Text by Lesley Guy
Nick Thurston’s Pretty Brutal Library has 10 books and a desk and a chair, but no chaise longue. At first it feels like a place where I might dip in and out of the texts presented, not necessarily lose myself, but this is before I start reading.
The pasted blurbs in plain black text and tiny individual book holders are reminiscent of the minimalist office style fostered by Conceptual art in the sixties and seventies. Cool and serious it would appear and at first glance those large blurbs might be intimidating, words coming at you from all sides. It’s OK though, they are only blurbs there to guide the reader into each text and their bigness makes them easier to read.
&model is an unexpected art gallery, but it feels like an old one. The aesthetic of the space is worth noting. White and light grey and so sixties from the white flock wallpaper right down to the chrome paneling outside. Within this familiar shell the cool and serious conceptual rigor feels warm and comforting, like a schoolroom from a simpler time.
Thurston is described as a poet, though his work is perhaps closer to Contemporary art than what we might consider to be traditional literature. He works with other writers such as Kim Rosenfield to push the written and spoken word in a way akin to the avant-garde pushing visual language in the early 20th century. Literature hasn’t moved on much since Beckett or Burroughs and the use of words in art, as seen in Dada or Fluxus and a range of artworks since, has done little to bridge the gap between the visual and the literary experience. In this way Thurston’s work can be closely associated with that of Kenneth Goldsmith – who is worth looking up.
The texts in this library are concerned with ‘the voice, speakers, speaking and the spoken’. So the real pleasure of these texts is located in the idea of the sounds, heard or imagined when reading, whether that is out loud or internally. Most striking is “Whäis off ßiejing” by Dschon Börga, a kind of German phonetic rewriting of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” by Sarah Lüdemann. The thrill here is in the re-reading of such a familiar text and having to re-tune your brain to get there.
I can’t help thinking that they’ve missed an opportunity to explore the spoken word more satisfactorily – silent reading doesn’t seem to be enough. There are no events planned but the organisers don’t rule out the idea of a live reading out so it’s worth keeping an eye on the &model website.
Either way, I’m looking forward to going back to the Pretty Brutal Library. It looks like I’ve got a fair bit of reading to catch up on.
Nick Thurston: Pretty Brutal Library on display at & Model Gallery, Leeds until 31 August 2013.