IN SESSION 8 - Chan Sai-lok x Fannou Poetry Society．Literature x Street
IN SESSION 8 –
from October 14, 2016
Dec 2016 ~ Feb 2017
Alongside Poetry in an Alley |《在詩的港口》
Experiment, an explorative process leading to unknown outcome or nowhere sometimes, is all about contemplation, practice and revision, again and again. This exhibition space is merely a wall and a display window at the corner of an alley. While there is nothing but struggles and question marks left in today’s living, we leave a trace of flavor here with our literature and art works.
Allies are cracks in a city, nourishing its economics and accommodating its residence. There are not only untidiness and disorder, but also livelihood, if that can be called life, earned by hard working. Each of us, even as passerby, must have our personal stories with an alley which touches our memories and emotions.
Words fill every corner of the city, yet literature is an outcast of life. We still believe that reading into a poem is a beautiful thing; and cherishing the spoken words while reading provides the strength to live. As a visual/reading program, this project comprises six chapters which will be presented one after the other during the cross-year exhibition period.
7 Dec We have been here.
19 Dec Alley View in Wan Chai: Lockhard Road, Fleming Road
27 Dec Alley View in Wan Chai: Luen Fat Street, Gresson Street
10 Jan Alley View in Wan Chai: Burlington Street, Cheung Woo Lane
23 Jan Memories from the slit of life
6 Feb Alley View in Wan Chai: A Walk with A3
Volunteers: Chui Pui Chee, Cheung Wai Lok, Raina, LXM, Harrison Chiu
7 Dec 我們曾在此停留
19 Dec 灣仔巷景：駱克道．菲林明道
27 Dec 灣仔巷景：聯發街．機利臣街
10 Jan 灣仔巷景：寶靈頓街．祥和里
23 Jan 生活狹縫裡所記掛的
6 Feb 灣仔巷景：A Walk with A3
仗義協力：徐沛之（Chui Pui Chee）、張偉樂（Cheung Wai Lok）、Raina、LXM、Harrison Chiu
There is no beginning and no end: the conversations between the artists have been ongoing. They cared a lot that poets and painters work together in three-dimensional physical space, not just on print, as printed matter. They cared a lot that the back lane is a place actively dwelled in the old and new days. Perhaps A Walk with A3 could offer a little help.
[Two months later...]
Where does the worry of arriving late come from? I asked myself. Late as late to understand on my part, failing to catch up with the transformative energy the poets are making happen.
In the first dialogue I shared with them, I learnt of new Chinese words, I learnt of Chinese history, and of the deep friendship the poets share. In the seminar room with no window, there were so many stories and so many hearty laughs.
[A few weeks later...]
One iteration: poem-to-poem, line upon line. The paintings leaning on the wall have silence explicitly installed. Another iteration: suddenly, restlessness. Alfred Gell cited by Tim Ingold in Lines, studies the ‘apotropaic use of patterns’, that is, “the practice of inscribing complex and visually puzzling designs upon surfaces in order to protect those sheltered behind them from attack by evil spirits or demons. The idea is that the demons are lured to the surface by their fascination with the pattern, but are so tantalized by it that they cannot bear to pass without first having unraveled it, or solved the puzzle it presents.” (2016:57) Tantalizing – in our daily experience of being tantalized by wealth as the accumulation of commodities, the patterns the poets have made seem to speak of a competing vision of the tantalizing, possibly a more choiceworthy one.
The artists’ conviction began as letting painting and poetry encounter each other beyond print on paper. The encounters stretched to become explorations over time, rendering the convenience of established genres irrelevant. A process of thinking what it is they are doing takes over.
The first series of gestures of Alongside Poetry embraced the alley as memory from the artists’ personal lives, and more generally, memory of any common person’s daily sojourn of the city. An argument for the dignity of the alley was made in response to the overpowering simple-mindedness of the city – keep moving, stop thinking. The argument was the combination of several self-sufficient arguments in the form of handwritten poems hanging inside the space, inscribed on the street-facing side of the glass windows, and on a light box designed for advertising but offered up by the neighboring pharmacy for art. The argument was also several studies of the vicinity transposed onto canvases, leaning onto the wall, defying the formalizing aesthetics of hanging for the eye of the viewer. A lot has been said of drowning and gasping for air, of smoking and secrets in the cloudy air. A lot has been inscribed with and in strokes upon the finitude of the urban outcrop. A lot must be said about the past – how the alley has been and how the city has had it spatialized, the artists speak against.
This disposition to draw meanings out from the past is gradually seized by the reality of the space and the challenges it poses. The artists shift into a longer-range view: from making meaning for immediate availability to making conditions for meaning-making. This revised focus does not promise the arrival of meaning; it however keeps open a certain undecidability about what comes first and what comes to be. To let undecidability be is not to say anything goes. It is rather to attend to possibilities. The artists pulled themselves back from the loudness of content to see what lies in front of them (words, lines, space, depth, street, passersby, etc.) as scenarios, even topography, or a cascade. When they question their own writing as writing, and writing in general as things, they challenge, even ridicule, the complacency of writing that is so sure of itself elsewhere in the totalized urban zone.
The act of shifting attention from writing to thinking of writing and (including but not only) going against writing is comparable to Carlo Sini’s idea of the shift between poetry and philosophy in “Gesture and Word: The Practice of Philosophy and the Practice of Poetry” (in Between Philosophy and Poetry, Writing, Rhythm, History, ed. Massimo Verdicchio and Robert Burch, 2002:22):
“The ‘ethical’ nature of this [act of writing] lies in the fact that now philosophy, without dismissing the habit of writing, that is the habit of thinking conceptually (in absence of which there would be no philosophy, but maybe another practice), determines ‘to inhabit’ its own acting otherwise, that is, to dwell in the writing practice in a different way. Writing should not be employed to accomplish presumed theoretical truths conceived as universally valid; on the contrary, it should be seized as an opportunity and practiced as an exercise by which the subject is educated to watch himself not in his products (in his rational meanings, among which the word ‘subject’ is highly significant), but in his event of meaning. The very meaning of the subject is to be subject ‘to’ and not the subject ‘of’ writing.”
As the self-reflective act of writing draws out the evocative power of words inscribed in space, freed from the formalism of the stanza structure, gestures of painting is willing to retreat from the canvas and share a visual language freshly constituted. The punctuations of the comma inside the space and the full-stop on the opposite side of the alley now flourish and are freed up to work, to be involved. This contrasts with their status in the first series of gestures when they could offer a pause to nothing, for everything else is already complete and self-sufficient. All the gestures come together as a range of intensity of feeling. (Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurent Arts, 2011:88)
The latest, but not last transformation of Alongside Poetry, has been an aesthetics that alludes to the state apparatuses’ pre-eviction procedures – the wrapping of the space with yellow and black cordon tapes and lines of barely legible cursive script for the lay eye. As a whole, up to now, the project reveals the crudeness of monotony: in a city where even army buildings are decorated with light brims, as if they have to compete with the fancy of a city entirely lit up with colors by night, the silence of poetry cannot but has its voice.
It takes discipline to keep what is by nature open-ended without being taken over by a sense of pride (for claiming to have known life) or futility (for lacking resolution). It also takes trust and friendship, a collective spirit that David Bohm in On Dialogue argues is in our nature and also choiceworthy to be pursued.
The power of poetry, or poetic practice in general, is as much in the scripted and the gestural as in the silence in between. Silence is not speechlessness; it is all that meanings speech and language cannot hold. It is any potential awaiting to be released and relieved, including the discomfort, even harm if could produce. Silence is active, not negative in relation to what fails to be said. It is up to us how to make of what it does. As Bernard Dauenhauer (in Silence: The Phenomenon and its Ontological Significance, 1980) says, “[silence] does not directly intend an already fully determinate object of any sort. Rather, motivated by finitude and awe, […] silence interrupts an ‘and so forth’ of some particular stream of intentional performances.”
With initial doubts of how painting could be more ‘easily’ received than poetry in the beginning of the project, Alongside Poetry has now questioned the place of writing as a whole in urban space, predominantly employed in collusion with other systems of the visual language. Poetic practice has become a way of being and thinking.
The inconsequential thing poetry has done to this strip of concrete and this urban outcrop is nothing but the very serious (even annoying) proposition: Now we live with poetry on the streets.