Garage Cosmos – Bruxelles
02 April – 01 May 2022
Pierre Albert-Birot, Art & Language (Michael Baldwin et Mel Ramsden), Jean-François Bory, Marcel Broodthaers, Bob Brown, Francesco Cangiullo, ‘Pascalino’ Cangiullo, Anne-Catherine Caron, Lewis Carroll, Henri Chopin, André du Colombier, Jean Crotti, Stephan Czerkinsky, Gilles Deleuze, Serge Vandercam et Christian Dotremont, Peter Downsborough, Marcel Duchamp, François Dufrêne, Alexandre Gherban, Jean-Pierre Gillard, Corrado Govoni, Raymond Hains, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Isidore Isou, James Joyce, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marcel Mariën, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, E.L.T. Mesens, Bruno Munari, Paul Nougé, Paul Van Ostayen, Présence Panchounette, Dominique Rappez, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Roland Sabatier, Alain Satié, Éric Satie, Jacques Spacagna, Tato, Oriol Villanova, Bernard Villers, Lawrence Weiner.
Influence of writers on the visual arts in the 19th and 20th centuries until today
The path which connects the artists in this exhibition traces a red thread, one described by Marc Partouche in his eponymous book La ligne oubliée (The Forgotten Line). These artists have most often escaped the vigilance of the general public. The end of the nineteenth century has seen the appearance of numerous pre-Dadaist art movements such as the Incoherents and other Fantaisistes, Fumistes, Hirsutes, Jarry and his pataphysics, La Bohème and its artists who have no artworks, but are not failed artists. Their presence is the anchor point for a new tradition and their manifestations are their contribution to the idea of a continuity in the forms of marginality and rupture in art. Our aim is to raise the incomprehension facing the unexpected, considered inappropriate positioning of the artists of the forgotten line to which this echoes a quote from Broodthaers, which reminded me of a recent email I received from Jacques André, who sent me the transcription of Broodthaers’s interview for the Robert Jones prize, which dates to the year 1974, of which here is an extract:
“M.B.: …and all I can say is that my earlier work is not picked up by the artistic audience although it persists in my opinion and likewise according to a few very rare friends. It is as if the public refused to perceive this aspect.
Question: It may be because you have added the form to the letter and that the public you are addressing is used to the form and not to the letter?
M.B.: Yes, but it should be the same.”
This reflects the complexity of a situation already raised by the young Gautier. He wanted to be a painter before embracing the career of a writer. If “the page has been blackened, the canvas has remained white”. Thereafter, canvas and page were combined, one nourished the other, Gautier again noted:
“This interference of art in poetry has been and still remains one of the characteristic signs of the new School, and allows us to understand why its first adopters were recruited amongst artists rather than writers. […] The sphere of literature has widened and now encloses the sphere of art in its immense orb.”
(In Théophile Gautier, Histoire du Romantisme, Éditions d’aujourd’hui, Plan de la Tour, 1978, p.18, a republication in keeping with the posthumous book published in 1877 by G. Charpentier.)
An interference of art in poetry, but also of literature in art. Moreover, it is books, over the course of republications and updates by artists with ancient affinities, which are back on the map. Thus Marcel Broodthaers:
“I think that the nineteenth century in general is much more interesting than ours, in the sense that we really discovered new forms of expressions that we are, in fact, only applying today. What also comes from this opinion is that – I believe that history – in art, in literature, and perhaps the other one as well – we have started on a road that is turning backwards. I have the impression that, from a certain point onward, time started to turn back.”
(An interview with Sélim Sasson, May 1968 quoted in Marcel Broodthaers Industrial Poems, Wiels, 2021, p.49.)
Broodthaers’s position, as disenchanted as it may be, is correct. We rehash the same stories, the same forms, we desperately try to distinguish ourselves, using exotic arrangements as excuses. Long live his Museum of Modern Art section from the nineteenth century. An entire program!
In the organisation of the exhibition, we followed several pathways starting from the 19th century and ending in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and today. The pathway Stéphane Mallarmé claimed by visual poets, Broodthaers, the pathway Lewis Carroll via the ‘Word Ladders’ represented in the exhibition by a poem by Ian Hamilton Finley. A drawing by Michael Baldwin from 1967 entitled Map of the Sahara Desert after Lewis Carroll, 1967, refers to the Carroll of The Hunting of the Snark. Also present in the exhibition, the pathway Breton claimed by Isou through his automatic writing achieved in his spiritual poly-automatism. Several other examples in the exhibition illustrate it, including certain passages from Finnegans Wake by Joyce, but the latter indirectly. Not being a poet, although he has produced poems, but a novelist, his illegible writings contribute to a disturbed story, but a story nonetheless. Also present in the exhibition, a pathway Carroll, Rimbaud, Larforgue, Joyce, illustrated by the creation of ‘portemanteau words’. Joyce’s famous ‘Chaosmos’ gives its title to the exhibition. The ‘c’ of chaos and of cosmos is in this instance the hinge of the portemanteau. In Laforgue’s ‘Éternullité’ (‘Eternullity’) the hinge disappears, the intervention of ‘ull’ transforming eternity into ‘eternullity’, yes indeed! Despite the irony of the whole sentence ‘I aspire to eternullity’. Or even, “quoting the German poet (Heine) about the exorbitant tariffs that Lemerre proposes to self-published authors, he considers being treated quite ‘famillionnairement’ (‘famillionnarily’)! Daniel Grojnowski in “L’esprit fumiste” (“The Fumiste Spirit”), José Corti, 1990, page 17. Around the same time as Jules Laforgue, Arthur Rimbaud in his Lettre à Delahaye (Letter to Delahaye) of May 1973, constructs ‘contemplostate’ and ‘absorbculant’. More recently, Paul Neuhuys qualified Paul Joostens of ‘Roi de Poeseloesie’ (‘King of Poeselosy’).
Let us look at the direct filiations from one generation to the next and at the influences within the same generation. In that respect, the symbolist Mallarmé is followed by his disciple René Ghil, who in turn was followed some sixty years later by François Dufrêne, who borrows from him the technique of verbal instrumentation. Another link: Mallarmé again, continued by Marinetti, a symbolist poet during his youth. Marinetti’s influence is bypassed due to his pro-Mussolini stance. The recent reign of political correctness is not improving his situation. Guillaume Apollinaire, who is equally warmongering, is preferred and replaces him in the representation that the general public makes of it by divesting him of some of his contributions.
To say the least, all these artist-authors share a common territory which, although not very vast, is thorough. It is what Breton described as a struggle against ‘the depreciation of language’. Thus, p.59 of the catalogue Dialogue avec Rembrandt & Réponses à De Chirico (Dialogue with Rembrandt & Replies by De Chirico), 1990, Lambert and Paris Galleries, Paris 6°, p.59, note 1, reads “This need to act drastically against the depreciation of language, which has been asserted by Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, […] could do no less than lead to ‘Lettrism’”. The old adopts the new. They have recognised each other. For which reason would either you or I allow ourselves to interfere with an untimely judgement of any sort?
How does modernity evolve? In a rather predictable way after all, somewhat like one would peel an onion. If it stings it surprises only those who are willing to be. And in the end, there is nothing left. In the meantime, uncertainty reigns, heavy, Valéry: “Long hesitation, between sound and meaning” which makes his art, and provokes a brief wavering moment. Valéry is keen to maintain this tension/uncertainty. Otherwise, everything deteriorates in the carelessness and exhaustion of the headlong rush. A moment of change illustrated by Valéry’s ‘Variété’ (‘Variety’), again :
“Modern people are content with little. Our successors did not envy our torments; they did not adopt our delicacies, they sometimes took for liberties what we had tried as new difficulties; and they sometimes tore up what we had only intended to dissect.”
This quote emphasises the predictability of the development of the modernist projects. To escape this infernal fate, Isou proposes rising above, putting operational concepts in place that drive the rhythm, the pace and the progression of creativity in order to no longer inevitably be overly predictable agents. Here intervenes his ‘chiselling’, or an analysis of art that has reached a form of ultimate concentration, of self-mockery, of withdrawal into its own and constitutive elements, that is to say in poetry the evolution which goes from Beaudelaire to Breton and in painting, from Delacroix to Kandinsky and Mondrian. The awareness of one’s involvement in this movement of the history of forms is an asset for those in the know.
Our poetry art and visual art combined seems far too insignificant to be considered by most of our contemporaries, and even if it were, would they observe this scene only as isolated, unrelated phenomena without consequences? The brain cru
sher at the service of museums, the press, the market, will only have to finish destroying, thanks to the burlesque clattering of newspaper headlines and to the hubbub of their prose, that which has never existed for the general public anyway. Finally, the artists of Partouche’s forgotten line: non-events or events happening by chance. The line no longer exists, or else is dotted. One might as well draw from one of the artists who illustrate it, according to current events, to statufy him or her. Thus removing him or her from the original context, that would only deserve to be mentioned in footers. The effort is vast. It is pointless to stir the brains of “the idiot of the head” (Laurent Tailhade). Analysing the persistence of certain methods will suffice. Hadn’t Breton seen in Reverdy the existence of a poetic form based on analogy, and which in his procedures was akin to the situationist hijacking to come, when he specified its rules as the maximum distance or the effect of a lack of symmetry illustrated by the anecdote of the Japanese poet. Of the two versions, the second was preferable: A red chilli, put some wings on it, a dragonfly. A dragonfly, take off its wings, a red chilli!
The breadth of the subject quickly swallows up ambitious aspirations. It was necessary to start from the analysis of certain procedures and to sort out its manifestations. (And not to start cutting into the subject as a whole, an effort which, moreover, was beyond my competence.) Thus, the palindrome, the crosswords, the word ladders, the poetic and political (poetic-political) diversion, the surrealist automatism, the Isouian poly-automatism, the humanised letters, the calligrams amongst other misconducts towards classical poetry.