Not Really:
An Interview With Vanessa Place

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Milos Zahradka Maiorana We met in July 2013 at the Schizogenesis group art show in Chinatown, Los Angeles. I remember you had a t-shirt on that made all the artists less anxious. It said: “I Am A Big Fan of Your Work.” The t-shirt was so interesting that I had to talk to you. I am a big fan of your work, as well. Let’s begin the conversation from here: Can you please tell us a little bit about your output in 2013 and your most recent projects? Have you met any new and unusual inspirations in the past year?

Vanessa Place I appreciate being asked about my output, for production is the name of anybody’s game. While there were certainly various material objects that came into being as part of my line, my output last year was largely devoted to input, that is to say, I played a causal role more than a creative one. A carrier, in other words. Carriers, as you know, display no symptoms of their disease. They also move things. Happily, founding the world’s first poetry corporation in 2013 enabled me to do both, as well as avoid the danger of any new inspiration. Or the inspiration of no new inspiration. I suppose that is unusual.

MZM There is proverb that says doctors have two enemies: the healthy and the dead. Disease seems to be an intermediate state, much less of an exception, something that must be contained by the law of the symptom. The image of the carrier is fascinating because of its ambivalence. A carrier as a collaborator which adopts a double syntax, perhaps a reptilian.

VP Yes, I’ve often wondered when “collaboration” became an unblinkingly positive practice.

MZM A carrier as a moving container transporting illegal workers. A carrier as an ontological structure we transport that frames our experience. The carrier as host makes me think of Jerry Seinfeld when he said: “I don’t know why the guest should be more interesting than the host.”

VP Or my belief that any interview is about the interviewer.

MZM Vanessa, can you tell us more about your poetry corporation without telling us too much.

VP There have been a number of art corporations, which makes historical sense, given that art has a stand-alone market, and that we have been until recently in an object-oriented (or at least object-embodied) form of commonplace capitalism. Poets of course wrote poetry about art, but, above all, about that which art was about. If we lived in an age in which, say, gold was valued above all else—our loves were rarer than, our lord more precious than—we poets would sing gold’s praises in precisely these terms. Just as we artists would so crown our statues and anoint our illustrations. We currently live in an age of semio-capitalism. Et voilà: we artists and poets assert the inherent value of the singular snowflake subject, and the worth of the individual unit of attention. “Poetic”—what does this mean when every “I” is a gob of merch?

MZM Gold is semiotically outdated; nonetheless, gold can carry on as it does as a measure of conquest. Poetic also means putting things where they don’t belong. Poetry, more than other forms of art, is not primarily concerned with naturalness or Aristotelian mimesis (representation). Disjunction and kaleidoscopic vision are often what fashions the poetic: Rimbaud’s systematic derangement of the senses.

VP That is a creaking conception, I think, but one the current market likes.

MZM The poetic is often beaten down as consolation for bad taste. The poetic type rarely gets invited to the party. What form can poetry take today? Do you value the work of Kenneth Goldsmith?

VP http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2014/02/robert-sheppard-more-traces-of-poetry.html

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2011/05/the-death-of-the-text-kenneth-goldsmith-at-the-white-house/

Conceptual poetry is radical mimesis.

MZM Sorry, is this your response?

VP Of course. I like to be economical.

MZM In your article about Kenneth Goldsmith’s visit to the White House, you make some interesting claims about the in-itself referring to the nominal quality of Goldsmith’s poem about the Brooklyn Bridge. The text is ordinary, a recording of an event in language, nothing special. Once again disjuncture plays a part. What I encounter has really nothing to do with me, yet I am drawn into the logic of the event, willy nilly. We become the poetry for the thing; we sing the body electric as Whitman formulated.

Hermeneutical language verges on the lyrical and I do not think that is what you are going for. You seem to be much closer to Wittgenstein.

VP Kenny is an American poet insofar as he is concerned with, as you note, the transmission or communication of experience, and, or as, experience is mediated. Often with a New York frame, the habitus of the poet—the electronic body, so to speak. I wonder in this way that this kind of mediation is inherently lyrical.

As for me, very much Wittgensteinian in the sense of later Wittgenstein, with a fillip of Lacan. The ethical can only be silent. Which may mean that is the highest, or at least the stupidest, form of poetry. My work is not lyrically communicative because it’s not anything. At least not in itself. A poem that is a mere transcription of a legal document, robbed of its juridical frame (in a sense), or one gleaned from a Buzzfeed comment stream or a clutch of crowd-sourced rape jokes—this is nothing more than a reflection of you as you see yourself reflected.

MZM In a previous interview with Divya Victor you stated: “Capitalism sanctions the production of meaning. Or meaning meaning production.” The final stages of a Foucauldian regime of control is where the subject lays himself bare. In Orwell’s 1984, Winston’s act of revolt begins when he discovers a blind spot afforded by the architecture of his living room. The theme being communication.

VP Now I might add “the meme being communication.”

MZM Do you enjoy and/or work well in LA? What kinds of images do you associate with LA?

VP I can’t say whether I enjoy it; because of its surfeit of communication, it does give me the ability to write nothing. Hollywood, like the law, traffics in precedent and seriality. And of course we return to the image, particularly the self-image, which is what LA excels in. Do you think America knows that it is only Los Angeles? And New York, though New York is very LA these days.

MZM The link between writing and image brings us back to Plato’s dialogues. Writing for Socrates, Plato describes how the written word and the painting partake in a process of showing but not being. In the Phaedrus Socrates comments: “Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.”

VP This is what my work is about: a sheer and voluminous silent surface.

 

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MZM
Does inertia play into your work?

VP The real question is do we care that there’s little difference between being and showing at this stage of this game. It’s inertia we’re after, perhaps, but it’s our own consumptive production we’ve got. In this sense, I don’t believe in repetition. Just simultaneity. This should get us away from a possibly problematic notion of difference. Which may lead us to a more productive idea of frictionlessness—culture swimming in itself. This might be inertia. It depends on the medium.

MZM You are right, no sense digging, the old metaphysics of representation/being are spent. Inertia is a much more interesting field. I think an aesthetic education today should include a heavy dose of physics. As far as production, do you have a methodology in your work? What sort of encounters kick your creative machine into gear?

VP No single methodology; I am struck, as we are all struck, by this and that. I tend to be struck by the violence of the unremarkable. And vice versa.

MZM The most unremarkable thing an artist can do today is to make a website. Do you have a website?

VP Of course there is a website: vanessaplace.biz, the site of the world’s first poetry corporation, as noted. There is a bit about us, and some news, and, from time to time, poetry products for sale, such as a vial of dirt that is a poem entitled Poetry Pays. One of our corporate mottos is “poetry is a kind of money,” which I’m proud to say that I recently read that another poet has publicly called “the stupidest thing” that he ever heard. Which is remarkable. That said, I believe that capital is now an aesthetic medium. And I am very interested in working with that medium.

 


MZM
I’ve always been interested in poetry products; that is what drew me into art. Particularly Marcel Broodthaers’ piece Pense Bete, which could be roughly translated as “stupid thought.” His reasoning was that from poetry he could transition into something more lucrative and less sincere, that is art. He said: “I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life.” I, too, think stupid ideas are the most productive. You can’t argue with stupid.

VP This is the stupid ideal, or the ideal of stupid: something so blank that the person on the other side has no choice but to step in, to make sense. That’s not quite it. So blank that this sense is made alongside its sensation. That is the beauty of the absolutely stupid, or perhaps the perfectly dumb. It really commands the utmost attention or none at all. Broodthaers was right then, though not now. Because he was still a poet, still sincere.

My work is not sincere, because it’s not anything. At least not in itself. A poem that is a mere transcription, robbed of its juridical frame (in a sense), or one gleaned from a Twitter feed or AP news nugget, line breaks presupplied by the placement of the requisite advertisements: this is not sincere. Not in terms of poetry, or the poet. I don’t have to worry too much about selling, just production. The work has already been sold—by someone.

If I’ve done anything, I’ve liberated poetry from sincerity. Poetry has always been sincere. That is its calling card. Lyric poetry is overtly guilty of this, though all poetry is implicated, no more so than when it deals in irony: one must be in very deep to believe in irony. Art suffers less from overt sincerity because of the object, which tends to diffuse things a bit, though art has been terribly sincere in its language. Art is usually rather stupid in its language. Artists and poets as such often suffer terribly from sincerity as refracted through ironic exhaustion, and its dull twin, knowing revolt. So the gift I have given poetry is to strip it of sincerity.

MZM I have seen some very Fritz Lang-like images of your poetry performances on the internet. Is the performance related to your corporate work? How do product and performance relate? Does your poetry need a performer in extremis?

VP All poetry has its performer, its performance. I believe, however, the poem as performed is a different poem than the poem on the page, just as notation is something other than sound. That said, you may be correct in the idea that my work is more in extremis than other work. Maybe not, though. It’s difficult to say. On the one hand, I am interested in what happens when you put hot content into a cold container. On the other, there is a touch of violence everywhere there is language.

The Fritz Lang comparison is apt: Lang sculpted monsters, the mis en abyme as mis en scène—this too is what I do.

MZM The idea of playing with content and container is very important in my work as well: selected books of Western philosophy packaged in vacuum sealed plastic used for organic products and Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit transformed into a duralog; a de-substantiation of matter or perhaps a re-vitalization. The concept of thought as material continues to fascinate me.

VP And in this possibly more neuro-knowing time, thought can only be thought of as material. Though it’s interesting that you hermetically seal historical thought, which Foucault would have hated.

MZM In reference to your statement about violence in language, the first link that comes to mind is Derrida in Of Grammatology: “When within consciousness, the name is called proper, it is already classified and obliterated in being named.” Not only is the initial violence of naming to be noted but also the productive amnesia that is language.

VP Yes, and Lacan shared with Sartre a sense of originary violence that was fundamentally linguistic. But that’s an aside.

MZM In Notes on Conceptualism you mention the allegorical function performed by conceptual writing and speak of “strategies of failure.” I see this as a strategy of shifting meaning away from the text (allegory: this means that) but actually going nowhere with it. There is a failure of reconstruction. There is no whole to be captured but only the shifted present, the rift.

VP There’s no whole to be reconstituted, but there is a constitution to be made. Which must be made in the sense of one cannot help making. For example, in my Boycott texts, I take iconic works of feminist theory and eliminate all references to women, changing them into their male equivalents. There is only one sex, the sex that is One. The reader who knows will find himself constructing gender as he sees fit, and becomes aware of that fittedness, that complicity. The rift, as you call it, becomes causal not because of the text’s meaning as such, but because of its understood contingency.

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Book cover for “Boycott,” 2013

MZM Many times your writing is oddly funny, like when you say: “The medium is the meeting-point” or “This kills Kosuth dead.” Shifting registers and purposely truncating logic is something often spoken of in theory of humor from Freud to Simon Critchley. What is your relationship with humor? Are you familiar with Eastern European humor? Do you follow any sitcoms?

VP Humor is fascinating to me as jokes are so fundamentally violent. I am not familiar with Eastern European humor beyond what I find in Zizek. Which is of course curated. I have a collection of jokes that I am working on, and a book coming out in Vienna—The Confession—which contains a section of rape jokes. I perform these somewhat regularly as well. Is it too much to confess that I quite admire a number of English-language sitcoms, and find the form wonderfully brutal? Not because of its witticism, so to speak, the turn that is expected and yet unexpected. But rather for its unwitticism, the way the punchline plays the ideological rule by thumbing its purported transgression as it reinscribes the larger lesson. Laughter needs an echo, as Bergson said—It’s funny because it’s truer.

Which of course reminds me of a joke: What’s the difference between an Afghani Military Base and a Pakistani Elementary School? I don’t know, I just fly the drone.

MZM Ha ha. Good one. I have a dusty anecdote about Freud when he was lecturing in in Boulder, Colorado: Freud was speaking about how one cannot negate using affirmation and a student yelled from the back of the lecture hall: “Yeah, right!”

Let’s take a step back. You said earlier that capitalism is the medium. What exactly does this mean?

VP Nothing earth-shattering. Just that the object of art now is not the point, but the platform, and the platform is necessarily a capital-based platform. So rather than think too much about this platform or that platform, I think about the medium of capital as such—that is das Ding where engagement lies. To use various modes of capital as mediums, this is interesting to me. The value is already the value, so to speak.

Milos Zahradka Maiorana is an international artist with a background in philosophy and political science. His work explores themes of consumption and space. He is currently working in Italy doing wine and cheese tours.

Vanessa Place is a writer, criminal defense attorney and CEO of Vanessa Place Inc., the world’s first poetry corporation. Her published work includes “Dies: A Sentence” (2005); “La Medusa” (2008); “Notes on Conceptualisms (2009), coauthored with Robert Fitterman; the Tragodía trilogy; and Boycott (2013).  Place also coedited I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (2012) with Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, and Teresa Carmody and is co-director of Les Figues Press. Her current exhibition at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles closes on June 1— more information about the show and Vanessa Place’s May 22 performance can be found HERE

 

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