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Adamčiak - Interview (1)

written by Slávka Kittová 2013-01-22


Adamčiak - Interview (1)

 Milan Adamčiak Familiar and Unknown (Part 1)

From the interview with Milan Adamčiak 
about his experimental poetry and other literary and dramatic texts
Back in the early 90s, you often talked to me about your experimental poetry. Later at exhibitions, a few of your works appeared that had more to do with poetry than with graphic art. In 2002, you gave me the gift of two dozen of your Typorastre (Typogrids) that made me think about trying to publish them. Over time, we kept finding additional materials in your archives, which helped me define the dimensions of the intended small anthology. For almost 14 years, another collection of your works was kept by Jozef Cseres (they had been on display at an exhibition in Nové Zámky in 1998), and this expanded the scope of the prepared volume to include your earlier texts. The result is that your experimental poetry can now be presented more comprehensively. This interview is meant to serve as an introduction to the anthology, to this selection from your archives, and should deal with those of your creative activities that relate primarily to literary art. For now, let’s put aside your profession of a musicologist and composer, your music-based events, instrumental theatre, sound objects and installations, conceptual works and organizational activities. A single glance at your work makes it obvious that right from the beginning, the nature of your interest was intermedial: you refused to differentiate between art forms, and you were an active seeker.
Already during the first few years of my secondary school studies (at the state conservatory in Žilina), I was lucky to get the opportunity to meet people whose domain of interest wasn’t music but other arts (literature, poetry, painting, theatre). I could relate to all of that (in my childhood, I enjoyed drawing, creating puppets and playing theatre with them, and collecting poetry), and I was surprised to discover that something I had never heard of before was happening in these areas. I started following the developments, and I had an outstanding teacher and friend, Eduard Beke, who assisted (not only) me along the way with information and materials. So it happened that in around 1964, when several magazines started publishing Dada, Futurism (Russian and Italian), experimental poetry, op art, pop art, Constructivism and concrete arts, New Music, experimental theatre, happenings, Fluxus, events, and action arts, I was thrilled by everything I saw happening around me, elated by my own ignorance, and fascinated by all these unknown territories. So I started digging out – and to this day, keep finding both in my memory and in the archives – some of my ancient “serious plays” with letters, scores, lines, gestures and activities. I suddenly learned that my Sizyfovské roboty (Sisyphus Labours) were, in essence, events; that Chodecké kusy (Walking Pieces) and Nákupy (Shopping Sprees) might be compared to Fluxus activities; and that Záclony (Curtains), Koberce (Carpets) and Výšivky (Embroideries) I had created on my typewriter had their equivalents in experimental poetry topical at the time. So, I decided to continue with all this, and I was seeking confrontation with current events. In Czech and Slovak magazines such as Sešity pro mladou literaturu, MY 64, Dialog, Host do domu, Výtvarné umìní, Výtvarní práce, Typografie, Divadlo, Mladá tvorba, and Revue svetovej literatúry, names of new domestic and foreign artists kept popping up, and I tried to find ways to approach all of them via mail. That’s how I got to know Jiøí Valoch who was – and still is today – a treasury of information, and we began a cooperation that grew into a lasting friendship. Having obtained the artists’ addresses, I started sending out my own attempts from the areas of both experimental poetry and New Music, and I was surprised by the active feedback I received that later transformed into long-term exchanges of information, materials and own creations. It became clear to me that I had lots of things to accomplish in these areas – it became my desire and a part of my life.
Who were some of the personalities you corresponded with or met in person?
There was a wide range of authors working with experimental poetry in the Czech lands as well as in Germany (West), Austria, Italy, Great Britain, and South America. From Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, I got replies from artists who were already famous at the time, such as E. A. Vigo, Clemente Padin, Elena Pelli, and the De Sá brothers; I exchanged materials with them, and it’s only thanks to them I was allowed to contribute to a monstrous travelling international exhibition of experimental poetry conceived as a homage to Raoul Hausmann. From the Vienna Group, I got close especially to Gerhard Rühm and H. C. Artmann; I approached several groups from Italy (such as Tool and Lotta poetica); and in France, they were Pierre Garnier, Henri Chopin, Julien Blaine, Jean-Paul Bory, Jean-Claude Moineau, Walter Marchetti, Isidore Issou, Ben Vautier, Marcel Alocco and others. In Spain, it was mainly the group ZAJ and Juan Hidalgo. As to Germany, I drew valuable inspiration from works by Max Bense, Elisabeth Walter and Eugen Gomringer, as well as from texts by Helmuth Heissenbüttel that were also translated in our own country. In terms of graphic art, I greatly appreciated my contacts with Werner Schreib, Getulio Alviani, Dick Higgins and Joseph Beuys who were sending me books, catalogues and publications of their own works. Róbert Cyprich and me travelled to Prague in 1967 to attend the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) Festival, and we paid visits to Jiøí Valoch, Ladislav Novák, Josef Hiršal and Jarmila Grögerová. We also met a number of musicians and graphic artists and, ironically, they treated both of us as their partners despite the age difference – I was 21 and Cyprich only 17.
Did Eastern Europe outside of Czechoslovakia remain unknown to you? The environment in Yugoslavia was supposedly more relaxed, and it was very active in this field.
Ever since I was a child, I had a very positive relationship towards Russian literature and, in general, I developed a long-term interest in Russian and Soviet culture. Poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vasily Kamensky, Daniil Kharms and many others was very close to me, and I was also familiar with it in original Russian, too. It was only natural I was also delighted by Czech and Slovak translations of their works. Strangely, getting in touch with contemporary Soviet artists seemed next to impossible, and only later – mainly thanks to my cooperation with Alex Mlynárèik and my study trips to the Soviet Union – I managed to reach for example Leo Nusberg, Francisco Infante and a few progressive composers. In 1964, I started attending the annual Warsaw Autumn festival – back then, the most progressive international New Music festival in Eastern Europe, where I also got to experience my first happening live at the Foksal Gallery. Since then, I kept track of Polish culture – I subscribed to over five Polish art magazines. Yugoslavia was inaccessible to me, with the exception of sporadic encounters with high-quality publications from the Nolit publishing house (on subjects like semiotic literature, progressive tendencies in literary and music science, Zen Buddhism, and psychoanalysis). I only got to know the Hungarian cultural scene later on, because I had a difficult language barrier to overcome there.
How did all this continue? Were you influenced by the new information, and did it have any impact on your own work?
In 1969, the international exhibition Partitúry (Scores) took place in Brno and Prague (curator Jiøí Valoch), where Slovakia was represented by Ladislav Kupkoviè, Róbert Cyprich and myself. In the catalogue, I found myself next to Jiøí Koláø, which was an incredible honour for me – just a sophomore at the Faculty of Philosophy of Comenius University in Bratislava. Soon afterwards came the South American international travelling exhibition of experimental poetry I mentioned a moment ago. I had my first stand-alone exhibition titled Visual Music at the V-klub in Bratislava’s House of Art (1969). In the same year, I performed in Smolenice at international seminars for New Music, joining the presentation of the piece Symphonic Poem for 100 Metronomes attended by its author György Ligeti. A year later (1970) on the same stage, I got the opportunity for the first international presentation of my music/space project Dislokácie II (Dislocations II), side by side with Maurice Kagel’s presentations. By then, I had been cooperating with Alexander Mlynárèik, Jana Želibská and others for a number of years. I joined Polymúzický priestor (Polymusic Space) in Piešany and I. Otvorený ateliér (1st Open Studio) at Rudo Sikora’s place in Bratislava; I gave an underwater concert titled Vodná hudba (Water Music) in an indoor swimming pool in Bratislava; and I joined Festival snehu (Snow Festival) in the High Tatras mountains during the 1970 FIS World Championships. I think that considering the conditions back then, I was extremely lucky, and I had lots of energy for a promising start on the field of intermedia. However, all of that was put to an abrupt halt by the changed political and cultural situation in Czechoslovakia after 1970.
With you, then, it was simultaneous creativity in the areas of music, action art and poetry. How would you typologically divide and characterise your experimental poetry from the years 1964 – 1972, since that’s the period when you devoted most time to it?
In 1970, the Mladá tvorba magazine – for the first time in Slovakia – published samples from what held my greatest interest back then: experimental poetry, New Music, action art. In poetry, I found letters and words to be the most provocative feature, due to all their rich background, such as phonetic, graphic and semantic. I was using a typewriter whose letters had to fit into the space of the keys, which gave the letters a peculiar graphic density. Their rhythmisation – arrangement in lines, columns, and on a surface – gave me considerable leeway for their visual (graphic) use. From my childhood years, I could relate to various types of textures (such as embroideries, fabrics, carpets and curtains), so I used the typewriter as a tool to create structured grids in which this reality was reflected by means of letters. I was exploring semantic dimensions of words in surprising connections to their phonetic relations. This gave rise to a number of variations of semantic (both phonetic and graphic) shifts and interpretations. From the perspective of texts, which is what many authors of experimental poetry were interested in, I focused on what I called Verbálne texty (Verbal Texts), Preparované texty (Dissected Texts), Intertexty (Intertexts), Textové koláže (Text Collages), and so on. Regarding the typographical aspect of texts, I enjoyed using diverse font types in collages to create – from various (homo-heterogenous) elements – zones or surfaces that had more of a graphical than literary impact. As a musician, I was quite naturally intrigued by the auditive process of creation of those texts (whether during the use of the typewriter, or of various tools for writing manuscripts, along with various materials used for both specially manufactured and incidentally found and created stamps, paying attention to their acoustic rhythmisation on each occasion), and by ways of arranging letters on a surface – the result were my Poem Scores.
The typological diversity of your experimental poetry is self-evident. Can you describe it in more detail?
Depending on what I was most interested in, I spent time over individual or cyclical works, both sketches and final versions of various sorts, for example concrete poetry: Konštelácie (Constellations) – these texts were based on connections between arrangements of related elements (letters, words, word combinations) in columns, rows, and fields on the surface of a sheet of paper. Another series employed visual ways of arranging these elements, creating certain figures, outlines and silhouettes. In fact, that’s how visual poetry originated historically (by arranging lines of verse into shapes, such as those of a cross, a vase or a glass, and we’re also familiar with this from Slovak literature); my works falling into this category were the handwritten and typewritten Typogramy (Typograms) and Kaligramy (Calligrams), along with stamp poems I titled Typoemy (Typoems). I was composing my Selektívne texty: substanciálne, adjektívne, adverbálne, verbálne, interpunkèné (Selective Texts: Nouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Verbs, Punctuation, etc.) by choosing the relevant grammar or graphical category from a database of randomly selected source texts. Developing this approach further led me to the use of the coincidence principle in Preparované texty (Dissected Texts) and later, from multilingual source materials, in the Intertexty (Intertexts) series. My cycle Patexty (Pseudo-Texts) emphasised this principle so much it led to the destruction and disregard of the space provided by sheets of paper, which sometimes resulted in illegibility. An extensive series – perhaps the most typical of my work – was Typorastre (Typogrids); these were repetitive square structures of both typewritten and handwritten letters. This type of creativity held my interest for a number of years, because it opened a very broad field for capturing the variable nature of structures of the selected grids (in terms of lightness, saturation, fullness, density, homogeneousness vs. heterogeneousness, transparency of several grids at various angles – especially 90 and 180 degrees). In scriptural texts, this form was attained by a number of small-format and large-format visual structures (such as bubbles and planets – that is, circle and globe shapes). From these, it was only a step to creating miscellaneous graphic artefacts by the use of monochromous and polychromous manual stamp print. The procedural nature of some of these cycles was so strong I used them as materials to conceive and create Kinetické básne (Kinetic Poems) in brochure format, as well as Alibri, which were book objects designed to be simply looked at, or good for quickly flipping through them, for rotating them or turning them upside down.
Were there any overlaps between your texts and your music, action and conceptual art?
If I disregard my own auditive experiences – such as while I was creating my Typorastre (Typogrids) – that were a sort of music for the typewriter, then I must mention those pieces that were directly meant for acoustic (phonic, phonetic, action-based) execution. A good example is Kancelárska hudba pre tri mechanické a jeden automatický písací stroj (Office Music for Three Mechanical and One Automatic Typewriter, 1970 – 1971), shown on Slovak Television in 1991. Another such musical/spatial project based on the use of phonemes and texts was Hommage à Rimbaud I. – VI. (1969), which was an adaptation of Arthur Rimbaud’s famed poem Vowels for a vocal performance simultaneous with dancing on a large, colour-coded music score resembling the ground plan of a building. Some of my graphic sheets/scores utilised colour-coded interpretations of various types of source texts to enable simultaneous musicalised reading, such as Um Ruehm herum for six female and male voices (based on Gerhard Rühm’s experimental poetry).
I also created a few Priestorové básne (Space Poems) meant to be performed according to such ground-plan types of scores installed on various premises. Some of these poems were exhibited at the Cik-Cak Gallery in Bratislava (2004), for example the ground plan Pavuèina (Cobweb) that was made accessible to active audience members (among them Rudolf Sikora, Jozef Jankoviè and Ladislav Snopko) so they could use that space to play and sing on it. 
Among scores intended for musical performance (involving also action) were my adaptations of experimental poetry to music, such as Míèek nebo koule (Ball or Sphere), based on Hiršal’s translation of a Helmuth Heissenbüttel text, for singers, ping-pong and billiards players, timpanists and percussionists. This score used variable fonts and font sizes in the shape of an almost visual poem. Putting aside some of my Konštelácie (Constallations) whose motifs frequently bear the character of concepts, ideas, and so on, I should here mention two of my cycles that were outright conceptual poetry: Invenciogramy (Inventiongrams) and Intenciogramy (Intentiongrams). These were based on typewritten diagrams placed between verbally defined polarities, or you could say between contradictory concepts. 
Another distinct class of my experimental poetry is represented by Bipoemy (Bipoems) that were based on the transformation of vowels and consonants from randomly selected texts into various “binary” codes. At the borderline between concrete and conceptual poetry were some of my analytical texts, instructions for the use of speech sounds, syllables, words and word fragments, catalogue and inventory texts.
Naturally, I was intrigued by various font types and by typographic and polygraphic composition, and that’s how I happened to discover various forgotten materials, from which it was only a small step to create Nájdené typorastre a partitúry (Found Typogrids and Scores), Ready-Made Poetry and Nájdené typoobjekty (Found Typoobjects). 
Close to experimental poetry were also several of my intermedia works, activities and instructions, beginning with the Sizyfovské roboty (Sisyphus Labours) cycle, and including Noèný chodec (Night Walker), Walking Pieces, Nosiè (Carrier), Nákupy (Shopping Sprees) and Výlety a úlety (Trips and Escapes). On a long-term basis in the late 70s, in the shadow of my study, I was creating miniature works, from collaged letters used for Skriptogramy (Scriptograms) through Mikrogramy (Micrograms), Makrogramy (Macrograms) and Sakrogramy (Sacrograms) all the way to Erotogramy (Erotograms), and so on, and I later collected them in Petit pieces and Pocket Pieces.
(to be continued)

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