SARAHJANE SWAN & ROGER SIMIAN
EVERY THOUGHT GENERATES
A THROW OF THE DICE
Imprints of the New Modernist Editing,
Shandy Hall, Coxwold, Yorkshire,
England, 28 Aug to 11 Sept 2021
Towards the end of 2019 Scottish artists, Avant Kinema (Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian), were commissioned by Imprints of the New Modernist Editing to create a new work inspired by a Modernist text for a group exhibition at Shandy Hall in Yorkshire in conjunction with the Laurence Sterne Trust. The exhibition, originally intended for the Summer of 2020, was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and eventually took place in August 2021.
Avant Kinema's contribution to the project was an ambitious interdisciplinary artwork, Every Thought Generates a Throw of the Dice, inspired by the work of 19th Century French Symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé.
Imprints of the New Modernist Editing
The Imprints of the New Modernist Editing project grew out of work conducted by the New Modernist Editing Network, a scholarly group, headed by Dr Bryony Randall, and based in the Department of Literature at the University of Glasgow.
One question raised during the Network’s initial research related to the frequency of cross-fertilization between literature and the visual arts throughout the Modernist era. This strand of enquiry led on to the Imprints open call, which asked for proposals from artists of all types for new works created in response to specific Modernist writings, with a focus on editing in all its aspects.
The open call offered up a constellation of Modernist texts which respondents were free to work with. This list of works - most of which are held in either the National Library of Scotland or the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art - included editions of writings by Virginia Wolf, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, E.M. Forster and Ezra Pound, along with many other Modernist works, including the first issue of the Vorticist journal, Blast.
Introduction to Every Thought Generates A Throw Of The Dice Art-Book Exhibition Publication by Avant Kinema
As artists we ourselves have history when it comes to Modernism. In the earliest days of our collaboration we bonded over a love of the early 20th Century avant-garde art movements and were both especially enamoured with the output of the DADAists, from Tristan Tzara's absurdist manifestos to the photographic cut-ups of Hannah Höch. Much of our work over the years has drawn direct inspiration from the experimental methods and stylistic choices of various artists, filmmakers, writers and composers from that era.
For the 2015 edition of the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival - in response to the theme, Spiritus Mundi - we created the installation Things Fall Apart; The Centre Cannot Hold, partially in response to the WB Yeats poem Second Coming (1919). Our 2017 film Merzfrau: Portraits of the Modernist Muse, drew much influence from Kurt Schwitters' absurdist love poem, An Anna Blume (1919). In 2020 – after an unexpected throw of the dice brought the Covid-19 virus into the Collective Consciousness and the world around us went into lockdown - we found ourselves channeling the early 20th Century avant-garde ranters and pamphleteers as we created the fictional 21st Century art movement oobROY with its accompanying Smashed Glass Manifestos (published online by Exploding Appendix as part of the REVOLUTION*ART*MANIFESTO dossier).
Our interest in the Modernists extends all the way back to the movement’s birth in the late 1800s and, alongside innovations in painting, music, theatre, prose and philosophy, we have long had a fascination with the French Symbolist poets.
We discovered the movement’’s Godfather, Charles Baudelaire, ourselves many years ago amongst the assorted literary tomes in a parent’s bookshelves, and made attempts to translate his banned poems into workable song lyrics.
The enthusiastic name-dropping of Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Jim Morrison and other poetry obsessed Rock ‘n’ Roll lyricists of the 1960s and 70s led us to Rimbaud and Verlaine.
By sheer serendipity or synchronicity, in the months before discovering the Imprints open call, we had been buying up volumes of Nineteenth Century French poetry and Symbolist art with a view to starting a project with that theme at its core. So, when we we were reading through the list of suggested Modernist texts and editions for the Imprints of the New Modernist Editing open call and arrived at Stéphane Mallarmé’s final poem, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A Throw of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance), everything clicked into place for us.
At that point we knew very little about Mallarmé. Compared to the decadence and devilry of Baudelaire and the violent passions of Rimbaud and Verlaine, Mallarmé sounded to be a fairly staid and ordinary individual: the retired English teacher living a modest life in Paris with his family, the highlight being the Tuesday evening salons in their home on Rue de Rome in the company of all the prime movers in radical art, literature, music and thinking. The main thing we seemed to be hearing about Stéphane Mallarmé was that his poetry was difficult, almost painfully difficult, being so obscured in symbols and syntax . We read that, of all Mallarmé’s poetry and prose, his final poem, Un coup de dés, is by far the most difficult to decode.
In that moment in the Winter of 2019, as we considered the Imprints open call, the timing was right for us. A New Constellation was staring us down. We decided to rise up and face the challenge of trying to translate Un coup de dés.
We soon discovered Mallarmé’s final poem to be a typographically ground-breaking, free verse precursor to the experiments of the early 20th Century avant-gardists: both terrifying and beautiful in its immensity. Its bold, visually striking design and the musical flow of its lines seemed to immediately lend itself to an eclectic, polymathic approach.
Our finished artwork for Imprints, Every Thought Generates a Throw of the Dice, was an exploration of Mallarmé’s groundbreaking final poem in multiple forms. Alongside the film-work, sculpture, music, stills and literary texts which make up the body of this work we have created this exhibition publication, partly as a sampler or showcase of the various artistic and literary approaches we have taken in interpreting Mallarmé’s poem. The book contains visual artworks, photography, poetry, fiction and Tarot style card designs featuring “twelve virgin symbols extracted from Un coup de dés”. It concludes with a new English translation of the poem.
We hope you find these pages useful as a route-map or travel guide to help you navigate a safe path through the difficult terrain of Mallarmé’s masterwork.