This exhibition has been curated through generous access to personal collections of concrete, sound and visual poetry held by: Archiv Acquaviva, Berlin; Stephen Bann, Canterbury; the Bob Cobbing Family Collection, London; Laurent Delaye, London; Liliane Lijn, London; Hansjörg Mayer, London; the Ann Noël and Emmett Williams Collection, Berlin; Michael Parsons, London; Philip Steadman, London.
Curator’s description of the exhibition:
ABOUT Design & the Concrete Poem Exhibition
Text for Visitors
Design is both a small and big word. It can be exact and highly generic. When it comes to intersections between design and poetry, the complexities are many and various.
To explore this topic further, I’ve decided to rummage into recent cultural history and bring together for exhibition a few fascinating examples of these fields coalescing and connecting, in direct and indirect ways. The international concrete poetry movement of the 1950s and 1960s expanded the scope and achievements of the form. Sometimes designers and poets worked together, sometimes individuals combined these skills. Designers were integral and helped fashion changes in the material nature of the poem.
The alphabet was destabilised – liberated from the sentence, subject to a raw purification. In many parts of the world, exponents of concrete poetry (and their predecessors in lettrism and other movements) took the form apart, breaking down words into letters and letters into fragments as well as into codes and signs. Many were obsessed with decomposition, with de-materialising language and exploring the properties of graphic space.
Typographical adaptions and adaptions of poetic language often happened in parallel. This was taking place against a backdrop of the Space Race, when the idea of freeing the human from the earth and from gravity was growing nearer to realisation. During the first years when satellites were circling the earth, a monkey was set forth into outer space and many poets were simultaneously seeking to set words free from the meshes of rhythm and meter.
The alphabet, the basis of written language in Western civilization, became a primary force and site for experimentation: its letters were disassembled, fragmented, grafted, reassembled and scattered in acts of phonetic and typographic experimentation.
Performed and visual acts broke the alphabet down into bits and fragments and/or reconstructed it again to become super-signs and icons. As these decades progressed, print, tape and type machines became collaborators in the action. The poetic form itself became the object of attention, undergoing numerous acts of naming and renaming.
This exhibition shows some of the styles which emerged during the main years of the concrete poetry movement as exemplified in the works of some of the leading figures including Stephen Bann, Henri Chopin, dom Sylvester Houédard, John Furnival, Ilse & Pierre Garnier, Lily Greenham, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ann Noël and Hansjörg Mayer.
This exhibition which has been made especially for the Lighthouse in Glasgow has drawn on the generosity of some of those who hold important personal collections of concrete, visual and sound poetry. Works in the exhibition are mainly grouped around these collections.
The first room (with the white vitrine in the middle) has works from Archiv Acquaviva, Berlin and the Bob Cobbing Family Collection along with catalogues belonging to the curator.
On the first wall in the centre is a work called Alpha by John Furnival. Furnival left London in 1961 after studying painting at the Royal College of Art and has lived most of his life in the West Country and in France. He was one of the most painterly of the concrete poets and made many of his works with pen and ink as well as coloured letterpress (which was how Alpha, the central work in this section, was made).
Furnival used alphas and omegas extensively in his work as well as vowels. He recently explained to the curator of the show:
vowels are the purest sounds as they do not involve the touching of our lips.
Furnival also designed and published works by others through his imprint, Openings Press, which began in 1964. The work by Eugen Gomringer called Silencio, made using Hebrew characters, was an Openings Press publication.
Alpha has a frame which Furnival made himself and is the final work in a series which Furnival made and is signed and dated 1966. This is owned by Archiv Acquaviva.
In the long vitrine in front of this are some rarely seen works by Furnival also from Archiv Acquaviva including two pop-up/kinetic poems and an unfolding Alphabet Vowel poem which was published in Henri Chopin’s OU magazine.
Other materials in the vitrine relate to the Arlington Poetry Festivals which were held at Arlington Mill in Gloucester. in the mid 1960s. These were organised by Kenelm Cox with Furnival and the poet/priest dom Sylvester Houédard and were exceptional gatherings which brought together works by leading figures nationally and internationally in the fields of concrete, sound and kinetic poetry. The catalogues were beautifully designed with pull out poems and introductions by dom Sylvester Houédard in his inimitable hyper-textual style. Other prints in the vitrine come from the edition of Ceolfrith which featured John Furnivan’s work, published in Sunderland in 1971.
To the right of the Alpha work in the vitrine is another vitrine containing some rarely seen material – including an original copy of the Noigandres 4 Poesia Concreta folder which was published in Brazil in 1958 (part of Archiv Acquaviva in Berlin). The Noigandres poets had an enormous influence on UK based writers. Their work was brilliantly translated into English by Edwin Morgan, and Ian Hamilton Finlay was the first in the UK to publish their poems in his Poor Old Tired Horse (P.O.T.H) journal. The folder contained the Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry document (alongside) and works by Décio Pignatari, Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Ronaldo Azerado. Also included in the vitrine is a copy of spirale – the journal which was edited in the ‘fities and ‘sixties by Eugen Gomringer with Marcel Wyss (and for a short time also Diter Roth). In this particular issue several Brazil based poets were featured including Pignatari, the de Campos brothers and Wlademir Dias-Pino.
Immediately to the right is a small assemblage relating to the pritest-poet, dom Sylvester Houédard who used an (Olivetti) typewriter to produce his now increasingly prized works which sit in between poetry and visual art. In the vitrine is a letter he wrote to Hansjörg Mayer following their first meeting at the opening of the ICA’s Between Poetry & Painting exhibition in Autumn 1965. Also included below is an article by Mike Weaver in the seminal IMAGE magazine issue of October 1964, which features Houédard’s work.
On the wall t- first left – is an amazing Typestract by Houédard which is rarely seen and which has kindly been loaned as have the eight works on this wall from the Bob Cobbing Family Collection. Bob Cobbing was a poet, performer, publisher and manager of the seminal bookshop called Better Books in Charing Cross Cross Road in London. He organised important events and festivals and was editor of Writers Forum journal. He had one of the best overviews in the UK of the breadth and width of the experimental poetry scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Works for this exhibition has been selected together with his grandson William Cobbing from the Cobbing Family Collection. They show Cobbing’s importance also in terms of design – an area of his extensive practice which is often overlooked. He was associated also with the democratisation of print and publishing which took place in the mid-late 1960s with the introduction of offset litho and then the photocopier a little later.
The Bob Cobbing Family Collection also contains several important works by acquaintances and friends of Cobbing including dom Sylvester Houédard and Henri Chopin. Works included in this exhibition by them both reveal the interplay between the poetic and visual aspects of their work. Both tended to make their own works rather than to collaborate with designers though one of the most beautiful of the Openings Press publications was a kinetic version of dom Sylvester’s FROG POND PLOP (after Basho) designed with Edward Wright (not included in this exhibition).
The works on the long wall of this gallery are all from the Bob Cobbing Family Collection and are, left to right :
successful cube transplant in honor of chairman mao
dom Sylvester houédard
Bob Cobbing (Hansjörg Mayer)
A collage by Bob Cobbing of works made by a variety of contributors to early Writers Forum workshops.
Spontaneous Appeal in Air
From Sonic Icons
London: Writers Forum
Poster for the Sound & Syntax International Festival of Sound Poetry, Glasgow
(5–7 May 1978)
Poster for Bob Cobbing and Writers Forum retrospective exhibition, Sunderland Arts Centre
(4–30 Nov 1974)
On the listed wall to the right of the Cobbing works is a projection of a digital video of various wonderful Poem Machines by artist/poet Liliane Lijn, who will be visiting the Outside In Inside Out Festival in Glasgow on Thursday 6th October when she will read her poems at an evening event and on Friday 7th October she will speak about her work at Glasgow Women’s Library. Also to the right in the second part of the exhibition is a sheet from Lijn’s exquisite Material Alphabets work (1970 which is displayed withiin a light-box on the wall. About this work Lijn wrote in 2015:
Since coming to live in London in 1966, I found a way of making my work in small, often Dickensian engineering factories. This led me to a fascination with the processes and materials used by the small manufacturing companies that were scattered all over London. It was then possible to walk into Smiths of Clerkenwell to buy off-cuts of bronze or aluminium. On opposite sides of Euston Road, I would go for steel to Macreadys and for aluminium and Perspex to Righton. On one visit to Righton, I picked up a catalogue of aluminium extrusions that listened all the aluminium sections available. Looking through them for the one I needed, I was struck by the fact that here was an example of a material alphabet. I decided to redraw, using tracing paper, these sections (scanners or even photocopies were not available) to create an Alphabet for a Material Language. Once I had the symbols on tracing paper, I made dye-lie copies of them on white paper or card. Laying the transparent copy over the opaque dye-line doubled the symbols or, depending on the degree of registration, could lend them a three-dimensional effect. I thought of using these to write poems or even a novel. Thinking of Egyptian hieroglyphs, I realised with delight that pictograms were still in use. Less coded than our alphabet, they are closer to image. There is a crossover between image and sign that comes together in pictograms, probably the most ancient form of writing.
Around the corner also on the wall and in the tall vitrine and by the windows are works by Stephen Bann from his private collection. He has written a description of the works included in the exhibition, as follows:
I was still at school in 1960, when I applied some prize money from a literary competition to buying Stefan Themerson ‘s Kurt Schwitters in England (Gaberbocchus Press, 1958). This probably provided my first real acquaintance with the avant-garde poetic strategies of the Modern Movement. For the next few years as a student at Cambridge, I experimented a little in poems published in the undergraduate magazine, Granta. But my major artistic interest lay in the painting of topographical watercolours, which formed a visual record of many of the sites that I was visiting in France, Germany and Austria, as well as England and Scotland. In 1964, Mike Weaver introduced me to the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, and the visit that we paid him in Edinburgh in August of that year soon resulted in a frequent exchange of letters. Rapel (1963), his first major collection of concrete poetry, appeared to me to hold the promise of a new kind of poetic art, at once deconstructing language and reassembling its component terms to create a visual expression.
From the start, I was in sympathy with the ambition that that led Finlay to become the pioneer of the ‘poster poem’, or ‘poem/print’. For the exhibition that took place at Cambridge in November 1964, I devised the print ORANGE, which was silk-screened by my friend David Maclagan, then at the Royal College of Art. This drew a few discordant meanings out of a word of six letters, which were then (so to speak) reconciled through participating in the square of vivid colour. For an exhibition at Winchester in Summer 1965, I followed Finlay’s move to a more material form of expression in creating two poem/objects. This was the summer when Finlay began to collaborate with Dick Sheeler in creating poems that involved wooden structures at Gledfield Farmhouse in Ross-shire. My own craftsmanship was however stretched to its limit in the boxed presentation, with applied letraset, of ICICLE!
Hansjörg Mayer’s typographic workshop came to my rescue in 1966 in giving definitive formal expression to the second, more elaborate poem, which reflected my fascination with the spaces conjured up by the German church architecture of the Rococo. The decision to fragment what in my initial version had been a homogenous field of letters proved to be a good one. Nevertheless, I welcomed the chance to use the same setting, reversed out, for a magazine cover. In this way, DOMINIKUS ZIMMERMANN became less of a typographic exercise, and more an evocation of the vivid impression of colour in space that this architect’s church interiors so marvellously stimulated.
My interest in the French poet, Francis Ponge, was converging at this point on Ponge’s notion of poetry as a ‘field’, both literally and figuratively. The opportunity of curating an exhibition of concrete poetry at the Brighton Festival (April 1967) enabled to test this concept in an extremely ambitious way. Kenelm Cox, whose sea-born structure of towers was by far the most adventurous of the projects that I commissioned, also agreed to provide me with 23 wooden structures in the form of an ampersand which would be installed on wooden stalks beside the Royal Pavilion. This structure was implicitly one that could be employed to cover any designated space, with the proviso that the same figure/ground effect and the emphasis on diagonality should be maintained (in my Concrete Poetry anthology of 1967, 260 small ampersands extended over the square format of the page). To vary the different types of ampersand, and fill whole sheets with packed progressions of the character (as was the case in the folder later published by Openings Press) was antipathetic to my title and my meaning: AMBER SANDS, that is, offering the prospect of a beach scattered with precious objects, and possibly the worm casts that have left their convoluted traces on the sand.
The poem that I discussed most extensively with Finlay during the period was FLEECE. He saw a first version in 1964, and from June 1966 onwards made several suggestions about how it was to be realised in typographic form. Eventually he decided that he would like to publish it in his Wild Hawthorn Press ‘poem/print’ series. But this decision led to a long search for the appropriate form, and the right designer to carry out the project, that delayed the publication until September 1967. In my own anthology, published almost simultaneously, the only variation in the structure was provided by the word ‘ecce’ being in bold type. Finlay, however, had the intuition that ‘Matisse-y’ lettering would work better for the print version. His friend, the Scottish graphic designer Alistair Cant, eventually designed the hand-drawn lettering and specified the bold colour contrast of blue and green.
The content of this print was avowedly religious. Finlay had rightly deterred me from entitling it ‘Cucifixion’ as being too obvious, but in the period when it was being discussed, both he and I were interested in the possibility that work of this kind might find a place in churches. Needless to say, this attitude hardly agreed with the implicit assumptions of most critics of the 1960s. John Willett judged the poem/print as being too like an altar-cloth in his review for the TLS (29 Feb. 1968). Finlay commented in a letter to me: ‘His assumption that an altar-cloth is ipso facto a bad thing, is innocently revealing.
Five of Bann’s Amber Sands have been installed in Glasgow for this show. As he has said, they were originally shown in Brighton Poetry Festival, which he curated back in 1967. They were made with the help of poet Kenelm Cox and positioned in 1967 on the lawn beside Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. They have not been shown since then so this is the 21st premiere.
On the top shelf of the tall vitrines are letters written in 1967 by Stephen Bann to the typographer/publisher Hansjörg Mayer (whose works can be seen across the gallery from those of Bann). In one of these he made a hand-drawn diagram of the 23 Amber Sands. He also wrote at length to Mayer about the design of his work DOMINIKUS ZIMMERMANN which can be seen on the wall opposite. Within the vitrine is also the ICICLE work which as Bann has mentioned in his text, was crafted by himself. His sensitivity to typographical and design aspects of concrete poetry is clear both from these works and is revealed also in his intensely readable correspondence with Ian Hamilton Finlay between 1970-1972 which has recently been published.
On the same side of the gallery to the right are works by Berlin-based graphic designer Ann Noël, who was married to the poet and artist Emmett Williams and who has loaned works for this show from the Ann Noël and Emmett Williams Collection. Noël (formerly known as Ann Stevenson) studied at Bath Academy of Art in the mid 1960s and was taught by John Furnival and Hansjörg Mayer who were tutors on the Graphic Design course there for several years. Along with other students, Nöel helped to make the Vowel Piece work which John Furnival showed at the Brighton Festival of Concrete Poetry in 1967 which she describes in this text as well as her proofs of Acrobats which she designed for Ian Hamilton Finlay:
I never did meet the author, Ian Hamilton Finlay, since he rarely left his home at Stonypath, Lanarkshire in Scotland, but we began a long correspondence that continued until after I had finished my art education and was living in the United States of America. In his letters to me, Finlay wrote about the “wee wee” poems he was realising with any number of artist/designers and the “wee wee ponds” he was building in his garden, on which to float and sail them. He also approved or made further suggestions about the latest batch of printing proofs I had sent him. The letters were eventually donated to the Jean Brown Archive in Massachusetts and ended up at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The most famous of our collaborations was the poem a c r o b a t s, which I composed in several letterpress versions with a metal typeface and finally designed as a silkscreen print in two colours – glossy orange letters on a complimentary, matt blue background. It was printed at the Tarasque Press, accompanied by an introductory text by Stephen Bann.
I was introduced to Concrete Poetry by John Furnival, a tutor during my second year as a student at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, Wiltshire. In his class we were assigned one-line typewritten poems by a number of his colleagues from the world of visual poetry, which we were to render into typographic designs.
They were printed in the academy print workshops and the editions were included in a portfolio,EAVELINES/HEADLINES, published by Furnival’s Openings Press. My contribution, Waterwheels in Whirl, was composed on a Staromat photo-typesetting enlarger and printed as a lithograph.
Another poet the students met and worked with through John Furnival was the eccentric, black-cloaked monk from Prinknash Abbey, dom Sylvester Houédard (dhs). Our projects with him were to result in an exhibition at Arlington Mill. One room was devoted to the seven Greek vowels and their astronomical connotations. Each vowel was related to a
Upon the occasion of the Brighton Festival of Concrete Poetry in 1967, I was one of five students invited by John Furnival to work on a Vowel Screen, 6 x 4 feet in size, printed on Perspex/Plexiglass. The vowel assigned to me was the lower case letter > e <. I composed a unit in a metal typeface printed on a letterpress machine. This was reproduced 16 times and pasted up to make the design to cover the entire surface. One unit was photographically enlarged and used to make a hand-held silkscreen frame, which could be printed on the front and the back of the glass.
A year later, 1967-68, I took a course in typography and printing with Hansjörg Mayer. Not only was he an extraordinarily innovative printer/publisher, but also allowed us to experiment on the letterpress and a Rotaprint offset machine overprinting colours and images until the paper became saturated. It was in this class that I made the hexagonally-shaped prints using one block of type printed from each of the six sides on the first print, and then double that number on the second, triple that number on the third and so on and, completing a series of ten composite images.
I was sold on printing and in the genre of artist’s books produced by and with the avant-garde poets and artists of that time, whom he had published in his Edition Hansjörg Mayer. I even ended up marrying one of his authors, Emmett Williams, who had edited An Anthology of Concrete Poetry!
Also on loan from Ann Noël is the small black and white catalogue Freewheel in the small vitrine. This was made to coincide with a touring exhibition of design & concrete poetry works by students and staff of Bath and Watford Schools of Art in the late ’sixties. In its preface dom Sylvester Houédard wrote of how “…graphic bred concrete”.
In the large white vitrine further into the gallery are materials borrowed from Archiv Acquaviva from his extensive collection of spatialist poetry created by Ilse and Pierre Garnier who were both poets (as well as married). Garnier has inscribed one issue of his LES LETTRES no. 29 MANIFESTE POUR UNE POESIE NOUVELLE to the poet John Sharkey, as well as to John Furnival and dom Sylvester Houédard in February 1964. The vitrine also has copies of Garnier’s LES LETTRES no. 30 POESIE NOUVELLE (1963) and the exquisite Poèmes Mécaniques by Ilse and Pierre Garnier which was the first volume of the COLLECTION “SPATIALISME” a supplement to the review LES LETTRES (1965).
LES LETTRES was an important magazine internationally. Published by Garnier in France from 1963, he stated his belief in the radical autonomy of language and his sense of the experimentation taking place at its roots as being equivalent to space exploration:[i]:
Let it be understood once and for all that language is an autonomous part of the world, including the other universes, as it is included by them; hence its authenticity, and all the poets are aiming towards the ideal point where the verb creates itself.
…These forms of poetry do not merely explore with the help of linguistic postulates fixed once and for all in the way the surrealists did, first they isolate the language, then they modify it, shuffle it in its very foundations, they even destroy it and thus create the conditions of apparition if not of a new language (therefore of a new thought and a new man) at least a new art which by disturbing the foundations of language modifies man. …. returning, without the obstacle of a language settled and compulsory, to the roots, the energies and working for it with the help of the most modern techniques, like the cosmonaut in space.
Garnier captures here one of the primary poetic impulses of the period – to explore the ‘roots’, or the ‘movement of language within’ a phrase used by Ian Hamilton Finlay in a letter to Garnier from September 1963 which was also published in the same issue of IMAGE magazine, in November 1964. Finlay’s letter to Garnier had said:
I wonder if we are not all a little in the dark, still as to the real significance of ‘concrete’…..For myself I cannot derive from the poems I have written any ‘method’ which can be applied to the writing of the next poem; it comes back, after each poem, to a level of ‘being’…..Just so, ‘concrete’ began for me with the extraordinary (since wholly unexpected) sense that the syntax I had been using, the movement of language in me, at a physical level was no longer there — so it had to be replaced with something else, with a syntax and movement that would be true of the new feeling (which existed in only the vaguest way, since I had, then, no form for it)….
Garnier had asked Finlay for his views on the benefits of theory within a context where experimentation in poetry was leading into spaces that were seemingly without boundaries or clear definition. Finlay’s response brilliantly depicts a phenomenological feeling of transition and resistance to overlaying any constructed theory, although he did lend his name to Garnier’s list of those supporting his proposal to use the term spatialist poetry as a common heading for the following:
concrete poetry: working the language-matter freed from all representative duties
visual poetry: the word object and centre of energy
objective poetry: poem made object through the active collaboration of painters sculptors and musicians
mecaniste poetry: or poetry of permutations
phonic poetry: direct composition on a tape therefore an objectivation through mechanical means.
phonetic poetry: based on the phonems, sonorous elements of the language uttered by the vocal organs of man and that are interpreted on the tape recorder.
Defining each of these in his own way, Garnier described these as ‘trends’ all of which involved “objectivations of the language-universe”.
His spatialist poetry proposal which was originally published in French achieved broader circulation in England and in English by being published in a magazine called Silâns edited by Barry Flanagan at St Martins School of Art in London in 1964 which was published weekly and was (in a loose sense) dedicated to concrete poetry and its relations. It was published under the name of Henri Chopin, who was also French, though he lived in Essex, in England for twenty years from 1968. Chopin on the other hand did not fully sign up to Garnier’s ‘spatialist’ category.
At the end of the gallery is a small work by Chopin which speaks volumes. Entitled Le dernier poème concret du monde it is no. 6 of 10 copies, included in Chopin’s OU deluxe n°25 (1965).
Below the Design & the Concrete Poem signage in this part of the Gallery are copies of works from Hansjörg Mayer’s futura series. Mayer published 26 works in this series between 1965 and 1967 and included were many of the world’s leading concrete poets as well as others, such as Frieder Nake, who was one of the first artists in the world to work with computers. Frieder also made a very early print portofolio with Mayer which was called matrizenmultiplakation (not included in this exhibition). This portfolio combines for the first time letterpress typography with computer plotter drawings. Nake’s version of this for the futura series is on display here in the gallery.
The futura work which Mayer made with Mathias Goeritz has been much reproduced, including on the front of the Venice Biennale catalogue in 1968, a year when the focus was on concrete poetry. Mayer’s own work which combined graphic design, poetry and letterpress expertise to a singularly high level was evidenced in works such as rot 13 and 26. He made a series of works with the alphabet where he would focus intensively on specific letters, building them up into super-signs through over-printing and in later works taking letters apart, breaking them down into fragments and bits or – as in the case of his typoaktionen work shown in the vitrine opposite, experimenting with language to a point that seems without precedence in relation to disappearing form. This work was described in the TLS in 1967 as an example of “random superimposition”.
Towards the back of the gallery are some computer-generated images made by Lily Greenham a very versatile artist, poet and performer whose name appears on two of the Cobbing posters earlier in the show. She is best known as a sound poet who was an excellent performer of her own as well as other people’s work. Greenham’s work borders on concrete poetry rather than being defined by it. She also made kinetic art works in the 1960s as well as these early computer based works in the early 1980s. She was someone who liked to live outside classification by genre or nationality and wrote a text in 1995 which summarised her position clearly:
My Semantic Sound Poetry was conceived to be not merely recited by performed; it combines semantics and abstract sound. As a starting point for these poems I used keywords, as I liked to call them, which I developed through an etymologic associative working process…..
When I was heavily involved in one of the disciplines I actively pursued, I identified with certain professional groups for a time, but I was never exclusively dedicated to any single discipline. Others also seemed to recognise this, because in the field of music I was often described as a painter, in the visual arts I was seen as a poet, in literary circles I was a performer and so forth. And this and still is, the true situation. Some people perceived me as a ‘guest figure’ in their own domain. They were right! Hahaha! Neither nationality, nor religion, nor profession, not any sort of classification covers my own concept of myself. Categories don’t fit my character, nor my soul. I am a stranger in a strange land.
On the left of the door is an enigmatic work by two contemporary Brazilian artists, Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain, who have acknowledged the influence on their practice of the Brazilian concrete poets of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. If you look closely you will see at least two ways of reading their poem.
The lefthand side of the gallery is dedicated to works made by Mayer with, and for, other poets including Stephen Bann, John Furnival and dom Sylvester Houédard as part of the Concrete Poetry in Britain, Canada and the United States of America Portfolio (1966). This was made with the input of students in the graphic design department at Bath Academy of Art at Corsham who were studying letterpress with Mayer. Mayer paired them up with leading poet figures with whom they worked closely to arrive at the works that may be viewed in the gallery. The introduction which in itself is a wonderful summary of the ‘state of play’ with respect to the various strands of concrete poetry at the time was written by Jasia Reichardt, who a year earlier has curated the Between Poetry & Painting exhibition at the ICA. For the catalogue for that exhibition she had cited another of the Brazilian poets, Luiz Angelo Pinto, as stating:
Pinto’s idea that the poet is a designer (in its widest context) of language, applies equally to semiotic, semantic, concrete, visual, typewriter, phonetic, machine and kinetic poetry and is the underlying basis for this exhibition.
It was actually Pignatari who had stated that the poet was a language designer. He reputedly also believed that the alphabet was a computer!.
As the first vitrine relates, Mayer was invited by Bann to make a work for the Brighton Poetry Festival and the result was what he called typosaulen (or type columns) which were installed in public spaces, like all the works for that Festival. These were made using a specially prepared ink that would work (and stay) on acetate. The sheets hung between the columns in the gallery are residual parts of the original works. The typocolumns found their way into the Venice Biennale in 1968 as well as to the Freewheel exhibition mentioned above.
The two prints above and below the Reichardt introduction to the Concrete Poetry in Britain, Canada and United States of America Portfolio are examples of Mayer experimenting with his characteristic over-printing technique. He has taken Reichardt’s original ‘foreword’ and has put it back through the printer numerous times from four directions so that the ‘original’ text has become ‘typoetically’ transformed and transmuted, unrecognisable – and yet somehow still in keeping with its content.
In the middle of the long wall of the gallery are works by Klaus Burkhardt made in collaboration with Mayer. Burkhardt who was also from Stuttgart had worked primarily with hot metal type and letterpress and wanted to try something different. The end result – coldtypestructures – are masterpieces of typography. In 1967 Mayer wrote an article for The Scotsman about the Coldtypestructures and the method of their production. He was encouraged to do this by Edwin Morgan who he had just been to visit in Glasgow (having also visited Ian Hamilton Finlay). He wrote to Finlay afterwards about writing the article (which can be seen in the Edwin Morgan archive at the University of Glasgow) and Finlay replied to him in late September 1967 thanking him for his “rather breathless letter” and saying that his Scotsman article was:
very good, very succinct, clear, no-nonsense….you must be a most sober drunkard if you did indeed write it when drunk.
The final works in the section are various elaborations by Mayer of the Augusto de Campos poem Luxo Lixo (from 1965) which consummately reveal the extraordinary interplay between typography, poetry and design that distinguished concrete poetry at its height.
I very much hope that you enjoy the exhibition.
Bronaċ Ferran, Curator: Design & the Concrete Poem exhibition
AMBER SANDS with Kenelm Cox/ Exh. Brighton Festival April 1967