This is the first solo exhibition dedicated to the work of Antonin Artaud to be staged in the UK, and more significantly to focus on the rarely seen notebooks which Artaud began working on from the time of his arrival at the Rodez mental asylum in 1945, until his death at the Ivry clinic in 1948. The eventual 20,000 pages of image-text amalgam constitute one of his most significant bodies of work. An unclassifiable volume of writing and drawing. Portraits, names, calculations, glossolalia, sigils, lists of drugs and foods stuffs, formulae, totems, lexicons, anatomies, objects, (boxes, chains and nails), machines and implements of obscure purpose. There are numerous fragments, blanks and extended texts whose occasional resemblance to poetry is incidental to another more occluded but violent operation, and where frequently there is enacted a puncturing of the surface with the tip of the pencil, and a repetitive gesture which gives the page “an anthracitic gleam”. Artaud was subjected to repeated sessions of electro shock treatment during his time at Rodez, (1945-46) and the books are inscribed with the trace of this experience, sometimes taking the form of incantations and exorcisms, devices designed to turn this incarceration against itself, to project a sovereignty in the face of institutionalised and occult violence, and to fashion a new body according to his own reimagined anatomy, a hardened and insubordinate form.
Artaud insisted on the singular status of the notebooks. They were not perceived as marginal but as a new substance, and an action where the written-object-matter was worked onto and into the page. They are also the progenitors of a number of important texts of this period which emerged as autonomous publications (Suppôts et Supplications, Van Gogh Le Suicidé de la Société, and Artaud Le Mômo) where the process coalesces around a focus which the workings have given rise to.
The notebooks, along with the majority of his drawings, were entrusted by Artaud to his close friend, devotee and eventual editor Paule Thévenin. When Paule Thévenin died in 1993 they were bequeathed to the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It is with the collaboration of the BNF that this exhibition has been made possible. In addition to the notebooks (of which 80 will be on display) the exhibition will include further drawings, photographs, manuscripts and transcribed extracts and translations.
Additional pieces by, amongst others, Richard Hawkins, Henrik Olesen and Jean-Luc Parant will also be included.
Many thanks to Guillaume Fau, Catherine Petit and Paul Buck.
“And since a certain day in October 1939 I have not written anymore without
drawing anymore either.
But what I draw
are no longer subjects from Art transposed from imagination to paper, they
are not affective figures
they are gestures, a verb, a grammar, an arithmetic, a whole Kabala, and one
that shits to the other, one that shits on the other
no drawing done on paper is a drawing, the reintegration of a strayed sensibility,
it is a machine which has breath
it was first a machine which at the same time has breath.
It is a search for a lost world
and one that no human tongue integrates.
As far as the text is concerned,
In the moulted blood of what tide
Will I be able to make heard
The corrosive structure,
There where the drawing
Point by point
Is only the restitution of a drilling,
Of the advance of the drill in the underworld of the sempiternal latent body
I am it seems a writer.
But am I writing?
I make sentences.
Without subject, verb attribute or complement.
I have learned words,
They taught me things.
In my turn I teach them a manner of new behaviour.
May the pommel of your tuve patten
entrumene you a red ani bivilt,
at the lumestin of the utrin cadastre.
This means that maybe the woman’s uterus turns red, when Van Gogh the
mad protester of man dabbles with finding their march for the
heavenly bodies of a too superb destiny.
And it means that its is time for writer to close shop, and to leave the written
letter for the letter”
from Ten Years That Language is Gone
Trans. Clayton Eshleman
- Excerpt from Bernard Noël’s Artaud et Paule
- Excerpt from Terminal Curses; Stephen Barber
- Letters from Colette Thomas
- Antonin Artaud; Ten years that language is gone
- Notes on Artaud; Ros Murray
- Ros Murray; “Antonin Artaud | Scum of the Soul”
- Richard Hawkins; “never real and always true / not art but the ra-tée of Soudan and Dahomey”