The artists Gerry Bibby and Natalie Häusler, both based in Berlin, weave their works of sculpture, installation and performance around text sources. Sharing the particularity of using a process that starts with words, the two artists produce an equally original conversation as a result of a fleeting encounter and an exchange of their writings and poems. here’s the outcome: thoughts on the meaning of their respective practices, in a dense, poetic attempt to track down and explore common ground.
is a dry‚
too narrow to be climbed
by an ambitious individual
hungry for something
TABLE (asking for advice)
of no impact on whatsoever
is so convincing‚
difficult to break the spell
because its nature is
With its supposedly hidden set of tricks
none of our tricks will apply
although both of our tricks happen
on the very same stage.
Tell me, hat
what gives you direction
in this tremendously alien
(1) BED; (2) TABLE (asking for advice) both poems from:
FRAUD, Natalie Häusler 2013
Casting Spells, while it may be an age-old practice, is still perhaps a complicated process of speculation and absorption. (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in an early Jim Jarmusch film, Stranger Than Paradise (1984), where a Soviet East converses with an American landscape). The efficacy of the one who casts the spells doesn’t really matter, I guess, if the sufferer is somehow convinced about it.
The supernatural prowess of the object whose identity could be manifold, that is, a whole population of this intent, malicious or otherwise, can possibly influence the effectiveness of the spell, while still residing somewhere in her/his consciousness. A viral proposition that can also indirectly impose itself on him/her, if those in the direct proximity are infected.
I very rarely find myself talking about magic, except perhaps if I’ve found myself up against an opaque, stubborn and numbing pragmatism. Or maybe it’s been pinned to a kind of camp turn of phrase, an appreciation.
I don’t think I’ve ever written about it.
I might have written through metaphor but that perhaps was also “wearing it well”, or not.
Anyway, this fledgling conversation. We’ve spoken with each other many times but not in such a presentation format. I have been presented with these two poems from you. One of them TABLE (asking for advice) talks about another conversation, one with a table. The resistance of the object, its lack of porousness, is described somehow as a problem of a muted set of relationships, of a kind where attempts to build something from those relationships through language and action, between subjectivities, objects and situations, can lack the kind of impact that is desired. The spell there is a sedation, an inability to form productive concomitances or conflicts.
I tried an exchange with a table some time ago, in New York City. But maybe it wasn’t the table you were asking for advice? You said the titles of your works were actually sites of writing. Maybe you weren’t alone.
When we first met to formalize our conversation, we talked about antagonisms. It’s something we both thought we’d been drawn to in our work. There was, however, an uneasiness about what forms they assume, their efficacy and purpose – whether they stood strangely in the current landscape in which we find each other.
A cigarette. Several shrieking, squabbling seagulls.
I’d say I’m happy being dissatisfied and talking about it. Not sour grapes, but resisting being sedated by that aforementioned spell. Anyway, my suspicions/intuitions were confirmed yesterday when, in Amsterdam, I took part in a seminar organized by If I Can’t Dance… In a presentation titled Testing Some Beliefs, Gregg Bordowitz read some poetry by gay African-American poets dealing with HIV/AIDS, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I think. The indignant and searing candor of the works produced words that moved and had voice. Regardless of the machinations he was employing with regard to “appropriation” (the theme of the seminar), or to those specific writers or works, he seemed to also be appropriating a certain political disposition that ran through both the works and his presentation-one I also associate with a certain political climate at the time. Anger. In those words, produced by these writers dealing with the AIDS crisis and race relations in the US, a really productive antagonism was enacted. The poems are amazing. I’d love to read or hear them more often…
Maybe we could ask them, Natalie, instead of just the hat?
At any rate they seemed to climb on, ambitiously, despite the slippery, oily nature of their skins and the fragility of the limbs that supported them.
Sometimes, in this seemingly unerring soup, one needs a pep talk.
Now, on the train, it’s moving fast through a thick evergreen forest that despite the illuminating snow has sucked the light from all around… I wanted a cigarette but Apple Dawn stopover lasted like three drags. Have to wait until the border.
I was trying to find an image of Magritte’s hat when I stumbled upon Carl Sandburg. A socialist poet from the US whose quote under an image read, “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment”. Anyway, this is also what I saw when I read that. Hat. Perhaps it’s better to think of that surreal lineage and the mind, rather than magic… Writing can be a strange and special exercise for the mind. And I figure that it’s somehow also the mind that makes objects.
Another activity at the seminar was to look at a work by Louise Lawler, It Is Something Like… (1998). The title of the work resides on the front of two colored postcards that sit in a plexiglas display case. Text on the back of the postcards reads “Putting Words In Your Mouth”. It struck me that this is what we’ve done with each other, putting our own texts into each other’s mouths. I’m not sure I’ve done yours justice, but that’s the difference between the reading mind and the writing one, I guess.
I’ve not really considered my writing to be poetry, as such. I’ve talked about “language costumes”. If it’s something you put on, or are dressed in, then it’s possibly easier to change the conditions of it, but maybe poetry doesn’t need changing. I’m not sure. Prose is also not right. I’ve had an aversion for conventions since I was much younger than I am now.
Two cigarettes at the border. Fox prints in the snow.
Setting*: A locus determined primarily by its function. That location, here, is an object that behaves as:
1) a platform designated for the performance of activities‚ both convivial and administrative.
2) a storage display structure that individuates and organises, other objects from the space around them.
Action: The aim is to liberate a vital structural component of this location and in so doing, endow this new object with a symbolic value – allow it to achieve a use value not predicated by those aforementioned functions.
Several Players will negotiate both the allegorical and physical problems the action proposes.
(1) Script/score for the performance 5 Stages Liberation Project, Gerry Bibby (2010)
Many were dropping like flies. Some of them with a doughy weightlessness akin to steamed buns. It could have been the march of age – the half-life of their cells beckoning a call to duty. It was becoming evident that the poison in the air prompted a shedding of hard-won delinquencies and a donning of professional monikers married with reproductive reflexes. There was the smell of fear on the breeze, excreted by a slowly bloating Capital.
(2) digestion, Gerry Bibby (2011)
Right now you are on a train to Amsterdam, for a performance. Perhaps you are writing as part of our correspondence, which we began yesterday evening. I’ve heard about your work more than I’ve actually seen it. I knew you before I knew what you were doing, and my first contact with your work was when several friends mentioned a connection or overlap between what the two of us were doing. Of course I’m curious. The most general filter that combines our ways of working is the use of one’s own texts within a visual/sculptural/performative practice. At the same time, such a comparison is a bit like the situation of the flies in your second text, which obviously talks about something else. Two flies, getting too close to the flame of simple identification and similarity, used as devices for ordering things into easy categories. One of the first things we talked about in that bar was the different nature of our texts, my focus on poetry as a form of observation or documentary device, and your use of various types of writing which you call “language costumes” to be activated in performances. So I’ll try on the costume suggested by this quote from your text, for a moment, assuming a role that might not have been in the score for its performance but could easily be one for a future performance of the same text, if I understood you correctly. At the same time, I will treat your text the way I treat my materials, texts and objects. I release them into a process for further interaction, where my focus right now lies on the moment of paralysis, the moment before potential meaning gets extracted, of confusion, of non-identification with a certain material, a proposed space to inhabit or a structure on display. All colors are offered and it still feels like someone else’s taste.
We try to get an initial understanding of where our common ground might more specifically be. We talk about some artists that interest us both, realizing that it is for different reasons and that we each refer to diverse aspects of their work. We talk about George Brecht, his chairs and his event cards, our use of furniture and Marcel Duchamp. You call his relationship to chance sadomasochistic. I recall a line from one of your poems describing the bend of a spine, to talk about my own interest in the first moment of discovery of a poem, and the violence or piercing embedded in this interaction with a text, when you plant your language into someone else ‘s brain. You say that the subject is discrete and free to decide how much to engage, and therefore the responsibility for this act of violence isn’t so great after all. I agree in a way, but at the same time I wonder if in daily life I am truly acting as a discrete subject.
To generate environments or installations and/or to involve collaborators in performances is a quite decisive step towards an awareness of the act of channeling and organizing perception, that of the performer and that of the viewer. While I read the score for your performance 5 Stages Liberation Project I remember the title of a piece I once did which was A situation of subtle control. I sense an investigation of similar questions here, regarding ways to redefine, escape or transform supposedly fixed structures by putting them on display and interacting with them. You even mention this in your score: “several players will negotiate both the allegorical and physical problems the action proposes." Of course, again, there is a different intention here, insofar as your focus lies on the physical interaction with the object and the different stages it passes through. I attach a kind of subjective consciousness to the objects which always remain partly in the world of ideas, attempting a kind of interactivity but also rejecting it. When your text is stuck to the object after the performance, the object has already been through some kind of narrative in interaction with the performer. My objects can come forth as untouchable, though made out of deliberately seductive materials. The art object often appears to me as a dying patient; only if connected to all kinds of machinery can it stay alive. The patient is kept alive for several reasons of external interest, external to the patient. Maybe I tend to emphasize this in sometimes annoying ways, where the objects I supply require a kind of special care, and if they don’t receive it one can watch them falling apart, whether it be through the use of liquids, organic matter like fruit, fragile materials, or unreliable old electronic devices. You say that you intend to be in a degree of control within your performances, also over the failures, so that what could be considered a failure is already included in the score. Whereas, once the “situation” is installed, I observe the loss of control.
It’s the next morning and I’m sitting at the kitchen table. Usually I
would work on some poems now. Today I continue our conversation. I
imagine you and try to remember what you said the other night. To
remember an artwork is a weird thing. Often there is an aspect one can
clearly envision, a certain detail remembered as intriguing, which under
closer observation might not even be how one had remembered it, but one
keeps thinking further, with this very aspect in mind. When I was
working on the pieces for Case Mod I kept thinking of George
Brecht’s crystal vitrines, those delicate glass boxes he built
especially for various kinds of crystals, with their names, or something
else, engraved into the glass. I think this work was referred to as a
project he was engaged in after he had decided to quit making art. I
also thought of Paul Thek’s glass boxes with body parts in them. I
somehow remembered the boxes as being sticky, covered all over with
silicone, but I couldn’t find any proof for this memory when I did an
image search. I think the reality of an artist’s work in other people’s
memory is quite interesting, discrete, as you called the subject.
This is another aspect of why I like this conversation where I get to
know your work in imagination. Our conversation is a recessed, imagined
one, similar to the objects in your performances. I am in the subway
now, leaving work to do a reading of my friend Ed’s new text. I think
about his dry delivery and how he used to be very nervous when reading,
and now when I asked if I could record him reading one of my poems, he
read it in one breath. I selected A very short SCIFI story:
“People will prefer to be objects soon./ We are heading towards it./ I
will resist,/ I want to be a subject./ Despite the obvious weakness of
the subject position/ I will never/ give up on it.” I am on the bus
again, to meet you at the very same bar where we met at the beginning of
our correspondence. It’s snowing really hard. You told me later that
night that you cut off one leg of a table for a piece you once did in
New York, and compensated for the instability caused by this act of
destruction by using a person’s weight sitting on the edge of the table
for the whole time. Broodthaers covered all remaining copies of his book
of poems Pense-Bête in plaster, as a gesture of transition from
poetry to the production of art objects, calling it “the idea of
inventing something insincere, finally”. I realize, when being excited
hearing you talk about what you did to the table, that what we seem to
certainly share is an interest in the liberating force of the migrating
thought, from brain to page, to object, to body, to brain, to action.
Originally published on Mousse 37 (February–March 2013)
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