A friend recently asked me to dig something out of my archive for him, but somewhere amidst the years’ multiple computer and OS changes the fragment of writing he was looking for seems to have vanished. I did manage to find the following poem, which struck me as seeming particularly resonant in these uncertain days, hence the posting:
We tread carefully, dust clinging
to our feet; the clicking
Thoughts unpacking themselves.
Where we go there are no
footprints, only inverted shadows:
we can’t pronounce
the name of our country,
the nation to which
The sun charts our progress
with her sextant.
Windows open and close,
their frames glistening
like the surface of a lake
seen from below.
On holiday I read Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now, by New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff. The author’s intention was to propose strategies for listening to and appreciating music in an era when vast amounts of it are available for free on the Internet, through legal streaming services services or illicit downloads. His starting assumption was that technological and economic shifts have produced corresponding changes in listening habits, requiring different approaches to the art if we are going to get the most out of it. I wandered glibly into the book, thinking it would be entertaining to read something by a professional, qualified music critic; I came away with a bit more than I’d bargained for.
Renée Green is one of my favourite artists, and has been since I saw her solo exhibition Endless Dreams and Water Between at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich back in 2009. Recently I finished reading her book Other Planes of There, which collects a selection of her writings from 1981 to 2010, though most of the essays, articles, exhibition proposals, and other texts date from 1990 onwards. This book documents aspects of Green’s practice with which I was unfamiliar, and also sheds new light on themes and concerns I already associated with her work.
I’ve just finished reading Alain Badiou’s Being and Event, a somewhat weighty tome that excited and frustrated me in equal measure. The exciting parts were the numerous philosophical insights that seemed to confirm and extend various vague intuitions I had held for some years, to an extent that no other work of philosophy so far has. The frustrating parts were the ones in which Badiou attempted to demonstrate the logic of these insights using a mathematical language that remained, despite the author’s best efforts and patient encouragement, mostly beyond my ability to grasp.
Seth Kim-Cohen’s In the Blink of an Ear: Towards a Non-Cochlear Sound Art (2009) is an odd book. On the one hand, the author lays on a relentless attack against what he calls “sound-in-itself”, or rather against those artists and theorists that would seek to reify such an imaginary sonic essence in order to posit it as the transcendent origin of the sound art they favour. At the same time, he articulates a version of Seventies Conceptualism that comes to replace the phenomenal sonic object as the underwriter and validator of what is now the sonic ‘text’. In the place of perception, he advocates an approach that understands sound art as a blank surface upon which the inscriptions of context — “sociality, gender, class, race, politics, and power” — can be read, going as far as to suggest that some sound works, such as Alvin Lucier’s seminal I am sitting in a room (1969), are better apprehended without listening to them.
A little while ago I conducted an online survey into how and why people read art books. 14 people took the survey, which isn’t a huge sample size, but for those who are interested, the results can be downloaded here. For those who are interested, but not interested enough to trawl through an Excel sheet full of statistics and charts, here is a summary of the results: