“Piece in Progress: About Face (Goan Atom, 2)”

Preface: The presentation I did for Romana Huk's conference was speedy, messy, and resonant with the impact of the visual works displayed, of the quotes read. It used unfinished thoughts for prompts. It promoted the experience of other art projects and other practitioners as models for thinking about writing and the project to hand. It set itself out to be a reflection on the processes that had been animating my own thoughts at the initial stages of the second part of my ongoing project Goan Atom. In fact, as it turned out, it seemed to play a part in announcing this barely existing work.  

A presentation of research as brainstorming favours the kind of associative clarity and memory jolts which much experience of art rests on. At an emotive level, it breeds an excitement and enjoyment which does not know how to think. At an intellectual level, it needs for questions to stand and for thinking to become thoughts, before any focussed or exterior involvement or commitment can actually take place.

As I again battle with the contradictions and preoccupations at the root of much of my presentation (how deep is the bride? how does one do art today? why should one? what is writing’s impact beyond the literary? how do I respond ? how do I think to respond with my work? with my life?), I know I haven’t come much “further”. Any sense of cohesion is embattled. Action or activity is semi-paralysed. I am half-asleep. Or so it feels. In this sense, there is something vaguely humiliating and challenging in releasing these presentation notes. Yet it is also the only exciting proposition. What you have here is a synopsis, as much a panoply of methods detected as a record of things read. The bibliography has been added for ease of access.

“Piece in Progress: About Face (Goan Atom, 2)”


Draft of opening pages
(About Face 1)
(About Face 2)
Visual Text
‘Ceci n’est un pas une bride’


Goan Atom
Ongoing project: Wide-open in relation to projects this will have involved.  For part 1, already a series of 3 different outlets + 2 evolving publications.
This is partly the point.  A focus and a starting-point.

Background thoughts:
In that the body as conceptual and biological apparatus represents a storage both for different politics and cultural approaches to anatomy, and a shoring up of art’s libidinal articulations and accentuations (from glottis to glossia), varying genres of textual modality which claim the body as working-model make most sense when seen as discontinuous yet interdependent, yet joined network of activities.

The physicalisation and dispersal of writing through live readings, spoken recordings, text environments reflects in this respect a link between writing and physical construction/intervention in the public sphere.

Denaturalise social identities and politicise a heterogeneity of means while not sacrificing neither critical experimentalism nor the crucial politics of participation.


1.  Doll:
phonemic games, “retrogressive,” aural readings: body in the reading: not sounding yet evoked ?
Literary trad of anagram, (also linguistic/textual morphings): metaphorically: non-fixing of body shape, use of existing body fantasies: a way of handling female body, anatomical history, female genital and pregenital sexualities.
Not creation myth but emergence out of cumulative elements.  See zeroes and ones etc.
Body by accretion and cumulative strategies.  Not revelation.  Not conclusive or complete.
Closure a la Bakhtin possibly: internal coherence.


2.  Bride:
This second part just started.
Continued exploration various impact various production modes on writing etc.  Drafting as go along.
Another recognisable female body part/role.
Difficult discuss coherently: present thoughts and reflections on other practices which help the work along.

Bride’s opening project:  3 performance occurrences so far: “About Face”
Emphasis: questions of delay, untranslatability, seeing-being seen, hearing-being heard, not seeing, not hearing.

Berlin, Liminal Institute Festival, 2000 (translation tapes, live, constricted audience movement:  murmuring the live txt + displayed of reader in the room: delay: lack of coincidence speaking and seeing)
Bard College, NY, 2000 (unintelligibility, tape noise, slow extended time, constricted audience space: display in the room)
Small Press Traffic, San Francisco, 2001 (reading, 2 body positions in relation to the mic, using silence as voice)


Image 1 . Citationality of the face: ‘Ceci n’est un pas une bride’ 

This drawing similar methodologies as Doll:  deductive application. Also emphasis multiple aspects of process of writing contra its more coherent end-production.

References Magritte.  Jeux de representation.  De mediations, de delais, de non-reciprocity of text and visual.
Foucault on Magritte:  visual anagrams/graphic texts.  Relation and displacements. “Nowhere is there a pipe”.
+ Magritte  Le Viol  pour le visage qui est un nu de femme et ce que le spectateur a dans la tete (Freud)

Simplification of Duchamp’s LHOOQ:  here Mona Lisa removed.  Histoire de l’art comme citation et appropriation + gender games (primary male transvestisism).  Mona Lisa: most used face of Western art/portraiture.

Contemporary (female) transgendering models/games: the moustache externalises the juxtapositions of genres of bodies.  Particularly strong in queer aesthetics.  Denaturalisation of gender and of sexual apparatus which runs gender and sexual difference. Masquerade along binary/polarity routes.  See Della Grace to Del LaGrace Volcano and her photography. Anatomy as working-model.  Body: locus of ideological codes.: exposes them.
Body borders.

Removal of the face for its sign: writing trace of the ritualised body (Bourdieu’s l’habite, le ritualise).

+ bilingualism: bride/bride.  Translatabilities and additions.  Translative homophonies.
Traffic.  Non-equivalence but confusions and ambiguity of language spoken.
Important in relation much contemporary bilingual work. Cha, Gomez-Pena,…

Theme of bride helped by this early drawing.
What is a face?  What is a face?

Comment comprendre:
Foucault: derniere phrase introduction Archeologie de Savoir: ecrire pr ne plus avoir de visage.
Voir Nealon , a regulatory ideal:  freedom from recognition” pg 7. A way of freeing up from representation?
Cf aussi Jabes? Celan?

la visageite de Deleuze.  In Dialogues. Readibility as visual marker (optical/scopophic)


Image 2.  Face and the viewer: Boltanski:  Le Lycée Chases (photographic installation)

Photograph as memory retribution, impossible restitution.
Accidental finds mean that personal detail is lost in broader recording/archiving context.
Improvisational is part of contingent bodies: Also his rephotographing diffuses individual context bar title. Emotive nature of these photographs come from the fact that they are faces that “have existed” and their provenance.

See in this respect: defacement, evacuation of personal history is replaced/emphasised by approach to the viewer’s own processing: through the lights (interrogation lights) glaring on the photo of frame.
Light is always in the way.

Or rather light thrown back at the viewer.  Comment viewer/viewed + interpretation of archives + location of photo in museum (display) frame.
“Mnemonic traces but it is not clear what the materialised memories mean” D.Kuspit (Phaidon, p.98).
Inventory. Attempt at (completing) inventory. See Perec’s work

Corporeality – experience lived time and place. 
See Nealon 37 on Levinas / Bakhtin.  Answerability.
Hayles’ binary w/inscription (abstract system of signs/the body) and incorporation (cannot be separated instance of practice) p.199.  Constant interplay.
Is this assimilable to Phelan’s articulation of the Live occurrence as unrepeatable? (no)

Is there here a sense of the aura that Benjamin was longing for? Aura as assimilable to what defines presence. In the performed aspect of the viewing experience. In the unique fragility of these found pics.

A relation to the recorded as the only trace of live, meaning having been, having existed.
See value and fictionalisation of the document. See Bracha-Ettinger: remaking, fictionalisation of photographed documents.
(chk her work in Inside the visible catalogue).

Boltanski: “Art is always a witness
Sometimes a witness to events before they actually occur.  Like Felix Gonzales-Torres, who gave things to people, art is to do with our relation to the time in which we live.  So if we want to understand society we should look at society’s artists.”
“In my own art and also in art after the destruction of the Berlin wall, form has become less important.  With the Minimalists, form was hugely important, but that doesn’t happen in work of today.  Form represents a kind of belief – for example that there is a right way of doing art – but now that isn’t the case.  Now we’re concerned with the right way of speaking to someone; there is no form that is right forever.  And that also signifies the end of Utopia. Now I find it equally important to work in the newspaper or with posters, say, to do the work in the street rather than to make work for museum display”
(interview, Tamar Garb, Phaidon, 37)

See Juliana Spahr “Witness” in Response.  Or “Testimony.”
And her ideas of connective poetics: (Jarnot/Osman/Retallack).
Acts of recognition and collective response.  Witnessing as poetic mode.
Witness what you’ve seen/heard/read? Or witnessing to history in your own time?

Reflect on Susan Howe in rel. construction of history narratives.
What witnessing entails: the kind of constructions it has applied to it.
Cage reconstructing Finnegans Wake by travelling and recording sounds in place-names.


Image 3. Speaking and the face: Wodiczko’s Mouthpiece.

Olson-Creeley: speech is a mouth: sound/breath correlation, embodiment. In Wodizcko’s work this idea facilitates apprehension and critique of imposed identity structure.
Mouthpiece: an object constructed on a face, a face constructed to allow for
recognisable voicing. The body addressed and the act of speaking: speakable and hearable in the dynamics of the street. Speaking through and as technology.

Art objects like his Alien Staff or Mouthpiece function both as processors of identity and facilitators of interaction. They are instrumental in questioning what speaks, what listens. They provide social access to speech and figuration through an interconnected and improvisatory way of manifesting the untranslatable individual, the socially opaque.
“The Alien Staff is simultaneously an instrument, a performance and a network”

+ “she mimicks the speaking” Cha.

Sets up a discussion around speaking/orality as part of the prostheticised voice/ventriloquist image. No pure voice. “orality insinuates itself into the network of scriptural economy” de Certeau

Language/Voice/Accent addressed as performance of the Mouthpiece. Ventriloquism of the live image. Confirms  social displacement + issues of post-literacy (or complex literacy/multiple literacy).

Inevitably at work in mixed media, new communications. Ideas of what literacy needs. See Hayles in rel. to new corporealities in relation to communication. When changes in incorporating practices, embodiment mediates between new techno and discourse. New experiential frameworks. Hayles, 205-207.

See Stewart for the inscription of the trajectory between the productive presence of the reader and the potential presence of an articulating voice in the work of enunciation, whether spoken out or not. Non-presence in reading but reembodied nature of textual inscription 105. Basically, “someone else’s text and one’s own voice”.

To use artist method of intervention and design-led engineering to investigate the position occupied and occupiable for foreigners, migrants etc.
Prosthesis: foreigner is prosthetic: recognisable as “army of aliens”
Prerecorded stories of the mouthpiece as residual effects of orality. Also the issue of story-telling as personal reconstruction of unsharable memory.

Pitching beyond Identity Politics: “only recently have postcolonial artists and critics pushed practice and theory from binary structures of otherness to relational models of difference”. Hal Foster, “Artist as Ethnographer,” 178. Also Nealon (for philosophical background).

“suddenly it becomes possible that there are just others, that we ourselves are an other among others” Ricoeur qu. by Craig Owens, 57. check xerox.

NB “one exists by virtue not of being recognised but by being recognisable” 5
This pt is essential to pursue. It relies on Bakhtin + Levinas ideas of responsive relationality. Creation of self through the other and as other (by other). A voir en detail.

More closely, Foucault on body structures.

Also habitus, ritual/repetitive body knowledge – embodied practices. “converted through orientation and movement of the body as it traverses cultural spaces” Hayles, 203

Jabes, 11: He said to me: You see I have no face. The one I am showing is a face of the mpment. The writer is a foreigner precisely because to reveal himself he must borrow a face from language.

In Wodizcko,  a relation to the recorded as the guarantee of being seen live, of cohabiting, of borrowing one’s “own” face. Also a diffused relation to presence as immediate, unrecordable, hence also unwitnessable etc
See the value of statement, as visibility + resistance.
Implications of this explicit and performative act of marginalisation.
Resistance as performance: Auslander (find Xerox – not archived)

exemples d’ecritures:
cris cheek songs from navigation,
Aaron Williamson’s Hearing Things

+ “emergence of magnetic recorder during postwar transformed voice from something heard to something overheard” Michael Davidson.
Premise: where writing dissociates presence from inscription, audiotape (both consumption and sound production) etc  confirms separation voice, emanation and physical presence. Reorganises the space-time occupied by speaking body. Widens the scope and implications of what is a speaking body.


Image 4. Face to Face? : Roni Horn, You are the Weather

Here increased by the fact that the “speaking body” is a series of close-ups of one face over a period of time and in similar settings: Icelandic hotsprings. Makes reading of context impossible (locations simply announced as part of the structure of the project). See difference with Sugimoto’s Seascapes where each is documented accurately (place, date) is part of the photo.
What kind of representation here? What is being represented?

Andy Warhol: reproducibility of face through photography + print

GILBERT & GEORGE : grids + reflections on the monumental

Discursive and documentary aspects of the grid. Text-image/faces: devisager. By contrast Lorna Simpson shows the back of the neck and wonders what the face is: haircuts + captions.

Repetition as “discursive performativity, a ritual chain of resignifications” Judith Butler, 14

And identity is a questioning of the Face-to-face: dialogue. Spatiality.
The question of semblance. Relativisation.
Action of viewing/reading

Relationality: recognizing contingent elements in formation of identity

Slippage through non repeating repetition.
Dissimilar semblance.
Multiplication of the face: No possible identification
Decontextualised yet structural context for making and presenting work.

Paradoxes of recognisability

(Yet for Levinas (et plus profondement) the relation to the face is indicative of exposition to “other”, rather than in constant interrelated making: “Le visage n’est il pas donne a la vision?” some fixity in this)

Judith Butler: Performative identities + questions of representation
issues of re-production (as location of face?)

A relation to delay and understanding of figuration and “presence” which is punctuated as a recording of  time-space.
Resting-point through dissimilar similarities, not “mechanical reproduction” yet playing with it: unique elements in repetitive pattern both as an installation and as the book.


Summary notes

Resistance not transgression: rethinking of public space/use. See all examples above et al
Notion of unintelligibility/untranslatability. See Homi Bhabha et al
Specificities contextualised, recirculated. See Gayatri Spivak et al: the personal is not autobio: but a meeting-point
New kinds of literacy. Hayles et al

Keeps on prompting reflections on the artist’s work and role. As explicitely based on an openness in relation to strategies used that also favour the question of art’s relation to social mechanisms (what kind of involvement?). And the implications of the kind of work ultimately created.


Works Cited:

Goan Atom 1 (in bookform):

Goan Atom: Jets-Poupee (Cambridge: rempress, 1999)

Goan Atom: 1. Doll (San Francisco: Kruspkaya, 2001)


Images used during the presentation (documentation of work):

1.   Caroline Bergvall: Ceci n’est pas une bride (miscopied drawing).

2.   Christian Boltanski:  Le Lycée Chases  (photographic installation) in Lynn Gumpert Christian Boltanski (Flammarion: Paris, 1994), 108-109.

3.   Krystof Wodizcko: Mouthpiece (prosthetic object and performance) in K. Wodizcko Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects, Interviews (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999), 100-101 and 125.

4.   Roni Horn: You are the Weather (photographic installation and book) (Zurich: Scalo, 1997).



Pierre Bourdieu, “The Field of Cultural Production or, The Economic World Reversed” in The Field of Cultural Production:  Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Randal Johnson (Cambridge: Polity, 1993).

Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) 14.

cris cheek & Sinaed Jones, Songs from Navigation (book w/CD) (Lowestoft: Sound & Language, 1997).

Michel de Certeau, “Uses of Language” in The Practice of Everyday Life, vol. 1 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1988).

Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Paris: Flammarion, 1996).

Hal Foster, “The Artist as Ethnographer” in The return of the real: the avant-garde at the end of the century (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1996).

Michel Foucault, “Introduction” L’archéologie du Savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1969).

Gilbert & George, The Complete Pictures 1971-1985 (no publ., international catalogue, Hayward Gallery, 1987).

N. Katherine Hayles, How we Became Post-Human: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999).

Edmond Jabès, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop (Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1993).

Donald Kuspit, ”In the Cathedral/Dungeon of Childhood: C.Boltanski’s Monument: The Children of Dijon” in Christian Boltanski (New York: Phaidon Press, 1997).

Emmanuel Levinas, “Le visage et l’extériorité” in Totalité et Infini ( Paris: Biblio, 1987).

Samir Naïr, “Les Identités Aléatoires” in Imported: A Reading Seminar ed. Rainer Ganahl (New York: Semiotext(e), 1998).

Jeffrey Nealon, Alterity Politics: Ethics and Performative Subjectivity (Durham: Duke UP, 1998).

Juliana Spahr, Response (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1996).

Garrett Stewart, Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext (Berkeley: U of California P, 1990).

Aaron Williamson, Hearing Things (London: Book Works, 2001).

Catherine De Zegher, curator and editor, Inside the Visible, an elliptical traverse of 20th century art: in, of, from the feminine (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1996).

Bio: Caroline Bergvall, born in 1962, lives and works in England. She has had texts featured in a number of magazines in England and North America. Her work also appears in the anthologies Out of Everywhere & Foil: Defining Poetry 1985-2000. Recent texts include Eclat (Sound & Language, 1996), Goan Atom: jets poupee (rempress, 1999), and Goan Atom: 1. Doll (San Francisco: Kruspkaya, 2001). Work also includes collaborations on performances and text-based installations. She is Associate Fellow in Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts.



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