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6th May 2019

"I could feel the artworks’ tendrils creeping towards language and visual poetry" – Pascalle Burton

By Pascalle Burton

Image of "I could feel the artworks’ tendrils creeping towards language and visual poetry" – Pascalle Burton

The invitation to be involved in Punch Lines: Poets Play Duchamp filled me with embers of elation. The project — to respond poetically to the artwork of Marcel Duchamp and create mock museum labels-slash-poems as part of The Essential Duchamp exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW — was right up my alley. It’s not often I’m given the freedom to do a deep dive into an artist whose work inspires me and who is substantially responsible for, and seeps through, others’ influential work.
 
My writing process generally relies on interacting with other texts, so my first port of call was to pay deep attention to the artworks themselves, and to collect and consume writing about Duchamp. I sifted through essays and transcripts, including some fantastic texts about the neuroaesthetics of Conceptual art appreciation, the role of art criticism in Conceptual art, how materials manipulate time and space, the place of work where the art studio and domestic space are blurred, alter egos and gender destabilisation, psychoanalytical perspectives on creativity, and the relationships Duchamp formed with John Cage and Samuel Beckett through a mutual love of chess.
 
What emerged was how Duchamp’s approaches to art have run solidly through his work since the beginning. I felt the subtle blanket; notions of the infra-thin, playing with language and humour, as well as his disdain for fame and art-as-commodity.
In the essay Conceptual Art: A Blind Spot for Neuroaesthetics?, Gregory Minissale astutely compares Conceptual art’s aesthetic to ‘the elegance of a mathematical proof’. The learnings and connections I made during the research stage were a continual pop! pop! of these kinds of experiences.

I was so thrilled to be gathering information but in the back of my mind, I do admit to worrying whether it would lead to writing the actual poems. What if I was having the time of my life delving into Duchamp and then nothing was generated? However, I recall a distinct point where I felt what I would describe as being ‘full’ and the reading led to writing as naturally as the embers grew into flames. I could feel the artworks’ tendrils creeping towards language and visual poetry and I am relieved to say that the writing stage was as fulfilling as the rest of this project.

Tamryn and Red Room Poetry devised a superb project, and I am thankful that her instincts led her to extending the invitation to me. It aligns so well with Duchamp’s intentions and I hope that visitors to the exhibition are able to look at our labels and experience the elegance of a mathematical proof, too.

 

Read Pascalle's poems responding to the artworks of Marcel Duchamp. These poems were commissioned for Red Room Poetry's event Punch Lines: Poets Play Duchamp, held in May 2019.

 

Liked reading this reflection? Check out our other poets' reflections on Punch Lines: Poets Play Duchamp: