October 9-Nov 3, 2009

Bachelor Machines, Mechanical Brides and Gallery Atsui present

an exhibition of Concrete Poetry

Donato Mancini

Christian Bök

Marina Roy

Gallery Atsui, 602 E.Hastings, Vancouver BC

Curated by Steve Calvert, co-produced with Rebecca Plucer and Gallery Atsui



Collection Catalog

Exhibition Documentation and Event Photos

preliminary 'sneakpeak' slideshow

A Concrete Hystery [-background check-]



Donato Mancini is the author two books of procedural and visual poetry, Ligatures (2005) and Æthel (2007), both from New Star books, both nominated for the ReLit Award. He also co-directed the world's first genuine in-world avatar documentary AVATARA (2003). Long time member of the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver BC, he was a principal organiser of the N 49 15.832 - W 123 05.921 Positions Colloquium in August 2008. He is now finishing a third collection of visual and textworks for New Star and beginning to prepare for publication his book-length study of the ideology and ideolects of poetry reviewing in Canada.

Christian Bök is the author not only of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, but also of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. Bök has also earned many accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry (particularly the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters). His conceptual artworks (which include books built out of Rubik’s cubes and Lego bricks) have appeared at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. Bök is currently a Professor of English at the University of Calgary. He was recently named one of Utne Reader's 50 Visionaries who are Changing the World.

Marina Roy is a Vancouver based artist working across a variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, animation, video, performance and writing. Roy has exhibited work across Canada, as well as in Europe and  the U.S. She is assistant professor of visual arts at the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory, UBC since 2002. The ideas investigated in her artwork and writing stem from her ongoing research in such areas as psychoanalysis, gender, and biopolitics. In 2001 she published the book sign after the x ______ , published by Arsenal Pulp Press and Artspeak. She is currently working on a new book Queuejumping, which will investigate the construction of nature, nomadism, human-animal distinction, and the letter Q.





Angels in the Angles -- an introduction -- Steven W. Calvert

Bridget Riley. Movement in Squares. 1961.

Steve Calvert. Solitaire. 2000.

"Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth." - Theodor Adorno

Concrete is poetry at its endgame. With nothing but an aspriated breath left to scream, by the simplest of twists, the material aspect of language, eternally wrestling with its angelic host, pins the abstract component into a semiotic corner, the text declaring checkmate for materialism. Penultimate to folding up the board and shifting the rules to some fresh and unidentifiably electronic novelty, something somehow simultaneously inter/trans/sub/pre&post-linguistic, at very least pre-and/or-post-literate, shimmers on the horizon... Flarf, perhaps, crowds seem to mutter. At first sign of danger, in a lightning stroke of self-defense, the molecular-alphabet of abstract conceptualism inverts in its protein sheath and bites back, grabbing hold of the reader [or was it the writer] by the wrist, to cinch closed the reflexive circuit of attention - hog-tying open interpretaton the the making of meaning. Disoriention in the resultant feedback loop tells us as much again about language as we thought we'd known before. Illuminating the simultaneous location of reading and writing, pointing back to the ringed role of observation in the construction of meaninful events, our own reflections of manufactured simulacra, projecting copies we've twinned from played-out pages, passed on-and-on. Where one door closes, new windows open, revealing exciting and novel survivability mutations for poetics. Unforseen translation errors begin to occur. Bonus round.

Concrete amplifies the silence, taking place in the pauses; a meta-text of negative spaces between letterforms. Effortlessly, it snaps the strong-arm of all coercive rhetoric; it is a white noise to hegemonic literary traditions, nullifying cancellation-wave to the leveraged persuasions of literary devices: dispelling lyricism, dramatic arc, wry argumentation, frivilous enchantments of meter and cadence; forsaking rhyme and consonance, clever wends of metaphorical imagery, and all lesser contrivances of poetics, the Letter is here removed from its utilitarian milieu and brought to under the more rarified constraint of the formal reflexive abstraction familiar to visual artists. If literature is fifty years behind painting (said Brion Gysin in 1960), then poetry, eldest crone of the muses, has been pacing herself to take a new lead, and is now arriving on time. To the surprise and delight of all gathered, as calligraphies from the world over collide in fertile new circumstances, a fresh set of games begin...

Christian Bök. Odalisque. 2009.

As artists adapt to the growing insecurities of our national institutions, creative communities, never comfortably nationalized, are pressured to galvanize anew and grow stronger, more industrious, more independent and interdependent, developing an interdisciplinary solidarity within newly available means of production, colluding to share and trade in networks preestablished and previously inconceivable. Cultural and cosmopolitan niches of special interest, in the absence of socialized support, begin producing autonomously, even anonymously, still working toward a future milieu which does not yet here exist. Rushing in to fill the vacuum, exchanging ideas with a non-linear, open source, transhistorical temperament, we braid our conceptualizations beyond sanction, openly hostile to that trust which has forsaken us. This utopia has been dreamed before.

Marina Roy. Lube Shocks. 2009.

Early in the 60s, such an ideal moment took shape, demonstrating that it can, has, and will yet be done again, again. Vancouver in that era produced a rich disarray of talents who quietly remain the western pillars of viaual poetry in Canada. Judith Copithorne's early concrete poems date from the late fifties, and bill bissett's prolific visual work with his blew ointment press was active and influential during the time of the american Beats, who passed through town and worked abreast of numerous literary contemporaries and interdisciplinary art enclaves. A sophisticated new intermedian Canadada was rising, colllaborating and competing to develop radical new design vocabularies for the integration of art and life. Creative praxis implied the nurturing of integrated creative communities, where experimentation, technical innovation and formal investigation of concrete, visual, sound and pattern poetry were leveled-up in equivalence and intermixed within an emerging electronic intermedia-without-borders. Vancouver artists have long participated in the international traditions of samizdat networks, wherein small presses and mail art exchanges helped to spread concrete poets' graphic experimentations throughout the dominion.  With intermittent support [and subsequent abandonment] from once-valued cultural ministries, support falls to the relentless organizational labors of inspired volunteers and the generous curiousities of cultural participants everywhere.

This constellation from which concrete and 'pataphysical traditions emerged can be roughly drawn by this approximate outline, emulating narratives spun in available historical accounts: Modernist explorations of 'pataphysics corresponds with the emergence of cut-up hypergraphics first developed in turn of the century Berlin, Paris, Rome, St.Petersburg... then continued on in New York, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, Toronto... [Post]Modern avant-garde research begins in and occupies the representational problematics of print media. Within this near-universal literary commonality, international experimental communities accrete and expand slowly, wherever fine books are sold. From first stirrings in French Symbolist poetry, whose decadent pseudomystical inversions of reason and temperance gave inspiration to the nonsense provocations of Alfred Jarry, Tristan Tzara, Antonin Artaud... Elsewhere, Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism, in Lettrism, Oulipo, Fluxus, Intermedia, Conceptualism liquefied all fixed relations attributable to sign systems, and devastated all boundaries between the arts... Within a generation, these enzymes find their way into children's formulae: Lewis Carroll, Windsor McCay, Dr. Seuss. In this transformational cascade of midcentury postmodern-isms, one can tease out a common concern - each movement took the reconstruction of history into their own hands, and developed for themselves a vehicle of record suitable to their day. We speak of them still, as they prioritized the mass reproductions of print culture, ensuring their mnemonic and pneumatic longevity. In this, internet remains insufficient. All movements so far mentioned left multiple copies behind, and interestingly, now that the liberatory poetential of the infinite copy is a commonplace, the defenses of authorship lay in tatters, just as the material records of production disintegrate. Memory, matters. Until now. Each historical movement mentionable imagined its own history, seizing upon that one indispensibly persistent artifact. among all other double-edged boons of late industrial revolution: the printing press, the copying machine, the book,. Now, scanned by dematerializing lasers, poetry momenarily vaporizes, state change into ebooks, image search, print-on-demand, PDF-readers, phone plug-ins, tablet apps.

Donato Mancini. Jazzercise Dance of Hope. 2009.

Around the copy room, in 1960s Toronto, an intersection between 'pataphysics and concretism reached critical levels of tension. In a fruitful period of creative partnership between bp Nichol and Steve McCaffery developed, and these two characters would localize and inculcate a distinctively potent strain of the experimental and 'pataphysical tradition with their Toronto Research Group. Legendary concrete, visual, sonorous and theoretical materials were produced, which remain strong beacons of influence in Canadian poetics. Their legacy is remembered in part thanks to exemplary support work from Coach House Books (who have also in the interim published and employed brilliant visual poets like Darren Wershler-Henry and Damian Lopes). Such small presses have struggled against odds to sustain a culture of book media in this country. Art Metropole should also receive a salute for providing a venue for artists concerned with the multiple. And jwcurry's Room 302 books in Ottawa are national landmarks for the art. The reliable materiality of the book retains traction here in Vancouver too, thanks to ongoing efforts by staff at the Kootenay School of Writing, SFU Special Collections Library, and New Star Books, who deserve kudos for having the foresight to sign Donato Mancini. Christian Bök's Crystallography, from Coach House, and his later dissertation on 'Pataphysics, with Northwestern, are the central pivot-points for this study, and stand for me as two of the most outstanding moments in Canadian art and literature as I know it [...granted, my training is visual, and not specific to the literary arts]. In years intervening since the sixties, a wryly conflated scientistic mythopoesis exploring the abstract deconstruction of phonic and scriptive language, a chain of influence or mutual interest, draw along a line of living writers: jwcurry, Christopher Dewdney, Steve Venright, Mary-Lou Rowley, Jordan Scott, a.rawlings,... there must be uncounted others... these luminous 'pataphysical research poets have dispatched with all limiting conceptions dividing poetry from more scientific ontologies, art from the language of theory, sound from its muscular-haptic image... So each interdisciplinary artist willfully opens and reappropriates any and all available tool chests, to leverage by any means necessary our contemporary linguistic and conceptual [de]constructions.

In his poetic and philosophical essay on the materiality of language, Crystallography, Christian Bök reflects "My father opened the field guide to crystals to pages with fine print to show me how to decipher a language - he gave me his gemcutter's eyepiece and left me alone to revel in detail - the edges of serifs, fibres in paper - only later did he teach me to sound out the words." [Diamonds - 3)] -- Visual and concrete poetry are easily argued as the most ancient of artforms [phylogenetically and developmentally], still ironically identified with an avant-garde. Something simultaneously pre- and post- literate leaps forth in a work of Concrete. In an burst of incredulity, a shudder of recognition and laughter surges through the body, a physical encounter with an indecypherable form, raising the muscle-tone to an alert and receptive state of primal confusion. The uncanny flashes its wizened visage in the earliest of signs: petrogylyphs and earthworks, cave walls and tattoos; memories triggered by resemblances, symbolic echoes playing between clouds and stones, twists of wood and cracks in turtleshells. An ancient, [some linguists would argue, genetic], simultaneity exists between phoneme and grapheme; a magnetic relationship which sets these twins wrestling in a moot debate over precession. The artist and poet take amusement in these paradoxical conflicts, ambivalencies of projective recognition. Following first contact, many will hence seek further among the ilk, thinging the shape, leading others to do so also, and joyously.

Christian Bök. Odalisque. 2009

Speculative and affective readings of abstract pattern-language, universal gestures encypher the flickering shadow-light of signification; space and form enrapture the visual-poet in a praxis of charting these graphemetric surfaces of the world - tracking the angel of libraries through her hallowed corridors. Babel's Libraries must always have excited the same restless impulse to leap to conclusions, provoking the counter-practice of attending to the irresolvably material-mystical conundrum of not knowing everything at once. Necessarily incomplete perspective. Asemic glyphs and sigils send curiosity off chasing its tail, tracking every possible lead in a hunt for meaning. Slippages of knowledge and interpretation-claim begin to occur, twisting the inquiry in knots, forever turning back in on itself, leading the inquirer back always to herself, her own presumptive qualifications. Where contemporary lettrist calligraphists and concretist typoglyphers evoke this reflexive function - readers reading themselves engaged in the act of reading - an amplifying loop is constructed, the atomized subject released in a catalytic moment of hilarity. The friction of cognitive dissonance causes a temporary failure of prescriptive reading systems, the heat of confusion ignites the already-unstable kindling-fuel of presumed understandings; a cold burn is engaged, and there the first dark flame of intelligent criticism achieves a catalytic combustion. The wisdom-and-folly of linguistic self-reflection - instantaneous ignition - arisen, unleashed. Again and again, the pulse repeats.

When not the message but the medium's massage is raised to the center of attention, Mcluhan's homophonic pun resembles a Cage-ian turn, wherein all noise become signal, where all sound is musical to the receptively attuned ear, so concrete offers the signature flourish of providing an astonished laughter. The Fountain, wherein everything you put in comes back out at you. Aesthetic science is now recognized as a field of production located only in the labour of the reading subject. The archetypal matrices of sensation take form and 'meaning' only at the locus of perception. Here the play of ambiguities introduces a sublime openness to the text; a charged valence of uncertainty. With the medium-stripped-bare, language unfurls its subtexts and under-codes, making levity and light of arbitrarily constrained systems of syntax, grammar, diction, structure, form, arc, angle and spin... More sublime categories arrive, resembling the problem-space presented by the distribution of primes, set theory, state space, fields of probabilistic permutation, we expound upon a combinatorics of wonder - the parodic order of 'patalinguistic glyphs emerge within renewed postmodern consciousness (as it is, the old, again...?). Pseudo-alphabetic lateral-associative processes enshadow and obstruct an obediently diversionary attention, strobing to flash elevations of consciousness, command-order breaks down, a calculated feint draws the reader in behind the blind; thinking there takes dominion over what had before been thought to be 'thoughtless' - clearly, one must investigate play more seriously. The very world-assembling activities of our cultural linguistics, our neurotic observational filtration mechanisms, our conventions of trade-languages, like this one, denude and delimit the sensitivity of our awareness to the depths of this puzzle's strangeness. The poet's mask is to play challenge to these unconscious cultural conditions.

Dressed in a veil of sprezzatura, finding or faking calm in the moment of confusion, a revelation: those habituated thoughtforms and motivational syndromes express an unrelenting labor for the weavings of symbolic systems, encoding and decoding meanings even where there were none. Engaging directly with biomechanism of literacy, the imitative and adaptive reflex of mimesis, one finds that one always finds only what one is looking for. Momentarily illuminated, this preconscious automaton steps awkwardly to the foreground, curtsies, and bows again out of frame. That obsessive function, reassembling connective subtextual associations beneath and between the printed characters, interpreting the calligrapher's strokes, the typesetter's block, considering all suggestive tensions and overtones, experienced by attuned readers as a haptic synaesthesia of percept-affect. Volumes unfold in details where indeed there should and need be no exegesis. A quantum conundrum. These gnomes are not so easily known. At the liminal threshold of sense and sensation, each formal element is teased into an illuminating relationship with a guardian sense-perception, negotiating the impersonal and anomalous inter-qualia of meaning. Reading through meta-textual compressions such as these requires an exercise in diversion, self-sub-division sufficient to disable our ordering presumptions from interrupting attention. Concrete lets another kind of eye wander the page, toward that serendipitous rediscovery of those 'angels in the angles', the musing elementals, wiring beneath the floorboards, abstract powers of perception negotiating proportion, balance, rhyme, rhythm, tone... Reading through a distributed thinking, muscular-haptic lateral intelligence of a body mapping the requisite synaesthesia to connect image to sound to concetualization. The concrete poem sews the page, and the plage [beneath the paving stones] together in a protean and chimerical multiplicity - a living probability-engine you can hold in your hand like a book. "A darkness so intense the eye sees through it." [Bok]

This reading of concrete poetics crosses us through a 'pataphysical condition. Not all participants will agree to this parallelism, but to this selector the relation is crystalline. Each tends toward a [de]construction of the medium's innate, inherent, empirical problematics: the material question of that tenuous field of connection mediating Image and Language. The Anomoly (cue ominous fibrous thrumming). An objectified metarepresentation describing an imaginary constellation of relations without representation. Symbolic meaning attributing itself to itself. A fold in the feedback loop. A concrete poem, as does a constrained poem, flexes a lens over the underlying energized-materiality of language. An opportunity to rupture the illusion of a theologized Word, to see order rising instead from bottom-up. A polyvalent rhetoric intrinsically and explicitly persuasive, that of a coercive and controlling cognitive agency, is replaced by a mutualistic parasite. The viral quality of the linguistic material itself, a harmonic-magnetic field of nodal attractors, grooves of habit-forming probability, collaborating with human minds to self-improve and propagate.

Marina Roy. The Creature. 2009.

To incline a reader toward the necessary immanence of this insight, indeed to recreate or simulate that strange fractal simultaneity, on its own terms, in its own voice, Concretist embodied-materially addresses the oppressive omnipresence of the disembodied Voice. Note a co-evolute entanglement with sound poetics. The word IS flesh. Analysis of the mediumistic properties of the medium itself are undertaken, utilizing elaborately constructed artificial systems for quasi-oracular purposes. Following a surrealist spin on a Darwinian insight, that even without any conscious interventions of mind, any information that is replicated and selected for variation MUST produce design. Oulipo offers to poetics the inverse insight, still both radically evolutionary, and oracular: Any design that is varied and selected with repetition must produce information. Programs of mathematical procedures, absurd rule-based etiologies, arbitrary idiomatic contrivances, and artificial didactics can articulate a parodic image of the imaginary nature of understanding. The Algorithms of Anomaly provide poets with new tools with which can lay satirical challenge and retort to the superciliously reductive 'elegance and efficiency' of industrialized science - those belligerent over-simplifications and faith-based rationalizations for authoritarian scientific conformity are made a beautiful mockery. In rebukes to all comparable truth claims and hegemonic forms of knowing, a single poetic stroke snubs a nose. A rictus spasm of significance and signification renders the super-ego mute with paralysis, the textual tape-worm is entangled in its own thought-terminating clichés. Concrete ensnares the word into its internalized arguments, wherein the rhetorical constraint of the typographic material can present itself to itself, in its own colors against its own ground. A mirror-phase moment for potential language, metastasizing itself in the mind of every future reader.

Concretists liquefy the phrase, dismantle the word, fracture the phoneme, crack apart the letter. Formally atomized and in-solution, the base structural units of linguistic matter are reduced below their catalytic thresholds, to demonstrate that at that threshold, graphic and rhetorical potentials spontaneously reactivate and autoassemble. Meaning crystallizes. The underlying elements and stylistic embellishments of the typographic artifice pulse back to squirming chemical life upon translation, transliteration, transubstantiation. Rehydrating off the page, and leaping into the next reader's attentive gaze. Unburdened by literal significations and prescribed meanings, formerly task-oriented serifs and ligatures, load-bearing ascenders and descenders, erupt into wild and noisy new predators.

Christian Bök. Simplex Crystal. 2009.

If language is indeed a virus, an autonomous, self-transforming, virulently contagious and entirely self-interested thought-form-entity, then simultaneous operations both smaller and larger than any individual carrier are implicated. Anamorphic distortions of relative scale must be obeserved and compensated for. Those abstracted sigils, asemic glyphs, elliptical calligrams replicating behind the readers eye take on an enthralling new transpersonal dimensionality. Worlds of audible-visible linguistic-shapes self-organize to evoke impressions of independent entelechies, symbolic symbiotes of intelligence systems. Identities where clearly there should be none. Mediated in patterns of ink, the oldest illusionist's practical joke springs into monsterous animation. A post-colonial grimoire, the Omniglot lifts an inky tentacle.

This eerie catalysis, achievable in the laboratory of art, but forged in the crucible of a primitivist imagination, provides the very illustration of jouissance - perfectly and sufficiently meaningful and legible as a raw experience of vivid sensations. A short-circuit of perception produces a spark, momentary satori rebooting percepual biases, exposing curious self-delusions. A figure-ground flash. Achieving attention-in-confusion is key to creative thinking, opening vaults of reflective association by a lateral modality which will always test the margins of a rational comprehension. Participation in this study becomes available to any interested readers with sufficient sensitivity to gaze with receptivity upon the form of their own projections. In attention, incidentally, all metatext also implies and invokes that vibrating with subharmonic phonics of myth and metaphor, clouds of sonorous uncertainties, a soup of cultural literacies singing a chorus of potential literatures. All these are summoned into the field of [in]comprehension by writers like Donato Mancini, Christian Bok, and Marina Roy. Concrete poetry is less a text to be read, more an object to be perceived.

Donato Mancini. Wheatabixy. 2007.

Inspired by new reminders of absurd potentials presented by networked computation, the arbitrary matrices of visible language recede ever deeper into the distance, nodding in and out of a fold in hyperspace. A shuddering Derridean fugue of ecrits et parole, it remains of interest, a hundred years on, that an ongoing concern for the structure of signs cannot now, nor ever, be resolved. But it recurs, almost always in the context of the anomalous, this ever-curious object. A technology so sufficiently incomprehensible as to perceived as magic. Artists of all experience eternally return to reexamine the strange marvel of written figures and the concrete abstractions they implicate, straining reason against the perennial mystery of an alphabet gone rogue, Concrete poets may endlessly explore the cavernous interior of language on its own terms, charting paths in its own pocket-hyperspace, a timelessly present everywhere-at-once. Print history's ghosts pixilate to reappear reanimated anywhere, teleported from the vault. Simultaneously nomadic and sedentary, high and low, obscurantist yet hiding in plain sight, here the return of the Concrete is a structural inevitability, a creative design constant.

Given a stubborn narrative of linear progress, serial ascent and evolutionary self-improvement, one might presume that wherever we are, we will have seen it all before. Or surely, we should be able to see it from here. In fact a great deal of our comprehension has been forgotten, strategically overlooked by the socialized constructions of major-literature. What becomes clear to hindsight is that we have repeatedly overstepped ourselves, tracked back without recognition of having been down this path before; and so it shall always be. Familiarity has never been fully integrated, so in the surprise of the uncanny, we continue to misapprehend an omni-directional flow in history, forgetting relativity in the slippery transient trans-historicity of the activated perception. The alchemy of language can transform worlds, moving mountainous time. Any number of extraordinary poetic technologies and innovations must have risen and been subsequently abandoned by their carriers mid-stride, buried in the stacks too early or too late to recognized the full dimensions of what indeed had happened - as thought it would happen only once. Embracing a non-linear, transhistorical, translinguistic perspective, we have reimagined a rhizomatic minoritarian potential literature for an always-contemporary avant-garde. Angling for angels, again we raise the dialectical brick of Concrete, smash it down upon the eggs of the language parasite, and toast the generations.


Sincere thanks to the artists for their receptive conversation and generous participation. And to Gallery Atsui for their invitation and support.

Written by Steve Calvert. Angels in the Angels curator.

posted Sept 2009, revised Sept 2010...




Steven W Calvert is an interdisciplinary artist interested in visual language and graphical culture. An independent curator, film worker, book collector, and collaborationist, he is compelled by Bök's reinvigoration of 'pataphysics and Delanda and Dennett's articulations of material self-assembly. Calvert is driven by the prime-directive of the the Search Engines, to make access to Art more awesome.

S.Calvert holds a BA in non-western art history and religious studies from UBC, and a BFA in intermedia and critical theory from ECU. Previously, CDev served as audio archivist for inter.mission art collective, was a founding member of the Intermission Artists Society, He was director and host of IMAS Collaborative Drawing, book and audio content curator for BARK ATC, sound researcher and contributing musician for The Corporation and Scared Sacred, among numerous other projects. CV.

As hub-architect and host of Bachelor Machines and Mechanical Brides, Steve Calvert is pleased to present 'Angels in the Angles' at Gallery Atsui.


donato mancini - subjecthood and the light verb

Subjecthood and the Light Verb. Donato Mancini. 2004.


Marcel Duchamp. To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour. 1918


MECHANICAL BRIDES is the print-reproductions division of: BACHELOR MACHINES

Marrying the online archive with its means of [re]production, Mechanical Brides produces collector's-grade hard-copy for your archivists' delectation:

Edition Screen-Prints

Quality Artists Books

Box-set Multiples

Exhibitions and Periodicals

Print-on-Demand Collectibles




Debut Edition

available October 2009

new prints from: