Andrea Tippel
In fond memory

On 5 April 2012 Andrea Tippel departed from this world, where she will be greatly missed.

It is hard to imagine, Andrea Tippel is no longer among us. Andrea, a pillar of the Academy who combined artistic acumen with an impish humour, a solid, one might almost say tough everyday wisdom, and a wonderful human warmth. We remember her dearly.

A lengthier obituary will follow soon.


Emmett Williams

  • Emmett Williams has departed from these shores at the age of 81. We shall all miss him. According to his wife, Ann Noël, Emmett had spent the day in his studio working on some new pieces and the evening over a glass or two of red wine; he died quietly in his own bed on the eve of Valentines Day - an institution he made wonderfully his own in his book Valentine for Noel. In place of an obituary, here a piece written during his last years that testifies to his enduring vitality and sheer likeability.
  •                                                       “Emmett at Eighty”
    • The internationally acclaimed poet, performer and picture-maker Emmett Williams, grand old man of Fluxus, is eighty.
    • Not every octogenarian manages to pull off such a fine bash for his eightieth birthday party as Emmett Williams did on April 8th at the Freie Akademie für Kunst in Berlin. And it wasn’t just a question of quality entertainment but also a quality crowd, the sort where you start thinking “if they were all regulars at the same bar I’d like to know the address”, the kind you’d like to meet at every art event or private view, a scintillating crowd, all ages, not just a bunch of art scene liggers and Fluxus groupies or people attracted by the free food and drinks (there were two of those there, but I forget their names). No, it was clear that the crowd was genuinely there for The Emmett Williams Experience. And even he enjoyed it, against his worst expectations.
    • It highlighted one of those apparently non-art questions about artists that are in fact so important: what is it that makes or allows such a fellow to have so many nice, intelligent, friendly friends, for that was the main common denominator? Well, for one thing, Emmett Williams has had rather a lot of job descriptions in his time, and fulfilled the agendas pretty well – that brings you friends, or respect at least: performance artist, graphic artist, celebrated Editor-in-Chief of Dick Higgins’ celebrated Something Else Press, painter, translator and annotator, multi-anthologist and proselytist. This is just to list the normal stuff. For even if Emmett pours scorn on the “I-was-first” game, a few ironically proud facts seep through in his books and conversations: not only was he the first person ever to write the word “Fluxus” in a press publication (now that is a claim to fame), he was even the first person to coin the word “gallerist” in English. Apparently. The more arcane it gets, the prouder the man should be: co-inventor (with Robert Filliou) of the Spaghetti-Sandwich, water-ballet choreographer, Fluxus postage stamp designer, hermeneutist of the exabiphallus…. There seems to be no end to it. But above all Mr Williams is first and foremost a poet, “capital P, without any qualifiers,” as he points out. And the kind of poet he is throws a very strong light on why he has such nice friends.
    • Emmett Williams is not the kind of poet who sits up all night in his garret honing his little gems to perfection. He must have long since realised there is no such a thing as a perfect poem, just as there is no such thing as a perfect piece of music; but sometimes there is the perfect moment or situation to listen to precisely that piece, or that poem. Emmett’s poetry and – jumping ahead slightly – performance pieces seem however to sidestep the issue by seeking or prompting the situation first, or by creating the possibility of a situation, and then letting things take their turn… A perfect sidestep, which also helped Emmett Williams escape the “I’ve got it” syndrome that bedevils so many concrete and conceptualist works, whether poems or paintings or whatever: where once you have “got the idea” you’re finished, that’s it, you can move on because there’s nothing more to the piece. Reading Williams’ poems is almost always an invitation to keep on going, as long as one wants, they simply do not end at the end of the last page or the end of the book. As, for example, in “duet” which begins:
      • “art of my dart
      • arrow of my marrow”…
    • and ends:
      • “zim zam zom of my o zim o zam o zoom”.
    • In between the poet offers two versions for every letter of the alphabet (“butter of my abutter… cope of my scope” etc.), and with each line the reader finds him- or herself joining in the game, finding new funny examples. This is a real word game not in the sense of a pun but as a ludic enterprise for all. And by setting up an open-ended possibility the author goes way beyond the simple permutation that even characterised his earlier work, and that generally has exhausted itself before one even starts reading it.
    • The wealth of possibility in Williams’ work is also amply demonstrated by the sheer size (and majesty) of another poem, sweethearts. In this book-length work, a small, wiggly 11-letter serpent of a word – “sweethearts” – turns round and investigates its own premises, the letters that make up its own self, taking a taste of its tail and then merrily chomping itself up into primal lumps which it ingests and then eagerly egests into a flood of new words and worlds - as a story of two lovers and their ears and what they hear, of the sea and what these lovers see. … Emmett had been poetasting for some years when he wrote Sweethearts, but not only did this work masterfully transform concrete poetry into the epic, it also brought warmth, eroticism and humour into an often tight-assed genre. By creating an open-ended starting point rather than marshal the words or letters to fit some foreordained idea, he went on a voyage of discovery. The fetters he placed on himself, or on the words, were liberating ones because the only limits to the project were his wit and wits and his desire to travel on and take us to where the idea took him.
    • The same is equally true of the other parts of Emmett’s motley oeuvre, most particularly the large number of performances he has written and staged… A glance at almost any of the scores reveals a piece of simplicity that is able to generate tens of dozens of new variations and unpredictable situations: Allowing 38 Virgin Marys to arrive and shake hands on stage… walking or running about on stage with a glass or bottle balanced on one’s head, and singing or speaking until the glass or bottle falls off… talking in a spontaneously invented language (“The Gift of Tongues”)… counting all the members of the audience from the stage, aloud, silently, repeatedly, collecting their autographs, giving them presents and asking for others in return while all the time counting them… playing Brahms Academic Festival Overture in reverse, such that even the performers enter backwards… or performing 26 actions assigned to the letters of the alphabet, from eating a cake dog-style on the floor to pouring a bottle of sparkling wine down your trousers, in the order the letters are drawn out of a hat, with different actions each performance… simple ideas or a draft of a situation that go beyond merely acting out a script to involve a wealth of spontaneous interactions, interest, and associations.
    • It is the sly openness of these pieces that makes Williams’ work so engaging – a fact not spoilt when he shows a great taste in targets in the spirited attacks he also sometimes delivers – and ergo wins him a lot of nice friends. And perhaps this all reflects back on the man – which slowly brings us back to that great party, which also showed another reason for Emmett’s enduring popularity, and not only as a person. Before the explosive wit of his old Fluxus comrade, Ben Patterson, brought a series of dedicated events to an end that evening by gleefully letting off outdoor fireworks indoors - a pyrotechnic breach of good common sense that grew all the brighter the more the proprietor blanched – a couple of old Emmett pieces were given a delightful airing by several much younger artists. But it wasn’t just an airing, as if the pieces had been in mothballs for four or so decades (and that’s how old they were): the pieces were as fresh and saucy as if they had just been written, because the situation was new. They are inevitably new every time they are performed, so long as no one gets taken by the idea that there is something in them that has to be historically accurate and authentic. (Revealingly, Emmett Williams freely admits to cheating while performing his pieces if he thinks that will make them better, thus confirming that they are only more authentic if they are more poetic, in this case more true to the situation). Emmett Williams has perhaps summarised this irreverent approach to his own work when he says it is “a kind of game, but so is life”. At eighty Emmett has had lot of life, but as with everything else in his world he seems to have a special relationship to time.
    • Bald since he was 17, apart from a hirsute but wonderfully fitting laurel wreath he wears to this day, Emmett once remarked that he has “often managed very well to look older than [his] years”. Yet even when looking older than he really was (physically), this never seems to have made him feel any need to act either his apparent age, or indeed his real (physical) age. This is no less true now that he is eighty, although carefully preserved down the decades by choice beverages and recently with a new flush in his cheeks thanks to a nutritionist and lots of minerals and vitamins. At eighty he almost seems to be reversing the process and looking younger than his years. Not to forget those size 12 feet, which on a man of modest (physical) stature still lend him the playful look of an oversized puppy. Kind of fitting. But it’s his mind that has resisted time the best, being as acute and astute as ever; and of course his good ole’ warm, human heart.
    • Malcolm Green