Entries in writing (5)
Drawing to birds as the sound track. David Birchall's Bird Song Book uses pencil marks on paper to write the sound of birds. There is text, in english, a running commentary of being out where birds are, and then it all becomes clusters of small noises.
Another series, Sound Drawings (white ink, black paper) also uses the small scratch mark written language of birds combined with english language notations of place and mind; bird song and bird presence punctuate Birchall's thoughts, which in turn intervene in the continuity of bird life.
These drawings inform Tacita Dean's inscribed cloud drawings — phrases from books, from everyday speech interrupt the process of drawing – they interrupt the perception of the drawn image as representation, returning the chalk marks to just that: marks, like letters that we ascribe value to. Birchall's drawings are of sound, not the things that produce sound, so in looking at them, the degree of representation is not visual but audial.
I'm no longer sure whether we are a logocentric people, where language and parole, text and textuality, register all the layers of meaning and interaction we need to know about. Although both Dean and Birchall are film-makers, not writers in the traditional sense, both are drawing a language, one in english, the other in bird.
Tacita Dean, on a residency at the Getty in 2014, produced a number of very large drawings of clouds: chalk on blackboard paint on 4 x 8 sheets of masonite assembled to wall-sized 8' x 16' panels. Some are written upon: Sunset has a phrase from Lord of the Flies, 'fading knowledge of the world' written across a Constable-like sky of clouds illuminated not by the immanent presence of god or nature, but by sun on the ocean off Los Angeles. Thinking of Constable, there is something quite dead, thunderous, leaden, ominous about these clouds.
This is such meditative work, done by hand, slowly moving chalk dust around – lots of time to think. Does the antithesis of action painting mean figurative work? One is working slowly to some visual end, which seems different than working physically in some process that ends when the action ends. I might be saying it badly, but drawing a cloud is very different from drawing an existential shape, previously un-visioned. We know what clouds look like, even though they are never the same.
And then to undercut the cloud-like nature of the cloud drawings, they are written upon – these are blackboards – flattening the spatiality within the drawing. These aren't clouds, they are diagrams. Of course. In this they are like Keifer's mountains, Twombly's Greek myths: annotated marks on a surface.
Does the annotated drawing reveal a distrust of the image, and the images, manufactured, photographed, designed and assembled, that swamp our visual field? Estimates of how we see thousands of ads a day makes images in general unreliable; there is no such thing as the innocent image, it all means something. How does one make a drawing then that is without reference? Perhaps it is to reference something abstract in itself, such as a cloud, draw it with care and then make your own notes on it that keep it from being a palimpsest for other people's projections.
I only think this way because I like reduction, stripping away, limitations, abstraction – early training in modernism that launched me totally unprepared into a world that was layered, complex, rich with contradictions and reference.
Blogs, or daily journal entries such as this one were once a clean platform, before the rise of facebook and twitter and all the other kinds of messaging, before phones and the massive conversion to mobile specs for all websites. They were expansive, and there are a number I still check in with every day: publishers who run their blogs as separate strings that run parallel to their main function which is the selling of books. Others sit on vast collections of material: photos and art works and keep drip-feeding this material into the public realm. On my long list of bookmarks are sites that were once really vital and now have become conventional, repetitive – they exhausted their topic.
And news sites such as the Guardian, me being a faithful reader of the paper since the 1980s, have become desperate horses in the ratings race with endlessly punning titles, reader photo challenges and hot sexy leads: the final presentation of the world as entertainment. Even if about disaster, war, tragedy, economic collapse or politics, there will be a clever gimmicky title in case the readers aren't interested enough to read on. It is exhausting, this participation in the snappy world of cool, so instantaneous and ubiquitous. The other thing is comments: as with radio, one has a one-to-one relationship with the material, the writers, the hosts. However, as soon as one starts to read the comments on, say, The Guardian, one finds a rather horrible constituency that I hope is not me – sexist, racist little Englanders. I was shocked and wonder if this kind of response is actually elicited by Guardian material and I am not clever enough to realise it. I was happier not knowing about the comments.
This daily journal for the On Site review website was started simply so that the home page would be different every day in case anyone visited it twice. At the time most magazine and journal sites filled their home page with subscription material and a cover image, simply because most magazines and journals were busy producing print copy and didn't have time or resources to run a separate online version. It has been fast, the demise of print in favour of digital online magazines which are wider, cheaper, more interconnected and in the right hands, faster and more democratic. Literary journals were first, the number of small literary online journals is legion, they are beautifully designed, and they start up and die like mason bees in the summer.
In a weeding out of my bookshelves I have a pile of 1970s and 80s Capilano Review, Island, Malahat Review and small chapbooks which I can't bring myself to send off to Literacy Canada, where no doubt they would be better placed than in my bookcases of superannuated ambitions. These are the small literary journals before computers, still here, the words are still in place on the page. And the writers then constitute a historical blue chip Canadian literature aristocracy now. They were immensely powerful influences on Canada Council and the CBC, today both headed for irrelevance. Times are different; the responses to the 1949-50 Massey Report that were the foundation of a proposed Canadian identity, mainly the National Film Board, the Canada Council for the Arts, the cultural programming of the CBC have watched that identity atomise in the new century.
Identity politics are transnational although very much inflected by local conditions; the sense that the arts could define a people and a nation is something that vaporised with the discrediting of nationalism as any sort of progressive future. Plus, writers, of any sort from poets to journalists can now self-publish and find a global readership that exceeds the capacity of any print journal. There is, however, a technological lag in both the traditional funding agencies and political infrastructure, both based on pitting or uniting regions, pitting or uniting demographic categories, pitting or uniting disciplines. How the word racism is based on a belief in race, so do regions perpetuate regionalism, nations nationalism, demographic division demography. By even addressing the geographical constituent parts of identity, one perpetuates inequity.
All this said, there is a coloniality to architectural discourse which favours Europe, the USA, sometimes Japan. The smattering of critical work from peripheral places: South Africa, Australia, is given a kind of honorary first-worldness while the professional vernacular of such places is indistinguishable from American conventional building dotted about with specimen Calatrava bridges and Foster office towers. Someone such as Eyal Weisman does not write about Palestinian architecture, rather about the political geography of architecture, i.e. the material consequences of an unequal war. Not sure anyone is doing this in the banal geographies of Regina that affects local thinking about architecture in any way. Architectural discourse has all the hallmarks of uneven development, where there is a centre, or centres bound together by opacity and wealth, and semi-peripheries and peripheries rankled with degrees of false consciousness. And the web facilitates this: I can watch Eyal Weisman lecture in London on my own computer in my own house. I feel connected, but connected I am not.
This is a beautiful book designed by Anna Rieger on Agnes Martin. The end papers are sheets of calculations for Martin's building projects; other notebooks appear inside as inserts. The common theme for Martin's writings is the struggle to remain calm, to let things go, which makes me wonder if the tension in the apparently hyper-rational grids and geometric planes isn't what distinguishes Martin's work from, say, Le Witt's which doesn't have the restlessness hers has.
After hearing a long CBC archive program yesterday on Emily Carr, another passionate painter who was a near-recluse, perhaps the closely-guarded privacy is defensive and sustaining: just leave me alone to do my work! We can hardly, today, understand such a combination of fierceness and self-effacement.