Last month, at the invitation of curator / writers David Berridge of Very Small Kitchen and Claire Potter I took part in the London stage of Shady Dealings With Language, a series of four events curated around the intersection of art, writing and performance in Leeds, London, Manchester and Edinburgh; the London event generously hosted by X Marks The Bøkship at Matt’s Gallery. The curators framed their invitation with the following statement:
‘In Pure Means, Yve Lomax considers the moment an action is somehow interrupted and the possibility of experiencing pure means arises – the very gesture of gesture. To illustrate, Lomax invites the reader to imagine an actor whose acting is doing everything to show the means of acting, and moreover, to show it is the means that are being shown. Pure Means demonstrates and explores the philosophical potentials of such a moment through a poetry of terminology, ideas of subjectification and forms of government, and the figure of the author. We too want our effect and affect tight together. We seek a writing that affirms the affective, the somatic, while accounting for the analytic; a writing that moves toward a true politic.’
My contribution was conceived in three related and interdependent ‘acts’ – both continuous and sequential. They are all works in draft form, made together in a couple of weeks, rough and raw. They left me unsure of myself but sure of them, of their generative nature. I am not done with the ideas they grasp at.
‘Unwriting Lispector’ comprised a copy of Clarice Lispector’s 1973 text Água Viva and a blank opened notebook placed at the back of a bookshelf. Onto these object was projected footing of myself copying out Lispector’s text into an identical notebook, the footage reversed, her words disappearing as my hand ascended the pages, until the filmed notebook was as blank as the one that lay below its veil of light. This tiny, discreet installation ran throughout the course of the event. Then I performed a text and screened a film. A Fiction Of A Fiction (The Woodpecker’s Heart), is a ‘writing towards’ or a ‘writing with’ the narrative of the film, which is titled The Is Of The Thing, a phrase taken from Água Viva – ‘I want to grab hold of the is of the thing…’ These pieces are about reading and writing and making, and fear. I ask you to read the text first, and only then view the film, which can be found at the foot of this post.
A Fiction Of A Fiction: a speculative draft of a script for a film that is a place where a book might be, or
THE WOODPECKER’S HEART
Opening titles: a red / orange ground – the text a knocked back pale gamboge – a series of fading stills. Typeface to be decided… Lucida? Palatino? Perpetua?
In ‘An Essay on Typography’ by Eric Gill, first published in 1931, Gill makes much of the ‘natural’, functional and symbiotic evolution of the Roman hand and typeface, giving examples of clear and pleasing lettering, and utilising an oddly impassioned and indeed venomous vocabulary to describe those shapes of which he disapproved. A ‘Y’ is ‘mutated, monstrous, perverted’, as if he were talking of a repellent, brutal and evil character, a Mr Hyde of a letter: low, base, and twisted. Gill, known mainly as a sculptor, was also a designer and typographer. His most enduring typeface, fittingly named Perpetua, is a pleasing, balanced and elegant form which ranks amongst my favourites, at least of those fonts made freely available on my laptop. Gill was also subject to rumours of incest, and I use the word advisedly, concerning the relations between himself and his two young daughters. Whilst never announcing or admitting to such behaviour for and by himself, he is nonetheless on record as considering incest between father and daughter – a father such as himself: educated and capable of finer feelings, a sensitive soul who could appreciate and understand beauty – to be a natural, pleasing and beautiful thing. He saw such societal and familial freedoms as part of the shift from the Victorian values into which he was born, to the new bohemian and intellectual sensibilities to which he supposed himself entitled. Identifying as radical, he was at heart conservative, rather like the elegant type that he so favoured. There is no record of his daughters’ views on the matter. They are blank pages.
‘The is of the thing?’
‘What is the language?’
Others? I don’t know…
Fade to white. If the first frame is the cover, then fade to white is the page between the title and the texts. The exquisitely blank page.
Is this even how you write a screenplay? I have no idea. Do the fucking research.
It is at this point that I lose my grip on this film, this book, this idea of the book, this space where a book might be.
In 1970 the colours of the wallpaper were red, orange, a knocked back pale gamboge. Children’s books were not available and so I read such texts as I could find.
Fear of Flying
The Devil Rides Out
Playboy / <stroke> Knave / < stroke> Razzle
I was once allowed to visit a library from which I selected an illustrated copy of The Little Humpbacked Horse, a fairy tale in long poem form by Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov, edited by his close friend Alexander Pushkin. From its initial publication in 1834, up until 1856, it was available only in extract form. Deemed by the authorities to be anti-tsarist propaganda, it was published with dots representing omitted verses and songs: a text of voids and vacuums, floating with starry ellipses. I do not remember the form of the illustrations for The Little Hunchbacked Horse, but I do remember their tone. They mirrored the text in advocating and illuminating the value of the common stock over the refined and flighty elegance of the thoroughbred. The humble beast was honest, intelligent and courageous, despite the affliction of an ugly hump, much mocked by its indolent, self-regarding stable companions. One night the hump erupted: and revealed two feathered wings that sent the beast soaring above the jewelled domes of the Kremlin. A Payne’s Grey sky flooded with an Indigo ocean. A Via Lactaea of delicate Zinc White spray.
The book demanded an intervention, and I set about its transformation with materials stolen from a box concealed in my sister’s wardrobe. (Aged eight I was a shameless, expert and recidivist thief, with a particular taste for expensive papers and pens). When my work was discovered I was beaten, and never taken to the library again.
I am in a library now, writing this, and my back is stiff and my eyes screen-sore.
Fade to white.
A gallery. Zinc White with French Grey shadows. A woman stands in front of a photograph. The photograph is titled Untitled and is part of the series Coeur de Pic, created by Claude Cahun to illustrate the book of the same name, a book of poems for children written by Lise Deharme, and published in 1937. The woman wishes the words ‘Coeur de Pic’ to mean woodpecker’s heart. They do not.
The photograph is the size of a mirror that might contain my face – a silvery flat. A black twig stands upright on a hill of feathers. The dull-metalled nibs of dipping pens are clipped along its branches, their forked legs gripping tightly like persistent inverse leaves. I lean closer and see that the feathers are not feathers at all. The little twig tree stands on a drift of ink strokes. The wind has blown the writing from the branches. I have been thinking of the wrong kind of quills.
I’m typing this out now, and I suddenly stop to change the font from Perpetua to Palatino. I fucking hate Perpetua.
Please verify this text – it is very likely mis-mnemestic.