Henri Chopin

Institute of Modem Art, Brisbane, Brisbane Queensland College of Art, Brisbane

... As a result of this research the frontier between poetry and music no longer exists. 

Henri Chopin

A dynamic partisan for new forms of expression in the arts, Henri Chopin has become something of an elder statesman in the realms of sound and concrete poetry. Indeed, Chopin was integral to the pioneering work in these fields, both as a primary producer and in the dissemination of the work of others. His work confounds our traditional understandings of poetry, transcending the bounds of the printed page through a synthesis of technological and corporeal elements to create "poems" which have reclaimed their presence on the material plane.

Word structures thought and thought structures reality...rub out the word. (William Burroughs)

Henri Chopin is a ventriloquist, throwing his voice the way a hunter throws spears, the way a potter throws pots. In his performance work he negotiates terrain Artaud referred to as "a kind of unique language halfway between gesture and thought." Chopin seeks to reconcile emotion with its expression, without recourse to the schizophonic effect of verbal translation. Chopin explores instead the primary sonic potentialities of the voice—it is the voice and not the verb that is the vehicle of expression. Speech is no longer a moribund doppelgänger, a pallid stand-in for some vague referent, but an object with real physical substance.

These works are performed without recourse to scores, they are instead reproduced and improvised wholly from memory. Chopin gasps and splutters and sighs and howls, he moans and groans, he casts spells. He gestures frantically throughout, with all the inspired desperation of Artaud's ''victim burnt at the stake, signalling thru the flames". Orchestrating the work, his contorted motions are directed to the loud speakers as much as to the technicians in conducting the sounds they convey.

The use of technology to enhance and distort the voice is intrinsic to these performances. Technology enables Chopin to create a symphonic sound, a chorus of processed voices. Technology provides invaluable navigational aids in his exploration of the body, amplifying and adapting sounds which are fundamentally organic. And it is by this interface of mechanistic and physical elements that Chopin is able to defeat the tyranny of the text in communicating things which are at once primal and integral and intense. The work itself may be temporal, but it resounds in the viewer and echoes into the void long after its conclusion.

Chopin's Brisbane performances were complemented by an exhibition of visual poetry, by both Chopin himself and by his contemporaries, which was held at the Queensland College of Art Gallery. This exhibition provided a comprehensive survey of Chopin's oeuvre, with works of his own making and those of others whom he has published. A confirmed anti-authoritarian, Chopin is the veteran of wars and revolutions. Many of his screenprints are explicit in their political character, denouncing the privations that both Capitalist and Communist regimes visit upon the bodies of their citizens. Other works, such as his typewriter poems, are more ambiguous, tending towards formal experimentation. But there remains a sense in which Henri Chopin is always a poet, possessed of a sensibility which has given rise to some of the more searching and affecting work of recent decades, and creating new possibilities for the future. His Brisbane visit afforded a rare opportunity to experience his work, and our thanks are surely due to Nicholas Zurbrugg for facilitating this Antipodean expedition.