Wednesday, May 16, 2007
There's a recurring narrative if you choose to accept it as such. "Toge," something that functions as an actor in several of the pieces, provides a bit of continuity. It is impossible to deny that further continuity comes from the fact that the individual poems are all torn from the same novel. Other than that, I feel that the work is extremely scattered, and while the aleatoric nature of the book leads to meaning-slippage and cerebral high jinks, it's not for me the pinnacle of artistic enterprise.
To me, it feels as if the piece was a great idea that had to be gotten done before someone else took it. It's interesting to this end that the webpage offers newer renditions of the poems. In one way this is progressive. It provides a space for poetry that is dynamic, susceptible to change. On the other it may suggest that Phillips could have held off on publishing the work until he was completely satisfied with it.
It's rather pretentious, in my mind, that Phillips constructs phrases throughout the piece such as "now the arts connect" and "here is art" (7,8), when the mixing of visual and verbal has been prevalent since the dawn of advertising and freeform typefaces. I think A Humument is a little gimmicky for such grandiose suggestions.
My gripes aside, the piece does end up humorous at turns. These moments are for me the highest points of its success. Here, parody works and draws attention to the distinctions between the page and the reader, reevaluating inside and outside and the sacredness of the text. It seems necessary that the thing be taken lightly like that, because all told it's not that much more extraordinary than refrigerator poetry on top of blackened margins.
One of the most striking series of works in this anthology was the collage postcards by John Ashbery. I am not too familiar with Ashbery’s work, so I cannot speculate on the author’s intended meaning. However, the postcards do function in a particular way for me.
One of the things I noticed immediately upon looking at these postcards was the bizarre juxtapositions of incompatible objects—a free-floating heading pasted on top of a cactus, a cat head on top of a fountain, a cartoon dog next to the statue of liberty, and so forth. Many of the postcards also have anachronistic elements. For example, the last collage of the series is of a Victorian looking arm holding a wine glass pasted over an image of a rural town. This piece also draws my attention to the contrast between the civilized and uncivilized. The hand delicately grips the glass in an almost aristocratic manner, while the rural background suggests rustic naivety and simplemindedness.Another striking piece is the one on page 139. The tension depicted in this piece is between chaos and control. An ecstatic-looking man occupies the center of piece. His expression is almost manic. His mouth is gaped, he has no shoes on and it is obvious that he is in a jumping position. He appears to be in the middle of an unfettered act of defiance. This is also supported by the fact that he is wearing a suit and is obviously engaging in deviant behavior. Beneath him are waves crashing against rocks. In the background of the top left corner of the postcard is an image of religious stained-glass windows. The religious elements suggest control, austerity, and prudishness. Conversely, the man and waves suggest chaos, disorder, and deviance.
I read the Humument cover-to-cover a while ago, but I don’t remember too many details about the content.
However, I feel that the concept of the book itself can be related to post-structuralist ideas of authorial control as well as Lacanian linguistic concepts. The post-structuralists assert that the author does not have control over the meaning of a text once it is produced. Texts function as a sort of autonomous object that can produce infinite meanings. Tom Phillips seems to be toying with this idea by taking a text and deliberately alternating in a way that produces a different meaning. By doing this he is de-centering and destabilizing meaning itself. Tom also denies the author total control of a text by using the novel to create a new text.
Similarly, Lacan thought that there was no continuity between the signifier and signified. There is always a failure of signs to achieve their proper meaning because there is no direct or innate relationship between the signifier and signifier. By altering a Victorian novel, the Humument draws our attention to the inability for the original ‘sign’ (A Human Document) to achieve its ‘proper’ meaning (the original plot of the text). The ambiguity of the Humument is also a reflection of the disconnection between signifier and signified.
The most intriguing aspect of this collection, for me, was the concept of its physical/textual transformation from nineteenth-century novel, into a modern exploration of visual poetry - primarily through means of one artist recycling another's work. In using W. H. Mallock's "A Human Document" as his base, Tom Phillips' reworking of the text is reminiscent of the inherently circular nature of creativity. And what does Phillips' reworking of the original text imply? How does it contribute to the meaning and themes of the original text? Also, the book's focus on the visual quality of each page/poem, and the way each poem conveys a different and spontaneous subject, distracts from the quality and meaning of the actual poetry. The poems are often disjointed and unclear, lacking many of the qualities prized in "good" poetry. In the abscence of impressive poetry, the detailed and vibrant images of the collection are emphasized. The images seem to be seperate from the poetry itself, lending no further imagery or illustration to the poem it encloses. Overall, I found this ambitious collection to be an interesting and visually stimulating read, but lacking in an overarching, coherent theme.
This post is actually by Rebecca Weaver....
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I finally figured out how to post.
This is exciting.
I guess I should talk about Humament, which is probably the most amazing thing I've flipped through in a long while. This book helped me understand the real meaning behind visual poetry. To be honest, before reading this book, I had a hard time deciphering between "good" and "not so good" visual poetry, which is necessary to know before attempting to WRITE visual poetry. Humament defines visual poetry for me in two ways:
first, the form itself is a critique of the "word on the page," taking the most loaded and self-aware genre of writing, victorian prose, and simplifying it to "the best words in their best order," a poem. Using the empty space left after editing the text, visual art, in this case paintings, fuse the gaps between the words. Visual poetry, then, is not poetry with words, it is the written word combined with visuals as one complete art form.
Secondly, what makes Humament so integral in my understanding of visual poetry is the fact that if needed, these poems could stand alone without the visuals. I understand visual poetry as poetry ENHANCED by visuals, and hopefully not the other way around. What I have categorized as "bad" or less well crafted visual poetry seems to consist of kitchy objects simply decorated with words.
I guess to summarize, the difference between good and not so well crafted vis. poetry lies in the difference between creative and cleaver art. Humament is of course, the former.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
I found the artwork fitting in some cases and empty in others, but I think it was the variation of style that caught me. The artwork either echoed the themes of the poetry on the page or stood silent to let the words speak for themselves. Pleasing to the eye, but rarely as stimulating as some of the poetry.
Overall, when I first laid my hands on the book I was excited. It had the guise of the masterpiece I had been waiting for all my life because it is tediously creative and beautiful. But with a second and third glance through it’s glossy pages, I began to understand it more for its purpose which I believe (sorta) to be, rewriting history in a politically, socially, climactic time as the 1970s. Stenciling over the Victorian age itself with a breathe of ingenuity and fantastic art in most of it’s pages.