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Liliane Lijn letraset work called ‘Deeess (Constellations)’
Hansjorg Mayer/Conor McCarthy concrete poem print


Bronac Ferran

Lovers of concrete poetry are in for some delight this February in Cambridge. To accompany the magical show of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work at Kettle’s Yard, I have just been installing along with co-curator Will Hill (who gives a lunchtime talk at Kettle’s Yard on 5 February) a new exhibition about the close connections between graphic design, visual/concrete poetry and the concept of the kinetic at the Ruskin Gallery at Cambridge School of Art. ‘Graphic Constellations: Visual Properties & the Properties of Space‘ brings together beautiful graphic/typographic poetic works from the 1960s by artists and designers Liliane Lijn, Hansjorg Mayer, Ann Noel and Edward Wright with a 1959 work by kinetic art pioneer Frank J. Malina alongside material from some of the extraordinary experimental poetry festivals of the mid-1960s held in Arlington Mill in Gloucestershire, Brighton and the Netherlands.

I confess it has been enormously challenging as well as deeply rewarding to conceive and to install this show which pays direct tribute also to the first international exhibition of concrete, kinetic and phonic poetry, held in Cambridge in 1964 at St Catharine’s College. I first found out two years ago about the 1964 show which I discovered was singularly under-researched and in terms of exhibition histories it has been barely referenced. So I grew intrigued at the prospect of bringing aspects of it back to life or at least to the surface. I set about a process of what I like to call ‘micro-archaeology into obscure footnotes’ involving visits to little known personal archives in Berlin and Paris, digging out small magazines which may have tiny references to the event and also engaging in conversations with the four organisers of the 1964 show – Stephen Bann, Reg Gadney, Phil Steadman and Mike Weaver – all of whom claim to remember little about the actual event though it is clear from their writings in IMAGE journals now on display at the Ruskin Gallery that there was a formidable axis of exchange developed within Cambridge fifty years ago which led to unsurpassed investigative, insightful pieces on the graphic-concrete-kinetic interrelation by all of them and with some great invited writers including Ian Hamilton Finlay, Frank Popper among others. As part of this process of unearthing, I have had the good fortune to work closely with Stephen Bann who has made available for me to curate at the Centre of Latin American Studies in the Alison Richard Building on the Sidgwick site a remarkable personal collection of artworks, books, correspondence and journals relating to Brazilian concrete and visual poetry. A small and intimate archival show – ‘a token of concrete affection‘ – opened on the exact 50th anniversary of the first exhibition on 28 November last year and will run through to 1 March and it looks likely also to the Brazilian Embassy in London later this year.

On 14 February I am convening a very special symposium in collaboration with Centre of Latin American Studies and Kettle’s Yard which promises to connect many different art historical elements together with guest speakers coming from Austria, Brazil and the United States as well as England and Scotland to explore 1960s concrete and visual poetry and the international exchanges (often by letter) which linked Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Bob Cobbing and others to leading figures elsewhere not least in Brazil. For the most ardent lovers of concrete poems a fun day workshop has been organised at The Alphabet Museum, Ascension Burial Ground, in Cambridge on 15 February where Eric Marland will teach us the basics of carving ‘A Poem in Stone’ for a mere £10 per head. For more information and to book for this workshop (ten places are available) you can email:

Finally if you would like to join us for the Private View of ‘Graphic Constellations’ this will be on 5 February 2015 from 5pm at the Ruskin Gallery and Philip Steadman, Liliiane Lijn and Ann Noel will be present for speeches, beginning at 6:30pm. Hope to see you there. More information about all these events and activities can be found here.