to name, to cite, to borrow
While Shannon and I were in Portland this January installing the Gestures of Resistance show at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, we had fantastic conversations with the museum’s curator Namita Wiggers. In one of those conversations Namita remarked how Richard Serra’s verb list seemed to be everywhere these days and we talked about the list in relation to our exhibition’s focus on performative craft actions and to Shannon's previous writings on understanding craft as a verb.
I mentioned that I thought somewhere in my files back home I had a kind of craft version of Serra's list and promised to try to find it. I found it—a typed, taped, and over-Xeroxed list marked with the name of the classmate at the Penland School of Crafts who had shared it with me. The title of the book from which the list came was on there too, Forms in Japan, by Yuichiro Kojiro.
I tracked down a copy of the book in the library, copied the introduction and the page with the list, and set it aside.
As part of the Study Center that Shannon and I devised for the exhibition, I’d agreed to make weekly podcasts of readings-aloud in proximity of craft and performance. These readings-aloud were based on a series I made for students in a sculpture seminar at MassArt in the Spring of 2009. Those initial readings-aloud had grown out of a dare from one of my students and consisted of weekly 20 minute podcasts in which I read aloud from the books on my study shelves, omitting all citation in hopes of producing for my students a new relationship to reading. Part of the deal was that no one was permitted to discuss the podcasts during class. They were kept separate from the business of teaching. A kind of shared textual dream life.
For the Gestures of Resistance readings-aloud, I’d decided to focus the reading on texts in proximity of craft and performance, and for this week’s episode I’d read aloud the lists from Forms in Japan, lists which were made in an attempt to devise a classification system appropriate to traditional Japanese craft forms. Under the heading Forms of Reduction, for example, I'd read “which are rolled, which are creased, which are folded, of storing, of bending, of shortening.”
That was several days ago. Today, preparing an assignment for an introductory sculpture class, I looked up Serra’s verb list. And as I started to read down the first column I heard it already in my mind, and I knew that I'd just read this somewhere else: “to roll, to crease, to fold, to store, to bend, to shorten.”
It’s not the entire list, but from “to roll” through “to disarrange” the two lists track precisely.
It’s a strange experience. I’m in the middle of a reading project premised entirely on reading others’ words, without citation, without naming, letting very different kinds of texts rub up against one another. I make clear that none of this writing is my own, that my contribution is that of a reader. But still, I am broadcasting others’ ideas without naming them. I go so far as to have a piece of text transcribed into music for the start of each episode. The text reads:
Modernity has drawn a line. A line around voices. A line under the past. It has circled, encompassed, enclosed voices, in order to separate them, in order to order them, in order to set them one against the other.
The text is from Eloise Knowlton’s Joyce, Joyceans, and the Rhetoric of Citation. It’s the only bit that gets properly cited in the whole undertaking. Clearly I think there’s something exciting and productive in messing with citation.
But I want to know whether Serra credits Yuichiro Kojiro, author of Forms in Japan, for inspiring his list. The English translation of Kojiro’s book came out in 1965. Serra’s "Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself" is dated 1967-68. Serra’s list does move away on its own trajectory, but its origin is clear. Quick internet searches turn up only passages like this from an interview on the PBS Art:21 Web site:
When I first started, what was very, very important to me was dealing with the nature of process. So what I had done is I'd written a verb list: to roll, to fold, to cut, to dangle, to twist...and I really just worked out pieces in relation to the verb list physically in a space.
The artist Joshua Hart saw the connection. On his Web site he juxtaposes Serra’s list with the one in Forms in Japan, under the generous heading “TRIBUTARY>”.
In the midst of the unfolding Gestures of Resistance exhibition, and in a time of remarkable new thinking and writing about this thing called craft, it strikes me as worth investigating and better understanding the relationship between these two lists. What kind of a relationship is it? What is suggested by the very different ways in which these two lists have made their way into the world, or failed to? Why is the one broadly taught and the other obscure? When does the action “to name” matter?
March 2, 2010
For further reference:
Yuichiro Kojiro, Forms in Japan, trans. Kenneth Yasuda (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1965)
The two lists on the same page, on Joshua Hart's Web site: www.joshuahart.org