A small white plaque with a black border and caps letters spelling THIS IS A MIRROR YOU ARE A WRITTEN SENTENCE

The Ideal Work of Art is a Hyperrealist Linear Narrative

Luis Camnitzer, 'This Is a Mirror, You Are a Written Sentence' (1966-1968) Vacuum formed polystyrene (48.4h x 62.5w x 1.5d cm). Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

  1. It is 14:37 in my studio space where I have covered each wall with a floor-to-ceiling grid of 1cm squares. I toss a coin and fill in each square based on the results. Heads = /, tails = \. Here is the structure and here is the process. Here is the fixed and here the aleatory. Here is the artist and where is the self? It is safe to deny that the structure is fluid and I am complicit. Studio; structure; girl; world.
  1. This is a poem about rhythm and movement. This is an airport waiting room. This is you driving over the Pennines in fog so thick there are no other cars in your vision. This is you driving over the Pennines in rain so heavy your car drifts to the right from the spray sent out by the wheels of a lorry in the motorway’s middle lane. This is all informational data in the haptic imaginary.
  1. If truth is revelation then I know it. If truth is deception thwarted then I know it. If truth is the unified authenticity of a lyric I then I know it. Put your body inside an art gallery inside an ongoing pandemic and enter a network of things placed just so. Inhabit your being referentially. Put your body in communion and dissolve. Put your body in communion and be constituted. Put your body in the network and savour fragmentation. 
  1. Perhaps the ultimate mimetic project concludes with disappointment. The disappointment of an expectation unfulfilled linguistically is not the same as the disappointment of an expectation unfulfilled emotionally. I want to tell you that I’m tired and I’m hurting. Are you bored or relaxed? The ideal artwork is one that makes something happen. It might be called selfish or it might be called reading.
  1. At 11:18 the children are lost. The buildings are at least five storeys high on all sides. The children run west, under an archway as tall as the sky, and turn right down a shadowy street. At the water’s edge the world closes in on itself like a street from the past. Over the rooftops: a feather, some treasure, a map. Everything artificial is related to everything else in the scene.
  1. I write about Rome and you read about Rome. Looking at a thing is only ever looking at a thing. It’s impossible to process the same information twice. I write about Rome and you read about Rome because looking at a thing is only ever looking at a thing. It’s not repetition; it’s everything.
  1. It is 14:37 in the library where I develop equations to realise lines of poetry borrowed from books I have not read. My life has been very passive; things happened to me. Position yourself as creator and there in the centre is a unified selfhood you have no authority to claim. This art isn’t about me; it’s about you.
  1. This is a painting of a sand timer being tipped over again and again. This is a room in a historical museum. This is you participating in a system of secondary texts which respond to conversations you weren’t actively engaged in. The money attached to the commission drives the value of words I don’t own but can reproduce to fulfil the brief to enable the payment of the invoice which will ultimately close a loop of active participation in culture by affording me heating and food.
  1. This isn’t about me; it’s about you. There are books that put me together and take me apart. It’s the pestle and mortar when she’s pounding the spices and the moth-eaten jacket abandoned in the hotel armoire and the factory workers singing together in languages they don’t know or share. Yes, it’s about gender. It might be that both espousing and abjuring a unified lyric subject position share a certain politics of bourgeois liberalism.
  1. The room is 6m2 with walls and floor of bare concrete. In the centre is a circular black spot. It is flat or it is infinite or it is 2.5m deep. You can walk on water or break both your knees. What is the viable diameter? Let him sign a disclaimer then put the man in a fiberglass dish hung below ground.
  1. There is one conversation to be had in language about the function of language in the conversation. There is another conversation to be had in language about the function of the conversation in language. I used to think thought was made in the mouth.
  1. It is 14:37 in the workshop where I make text collages because I am alone, feeling lonely. Here is the fixed and here is the aleatory. You can’t escape language. You can denounce self-expression as dangerous and you can steal someone else’s to prove it. You can thwart universality by temporarily inhabiting it, failingly. Here are the elements and here the coincidence.
  1. This is a work of art reduced to the imitative presentation of information and the representation of the obvious. The best response would be none; I have been tempted indeed to write nothing. I could walk in the rain and the wind and think about boredom, think of the early critiques of cinema turning the active viewer of paintings into the passive spectator of movies, shocked into submission as valuable, emotional fodder.
  1. Pick up the propaganda and bend it in all the right places to break the language sufficiently. Don’t lose communication; don’t become trivial. Tell me again about flatness. Tell me emotional turbulence isn’t daily. Something internalised and automatised creates its own unwanted filter—the expectation is in the structure of language. The way we rise to meet one another. The tool and the trap. Don’t you want everything language can give you, in whichever way that it’s able?
  1. The red brick suburbs sprawl beyond the outer ring road. The red brick university spreads edge to edge within the inner ring road, soaking up the town. The red brick builds walls and it smashes our windows. The work relies on an and returns to a tactile imaginary. Things we touch in the room, in the series, in the language of their construction and the body of language we encounter them in. Our bodies that let language in the language that lets them.
  1. At 09:31 the elected metropolitan mayor leaves the station and enters the café where he’s met with the flustered excitement brought on by encounter with celebrity. He accepts a free coffee, the cost of which is later taken from the café worker’s wages. The elected metropolitan mayor later oversees a public meeting at which the public is debarred from entering. There is a split between fame and actual cultural effect. If we’re interested in actual cultural effect we should be more humble.
  1. The technology of the codex creates embodied engagement with information. Group A reads the novel on a Kindle: middle, end, beginning. The lovers quarrel, the lovers die, the lovers meet. Group B reads the novel in paperback: beginning, middle, end. The lovers meet, the lovers quarrel, the lovers die. The book’s weight travels right hand to left. Progression through the codex thus supports a linear chronology we might not otherwise feel. The technology of the codex can be exploded.
  1. It is 14:37 when I am catcalled in the street and make no visible reaction. Here is the fixed and here is the aleatory. It is safer to pretend it’s not happening. Out of shame I build a machine that will write and read its own poems. Here is a problem and here a solution. Here is the botched logic of language playing its roll call.
  1. This is a public consultation designed to engage and ignore you. This is a process to dissolve the boundaries of your body. This is a unified self, autonomous and coherent, delivering a linear hyperrealist narrative. This is you averting your eyes while I look straight at you. In the rose garden we follow the paths laid with paving slabs. In the rose garden we follow the paths made by busy feet in the grass. Here we inhabit boredom as a method of emotional divestment.
  1. The artifice of the room is the fact you don’t own it or want to. The way the room feels is the way the room feels. Everything that’s artificial is related to everything else in the room: here is the sofa and here is the telly; here is the carpet and here is the radiator. The object is only the physical packaging of something else, in this case referring you back to a place of domesticity. The virtual under your fingers. This is an organised informational encounter essentially at odds with the organised informational encounter staged in a gallery space; home is an infinity of potentials.
  1. The value of a genre in a given context cannot be replicated in every other context. The ideal work of art would be an atmosphere you hadn’t even noticed. The work itself is an excuse, is a stimulus. It doesn’t exist until you connect to it and create it. But later you have to be good, not bad.
  1. It is 16:42 and the snow is falling gently. The buildings could be anything. A hospital, a factory, a university, a warehouse or a courthouse. The road is just a road and could be anywhere. Here are the summer tourists; here are the same taxis and here are all the power lines. We look for difference on the screen but can’t locate it. A visual rhyme might go unnoticed for any period of time. How to locate the perspective to critique the hierarchy you’re embedded in?
  1. Here is a circle in a square. Here is a tree in the centre of a roundabout. A good illustration complements and enriches the text; a bad illustration smothers and devalues the text. Does a beautiful sculpture contain and convey information? This knowledge concerns light and the eye and the space and your distance. If there is a problem then there’s a solution. Looking at a thing is only ever looking at a thing.
  1. At 14:37 I am recognised by a friend despite us both wearing our facemasks. This is no imposition. We swap books we have read and discussed. This is the extended structure of reading we inhabit prior to laying our hands on the codex. The stream inside and out: dip your cup.
  1. This is you creating an image in language in the poetry workshop that encourages individual voice and personal style. This is a set of sentences that will evoke the exact same images for every reader. This is a generator designed to identify the most efficient medium to address the nature of the problem and these are the paratexts to a text you’ll encounter only once the core problem has been identified.
  1. The artist offers silence. If there is any dialogue, it occurs between the viewer’s monologue and its echo. Echo is not symmetrical like a reflection. These are the shadows of clouds over land seen from an aeroplane window. We may want to communicate but the codes are mired in useless tradition.
  1. The presumption of authorship is that you will get paid. Sculpture creates both impermanent and irrelevant self-portraits. In the concept of our biology every process is metaphor. Vandalism of art is not an infraction of knowledge, it is an infraction of intellectual property. Are you capable of producing a monumental experience? A cartoon of Frida Kahlo stares down from the fridge.
  1. At 15:32 the woman tells her friend that now is not the time to begin with regrets. You never wanted children, she reminds her. But the woman’s loneliness is growing as she ages and finds herself unwell. It’s not the children per se but what they symbolise that’s out of reach for her. At the end of the film we will see her alive and smiling as she talks on the phone. Perhaps she is silently haemorrhaging, perhaps not.
  1. Where did you put your body? That’s where the politics start. You can never see revelation coming but you can feel very revealed during reading. Trust your instincts and feel vulnerable. I lie awake at night and worry about the speaker of the poem. Where did you put your body? Who did you leave it with and what did you do with it? 

This is a creative response to the ‘Media Poetries’ in-conversation event with Tan Lin and Luis Camnitzer on 9 February 2022, part of the Sculpture & Poetry programme hosted by the Henry Moore Institute in partnership with the University of Leeds and Corridor8. Recordings and related material can be found here.

Jazmine Linklater is a poet and writer. Recent work includes the manifesto Future Notes Towards an Alternative, commissioned by the Harris Gallery, Preston, as part of Exhibit Gay (2021), and the poetry pamphlet Figure a Motion (Guillemot Press, 2020).

Published 10.03.2022 by Lara Eggleton in Explorations

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