There is a new conversation happening on the walls of Toitū about language and where it fits as visual art.
Visuālīs | Toikupu opened on Saturday 30th March.
The framing of the exhibition is key. In calling it a ‘visual poetry exhibition’ the importance of the words/writing is highlighted. A great many of the people who came to the opening were from the poetry community, thus already predisposed to focus on, or place importance on the writing (the poetry). But not all were from that background. The framing encouraged viewers, regardless of their background, to give the words time – writing is innately temporal in a way that a still image is not (this position could be argued, but that is for another time).
I argue that this made for a different kind of viewing and viewership – a particular kind of meaning making was at work.
A conversation in the studio with two others, notes 02/04/19
X: Refreshing to see a show made by writers and poets in a visual way rather than the other way like when artists work with words, you feel the difference
Y: Pet peeve when artists decide that they’re going to work with sound and music but have no knowledge of how sound and music works
X: Sometimes we [artists] skim across disciplines and sometimes it really shows. It’s great to see it from the other angle.
This conversation with X and Y demonstrated a different attitude to the writing. It suggests they gave the words a different significance, believing that the words were active in the meaning making of the work, had a considered, professional quality that can be brought about by poets, specialists in words. This is a contrast to the possibility artists using words merely for their aesthetics (can a word ever only be it’s aesthetics? Only in asemic writing. A discussion for another day).
Visual poets, as specialists in words, consider the meaning, the sound, and the shape of words. They are in a wonderful position to work with text and its innate visuality as writing.
But this was all about context. Had the exhibition not focused on the poetry, would the viewership? How does a viewer know the professional quality of writing? As a viewer when I come across text in a visual arts exhibition setting, often the text comes across as filler, overly academic, or unaccomplished. This has meant that I tend to think of the text as somewhat supplementary even as a poet. So the question becomes, how do I indicate to a viewer the importance of the poetry?
map (install 2019)
Installing my own work was also a great experience. I had installed this work before for the purposes of photographing (though it does not photograph well! The work flattens against the wall).
But there were a number of things that made this install so great.
1. people would get to see it on the wall, not just in photos.
2. a large brightly lit space
3. working with an install assistant!
Arielle came in to help me install and I was able to add another level of process. I laid out all of the word discs on the ground and asked Arielle to see or choose two discs at a time that she felt produced something interesting together. Whether that was because it produced an interesting phrase, or that the words juxtaposed or repeated. She would apply the blu-tac for attaching to the wall and I would then find a place for them: taking the relationship she had established between the discs and incorporating them into a cohesive whole. When she arrived to help, at least 20 discs were already up. On my own I used a similar process, but the extra layer was an enjoyable linguistic experience.
The work does not act as a map might – it does not give directions – but it does offer up multiple paths to journey. One might say that a map does not give directions but provide the ‘lay of the land’ and you find your own directions. But this map does not provide a complete picture, so it limits and extends routes through the omissions.
Lisa Samuels read/performed a route through the map on the day of install. I would love to record this as she also reads the evidence of omission (word parts, lonely letters and sounds)