a token of concrete affection – over until the next time

After three months, today involved taking down the archival exhibition at the Centre of Latin American Studies in Cambridge. Comprised of works from Stephen Bann’s personal collection of correspondence, artworks, books and journals relating to exchanges with Brazilian poets in the 1960s it has been a great pleasure to curate and to offer space in collaboration with colleagues at the excellent Centre of Latin American Studies for people to come into the department to see and to appreciate this material.

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Inevitably in being forced by the passage of time to take the works down in preparation for their return to Stephen, in parallel with the closing of his show of Ian Hamilton Finlay works at Kettle’s Yard, I found myself renewing engagement with the works from the collection, opening new pages and rereading some of the letters and texts and finding myself yet again awed at the brilliance of some of the writing and graphic design and typographical leaps that characterised the mid sixties period and struck yet again at how much what we currently think of as innovative design was spawned and forged using analogue tools before the advent of digital universality…

imagealmost in anticipation, letters took on the shape of signs, became symbols and codes, were laid out like programmes, became kinetic, shed singleness and grew live, dynamic, networked, permutated, became process fields, star clusters, constellations.

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Images from Poem in Stone Workshop with Eric Marland at the Alphabet Museum

On Sunday 15th February a group of us gathered at the Alphabet Museum, in Eric Marland’s Studio, The Chapel, Ascension Parish Burial Ground, All Souls Lane, off Huntingdon Road in Cambridge for a daylong workshop to learn the basics of how to carve a poem in stone.  Eric had helpfully lit the wondrous fire and collected some fabulous pieces of Portland Stone for we beginners to work on (and had cleaned these up so they looked pristine and expectant on our arrival).

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After a day’s close working and learning and trying out and testing – everyone who attended developed an ability to cut letters into stone, and a deep enthusiasm for further pursuit of this craft.  A highlight for me was when two young chaps ventured into the Chapel: Eric asked Are you looking for Wittgenstein’s Grave and their answer came swiftly No we are looking for the Alphabet Museum!

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Taking down the Ruskin Show

imageimageThe four weeks of the Graphic Constellations: Visual Poetry & the Properties of Space have cantered by and this morning the show came down – almost one hundred and sixty items (prints, banner, fire drawings, books, foldout poetry, journals, postcards, catalogues, a lumidyne, letraset works, digital videos, letters and more) reinstated into files, portfolio cases, wooden boxes, bubble wrapped and tissue paper surrounded.  I can hardly believe there were in the end so many artefacts in this show and that we managed to combine them together into a shared environment that brought praise from many people who seemed to have a good time looking around the show, both those based within Anglia Ruskin University and the many who came to visit from Cambridge, London, Vienna, Derby, Edinburgh, Chicago, Canterbury and beyond. One of the poignant moments today was the taking down of the Edward Wright banner which has hung sociably from ceiling almost to ground, creating conversations among visitors moving around the room and occasionally, as they have come a bit too close, swinging a little to reveal mobility of paper and lightness of language mutating in response.  I also found emptying the vitrine which contained several Edward Wright works, kindly loaned by his daughter Anna Yandell and Dr Ann Pillar (who has written a great thesis on Wright’s work) rather a difficult thing to do;  having worked hard to develop a series of connections between the works from the Letterpress Block from which Wright created the ‘Star/Star’ poem card for Brighton Festival of Concrete Poetry to the ‘Sticks Stones/Names Bones’ copy of ‘Poor Old Tired Horse’ to the Opening Press folded Poem, ‘Finally A Valentine’,  to Wright’s own copy of ‘Four Sails’ and ‘Frog Pond Plop’.  A great collaborator, Wright’s memory is rightly held in high esteem in Cambridge where he lived in his final years and is remembered with great affection by those who remember him, like painter John Harris, whose comments in the Gallery Visitors Book referenced studying under Wright in Cambridge University Architectural department in the early 1960s before Wright went to Chelsea. Within the process of unearthing which this series of events has encouraged me to do, uncovering aspects of Wright’s work and personality has been particularly pleasing. What Graphic Constellations has attempted and I think managed to do is to provide new experiences of old poetry which like old wine, is still the best.

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Reg Gadney: Kinetic Art/Frank Malina talk at Anglia Ruskin University

Invited by the Fine Art Research Unit led by David Ryan at Anglia Ruskin University, Reg Gadney – one of the originators of the 1964 Exhibition of Concrete, Kinetic and Phonetic Poetry held at his then college, St Catharine’s – gave a public talk this week that included showing a very rare film on 16mm by Nicolas Schoffer and numerous images of Frank Malina’s work. image Gadney wrote very influentially in the early 1960s about the potential revolutionary impact of the then emerging electric light-based and kinetic work and for this talk had gathered together many anecdotes and reminiscences as well as a handout with a timeline of key developments in kinetic art lineage and ancestry along with a rather special letter from Mike Weaver, catalyst behind the 1964 exhibition, helpfully situating and summarising his involvement and his related preoccupations before and after this event. In the Graphic Constellations exhibition in the gallery I also draw on documents – catalogue and correspondence from Malina’s archive – to reveal links with Cambridge such as the talk he gave for students on 11 February 1966. The postcard below from forty nine years ago which coexists with Malina’s lecture notes mentions Reg, who as he explained yesterday to fascinated listeneners, was to go later that year to MIT in Boston to work with Gyorgy Kepes. image Also rather amusingly, below, from Malina’s archive, a rather timeless cartoon relating to public response to the Art and Movement exhibition which toured to Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1966 and which included three of his works. image

From the text panel in the exhibition:

The Properties of Space

“I am convinced that the ‘new’ landscapes provided by science and technology are at the bottom of what we call ‘abstract’ art”.
“The real question is how to use the moon once the ferries are in operation”..”for all we know its craters may be covered with diamonds”.
Frank J. Malina

The inclusion of a work by Frank Malina in the Graphic Constellations: Visual Poetry and the Properties of Space exhibition connects together themes of inner and outer space.

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Born in 1912 in Texas of Czech parents, Frank was a leading figure in development of the first rockets in California before leaving the United States after the second world war to live in Paris where he worked for Unesco, made a large contribution to International Astronautical cooperation and married Marjorie Duckworth who was born in Yorkshire. During the 1950s, Frank became a keen painter and then invented his own system for making pictures using light, rhythm and motion which he called lumidynes. He was fascinated by the role of electricity as a medium for making art: his ‘kinetic electric light paintings’ were experiments in pictorial composition and pattern-making combining dynamic rhythm with elements of stasis. Spring II is a lumidyne created in 1959, the same year as Oui et Non a work by Frank included in the first exhibition of concrete, kinetic and phonic poetry held at St Catharine’s College in 1964.

Reg Gadney who co-organized the exhibition at St Catharine’s was a close friend of Frank and, with Frank Popper, a primary advocate of the potential revolutionary significance of kinetic art as articles published while he was still a student in London Magazine in August 1964 and February 1965 (shown in vitrine 9 in the exhibition) convey. The journal Image (vitrine 1) was also a vital platform for promulgation of this thinking.

In November 1964 John Kirwan of the Cambridge University Society of Arts wrote to Frank to invite him to come to give a talk as “the subject of Kinetic Art is causing considerable excitement in Cambridge at present, especially since the Image devoted to it, came out” concluding his letter by telling him, “our general theme is to be concerned with 4 dimensional art, which includes movement and weathering”. Malina eventually gave the talk in Cambridge on 11 February 1966, the same year that KINETIC ART – Four Essays by Bann, Gadney, Steadman and Weaver was published by Motion books (vitrine 1).
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Correspondence shown for the first time in this exhibition from the Malina archives reveals an intricate series of exchanges during 1964-1966 between Frank and Paul Keeler who was advisor for an Arts Council of Great Britain touring exhibition called Art and Movement which toured to Edinburgh, Glasgow and internationally during this period and which included Oui et Non as well as two other works by Frank. Writing to him in 1964 Keeler tells Frank of his enthusiasm for organising “a very fine show of say 20-25” of his works in the new Signals “showroom in Wigmore Street” which he thinks will be “very beautifull” (sic) and which was due to open on 20 November. He proposes an exhibition of Frank’s work for the following February-March. He sends plans of the new space and tells Frank that “one idea is that if architects and industrialists wish to commission an artist they will be able to have a variety to choose from”. In February 1965 Keeler writes to Frank to say he would like to delay the show until the autumn.

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Posters and catalogues found in the Malina archive reveal regular inclusion of his work in various European festivals with concrete-kinetic associations. As touching correspondence (vitrine 2) reveals Ken Cox also tried to secure “Oui et Non” for the Arlington Une festival in 1966 (but failed to secure a loan from the artwork’s owner). It had been sold to a Mr E. W. Golding who worked for the Electrical Research Association and who had loaned it for the Cambridge show and Art and Movement earlier.

Unfortunately of Oui et Non we can find no trace…

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Sincere thanks go to Alan and Roger Malina for their loan of Spring II, as well as access to family archives. We thank also Rob La Frenais and Fabrice Lapelletrie for help with bringing Frank Malina’s work back to Cambridge.
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Photographs from ‘Concrete Poetry – International Exchanges’ Symposium & ‘a token of concrete affection exhibition

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Stephen Bann

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Viviane C. d’Annuniacao

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Eduardo Kac & Wlademir Dias-Pino

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Vanessa Hannesschläger

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Greg Thomas

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Summaries of talks for Concrete Poetry – International Connections symposium

Here are synopses for Saturday’s symposium. It promises to be a very exciting day:

Stephen Bann

Concrete Poetry: The aesthetic/historical penumbra

Retrospective views often tend to iron out the complex interaction of factors that characterises any artistic ‘movement’. Notions of influence frequently imply a misunderstanding of the subtle negotiations that the poet or artist makes with the inherited culture.This paper is a preliminary attempt to define some of the specific literary, aesthetic and philosophical options that appealed to concrete poets in general, and to Ian Hamilton Finlay in particular, in the course of the 1960s.

Greg Thomas

Concrete Poetry in Britain: Locations and Chronologies

Recounting the overlapping narratives of concrete poetry’s reception and development in Britain during the 1960s is a task that has not generally been undertaken in an equitable and broadly-focused manner. This partly reflects a pervasive tradition of critical hostility to the style in Britain, partly the ambiguity of that “style” itself, and a related tendency within those narratives which have appeared to focus on particular poets or groups of poets, often reflecting particular cultural and social attachments as well as certain stylistic proclivities. This paper attempts to provide an introductory overview of the multiple locations and chronologies of concrete poetry’s early development in Britain; amongst other things, this will involve relaying some unknown facts and dates unearthed through primary research, bringing to light the work of some little-known poets and pushing into dialogue the work of poets generally considered in isolation from each other, and touching on the characteristics and significance of regional literary and artistic culture in Britain during the 1950s-70s.”

Vanessa Hannesschläger

inside outsider – outside insider. Ernst Jandl and (inter)national concrete poetry

Ernst Jandl (1925-2000) was a skilled networker, who found recognition among international experimental poets at a time when the restorative atmosphere of post-war Austria did not allow avant-garde art to gain solid ground. Even within the national scene, mutual approval was not a matter of course as demonstrated by Jandl’s relationship with the Vienna Group. This talk will give an overview of Jandl’s concrete poetry contacts within the borders of his country as well as abroad, especially focusing on the lively correspondence with Ian Hamilton Finlay. The spotlight will also be turned to the role of literary periodicals and magazines in the process of institutionalizing ‘the new poetry’, as Jandl called it. The significance of this term for Jandl’s poetics will allow insights into his choice of literary ‘relatives’.

Viviane Carvalho da Annunciação:

A Critical Felix Culpa: Concrete Poetry in Brazil

Throughout almost sixty years of existence, concrete poetry divided literary critics in Brazil. Since its formal outset in 1956 with the Exhibition of Concrete Poetry in Modern Art Museum of São Paulo, until the end of the nineties, its writers have been severely criticized. However, such a belligerent reception corresponded to cultural discourses that were in an emergent phase in Brazilian society. The aim of this paper is to contextualize concrete poetry in the history of literary criticism in Brazil and to offer an alternative reading of its artistic and political importance. I wish to argue that this revisionist approach would safeguard the movement from sterile critical rivalry and pre-conceived ideas.

Eduardo Kac

Dispelling Myths of Origin

Many international anthologies often cite the Noigandres group as the origin of the concrete poetry form, when in reality both the term “concrete poetry” and the form itself precede the Noigandres group’s claim to it. The poets that constitute the group have often presented their work as the departing point of visuality in Brazilian poetry, when visual and syntactic experimentation in Brazilian literature have a long history that clearly begins with Baroque poetry. More importantly, Wlademir Dias-Pino, a founder of Brazilian concrete poetry who exerted clear influence over the Noigandres group, remains largely unknown. This presentation will demonstrate the multiple origins of concrete poetry and will highlight the work of the revolutionary poet Wlademir Dias-Pino.

Drew Milne

Ecology without nature: Ian Hamilton Finlay and contemporary poetics.

This talk explores the status of nature in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s poetics, taking some cues from recent discussions in ecological and environmental aesthetics, such as Timothy Morton’s Ecology without nature: rethinking environmental aesthetics (2007). Finlay engages different grounds to support his poetic forms. His poems remain, accordingly, somewhat apart from their various embodiments. Whether working with sundials, hankies, gardens or paper, the environmental contexts evoked are persistently marked by an art/nature hierarchy, posing apparently neo-classical challenges to environmental pastoralism. Specifying the wit and power of Finlay’s ecological poetics suggests a new optic on subsequent poetics that owe something to Finlay, and a critical foil to eco-poetics and nature writing.

Graphic Constellations – Visual Poetry & the Properties of Space

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This exhibition continues until 21.2.2015 at the Ruskin Gallery, Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and has a feast of material to view in main and upper galleries.

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Hansjorg Mayer: 4 Perspex Screens, letterpress on film. First shown in 1967 at Brighton Poetry Festival as part of public art work

Hansjorg Mayer: 4 Perspex Screens, letterpress on film.
First shown in 1967 at Brighton Poetry Festival as part of public art work

Futura series Hansjorg Mayer

Futura series Hansjorg Mayer

Open everyday except Sunday 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Carving a Poem in Stone

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http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/about/news/unearthing-concrete/

Learning to Carve a Poem in Stone
AN INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOP

This workshop is now fully booked.

LED BY ERIC MARLAND

AT THE ALPHABET MUSEUM THE CHAPEL ASCENSION PARISH BURIAL GROUND

ALL SOUL’S LANE off HUNTINGTON ROAD C

CAMBRIDGE CB3 OEA

Ascension Burial Ground is where philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein is buried.

SUNDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2015 1

10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Cost: £10 ALL MATERIALS INCLUDING STONE PROVIDED – BEGINNERS ARE WELCOME

Part of the KinkonCambridge series ‘…at the cutting edge of language…’ https://kinkoncambridge.wordpress.com

Symposium Speakers 14 February

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Concrete Poetry – International Exchanges
Interactions & Relations between Brazilian, European and British Concrete
& Visual Poets of the 1950s & 1960s

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Symposium Speakers:

Stephen Bannimage
Viviane C.da Annunciação
Vanessa Hannesschläger
Eduardo Kac
Drew Milne
Greg Thomas

14 February, 2015 11:30-5:00 PM

Full programme & registration:

http://www.latin-american.cam.ac.uk/events/concrete-poetry

Organised by Centre of Latin American Studies in association with Kettle’s Yard
& also supported by AHRC Digital Transformations Research Fellowship, Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, Ludwig Boltzmann Centre for the History & Theory of Biography, Vienna.