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Ballistic poetry
La Verrière, Brussels, 2016



Inaugural exhibition of the cycle "Ballistic poetry",
La Verrière Hermès, Brussels
From April 23rd to July 2nd, 2016.

With : Marcel Broodthaers - Henri Chopin - Liz Deschenes - Hessie - Thomas Hirshhorn - Channa Horwitz - Guillaume Leblon - Scott Lyall - Dora Maurer - Helen Mirra – Jean-Luc Moulène - Dominique Petitgand – R.H. Quaytman - Isodoro Valcárcel Medina - Tris Vonna-Michell - Christopher Williams

and
Bernard Heidsieck – Mark Insingel - Christophe Tarkos

The preceding season, entitled Gestures of the mind, ran for three years
from 2013 to 2016, exploring artists and artworks operating outside the
conventional opposition between manual, artisan skills and the intellect.
Now, Ballistic Poetry examines the disconnect between artistic or aes-
thetic programmes and their outcomes or, more precisely, the discon-
nect between intuition and intent in certain kinds of radical abstraction.
The inaugural exhibition in the Ballistic Poetry season focuses on the link
between certain types of programmatic artistic practice (eg. minimal-
ism, conceptual art or the extreme rigour of objective photography) and
radical, ‘mutist’ poetry, calculated to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell.’
The exhibition posits that certain, uncontrolled aspects of these ration-
alist, formal approaches open a breach into the ineffable and unknow-
ing, exerting a gently seductive power as sensual staging-posts for
knowledge and the intellect, beyond the scope of the written or spoken
word. To achieve this, the exhibition brings together artists from dif-
ferent generations and expressive worlds, united by their process-
oriented, critical approach to the working of their chosen materials.
Taking sensory short-cuts and overstepping aesthetic boundaries, the
exhibition presents the artists in dialogue with contemporary poets
whose work with the written or spoken word explores the same tension
between objectivity and opacity. In art and poetry alike, the exhibition
deals in clearly-defined, trenchant forms designed for ‘immediate
affect’, communicating their message without flourish or digression,
and exerting a direct, even violent impact. Works that draw straight
lines in space, and in the mind ; whose systematic, theoretical pre-sup-
positions, though pregnant, are nonetheless masked by the form itself.
In short, works based on a calculated impact which is felt rather than
understood by the viewer, and whose superficial discourse fails to
‘paper over’ the vertiginous abyss of non-comprehension.
The project has its genesis in personal experience : it reflects the moral
and affective wranglings of an exhibition curator with regard to the
objects of his work. For some years, I have focused on the relationship
between art and specialist or scientific knowledge from the perspective
of conceptual art, fascinated by the ways in which contemporary art
engages with knowledge, while at the same time undermining its struc-
tures through a regime of corruption and cognitive deviance. From this
standpoint, the work of art appears as a support for the infinite projec-
tion of disparate discourses and narratives, each mediating between
complex forms and the curious viewer’s gaze, eager to like what he or
she sees, but also to understand and ‘know about’ it : a ‘cultural’ chal-
lenge in which I include myself, as a viewer of art. In turn, I often hear
visitors respond with pleasure to oral or written ‘explanations’ in the
presence of, or based on, works of art in exhibitions. Over time, I have
come to find the information and commentaries accompanying works
of art increasingly problematic – not their existence as such (I am not
forced to include them, after all), but their perceived status as absolute
necessities. As if some viewers felt unable to apprehend pure form with-
out these narratives, however fragmented or speculative, so that they
ultimately become part and parcel of the work itself. Conversely, this is
further complicated by my own gradual detachment from these ‘expla-
nations about art’, as I move more and more towards accepting, even
preserving, the impenetrability of the artwork and its immediate, sug-
gestive power. Striving in vain to supply this demand for definitive keys
to an understanding of what remains (for me) the inherent mystery and
distance of art, I realised that the art I enjoyed most was precisely the
art I did not understand. More precisely still, I enjoyed art that retained
an ineffable quality, beyond the grasp of reason, language and neces-
sity, despite my taste for artistic protocols and the rationalisation of
form. An ineffable, shadowy quality which I felt bound to preserve,
rather than illuminate. .../...

 Conceptual opacity

There is, then, an unfathomable depth in contemporary art, which the
curator should seek to protect rather than fill – irrespective of the pro-
grammatic and conceptual character of the work. My aim here is not to
deny the interest and importance of the intentions, ideas and intellectual
rigour of the programmes underpinning the most demanding, complex
forms of contemporary art. Nor will I address expressionism, that crea-
tive impulse concerned with the relationship of the artist to the work.
Far downstream and detached from the cliché of the mystery of
transcendent inspiration, I focus instead on the exclusive, non-discursive
relationship between an art object and the viewer’s gaze, that unex-
pected affect that touches the senses directly, when we contemplate
works which paradoxically identify themselves as rigorously program-
matic. This ineffability, this blurring born of extreme precision is what we
choose to call poetry, but which we might also call mystery, opacity,
emptiness, distance. Like any chimaera, the accursed in art has several
faces, several identities, several names. No matter. Speculation : it is this
that Susan Sontag defends when she denounces the destructive nature
of textual analysis and explanation in literature 1 . It is to this that Oscar
Wilde refers when he writes : ‘The true mystery of the world is the visible,
not the invisible’ 2 . And it is to this that Gilles Deleuze refers in his lecture
on the act of creation, when he states that ‘the work of art has nothing
to do with communication,’ that it ‘contains strictly no information,’ but
is rather an ‘act of resistance’ 3 . (Resistance to meaning, and comprehen-
sion.) This is the poetry we refer to here as ‘ballistic’, the kind practiced
by Christophe Tarkos, for whom : ‘Language does not exist outside the
world, it’s as solid as a sandbag landing on your head, it’s wholly real,
wholly effective, efficien t, useful ’ 4 . This is what the poet Jean-Marie
Gleize refers to when he says that ‘there is no second meaning’ 5 , implying
that our first, literal understanding is decisive. Lastly, this is what Jacques
Derrida touches on when he borrows Antonin Artaud’s notion of the ‘sub-
jectile,’ the unrepresentable urge – both physical and ideal – underpin-
ning every artwork, the unfathomable depth retreating into infinity
behind the figures, but which never completely disappears, consisting
of nothing but its own in-betweenness. As Derrida said, an artwork is the
halting of a trajectory, the pacification of the subjectile, the interruption
of a blazing jet that gives substance to the thing it impacts upon 6 . I can
think of no better way to put it, ballistically or poetically.
Taking this ideal as its starting-point, the exhibition (and the season that
follows) will follow its subject’s lead, being both precise in intent and
volatile in form. Bearing the mark of its objectives, yet open and intui-
tive. An open-ended subject which, as with Gestures of the mind, will
define and refine itself over time, through meanderings and serendipity,
in successive exhibitions. A subject that constantly creates its own defi-
nition, rather than seeking it in pre-existing things. A subject that can
never, by its very nature, be wholly justified ; a subject that will not
search for its own meaning in the spoken or written word. Ultimately,
the pertinence of a work of art is confirmed or negated not by prelimi-
nary notes and explanations, but by the force and immediacy of its irrup-
tion in space. This curatorial risk-taking is intended as a tribute to the
subject itself, an assertion of contradiction as the very least of the cour-
tesies we owe to art and poetry.


Download the exhibition’s journal FR/ENG here :

PDF - 1.6 Mo

1 ‘The modern style of interpretation excavates, and
as it excavates, destroys ; it digs “behind” the text, to
find a sub-text which is the true one.’ Susan Sontag,
Against Interpretation, 1966.
2 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890.
3 Gilles Deleuze : ‘Qu’est-ce que l’acte de création ?’,
Tuesday lecture at the Fondation Femis, May 17, 1987.
4 Bertrand Verdier in conversation with Christophe
Tarkos, November 3, 1996, at Le Canon, Paris, 13th
arr. (published in Christophe Tarkos, Écrits Poétiques,
P.O.L, 2008).
5 Ibid.
6 Jacques Derrida and Paule Thévenin,‘To unsense
the subjectile’, in The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud, tr.
Mary-Ann Caws, MIT Press, 2000.