Friday, December 8, 2023

Letting in the Light

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”      -William Blake

We circumvent a tiny sphere within the infinite universe. Our lives feel big and our obstacles insurmountable at times. We perceive only a fraction, invisible to the naked eye, of the realities surrounding us. Perhaps this unwitting censorship guards us from truths we cannot process with our still primitive minds. Science opens new doors all the time and yet many choose to force them shut again. Denial of objective reality threatens to lock mankind in a permanent dark age, unable to surmount the barriers of fear that block the path toward enlightenment. We dull our senses rather than expose them to the ever-increasing stimuli of our vast existence.

Christian Bok is an experimental poet based in Darwin, Australia where he is hard at work founding a creative writing program at Darwin University. His background in avant garde literary practice informs the program he is creating but at the same time he remains fully open to students’ diverse literary backgrounds and needs. Bok is simultaneously creating artwork for a group show in September with a theme based upon materials found in office supply and hardware stores. His work, series of paintings, is informed by a painting by Kazimir Malevich. Using paint chips from the hardware store, Bok creates collages incorporating the colors and their given names to produce large scale poems translated into colors. Recently Bok finished editing a book of essays and poetry by Canadian avant garde writers over the last 50 years titled Avant Canada. Since 2002, Bok has been working on a project titled The Xenotext for which he writes a very short poem which is then translated into a genetic sequence. The sequenced poem is then built in a lab and implanted into the genome of a bacterium, replacing part of the genetic code of the bacterium with the encoded text. Bok’s sequenced and implanted poetry causes the host to build a protein, writing a unique poem in response to the encoded and implanted one. The chosen organism is indestructible, able to withstand gamma radiation or the vacuum of space which means that these encoded poems could effectively exist forever. While Bok has yet to succeed in the implantation into the desired indestructible host, he has achieved proof of concept by implanting sequenced poems into e coli bacteria. “When critics say that poetry is dead my response of course is to build an unkillable poem,” Bok says. It is possible to extract and read back the lines written by the host organism and the action of creation causes the organism to fluoresce red. The work touches a concept that scientists have considered which is the possibility of communicating across universal distances by embedding messages into viruses and allowing them to replicate themselves. Bok designs the genetic structure and proteomic sequences himself and then receives some assistance from laboratories with the actual gene splicing. Of his work Bok says he is “trying to be a poet in the 21st century responding to the technological circumstances of [his] moment in time.” Bok writes other poems besides those sequenced into DNA. One of his works is so intricately constructed under a series of strict constraints that it took five months to complete. To hear more about this and Bok’s mind bending work with experimental poetry and DNA sequencing as well as his other pursuits, including readings of some of his companion poems to The Xenotext, listen to the complete interview.

Laub Laub is on a road trip visiting family driving from Florida through Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. He currently has an exhibit in Pasadena, California at the Armory Center. The work includes sculptural elements and series of drawings. Visitors are greeted by a big door between cement blocks behind which they find a fumigation bag filled with meat. Laub has discovered that the bags are not enough to contain the smell of rotting meat which adds an unexpected element to the show. The exhibit represents a map of grief. The artifacts and artworks are elements of suicide and dying. The main theme of the show is suicide. Laub’s mother is suicidal and he has had many friends die from prescription pill overdose. Through the work he implicates the pharmaceutical industry in the epidemic of death and overdose gripping the nation. There are also elements of rebirth as well as fanciful, storybook-like elements that tell stories. Everything together in a sense represents a collision of time as well as a timelessness. There is both the political and the personal in the work just like overdose and suicide often has elements of both. Following concern from young viewers, Laub was asked to remove the real drugs from the show. He at first felt offense, wishing that there could be a conversation with the high school students who spoke up about the inclusion rather than a request for removal. He decided to temporarily remove the drugs before replacing them again. Part of the installation in Pasadena is a collaborative work with artist Jennifer Moon. A series of tapestries illustrates the life and death of Moon’s dog Mr. Snuggles.  To hear more about Laub’s work and his collaboration with Jennifer Moon, listen to the complete interview.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Look with bravery toward the impossible and the infinite. Open your eyes to those realms beyond your narrow vision and let in the light of eternity.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Christian Bok has been reading quite a lot of pop sci-fi of late including Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Laub Laub is re-reading Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz.


Getty Images in partnership with ARRAY Alliance offers financial support and mentorship to photographers and filmmakers who use their vision to highlight underrepresented populations and to create “diverse and inclusive visual stories.” For further details, visit the website. Deadline for submissions is June 8.


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