Monday, 11 April 2016

When The Map Meets The Territory

Lorenzo Sandoval ‘Deep Surface’

Interventions with Paul Feigelfeld, John Holten, Suza Husse and Deborah Ligorio @ L’Atelier Ksr, Berlin

When The Map Meets The Territory
April 5, 2016
John Holten
This is going to be fun, the point when we reach land is going to be both bewildering, and a great relief. A dark alleyway late at night in some enigmatic European city, a canal cutting through swamps that have long ago been filled in, reclaimed… Don’t worry, we’ll get there. This is a talk through the exhibition here around us by Lorenzo Sandoval. It is a talk about a story about the exhibition we are currently sitting and standing in, a bit unsteady on our feet.
Stories – indeed literature itself – give us characters. We have to liberate these characters from their own stories. So that they become real, that they experience the personal and don’t just remain the representation of some imagined thoughts their creator once had. I can offer you – and the perspective of you is important, the second-person personal pronoun, both singular and plural – I can offer you just such a possibility of making your imaginary characters real in a few moments. Bear with me.
But first: the map and the territory. The phrase is quite well known and in it I hear so many of my struggles as a writer: surprising perhaps, but you’re just going to have to believe me. Alfred Korzybski gave us the term, he had it in the negative: ‘The map is not the territory’ – yet he conceded, when a map is accurate, they can be useful. What we’re interested with here tonight is when the map meets the territory. What then?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Finding the Erotic at LIDL: Georges Bataille and the Natural World

Finding the Erotic at LIDL: Georges Bataille and the Natural World

I often have this one particular thought and it usually occurs to me in the checkout of the Lidl around the corner from my office, and the thought kind of goes something like: these fellow shoppers, placing on the checkout conveyer belt all their canned goods, detergent, toilet paper and so on, bright and shiny in plastics and packaging, what are their sex lives made of, how do their bodies appear naked, fornicating, rubbing on top of another body and in turn being rubbed? And this thought leads on to another, somehow logically connected question: what do their bodies smell like, the crevices, the rolls of flesh out of sight thanks to their stone-washed denims, their ersatz tracksuits?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Tales Told in the Telling

Tales Told in the Telling: Fictional Strategies
A Creative Writing Workshop as Part of the Self-Publishing Archive

March 26, 11-17h
Buro BDP

This one-day (somewhat open and experimental) workshop looks at, reads and potentially initiates fictional strategies as a way to advance artistic practices and discourse. Not limiting itself to either the domain of contemporary visual art or literary / poetic fiction, but rather investigating the intersection, crossovers and contamination of both, the workshop is comprised of a close reading of selected texts chosen by workshop leader John Holten. These texts will be made available a week in advance of the session and hopefully will offer various diverse ways of thinking how fiction both operates and generates itself, as well as how it has been used to further the practice of a number of past and contemporary practitioners in a number of media and fields.

Depending on how the initial session develops there is the possibility that in the future the workshop will include the reading of participants’ work and feedback sessions, as well as looking at material ways of bringing fictional strategies into the world, for instance self publishing techniques, interventions, performance and filmmaking.

To apply please send a brief biographical paragraph and a recent example of visual or textual artistic output. Space is limited to a maximum of 10 participants. A donation of 15/EUR is suggested upon acceptance to attend the workshop.

John Holten co-founded the Berlin art publishing project Broken Dimanche Press in 2009 which published his novel The Readymades in 2009 and his follow up, Oslo, Norway, in 2015. The LGB Group, a fictitious art group created for The Readymades (with Darko Dragičević), has enjoyed exhibitions internationally including The Armory Show, New York. His writing has appeared in many national and international publications. Holten is also known for his collaborative art projects and his work has appeared in the Malmö Konsthall, David Zwirner Gallery New York (with Aengus Woods), Villa Romana, Florence, Plan B Gallery, Berlin, San Serriffe, Amsterdam amongst others. He lives in Berlin.

Reading and viewing material will centre around three areas:

Ed Atkins, Even Pricks (text)
Ed Atkins, Even Pricks (video)
Supporting work: Roberto Bolano, Illness + Literature = Illness

Renzo Marten's Episode III: Enjoy Poverty
 Supporting work: Louis Althusser The Future Lasts Forever

K.D., Headless
 Supporting work: The Book Lover's Project (David Maroto and Joanna Zielinska)

Loretta Fahrenholz' Ditch Plains 
 Supporting work: Ben Lerner's 10:04

Monday, 29 February 2016

Out of Radiant in Your +1 Some Berlin-Based International Writing (Gully Havoc)

I wrote a piece while listening to Ben Frost's Aurora in order to write an advanced press text. I also wrote 'Out of Radiant' a broken short story in the form of these prose islands, recently published in the anthology Your +1: Some Berlin-Based International Writing (Gully Havoc). I also got to travel to Iceland for the recording of the official videos of the album back in November 2013, shot on the same Kodak film as Richard Mosse's The Enclave. Direction and editing was carried out by Trevor Tweeten and Richard Mosse.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Interview with Renko Heuer in Lodown Magazine 98

The Lit Corner: John Holten


“Let us introduce a street. It is dark with figures moving down its incline. It is in the east of the city and connects neighborhoods. The figures are returning home, their hands touch each other, entwine. A smile appears in the dark.”

“If this story could occupy a space other than this page, objects could also help fill the void; how I would like to tell it with knives and pens and tables, soiled underwear and rusting oil platforms, the agitated air between my face and my computer screen, how, dear reader, I would like to throw a urinal at you”: Having blown up the outlines of the “traditional” novel before with his amazing “The Readymades” debut (2011), Irish-born, Berlin-based author/publisher/jack-of-all-trades John Holten has returned this summer with “Oslo, Norway,” his second, significantly shorter and even more open-ended work that “gets on with things” in other ways: What starts out as a fairly straightforward story about protagonist William Day’s expat experiences in the Norwegian capital, his falling in and out of love, soon folds and unfolds into a proper, self-styled “literary atlas,” (partly inspired by J. Schalansky), a speculative and shape-shifting map about story-telling itself (including writer’s block), “stories in space,” with different episodes and sections, including the map’s Legend at the end.
The result, again, not only leaves the page via Holten’s accompanying “Blips” (DIY video/pseudo commercials) but also leads the protagonist, the book’s author (and “first reader”: John Holten), and ultimately, us, to other areas by involving Norse mythology, Kafka, Bolaño, and more, thus raising questions about the possibilities of novel itself (yes, lovers of metafiction, rejoice!). Also serving as the second installment of what’s eventually to become his “Ragnarök” trilogy, we once again caught up with the founder of Broken Dimanche Press to discuss his various other projects, actual bin collecting in Oslo, and selfie fiction.

“What makes William Day real and knowable to us is the fact that he is moving through space, a coordinate on the map”… now that you’re currently back on the road, a coordinate on the map, does life somehow feel more real and knowable – to yourself as well? How’s life been since we last spoke anyway?

I think moving is so important to producing work, yet at the same time writing kind of needs a sedentary time. For fictional characters, their psychology only really comes to me if I put them in space and have them do things and “Oslo, Norway” is all about moving through space, both geographically and paginal. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since last we talked, I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin which is both a good and bad thing. I traveled to Democratic Republic of Congo with Richard Mosse, Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost to assist on the making of “The Enclave,” Richard’s work for the Venice Biennale, already two years ago now. That was an insane creative process to be involved in, and very good to move off the coordinates of Western Europe. I think I’d love to spend more time in Africa and Latin America because up until now I’ve been in my comfort zone a lot.

And right now you’re in NYC, right?

Yeah, I’m launching “Oslo, Norway” next week, but also doing a number of events around town with my sister Katie with whom I finally got around to making a book with, “About Trees”.  

It’s been four years since “The Readymades” came out, and ever since you seem to have been involved with so many things, so many events and releases and such, how much time do you actually dedicate to writing? What about your practice as a writer, and how has it changed and evolved over the past five years?

Yeah I can barely finish these questions because I’m constantly jumping online and moving around my computer’s desktop. My writing has seriously been influenced by all the working collaborations and publishing work I’ve done over the last five years. Those and the internet. I really need deadlines now, with “The Readymades,” and also I guess “Oslo,” I was writing for myself, and nobody else. Even publishing with BDP is a form of self-publishing which means I have had even greater freedom. There’s a responsibly there, to see your work through, to its highest potential. 

I love the fact that “Oslo, Norway” is a literary atlas of sorts – a map you can enter at any given point. What inspired this form/format, and did you get lost in your own mappings as you were creating it?

The novel, and the printed book, needs to get on with things. With “The Readymades,” the structure was so elaborate and intricate, the actual end of the book happened in the middle and the real meaning of the character’s suicide is easily lost. A lot of people stop reading “The Readymades” after 100 pages. It’s a hard book to read, for different reasons, and especially if, like a lot of my readers, English is not your first language. This got me thinking about what happens to a novel when it isn’t finished. In video art this happens also: audiences sit for 30 seconds of a video installation in a gallery and then move on. With Richard’s “The Enclave,” there was a lot talk about having it open ended and allowing the viewer to move through the space and create their own edit. It has six screens, and in a way it’s impossible to view all of them all at the same time. I wanted Oslo to be fundamentally contemporary: people read mostly on a screen, in a tab: the space of reading has changed, and my novel had to reflect this. So what better form than a street atlas to give agency to the reader? You get the picture incrementally, meaning is built up and composed as you may need it, as the road runs to the edge of the page, so you jump forward to where it reappears on the next section of the terrain. I tried to sequence the story and even had an idea that each issue of the book would have a random ordering of the 52 sections and digitally print them, but ultimately it’s got these four sections each with 13 episodes, the first three sections are different sorts of representations (represented in pronominal perspective) and the last section is the Legend or key, where I give the game away, so to speak.  

Don’t you think it’s also part of the fun to be guided by an author, to trust his voice and choices along the numbers on the bottom of the pages?

For sure, I love genre and playing with genre. I think both my books can be read very linearly and I want pleasure to be gained from reading my books. Bolaño thought me that, and that’s what he did so wonderfully.  

You’d been to Oslo before coming to Berlin, right? Or did you explore the city more recently? How much time did you actually spend there vs. how much time did you look at maps later on?

Yeah I’ve been to Oslo a lot, it always felt like a very familiar city. I went back to record some of the Blips, my tongue in cheek marketing campaign and foray into making video art. I was going for the whole “they’re so bad they’re good” kind of thing, which is kind of beside the point. It was just fun to do them. 

And the actual book, how much of it was already shaping up while you were there? And when not working on chapters, you were packing fish and collecting bins?

Yeah I did a lot in Oslo. From the very first day I visited in 2004 to visit my university buddy, the writer and curator Lars Mørch Finborud, the city has always offered me new experiences. Radically new experiences, if you know what I mean. I packed salmon destined for Brazil on the Fillipstad docks, watching the new Astrup Fearnley Museet being built out into the fjord. I also collected bins, that’s true. I was too fucking good at it, I realized I was copying the bin men I’ve always seen and kind of ran fast and jumped a little too eagerly onto the back of the truck. Totally in line with Sartre’s concept of mauvaise foi – I was acting in bad faith, acting. I worked with a nice guy, but then he told me the band he had been in – Norwegian Black Metal has some serious bat shit history! Oslo is intense, sure it’s expensive, but it’s also at base a port town, Norwegians travel, and people travel to Norway – it’s a very open and progressive place.

“Words, that is, writing. If I could I would do without.” Really? And are there moments when you can, things you do that make you feel that way?

Yeah sure, make art. With “The Readymades” Darko and I collaborated on bringing the fiction into galleries, bookshops and ultimately even The Armory Show in NYC. The LGB Group have had a very successful art career! It’s the same with the Blips. And the drawings. It gets back to space, putting things in space, even characters as well as myself, as I said before. Movement helps.

Still, do you feel like an author first – or more like an artist who happens to be writing and publishing some good ol’ books?

Yes I am a novelist first and foremost, I feel that has always been my goal: to write books, novels. But I don’t see the great need to distinguish between “artist” and everything else. I’m an artist, like everyone else.

Was it easy to see where the dividing line between novel as “on-going fictitious event” and personal life needed to be drawn?

With “The Readymades” we certainly got ourselves tangled up in what was real and what was made up, Darko and I had moments of peculiar, full-blown confusion and I liked that. The ghost of Djordje Bojic is very present when I look back at the “Readymades” project. For “Oslo,” I wanted to reverse the fiction, and really I started with myself and let the event take it where it had to go. But could a novel affect my real life? I think writing it could, and I talk about that in the novel. It’s an intriguing result: to document reality you have to leave it behind and create something out of nothing, only to in turn see reality presented anew. 

What did you learn about publishing and especially self-publishing since starting BDP and launching pt. 1 of the Ragnarök trilogy, “The Readymades”?

I guess I have learned an incredible amount. I also find this a hard question to answer. There are technical things about publishing that aren’t all that interesting. I’ve learned that I prefer being an artist and writer before being a publisher mainly because I think with publishing comes a large responsibility and to split that with the responsibility I have toward my own art is a huge, sometimes overwhelming, challenge. But I’ve learned also that self-publishing works, it’s worth doing what you need to do in order to get your work to its audience. It’s a brilliant time for art publishing. I’ve just spent three weeks in NYC and the coolest thing I saw was the New York Art Book Fair in MOMA PS1!

And so you’re currently working on part three of that trilogy? Is it really going to be a Berlin utopia? And what about your relationship to the no. 3?

I haven’t really even started. I need to clear up my publishing duties and get down to the writing. It starts with a lot of reading and research and generally just dreaming stuff up. It’s going to be dense, I want it to be a large canvas after the exactitude of “Oslo”. It may deal with evil and train networks.  

One other thing: Do you think the return of meta-fictional elements (if they were ever really gone) is something we should now call “selfie fiction”?

I think the word selfie is kind of considered fickle somehow, I’m not sure there is a lot of respect given to the word. We are in an age in which we kind of revel in our narcissism, and I think it’s important for artists to get their vanity in place. A lot of bad art is given to the world because the artist is trying to be coy about their vanity and narcissism – auto fiction is a good enough term. I think selfie fiction could definitely be used to describe a lot of Instagram accounts.

Words/interview: Renko Heuer

John Holten / “Oslo, Norway” / novel / Broken Dimanche Press