MCA Denver invited artist Derek Beaulieu to guest blog during the duration of the exhibition Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, in which excerpts from Beaulieu's 124-painting sequence the Newspaper are featured. Beaulieu is the author of 9 books of poetry and conceptual fiction. He teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design and can be found online at: www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com. This is the final of four blogs for MCA Denver.
Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art contributor Erica Baum poeticizes our minor gestures. Baum transforms a reading act—the motion of dog-earing a book’s page—into a writerly one.
Baum’s 2011 artist book Dog Ear (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling, 2011) presents a series of photographs, each of which lushly reproduces the images of the dog-eared page from a pulp novel. By dog-earing a page a reader employs the pages of a book as a new tool—not only does each page impart the text of the written work, it also can be used to mark the reader’s progress through that very text. Gently flipping through any used book reveals the ephemeral record of the previous owners—notes, underlining, marginalia, bookmarks (accidental or intended)—and the dog-earing corner creasing. Each of these marks the reader’s progress through the book; they map the imposition of life outside the novel on to the writing inside the novel.
With Dog Ear, Baum documents how each memory-assisting fold that the reader places within a book becomes a generative act, creating a new, latent, text. A uniting concern of Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art is the engagement with the materiality of text and writing, that the information we receive and filter, generate and propagate, has a physical presence beyond the semantic. Baum’s engagement with the physicality of text is unique within the purview of the exhibition as she engages not only with the page but also with how readers manipulate and destroy books while reading. Dog Ear not only documents how the place-holding fold affects the book, it also how the folding creates something new to read.
Baum’s poems echo and extend the ideas of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. In the 1950s Gysin and Burroughs “rediscovered” the compositional techniques of Tristan Tzara (the author of “ How to Make a Dadaist Poem” in 1918) in what they dubbed “cut-up” and “fold-in” writing. A “fold-in” poem, Burroughs argues, is created when the author “place[s] a page of one text folded down the middle on a page of another text (my own or someone else's) —The composite text is read across half from one text and half from the other.” Gysin and Burrough’s collaborations are most famously documented in “The Cut-up Method of Brion Gysin” and The Third Mind (1978).
Burroughs and Gysin, like Tzara before them, proposed a democratic form of poetic composition. Anyone could pick up a pair of scissors or fold a page of the newspaper to create poetry—but Baum extends that idea from a form that anyone could do to something that everyone does do. Dog-earing books is an ubiquitous habit. By aestheticizing that minor gesture—the folding of a page’s corner to mark a pause in reading—she asserts that the artistic act in conceptual writing is one of choice.
The resultant texts in Baum’s Dog Eared pages can be read in multiple directions, piling up like Robert Smithson’s “heap of language” and every direction releases a text unintended by the original author. Dog Ear consists of reader-generated poems that use the destructive/productive folding of a page to both destroy(the original text is obscured) and produce (as the over-leaved text is revealed) a text that did not previously exist. Craig Dworkin, in his introduction to the Ubuweb Anthology of Conceptual Writing argues that conceptual writing—as typified by Postscript and Baum’s Dog Ear—is “not so much writing in which the idea is more important than anything else as a writing in which the idea cannot be separated from the writing itself: in which the instance of writing is inextricably intertwined with the idea of Writing: the material practice of écriture.”