Tag Archives: poetry

The Wrong Raven

A Friday off, with hopes of a giddy odyssey during the forbidden daytime. In the event, there was more sloth than expected, and I didn’t set out until quite late in the afternoon. What was that woman signing to her unseen friend, at Leytonstone, on the Hainault branch train, I wondered? Whatever – we departed first, so we won. The first destination was a new one for me, the Tintype gallery in Islington, for the group show Bench. My favourites were the Michael Simpson drawings and paintings, Anna Lucas’ montage and the metal bench constructed by the Turner Prize-winning Assemble, which included Art Deco features from the ex-cinema just down Essex Road, as the owner of the gallery explained to me. I wandered down, to the building that is now serving a religious purpose, and sat on a concrete bench, to re-tie my errant shoelaces and take photos.



Walking to and from the various bus stops, I heard the same Radio 3 Free Thinking intro to their programme about Dada three times, because my podcast program had been unusually prodigal in its downloads. The stand-out quote here was from one of the Dadaists who said that:

“Only imbeciles and Spanish professors are interested in dates”,

in the context of trying to agree the timeline of Dada.

From Islington to Clerkenwell, and the Frameless gallery show The Black Bubbleicious, by Paul Deller. The collages downstairs worked best, though I did like the nods to Matisse’s cutouts in the overlaying of small strips of black vinyl and cloth on the ground floor. The poignancy of the ancient Ferguson Videostar advert snippet, and the testament to classroom boredom that was the collection of rubbers (“erasers”), including the messages written on their ephemeral sides.



Vacillating over where to go next, I travelled to the road Raven Row instead of the gallery Raven Row, which is not on the road Raven Row, and is sufficiently near that I stupidly did what the erroneously-informed Citymapper told me to do. Bah. Still, now I know where the Whitechapel Mission is, should that ever be needed. On the way to the actual Raven Row, for my second visit to the impossible-to-contain Inoperative Community show, I heard a man exclaiming to his companion:

“The first thing the doctor asked me was, have you been anywhere exotic?”

which implies at least an interesting ailment. The gallery should be thanked for their audience consideration, in that they provided a comprehensive timetable of all the film screenings, even including variations for each day of the week. This meant you would also always know what you were watching in each room, which isn’t always the case. Up the stairs and across to You the better, which has its own special multi-colour flashing light in the alcove outside the screening room itself. As the audience you end up as confused about the rules of the various games the characters are trying to win as they are themselves, which is the point, of course. A happy surprise for me was the 808 usage in the music co-composed by the artist. A few people peered into this film while I was watching, but weren’t tempted to stay.



Down and across from West to East for Luke Fowler’s Depositions, which ranges across Orkney and Shetland to encompass Travellers who “think they’re better than the rest”, a marvellous quote which I didn’t fully catch but which was something like:

“Never has human asininity been displayed with such extravagance…”,

clashes between Science and folk beliefs, DNA, the BBC Infax system “with the names of contributors redacted”,superstitions about predicting marriage, and the consultation of “clairvoyants and other sensitives” for a futurist’s book Future Tense. Television is referred to as a:

“cultural silicon chip through which you can experience the flickering half-life of someone else’s dreams”.

Both times I’ve been to this show it’s felt like I’ve been member of a strange temporary community of seekers after art films, with earnest discussions between friends and couples of how to accommodate themselves to the film schedule.

“We could go and see the end of Melancholia” (another immensely long Lav Diaz film) “- it’s only on in full for another day”.

Life is indeed Very Hard.

After a reassuringly displeasant journey to Fitzrovia (the carriage being so crowded it was comical), a walk past the braying hordes outside the pubs and bars (strangely similar to the braying hordes in Shoreditch) to Carroll/Fletcher for the Experimental Writing event with Nick Montfort with Manfred Mohr. People were standing outside, phone fiddling, and someone told me they’d been told to wait, but I brainlessly tried the door and someone inside let me in. A man sitting in front of me impressed the woman next to him (nearly everyone else knew nearly everyone else) with his VR device, which turned out to be a 3D-printed plastic version of Google Cardboard.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having been tempted by the mention of Commodore 64-based poems in the mailing list announcement. Nick Montfort’s first reading was Round, a poem created by a Python script that calculated digits of Pi and represented them in word form. After reading excerpts of the output, he explained and showed us the source code. Left to itself, the program would keep running, slowing down as the calculations took longer.

Next was Taroko gorge, which was in effect a nature poem generator, based on Montfort’s visit to Japan. Again, it was “boundless” i.e. it would keep generating lines of poetry until interrupted. Because it was deliberately designed as a single HTML page that could be downloaded and altered, others took it and changed the input vocabulary, an example being Tokyo Garage. There were other versions that showed the source code alongside the poems, and a meta-remix that included the output of all the other remixes.

The Two has been translated into different languages, the complication being that the ambiguity over the referents of the pronouns is easy in English, possible in French if you choose appropriate nouns that begin with a vowel, hard in Spanish etc. Apparently it’s rude in Japanese to use so many pronouns in a sentence. He distinguished between repetition of sounds across lines (in a strophe) and within a line.

He is also interested in celebrating and preserving older computer poetry efforts, on his Memory Slam site, which again allows you to save the source and alter the output of the scripts. Changing loyalties from Python to Perl, he showed his series of Perl scripts that generate poems using only 256 characters of code. Naturally the constraints meant he had to take a flexible attitude to whether the generated words actually existed in English or were just English-like. In the second version, he emphasised structural variation more than vocabulary size. A side-effect of the smaller set of words was that there were more rhymes. The final part of his performance comprised some poems running on the Commodore 64 (in this case, because his actual machine doesn’t support PAL, it was in an emulator running on his laptop). As well as a one-line Basic program which applied colours based on the rhyme scheme of a Rimbaud poem, he showed a couple of machine code poetry generators, that were very reminiscent of the old demo scene in their concise prodigality, operating in only 32 bytes. The size of text you might use as a password for a wireless network, as Montfort pointed out.



After the performance, there was a discussion between Nick Montfort, Manfred Mohr (whose show has just opened at Carroll/Fletcher) and Matthew Fuller. Asked about his definition of “experimental“, Montfort referred to the difference between experimental and theoretical physics, and the importance of “working through doing“. Mohr noted that the people who made the first visual art on computers weren’t themselves visual artists (at this point, he pointed to someone in the audience, but I’m afraid I don’t know his name).

Mohr went on to ask whether the rational comes from inside or outside a person. He had found that after he developed his  programs, he became a different person. The process had permanently altered the way he perceived everything, because he was thereafter
always looking for the algorithm“. He had undergone “professional deformation“. A comparison was made between twenty consonant poetry and Schoenberg’s twelve tone music, when considering the importance of constraints in experimental writing. Mohr gently chided Montfort for what he felt to be his sentimentality for old technology, while Montfort noted that there was little support for international characters in the old 8-bit systems (so Spanish and French poems generated on them lacked accents, for example), while there are still a lot of biases in computing towards the Latin alphabet.

Montfort referred to the ubiquity of “textual grids”, while Mohr declared that

“An artwork has to be strong enough to defend itself”.

I liked Montfort’s concept of “Plagiarism by anticipation“, when someone copies from you a few years before you write the original, and his blunt assessment of the financial rewards of poetry:

“You have no hope of earning money as a poet.”

He cited Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize winner, “who didn’t teach because he liked it, he taught because he needed the money”.

I thought it was very pleasingly unusual to be able to recreate a performance at home so directly (by running the poetry generators) and it was also quite bracing to see an artist using a laptop running Linux, rather than ever-present Steve.



The unexpected arrival of Islington

[Events last week that aren’t covered here: Preview of Alpha Papa at the BFI plus Q&A with Armando Iannucci; special showing of Otto Preminger’s Laura at the ICA; Screen Epiphany showing of Badlands with Alice Lowe at the BFI]

Even through all these wanderings I don’t have much of a sense of the contiguity of the various London neighbourhoods and boroughs. The only remedy is more walking, I imagine.

On Saturday, I set off for the Barbican to see what was going on as part of their Hack the Barbican programme. There were various installations on the way in from the Silk Street entrance (the only one I can reliably find when walking from Liverpool Street), including an extremely large whiteboard, open for public contributions in erasable marker form and @shelf_story, which contains the objects people have suggested for the story ,on the shelves. Looking down from the bridge, I could see some dancers, who were miming to a Muse track. They weren’t on the programme and I think they were called ‘Craft / the Rag Factory’. Once again I was struck how much trust in each other is needed in a dance troupe, especially when you’re being spun around by a human centrifuge. The people sitting in front of me when I went down to that level to watch properly described themselves when the performance ended as the troupe’s “biggest fans”.

Other manifestations I saw included A series of unfortunate events, which comprised drawings of damaged phones with vignettes describing the nature of the damage-causing episode and the owner’s attitude; Soundhack the Barbican was a recording of elemental sounds from around the Barbican; while I didn’t participate in the Ministry of Measurement I did enjoy the bleeps it was producing from the cloakroom downstairs and the intermittent flashing of the stall lights it was producing. According to the signs I saw, there was something happening in the VIP room on level 2. This may have been a tricky trick, because the signs directed me to a nexus of locked doors. As ever, the terrace provided a pleasing lunch venue, while some kids noisily played on the incongruous table tennis table.

Hack the Barbican

The next stop was the Islington Museum, to see From Hollywood to Highbury: Islington goes to the Movies. From the bus taking me there I saw some newlyweds having photos taken in front of an office building entrance. The aesthetic qualities of the entrance were not sufficient to justify such efforts, so I wondered whether this was to commemorate the location of the beginning of the romance – a note slipped during a business transformation workshop. As well as all the photos around the walls, there was a recreation of an old cinema, showing a series of short silent films made by Robert Paul, some usherette uniforms and a 35mm projector. I’m pleased to say there was an old-fashioned comments book, as well. I love reading those.

Parasol Unit after that for the final day of the Merlin James show. Quite a variation in quality, for me, though I felt the colour combinations worked more often than not. I suppose I liked that other than the introductory text, there was no blurb alongside each painting. A fellow viewer went around more quickly than I did and I saw them again upstairs, sketching a painting of a viaduct. Is this just a way of remembering their favourites?

On another bus, towards Camden, there was a strange incident with a cyclist, whose bike was pointing towards us. When I arrived, I was early and so had time to eat a little. Having wandered around a little, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to sit down that wasn’t part of a rent-seeking establishment, so I leaned against the wall of the World’s End pub, nearly facing the station. It’s a very long time since I’ve spent any significant time there and it was simultaneously reassuring and disturbing that all the Indie Tribes were still around. What I didn’t realise for a while is that I’d disturbed my bag contents such that the Banana Shield was poking out, like a strange implement or device.

I’d booked a couple of comedy acts at the Camden Fringe, lacking as I did the good planning or resources for an Edinburgh trip this year. Both were at The Camden Head, so accidentally I had avoided erratic traipsing. Twisted Loaf described themselves as a “clown/character sketch” duo and the description did make sense afterwards. There is something enlivening about comedy gigs in such small venues and they made the most of the situation, the slightly startling interaction with the audience members being physical rather than verbal. For Iszi Lawrence, I had a sofa at the back all to myself, even though with ostentatious politeness I’d taken the end so that there was room for others. Hers was a more traditional ‘show’, albeit a little derailed by audience interventions (by her own admission).  Rather disgraceful was the behaviour of the Chelsea-shirt wearing man in front of me, who actually continued his phone conversation after she’d started her act. Later on he and his lady companion were chatting quite a lot – tsk. A German woman, encouraged by Iszi Lawrence’s questions, rather forgot to rein in her contributions.

Twisted Loaf

On Sunday, for once I had nothing planned and externally-suggested arrangements meant that I needed to find something in my approximate locality, allowing for a prompt return back East. What I found was Arbonauts at the Grave, a commemoration organised by the Blake Society to mark his death in 1827. I arrived a little early and heard what I realised were some of the organisers talking next to me:

How’s your health?

It’s better than it is in Paris. The dirty stuff collects in the valley.

The musicians and singer rehearsed part of their performance, and then the latter wandered around the gravestones, practising her scales. The second violinist arrived admirably late, with no time for pfaffing. It was quite a lovely performance and I was glad to have caught the Arbonauts, having missed Biped’s Monitor the previous weekend. Once they’d finished, the head of the Society gave a short speech and invited people to give their own readings or perform their own choice of poems. To my surprise, several people did, including quite a high proportion of American women. A man in front of me with a Bear Stearns bag, took off his hat to declaim his choice, while others picked Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden and Patrick Hamilton. Apparently the Blake gravestone isn’t on the actual site of his remains. They’re around the corner, by a plane tree, and the society is campaigning for a new memorial to be created. Russians come and visit the head of the society, amazed that there is no such memorial already, and that seven of the nine houses in which Blake lived haven’t survived, whereas anything even slightly associated with Dostoyevsky is celebrated and preserved.

William Blake 2013

Pigeon Quorum

In contrast to this uplifting and elevated event, I heard genuine Essex types discussing their ways at a pub by Epping Forest later that afternoon:

You have to have a poo on a Sunday morning don’t you, with the paper.

and an incredible amount of linguistic labour went into their car-related discussions, along with adhesives. There are some photos from this walk here.

It was while walking to Bunhill Fields for the Arbonauts that I saw the Islington borough sign and was surprised to see how far south it comes, showing, if show be need be, that I have no idea where I am most of the time.

Inefficient density

The problem with the early Members’ Hours at the Tate is that they’re early.  The other problem is that there are over 100,000 members now (I believe…) and so the imagined idyll of empty galleries, just like on the telly, is unlikely to be achieved.  I had raced through the Pre-Raphaelites show 6 weeks ago while concentrating on the Turner Prize.  It was hideously crowded and I wasn’t sure whether I’d make the effort to see it properly.

Still, I’ve been advised not to say No to anything, even my own suggestions, so in that spirit I got up very early, for a Sunday and headed to Pimlico.  Oddly, people were heading in straight away and there was a queue.  An entabarded man was regulating entry and, in response to his query as to whether I had booked (apparently flashing my membership card was insufficient) I’m afraid I told a fib and said I had, at which revelation I was admitted.  A kind man at the ticket desk let me have one of their spares, thereby sparing me the humiliation of an ejection.

To be honest I’m not sure how interesting I find the Pre-Raphaelites in terms of the work they produced, so much as the effect they had, and so much of it is perhaps over-familiar anyway.  Nevertheless, I did enjoy it, in spite of the large group being lectured at and led around by a loud American curator;  somewhat going against the spirit of the semi-exclusive hour.  Their presence meant you had either to speed up or to improvise a non-linear scheme of looking.  I heard a man say to his companion:

I’m just going back to that other room to see Ophelia

It was pleasing to be able to linger over a few Ford Madox Brown paintings that I’d had to rush past at the Manchester Gallery last year and the tapestries were unexpected.  The progress of William Morris was also enjoyably tangible.

Outside the queues were enormous:

Queues to the Pre-Raphaelites show

Queues to the Pre-Raphaelites show

The last time I’d come to one of these events, the works on display in the open space outside the main galleries were unexpected and so doubly appreciated.  Then it was Patrick Keiller, now it was Ian Hamilton Finlay.  I wasn’t sure whether I knew him or not.  I liked his attention to design and form as well as his poetry, especially this final piece:

The world has been empty since the Romans

The world has been empty since the Romans

Ignoring the unresolved nagging feeling that I’d planned to do something else next, after a brief spell in the Members’ Room which seems to facilitate mainly negotiations for extra chairs, owing to its size, I headed home.  It was Football Time and the result was satisfactory.  During the match I consulted my almanac and realised that it was the last day of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA, so I would have to head back into town again, knowing that I was due at the tunnels beneath Waterloo Station in the evening.

Long before I moved to London I used to visit quite a lot, and during those visits I would come to the ICA often, usually for films.  I couldn’t remember how large the galleries were and was worried whether I’d have time to see everything in the hour or so available to me.  In fact, it was fairly small.  There was perhaps more painting than you might expect at such shows.  Lots of video of course.  I think my favourite was the squirrel, because it reminded me of the Maurizio Cattelan suicide squirrel I’d caught at the Whitechapel in December:



One question – who are the mysterious manufacturers of these weird TV sets often used for video art and in schools (on stilts)?  As is often the case with waiting until the last day, some installations either weren’t working or couldn’t be bothered to work.

I walked down Charing Cross Road and across the Thames to Waterloo and the Old Vic Tunnels, venue for the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a show I only knew about because I heard an interview with Fiona Shaw on Night Waves.  La di da.  There was some confusion in the lobby, while we had to wait for the people who’d seen the previous showing to leave:

The sadness of the blanked out old CCTV camera

The sadness of the blanked out old CCTV camera

The next room held a bar and  strange pool:



Fiona Shaw appeared while people were taking their seats, with two black hats.  She picked out several people and tried hats on them, searching and assessing the audience.  As you’d expect it was a powerful performance from her and her interplay with the dancer worked quite well.  As with many such poems, I enjoyed it much more in this format than I had under scholastic strictures.  The occasional rumblings from trains up above melded effectively with the soundtrack.  Here is a view of the stage before the performance began:

Rime stage

Rime stage

Sundays shouldn’t really be so busy.