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Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place was the first poet to perform at the Whitney Biennial; a content advisory was posted.




Q: 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?


A: They were trying to say something. I am trying not to say something, which is much more difficult.


Q: 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 view?


A: Do you mean Goldsmith’s or Archambeau’s? In either event, I suppose the answer is yes.


Q: Given conceptualism’s radical self-positioning of itself, do you think it is ironic that conceptualism has been championed and embraced by the academy?


A: Awfully. You forgot to ask if this is surprising.


Q: 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?


A: 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.


Q: 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 this is?


A: Fear of strangers, first. Fear of friends, second.


Q: To what extent do you think conceptualism sees itself as a serious poetic art form?


A: 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.


Q: How do you explain conceptualism’s rapid ascendancy within the academy?


A: Boredom with the narcississistic selfhood of much lyric poetry?


Q: 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?


A: 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 representation.


Q: 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”?


Being, 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 say something.


This was fun.  





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