And to Black Mountain...
A few times on this blog, Black Mountain College has come up here or there. Its primary appearance in the last few months came in the form of a connection with artist Adam Void (part 1, part 2) working near Black Mountain, NC today. Initially it was the subject of my Masters dissertation last summer while attending Edinburgh College of Art. It's funny how one thing leads to another.
I found myself in Scotland (because Scotland!) studying art history in late 2013, and after choosing to focus on the unique recent history of Scottish contemporary art, I was introduced to concrete poet Ian Hamilton Finlay who lived and worked just outside of Edinburgh. Finlay was acquainted with some of the Black Mountain Poets, namely Robert Creeley. Finlay's house and immense personal library, now in the care of the Little Sparta Trust, is positively bursting with collected poetry books and unusual, out-of-print mid-century tomes. I learned of this connection only after reading a short piece of writing by Scottish novelist Alexander Trocchi, most famous for Cain's Book (1960), a semi-autobiographical novel about heroin addiction in New York City. He wrote a short piece entitled "A Revolutionary Proposal: Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds". I love how Trocchi describes BMC:
Black Mountain College was widely known throughout the United States. In spite of the fact that no degrees were awarded, graduates and non-graduates from all over America thought it worthwhile to take up residence. As it turns out, an amazing number of the best artists and writers of America seem to have been there at one time or another, to teach and learn, and their cumulative influence on American art in the last fifteen years has been immense. One has only to mention Franz Kline in reference to painting and Robert Creeley in reference to poetry to give an idea of Black Mountain's significance. They are key figures in the American vanguard, their influence everywhere. Black Mountain could be described as an "action university" in the sense in which the term is applied to the paintings of Kline et al. There were no examinations. There was no learning from ulterior motives. Students and teachers participated informally in the creative arts; every teacher was himself a practitioner -- poetry, music, painting, sculpture, dance, pure mathematics, pure physics, etc., -- of a very high order. In short, it was a situation constructed to inspire the free play of creativity in the individual and the group.
Most significantly, Trocchi's "Invisible Insurrection" was a huge call for action. Radical and progressive in itself, he not only was apparently associated with previous BMC involvees, but in the early 1960s, only a few years after BMC's demise, it had already been entered into the canon of avant-garde artistic, progressive and experimental ideals. It inspired creation and movement.
It was Trocchi's short writing, which I read for a class, that inspired my dissertation topic and ultimately my subsequent love affair with the history and legacy of that school. Through my correspondence with Adam Void and the Vagrant Space artists who currently work in the area, I'm incredibly excited to see a resurgence of interest in the same ideals that initially inspired the creation of Black Mountain College in 1933.
I'm headed to Black Mountain for a short visit next week--the start of a larger project which, frankly, has yet to reveal its true shape and scope. I intend to do a bit of research and to touch base with some of the artists who are working there. I can't wait to share news of this trip! Stay tuned. . .