Literary Art: Covergence, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast.

Text by Angela Darby

Literature has long been an essential driving force behind many contemporary visual artists’ practice. The exhibition Convergence at Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast seeks to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between the two. Curators Chista-Maria Lerm Hayes, a lecturer at The University of Ulster and Peter Richards, Director of The GT Gallery have set out to ‘dispel the Modernist myth that artists needed to serve writers, that they were feeding the tribute industry, or lacked in rigour.’ Their strong selection of international and regional artists effectively supports the exhibition’s objectives.

At the gallery’s reception area the sound of a piano playing intermittently greets the viewer. The artist Michalis Pichler presents a spectral homage to the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in both video and book form. The artist has cut the lines of text from Mallarmé’s free-verse poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) carefully following the typographic layout of the 1914 edition. These laser-cut paper sheets have then been placed into the mechanism of an auto piano. As the piano’s drum rotates the video records the paper roll passing over the reading mechanism and in the process the perforations are translated into musical notes. Where words and verse once occupied the pages we are left with empty extractions that conceptually exist outside the constraints of their own function. The work is in it’s own right is aesthetically beautiful, captivating and truly haunting. Pichler’s contribution not only serves as an introduction to the exhibition but also sets a high standard and builds expectation for the rest of the selected works.

Situated in Gallery One the artist Pavel Büchler, has three works displayed. Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften (2006), is part of a series of studies originally created in preparation for a wall installation at the Goethe Institute in Dublin. The title references Goethe’s Theory of Colours (1810) and the text Pathologische Farben originates from the title of a chapter found in the book. Goethe’s theory was formulated in direct opposition to Newtown’s reductive mechanical model. In the poet’s view colours arise within a tripartite relationship in which light and dark are mediated through transparent matter. The artist claims that “the work is not about color, or nature or theory…it moves back and forth between reading and seeing, between philosophical and aesthetic experience.” The suggestion seems to be that we need to constantly question those conditioned preconceptions, which ‘colour’ our reading of our own perceptions.

A questioning of ownership is prevalent in the works of Tim Rollins, Andrea Theis and Simon Morris. In The Red Badge of Courage, (1988) the artist Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) have appropriated a section of pages that have been removed from Stephen Crane’s war novel, (written c.1871). The pages have been collaged together and parts of the text are obscured by paintings of blood red wounds and weeping postulations. This blatant appropriation is not an act of vandalism or defilement on the part of the artist and KOS but instead a tribute to the fight that one must endure in order to survive the rigors of life. Rollins described this collaborative outcome with his South Bronx students as a testimony to the ‘civil war’ of existence.

Over the course of five days Andrea Theis vigilantly stood beside the Goethe-Schiller Monument in Weimar, Germany. By refusing to move or leave her position when implored by the tourists the artist purposely sabotaged their attempts to photographically record their visit. Reviewing Image Disturbance displays documentation from this interventionist performance alongside footage taken from the Bauhaus Museum’s CCTV camera. Both sets of images reveal a diverse range of responses covering physical attacks, verbal abuse, laughter and handshakes. With overtones of a sociology experiment Theis lays claim to the monument to explore a theme which informed many of Goethe and Schiller’s works, that of the human condition. Form reflecting content is also apparent in Simon Morris’ piece Fan nr 10: Reading as Art (2011). His black and white photographic composition features documented images of the artist reading text by Jacques Derrida alongside the text being read. The proximity sets in motion a perpetual re-contextualization as we move between reading and implied reading presented as image.

The love letters of Franz Kafka to his fiancée Felice Bauer are presented as documents to be examined and analyzed. Within this poignant and captivating piece the artist Joanna Karolina lays bear the personal existential crisis that this revered author endured within his own psyche. In response to the author’s self-negation Karolina symbolically defaces the letters by incrementally overlaying the text through repeated photocopying obscuring Kafka’s tortured thoughts. According to the curator Lerm–Hayes, the work of the ‘typosopher’ Ecke Bonk ‘bridges the domains of typography and art pratice.’ The artist’s miniaturized version of Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus logico philosophicus demands attention by forcing the viewer to move in close to examine a typeface that can only be deciphered with the aid of a magnifying glass.

Positioned in the centre of the gallery, The Buddhas of Bamiyan and a reconstructed Assyrian gate at the Iraq National Museum are rendered by artist Julie Bacon as puzzles to be played with. In the sculptural installation entitled The Twins two jigsaw boxes sit separately on the top of two tall, slim white plinths, spectres of 9/11 hauntingly placed on a Kalashnikov patterned Persian rug. Images of the aforementioned national treasures are depicted on the jigsaw box lids illustrating the violent destruction of culture by conflict. On an adjoining wall Bacon has reassembled the jigsaw pieces as a whirling constellation, directed by energies of a different order to those that have laid waste in the here and now. Entering a darkened space we are met with a blown up page from the Irish Times dated April 24th 1986. Accompanying the editorial a slide projector and the voice of a female narrator comments on the significance of the article. In Dear JJ, I read with interest…, Sean Lynch explores the story of an unofficial monument which was erected on top of Carrantuohill mountain in Ireland. The monument we learn was a commemoration of Flann O’ Brien’s work The Third Policeman.

Emerging from the partial darkness of Lynch’s investigative installation one is welcomed by a splendorous light emanating from David Cascio’s immense polyhedron sculpture Space for reading Ulysses by James Joyce (2004). Constructed from cardboard and neon lights with white fabric flowers strategically placed at adjoining corners in reference Joyce’s fictional protagonist, Leopold Bloom, the construction is an astoundingly beautiful space in which to repose. It offers a formal geometry in which to engage with a text that eschews linear narrative. Watt,the last novel written in English by Samuel Beckett is the subject of Nick Thurston’s piece He Wore, He Might Find, & He Moved, 2009. The triptych of bright orange and white screen-prints imitates the iconic cover design of the John Calder edition.

In the work Extreme Reading by Kenneth Goldsmith we experience the spoken word preserved, through transcription, in printed text. Artist’s Pavel Buchler and Simon Morris have recorded their telephone conversation discussing Kenneth Goldsmith’s book Soliloquy in which he catalogued every word he spoke over a week. Their utterances are presented, as a separate transcription which if read in isolation would lead to a speculative understanding. By preserving the formed sounds that would have otherwise been lost in the passing air they cleverly retain meaning within the necessity of context.

Cerith Wyn Evans’ screenprinted text Permit yourself to…(2009) induces a trance like state through a guided visualisation relying on suggestion to transform conscious awareness of place and time. In another meditative work Brian O’Doherty systematically repeats sigla forms originally used as shorthand by James Joyce to denote characters from Finnegan’s Wake. As an artist known to adopt aliases it seems appropriate that his print Sketch for H.C.E presents abstracted simulacra.

Tacita Dean re-presents a publication as a landscape-format panaorama of its contents. W.G. Sebald relates to a collision of personal ancestry, national history and sychronicity through which we learn that a random reading of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn placed Dean’s great, great uncle as presiding Judge at the trial of Irish nationalist Roger Casement. This incorporation of existing narrative can also be seen in Rodney Graham’s The System of Landor’s Cottage. The artist ‘completes’ Edgar Allen Poe’s unfinished short story by inhabiting the existing protagonist and placing him in a set of new circumstances within an additional interior room. The emphasis on densely descriptive prose and self imposed formal constraints seem to reference Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus in which a group are given a tour of a series of inventions that progressively become increasingly complex and bizarre.

The curators, Richards and Lerm Hayes decision to invite the editors of the Happy Hypocrite, antepress and Allotrope to contribute are a welcome addition to Convergence. Maria Fusco, the editor of The Happy Hypocrite profiles a selection of articles from the publication. Allotrope is a new initiative by University of Ulster PHD students Keith Winter and Emma Dwan O’Reilly. According to Winter ‘the editorial process involves a making and remaking of meaning.’ With submissions from renowned artists such as Amanda Coogan, Deirdre McKenna, and Paul Hamlyn nominee Daniel Jewesbury the editors of Allotrope display an ability to harness a range of quality contributors providing images, prose, poetry and written criticism. An achievement, which perfectly reflects that of the curators’ vision for this excellent and thought-provoking exhibition.

Convergence continues at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast until 6 August.

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Courtesy the artist & The Golden Thread Gallery