And then there was nothing

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On Language

A little while ago I came across an interview with Rosalee Goldberg, queen of performance art, she was talking about text and poetry, and the audience that witness both, “some love language in itself, and some the written word. Theres’ a language that is read aloud and there’s a language that’s listened to. There’s language in the mouth. Language that’ is tasted. language on a wall, language in space […]”.

For some reason I’ve been having problems articulating what I what to say lately and so I thought it might be interesting to write about language. This quote alone made me want to add to the lists of types of languages there might be.
Firstly, it made me think of Tim Etchells, from the performance group Forced Entertainment, who wrote about his process, in the essay, On Performance Writing. * He too, has a list of texts (which in this context could be interchangeable with language). His list starts with,
” 1. A text to be whispered by the bedside of a sleeping child
2. A text to be yelled aloud by a single performer in a car park at dawn
3. A text to be left on the ansaphone of strangers.
4. A text to be spoken while fucking secretly the partner of a good friend
5. A text for a megaphone
6. A text to be used as a weapon “
The list of texts continues, each in a way, a recipe for a new performance, a new way of creating, through language.
 Forced Entertinment’s performance work in general uses language to confuse or make the audience define their own context for what they are experiencing- and it is often very contradictory. For example, in Emmanuel Enchanted every performer has multiple signs announcing their characters, such as A DRUNK MAN SHOUTING AT THE MOON, QUEEN OF NOTHING, LINDA ( OUT OF LUCK), or simply LIAR. Part of the performance was “the act of arranging and rearranging units of infomation, be they textual, visual or spatial so that new patterns, implied narratives and meanings [could] emerge,”* the signs clashing, or having nothing to do with the language the performers were saying. Language that is slippery, Language which contradicts itself. 
Their work has a quality of secret diary entries that are said aloud, particularly in Club of No Regrets, in which one performer is lost in the woods, talking to herself- language not meant to be heard by another human being- there’s a confessional quality to it . Another two performers are bound and gagged, while interrogated, and a series of telegrams. Language that only emerges under duress.
It also made me think of Mel Boucher, still currently at the Jewish Museum in New York. His paintings are thesaurus entries, language that’s in pieces and needs to be put together to be fully understood. 2014-08-02 16.38.45
He also has a series of ‘portraits’ made of compositions of text- visual text.
His one of Eva Hesse takes the structure of one of her words and uses it to create a visual framework for the language.  Language that is defined as a composition, Language in a visual cage.
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This in turn lead me to look at the Ruth and Martin Sack near archive for visual and concrete poetry.
How do you define visual and concrete poetry? 
Wikipedia, says ” Visual poetry is poetry or art in which the visual arrangement of text, images and symbols is important in conveying the intended effect of the work. Confusingly, it is sometimes referred to as concrete poetry, a term that predates visual poetry.”** Often it’s referred to as text- based art.
In this archive, I came across Jeremy Adler, whose words are truly Language as painting, language as another layer, another varnish, another wash of colour, that adds texture, but not necessarily understanding.
Language torn, damaged. Language as a fragment. Language to be whispered in the wind.
I realzised that is something I’m quite interested in my own work, language as a clueLanguage as a series of dots waiting to be connected. Language that is mutable depending on the audience-  that means something to one person and completely something else to another.
Language that you follow like marked trees up a mountain.
Language where the signifier might not create the sign, undependable language.
This idea reminds me of a book, The Raw Shark Texts by Stephan Hall, a novel in which the protagonist is forced to somehow turn a bottle filled with scraps of paper, on which the word ‘water’ is written on each, into water to be able to swim in it.
Language that you have to believe in with every ounce of your being for it to become true. Language you can swim in.
Isn’t that Salmon Rushdie’s Sea of stories? It was one of my favorite books as a child. Salty tales, morals, fables, myths, fairytales, old wives stories, all muddling in the vastness of the ocean of the stream of stories,
“… it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one … currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity. [Each] coloured strand … contained a single tale. [The Ocean held] all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented. The Ocean of the Stream of Stories was in fact the biggest library in the universe.”***
 Language that drips through your fingers, language to swim in, language that nourishes.
And then there’s always those words that colour everything around them, or those words so ripe they burst into flavour and contaminate everything around them. Language as a pigment, a soothing elixir. The greats- Shakespeare, T.S Elliot surely are elixirs, Roselee Goldberg’s Language to be tasted.
I think I’m fascinated because I sometimes lack the ability to create meaning out of the string of words that foams at my mouth.  Language like a pinned butterfly, that never really wanted to be caught in the first place.  We dubbed them ‘word days’ in college. If people knew me well, they could figure out the dots, connect the thoughts. Because sometimes it was a more painful process than not. They still occur when I’m stressed, tired, or just feeling nervous. I just live with them. And my sign? THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SAY WHAT SHE WAS FEELING.
See Language as a confession. Language that paralyzes.
* From Certain Fragments by Tim Etchells
*** pg. 71. Haroun and The Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
for more on Rosalee Goldberg see
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Things to make when it’s raining.

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Text Home.

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Once upon a time- 12 years ago- I lived in San Francisco. It was just for a year, fresh out of college, interning at a theatre, broke as all hell, living on fumes and alcohol, but it was one of my favourite years ever.

Because I loved that city. I loved how the people in San Francisco interacted with their city. London has great graffiti, edgy, unique. But San Franciscans talked back. They didn’t just paint murals but they used text. More than I’d ever seen before.

One of my favourite artists there is Rigo 23*- I used to pass this sign in Potrero Hill on the way to my wardrobe job everyday.

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Stencils on the pavement, giant billboards with  random signs and witty come-backs to the city bustling below them, the entire diary of this one girl who lived in my neighborhood who would add 3 or for lines to a lament running along the sidewalk in chalk, that would start to be erased as more and more was added, but ultimately left traces of her thoughts a full block long. And I loved that sense of talking back. Marking the streets up. Not down alleys, hidden from view, or in the tube tunnels, but arguing with the city in broad daylight, full force.

And the more I live in New York, I realize there’s also also a conversation going on.

So far I’ve discovered the Toynbee tiles in the pavement all across Midtown, tiny plaques that read “Toynbee Idea In Movie ‘2001’ Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter”. These tiles apparently exist in cities all over the States and South America, and appeared from the mid 80’s, as a possible reference to James Morasco concept of resurrection on Jupiter while calling a in to Larry King’s radio show in 1980. That’s explained better here,** if you’re interested.

Stencils of  “Protect your Magic”***, a project started by Fadia Kader started popping up in April. They’ve appeared with images, against Frida Kahlo, a jumping off point for the project, and with other full size murals. But I love the simplicity and truth of the slogan. Keep a little for yourself of what makes you magic, not everyone deserves it, or all of you. As a creative person it’s a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way, to keep a little of my creative fire for me, my personal projects, and my sanity. Anyway, there’s a great interview with her here.


Another piece I just saw today at the New York Times Building Lobby, was not on the street, but a different use of media and text, from artists Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen. It’s a wall of tiny monitors, which, as people are reading the news online, steals clippets from their news and broadcasts them on these screens, adding sound, and also showing the text as a single strand that weaves it way across the multiple screens, messily, intersecting with others read text, criss-crossing over it and muddying it, much as the text graffiti  above does with city streets. It’s the first time I had heard of either of these artists, but Ben Rubin, in particular seems very invested in the art using text in public spaces.


Another of his projects, “And that’s the way it is”,**** in the Walter Cronkite Courtyard at The University of Texas, projects snippets from the Walter Cronkite archives, with contemporary journalism new feeds from across the country, like text clouds across the building front. It’s both beautiful and thought provoking, in their unreadable clutter.* How much information is too much? And how do we pick about the tangles texts to determine what is important?

Anyway, the point of bringing up San Francisco, was that it was these first written pieces that made me fall in love with text as art and image, and want to explore and dissect everything to do with that, so it’s funny, and also fitting to find a city so embedded 12 years later. And it’s also making me wonder if I can call this city Home.

* for more see here and

and for an awesome map of sf murals and art see this blog

** sourced from

with more pictures here

*** see here for more info

**** see here for more about this project and Ben Rubin

And this fantastic blog about the New York Times Building Exhibition,



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Belief + Doubt = Sanity

“Belief is tricky, because left to it’s own devices it can court a kind of surety, that fears doubt and destroys difference.” Barbara Krugar

I just came back from D.C, the first time I’ve been, and a nice change from NYC for 2 seconds. It didn’t resemble my collagescape from this blog months ago (which I completely forgot I’d made until I decided to write this). Strangely, it looked nothing like it and if I believed in vision boards at all, I’d be suing whomever wrote The Secret right now. It mostly just involved museums, bike rides and beers- which was great- especially seeing Barbara Krugar’s exhibition Belief + Doubt= Sanity at the Hirshhorn.*

It’s been on for a while- 2 years in fact- and will only close in December this year.

She may not show much in L.A, where she’s from (she recently resigned from MOCA’s board over the forced resignation of Paul Schimmel) but she’s honoured in a gigantic room- 6700 sq feet in fact- at the capital, and rightly so. The installation features her infamous slogans in red, white and black, each letter a foot to a foot and a half tall. A room of words so loud they ingulf you, that they are barely readable as you stand upon and amongst them. They demand puzzling over and reading out loud, slowly stringing words into sentences like pearls on a string. Everyone else in the room is doing the same, as you tumble of each other mumbling through phrases like discovering hidden keys.

The power of the words is enormous and intense, a giant brain box of jumbled slogans and questions and tidbits (as always she has a sense of humour), stark and harsh in their contrasting colors, demanding you listen and contemplate.** Too much at points, I left and came back a couple times, enjoying the feeling of being overwhelmed by language.

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“Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions. I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.” ***

Especially in this exhibition, where the proximity to the capital, could easily put the slogans into a political context, Barbara Krugar is happy to question us on what do we really believe?  “She was intrigued by the idea of creating an exhibit that questions power in a museum with such proximity to power.” A museum, in D.C ” ‘ she was intrigued by the idea of creating an exhibit that questions power in a museum with such proximity topower. ‘It is a museum, but it is also in D.C.,’ Kruger says. ‘That brings its own information, context and baggage.'”****

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Another artist I was introduced to this weekend also using text as him medium is Christopher Wool. He carried on the tradition of having to step back to understand, but also really played with audience grappling for meaning in his texts, by deliberately adding spaces in odd places, or not- having words join together, so that as the audience read, they have to put in their own spaces and punctuation.

It’s the reading equivalent of trying to draw with your left hand, with a stick.

images Unknown wool_painting_x-2012-771 Chris_wool_the_harder

No amount of staring magically made it make sense, it’s a slow process of figuring it out, which ultimately, when you’ve got the hang of it is quite satisfying.

I don’t think all his works are this way- there are simpeliar ones- but I enjoyed these. Besides, who said it always has to be easy?

** for more images of the installation- and the texts see The Hirshhorn Musuem 


The Wall Street Journal’s review

*** from Bomb Magazine

**** quoted from this great article from The Washington Post

More about Christopher Wool here and here

And The Guggenheim


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When in doubt, chop it up.



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It’s been a while, in fact 4 months since I’ve made any collages of my own, and so in a fit of creativity, I made 2 small collages in an old 50s history book, with doubles as a sketchbook, and forces me to interact with the existing text and images, giving context to both, whether I mean to or not.  ImageImage

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Collage Heroine: Mangechi Mutu at the Brooklyn Musuem

Mutu_Riding-Death-in-My-Sleep_428H“Riding Death in My Sleep”

Today I checked out an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which was phenomenal, and so inspiring to see. Wangechi Mutu is a collage artist, working with fabric, beads, magazines- from fashion to pornography to medical journals, spray paint and glitter on mylar. It’s a fantastically broad and messy mix of media which she uses to create portraits of women, in fantastical stories, which bring to mind fairy tales, myths, new versions of Adam and Eve, and a reclaiming of the stories of African American Women.

“Sampling such diverse sources as African traditions, international politics, the fashion industry, pornography, and science fiction, her work explores gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the exoticization of the black female body.” *

389.737      “A Shady Promise”

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She plays with the idea of past and present, and or perceptions of what those terms mean to us, challenging traditional notions of the set time line, and the idea that the past is set in stone. She is looking at them from a very afro-centric perspective, looking at African history and creating a modern vision for the future as if the past had played out differently. Her imagined future is completely fresh, an original look at sci-fi and steampunk, coming from her unique Kenyan vantage point.
CRI_110239“Yo Mama”

“Mutu encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.” *

Mutu_244_EatDrinkSwanMan01_loresImage Courtesy of Catherine Waglely for the Daily Serving

I love her use of magazine spreads, and fashion photography, particularly in that she uses these depictions of women- which in their original context create images of women that barely eat to stay thin and are all about sex, to create women that are creating their own mythical journeys and stories outside of the box the media wants to pop us neatly into.

“I always look at how women are represented [in the media],” […she says…] “I look at how we are composed and where we sit and what we wear. I think it reflects not only how people feel about women, but [also] how society feels about itself … I’m obsessed with it.”**

However, “there’s more to it than Hannah Höch-referencing feminist readings, or Romare Bearden-referencing racial interpretations.”**

This is woman creating stories for women, and in a time the oral tradition of women’s fairytales have long been forgotten, or neatly written down and turned into moral tales by men (thankyou Charles Perrault), a much needed reminder of how we can create our own future.


“Once Upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her”

** An interview with Mangechi Mutu from ArtMag

* Brooklyn Museum of Art Website

For more info also see:

All other images from

Brooklyn Museum of Art Website


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Words vs Spectacle: Robert Montgomery

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I saw an exhibition this weekend, a collection of words in a gallery, which I discovered are more at home on the street. Robery Montogomery’s work is reaction to advertising, and he has often taken over billboards and advertising space to put up poetic text, “like ghostly lyrical interventions” + that talk about modern life.


His words are quite beautiful, and are often rambles, wax lyrical on ghosts, what it means to life through late-capitalism, and preserving a sense of self within it. Inspired by Guy Debord’s writing, Roland Bathes and Baudrillard, his billboards question our love for product, and make us turn inwards instead.

Guy Debord’s writing on advertising “draws an equivalence between the role of mass media marketing in the present and the role of religions in the past.[13][14] The spread of commodity-images by the mass media, produces “waves of enthusiasm for a given product” resulting in “moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism”.[15][16]” * and it is this reserve Montogomery plays with.

He has said, particularly of his piece, WHENEVER YOU SEE THE SUN REFLECTED IN THE WINDOW OF A BUILDING IT IS AN ANGEL,  “[i]t is about trying to find a sense of the sacred in the everyday, a sense of God in the mundane […,]” ** a statement that I think can be applied to a lot of his work, as sort of an antidote to capitalism.

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He has said, about his work,  “I feel like I’ve been sort of forced into it, because billboards drive me mad. I don’t have the psychological armour to protect myself from them. They get me down and make me feel yelled and shouted at, so I felt compelled to work out a way of talking back in that space so I didn’t feel insane.”+

His way of talking back is more conscious and poetic than most,  “trying to write about our collective unconscious in public space [… or]  what it feels like on the inside to live in “Late-Capitalism” as Theodore Adorno and Frederic Jameson would call it. What it feels like to live in our cities, what it feels like to live with our privilege of wealth and our poverty of time, our privilege of material goods and our poverty of reflection, our anxiety as the systems of economy and ecology we rely on falter, revealing economic injustice and a future that’s more fragile than we thought.”***


It’s a fragility that is reflected in his poetry, that creates a nostalgia in the viewer for a time when we were less jaded about the world/ times we live in, for a time when it was o.k to be a little more wistful and vulnerable, and not have to protect our interests against corporations through every move and every purchase.

Much like Barbara Krugar, Montigimery has worked in magasines, at Dazed and Confused’s commercial side, experiencing first hand the “cultural paranoia and fear – the mechanism of advertising”+, “see[ing] the existential trauma that the capitalist machine creates[,]” inspiring him to create work, that thankfully, provides some beautiful, and haunting, relief.

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for more about Guy Debord’s The Society of Spectacle see here:

for more about Jean Bauidrillard’s The Consumer Society see here:


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