The Argotist Online
Place was the first poet to perform at the Whitney Biennial; a content advisory
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a conceptual art group called Art &
Language specialised in producing art works utilising texts and lexical
elements, whilst endorsing the theories of Marcel Duchamp, and holding the view
that the practice of art should be methodically theoretical and separated from
matters related to craft or aesthetics. These beliefs and procedures are echoed
by practitioners of conceptual poetry, the most celebrated being Kenneth
Goldsmith, who has spoken of Duchamp’s influence on his practice and that of
other conceptual poets. Given these theoretical and procedural similarities
between the Art & Language group and conceptual poets, in what sense is the
work produced by conceptual poets significantly different from that produced by
the Art & Language group, and, indeed, other conceptual artists working in
the same area?
They were trying to say something. I am trying not to say something, which is
much more difficult.
In ‘Kenneth Goldsmith, or The Art of Being Talked About’ Robert Archambeau
says that he thinks that Kenneth Goldsmith ‘often seems to believe in a
linear, progressive version of artistic and literary history, a view that many
people in the art world feel has been discredited’. Would you agree with this
Do you mean Goldsmith’s or Archambeau’s? In either event, I suppose the
answer is yes.
Given conceptualism’s radical self-positioning of itself, do you think it is
ironic that conceptualism has been championed and embraced by the academy?
Awfully. You forgot to ask if this is surprising.
Is conceptualism’s claim that it rejects what it sees as the “narcissistic
selfhood” of much lyric poetry incompatible with its practices, given that so
many of these practices revolve around the personality and showmanship of the
poets involved, Kenneth Goldsmith being perhaps the most prominent example?
These two seem entirely compatible, unless you are suggesting that the poet is
the poem, in which case, they are not. This may be the case, which would then
explain certain dull lyric poets.
Conceptual poets tend to be reluctant to engage directly with their critics,
preferring instead to rehearse the theories regarding their practice in
self-penned essays in various sympathetic publications etc. Why do you think
Fear of strangers, first. Fear of friends, second.
To what extent do you think conceptualism sees itself as a serious poetic art
Someone once asked me why I was so mean to poetry, as poetry had been fairly
good to me. I said that poetry wasn’t someone at a party sporting a quivering
lip and air of self-harm for whom I had to adopt a position of feeling concern,
at least publicly. Conceptualism is a poetic practice, and hardly capable of
seeing itself. If you are asking to what extent conceptualism is a serious
poetic art form, I’d say as serious as any poetic art form, if we are to take
poetry seriously. For if we are to take poetry seriously, then it should be
taken at least as seriously as art or music, which understands that the only
thing that demarks art is that which art demarks.
How do you explain conceptualism’s rapid ascendancy within the academy?
Boredom with the narcississistic selfhood of much lyric poetry?
What are the possible ramifications for the reception of lyrical and other sorts
of non-conceptual poetry within the academy, now that conceptualism has been
accepted as poetry by the academy?
The same as painting still holds for painters. It is a genre, like any other,
capable of being taught and bought, but is no longer the default mode of
US conceptual poets, particularly Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place, have
expressed a disinterest in poetry as having any sort of political dimension.
This is in marked contrast to some other historical and contemporary conceptual
art practices internationally, such as Berlin Dada, the Situationists, The
Colectivo de Acciones de Arte (CADA) etc. Does this disinterest by US conceptual
poets in exploring conceptualism as poetic-political praxis weaken claims to
such conceptualism’s “radicalism”?
for the moment, Vanessa Place, I believe I have said, and certainly have
written, that all aesthetics has an ethics, and all ethics, an aesthetics. This
would imply a certain amount of politics, given the way people tend towards
aggregation. More to a deeper point, doesn’t this rather depend on how one
conceives of politics? And this may be a question of syntax instead of content.
Which is, admittedly, insufficiently reassuring to those who prefer their
radicalism sans guillemets, or those who, when they see something, inevitably
copyright © Vanessa Place