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Speech´s matter.

A transcript of the video lecture for Douglasism 2013.

by Clemens Krümmel


Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Clemens Krümmel.

I am an art historian, writer, translator - and sometimes I also work as a curator. I am speaking to you from Berlin in Germany.
Before I start my short presentation, I first want to thank Gregory Maass and Nayoungim for inviting me to talk about the subject, the object of your conference. Mr. Douglas Park.
I apologize for not being able to be present with you out there in Seoul – health reasons have prevented me from flying there this time.
But I already had the opportunity to give a video presentation in Seoul on one other occasion, yet – let me tell you that I am still looking for a good way to work with this medium.
So please bear with me as I stumble along the path I have set for myself.

My talk has the title Speech's Matter.
When Greg and Nayoung drew my attention to the works of Douglas Park, whom I have until today never met in person, I was immediately hooked.
To say that I have always been interested in "immaterial" art productions would be misleading, because everything that matters needs at least temporarily a material support.
Douglas Park, who works not only with texts (in a degree of intensity that you could call him a writer) but mostly and especially with words, first seemed to me to be an adherent of that uncontainable craze for what many people in the art field nowadays like to call "performance lectures". Indeed, like many of the artists who work in that self-moulded interstitial space between artistic speech and academic speech, Park is highly conscious of his ancestors. But unlike many, he does not bob up and down like a nervous pimp trying to correctly spell out his triad background to some youngsters who are coming on to him, he does not merely indulge in the Old Name Game, when he writes about older and contemporary artists, it always remains very clear that he is acting out an investigative impulse rather than a mimetic one. Even if his approach seems erratic and unsystematic at times, even if he makes up a maze of uncheckable factoid connections between artists, ideas and practices, his historical consciousness is wide awake. Sometimes, some significant times, it sees a takeover from the world of systems and structure, the world of language, but not only in a traditional poetic sense, but in the sense of signal-to-noise, of the semiotic adventures of speech.
"Spoken word", a genre that has haunted the West since the 1980s, appears only half appropriate as a description of what goes on in Douglas Park's speech-based, performative works. Whoever has read one of his paratactic texts, has watched him battle his acoustic environment in amplified speech, has listened to words being transported into and out of his mouth moment after moment when he reads one of his texts, will have noticed that he or she was not witnessing a "reading". Instead, Park's articulate attitude encourages us to focus on single elements of words, on vowels, syllables, words, composites, which only in one portion of his work accumulate to sentences and paragraphs. It seems banal to say that modernism has since its beginning paired the scrutiny of reason with a heavy grudge against the use of language as a power tool. In Park's works, language is under a general suspicion. When it comes to trusting into language, count him out. The paratactic approach that he uses when he reads out, to not only expand into the notional and phatic spaces that speech offers, but also to line up words, the sound, their facture, their texture, like pearls on a shaky string - in TIME. I claim that it is a meaningful component of his mastery to make words sound like something extremely equivocal and even fishy. It always remains a speaking act, not in an emphatic sense (in which articulate speech always only appears as a tool of empowerment of a subject), but rather in the sense of speech as a tool of caution. By taking out, or leaving out, most syntagmatic grammatical elements that usually regulate the economy of power in spoken and written language, especially in Western languages, by avoiding larger sentence and sub-sentence constructions, he carves out of language what really makes it tick, what really gives it its power over people: the incredible situational power of the continuously moving and elusive present, the ungraspable present tense of time-space. I think musicologists first seriously presented the common observation that when we hear, when we listen, when we perceive what has always been explained to us as "external" sensory "data", we are uneasily sitting on an almost inconceivably small plateau that is floating between clouds of forgetfulness. Our focussed attention is an arrière-garde, not an avant-garde. It not particularly elegantly staggers behind what it perceives, it strives to memorize certain parts, despairing at the challenge of a culture fraudulently built on "memory" and "history", arranging itself with ghosts and spectres. In his groundbreaking essay "Obliscence - Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter" (1946), memory researcher Geoffrey Sonnabend wrote:

"We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, in order buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrievability of its moments and events." Sonnabend believed that long term or distant memory was illusion, but similarly he questioned short term or immediate memory. On a number of occasions, Sonnabend wrote "there is only experience and its decay". By which he meant to suggest that what we typically call short term memory is, in fact, our experiencing the decay of an experience. In light of such theses that have become quite popular in memory research, Douglas Park's reading-out of long rows, of successions of formulaic expressions from what some scientists were audacious enough to call "normal language" in the last century, have more to offer than a lugubrious parade of notions acquired, perceived and processed. By his seemingly infallible choice of "power words", bureaucratic words that could resound from some British postwar educational flick on social hygiene, by his speculative verbal constructions, and especially by their painstakingly concentrated arrangement in sounding sequences, we are able to experience fundamental properties of language and communication, and what's more, we feel language's "lie of truth" at every turn that his vocal chords, his tongue, his lips, his teeth, his resounding and twitching body tells us. I think that is something. It is something that matters to me.

But does it matter? How does it matter? I feel we cannot survive without the knowledge that Douglas Park turns our attention to (even if he does not really "convey" it or "explain" it). We also cannot survive with it, maybe not even live with it, as long as we remain - as he does in such an exemplary fashion - fixated on the continuously broken promise of language, the perceivable disappearance of sense as he speaks, as we speak, as it were. To me, his speech and his speaking matter inasmuch as it is profoundly excited, as it is agitated beyond the rhetorical calculation of effects. Douglas Park audible (and visibly) subjects himself to the bitter law of deceit - that is not everything of language, but that is always present in it. Moreover, Park's voice is not only phatic or phonic, it is also plastic. No, there is no "Man inside his Mouth", but inside him, there is a curious appreciation of the faucal space, we are not just led to believe that in some weird paragone he is joining together speech and sculpture. With the resonant matter that is his body, by chiseling away vibrant air inside his mouth, by reacting within the experiential radius that we tend to screen out – omnipresent inexorable soundworld –  the silence as freedom from one's intentions that John Cage keeps striking us over the head with, Park leaves us with a refreshed sense of doubt. that may only last for seconds, but that resonates also in not-so-conscious portions of our minds and bodies, their matter.

I have read Douglas Park's texts like the letter of a promising new acquaintance in the field of experimental artistic practices. I want to send Douglas an answer, not knowing if my reading of his works is not a failure. When I was staying in Seoul for some months in 2009, I brought a buzzing pile of difficult text with me, planning to translate them into German. They were texts by one of the few remaining original proponents of Minimal Art, Robert Morris - who was and still is really much more than that. Which is perhaps the reason why also Douglas Park has referenced him extensively. I warmly recommend to re-read Morris's writings today. I cannot begin to explain how meaningful I think especially his poetological remarks on the "phenomenology of making" appear to me. Here, as a kind of answer to the gift of Douglas Park's voice, I only want to present you one small text that Morris has written in1995. Morris has always doubled as an artist AND art historian, so in 1995, we find him writing an associatively. paratactical text on one of his most influential works from the 1960, STEAM (1967). ”Steam" has served Morris as much as an artwork, as a sculpture, as it was a far-reaching metaphorical device he re-interprets verbally in the lines I have decided to read out in a recorded video performance piece called "Thinking like a stone". The text he wrote is a fragmentary, but lively piece of applied cultural history trying to spell out what no-one would ever expect a "minimal" artist to put into words. Disappointingly for many, minimal artworks were as much expected to "speak for themselves" as the eruptions of any too-late "abstract expressionist" working in your neighborhood.

My interest in Morris is translated here into the rhetorical device of an artificial speech impediment. Like the antique philosopher and rhetor Demosthenes, who was born a stutterer, wanted to become the greatest orator of his time, and thus tried to raise his voice against the crushing noise of the waves on the beach near his village to exercise his abilities, I want to pick up some matter, something material - before i speak. I worship the silence that sings like a bird, I long for the Moon as it looks from the Earth. I need some material counterpart because every body speaks lightly. Demosthenes, after practicing to outshout the waves, picked up pebbles from the beach and literally "spoke through them". I leave you with some minutes of matter I have gleaned from the ground as much as from Robert Morris. I want to thank Douglas Park for allowing me to see this text in an entirely new way. I'm not sure if this gets through to you, but I thank you anyway.