Hannah Weiner (1928–1997). «I am clairvoyant», Colors, Auras, Fashion, and New Music

Post 2 of 3 by curator Franziska Glozer

 

«I am clairvoyant»

«I SEE WORDS» – In 1970 Hannah Weiner started to envision auras and fields of energy. In 1972 she also started to perceive words, floating in the air, or perched on her forehead (as seen from the inside), in her surroundings, on walls, on paper, on a dog’s fur coat. In these years she reinvented herself and the meaning of her poetry: I am a clairvoyant. Repeatedly Weiner declared: I SEE WORDS and I am a clairvoyant, celebrating the achievement and artistic method of her self-induced extreme adaption of the phenomenon of words and, in a further sense, of language.   

Using psychedelic drugs, intensive Yoga training and radical diets, she sought to open up to a broader way of human perception. Following the technique of automatic writers, such as the surrealists, who had methodically used this form for the creation of art during the beginning 20th century, Weiner intended to experience language differently and dive into a deeper working of words.

As John Perreault, co-coordinator of the Fashion Show Poetry Event in 1969 and comrade-in-arms of Hannah Weiner, commented, her language “research” on the shift of one’s idiosyncratic perception in radical self experiments also had an existential drawback:

When I met her she had a loft on W. 26th Street. My partner and I, way back then – artist Ira Joel Haber – had a loft on 27th. Suppose I have to tell you some of the difficulties she had when Street Works and Performances came to an end. She had a nervous breakdown of sort. Some of her friends think it was from LSD. At any rate, she locked herself in her loft and did not eat and stayed naked in her bathtub for weeks. If I remember correctly she was in telepathic communication with another woman who lived in Paris and was also undergoing a severe diet. Poet Bernadette Mayer rescued her. I think she spent some time in Bellevue which is a New York City mental hospital. Then hearing voices and seeing words on people's foreheads – which was quite eerie.
However, she made remarkable poems out of these strange communications and became a full-time poet, much honored by the Language School of Poets, around Charles Bernstein. She went to all the poetry readings and events at St. Mark's Church which is quite a poetry center.
Some poets thought she was mad, some thought she was faking it, and some thought she was great.

 

Country Girl, Colors, Auras, and Fashion

Weiner’s experience in the fashion industry for more than 10 years is not only the reason for acquaintances with pop- and performance artists such as Carolee Schneemann or Marjorie Strider, or the successful organization of the Poetry Fashion Show Event (1968), in which Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Lee Byers and other contemporary artists took part in. Her knowledge of textual materialities also contributes to the vivid description of her first paranormal experiences, recorded in the early manuscripts of The Fast (1970) and Country Girl (1971). These visions often manifest in colors, forms, and ornaments, and appear as changes in textiles and garments which Weiner describes in great care and colorful detail from her first person perspective. While Frank O’Hara, a widely acknowledged poet of the New York School Poets uses the phrasing I am doing this, I am doing that – characteristic for subjective poetry –, Weiner in Country Girl persues her clairvoyant perception in “her” relation to concrete forms or, in the case of clothes, in the relation to her inhabiting forms or formations:

Shopping is not easy. I couldn’t buy one with color embroidery, for example, the colors pick up and hold the purple vibes faster than does the white. I can wear my white pants often. I cannot wear stripe anymore. It is as if the very stripe twisted the vibrations around my knee.

Country Girl was published by Kenning Editions (Patrick Durgin) in 2004. The work had not been published during Weiner’s lifetime.

 

new music

I bought a new electric typewriter in January 74 and said quite clearly, perhaps aloud, to the words (I talked to them as if they were separate from me, as indeed the part of my mind they come from is not known to me) I have this new typewriter and can only type lower case, capitals or underlines (somehow I forgot, ignored or couldn't cope with the speed I was seeing things, a fourth voice, underlined capitals) so you will have to settle yourself into three different prints.

Thereafter I typed the large printed words I saw in CAPITALS, the word that appeared on the typewriter or the paper I was typing on in underlines (italics) and wrote the part of the journal that was unseen, my own words, in regular upper and lower case.

 Gunnar Meier Photography

Installation view Kunsthalle Zürich, 2015 (detail) (Photo: Gunnar Meier Photography)

It turned out that the regular upper and lower case words described what I was doing, the CAPITALS gave me orders, and the underlines or italics made comments. This is not 100% true, but mostly so. (from Mostly about the Sentence, Jimmy & Lucy’s House of ‘K’,  №7, 1986)

 

Phill Niblock’s Portrait of Hannah Weiner

The film Hannah Weiner by Phill Niblock, who shot it as part of a series of portrait film in 1975, shows the poet withdrawn in her working environment, her apartment, in the company of her cat, the typewriter and the written and spoken word. The sequences that show the artist during her writing process are accompanied by a voice-over of Weiner reading from her Clairvoyant diaries.

 

clair-style

The letters crowd the pages of the manuscripts. They look busy with activity. Words are not held together by grammar anymore, but instead seem to be in a jumble. The words are arranged so they overlap in part, or run diagonal, as if they were trying to find their place in the space or attach themselves to other words. They move like voices, forming new clusters and become image and map on the paper of the page.

Academic discussion on Weiner’s work first required the creation of new definitions in order to apprehend her unequaled style of writing, such as “intense autobiography” (Thom Donovoan) or “avant-garde journalism” (Patrick Durgin). Apart from the definition “Large Sheet Poetry,” the poet herself mostly used the term “clairvoyant” or “clair-style” in order to describe the distinctiveness of her poetry.

First by handwriting, then by typewriter, Weiner developed a method that allowed her to cope with the appearing of words on a visual, audible and cognitive level simultaneously. Lasting at times for hours, at times for days, she documented her own cognition. Filled with humorous, observational comments of the everyday humdrum as well as riddled with pointed self-reflexive comments these texts become a diary like narration of time in process.

At the same time, instantaneously and interrupting any idle talk, the visually and grammatically shifts of the writings perform a permanent discussion on the proprietary act of writing. In many of her text works it seems as if Weiner were not the subject at all. Rather, the words themselves seem to have become the subject, claiming the discourse for their own. The poet only captures these occurrences of language happening all around her. They are brought to her in visions, and the artist transcribes them from a quintessentially subjective universe into poetic form.

Thus her clairvoyant poetry raises questions regarding fundamental dichotomies of the art world such as subject/object, discourse/gestalt, and author/opus.

 

The 100 and Two Booklets of the Clairvoyant Journals

It was the Clairvoyant Journals by Angel Hair from 1978 that publicized Weiner’s writing as Clairvoyant Poetry. Made up of a collection of dairy pages from the year 1974, Weiner reworked her manuscript pages again and again and oversaw them with additional instructions to Barry Watten, the editor of Angel Hair. With time the booklet became a collector’s item, representing the Clairvoyant Journal until today. It was only in the early 2000s that Charles Bernstein, a close friend of the artist and important representative of the Language Poets, together with Patrick Durgin, the founder of Kenning Editions, evaluated and processed the artist’s legacy, laying open the true magnitude of Weiner’s clairvoyant writings of over one hundred journals. In the course of this research the gross of her writing was digitalized and made accessible online. The first comprehensive catalog of her work was published by Patrick Durgin in 2004. Titled Hanna Weiner Open House this publication draws a broad line with carefully selected works of hers and raises the question of Hanna Weiner’s influence in and on the art and performance scene of the 1960s.

 

All works of Hannah Weiner were generously entrusted for exhibition purposes by © Charles Bernstein for Hannah Weiner in Trust.