Fielding Mieko Shiomi’s Spatial-Poems in California

While visiting a friend in Los Angeles, I went to see some of this city’s collections of contemporary art. Having never been there, the MOCA seemed like a good place to start. More than novels, or movies, or even theater, art exhibits have been providing me with cathartic experiences.

(I only found out later about the MOCA controversy surrounding the dismissal of curator Paul Schimmel, who I thought skillfully brought out connections between time periods, tendencies and genres in the Land Art exhibit, Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 not to mention tying it into the more Chinese artist, Cai Guo Qiang’s explosively mild work; someone else later told me he was not responsible but Miwon Kwon was. Maybe it’s both. Either way this seems to be the kind of show the MOCA won’t have again in the future, which is unfortunate.)

I really enjoyed Ends of the Earth.  It seemed just the right size, taking around an hour and half to see everything. But what really grabbed me were the early Land Art practitioners from Fluxus – as this show presented them – that I also found inspirational, particularly one piece by Mieko Shiomi.

Mieko Shiomi conducted several experiments with poetry and space, which is to say they take place in the form of sound. This sound piece, “A Celestial Tune for 108 Marbles” for example mirrored a Japanese Buddhist form of composition, in this case placing marbles on piano strings and then playing the piano.

Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 featured one “object-poem¨ of hers: instructions she had sent to friends around the world, performed and then marked with a pin on a small map, with a brief description of each activity. It was nearly impossible to read the poem, but the concept, could nevertheless be perceived. (I also think I saw this once before at that huge American Art show that the Whitney did like ten years ago. Then it didn’t interest me as much. I don’t think Fluxus really interested me either. I can’t remember what I liked then. Paintings? Novels? Movies? Theater.)

The work does a lot  for me at once. On one hand, it’s hyperbolic and I like that. I once heard Kit Robinson explain his poetics via MAD magazine; that’s pretty much where I’\m at in aesthetic terms. And despite the sometimes ultra-seriousness of Fluxus, I detect some play going on here. The actions could have been personal, given that Shiomi knew the recipients of her instructions. Instead it feels like man-behind-the-curtain type stuff. The actions while mockingly grandiose are at once meaningless and meaningful. The “object-poem” also works to accentuate the plane or horizon-line of literature – that usually is by definition, perceptible. All that cannot be read is not part of the work (except maybe for erasures).

(Patricia Johnson’s piece also on display brought this up. She painted a track with colors and then explained it as an examination of the plane of sight in art. You could argue books like Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow are working with the same set of principles I suppose.)

After the guard reprimanded me for trying to take a picture (even though I was just writing down her name so I wouldn’t forget) I looked her up, hoping to find more of her works.

And I found and pasted them below.  (Someone else posted them from her book.) You can also see an interactive map of “Spatial-Poem No.2” here.

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