… all I wanted for Christmas
was an x-ray of my hand making g g
pleasure in forms united in a life
I choose to love no matter what
A poem undulates alongside a photograph rotated ninety degrees, making the pillars of the abandoned warehouse pictured seem to reach from the spine of the book—CAConrad’s ‘CORONA DAZE 96’ speaks of writing as a physical act, a ritual of making where beauty and joy can emerge. Holding image and curving words together—forms united—this contribution feels like a crystallisation of the hope within Intertitles, an anthology blooming from the expanding borderlands between writing and visual art.
Published by Prototype, an imprint dedicated to interdisciplinary projects and books which resist commercial trends, the collection celebrates the untamed breadth of this interplay. It’s ambitious and significant in size: thirty contributors include early-career artists alongside recognised voices—such as Charlotte Prodger and Jesse Darling—working in the rangy territory of text-based practices fed by art and literature. The collection gathers essays, poems, letters, scripts, textual mirages, image series, and pieces which could be multiple, or none, of these. Gratifyingly, Intertitles never categorises the works, nor itself, evading the slippery yet still restrictive title of ‘art writing’. Positioned, instead, at a changing intersection, the collection remains porous, capable of sparking generative practices.
Strung through with work in which the creators have consciously located themselves, Intertitles feels intimate and generous. Hospitality comes through in many forms, from the genuine consideration given to the crafting of the book, to the sincerity with which it affirms the value of being, making, and remaking worlds. Intertitles stands at a place of critically-engaged compassion reflected in CAConrad’s contribution which wonders at the liberating potential of our ‘underestimated / parts’, the groundswell of nails that could ‘finally overtake the hammer’. [i] The poet’s impassioned belief in the potential of everyone’s everyday creativity—‘the most necessary ingredient’ to making the changes our societies need—resonates with the political premise at the heart of Intertitles.
By way of introduction, the four editors—Jess Chandler, Aimee Selby, Hana Noorali & Lynton Talbot—share the book’s origins in their discussions of poetry and emancipatory thinking, alongside their attempt to resist institutional forms across curating, publishing and editing. They simply share the proposition which formed the core of Intertitles: stating that language is ‘essential to the task’ of building imaginaries beyond the relentless value extraction of market capitalism. There is a bravery in putting forward a genuinely hopeful proposition—the idea that a practice has the power to make things better. Intertitles’ contributors come together not only in their use of text as material, but also through seeming to know the weight and value of their words—their capacity to embody tenderness and defiance, and to create incisive dissections of the structures we inhabit.
Creative-critical writing programmes are growing across UK universities and art schools, and more visual artists—often affected by prohibitive studio and materials costs—are pulled towards the protean possibilities of language. Intertitles arrives amid an explosion of text-based practice. As Isabel Waidner’s foreword traces, the critical use of language in creative practice is not new. Writers and artists have worked at these junctions for decades, but Waidner notes with relief that text-based practice is now finding a platform in itself.
Reflective of how the pieces in it ‘might need to perform’ between image and language, Intertitles has been designed as a semi-filmic experience. Spoiler alert: thoughtful ‘intertitles’ (see below) between each piece guide the works with transitions and actions; every page is used to effect. Laure Prouvost’s gently disruptive insertions punctuate the book and the image descriptions within the index feel like poems in themselves. With some satisfyingly long contributions at its core, Intertitles’ weight is well-centred. Moving through it feels both natural yet constantly surprising, with texts both contrasting and resonating with each other.
The book swims with images and emotive assertions. ‘Thick garden walls covered with new and old lashings of graffiti, bird shit, and moss / The oily air smelled of herbs, citrus, exhaust, exhaustion, and authoritarianism’: Quinn Latimer’s ‘Images TK’ leaves me in awe of the complex compassion held in poems that move like rivers. ‘CRYING REMOVES TOXINS / CRYING BOOSTS YOUR MOOD / CRYING LOWERS STRESS LEVELS’: Sophie Jung’s ‘Frau Welt’, with its explosive nets of phrases that seemed gathered and corrupted from the world, made me greedy for repurposing vocabularies.
Beyond taking text as raw material, many of Intertitles’ contributors utilise a capacity to create near-physical sensory effects, grating phrases and fragments together to create shudders of all kinds in the body—pleasurable, curious or sickened. This can be felt in the molten present-tense scenes of Charlotte Prodger’s ‘Beamers’, in the corporeal tumble of Flo Ray’s ‘AR TICULATIONS’, in the cuts and slips of Fatema Abdoolcarim’s burning ‘Shh’. Language kisses, licks, and unpicks, its many tongues illuminating currents of thought and relations.
As Vahni Capildeo notes in their afterword, this book addresses the reader. Entering into a dance-like rhythm, opening up poetic relations, they say, ‘Iron, I pass over what is folded in the in-between. My surface is hot and maculate. My cord is frayed. Soft machine metamorphosis is a readerly writerly act.’ A generative cross-contamination happens when texts not only address you, but enter into your language and thought, altering shapes and limits.
In the all-pervading capitalism of our times—which the editors diagnose as ‘casually co-opt[ing] forms of refusal and counter-hegemonic modes of being,’ it feels as if we can only imagine alternative modes of being from the spaces between. Folds, where some hidden space forms at the touch of surfaces, become sites of openness. Gaps, wrinkles, edges, margins. There can be cries and songs and ripples outward from these margins—title cards that interject and rebel, rather than smoothing a narrative. Intertitles could be (Capildeo again) a ‘whisper network […] of the sounds and silences formally known as unimaginable.’ It is a gathering of calculated eruptions from the seams.
Intertitles holds so many directions and dimensions of text / image that it’s hard not to enumerate the ways in which the contributions act, speak and feel. So I will end by following the impulse, with an asymmetrical list of some of presences and tensions in the book, loaded as coiled springs.
cool grammatical fractals
saturated tapestries of images
dark dashes of redaction
hands’ shadows in scrawls and layers
disjoins like falling shelves
smooth vase-necks of text
soft gatherings of interlocking bones
space sliced violently between red words
Fiona Glen is a writer and artist from Edinburgh, based in London. Her criticism has been published in periodicals including Aesthetica, 3AM Magazine and Art & the Public Sphere.
Intertitles, edited by Jess Chandler, Aimee Selby, Hana Noorali & Lynton Talbot, is published by Prototype, £15. prototypepublishing.co…
[i] CAConrad, ‘CORONA DAZE 94’ (‘it is time to allow our / underestimated / parts to / perform’), ‘CORONA DAZE 87’ (‘always argue for beauty’), ‘CORONA DAZE 96’ (‘a life / I choose to love’) Intertitles(London: Prototype, 2021), p.100, p.98, p.101
[ii] ‘CAConrad: Phoned-In #8’, interview with Luke Degnan, BOMB Magazine, 5 May 2010