In The Company of Flesh and Blood:
Approaching sincerity via poetry and art
It was a question of sincerity that, in 1964, prompted then-poet Marcel Broodthaers to announce that he was becoming an artist. For the first time in his life, he claimed, he wanted to make something insincere: ‘I, too, wondered whether I couldn’t sell something and succeed in life,’ he declared in the invitation to his first exhibition. ‘I had, for quite a little while, been good for nothing. I am nearly 40 years old […] The idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work at once.’ Broodthaers’s rhetoric doesn’t just suggest visual art’s compromised status, sold as a commodity or an instrument of the culture industry or institutions of state. It also implicitly elevates poetry as neither false nor hypocritical – an invention of the utmost integrity. Unlike artists, poets don’t (or can’t) sell out.
Whether you read Broodthaers’s words as prescient, cynical or naïve, variations on this debate still play out 50 years later. For example, in a recent panel discussion at the Audiatur poetry festival in Bergen, artist and publisher Jason Dodge (who is featured in this issue) remarked that, whereas the market for published poetry is non-existent in comparison, the vast amount of wealth circulating in the art economy has the potential to fuel all kinds of unscrupulous behaviour. Of course, exposure within an art context can help poets reach new and possibly more lucrative markets. During the same discussion – albeit on a somewhat different register – Italian Marxist theorist and art-camp follower Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi advocated for poetic ambivalence against capitalism’s ‘techno-linguistic automatisms’ and cynical attitudes that suppose ethical action to be impossible. While neither Dodge nor Berardi addressed sincerity explicitly, their comments nonetheless described a tendency to exalt the reading and writing of poetry as a possible counter to greed, disillusionment and meaninglessness – a resistant, if not altogether anti-capitalist, position. On the economic periphery, poetry makes the development of a renewed ethics possible, a solidary stance toward other human beings.
Parallelling these sentiments, poet and painter Etel Adnan, in ‘Letter to a Young Poet’ (a text commissioned in 2013 for the Serpentine Gallery), advises that when a person begins to write poetry, ‘you have put your life on the line […] not metaphorically, but in a kind of a tragic honesty’. Tragic, she cautions, because poetry is a sort of destiny; no one would actually choose such a difficult, impecunious existence. Reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s later writings on the Greek concept of parrhesia (or fearless speech), Adnan paints a compelling picture: a young poet embarks on a hero’s journey, and is saved precisely because he or she is damned.
As someone who came to poetry through working as an artist, I’m sympathetic to these ideas. It’s emboldening – although ultimately misguided – to think that writing poetry is a critical solution (if anything, it opens more questions). It’s advantageous to imagine that the reading and writing of poetry can constitute a kind of linguistic rupture in the central nervous system of contemporary capital. Indeed, this emergent politics likely gives a partial account for the enthusiasm with which artists have rediscovered poetry in recent years. The contemporary art world has shown a renewed interest in concrete poetry and ‘conceptual poetics’, fostered in part by Kenneth Goldsmith, poet and founder of the internet archive UbuWeb, as well as the inclusion of work by poets such as Adnan, Susan Howe, Eileen Myles and Ariana Reines in the most recent Whitney Biennial (the latter two as part of the contribution by the publisher Semiotext(e)). While it’s heartening to imagine a multitude of readers experiencing the challenges and thrills of poetic language, I hesitate. Especially when I see exhibition announcements written in confessional fragments or elliptical free verse.
Since William Wordsworth’s claim in 1802, in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, that ‘poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’, the demand for a coextensivity between avowal and sentiment has become, if not a major poetic value, then at least a premise whose popular acceptance remains contested. In a series of lectures from 1970 titled Sincerity and Authenticity, literary critic Lionel Trilling argued that sincerity as a dominant literary standard had been replaced by a ‘more exigent conception of the self and of what being true to it consists in’. In other words: authenticity. Whereas sincerity can be motivated by social norms and relationships – such as considering the demands of another, a public, a market – authenticity emerges instead from the imperative to be true to oneself. (Obviously, as Trilling himself was aware, the ideal of authenticity produces its own norms, such as nonconformity and idiosyncrasy). Marshalled against things like academicism, intertextuality and appropriation, sincerity in writing often appears as an ethical stance of emotional honesty, fidelity to individual experience, and transparent, demotic speech: expressions of one’s being and sensibility. Of course, the way individuals read and appropriate text is partly how a sense of self is constructed. Think of how we receive, interpret and restate different cultural ‘texts’ on topics such as gender, class and race. Boundaries between something like self-realization and external, normative prompts are fluid. Even Wordsworth admitted that poets must occasionally ‘slip into an entire delusion’ while writing.
As a qualitative measure, sincerity also runs aground. It would badly miss the point, for example, to question the sincerity of artist and poet Jimmie Durham’s ‘I Want You to Hear These Words About Jo Ann Yellowbird (Ars Poetica)’ (undated), an elegy for the Native American activist who committed suicide after a police officer’s kick to her stomach caused the stillbirth of her child. On another level, measuring the sincerity of a text by an artist and writer such as Caroline Bergvall, whose work often deals with etymology and changes in language use over time, doesn’t really make sense given the complex historical and performative concerns embedded within it. These kinds of failings are, perhaps, also why today the word ‘poem’ tends to resonate with more dubious ones such as ‘unsophisticated’ or ‘escapist’ or, somewhat less harshly, ‘quirky’, ‘romantic’ and ‘sentimental’. Certainly, many writers lumped under the new sincerity moniker, such as Dorothea Laskey and Tao Lin, can read this way. Others, instead, offer sincerity not as an end but as a means – a lifestyle urging readers to ‘be more awesome’ because ‘you only live once’.
Counter to such practices, the sincerity that I’m interested in makes itself felt as both a rhetorical value and as a mode of address: to paraphrase Wordsworth ‘from one speaker to another’. In this sense, it’s useful to think through how sincerity is modulated, especially in contemporary art, where it tends to appear as both disavowal and appropriation. As in the work of Broodthaers, whose status as an ex-poet tacitly authorized his artistic work, sincerity is full of contradictions, inducing linguistic slippage and opening poetic fault lines. It can even become ironic, as it did during the opening of the exhibition ‘Poetry will be made by all!’, recently on view at the LUMA Foundation in Zurich and organized by Goldsmith, Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist as part of the 89+ project. This two-day event comprised a series of readings by an array of artists and writers from the ‘generation of innovators born in or after 1989’, as well as their older and more established counterparts. Among the younger group of invitees, American artist Dena Yago’s reading was the most overtly sceptical. Wearing an outfit printed with the word ‘SALE’, Yago read poems from her forthcoming book, Ambergris (2014), that she had printed out and affixed to unopened plastic food wrappers, including bags of organic salad and leafy green vegetables. While suggesting that her own writing rests squarely on the surface of things, Yago’s performance also comically rebuked the links to freshness, wholesomeness and even purity that her participation represented. More poignantly, however, Yago – who is also part of the trend-forecasting group K-HOLE – hinted at what is at stake in contemporary art events such as these: namely, the reduction of poetry to a label, a brand, a sign-value.
Admittedly, the art world isn’t wholly to blame for this reductivism. Much can be attributed to the spread, during the last decade or so, of the aforementioned ‘conceptual poetry’ practices that, like conceptualism in visual art, tend to give preference not to the solitary act of reading but rather to devising systems, distribution channels and virtuosity in performance.
In a rebuttal of such moves, German artist, poet and co-founder of American Books, Natalie Häusler, envisions a poem’s performance not as a demonstration of the author’s individual expertise, but as a readerly agency that is given form when spoken aloud. Seldom performed live, Häusler’s poems are typically heard as looped recordings within an exhibition context, either embedded in individual works or as part of a larger installation; the readers are acquaintances and friends who are identifiable only by the sound of their voices (and sometimes their initials). Yet, while composed with others’ voices in mind, Häusler’s poems don’t read like instruction works or scores. Her long poem ‘Impressionisme’ (2013), for example – a 12-hour sound piece featuring several readers from various places around the world – is a quasi-phenomenological investigation that employs a straightforward, descriptive style. Shifting between English, French and German, it is personal and contemplative, containing passages such as: ‘I leave a trace on the ground. I am / breathing, changing therefore the air around me. / All of this is happening at any moment, at least. / Er sagt in seiner Antwort auf den Rilke Text: / «Dieser Malte ist…» Parisis Passes «einfach nur / ein Kleinbürger.» Auch ich bin, denke ich dann, / eine Kleinbürgerin. Nyami 54 passes.’ While listening to the recording, one hears the non-German speakers tentatively making their way through this passage. Conversely, one can also hear the German speakers negotiating with the Englishand French. Being myself a speaker of neither German or French, I receive them mostly as rhythm and tone. Despite its plain address, Häusler’s work calls attention to the slippages of the voice and the poem’s non-denotative meanings, the ways it is re-authored when it comes into contact with different readers. As happens with the names of the passing tourist boats that recur throughout the poem (such as Parisis and Nyami54 in the excerpt above), attention is paid to what takes place when a statement is displaced – when it moves through a foreign context, whether a language or a body.
Indeed, as the Swedish artist and poet Karl Larsson writes in his book Parrot (2010), ‘to a certain extent / an assumed body / (like an exotic bird) / can hold almost any argument / it can be the screen of endless projections’. Also playing with notions of displacement and assumed identity (it was Larsson’s first book written in English), Parrot is both reverent and irreverent, a three-part poem on the artistic work of Broodthaers and, more generally, the application of literary methodology to artistic practice. Austere both in its language and design, Larsson’s book is nevertheless dense with historical and literary references, appropriated text and echoes of the Belgian artist. However, Larsson’s parrot doesn’t speak nonsense; it doesn’t just mimic, make allusions or (half-jokingly) point toward absence. No, this parrot is also serious; it has something to say. But how can such a bird speak for itself? Later on, in the same passage, Larsson provides one answer: ‘it takes a long time / to learn the obvious / and to agree / with the standpoint / that poetry emanates / from silence / when casual living suggests / that all things become / what they are / by being spoken of / parrot / body of words.’
Clearly, the assumed body to which the poem refers is that of poetry itself. Here, poetry does not figure as a conceptual construct or an indiscriminate host for whatever utterance. Rather, in a continual state of emergence, poetry must always find its own form. That is, it not only insists on its materiality and presence, but also on its inheritance as a product of reading. Lines such as ‘To be a poet is to be literal / unaffected by allegory and metaphor / just like a beast / myopic and bad’, while undermining the poet’s visionary status and claims to moral authority, also suggest that, as a way of doing and making, poetry is not always transcendent, but very much implicated in the present – however mundane, messy or impure that may be. Indeed, in the last of the book’s three sections, ‘Torrent’, Larsson reminds us that the concept of sincerity was once used to denote a measure of purity in things and not people: ‘sine (without) / cera (wax) / and the wonders of the hand that gives, / the hand that takes / sculptors / of ancient Greece or Rome / who were skilled enough / not to use wax / to cover the flaws / in their work / sincerity.’ A sculpture can be considered sincere when all its faults appear deliberate. The sincere artist, far from being naïve, is a master of craft.
If sincerity can emerge through style and skilful performance, then this aspect, whether in art or poetry, does not merely take shape with reference to the tragic honesty of self or its ethical coherence. Rather, it gains definition through the complex relationship between author and reader. This is one of sincerity’s most compelling contradictions and, as Trilling pointed out, one of its most enduring problems. It’s also what Broodthaers was saying in his announcement. And Wordsworth too, each time he slipped into delusion. In order to address an outside, artists and poets alike have to break with our identities and speak beyond ourselves; we need spaces and occasions for it. I’m interested in these margins. I’ll seek them in the company of flesh and blood.
First published in FRIEZE, Issue 164Jun - Aug 2014
Read the article here:
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)
Find the article here:
What a mess. When I walked into Natalie Häusler’s solo show Case Mod
at Supportico Lopez, Berlin in January, I expected to find the work I’d
seen on the gallery’s website. The installation shots of monika/subway (floor piece)
(2012) promised a neat grid of cardboard tiles, painted in bright
acrylic colours and covering the gallery’s main floor. By the time I
arrived, the tiles were wildly scattered and marred by dusty footprints.
Häusler had fastidiously positioned them but failed to use glue. The
mingling of guests at the opening had displaced them over the course of
the evening. The most beaten footpath near the entrance bore the brunt
of the destruction while tiles near the walls were untrampled. As an
itinerary, monika/subway started as a grid of happy shades, only to end
up mapping visitor traffic. But it was disturbing to see in one fell
swoop this gradual accumulation of movement, which suggested a disaster
and its victims, say, or the path of a tornado and the stampede of
people escaping. Only then did it occur to me that a twister in
slow-motion might look like a ballet of objects. And that Häusler’s
installation might be about measuring movement, speed, duration – a kind
of action painting in an expanded field.
This field includes not only installations and painting but also poetry,
which – since she fuses all three – allows for the different actions of
exhibiting, writing, reading, recitation and listening. By 2011,
Häusler – who was born in Munich and moved to Berlin in 2012 after two
years in New York (the first on a DAAD grant) – had earned an MFA
from Bard College and a Meisterschüler degree from Braunschweig, both
in painting. The same year, she also co-founded the poetry press AMERICAN BOOKS
with poets Ed Steck and Brett Price. The first publication
Solicitations (2012) – with contributions from 35 artists and writers
– was published last July. The first of Häusler’s poems to appear in her
art – LOSS – LUST
I in her eponymous installation-performance staged at Bard in 2010 –
was printed on foolscap, read aloud by two friends and then scattered
across the installation, like salt on soup. The poem – partly in German,
mostly in English – cites a 1920 letter by Franz Kafka, persuading his
beloved Milena Jesenská that they can see each other better in writing
than through actually meeting. Häusler adds her takes on opacity and
knowledge in the relation between the artist, the work and its viewers:
‘to reveal your process makes you vulnerable’. As her friends read her
poem, Häusler spilled ink on the installation’s fabrics and booklets,
which recalled Rorschach tests and censorship; interpretation and
illegibility. Since then, her poems have appeared in other materials
beyond paper and measure other actions beyond recitation. For Ann (rising) (2012) – an installation for the display windows of Motto bookstore in Berlin – included fragments of her poem BED (2012) printed on champagne glasses, themselves broken into shards. Other installations like A situation of subtle control/ inward-outward gaze (2011) and We are getting a little bit too close here (still life)
(2012) – shown last year at Kunsthalle Ravensburg for the +6|2012
Shortlist Columbus Art Award – feature poems printed on table-like
surfaces. Yet the words look distorted, as if they were floating in
water or reflected in a funhouse mirror. Häusler likes such effects of
movement, perhaps as a textual take on drip painting, and light palettes
that combine colours while keeping them distinct: tiles, screensavers,
watercolours, stained glass. Case Mod featured eight broken
pieces of stained glass hanging in a row on one wall; each piece was
adorned with a poem printed on tracing paper along with an out-dated MP3
player. One could read the poems, like CASINO
in aykan/casino (2013), or listen to them on the earphones – at least
until the batteries died. The show included yet another measure of
duration: the book WATERCOLOURS (2012) traces a year of Häusler’s email correspondence, including illustrations, with fellow artist David Horvitz.
– who begins a six-month residency at Paris’s Cité des Arts in May –
may have turned to poetry to avoid using language as elucidation, which
sinks so many of today’s post-conceptual and research-based works. Her
poetic brand of expanded action painting ends up emphasizing, not her
actions, but how viewers may wear down art through interpretation or
even their physical presence. What pilgrims trust they shall encounter (Advanced Morandi Effect / Mere Exposure Effect)
(2012), shown at Supportico Lopez last year, included a table of
drinking glasses, crowded together and brimming with water. As I
approached the work, my footsteps made the glasses tremble, visibly and
audibly. As I moved closer, they chattered like teeth, as if the
prospect of contact were terrifying.
Find the article here:
Case Mod, Mixed media, Installation view Supportico Lopez, Berlin, 2013 (Courtesy: the artist, Photograph: Hans-Georg Gaul)
Combining sound, painting, text, and sculptural elements, Natalie
Häusler’s latest exhibition, “Case Mod,” blurs the division between
engaging with an artwork sensorially and approaching it cerebrally.
Spreading across the gallery’s floor is a Color Field painting
consisting of cardboard tiles washed in vibrant acrylic paint. Titled
Subway/Monika (floor piece) (all works 2012), the piece evokes the
Emergency Broadcast System image that used to flash across
television screens. Hung on the gallery wall are ten sculptures:
Each is made of broken stained glass and consists of shelves on
which an MP3 player and speakers play sound tracks featuring the
voices of the artist’s friends reciting poetry she has penned herself.
In order to hear each poem, one must lean in—but the edges of
each piece are sharp, acting almost as warnings not to get too
close. The texts of the respective poems are printed on transparent
paper and draped over the top of each shelf, softening the boundaries
of the shelves and almost turning them into works of concrete poetry.
The title of the show comes from case modification, the practice of altering
the chassis of a computer hard drive in an attempt to show off some special
or unique feature. While the only thing being modified in the gallery is the
floor, and then only nonpermanently, the works in this exhibition activate
the viewer’s capacity to transform a complex of sound, text, and art into his
or her own artistically enjoyable experience.
January 11–February 16
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Natalie Häusler’s installation Case Mod
(from: Case Modification) exacts from the gallery space a field in which
intimate and reciprocal encounters between audience and art practice
are put to the test. Häusler compiles a situation, combining several
elements derived from a simultaneity of studio and writing practice.
Emerging forms, in this case, watercolor, sculpture and poetry, query
whether they can uphold their fragilities and force of expression when
exposed to the viewer and to each other. They articulate their mutuality
when arranged in the exhibition space, producing crosscuts and
intimacies, of visual, written and audio material, as well as of object
and spectator / reader / listener. The audience becomes belated witness of
the art practice as such, which the installation at once showcases and
archives. Yet the present moment is highlighted, as the visitors leave
their own marks on the piece, subtly shifting the color palette or
destroying it altogether. Audio recordings of the voices of close
friends, who are practicing artists and writers, reciting the poems,
track down their intimate reception by an audience that is involved in
both activities, production and reception. They capture the moment of
surprise, when the poem was read for the first time. The intimacy of
this contact is shared with the passing visitor, who must come close to
the audio shelf, to be able to hear the individual reading. These
shelves, each of which is cut and built from one sheet of stained glass,
and customized for its assigned set of outmoded electronic equipment,
serve as seductive support and hazardous repellant at the same time. The
temporary construction of a space of this kind is part of Häusler’s
inquiry of forms of intimacy, risk, close contact with the material, and
inclusion to question modes of reception.
11 January – 16 February 2013
Supportico Lopez, Berlin
July 17-24, 2011
Red Hook, NY
Bard MFA Thesis Exhibition
Bard’s MFA Thesis show proved worth the hot, dusty trip to the UBS gallery in Red Hook, NY—a pole barn transformed into a sizable exhibition space. The show featured all twenty-six members of the 2011 graduating class working with, and between, the mediums of drawing, installation, painting, photography, sculpture, text, and video.
Natalie Häusler’s work would typically be identified as installation, however the artist conceived of her thesis project as a type of expanded-field painting. For the piece We are getting a little bit too close here, the artist examined interior design and architecture, borrowing marks and color palettes from tiles as well as cropped graphic forms found in educational institutions. Covering constructed walls, flooring, and shelves, her gridded and layered composition remains within, and strays outside of, self-prescribed bounds. Using disparate mediums such as laser prints, fabric, vinyl tiles, and acrylic paint, Häusler draws attention to the surfaces of these physical structures, while simultaneously delving into illusionistic space. Ultimately, the piece exhibits its own self-consciousness—calling attention to its context as an institutional site of art education.
A selection from Chris Austin’s Notations project, on display in a dedicated room, belongs to a highly sculptural strain of contemporary photography. The project draws from an archive of 501 black and white photographs shot at the artist’s childhood home in Chicago over the past seven years. An image of the backyard, Untitled, is the largest and most prominent. In it, a central form that appears to be both static and moving is shrouded in black cloth and surrounded by fallen leaves, barren tree branches, and a blank white sky. Other smaller pieces in the series are multiple-exposure amalgams of shots taken from different vantage points inside of the house—the additive results of 27, 35, 59, or all 501 photographs generate curious and minimal geometric forms. The blurriness of their edges and status as abstraction supports Austin’s aim—to create a kind of prosthesis for memory, while delving into the murky space between what is tangible and intangible. He trades in mystery and obscurity, resisting full disclosure of his subject matter. The aesthetic is dark and ominous, presenting memory, time, and space as unknowable, otherworldly specters.
Reminiscent of Postminimalist Gordon Matta-Clark’s (and more recently, Monica Bonvicini’s) propensity for breaking surfaces or slicing through architecture, Adam Marnie enacts smaller, serial acts of aesthetic destruction that engage both the mechanisms of photography and the languages of sculpture and painting. In the main UBS gallery, his Camera Incidere spans four walls spaced at set intervals. Together, the walls and the artworks hung on them manipulate the distance between a windowed roll-gate and a large photo-collage at the back of the room. Each of the intermediary walls are linked by mounted drawings and photographs that breach their own frames, display constructed fissures in drywall, and allow the viewer to gaze through aperture-like peep-holes. The work changes according to the conditions of the gallery—the amount of light at a given time of day alters the overall effect. As its title reveals, the piece is, in part, an investigation of optics and the act of looking. Given that “incidere” means to incise, affect, or record, it is as if Marnie has materialized the impact of light—leaving its imagined, forceful trace on sequential partitions.
Some of the most promising works in this thesis exhibition displayed a resistance to, and questioning of, the confines of one primary medium of choice. Amongst many Bard alums, there is a long-standing joke that its best photographers are sculptors, and vice-versa. In this year’s culminating presentation, these three artist standouts resoundingly supported the claim. -Kristen Chappa
There is some fruit on the table. It is arranged specifically in order of the absent individual’s preference of taste. The absent individual has left the table. The originating point of preference of taste has been lost. The fruit is simply on the table.
A swath of color inhabits black presence – pure toner – in collapsible movement. A template of encompassment separates the leaning of remote embodiment into the act of containment. It is a strand of shifting frequencies. It is a crumpling of experienced language – synthetic in its mechanical output, pure in its own authorial extinguishing. It is a preservation of what is extinguishable, what can be spoiled. It is in layers.
The fluid stretch across planes shifting levels positions the viewer within a mixture of expired moments, a memory, sensory details and objects (the fruit, the poem, the mechanics). A wash of bits spectrally marks the material with a possession simultaneously grounding and hypnotic. Liquid tension eliminates all borders. The space is inhabited by a pure tone of recently uprooted foundation – it is a sea of process, slicked into activity only accountable to those who wander into it or away from it. The uneven flow of practical and chemical pressure mimics fictionalized cerebral tides.
How could the mecha-luminosity of a fabricated landscape stimulate unforeseen fluid outcomes from the viewer?
The surface is the viewer’s mirror. What is placed, left, or forgotten on the surface stares back in its permanence. The surface absorbs any sensory detail and eliminates its immediate resonance. An invisible barrier between the space between the user and the surface isolates any momentary sensation, as if an absent individual had laid a thin cloth over the surface, able to mouthed, touched, or dipped but unable to finally soak through.
Memorial taste is an eclipse of
an often-sought trigger of malignant
The user enters the space. The space is constantly reconstructed – constantly concrete – to conform to an integral landscape of inner-alienation, not an establishment: a foreground that is complimented only by the presence of the inhabitant. Each entrance is an interaction of a collapsed/contained sensory simulation. Each entrance constructs an isolated sensory cohesion: the invisible physicality of language mends the space between material and surface. Language adds an extramarital atmospheric space between the user and the work. It is thick.
The absence of an actual present foundation is the participatory willingness of the user to enter the frozen moment of the work. The surface is only the remaining acute sensory detail that has purged reactionary presence from motivated execution into the stuck object.
There is a thick atmosphere permeating the residual space. There is a thick atmosphere situating the residual space. There is a thick atmosphere permeating the residual space situating the user within it. The user meshes the thin fabrics of atmospheric presence and visible space. The ability for all of this material, space, and inhabitance to deconstruct is possible through the reconstruction of what was constructively shed in the initial experience. It is then a string of alienated incidents: a footstep in shavings, a light alternating spatial majority into cornered sectors of a room, a long layer of silk, a mockery, a warped spiral of snapshot-language specifically filtered through a single linguistic lens, a piece of fruit next to a poem, a jellyfish, a motion of form through light-scanned repetition, a high resolution handrail into corners of full color, and a copy. It creates columns to support the space – an umbrella of impressions made on surfaces. It all becomes pigment washing over textile.
The moment when associative memory
spurs: the surface, handled and
The fruit – in all of its generic austerity – sinks into the surface. An arrangement is observed (not constructed) as if taste could obscure a palette. The fruit materializes spectrally. Its insignificance matched only by its tepid appearance within the thin toner membrane. The lush innards of the fruit remain unearthed in a two-dimensional stasis. The eminent rot, spoiling, and unsavory deflation of the fruit is eliminated. Its taste is put on reserve. Its iconography stabilized. It’s holding.
A preservative of optional chance: the numbered, marketable object potentially guiding the viewer to a mouthwatering stupor.
At the unmet corners, if deflated, the collapsed prints would bracket and smear derivative colors into isolated swabs. A nod (or nodding) to instant technical reproduction scales a wall in series. A ground cut of institutional layering – the kind that keep feet moving – is housed without paste, replenishing their loss of solidity with a new touch. The hand reconstructs formatted copies of encountered landscapes in an established touch offering a droll plastering of splintered spectrum among myriads of alternating grayscale.
Is the intrusion of sensory-connective color into the dry-dusted compression of foundational dominion blissful? It is the mechanical imitation of quickly seen color fading out of motion that is captured post-productively and remembered as signifiers of lived moments, as if it is a lullaby to the creation of these forms in the apparatus. It is an often interruption.
What about a piece of fruit?
A regular object placed inside irregular
intervals of process glides smoothly
An austere gesture is hidden within cavalcades of collapse. An austere gesture is a pattern of the unnecessary inhabitant within a compilation. The strict embedment of specific flagged chapters of a crumpled systemic organization is treading bureaucratic water pushing. The austere gesture is revealed in the sketch of order – the incomplete wandering of development, or the inalienable initiative of light movement, burying significance in reductive progression.
The user is getting too close to the branding of the institution here. The user doubles when an echo reflects surfaces into the language generated from the reading of the text – a separation from presentation and consumption. The generated text differs from the language generated from the reading. This movement of generations from pigmented depiction to faux-marbled buoyancy lapses transference of recognizable material. The copy of architecture or text fogs out the sincerity of a claustrophobic space, malfunctioning as if the compiled couplings could be parsed out, uncoupled, and filed appropriately.
A layer of orange tiles asks surfaces to
mimic pages facing the viewer, facing
Pure toner – the liquid wash of the aliened individual present in mechanics – recalls the interruption of a clean perception. The distortion had yet to retract synaptic shavings of sight, had yet to reconfigure the shards of shattered optical formations, had yet to disrupt adhered tile, had yet to envision the slow melt of a liquefied grid, and had yet to concrete the confusion of error within the mechanics of execution.
Layers of the work are strict in their methods of execution – mechanical, individual, and circular. The layers loop, circling content, creating a myriad of subject matters – a mix of falling definition distorted by the presence of delay. The layer that is alien – brighter and late in the replication process – is the layer of the user’s experience. It is folded politely within the residual space of everything else.
The loop in the execution returns the user to the wash of it all. It lapses transparency over an unsinkable sensory response to cover oneself with it all – to continuously converse limbs into repetitions of predictive copies of what continuously conversing limbs would be if these limbs would structuralize. This rendering of possible moving limbs is a mirroring of the user within the function of the loop – the reflection of the individual within the pure toner.
The surface as an absence/or the
usable territory facing pages and
pages rerouting absence together.
Facing walls in color/thin sheets in
faint mockery reshape publications
of opening air, the last factor exits.
The surface translucently transfers/
a solid haunt mechanizes availability
for physical visibility inter-relations.
Facing walls, like ink/there is an
exchange of use facing pages and
pages reusing absence for absence.
Natalie Haeusler’s work is the immobile, penultimate faction of an object’s unnatural extinction from memory. The material has become unknown to the body encapsulating its perception. The real is extracted from the source of abstraction – it marinates within a myriad of time that is being shuffled and warped into an uneasy permanence (like a jellyfish within architecture). It is a fluid source – a liquid gesture – that permeates through the work, sheathing its spectral gleam into folds of mechanical process. Within this fluidity, the course of known or speculated settlement is listless. It has become a functionless image of the object’s presence mirroring its own abstraction’s source of emulation. The memory is now an alien shading of prior handling floating over emulated surfaces.
Or: a piece of fruit.
Or: something else.
Or: a weighted liquid displaced and suddenly caught within the machine, placing it amongst scaled reproductions of architecture, forgotten arenas, and the inevitable damp staining of lingering fluid.
Or: the personalized extraction of the original user (content developer) enveloped within the transforming surfaces of the authorized surface configuration. Colors shift underneath as printed darkened pastels merge with institutional tiling in a momentary collision scattered to fragmentary introductions.
Or: the feeling of being lost, simply.
Or: the toner of the mind’s eye, one could say.
Or: a collection of fruit and a reproduction of a collection of fruit in a temperature-controlled room.
Or: the endless assumption of ever-elsewhere trimming the inner-surface of any temporal space. An extra-capsular abyss below the pigment is forging experience, place, gesture, and process into a wash of processional faux-marbled bliss.