2005). Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle. New York: Distributed Art Publishers. 2005.

Home, Stewart. (1991). The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrism to Class War. Stirling: AK Press.

Mallarmé, Stéphane & Lloyd, Rosemary, ed. (1998). Selected Letters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, Owen F. (1998). Fluxus: The History of an Attitude. San Diego: San Diego State University Press.

Williams, Emmett, ed. (1997). Mr. Fluxus: A Collective Portrait of George Maciunas. London: Thames & Hudson

Performance Poetry

Huelsenbeck, Richard/ Ball, Hugo/ Serner, Walter. (1995). Blago Bung Blago Bung Bosso Fataka: First Texts of German Dada. London: Atlas Press.

McCaffery, Steve & Nichols, bp. (1978). Sound Poetry: A Catalog. Toronto: Underwhich Editions.

Richter, Hans & Britt, David trans. (1997). Dada: Art & Anti-Art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Schwitters, Kurt & Rothenberg, Jerome & Joris, Pierre, trans. (2002). Poems Performances Pieces Proses Plays Poetics. Cambridge, MA: Exact Change.

Smith, Steven R. & Cobbing, Bob. (1997). Ballet of the Speech Organs: Bob Cobbing on Bob Cobbing (interviews). Toronto, Canada: Underwhich Editions.

Tzara, Tristan & Caws, mary Ann, trans. (2005). The Approximate Man & Other Writings. Boston, MA: Black Widow Press.

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