What Do Poems Make? Prizes!

Today’s Sunday Torygraph had an article entitled “Poetic alchemy that turns landscape into art” by Jeremy Noel-Tod. It referred to three Cornish poets one of whom was Bob Cobbing who “pursued an inversely verbal art. For Cobbing, the sound and shape of words were themselves a poetic subject.  In his compositions, the human voice is heard on the cusp of meaning, the printed page seen as a solid image. Yet he, too, wrote a poem evoking Cornwall. Using a glossary of dialect terms associated with the sea, Cobbing arranged three-letter words in an expanding and contracting shape on the page: “pil pol / rep rip / run…………ruz”. As the reader follows the pattern of the poem, its swaying, tidal rhythm and sing-song pairing of syllables bring the alliterative lists of the dictionary to life.”

Why am I telling you this? Because a poem won the neo:artprize 2013. Sorry, Jason and Denis! I meant to say A Performance Piece (which happened to be someone standing at a mic reciting a poem while a record played strange noises) by Rosie Farrell won the neo:artprize.


Now don’t get me wrong! Poetry is definitely an art form. No doubt about that. And two years ago, the 11 Rooms show at the Manchester International Festival was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and it was all performance pieces. (If you click on the link, have a look at the Tate Shot.) But if 11 Rooms had been a competition and a painting had won, I’d have been complaining.

I may be in a minority of one, as I was when debating this with Jason, Denis and Jacqueline Wylie last Thursday at neo:gallery, but I feel that there needs to be something for someone to see/hear/experience when they come into the gallery. Yes, there was a performance last Saturday afternoon when the prize winners were announced, but the gallery is open four days a week and Joe Public will now see only a microphone on a stand and a record on a turntable. Joe will be puzzled to learn it was the winner of the main prize. Apart from rest periods for the performers, 11 Rooms was continuous.



I accept that there are different forms of art, but there are ‘horses for courses’. I wouldn’t expect one of the Grayson Perry’s tapestries currently on show at the RA to win the Man Booker Prize. (“The story it told was wonderful,” gushed one of the judges.) Nor would I expect Hilary Mantel to win the Stirling Prize (“Her books are like bricks,” said an architect.)

So if I wasn’t impressed by the main prize winner, what did I like? Well, I’ll probably need at least another post to discuss the many works on display so I’ll only mention two of my favourites for the moment. The first is a piece by Adrian Pritchard who I wrote about with his ‘performance piece’ at the last neo:artist exhibition. (After the performance, there was something people could see – a ‘finished’ work – even if the performance was the production of that work.)

Adrian’s current piece, like the one in Through, involved thick colour and gravity and was called, appropriately Gloop Tower One. The ‘gloop’ is in a slowly rotating tube over a net. It falls as strings which dry at different levels to form stalactites.





Even a Gallery Director has to get his hands dirty sometimes! It’s Jason’s job to refill the tower with gloop – which isn’t dirty actually.

I made the mistake of telling Denis that my favourite in the show was The Visit by Gina Brown as he had me trying to analyse why I liked it. I was tempted to fall back on the old Philistine maxim of ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.’ However, I was able to explain that even though, or even because, the faces lacked features you could still read a story into it. I thought it was a Victorian scene but later found out it was based on a 1907 photograph in the National Trust archive. Denis felt it was very reminiscent of Munch, and I would agree, but I also thought it had a Bacon flavour. (I’ve always want to be able to say that in a review!)


Gina says about her work “The dramatic contrast between the adults and the children is significant to this composition, making the children appear phantom and ethereal. It is immediately evocative of children’s roles within an aristocratic family unit during this period, made all the more poignant because they are devoid of facial detail, like faded photos and memories of time and place that no longer exist.”


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Art Gallery, Artists, exhibition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What Do Poems Make? Prizes!

  1. you know i have to agree about there being something in the gallery afterwards, maybe a recording/video of the performance would have solved the problem and also transformed it into visual art 🙂

    • But then would the piece have been the original performance, as it stands at the moment, or the video, like Sandra’s Purple video?

      • The winning piece was the performance, the video, i believe there is one, is a signifier, a record to prove that something happened, sandra’s was made specifically for the viewer of the video, no audience, unless you count the camera man 🙂

  2. Red Hen says:

    More Munch than Bacon I think. Have you been to Bacon`s studio in Dublin? It`s in the Hugh Lane Gallery, the whole lot having been transported from London and reconstructed in the gallery. Well worth a visit.

  3. seascapesaus says:

    Bacon flavour! You win, mic or not. It feels so good to laugh aloud!

  4. When particular artworks give rise to discussion on whether it belongs within the confines of generally accepted artistic categorisation it can’t be a wholly bad thing. It isn’t ‘wrong’ to hold the opinion that actors ought to work on stage or on film, that musicians/ singers perform to audiences, that poets adhere to readings and writers work only in book form. Anyone has the right to feel that visual artists working in traditional media should be the only residents in art galleries, even be of the opinion every specific craft, skill and occupation should remain in its specific domain. After all one wouldn’t expect a footballer to demonstrate his skills in an art gallery…. Then again….Perhaps I shouldn’t complain if an artist with supportable reason to propose an aspect of her/his humanity elected to use whatever specialism they might possess to express their conception. And if an art gallery, one of those places where expression of ‘self’ can be given voice is available to present that individuality, then maybe encouraging creative diversity is preferable to routine conformity. Better still; allow both stances. In my opinion, ‘art’ is really all one thing when you strip it down. We should give respect to artists who stretch their and our reach beyond the common grasp.
    I suspect that John is not in a ‘minority of one’, he possibly speaks for the majority, his review is well written. His summary of Adrian’s and Gina’s work is to the point, though he should buy his bacon from another shop! John’s comments are always well considered and I respect how he shares his topical thoughts, long may he continue to do so, but ultimately the neo:artprize is a forward thinking venture, curated superbly and discerningly in my view, predominantly by Mike Chavez-Dawson. That a prize should be given to an artist working outside the populist traditional mode is to be applauded. The exhibition at Gallery 22 presents to the public in the Greater Manchester area and the centre of Bolton in particular a wide array of some exceptional contemporary art and there’s nothing else on this scale quite like it!

    • Thank you, Denis, for your kind words and thoughtful counter arguments. I certainly agree there is some excellent art in the show and it is worth people coming and having a look themselves. I mentioned the poem/performance piece at Hot Bed the other day and said that next time I was going to submit a string quartet, except it would be just be four chairs and four music stands. I was told “It’s been done!” Damn!

  5. Pingback: A Prizewinner I Won’t Complain About | notes to the milkman

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