Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm

ISBN: 9783865216212
FORMAT: Paperback, 9.5 x 11.5 in. / 272 pgs / illustrated throughout.

“It occurs to me that this project has been the opposite of research.” – Barbara Bloom, Acknowledgements


We begin with:

The pearl necklace.

The bird silhouettes.

Music sheets in Braille.

These are:

The objects.


Relationships, connotations

With these objects comes categorization.  They are sorted into categories and the categories are then ordered, providing the following organizational structure:









Stand Ins

Reading In


With this categorization comes identification.  These unique numbers stand in for the object.  The pearl necklace becomes CH. 21, noting that this object falls into the section “Charms” and is the twenty-first object in the section.

With this identification comes description.  We learn this about the pearl necklace: “Each pearl from a different source.  Gift of Amie Brin.”  In this description we receive the provenance of the object.

This is the organizational system of Barbara Bloom’s Collection, objects as objects, first, and then as Bloom describes, they were, “sifted through…over and over in an attempt to find the underlying suppositions.”   Now published, we can begin this process of sifting through objects, categorization, identification, and description. We can investigate the system as system, object by object.

As Dave Hickey keenly notes in his introductory essay, we can perhaps think of Joyce’s Ulysses when embarking on this odyssey of objects.   Keeping in mind what it is to pay attention to objects, to sort, synthesize, remember and re-remember, to encounter and encounter again, we can re-read Joyce’s introduction of Leopold Bloom with awareness of the endless connotations and experiences of things and how they speak about and to a person:

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.



In each chapter we begin with an introduction.  In “Innuendo” the introduction is a third-person account of how Barbara Bloom tells a story, and the way she makes sense of the world both verbally and through the use of objects.

In this text, with sections that are intentionally blurred to the point that they are only barely recognizable, we read the following:

Directness was obviously not her forte.  Obtuseness was more her style…Another good example [blurred section] is the way we strive to portray a life through the collection of objects someone has left behind, as if in the oddly shaped interstices between the chair and the mirror, the book and the tea cup, a shadow of a presence will take form as a longed-for face, a missed turn of phrase, a recognizable absence.

This text is a potential framework with which to view both this chapter and the book as a whole.

Exhibiting her willingness to overstep conventional book design practice, Bloom plays with the book by, for example, including five (presumably her own) fingerprints on the lower left hand corner of the page, in the margin of the book.  Here the hand, or the person whose hand it is, becomes part of the “Innuendo.”  This trace is what remains of them, this presence, lingering in their absence.

This chapter includes both small objects, such as watermark portrait teacups, and images from Bloom’s large-scale installations, such as Esprit de l’Escalier (1988) and The Reign of Narcissism (1989).  The works in this chapter deal with absence and presence (this being the title of a few of the works), what is seen and not seen, or felt but not seen, in some cases.   These works also either directly or indirectly deal with shadows, fragility, image and reality, what it is to experience an object or place, furniture, what one can say and what one does not say, among other things.

While in common usage, innuendo is similar to insinuation and is often derogatory in nature, Bloom uses innuendo to signify things that are present in some ways but not necessarily present in a concrete form, thus rendering them simultaneously absent.  Her examples of this duality are ghosts, UFO’s, monsters, X-rays, the Titanic, and lost love ones.  The most moving of these works is an aluminum tag, engraved on both sides titled “B.B. de Appel memorial” (1993).  About the piece, Bloom writes in both third and first person:

In August 1983, friends of BB were killed in the crash of a small plane.  Ten years later, the director of de Appel, the Amsterdam art space that had been started by the two deceased, asked BB to create a memorial piece.  The text that accompanied the tag reads ‘Aanwezig’ (Present) on one side, and ‘Afwezig’ (Absent) on the other.   It was found at an airport for private planes in Holland in May of 1983.  These tags hung on books under the names of pilots who frequented that airport, indicating their presence or absence.  I was moved to take one, and have had it on my desk ever sense.


In the opening text for “Reading In” Bloom, again in third-person, describes a book she saw once and fell in love with.  In this book, all punctuation is printed in green.  Bloom characterizes this “typographic” point of view” as “halfway between content and form,” a “subtle point.”  Indeed, as with “Innuendo,” what Bloom describes can be used as a lens with which to view her interests and intent in The Collections as a work.

In this chapter, Bloom explores books from her personal collection.  These books are photographed closed, open, in piles, on shelves and, notably, in a folding deck chair.  She chose these books for their titles, covers, spines, content, and provenance.  In some cases, these books reference areas of interest in previous chapters, for example she includes a playboy in Braille and the front and back covers of de Appel, both of which have relevance to chapter one, “Innuendo.”  “Reading In” also includes Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s French Book, which sold for $42,500 (not to Barbara Bloom) at Sotheby’s auction in 1996, following her death.  It was the auction catalogue for this sale that would serve as a major inspiration to Bloom.  As Hickey writes in the introductory essay:

Here, she [Bloom] thought, was an occasion with provenance and consequence–as old as history itself–an occasion on the brink between celebration and dissolution, glory and oblivion.  The specificity and limitations of the catalogue were, if anything, more beguiling than its trenchancy.  The auction catalogue did not aspire to the “whole Jackie,” or even the “true Jackie”; it proclaimed the “residue of Jackie,” a resonant idea, with a provenance.

Bloom is actively pursuing an understanding of the “power of books” throughout this chapter.  In a work titled “Film stills of a couple with books from Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman is a Woman (1961), Bloom explores Godard’s use of books to describe characters and relationships, concluding that, “If you cannot judge a book by its cover, you can at least draw some conclusions about the person holding it.”

Throughout the chapter, more is learned about how Bloom collects and creates books.  In another descriptive entry for cardboard and paper dummy books, Bloom writes:

The romance of the book is thought to be a gentle and erudite thing, a lure for sensitive souls in search of subtle and piercing insights, but there is a more Machiavellian aspect to it.  Books promise knowledge, and knowledge promises power and control.

This sentiment is perhaps part of Bloom’s resistance to a retrospective catalogue, even though The Collections of Barbara Bloom is exactly that.  The specter of the power and control of knowledge generally, and the type of knowledge found in books specifically, looms heavy over this section.   To subvert this power structure, Bloom chooses playfulness and subtlety in her presentation.  The use of third-person allows a distancing between the artist as authoritative creator and viewer, who is beholden to the artists’ creation.


Closing the book with Bloom’s acknowledgments section, we are returned to her idea of beginning with objects, rather than suppositions.  With the acknowledgments on the verso of the page, the recto is an image of a person (presumably Bloom herself) in shadow.  From this photograph we cannot tell if the person is looking out at the viewer, or has her back turned to us.  Her shadow is in line with other shadows of objects from her piece Absence-Presence.  In this work shadows of objects such as a folding music stand, an easel, and a reflective light umbrella are projected on to the wall.  She describes this work as being “as much about slippage as it is about connection.”

In this photograph Bloom conveys her own objecthood and shadowy relationship with, not only the objects of the photograph, but also all of the objects in The Collections. As Jackie Kennedy’s possessions, sold posthumously, take on both her presence and absence, the same can be said of Bloom’s work, organized and described in this book.  We can again think of this quotation from the introduction to “Innuendo”:

Directness was obviously not her forte.  Obtuseness was more her style…Another good example [blurred section] is the way we strive to portray a life through the collection of objects someone has left behind, as if in the oddly shaped interstices between the chair and the mirror, the book and the tea cup, a shadow of a presence will take form as a longed-for face, a missed turn of phrase, a recognizable absence.

It is in the shadowy image that this slippage and connection becomes personified. Though speaking in third-person throughout, the reader is well aware that it is Bloom who is talking and Bloom who is attempting to connect not only the works to each other, but also us to those works, a process in which there will always be slippage and loss, and perhaps only shadows.

Possible things to think about when viewing-reading The Collections of Barbara Bloom (in alphabetical order):



Barbara Bloom




James Joyce










International Center of Photography Exhibition

NY Times review – where her exhibition for The Collections is described as “scattershot” and “regrettably obscured”

DIA web project Half Full-Half Empty



In Uncategorized on March 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm

(Some brief thoughts on Taggart’s construction of Pyramid Canon)

by Caitlin Murray

John Taggart, Pyramid Canon (poem sequence). 1973. 24 pp. Letterpress, 3 colors throughout, stapled. 250 numbered copies

“The test of poetry is the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound, and intellection.”

– Louis Zukofksy

Pyramid Canon, published by Burning Deck in 1973 and dedicated to Louis Zukofsky, is a section of The Pyramid Is A Pure Crystal, published by Elizabeth Press in 1974.  Burning Deck, operating out of Rhode Island since 1961, is a small press run by Keith and Rosemarie Waldrop.  Specializing in experimental poetry and prose, Burning Deck also publishes German and French poetry in translation and has published many notable books, including My Life by Lyn Hejinian and Why Write? by Paul Auster (although wikipedia does not list Pyramid Canon, as a notable work).

Pyramid Canon is separated into three numbered sections.  The first two sections are four pages each, one stanza per page.  Each stanza contains 9 to 10 syllables.  The third section is a single page, with 4 stanzas and each of the stanzas contains 16 and 18 syllables.

The poem begins with the epigram–  Cantus firmus: The pyramid is a pure crystal.

Cantus firmus is a Latin term for a pre-existing melody that forms the basis for a polyphonic composition.  In essence, the composer uses a set of given notes and melodies to form his or her own composition.  The Cantus firmus of the Pyramid Canon functions in the following way:  The poem is is made up of two sections totaling 8 stanzas. Taggart blends the words in these stanzas, which operate as the given notes and melodies of the poem, to form the four stanzas of the third section.  Strangely, however, the words, “The pyramid is a pure crystal” do not appear in the poem.

The concept  “cantus firmus” also operates within the poem visually.  Taggart uses visual constraints by framing each of the singular  stanzas in the first two sections within a square.  The square recurs throughout the book in the same placement on each page including the third section, where the poem runs over the lines of the square, running through it, instead of framing the 4 stanzas individually.

An example of the blending of the stanzas is a follows.  Here  Taggart blends stanza 1  section 1  with stanza 2 of section 2 to form stanza 2 of section 3:

Stanza 1, Section 1

Fire center

-sun’s -, a set

of faces point

Stanza 2, Section 2

Am-was; one,

bent, equals


Stanza 3, Section 2

Fire center

bent, equals

faces’ point;

am-was one;

sun’s a set,


Below is a color-coded diagram mapping the relationships of each stanza:

The stanzas interweave as follows:

As Paul Naylor describes on Golden Handcuffs, Pyramid Cannon develops through recombination, reversal, and repetition in order “to excavate language’s elemental and etymological particles.”  The visual foundation of the text is the series of boxes that runs throughout.  These squares serve as building blocks, displaying both the constraint of language in sections 1 and 2 by placing the text within the square and also the versatility of language in section three, with the text running throughout the square.  The language of the poem itself references the geometry of the square, for example section 2, stanza 4 reads:

Planes through planes

bend, agree

in measure.

The interplay of the textual and visual elements of this poem is fundamental to the strength of the work.  The richness of this play is felt strongly in certain sections, for example in the first stanza of section three, the line of the square runs through the line reading, name, define, appearing as name, define, highlighting the difficulty of those endeavors.

Pyramid Canon was also published in 1973 by L Magazine out of Berkley, California (Volume 1, No. 2-3, Spring 1973).  Run by Curtis Faville, L Magazine ran annually from 1972 to 1974, publishing poems by Robert Creeley, Tom Raworth, Ron Silliman, and Philip Whalen, among others.  There are three fundamental changes between the Burning Deck and L Magazine printings.  Firstly, the Cantus firmus epigram is placed on the same page as stanza one of section one, altering the visual sameness and repetition of the work.  Secondly, each stanza does not receive it’s own page opening.  Instead, the poem is printed on both the recto and verso of the pages.  Thirdly, while all other stanzas of the poem are framed by the square, the third section is squareless.  This third difference is a large textual and visual alteration.  The constraint of the square throughout the poem is lost, as well as other paratextual experiences such as the crossing out of the words name and define.  Below is a digital version of the L Magazine printing of Pyramid Canon.

The simplicity of this structure allows for the complexity of the text; the movement of the single page stanzas paired with the square forms connotes a building of the squares to an apex (or peak of the pyramid) in the third section.

After exploring this poem, even rudimently,you find that while a structure exists in this linguistic and visual cantus firmus, there is room for play, for improvisation, for beats that are not exactly the same each time.  We find this play and improvisation in Pyramid Canon where we see Taggart writing through the box, find him blending the stanzas but with a few words taken out and a few put in, and that he is nearly, but not quite matching the beat count.  The counting is fundamental, but so is the freedom and the feeling.  It is when thinking about these things, that I remember the importance of music, and particularly Jazz, to Taggart’s work.

In the diagramming, counting, and breaking down of Pyramid Canon I came closer to understanding the structure of Pyramid Canon, but it took re-reading another of Taggart’s poems, At the Counters Ball, to re-remember how a poem looks, sounds, and feels, and to forget about the counting and re-read the work again.


Last dance a waltz jazzed up slowed

down out of time real easy is in three played free

and so all the time in the world

last dance for the counters it’s the last dance at the counters ball

a waltz for the counters who’ve spent all their time counting

what’s lost like

thing like favorite things not things

like time

after the ball is over back in their counting houses

the counters will be counting what’s lost

and all the counters are laughing because I asked Emily “do I repeat

myself” and she said “very well” and they’re dancing

because they’ve lost count and

don’t care and because it’s the last

dance  and I’m dancing

lauging and dancing with the oh so divine Miss Emily D.

(From Pastorelles)

(Taggart reading At the Counters Ball)

For readings and lectures by Taggart, please explore Penn Sound