Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Eric Lorberer and Barrett Watten

EMU grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews the recent BathHouse reading that featured Eric Lorberer and Barrett Watten:

Ned Randolph introduced first Eric Lorberer who went on to speak about public art, art in a shared space and related questions of ownership and permanence vs. ephemerally. He focused on the Ashbury Bridge in Minneapolis. A person crossing it should look at it differently than the artist who created it. Armajani is an Iranian born artist who gravitates toward art for purpose and public consumption. He loves gazebos, plaza, and especially bridges. His professed hope is to create works “Halfway between sculpture and architecture,” works which only get their full meaning through their pragmatic use.

Lorberer describes how the Ashbery Bridge was created jointly between worlds of politics and art, as well as the combination of three different bridge structures: steel tresses, suspension bridges, and arch bridges. One of the governing notions is the collision or joining of multiple worlds, as shown in the bridge’s mirror effect, the colors light blue and light yellow, and the use of beams and spaces as poetic breaks (ashora). All of which makes the bridge both an operational bridge and a living mediation on “bridgeness”, the idea of bridging and crossover and connection itself.

Lorberer takes us visually through the poem Ashbery wrote for the bridge. While most public poems duplicate the experience of the page, here the poem as traverses the length of the bridge. Overall, Lorberer demonstrates how Ashbery and Armajani present a bridge as something more than just a way to get from one place to another. Not only does it frame the city around it,  it is a site unto itself, a location to visit for the sake of it’s art and beauty; and yet to experience it, one cannot help but find themselves on the other side, having used it for what it most basically is.

After a short break, Ned Randolph then introduced Barrett Watten, a founding L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet. Watten focused his talk on the author as site. He began by discussing some of Robert Smithson’s works, including the site-specific pieces Broken Circle, Spiral Jetty, Buried Shed; as well as non-site works such as the Mirrors series. Watten then showed how Smithson began moving the mirrors outside into physical landscape, incorporating nonsite work in the site specific. He spoke of the entropic nature of much of Smithson’s work, such as the Glue Pour; that is, pieces which draw attention to the irreversibility of artistic creation.

Watten spoke of the visual component of the work of language poets, as is evidenced in Smithson’s Heap of Language. He then showed us three sites in which Watten’s poetry had been transformed into site-specific art. The first was the Addison street project in Berkley, which utilized small plaques in the sidewalk with poetry embossed on them, a direct mimicry of the page. Next came the Introduction to the Letter T, an Amajani project, in which a lengthy original poem had been distilled into a series of tiled images into a walkway, as well as two whole lines from the poem: “Things should correspond to open doors” and “There should be more outside.” Last came the Des Moines public library chess courtyard, in which various lines of another lengthy poem were incorporated into fences outlining the environment.

Watten closed speaking of the poet Laura Riding Jackson’s final and uncompleted  project, a dictionary called “Rational Meaning,” which endeavored to be the last word with proper meaning of words, conceiving that in any given context there was but one ultimately correct word. For instance, Jackson would contend that the words “Structure, building, edifice, form, and construction,” aren’t interchangeable. In other words, Jackson came to believe that Language rather than usage defined meaning, which is a curious position for a modernist to take, and opens up a host of interesting questions with respect to how we conceive of the role of language in art and our lives, as well as the location and possibility of artistic intention and meaning.