Black Mountain College at MSA 17

The Song of the Border-Guard 1952 by Cy Twombly 1928-2011

Cy Twombly (1928-2011). The Song of the Border-Guard, 1952.

The Modernist Studies Association (MSA) hosts its seventeenth annual conference this week in Boston. Among the many events planned are three roundtables on Black Mountain College and a Friday evening trip to the ICA/Boston to take in Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, curated by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson.

Faculty affiliated with the NPF worked closely for over a year with Marjorie Howes, Paige Reynolds, and, especially, Carrie Preston of the MSA host committee and Monica Garza and Ruth Erickson at the ICA/Boston to ensure that conference participants would be in a position to take full advantage of this major exhibition featuring many connections to this year’s themes of “Modernism and Revolution.” Among the presenters at the MSA are several scholars who also participated in the NPF’s recent symposium on Black Mountain College.

R1. Black Mountain College (I): Conceptual Underpinnings
Thursday, Nov. 19, 3:45-5:15
Westin Copley Place, Essex South

Session Organizer: Steve Evans; Chair: Steve Evans.
Featuring Carla Billitteri, Seth Forrest, Stephen Fredman, Elisabeth Joyce, and Roger Rothman.

The first of three roundtables related to the Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957 exhibition at the ICA/Boston. Participants in this roundtable will explore the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of the College’s pedagogical and artistic practices. Carla Billitteri will connect Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy to Charles Olson’s work, especially in The Special View of History. Seth Forrest will trace the shifting aesthetic across art forms at BMC from Albers’s matière to the noise poetics of Cage and Olson. His talk will reference several works on display at the ICA’s Leap Before You Look exhibition, from photographs of artwork produced in Albers’s course to Cage’s Theater Piece No. 1 and Williams Mix to poems by Olson and Larry Eigner to sculpture by John Chamberlain and Robert Rauschenberg. Stephen Fredman will discuss the huge impact of John Dewey, and especially his landmark Art as Experience (1934), on the development of an experiential art at Black Mountain. Fredman will consider the lesser-known dance drama by Charles Olson, “Apollonius of Tyana,” as a manifesto of experiential art. Elisabeth Joyce takes up the issue of “process” and “projectivism” from the perspective of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of “operative intentionality,” which argues that it is essential to “recognize consciousness itself as a project of the world. As destined to a world that it neither encompasses nor possesses, but toward which it never ceases to be directed.” Roger Rothman will discuss John Cage’s “affirmative materialism” as an alternative to a perhaps depleted tradition of “institutional critique,” arguing that “Cage’s work is a model of the sort of rigorous acceptance, whether of good or evil, that can distinguish an affirmative avant-garde from the mainstream practices of institutional critique.” Rothman draws on Jacques Rancière’s reading of Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, a text that in important ways prefigures Dewey’s Art as Experience. Wherever possible, participants in the roundtable will connect their remarks to the works being displayed and performed as part of the ICA’s exhibition.

R9. Black Mountain College (II): Interdisciplinarity
Friday, Nov. 20, 3:30-5:00pm
Westin Copley Place, Essex Center

Session Organizer: Carrie Preston; Chair: Stephen Fredman.
Featuring Charmaine Cadeau, Mary Ann Caws, Steve Evans, Carrie Noland (*), and Katherine Markoski.

The second of three roundtables related to the Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957 exhibition at the ICA/Boston. Participants in this roundtable will examine the range of interdisciplinary work that Black Mountain College fostered both through its dynamically evolving curriculum and its innovative summer institutes. Charmaine Cadeau will trace MC Richards’ embodied practices as a poet-potter to her scholarship on the Chinese ideogram, Artaud’s idea of theatre as “a kind of unique language—halfway through gesture and thought,” and, eventually, eurythmy. Mary Ann Caws will present on Robert Motherwell’s collage practice, his role as a conduit for bringing Dadaism into the postwar years, and his art pedagogy. Steve Evans will discuss the plans Josef Albers formulated in 1948 to reorganize Black Mountain as an art school—plans that were seriously contemplated but, fatefully, never carried out. Carrie Noland will investigate the ways Robert Rauschenberg’s photographic work informed his decade-long relationship with the Merce Cunningham Dance company, for which he served as Artistic Director. Noland will show how Cunningham came to think of his own choreographic work as a collage of elements, and how he integrated “the photographic” into his conception of movement. Katherine Markoski will address dance as, in poet Charles Olson’s words, “the most forward of the disciplines, focusing on Olson’s encounters with Cunningham and the “Glyph exchange” into which he entered, as a poet, with dancer Katherine Litz, the composer Lou Harrison, and the painter Ben Shahn. In this roundtable, the disciplines of poetry, painting, photography, drama, choreography, and musical composition converge and cross-pollinate around the concept of “gesture” or “the haptic.” Wherever possible, participants will connect their remarks to the works being displayed and performed as part of the ICA’s exhibition, in which this concept of “the haptic” is foregrounded as an explicit curatorial principle of selection and display.

R13. Black Mountain College (III): Dispersed Publishing Networks
Saturday, Nov. 21, 10:30-noon
Westin Copley Place, Rockport

Session Organizer: Benjamin Friedlander; Chair: Roger Rothman.
Featuring Benjamin Friedlander, Kaplan Harris, Benjamin Lee, Brian McAllister, and Alessandro Porco.

The last of three roundtables related to the Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957 exhibition at the ICA/Boston. Participants in this roundtable will explore the dispersed publishing networks associated with the College and the practices of textual scholarship that might best represent them. Benjamin Friedlander will attempt to bring the precise nature of Charles Olson’s accomplishments while at Black Mountain into clearer focus by offering a description of what a volume of Olson’s Black Mountain writings might look like and an account of how the subordinator of genre to chronology might shift the discourse on his work as a whole. Kaplan Harris will discuss “The Mimeo Revolution and the Free Market: Funding Mina Loy, Charles Olson, and Lorine Niedecker for the Jargon Society.” Harris draws on the financial records of the Jargon Society archived at the University at Buffalo to delineate the philanthropic, fundraising, and marketing practices that protected Jonathan Williams’s press from bankruptcy for more than four decades. Benjamin Lee’s presentation seeks to answer the question “What happens to poetry communities after they disperse?” He explores the considerable influence the College exerted after it closed in 1956, touching on communities that coalesced in Gloucester, Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco and Berkeley, and elsewhere. Paying particular attention to Olson’s Maximus Poems and Fielding Dawson’s The Black Mountain Book, Lee emphasizes both the continued pull Black Mountain continued to exert on its former residents and the variability of their response. Brian McAllister, in his contribution, maps interactions, correspondences, and developments of experimental and avant-garde journals through the 1950s and 1960s by looking at exchanges between the American journals Origin (Cid Corman, ed.) and Black Mountain Review (Robert Creeley, ed.), and the Scottish journal Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. (Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed.) in order to chart the development and distribution of various poetic practices. McAllister’s central claim is that by considering the publishing choices, editorial policies, and correspondences within and between these various journals and their editors in tandem with poetic practices throughout this period, we can identify clear lines of development from the predominantly American, Objectivist poetry of Louis Zukofsky, Lorine Niedecker, and others to the international, Concrete poetry that found space in later issues of Finlay’s journal. Alessandro Porco’s remarks will center on the work of two students at Black Mountain who mixed “bad attitude” with “artistic ingenuity,” Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro. Porco situates their jointly composed heteronymic work The Poems of Gerard Legro in terms of its genesis and its relation to the collaborative tradition at Black Mountain before turning to a consideration of the way their employment of heteronymy and pseudonymy indirectly critiqued the pedagogy of both Josef Albers and Charles Olson. Wherever possible, participants will connect their remarks to the works being displayed and performed as part of the ICA’s exhibition.

*Due to the recent events in Paris, where she is based this semester, Carrie Noland’s participation is at this time uncertain.

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