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Every Sense of the Word: Postscript at the Power Plant
August 2013

Closing after this long weekend is the Power Plant’s sprawling summer exhibition, Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art. Curated by Andrea Andersson and Nora Burnett Abrams, this multi-sensory feast for the eyes, ears, and mind is a testament to the variety and richness of artistic and poetic approaches to language undertaken by conceptual artists and writers since the 1960s.

The show is loosely structured around five major artistic/poetic strategies: appropriation, translation, redaction, transcription, and constraint, each of which is represented by a historic precursor to the many contemporary examples on display. For those interested in artists books and the language-based work of Carl Andre (appropriation), Sol LeWitt (translation), Marcel Broodthaers (redaction, shown below), Andy Warhol (transcription), and Dan Graham (constraint), their quietly groundbreaking works provide an interesting context and contrast to the multiplicity of iterations/interpretations, in all manner of media, by contemporary artists and poets.

Some of our favourites, including works by Erica Baum, Pavel Büchler, Ricardo Cuevas, Fiona Banner, Michalis Pichler, Jen Bervin, Helen Mirra, Monica de la Torre, Seth Price, and Christian Bök are featured here. These and the other 37 artist-poets featured in the show are having their proverbial way with words, taking visual (seeing, reading), verbal (speaking, listening), and even tactile (touching, feeling) approaches to express and expand upon the limitless potential for textual embodiment of image, emotion, and idea.

Marcel Broodthaers, Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance), 1969
source: tumblr_kyyrpyVnSV1qb03ezo1_1280.jpg


Both Pavel Büchler and Erica Baum appropriate the texts of others, extending or changing their meanings completely. Büchler’s visually striking installation broadcasts a computer-processed rendition of Kurt Schwitters’ experimental sound opus from the 1920s, Ursonate.

Pavel Büchler, Studio Schwitters, 2010

Meanwhile, Baum’s comparatively modest Dog Ear works mine this book reader’s page-marking habit for often surprising convergences and correspondences between adjacent pages.

Erica Baum, Selections from the Dog Ear series, 2009–2010


Like Fiona Banner’s site-specific wall drawing, 1066 (shown at top), Ricardo Cueva’s beautiful book, Fear no thunder, nor lightning, eloquently translates the visual into the verbal. While Banner uses a suitably immersive rendering of the English language to vividly describe the epic events depicted in the famed Bayeux Tapestry, Cuevas uses Braille, and a video of a blind person reading it, as a way to convey a more intimate experience of narrative language.

Ricardo Cuevas, Fear no thunder, nor lightning, Braille text and landscape pictures, 2006


Michalis Pichler’s version of Un Coup de Dés… takes Marcel Broodthaers’ 1969 redaction of Mallarmé’s historic text (shown above, second from top) several steps further, physically cutting the lines from the poem in such a way that the resulting pages can be played on an automatic piano. Making music out of an absence of writing, Pichler’s work is an example of a redaction that is also a translation. A translucent paper edition of this work is available from the artist’s website.

Michalis Pichler, Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard (sculpture), 2008

Jen Bervin’s composite renderings of Emily Dickinson’s seldom-seen editing marks and word variants restore a sense of the process and precision to which the poet was given. Presented as hand-embroidered wall pieces in the exhibition, The Dickinson Fascicles are also available as a limited-edition artists book.

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Fascicle 28, 2010


Helen Mirra’s lovingly constructed typewritten tapes bear a series of carefully selected index entries which read like found poems. For much more on this artist, see Peter Eleey’s 2006 essay for Frieze Magazine. Unfortunately, an image could not be found for Monica de la Torre’s engaging work, Unreliable Narrator, in which a text undergoes several rounds of transcription (and sometimes laughable translation) courtesy of Google and non-Spanish speakers, among others. 

Helen Mirra, Index / A, 2004


Seth Price’s Romance is the record of his experience (and ultimately doomed journey) playing Adventure, an early computer game. Limited to text-only interactions, Price engages in a mediated dialogue that resembles today’s real-time chat and mobile text exchanges, especially as they become increasingly public in the voyeuristic world of social media. See the Electronic Arts Intermix website for more information.

Seth Price, Romance, 2003

Christian Bök’s Protein 13 is a product of constraint, achieved through processes of transcription and translation, namely those involved in the sequencing of DNA. By cryptographically generating new genetic code out of the words from one poem, inserting this DNA into a bacterium which then manufactured a novel protein based on this code, and re-transcribing the protein back into an entirely new poem, Bök made a poetry machine out of Deinococcus radiodurans. The implications are interesting, to say the least. Read and hear more on Bök’s Xenotext experiments and other work on the CBC website, here.

Christian Bök, Protein 13, 2012

Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art closes September 2nd at The Power Plant. Don’t miss it.

image at top:
Fiona Banner, 1066, 2010/2012

Note: Images are representative of the curated selection, but may not be the exact work shown in the exhibition.

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