January 13, 2018-February 10, 2018
The rediscovery of concrete poetry, more than a half-century after its emergence, stems both from the pleasures and the pains of the digital universe. The graphic context of a type-based intermedium fusing the visual with the verbal has been rendered commonplace by the possibilities of on-screen composition. On the other hand, concretion itself is a condition distant from the haptic (non-)experience of that smooth, featureless screen. In this day and age, concrete poetry no longer promises the adventure of cross-bred disciplines but the immediacy of cross-bred objects.
Thus, the six artists comprising the roster of Signals are not all concrete poets per se. (Nor are they all of the “McLuhan generation” that gave us concrete poetry.) Even so, all seem geared to investigate the intersections of drawing, language and concrete poetry. In other words, type is no more prominent than script, a free-standing sculptural object can be the site of text, and a book can escape the lexical or can explode it.
The orthodox concrete poets here, running their paper time and again through their typewriter carriages, are the (East) German Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and the late English Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houédard. For them, patterns of type could encode and express concepts simultaneously, proposing that the hand can draw, and the mind can speak, without the pen. By contrast, Irma Blank, born in Germany and working in Milan, is hand-and-pen reliant. But her notations, however similar to cursive writing, prove illegible, recording activity rather than thought. So, in their own way, do the spare geometric drawings of French-born, Los Angeles-based Guy de Cointet, seemingly encrypting information—or dialogue, given the late artist’s involvement in theater and performance art.
The two artists here born (well) after World War II, local Conny Purtill and Glaswegian Sue Tompkins, are more concerned with the relationship of text/notation to material, and thus as much engaged with the artist’s book intermedium as with concrete poetry itself. In particular, Purtill’s intervention in printed books, betraying his vocation as book designer, clarifies sometimes startling connections between disparate words and images. For her part, Tompkins wields the typewriter like a DJ wields a tone arm, conjuring new structures (betraying her engagement with sound poetry) from found sources as much as from her own invention.