Laura Simpson loves: gnommero. A publication assembled and edited by Sarah Tripp
“gnommero is a series of beautifully crafted pamphlets of new writing. It presents artists’ and writers’ responses to Italo Calvino’s published lectures, Six Memos for the Next Millennium.
“The project has been initiated and introduced to me by Glasgow-based artist Sarah Tripp and has so far produced two editions, titled after the first of the five realised and one unrealised Memos: lightness and quickness. Calvino was asked to prepare the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures by Harvard University in 1984 and in the preface to Six Memos for the Next Millennium, his wife, Esther Calvino, states that:
‘From the first of January 1985 he did practically nothing else. They became an obsession…’
“Calvino was due to leave for the United States to read these five finished lectures Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and another which he conceived with the title Consistency, when he died. I had not read these lectures before encountering gnommero and had only experienced Calvino’s writing in his well-known work Invisible Cities.
“The lectures are about literature and in some ways are as pragmatic as a style guide or an analysis of approaches. But the experience of reading them is almost entirely existential. Calvino is incredibly concise and deft in drawing together a skein of mythology, details, visions and lexicons. He uses examples as you would in a textbook, but my experience was far from learning by rote and more a series of sublime daydreams sparked by his words and references.
“It is a powerful example of the written word as a catalyst to the imagination and I spent far longer wondering about the ideas expressed during and after reading the Memos, than I did reading the words. This experience of free flight of ideas is carried over to my reading of gnommero too. The extract from quickness used to conclude the second pamphlet gives Calvino’s own words on this:
‘I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas, and epics all reduced to the dimensions of an epigram.’
“The two issues have contained short pieces by different selections of artists, designers, critics and academics, including several collaborative works and each issue is both introduced and concluded by a short extract from the related Memo. At the start of gnommero lightness the selected extract shows some of Calvino’s motivation (and I wonder if it’s Tripp’s motivation in her writing and performance work also). He recounts a realisation of the ‘gulf’ which presented itself between ‘the facts of life which should have been my raw materials and the quick light touch I wanted for my writing’ and recognises the importance of this realisation:
‘Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world – qualities that stick to writing from the start, unless one finds some way of evading them.’
“The word gnommero means skein in Roman dialect. Tripp explains the condition of this gathering together in gnommero by saying:
‘Some of us have worked together before, some of us will work together again, some of us did not know any of the others, until now.’
“The works are often transportative, similarly to the mythical and ancient stories which Calvino refers to within his work. Several of the texts include images and others strong affinity to the visual world (not surprising considering the visual practice of some of the contributors). For some the layout of the page moves toward concrete poetry or collage and each work seems highly considered in presentation as well as content.”
“Several of the works have temporal or performative elements or prompts, Exit THE AXTEC by Giles Bailey encourages the reader to imagine a stage set of sorts and Apertures by Neil Davidson is a action instruction directing the reader towards contemplation. The work O,O,O. by Ruth Barker foregrounds the spoken sound and the action of speaking within its stanzas. Hunter and Jackrabbit by Anthony Schrag centres on the oration and aural experience of distress and Darren Rhymes, the craft of singing, in Shorthand, chasing over, figure ground.
“Some of the works fit closely within the writer’s other practice, for example, the artist Catherine Street often creates live performances which she writes and reads text works for. With other contributors the works presented are different but alongside their primary activity. Jenny Brownrigg is known for her curatorial practice and has more rarely made her creative writing public. Her essay in three parts I Listen to Objects opens gnommero lightness and references the crossing over from the private to the public realm in life, in bureaucracy and in art.
“The monochromatic, newsprint publication is badged with a moonsunholespot of metallic shimmer, at once concrete and intangible. The reflective surface can become a portal into the stories held within the pages or a hand-mirror to the ideas, in line with Time Magazine’s description of Calvino:
‘One of those storytellers who hold a mirror up to nature and then write about the mirror.’”
Info: Laura Simpson is a writer and Assistant Curator at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee.
Sarah Tripp’s multi-stranded practice consists of writing, performing and filmmaking. She lives and works in Glasgow.
gnommero and Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Penguin Modern Classics 2009) can be purchased from Aye Aye Books, CCA Glasgow
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