Wednesday 24 April 2024

at the opening of Kit Kelen's WORD & UNWORD - at WiXi - Maitland High Street - Saturday 20th April, 2024


Six Wrong Interpositions

Dr Josh Stenberg's Opening Speech 

In the beginning was the word and the word was the light and the light wrenched the night from the day and the word was the storm and the drought and the floodplain leaves trampled on the ground and the factory was the word and the wound was ever the world and peeking through the foliage were the children of the word or rather aspects of the word umwashed of the word helpless before it and ashamed of their nakedness and furtively but avidly they ate the words and choked on them and drank the words and with their tongues they mended the sky and corrected the ocean and these flotsam of the word saw that it was good and thus out of the words they made some clay and blew on it and lo the clay begat wort and fireweed ochre and blood and then they boiled the river and melted the iron and were bled with leeches to set the word free, to set the word with fire. But the word rampant and supine, lion and snake, delivers them up daily, and they gather the mushrooms in the woods and never really know which ones they may eat and they eat them all.

What can a fellow do, untrained and unaccustomed to artistic lucubration, faced with this room of lowering, provoking mountains and wounds, layers and excavations, juxtapositions and garble, statements and rejections, shouts and susurrations? I interpose seven ways of looking of reading of working one’s way through these paintings:  prompts for your own hiccups and visions.


1. Palimpsest—the sense that what we have here are works created in a world of paucity or obsession, worked and reworked, added to and overwritten, where the same space needs to be filled or emptied over and over again, where the words for posterity are an imperative and an impossibility, where every line occurs in three dimensions and blots out, adds to the existing space. Little wonder that the words made in frenzy pops out of one of the paintings, because the work can appear as a thicket of impulses, a vital labyrinth and lethal spiral, a sacred layering designed to disguise the ark, a neural network squirreling gold from the conscious mind, as the strata of volume intended to hide something from shame or persecution. Hence also the slurs of graffiti, the blocks and triangles set over all else, the slash of geometry on texture, or the areas that scratch toward a gleam or a core or the cold stare, the eye of the storm or the oasis in the moonscape.  


2. Chinese Landscape –especially the whiter paintings, with their willingness to leave patches of pale, with the wild central loops of motion and impression, to create lyrical pathways for the eye to travel, glittering suggestive passages, with the soupcon of mountain shadows or dark pools or bridges across the void, with their peripatetic squibs and squabs. These restraints suggest the shanshui hua, the Chinese landscape painting. Here the viewer situated at a great and undefined distance, the world modulated in the shadings of ink, mapping the world without the hindrance of perspective, without telescoping the world into our single tyrannical ego-vertex. We see that both in the snakes and ladders of certain vertical paintings but especially in the horizontal stretch of courts and streams, of processions and secluded fir brakes, on a carnival day, a last echo of the lyrical journey in the fallen world.


3. Australian Landscape—but there are other times where the pale sweeping gritty swathes suggest dust or sand, occasionally interrupted by carmine blots and streaks, old bloodstains, areas of parch and ash, only occasionally alleviated with the blue wash, often queried again by the grey coming into them, leaching in from scribble and verb. Now a death on the beach among sandcastles, the crenellations of first creation, a golden wrack of seaweed at the shore and the tide coming in. Here we are in the bleaknesses and violences of the dry continent—though not dry on today’s launch

though of course if you were exhibiting them in Canada, I’d probably see violence on the ice…  in either place, fear these suspicious scarlet comets, never quite cleaned up, the victim’s fingerprints on the property maps, on the scientific diagrams.


4. Calligraphy and codex—Chinese painting is proximate to calligraphy, and shares much of the same vocabulary, training, aesthetic history. Some of Kits work brought to mind Vietnamese calligraphy, with its commitment to East Asian strokes but its acquiescence to the impoverished Roman alphabet. The swishes and hooks of motion have long been annexed to Chinese and Western painting both, but some of the monochrome works read as calligraphy from a language beyond Esperanto, recalling also the Chinese painters who have written in the ‘characters of heaven’ –what you are obliged to say when you cannot say, when you are not permitted to speak, when language has departed again leaving that acid taste in the mouth. Here the textual snippets, with their wry utopianism and appeals to see and recognise the other come in. Or perhaps it is the codex—Aztec inheritance, half text assassinated before interpreted, wealth of image for the illiterate victor, a map as a narrative, untransmitted, word returned to the slippery stare, then locked up in the world of dusty bibliographic battles, footnotes, structures and artifices all presumed on a first guess. Maybe there is some redemption too in the way that scribbles, half-formed words, also seem to mass together in villages, in hamlets of paint—the Taoist village reconstituted. But what predominates are the limits of speech, the thought that beyond the universal language is language dissolved, just as the liberation of the self is its extinction. Unreadable scroll paintings, insisting on the decoding eye and then blinding it. Or joking with it?  


5. The industrial—sometimes with its lines and vessels, its rust and piping, its pools of gleam and its whirring cyclones, its serrations and t-forms, its linkages and billowing of smoke, the spectre I receive is the industrial, the satanic mills churning, although their output this time is again the garble of words. Is this the alchemical process, the subconscious catalysts and comic-book explosions working themselves out in puff and stench and the raw articles of beauty?


6. Liberate the verb—kit is a poet working at least recently with a pretty free approach to form, often open-ended, loose-limbed in terms of stanza and rhythm, gently needling in its laidback queries and provocations, sharp in perception but seldom caustic in tone. The words that burble through these paintings have the audacity to recall and reveal how bounded the textual word is—marshalled into lines, cramped into uniform typography, mustered, regimented. So one sense of these paintings is of the words not only questioned, dismantled, esperantised, dislocated but also unbounded, free to vanish in curlicues and muddles, or to peep out from behind another slash.  Always they unknot themselves, recombinations in the face of the unspeakable world, parts of speech flapping all over the place, taxidermy and koan.    

These are some of the things that befall me when I look at this work and I hope that this is what an artist wants, to provoke event and sentiment, illegitimate association and noxious concatenation. I hope you’ll find it equally joyful and absorbing to look closely again and again, and with that I’d like to declare this exhibition opened. 

Stephen McDonald opening the festivities with a violin solo

photos by John Bennett, Kit Kelen and others 


WordXimage presents cross-overs between images and words, exploring relationships between poetry, art and sound; text and picture-making; publishing and exhibiting. Wordximage is the studio gallery of poet/artist Richard Kelly Tipping, with a programme of avant-unguarded shows presenting uncertain art for certain people.

WXI (pronounced 'WiXI') is a small shopfront exhibition space located in the main street of Maitland, a historic town in New South Wales, Australia, two and a half hour's drive north of Sydney or thirty minutes from Newcastle. Join the mailing list to be alerted to openings and events on Saturday afternoons once a month. Or drop by and look through the window anytime. Sometimes open by appointment.

Contact: wordximage at 445 High Street, Maitland 2320

Soundscape by Duncan Kimball 

Words and Music by Kit Kelen

Exhibition sponsored by AMF Magnetics

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