In October, the Triangle will be entertained by a true modern-day troubadour. Miquèl Decòr, a prolific and original poet who carries on the ancient literary tradition of writing and performing in the Occitan (Oc) language, will be sharing his works at poetry readings in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Pittsboro.
The poet and his translator, Raleigh resident Jeannette Rogers, will read in Occitan and English from two of his books which Rogers translated, “Wild Roman Byways” and “Heirs of the Moon.” These poetry readings, a collaboration between Meredith College and the Center for European Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are free and open to the public:
- Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., Global Fedex Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.
- Thursday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m., The Joyful Jewel, Pittsboro, N.C.
- Thursday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m., Carswell Concert Hall, Meredith College, Raleigh, N.C.
Decòr is a native and resident of the Languedoc region of France where the troubadours lived nearly a thousand years ago. From the 11th through the 13th centuries, 500 troubadours wrote and performed in Occitan throughout Europe. During that time they invented many forms of poetry, as well as biography and literary criticism, while they shifted the focus of literature in Western Europe from war to love. Modern Oc poets provide the connection to the significant literary heritage of the troubadours.
The author of 10 books, including poetry, drama and history, Decòr has been involved in many French cultural events and appeared on French television and radio. This is the poet’s first visit to the United States.
The information above is from Jeannette Rogers, who translates Decòr’s work and arranged for his visit to the U.S. Jeannette is a dear old friend who is fluent in French and creating a wonderful body of work as she develops historical novels set in medieval southern France and translates French and Occitan poetry.
Occitan is a Latin-sounding ancient version of the French tongue, one of the many endangered languages around the world. Miquèl Decòr and my friend Jeannette, who is learning Occitan as she translates it and works with Miquèl on trilingual presentations of poetry, are important figuress in an emerging renewal of of the language in French culture. As UNC’s press release states:
He was bathed in the culture of Occitan from his birth under the spell of his godfather, Uncle Jean, an actor. When he left home to study in Béziers, distance and longing caused him to write poetry in Occitan, his mother tongue.
Decor press release (loads pdf)
”to make open the eyes” Josef Albers All work of Ray Johnson on this site is used by permission of The Ray Johnson Estate
Ray Johnson was probably the most enigmatic and least appreciated artist of his importance in the 20th century. He was a man of many many layers, not so much depth, on first impression, just layers, fairly random factors that underlie and overlay his work. The show just ended at The Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center had many layers itself, over multiple valuable events, and provided a greatly needed showcase and explication for this “seminal figure of Pop Art” whose collages “influenced a generation of contemporary artists.”
The show and especially its catalogue were already reviewed here, but several subsequent events have enriched the impact of the show. Dr. Francis F. L. Beatty (quoted and seen above), a curator who works with the Ray Johnson Estate, gave a lecture at the BMCM+AC on May 21, using parallel slides to show that Ray displays elements in his collages that link him to the major artistic trends of the day. His wit, humor and intense communications of all kinds were highly stimulating but hard to classify, but his collages and the palette he created out of found and encountered material can be seen as fully in the tradition of Klee’ as well as Albers, while partaking of the humor of Dada. “I don’t make pop art. I make chop art.” Ray’s statement refers to his use of old work in new, and Dr. Beatty skillfully elucidated the way in which Ray’s “chop art” (often meticulous geometric constructions) came right out of his Black Mountain experience. She makes a point that reverberated through this show: the liberation of American education happening at Black Mountain served as well to “liberate Ray Johnson.” He found himself, and he found the principle that best illuminates the breadth of his work for me: images standing in for words, words become imagery.
Yet Ray remains enigmatic. Dr. Beatty spent much time on the 55 Moticos – huge intricate collages – which Ray made and destroyed, calling them “some of the earliest and most significant examples of Pop Art.” She recounted many personal interactions with Ray, such as the time he approached her and finally wanted to do a gallery display – of “Nothings.” Beyond his inscrutability, his avoidance of the commercial process, Dr. Beatty makes a simple but important point – the small scale of Ray’s visual work limited his gallery prospects and indirectly his artistic stature.
The scale of Ray’s imagination and willingness to live his life for art was unbounded, of course. The final night of the show, orchestrated by curator Sebastian Matthews, was a truly wild and wonderful event that did much to reflect Ray’s spirit. Music, poetry, and spoken word all filled the space.
“We have to seize the things we need to create.” These words were spoken in Picasso’s voice by Keith Flynt, one of the closing night performers (seen below).
Earl Bragg, seen above, offered a nine-eleven poem that featured number names – worthy of Ray’s glyphs and puns. His political themes and passionate phrases made for an excellent reading.
Local dramatists staged a reading of a collaged piece incorporating Ray’s play inside a play about Ray discussing a play with pink James Dean.
The final word has to go to Sebastian Matthews, who did such a magnificent job not only of putting on the show but of staying in touch with Ray’s spirit the whole time. He evoked and nurtured the image of Ray as filled with humor, energy – and a total lack of any sense of propriety. About the “chop art” and “lost art” which was so prominent in the show, he says: “Ray loved to make things up, kill them off, and resurrect them.”
The Ray show is dead, long live the Ray show.
The Ray Johnson show at the Black Mountain College Museum in Asheville opened February 19th and will run through June 12, 2010. The opening was spectacular, the show is rich, varied and informative. For Ray J fans like me, the catalogue and it’s essays, assembled by show curator Sebastian Matthews, is the real treasure. Sebastian spent over a year studying Ray’s life and work, making connections with important people in Ray’s life (Ray passed in an act of suicide in 1995), and establishing his own perspective on the evolution of Ray’s art from a young art student in Detroit through a strong experience at Black Mountain College to an important role in the art scene of East Village in the 60′s and 70′s. The show displays extensive early work, including fairly typical ink doodles of 14 year old Ray, but also hilarious cards and visual puns from this period that presage his later work.
The show also reveals the aspect of Ray’s work I most needed to learn myself – that Ray came of age as an artist in the painterly traditions BMC and Josef Albers provided, and did lots of wonderful work as he evolved from painting to collage and then on to the correspondence work or “postal performances,” as Isa Bloom calls them, which made him most famous. The show focuses on Ray’s emergence out of Black Mountain College into the New York scene immersed in the ideas of his BMC mentors but prepared to follow Alber’s dictum: “to follow me, follow yourself.” As Sebastian Matthews says in his catalogue essay, “Ray was ripe for the challenges and experiences Manhattan had to offer.” He became one of the most intriguing and complex artists of the 20th century, and this show delineates many of the roots and threads that set him on his path.
The opening of the show was well attended and featured some aspects Ray might have liked very much, though he generally was quite ambivalent about exhibiting or selling or even saving his work. Poetix Vanguard offered spoken word performances during the event, and an open mike followed at a bar nearby. The BMCM+AC library, with many Ray J items prominent, provided a nice context for the highly varied show. Several of Hazel Larsen Archer’s gorgeous photos of Ray at BMC were on display. And Sebastian Matthews, collage artist himself and so clearly a Really Great Guy, presided with enthusiasm over the many energies he had gathered to celebrate the amazing career of Ray Johnson.
The catalogue contains 46 color plates, over a dozen images in the text, and several of Archer’s photographs. It also contains an interactive feature: a pair of postcards bound in as endpapers which the reader is invited to alter as desired and send off: one to a friend and one back to The Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center, whose program director Alice Sebrell is credited by Sebastian as being integral and vital to the process of creating the show. Five essays offer views of Ray that are remarkably varied and complementary.
Sebastian Matthews presents his curatorial essay as nine journal notes written while building the show. He elaborates his basic point: that Ray Johnson “used Black Mountain College as a springboard to propell himself into the Manhattan art world.” He also does a remarkable job, with his intense self-examinations, numerous concrete biographical insights, and constant awareness of Ray’s own probable intent to be inscrutable, of helping us have a “fuller sense of what Ray attempts when he sits down to make art, when he prepares to send out the work to be received, passed on, altered.” The quote is what Sebastian hopes to accomplish with the show, and I think he got there. He also truly transformed my personal sense of Ray J by portraying the intense, painterly, quite technical control Ray exerted over his collage work.
Ray Johnson’s career had many layers, and two essays by old friends of Ray offer insight into his early days in Detroit and his heyday in the East Village. Arthur Secunda contributed much material for the show and portrays in his recollection “Ray Johnson’s intelligence, mysterious youthful verve and artistic ingenuity.” William S. Wilson, the primary lender of the collage works, and one of Ray’s long-time art buddies, makes his essay a tour de force in Ray J style quirkiness and abrupt juxtapositions. He says “Ray Johnson was a student of the imaginations of other people.” He ably describes Ray’s focus not on abstract ideas but direct concrete responses, because Ray “worked to remain within immanences, eluding transcendentals.”
Two academic writers share their ideas about the inportance and significance of Ray’s work. Julie J. Thomson thoroughly documents the large and lasting influence Josef Albers had on Ray’s work. She also describes the way Ray’s work related to the “Happenings” and other art trends of the times. Kate Erin Dempsey, in “Code Word:Ray,” shared a long excerpt from her work in progress about Ray and his reaction to and use of the fad for secret codes and hidden messages raging in the 1950s. Expanding on the fascinating work she shared at the BMC conference, she convincingly demonstrates Ray’s fascination with language and its manipulation for artistic purposes. Furthermore, she follows this thread from radio show decoder rings through the Mayan hieroglyphics and glyphs revered at BMC, to Ray’s mature use of found images – giving them a “new lease on life - enhancing or altering their meaning entirely by arranging them in novel ways.” Kate’s work at the BMC conference, this essay, and hopefully her future book will all warrant future Ray J posts.
The kernel I found that connected all these essay? Nothings – empty shells of meaning – e.g. nonsense – that serve as markers and triggers for the kind of nonlinear art experience Ray Johnson wanted you to have. William S. Wilson talks of “the surface concealed only by another surface.” Julie J. Thomson finds their roots in “the gap, an element emphasized by Albers in his teaching,” and makes the valid and often repeated connection between Ray’s study of Taoism and these ideas. Kate Dempsey makes it clear Ray wanted to avoid specific meanings, sending messages in bottles to be partly constructed by the finder. Sebastian reminds us that Ray was “an autodidact student of Buddhism and a self-described disciple of John Cage’s cultivation of chance occurrence. “ Julie Thomson describes the performances Ray created entitled “Nothings:” they “interrupted the Happenings, opening up a space amidst the busy environments and experiences of the Happenings.” Ray brought Zen and his unique fusion of life and art into American art, and made his mark with great gifts and energy.
Sebastian Matthews has provided an amazing set of Ray Johnson experiences to me , starting with the BMC conference, many kind and enthusiastic interactions, and now this multiple-event, long-running show. He did all the myriad tasks and jumped through all the hoops to make this show happen, but he clearly handled the situation as a working artist and remained beautifully true to the spirit of Ray Johnson with everything he did as a result. See this show and then follow Sebastian’s advice:
Don’t get too caught up in finding meaning in every little detail. You need to first catch a drift of the mood and follow it back in. Let the work show you how to see. Let Ray work his magic. Sebastian Matthews, from BMC to NYC
The event was a blast and was just the beginning. Remember the show runs til June 12th, and there are lots of special events to help motivate the trip. A collage workshop by Krista Franklin had occurred by this post, a screening of How to Draw a Bunny, an award-winning Ray J documentary will take place on April 8, and Dr. Francis F. L. Beatty, a curator who works with the Ray Johnson Estate, will speak about Ray’s work on May 21. The show will celebrate its closing with a poetry reading on June 12th. The Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center, sponsor of all events, has just announced a fascinating weekend event at the old dining hall building on the BMC campus. Sounds fun! BMC lives!!
Black Mountain College and BMC+AC, the Asheville museum and art center devoted to its memory and influence, continue to generate artistic and literary responses that reverberate with the powerful cultural forces that coursed through the college until 1957. An upcoming show at the Asheville center will feature Ray Johnson, whose personal correspondence with me is described on my Black Mountain page. I am looking forward to attending and writing about the show, whose curator, Sebastian Matthews, was so welcoming and enthusiastic at the recent BMC conference. He started a blog just for this show and it’s full of wonderful Ray J images and stories. Much more about Ray Johnson before and after the show in February.
Jeffery Beam, UNC botanical librarian and Hillsborough poet, has made a major contribution to Black Mountain documentation with his recently posted Jonathan Williams archive, which gathers a wide selection of photography, poetry and essays in order to capture the unique vision of Jonathan Williams. Jeffery and Richard describe the scope of the project below.
The work he produced for more than half a century is such that no one activity or identity takes primacy over any other. He is never only a poet or photographer, an essayist or publisher. What we find instead in the figure of Williams is a continuity that cuts across these practices — something we might call a poetics of gathering. All of his efforts are linked through an unswerving desire to collect and preserve, harvest and distribute.
The project, which resides at Jacket Magazine, includes a photo essay, past essays and new pieces in response to Williams’ death in 2008 or commissioned for this project. More details from Jeffery:
You’ll also discover 26 portraits of Jonathan from the age of about 12 up until 2005 – with other images scattered throughout the essays, 24 photographs by Jonathan – a number of which have never been published, works of art in honor of Jonathan, an unpublished interview with Jonathan by editor Richard Owens, a complete Jargon bibliography by Owens, and a selected Jonathan Williams publications bibliography compiled by me from a forthcoming complete bibliography. Jeffery Beam
Raleigh has some small claims to fame relative to Black Mountain lore. Long before Glenwood South became known as an art center, Gilliam & Peden Art Gallery on Glenwood Avenue organized a show, curated by Ben Williams, called Black Mountain Connection. It featured Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as many others as seen below. This is my copy of the prospectus for the 1987 show.
(click to enlarge)
The NC Museum of Art hosted a major exhibition of BMC material in 1987. In conjunction with this show, which also traveled to Annandale-on-Hudson and New York City, New York, , MIT Press published a truly sumptuous volume entitled The Arts at Black Mountain College by Mary Emma Harris. The book is wonderful, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t now come now with the checklist of the exhibition which is tucked inside my copy from the show. Looking over it, I recall the intense immediacy evoked by the multitude of so many different kinds of objects in that show. There were architectural models, prints, oils and products of every imaginable drawing device and surface; announcements, bulletins, programs, photographs, glyphs, scores, weavings, calligraphy, letterpress printings and bound books. You got a sense of the interspersing and practical (yet clearly micro-utopian) productivity of this self-contained culture studying culture. The exhibition, The Arts at Black Mountain College 1933-1957 was organized by the Edith C. Blum Art Institute of Bard College and contained 219 items.
NCSU’s Gregg Museum has also done its part for BMC. Anni Albers was featured in a 2007 lecture (links to pdf) by Mary Emma Harris (who had previously lectured there about the architecture of Black Mountain). The NCSU Colleges of Textile and Design offers specialized degrees combining design and technology through the Anni Albers Scholars Program, which “is named for a designer who exemplifies the ideals and goals to which the program aspires: textile designer and artist Anni Albers.”
Yet another local connection to the threads of BMC influence is Margret Kentgens-Craig, part-time Raleigh resident (and fondly remembered stalwart supporter of my Paper Plant bookstore), whose book The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts 1919-1936 delineates the major connections between the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College. Walter Gropius, a nine year director of the Bauhaus, lectured at the college, but also “tried continually to secure a teaching position at Harvard for Josef Albers.” Lucky for BMC he didn’t! Albers, according to Kentgens-Craig, “was the first Bauhaus master to acquire a position at an American educational institution, Black Mountain College. His wife Anni, who was Jewish, joined him.” The book describes the enormous impact Bauhaus ideas had on American architecture, and credits Lawrence Kocher, a BMC instructor, with creating opportunities for the dissemination of those ideas.
A final BMC note: Jeff Davis posted recently at his blog Natures previewing the Charles Olson Centenary Conference, taking place at Simon Fraser University in Briitish Columbia June 4-10, 2010. Jeff will be in Vancouver “to make a presentation on Olson’s curricular projects.”
The MUSA show at Cozart’s Antiques in west downtown Raleigh (just closed October 18th) was varied, intriguing and successful in presenting artistic takes on the issues behind the show’s concept – work and making things in the post-industrial age. The show was held in a back space which formerly housed a furniture factory. I have formerly described my personal connections to the space and its employees. I went opening night and then back for more pictures. There were a scattering of very interesting installations within this large show, and these were what I focused on.
One striking installation had some very cool craft history associated with it. Jon Barlow Hudson’s ”Felt Hat Body” also offered a chapbook called “The Handmade Felt Hat.” I picked one up and found it, as a papermaker, a wonderful history of the craft and the culture surrounding it. There was also a beautiful accordion book by Kathleen Loeven on display, seen below.
The show was incorporated into its space in a unique way. Many trappings of the former furniture works were still in place – from commercial tin decoration samples to the old paint shop. One of the installations used spray paint and objects to evoke the history of the place’s paints. The large back room featured a working silk screen process as well as the installation of “Invisible,” the music group that played at the opening and other project events. Below, an Invisible member sets the pegs on the player piano wheel that provided some of the random sounds.
The artwork was extremely variable in style and quality. My favorite piece by far was a large contraption that hung clay “icicles” over a pan of water. As visitors pushed the lever that lowered them into the water, the blobs of clay were soaked and softened. Gradually they would slip off their strings and fall into the water creating an evolving pattern in the water. Below is a picture I snapped just after a young woman had been splashed by a sudden plop.
Another very fun piece was the shrine to highway US 1 by Dave Alsobrooks that was installed in a small side room. There was a church pew, a slide show of the artist’s road trip (whose imagery was “desaturated” for effect), and -best of all- a US1 bumper sticker which I have proudly displayed on my car! I liked the artist’s attempt to “find beauty in the mundane” and really like his description of the piece recording “the constant plodding of our human race towards an unknown future…”
The show was a lot of fun and thought-provoking as well. The gritty, down-n-dirty atmosphere provided an excellent setting for much of the art work. Carter Hubbard and Sarah Botwick are to be commended for finding a way to enlarge the possibilities for art events in downtown Raleigh.