Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eric Zboya's Poetic Star Stuff

MCA Denver invited artist Derek Beaulieu to guest blog during the duration of the exhibition Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, in which excerpts from Beaulieu's 124-painting sequence the Newspaper are featured. Beaulieu is the author of 9 books of poetry and conceptual fiction. He teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design and can be found online at:  www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.comThis is the third of four blogs for MCA Denver.

If poetry could close it eyes and dream what shape would those dreams take? Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art’s contributor Eric Zboya explores poetry of delicate multi-dimensional dreamscapes—unearthly shapes hovering between dreams and wakefulness. When we close our eyes, unanchored floating shapes skitter and crawl across the blackness like alien mitochondria in a petri dish.

American poet Charles Olson suggested that poets should look to the page as a “compositional field.” To Olson, the page is the equivalent of a composer’s staff paper—a space that should be engaged with an awareness of meter and time, pitch and volume. Olson’s ideas changed how poets saw the compositional space of poetry, but they were limited by a two-dimensional idea of how poetry could be read.

Zboya’s translations use digital means to create new poems—poems that are freed from letters and sentiment and instead are feathered, vaguely biological three-dimensional objects. Zboya accomplishes this magical feat by exploiting a glitch in his computer’s software. By applying mathematical algorithms inherent in his computer’s design software to literary texts (such as Allen Ginsberg's Howl below), Zboya creates accidental translations—translations that move language through mathematics into topography.

These translations have lead Zboya down the translation rabbit-hole into a preoccupation with how we see and read poetry and how we see and read in general. His latest works translate the chemical notation of vision medication (and theorized, unseen elements) into braille. Ironically Zboya’s work resembles braille but does not use the tactility of the raised notation of that system. Instead Zboya uses printed black dots which point to a tactile readability, much like his visual poems point to a poetic readability that is just out of reach. For example, Zboya's braille interpretation of the superheavy artifical chemical Ununseptium:

Zboya’s braille poems spread across the page like delicate fractal blooms, each flowering seeds of poetic possibility. Zboya’s poetic gaze embraces both the microscopic and the telescopic; his recent work attempts to recreate intergalactic formations entirely from letters. Zboya writes that his ‘M1’ (see image below),
attempts to photo-realistically depict the Crab Nebula using nothing but letters. This depiction helps to showcase the premise that all matter in the universe is made up of language. Everything, from quantum singularities to galactic superclusters, is, on the basest of levels, made up of units of information, units of language, that, through some mysterious dialogic compulsion, cluster together to form interstellar bodies of texts – bodies of poetry. There is the saying, coined by the late Carl Sagan, that we are all made of star stuff. Almost every element on earth, from the calcium found in our bones to the iron found in our blood, represents a form of paragrammatic language created intertextually through the dispersal and incorporation of stellar material ejected from the explosions of massive stars now extinct. We are made of star stuff; the mind that creates our thought patterns is made of star stuff; the vocal system that helps to convey acoustically our thoughts is made of star stuff. The language we create, and the language that we consume, not only finds its origins within the fabrics of space, and far back into the origins of time itself, but demonstrates William S. Burroughs’ idea that language is a virus from outer space.

Thanks to Jesse Leaneagh for inviting me to be the official blogger for Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Thanks also to Andrea Andersson and Nora Burnett Abrams, the curators of the exhibition.


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