Michael Gibbs was a pioneer in the field of visual poetry, deploying language as a visual means. Starting out as an English Literature student in England, he was active in the Fluxus movement from 1968 on. While still a student, he launched his art magazine 'Kontexts', which included interviews with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, among others. He lived and worked in Amsterdam from 1974 until his untimely death.
His works on paper, installations and performances all give evidence of a love-hate relationship with language. His obsession with language is particularly evident in his works on paper, through cut-ups, typewriter, mail and stamp art.
In his performances, he pushed things beyond all conceivable limits by, for instance, burning and cursing the alphabet, writing with his own blood, or cutting words out and then eating them. His dry humour was a discreet presence in his deadpan performances and sound poetry events with John Cage and others. In the experimental period of the 1970s Michael Gibbs was closely associated with De Appel arts centre, where for the artists the floor became the canvas and the body was used as a medium.
With his independent publications 'Kontexts' and 'Artzien', Michael Gibbs generously enabled the Amsterdam avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s to obtain a platform for publishing work and embracing new initiatives. With Amsterdam as his base, Gibbs provided documentation from a 'no-budget underground culture' and made a vital contribution to innovative developments, ensuring that the 'non-material' forms of art of this period did not get lost. He published work by Marina Abramović, Sigurdur and Kristjan Gudmundsson, Ulises Carrión, Raul Marroquin, Reindeer Werk, Lawrence Weiner, Henri Chopin, Jackson MacLow, and numerous others.
The event 'Let it keep secrets' will acquaint a new public with this rich and exceptional body of work; those who already are aficionados will welcome this opportunity to once more explore Gibbs work. Artists' books, objects, installations, concrete poetry and early photoworks are shown in conjunction with his notes. The exhibition presents excerpts from Gibbs performances, sound poetry and original recordings of his interviews with William Burroughs and Lawrence Weiner. It is the first time that these archives are open to the public.
As a writer and critic, he exercised considerable influence with his articles on photography, disqualifying it as an objective documentary medium. Thus, he became co-responsible for the acceptance of photography as a form of art.*
'The exhibits in 'Let it keep secrets' focus mainly on his pre-1985 work. Because Gibbs used to put his material away and focus on new developments in his art, the works of that period have not been shown to the public before.
Acting once more as a pioneer and publisher, Gibbs initiated the critical internet art magazine 'Why not Sneeze? (1996). This site, composed in rudimentary HTML is being exhibited together with his utterly analogue art magazines Kontexts and Artzien at De Appel
. It is the only post-1985 work in Let it keep secrets.
Michael Gibbs' enormous body of work remains relevant to and inspiring for a new generation of artists. The 'Image and Language' department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy is participating, creating interventions with Gibbs work as a starting point, thanks to its function as a source for current developments.
The event 'Let it keep secrets' consists of a varied programme with performances and installations at several locations, where artists will react with new work and installations. The performers are Rose Akras [BR], Peter Baren [NL], Ivan Cheng [AU], Nina Glockner [DE] Mariana Lanari [BR] en Lot Meijers [NL]. Other artists taking part are David Gibbs [IL] and Doyoun Park [KR].
All or nothing and other pages, a survey of the work of Michael Gibbs, will be published by Uniformbooks, edited by Gerrit Jan de Rook & Andrew Wilson.
Curators: Gerrit Jan de Rook, art critic and Eva Gonggrijp, holder of the Gibbs archives. Organisation: Soledad Snelle Art Foundation and Archief voor Visuele, Concrete en Experimentele Poëzie.