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.