So, in Oxford, lectures (public access) can sometimes appear in odd places. They can be part of the outreach programme of a department, part of a study programme by a visiting academic, or, as here, part of the programme of work of a visiting artist, in this case Red Plate Press/David Arme, who was Printer in Residence at the Bodleian
. This was the wrap-up talk after while creating work including a text landscape
of Oxford (on display at the talk and through the link, along with press and process images). The title, Accumulating Narrative at the Weston Library
, suggested a good break after my working day.
Here's the official description:
This lecture will be delivered from an artist research perspective, drawing on David Armes's own practice and that of the artists whose work he will explore. It looks at the links between the 1960s concrete poetry work of Hansjörg Mayer and the graphic typographical works of Wolfgang Weingart, drawing a line through the later 20th century work of Ken Campbell to reach the 21st century work of contemporary artists Vida Sačić, Aaron Cohick, Marianne Dages and Dimitri Runkkari. The lecture will pose questions on subjects such as how meaning can mutate through the process of production, what impact the physicality of materials has and how we can read narratives created through improvisational production techniques.
Here's pretty much what things looked like from where I was sitting, except that you can see some curious colour fringing. I'll come back to the colour fringing later.
I was late and had to be walked in. I was snuck into the very back of the lecture theatre, right up in the gods. It was dark, but not so dark I couldn't take notes. My notes are not always very edifying, however: Material makes reading
Modification is generation
A cursory initial series finds
repetition becomes generation
Ock/google translate/ - newlyn/newland/neylyn
engulph >> deplete
"THE MYSTIC WRITING PAD"
Thank you, lecture brain. Although I know why I got so excited about Google. It was because I'd used Google, in its early days, as a story-telling device, feeding the results of one search into another to create tangled little stories. I have the results somewhere. I wrote it in longhand, using different ink colours for the different browser windows. No idea why.
This wasn't how Google was being used here. It was being used to blur meaning through translating text back and forth between different languages. Not just the recommended one-two-three, but continuing translation tennis until the meaning blunted, drifted or sprouted in unexpected directions. This was just a side-sprout of the lecture however, which was actually about letterpress artists books, and how they reveal and obscure meaning.
So, coming back to the colour fringing. One of the themes in the lecture was the ways in which typography (and by extension, book design, or even spoken language) could reveal meaning that wasn't there. Partway through this discussion I grabbed my camera to try and take a note of a slide and the autofocus stuttered and the auto-exposure delayed the shutter and stretched the shot and I took the picture above instead, which does show the slide (or possibly another slide, as he kept flickering back and forth between slides (I'll come back to that) jumping forward, backward) but also artefacts that were not there, but which through the act of photographing them become design elements.
After that I started taking notes with my camera, as well as my pen. Trying to capture what wasn't there.
Consider this image, for example. How much is the moiré messing up our vision, how much is the camera extracting slices of projected image that were meant to be viewed together? Arme's presentation was jerky and staccato, with many runs forward and backward. Enactment of nervous anxiety, but also exploitation of persistence of vision, visual overprinting, rhythmic counterpoint to the discussion. Back to my notes:
Slowing down readers by adding layers of noise - Aaron Cohick
Books written and printed simultaneously (an emergent |book|)
De-intervention of books reducing interpretation layers
Rainbows shimmer through my processors and are discarded
Oscillation between seeing and reading
The deliberate slowing down of the reader through placing design elements (in some cases) directly between them and the narrative recurred again and again and seemed to have parallels with my place in the room, where the impatient shift of a head or hand repeatedly occluded my view of the projection. My favourite description of this was the idea of printing with the backs of the type, which was presented as almost a bit of a cliché of typeset book art, the sort of idea that occurs to everyone. However, the understanding that a typesetter can read text from the blank censorious rectangles of type backs, decoding meaning from spacing and size, makes it something rather different; a secret text, created only for those in the know.
This book is by Ken Campbell (not that Ken Campbell) whose website is a bit of treasure trove of curious books
. Other names from my notes include Lucio Paserini
, David Maurissen
, Marianne Dages
and Hansjörg Mayer
, along with someone I have recorded as Petra SchlzleWallgast, whose name clearly became blurred within my own narrative. Back to my notes:
Moire moiré moirée
Nothing Can go wrong - one must simply leave it to chance (Riverine Swerves)
Use black & white to create the illusion of colour
Ball bearings mounted at lettering height
Improvised press with magnets holding letters (what if this then what?)
The scatter of light in the dim room was being recorded accurately by a professional camera person next to me. I found myself wondering if the noise of my note-taking was interfering with the recording of the lecture, my dark brown felt-tip pen (very visible in low light) creating one of those blurring layers obscuring meaning and narrative. Books establish a way for a moment in time or narrative to travel through time to another place, another reader; but some of the pieces discussed were very narrow windows of travel; fifteen sheets printed before the press auto-destructed, a single copy made (plus process photographs, of course). Back to my notes:
Better your squills
Contentious & unconventional reading (action)
Fighting what the press wants to do
He broke his apprenticeship
Our father's juice flows everywhere
Multiples that are individuals
My attempts to photograph was what wasn't there in the lecture on accumulating narrative was abruptly cut off by a dead battery. Low light is ruinous on processing power. The lecture came to an end and we were allowed down front to observe at close range the beautiful artefacts, the subtle colours of print and the delicate effects of the layering, shading, self-obstructing type.