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Poetry Passage #5: L'esprit des poètes officiels et crochus

Archive: Poetry Passage #5: L'esprit des poètes officiels et crochus


Dukelských hrdinů 530/47, 170 00 Praha 7-Holešovice, Česká republika
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Date: 17.03.2017 - 10.09.2017
Place: Trade Fair Palace

Henri Chopin, Ladislav Novák

I speak and therefore I am
I am speaking, speaking, speaking 
where am I? where am I from? where am I?
I am wandering with my own voice
I am groping with my own voice 
I am rising with my own voice 
I am sinking with my own voice 
I am stumbling with my own voice
I am falling with my own voice 
I am flying with my own voice 
I am bleeding with my own voice 
I am floating with my own voice 
I am disappearing with my own voice 
I am only that which and how I am speaking

“The liquefaction of the geometer Descartes and his further liquid state of aggregation”
Ladislav Novák, 1968

Poetry Passage#5 “L'esprit des poètes officiels et crochus" unfolds what the previous Passage, “I Am the Mouth” was left at, while drifting the meaning along the membrane of a trembling voice in a video of Agnieszka Polska. Concluding his drama of “Vox Clamans in Deserto”, Jean-Luc Nancy recalls Paul Valéry’s understanding of a relationship between the language and a voice: “Language issues from voice, rather than voice from language”. Thus, “voice defines pure poetry”, according to both a poet and a philosopher. “Voice is the precession of language”, Nancy continues, “the very immanence of language in the wilderness where the soul is still alone”. He crowns his essay by providing a reader with a definition of voice as a sensation that produces the other: “It is the soul itself which the voice calls forth from the other. That is how it frays the path for the subject, but it doesn’t let it settle in yet. On the contrary, it avoids the subject. It does not call on the soul to hear itself, or even to hear any discourse. It simply calls, which is to say that it makes the soul tremble, arouses it. The soul arouses the other within itself. That is voice”.  

Poetry Passage#5 draws parallel lines between French-English concrete and sound poet and performer, Henri Chopin (1922, Paris – 2008, Norfolk) and Czech visual artist and poet, Ladislav Novák (1925, Turnov – 1999, Třebič) who used to know each other and collaborate on several occasions, including Novak’s contributions to the review OU, published by Chopin between 1964 and 1974. OU was a unique assemblage of concrete poetry, manifestoes, objects of art, and records (eleven in all) containing the works of many of the major practitioners of electro-acoustic poetry of that period and bringing together figures associated with Dada, Surrealism, Lettrisme, Fluxus and Beat Poetry, as well as Concrete Poetry. Novák’s pioneer work in phonetic and visual poetry had appeared in issues 36/37 of 1970 and 42/43/44 of 1974 (on view in this exhibition), along with the work of such artists as Hugh Davis, Sten Hanson, Bernard Heidsieck, William Burroughs, Åke Hodell, Charles Amirkhanian. 

Although his work can more properly be placed within the vein of surrealism (he was a member of a student surrealist group and established contact with Vítězslav Nezval about whom he wrote a thesis "Rhyme and Assonance in the Work of Vítězslav Nezval” at Prague's Charles University), Novak was also close to the artists of the New Sensibility of the 1960s. Influenced by Dada he was instrumental in advancing sound poetry, recordings of which he made in the 1950s, and concrete poetry. With Jiří Kolář and Josef Hiršal he formed the first Czech Group of Experimental Poetry. Since 1970, Novák, taking advantage of the technical facilities offered by Swedish Radio and the Fylkingen group, has produced a number of sonic compositions, which have earned him a high rank among the verbophonic poets. His first sonic attempts were founded almost entirely on onomatopoeia: "Little bird in the cables of the steel city", "Awake", "Aviators", and thus were related to the futurist experiments. His more recent works, however, reveal the ironic spirit of Czech literature. In the visual arts, he developed the techniques of alchemage (chemically treating reproductions of pictures) and froissage (interpreting the creased lines made at random by crumpling paper), which brought him the most recognition. Both methods gave free reign to chance. From 1979, he was prohibited by Czechoslovakia's former Communist regime from exhibiting and publishing at home, while simultaneously gaining a recognition abroad.

Poetry Passage#5 includes Novák’s groundbreaking compositions, amongst them, “La structure phonétique de la langue tchèque” (The Phonetic Structure of the Czech Language), 1970, where, according to Helena Capkova, “the voices reproduce a few Czech jaw-crackers or tongue twisters that are composed to create a wonderful sequence”. Forward and reverse tape manipulation enabled Novák to concentrate the listener’s attention more on the sensory push and pull of language than on the accumulation of semantic meaning. Novák’s audio-work is complemented by a selection of his work on paper, such as “Homage to John Cage” or “Silence” from the end of the 1960s and the 1970s, now in the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

His friend William Burroughs, used to call him an "inner space explorer”. Key-figure within experimental art and literature in the post-war years, Henri Chopin was a pioneer of “poésie sonore” (sound poetry), who taking account of the smallest sounds – like the vibrations of his nasal hair – was able to turn them into a vast musical and poetic fresco. Chopin created more than 100 audio poems, recorded on many discs, including “Pêche de Nuit” (1957-59), which became the soundtrack of the eponymous film by the Belgian artist “Luc Peire" in 1962, “Vibrespace” (1963), “Throatpower" (1974), “Le Corpsbis" (1983), “Les 9 Saintes Phonies” (1984-87) and the oratorio “Copernic & Co” (2007). In his own work as well as in his publishing activities (including the review Cinquième Saison which he founded in 1958 and which became an aforementioned OU in 1964) he was obsessed by the electronic explorations of the voice and the body, the grain of the voice, the vocal texture, the vibrations of the larynx, the labial snaps, and the hiss. Chopin also created many graphic works on his typewriter: the so-called typewriter poems (also known as dactylopoèmes). As Sara Softness observes, “By manipulating modern-age technology, Chopin seeks to access the primal expanse of communication, the infinity beyond symbolic meaning. The tape recorder makes possible the elongation and elaboration of sound shapes, makes audible the normally inaudible. Similarly, the typewriter, in its perfect repetitious typescript, showcases the “architectural skeleton” or pure form of letters and words. In this way, Chopin simultaneously engages the mysterious archaic and the mechanical state-of-the-art”. Chopin’s innovative sonic compositions range from the vocal incarnation of a rocket flight in 1963, through a composition deploying the sounds of the air in the human body in 1966, to a dark and atmospheric work from 1969 consisting of laughter while his typewriter poems evidence the artist’s interest in performative writing and his preoccupation with a relationship between the order and disorder. For Michel Giroud, Henri Chopin is an explorer of a terra incognita, of an infro- and ultra-poetry of pure energy that goes beyond language: “he introduces the primary poetry, in the sense of Novalis, that is poetry as energy, the primary planetary poetry of the corporal space”. 

Poetry Passage#5 which borrows its title from one of Chopin’s typewriter poems, “L'esprit des poètes officiels et crochus” (1978), showcases a number of Chopin’s experiments with a typewriter and the act of writing. They are accompanied by a photo-collage, “The Jail” (1976), dedicated to his long-term friend and collaborator, Ladislav Novák. Additionally, a selection of Chopin’s “audio-poems” complements the presentation of haunting tape-manipulations by Ladislav Novák. 

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