For our third week and second Poetry from Art session in the Yoyoi Kusama exhibition we focused on two works: Aggregation: One Thousand Boats and The Clouds. Kusama scavenged the boat from Manhattan streets and covered it with what she called phallic shapes made of stuffed cloth and painted white. The boat glows, spotlit in a darkened room, and is surrounded by one thousand print copies. We wondered if it was beautiful or disturbing, dark or light-hearted. Someone saw it as child-like, someone else found it upsetting. We talked about how art can change traumatic experience, as Kusama has said, that the obsessive phallic shapes she covered her sculptures with are her way of working through the childhood trauma of her mother forcing her when she was four to watch her father with his many mistresses and report back to her. We agreed that the 'shapes' also look like coral encrusted on a wreck; perhaps Kusama has succeeded in rendering those shocks harmless?
We read Arthur Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre in the best translation I know, Drunk Boat by Ciaran Carson, and compared the French child prodigy's drunken boat with Kusama's. The original poem is stuffed with words that rock against each other in long alexandrine lines which chart 'a systematic disordering of the senses'. I encouraged people to let rip with their imaginations and language, and write a poem responding to the boat in fifteen minutes; they could use Carson's expansive long line if they wished.
But they had a choice, they could either write about the boat or The Clouds, which we also went to see, carefully avoiding leaning over the laser alarms. If they chose to write about The Clouds then their homework was to write about the boat, and vice versa. These 'clouds' are also made from stuffed and painted cloth. We looked at them and said what shapes we could see in them. To help write a poem responding to this installation, we discussed 'Falmouth Clouds' by Peter Redgrove, with its series of spawning metaphors, where he sees theatre-chocolates and cathedrals in the sky, bolts of silk unrolling, trapdoors, laboratories and tablecloths, and most unexpectedly, floating coal-mines. What unexpected images could they come up with if they wrote really fast, free-associating? And what form would they use to write a spacey sky poem? Perhaps Redgrove's airy short stanzas separated by numbered sections?
Next week we will be in the Alighiero Boetti exhibition and I think I know what room we will work in but I'm not saying.