Category Archives: Reflections

Review of Bowery Poetry Club performance

…in Jacket2 – Thanks, Thom!

(audio here, though missing 9 minute video at end)

BARGE’s “Groundbreaking” – reflections

(more photos here)


The terms of analysis determine the terms of intervention. — Ultra-Red

What makes something ‘public art’? Can language use alone adequately alter the frames through which we look at a site, or the ‘art’ there? Is there a way to see the urban environment that’s not mediated by money? What counts as an ‘intervention’? Can conceptualism alone achieve anything ‘real’ in a landscape such as this one? If I’m just watching some people ‘work’ how can I tell if it’s art? Are they doing art or making it, or neither? If the goal is to liberate private space for the commons, shouldn’t they also be taking over the cafe next door and giving away all the food? Are a couple of seemingly self-critical questions an adequate way to engage the various problems that such a project produce? Who is this action or art for? If not towards an artwork or product, then towards what?

On Dec 5, as part of Southern Exposure’s “Passive/Aggressive: Public Art & Intervention Day”, BARGE performed “Groundbreaking,” a one-day ‘action’ on a privately-owned vacant lot near SoEx, in San Francisco’s Mission District. The site had previously been ‘tagged’ by BARGE a “Matta-Clark Park”, wherein off-limits private and public spaces become re-framed as (conceptual) parks, in order to highlight how spaces gets cordoned and fenced off from the public, and to suggest other possible uses for such sites. (They’re named after Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates” project, where GMC bought up un-used property slices in the NY area, reframing such ‘odd lots’ as found public art.)

My thanks to Jessica Tully, Dillon Westbrook, Ariel Goldberg, Lara Durback, Cassie Smith, Courtney Fink & Maysoun Wazwaz at SoEx, and the other participants who pitched in labor and ideas and feedback and post-performance reflections. And my apologies for the length of the rest of this… (click here for full report)

The Side Effect: reflections

THE SIDE EFFECT (Canessa Park: SF: 21 Nov 09)

“When I walk I lose authorship” — Lygia Clark

capital I I was to read at capital C Canessa capital P Park, part of the open quote autobiography close quote night comma with capital D Dana capital T Teen capital L Lomax and capital K Kevin capital K Killian period capital I I apostrophe d been thinking about a conversation capital I I apostrophe d had with capital R Renee capital G Gladman about her compositional process ampersand her use of the sentence as the unit she uses to investigate personhood period capital I also decided to have someone else read on my behalf while capital I I stood in the back of the room comma someone who is the age that capital I I apostrophe d been in the narrative dash time that capital I had decided to focus on in my open quote reading close quote ellipses

Here are some reflections on the compositional process, the ‘reading’ itself, and other variations I think might have been more compelling / challenging / interesting / etc…

EconVergence Notes

Various responses to the EconVergence Conference in Portland last month:

CA Conrad & Frank Sherlock (scroll down to Oct 18)

Rob Halpern, Kaia Sand, & David Wolach

David Wolach & Elizabeth Williamson

& my own notes

thanks to all–

Gallery Soto 12-hour writing/performance


Boston : August 2007 : Gallery Soto

12-hour durational performance with Natalie Loveless & Dillon Paul.

(Initial notes – I need to find the materials that survived the performance for transcription purposes)

I gave myself the task of writing for 12 hours straight, foregrounding the writing body in the space of the public gallery. I would only produce writing in the moment, coming out of the conditions in the space & duration of the event (i.e. no writing ‘about’ something else, or working on ‘projects’ or thinking of something & then writing it down, no pausing or breaks, etc). Materials were: notebook, pencils & charcoal, spray paint, tape, post-its, string, tickets, a digital recorder, water, one apple.

Dillon was in a box for all 12 hours (more on this later). Natalie was similarly stationary for the first six hours.

I developed a set of tasks that I was to perform each hour, in part to keep me producing content, and in part to mark time, and in part in response to the unfolding conditions of the space, the audience, my collaborators, my body/experience, etc. These included:

5 minutes every hour writing how it felt to be in my body that moment

s/pacing the gallery, along the walls, while improvising a ‘report’ on the ‘situation’ (composed in detective-noir genre)

producing writing on the walls, one letter at a time, through increasingly difficult (for me) physical acts (i.e., jumping over two chairs & diving at wall with charcoal, improvising next letter in sequence while in mid-air, attempting to transcribe that mark on wall, repeating this till phrases, poems, were ‘completed’ etc.)

writing on wall with white spray paint, then returning later with pencil to outline ‘invisible’ text (as if bringing out the latent ‘writing on the wall’)

five minutes of self-criticism of project, read aloud while writing it

five minutes of ‘personal’ writing, to be taped to wall & then ‘organized’ by means of string, lines, charts, etc.

five minutes responding in writing to what my collaborators were doing.

etc etc etc…

Reflections: All writers ever want is time to do nothing but write. I had 12 hours in which to do nothing but write, and it was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Partially this was because the acts of writing were public, & I was interested in ‘performing’ them, embodying them, & to some degree testing how something so ‘private’ & banal & seemingly ‘easy’ (physically speaking) might function when pushed & challenged in various ways. As I grew hungry & tired my thinking changed, & the ‘content’ became increasingly focused on only the present experience – what was happening in the space, in my body, marking time, following tasks, producing writing without judging it, finding where ‘writing’ fades into drawing, marking, gesture. At times I would simply mark time by writing numbers on the wall as I lay on the floor. Other times I would ‘read’ aloud what I was ‘typing’ into an imaginary keyboard, as if to see if air-typing was the same as ‘actual’ writing. I found that given the freedom to ‘just write’ for 12 hours I worked very hard to come up with tasks & increasingly difficult constraints in order to put pressure upon the writing. I found that those tasks that required the most physical exertion raised the most interesting compositional questions for me. I found myself constantly keeping charts on the wall of “good” and “bad” marks. I liked how the gallery walls filled up with text & marks, & thus became a marker of time, the transcription of the event’s unfolding. Also knowing that none of the text would ‘last’ or be published (ie was ‘fleeting’ – less important than the process/performance?). The self-critical moments, as part of the performance itself, were helpful. They drew out the contradictions & blind-spots as they were unfolding. (For instance, I knew little about where in Boston we were, what the social/economic context of the site might be; there was also the (gendered?) dynamic of my mobility in the space vs DP & N’s immobility, my writing/speaking & their work focused on the [silent, laboring] body, etc.) During the last hour, as folks poured into the gallery from a nearby event, drinking, talking, interrupting, breaking my pencils, tying my legs together, etc., I fell down on my face and opened a cut beneath my eye. At this point all I had left to write with was the apple core, which I rubbed into my cut as I leaped up the wall to write out one letter at a time in blood and apple-meat. Needless to say, this became the most absurd (male) performance art cliche one could imagine – writing with one’s own blood, etc. At the time it seemed completely ‘natural’ – the point was to just keep writing with the materials at hand.

I still believe that content is important – that it’s not ‘enough’ to simply perform the production of writing without also thinking critically about what kinds of content come out of that. And yet the more the writing became pared down to the ‘bare’ act of simply producing ‘more writing’ the more I seemed to focus on questions of what-writing-is than on any other ‘outside’ content. (at least in the moment there were no scare-quotes, implied or otherwise, no simulation, no bringing in something already known [to me] or thought-through. only just writing, for better or worse.)

I’ll write more about this when I can find the materials that survived (we had to whitewash the walls the next morning) & any audio, as well as some comments on the work of my collaborators.

Scent It Out – reflections


For the TAXT benefit/event at 21Grand/New Series, in which writers were invited to present work/performance throughout the space & ongoingly over about two hours. The idea was that I would distribute text throughout the audience, in the form of paper bags filled with strong odors, presenting a bag & its text & asking recipients to pass it on in the form of gossip. The text consisted of 8 8-line stanzas, using the text/form/spirit of John Suckling’s 1637 poem “Sessions of the Poets,” a kind of coterie/court-poem/satire (thanks Stan Apps), ‘updated’ by replacing proper names with roles/types such as the blogger, the trust-funder, the scenester, the court-queen, the bitter poet, etc. The concept was to stage a few questions/problematics: how to make material & ‘stage’ the sociology of a coterie that traffics in gossip? How to foreground the textual poetics of gossip? How to use odor/scent as an aid to memory &/or as olfactory complement to the textual content? What happens when you foreground the social forms of gossip such that the transmitter must literally ‘pass the bag’ & publicly collaborate in its dissemination? What is the relation between the content of gossip (as text, as poetics, as ‘dirt’) & the forms of its dissemination (as coterie-building, , as sociology, as ‘scandal’)? To what degree is gossip the primary (if not sole) content of the (my? our?) coterie? & what does that say about the coterie? 

The odors were: garlic, beer, herbs & spices, tobacco, compost, Axe body spray, vinegar, & my body & its excretions.


Here is the text on the card I attempted to pass out with the bags:


Smell changes the surface of things before you into a volume in which you are caught. The air you breathe is the index of the world into which you have been introduced—be that of an illness, of grace, or of a spell. When you smell it, it means you are already in it, or more precisely, you are of it.

                                                                     M. de Certeau, The Possession at Loudon

The senses therefore become theoriticians in practice 

                                                                      — K. Marx, 1844 Manuscripts

If you look at it, it’s a barn. If you smell it, it’s a stable

                                                                       G. Marx, Monkey Business

A durational thought-experiment in social-spatial practice — through dispersal of gossip by means of olfactory distribution. Before leaving the space, please find the table with the paper bags, breathe deep of each bag, write down your remembered version of each gossip-stanza & put in corresponding pile. The cumulative texts will become the template for the development of a coterie-body-odor-wax for social lubrication & reenacted ruttings. Spread liberally over surface area. Chin up, chest out, wrists & ankles, scent it out.




A very disappointing if interesting mess.

I did not adequately think through the time required to set the process in motion. It required a lot of instruction, & thus took a lot of time just to get the thing started, much less to make sure the bags kept moving. 

The project was under-theorized & under-cooked.

Separate from the event itself, I was disappointed with my lack of rigor in its formulations.

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I mistook 21Grand for the site, when the site in question in this case was the audience/coterie itself. 

I made a lot of assumptions about the audience & its openness to participation. Given the recent discussions of collaboration, participation, community & coterie, I was surprised by the degree to which people resisted or refused participation, to the point of refusing to hold the bag, smell the bag, or even listen to the text. It seemed that few people who took the bags actually passed them on, as I would find them left on a table, or someone ‘left holding the bag’ would hand it back to me. More than a couple of poets assumed the texts were about them, or were jibes aimed at specific poets in the audience. Of course, I wanted there to be some discomforture around the content & how close to the bone it might ‘feel’, but then in the moment I just felt bad/guilty, even though I had no individual local poets in mind when writing them.

Most of the people who agreed to participate in the way I requested & take the bags and pass them on, were people I did not know. Those that asked out, resisted, or refused were all people I knew personally. (This is from an admittedly small sample size, and only of those I interacted with personally. Not sure how it went ‘out there’) I’m not yet sure what to think about this, but it was interesting.

The smells were disappointing, & their relation to the textual content not adequately thought-through.

The relation between form & content was under-cooked. Though I am interested in projects that use formal structures as containers for text, I tend to gravitate towards a relationship in my own work where, as much as possible, the formal aspects of a work or performance “come out of” the content. (though it’s always pretty chicken-egg, of course). Here the content might be characterized as the text itself, but also the social content of the coterie, the broader thematics of gossip & court-poetics. The form then would be the expression of that content in rhymed stanzas (thus ‘safely’ – or so I imagined – framing the content in anachronistic & satirical/ironical poems), the connection of each stanza to a specific odor, and the performance/method of its distribution among an audience in live space.  I’m still not sure that there was any ‘necessary’ reason as to why scent/odor should have been the primary formal means for the expression of this content. I could have simply spread gossip all night, & allow the dispersal of that gossip (which of course travels well beyond the boundaries of the event itself) to become my text/reading/performance, & which would more ‘naturally’ bring others into collaboration (which is of course what gossip does all the time). 

Perhaps my ‘everyday performance(s)’ (ie my behavior & its public expression), & its subsequent dispersal among various coteries in the form of gossip, is ‘my’ textual production, my poetics. (at least that’s what I’ve heard…)

Only one or two people ever returned to the table to write down responses.

I allowed myself to be unnerved by negative audience reactions, concerned about those who felt upset, and disappointed that my ideas did not pan out as I’d planned.

As if by letting the coterie produce the work I could somehow still control it.

As if I could still control the gossip that I disseminate. 

The stanzas were not particularly good. In fact they were pretty bad, but not bad enough to be interestingly stoopid or stuplime.

Two of the bags dripped & ultimately broke.

I was asked why there were no ‘nice’ smells.

The event took place at the end of a long weekend of poets performing & socializing together, with a perceived sense (by me) of the coterie feeling very good about itself & excited by its own sense of scandal (at least as judged by the gossip being distributed to me prior to & during the event). I think this effected the reception of my admittedly more cynical/dark work. 

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I did not get much of a chance to see the other works going on simultaneously. I had hoped that I could simply spread some shit, disseminate some gossip, & let the process work itself out, thus leaving me time to participate as an audience member. 

Of the very few things I did check out, I noticed that I liked things that did not require me to interact with anyone else, but just listen or read. This of course says more about me than the interactive works.

I was and was not surprised how many people did not want to spread gossip once it required actually ‘carrying the bag’ & thus perhaps taking responsibility for it dissemination. 

I was asked “is this one about X?” I was told “that one about Y is mean.”

It was assumed that the judgments expressed in the poems were my own personal judgments. 

I was and was not surprised by the narcissism of paranoia, that anything that might be ‘about’ one must be about one.

If the roles were reversed, I imagine I would do much the same – worry that the text might be about me or my ‘type’, resist or refuse to hold &/or pass the bag. I might to some degree judge the performer personally rather than the project. 

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice, as well as how I interpreted its reception.

I allowed myself to forget that if you stage a thought-experiment, its ‘success’ has nothing to do with whether or not the work was ‘good’ or well-received, or even if it ‘went as planned.’

In fact, if the thought-experiment is simply ‘what happens if…’ then the results cannot not be a ‘success’, i.e., whatever happens is precisely the (contingent, context-specific) ‘correct’ result.

But there are still better and worse ‘successes.’ More and less interesting/ compelling/ challenging successes. We’ve all no doubt been to a lot of ‘successful’ readings & performances in which too little is at stake, or the successes are merely evidence of one’s chops or cleverness, or are instantly forgettable.

My stakes were perhaps too low. Too many scare quotes.

Success is the wrong word. Its terms need to be challenged. 

What would happen if I did something similar elsewhere, in another context, scene, city…

All of the gossip-stanzas were (probably) about me.

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I was not happy with this performance/project at all. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Each failure is a learning opportunity.



BARGE on Ceptuetics Radio (download)

my thanks to Kareem Estefan!


(see episode 25)