Pretty Inexhaustible


Action Score Generator
, Nathan Walker (if p then q)


Here's an indication that the avant-garde, for want of a more reliable term, can have a sense of humour as well as being exploratory and innovative. Nathan Walker's new book is a splendid tome, 600 poems, a poem per page, each centred in upper case type. Each poem has six lines and the whole text is generated from a random JavaScript code that is featured on Walker's website. I'm unsure of the programming details of such a project as the results are often intriguing and hilarious, certainly stimulating, and the idea that a computer-generated text can be re-formatted into book form - this substantial looking block probably weighs two or three pounds! - has an amusing ironical note as well as a serious aim. Here's an example of the texts, a page opened at random, which seems quite appropriate:

BAGS
AGAINST
BEARD TEAR
ONTO
OBSERVER

FLOWERS BY
STEP PLACE
AGAINST
BACK

In an introductory text on the aims of  if p then q projects, the editor points out that there are three, possibly related, ways of approaching these texts: first, on an immediate level - do you like the poem or not? - with no specialist knowledge of poetry or art necessary; secondly, that the interested reader may then be encouraged to 'dig deeper' and uncover the ideas behind the project but still with no necessary specialist knowledge; thirdly, the approach of a reader who does have a more sophisticated knowledge of art processes and context and will better understand the content and form. This level also allows for the possibility that the stimulated reader in the first two categories may be inclined to research and understand the ideas behind the writing at a deeper level.

This may all seem a little programmatic and indeed contains the potential for satire within its own specifications but it's a fair enough descriptive underlying the processes involved in this kind of material, essentially derived from the practices of conceptual art. What I particularly like about this book - apart from its splendid materiality and bulk - is the fact that there's a lightness to the whole project, a sense of fun about the processes involved and an understanding that while such processes can pose interesting questions about the nature of production, it can be taken and enjoyed on a more immediate level. There is also the sense of the (relative) permanence of the object, in book form, as opposed to the fleeting and kinetic nature of the texts on the website. There's a lot of scope here for thinking about changes in writing practices generated by the online world but the relation between innovation -technical and technological - and tradition, is perfectly encapsulated by this 'whacking great book', generated by a mixture of mathematical precision and chance methods.
The individual texts themselves can be read in a variety of ways - pretty inexhaustibly, I'd say - and have that feel of classic minimalism built into the process itself. Here are another two pages of text - once again I've opened the book at random:

GLASS BELOW
PIERCING DIG
BY GALLERY

TONGUE
ONTO
CLOTHES
ERASE
WITH
TOWN

There's the potential here for a relation between text on the page, text on the screen and text in performance, which feels wonderfully active and stimulating, not something you could say about all 'avant-garde' projects these days.

    Steve Spence 2015