For detailed insight in his life and career, scroll down.
Michael Gibbs(1949-2009) is known as an artist, writer, poet and publicist. His enormous body of work, in collaboration with many, proves a real treasure trove for art historians. Michael Gibbs was a gentle and tolerant believer in the social, cultural, political and experimental worth of art.
In his performances Gibbs ‘took the text off the page and onto the stage’. He experimented with language, made concrete-, visual- and sound-poetry, installations with video and photography. He developed stamp art, mail art, artist’s books. He contributed to international art magazines and published his own and was a pioneer on the early internet with an online artmagazine. He was a great collaborator, teacher, lecturer, art-critic and curator.
He published the magazine Kontexts in which he published works by colleagues from Europe, Latin America and the United States. In his magazine Artzien he published reviews of art exhibitions mainly in Amsterdam and written by visual artists. He was invited to festivals, many shows, bookstores and so his network spread. Ulises Carrión, John Cage, William Burroughs, Stéphane Mallarmé, Fluxus-artists and many others were of great inspiration and due to collaborations they became part of Michael Gibbs’ work.
Michael Gibbs studied literature and arts in the UK, his country of origin, and later lived and worked in Amsterdam.
Michael Gibbs’ full cv is found on his still existing website.
Michael Gibbs was a gentle and tolerant believer in the worth of art—its social, cultural, political and aesthetic worth. Art excited him and was the core of his life. In September 1966, aged just seventeen, he attended events at the Destruction In Art Symposium. For the teenager, the flyers for these events, even a fragment of Yoko Ono’s Biba dress that he had cut from her, exerted a talismanic power. He had resolved at that point to be a particular sort of artist and he kept these artefacts near him for the rest of his life. Those events in 1966 marked his immersion in what he called “a genuinely ‘underground’ culture… which owed nothing to the official art establishment”. Towards the end of his life, largely ignored by that establishment, he was nevertheless content that his archives, including the materials he had saved from DIAS, were to be preserved in the collection of the Tate Archive; these detail a nuanced and critical life lived in and through art, identified by an absolute generosity of spirit, an embrace of the positive possibilities of exchange, discussion, learning, criticism and collaboration.
Andrew Wilson in: All or nothing, and other pages (Uniformpress/Boekie Woekie) Axminster/Amsterdam, 2016)
Michael Gibbs wasn’t only the “unsung hero of concrete poetry”, as B. E. Mitchel calls him, but also evidence that an artist who could be considered as a destructor of language is in fact—as so many artists of his time—an essential component which makes the machine function. The quotation in his essay Al
or nothing of the often dispraised French poet Jean Cocteau: “All texts are only alphabets in disorder” points towards the purpose of his subversive attitude. By creating unexpected images and meanings, Michael Gibbs questions the alphabet as a tool of the power system. His cracks appear to create disorder, but in fact he puts everything in a new place, and forces us to look beyond the limits of our conventional language. Still today, the work and engagement of Michael Gibbs offers discoveries. It proposes a way beyond the ossified and conformist art world which attempts to dictate our behaviour and functionality. If he and his fellow campaigners are considered marginal, their actions are the seed in the darkness of the soil which emerge to bear fruit.
Guy Schraenen in: All or nothing, (Uniformpress/Boekie Woekie) Axminster/Amsterdam, 2016)
concrete poetry and language art
Michael Gibbs published his first-ever concrete poem Walk (1965) for the first time in his final collection of poetry, Legend (2004). The poem is composed of letters that have been cut out and pasted. A playful fascination with letters, words and language was to become typical of his entire body of artistic work.
In the ICA in London that he had been visiting since 1965 Gibbs came in touch with contemporary trends in the arts and in 1966 he attended the Destruction in Art Symposium in Covent Garden, where he got to know the work of Fluxus artists such as Yoko Ono and Wolf Vostell and Viennese Actionists such as Günther Brus and Otto Muehl. Through art programmes broadcast on TV he learned of the happenings of JeanJacques Lebel and the avantgarde music of John Cage and the International Times kept him informed of the underground films of Andy Warhol and Stan Brakhage.
In the legendary London bookshop Better Books, managed since 1966 by the leading propagator of the new poetry, Bob Cobbing, he read publications by authors such as Ernst Jandl, Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and Jiří Valoch. In this Mecca of the most recent literary developments he also came across the figurative poems of Apollinaire and the language concoctions of the Dadaists. Cobbing suggested he made contact with John Sharkey who in turn advised him to send a number of his poems in for an international exhibition of avantgarde poetry in Buenos Aires in 1969. His name is there, on an impressive list of 114 poets from fourteen countries.
In summer 1967 Gibbs went on a two-month journey hitching-hiking through a dozen European countries with Turkey as his final destination. There he was caught smoking a joint and landed in jail. This did not hinder him however from purchasing a trendy sheepskin jacket and returning to England as a long-haired bearded hippie.
Out of the amalgam of these various artistic sources of inspiration and possibilities, it was his fascination with language that determined his direction. The relative simplicity of the artistic requirements of this medium – a crayon or a typewriter – undoubtedly played a role. Between 1967 and 1970 he studied English and American Literature at Warwick University.
This direction was evident in the first issue of the magazine Kontexts, which he published in spring 1969 with Paul Merchant and which contains their concrete poems, supplemented by those of four of their fellow students. In his final year at Warwick he wrote an essay on the work of William Burroughs and John Cage.
In summer 1970 the second issue of Kontexts appeared. Gibbs had widened his horizons and the journal included work by figures such as Alan Riddell, Paul de Vree, Bob Cobbing, Nicholas Zurbrugg, Peter Mayer and Dom Sylvester Houédard. In October he had his first one-man show, in the library of Warwick University. The exhibition was accompanied by a text in which he explained his ideas about concrete poetry: ‘concrete poetry is possibly the first truly international poetry movement a universal form of poetry that cuts across nations and languages the poetry of the global village its beginnings lie deep in history in the origins of language itself / in hieroglyphics in the word as sign as picture / ancient chinese picture texts / english emblem books / and the master calligraphers of the middle ages / by the 20th C artists and poets began to rebel against the staleness and restrictions of print technology – mallarme wrote “un coup de des” juggling with typography / apollinaire explored the possibilities of the shaped poem / futurists such as marinetti (and later wyndham lewis and the vorticist blast / and dadaists man ray hugo ball raoul hausmann and sound poets theo van doesburg and schwitters all experimented with word and typography (…) concrete poetry is between poetry and painting (apollinaire said “i too am a painter”) its methods and subject matter are diverse: abstract typograms (houedard) patterns of print (kriwet mayer furnival) pastoral word plays (finlay) permutations (gysin achleitner) etc etc communication on a variety of levels / the arrangement of the poem’s visual elements (words and/or typography) together with its semantic and phonetic associations constitute simultaneously the meaning and dynamism of the poem / “tension of thingwords in spacetime” / form is content / the concrete poets have revolutionised poetry / they have discovered new forms of expression for 20th C man and have abolished the linear structure of conventional poetry that is also the linear framework of authority’ [author’s spelling]
In October 1970 Gibbs pursued his studies further, doing postgraduate research at the American Arts Documentation Centre of Exeter University and embarking on a thesis on ‘New Structural Methods in the Contemporary Modern Arts’ – a title he later changed to ‘Change Operations in Modern Arts’. Director of the institute was Dr. M.L.H.L (Mike) Weaver, who was the organizer of the First International Exhibition of Concrete and Kinetic Poetry held in Cambridge 1964 and who also invited David Mayor to Exeter to carry out research into the Fluxus movement. The two students became friends and they collaborated on the project ‘Fluxus West in England’ which resulted in October 1972 in a travelling Fluxus exhibition, ‘Fluxshoe’, at seven venues in the UK until August 1972. It included work by the artists of the Beau Geste Press – such as Felipe Ehrenberg and Martha Hellion – whom they first met in June 1971. The Beau Geste Press also published Gibbs’ first collection of poetry – ‘Life Line’ (1972) – as well as two books that he compiled with others: ‘DRECK, bits & pieces from the frontier’ (early 1972, with David Mayor and intended as the house journal of the American Arts Documentation Centre) and ‘Ginger Snaps. A collection of cutups, machine prose, word and image trips’ (March 1972, with Hammond Guthrie), which included work by figures such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Tuli Kupferberg. Beau Geste also printed the fourth and fifth issues of Kontexts.
Gibbs published nos. three, four and five of Kontexts while still at Exeter. They had a run of a maximum of 250. The poems included show that his network had widened considerably. Kontexts 3 (1971) contained work from Yugoslavia and Latin America, Kontexts 4 (1972/1973) was devoted the United States, while Czechoslovakian poets and artists were dominant in Kontexts 5 (1973), which also had work by Robert Lax from the USA and Ulises Carrión from Mexico – whom he met through Beau Geste.
A shift also occurred in his ideas about poetry, partly due to the discussion provoked by the travelling exhibition ‘Sound texts,? concrete poetry, visual texts’ (19701972). Concrete poetry – as an aesthetic play with the alphabet – was pronounced dead and visual poetry, a more socially engaged combination of language and image or object, took its place. In Kontexts 3 Gibbs wrote: ‘What is needed is a terminology (not a definition) sufficiently flexible as to allow variety and maximum openness[sic]. (…) so let us adopt (as the Italians seem to have done) the term “visual poetry” which not only encompasses concrete and “spatialist” [this tendency was propagated by Pierre Garnier and others] poetry but also extends into the area of graphic images.’ And in the anthology compiled by Peter Finch, ‘Typewriter Poems’, (1972), he said: ‘dissatisfied with tendency towards typographical decorativeness and simple typewriter games (have virtually ceased using typewriter medium) more interested now in some sort of global/social relevance concrete poetry needs to develop but somehow remain poetic.’ (46).
On 26 October 1971 he wrote:
STATEMENT ON POETICS
visual poetry (postconcrete) and the poetics of vision: the feelingseeing. i try to say much with few words (sometimes even no words), to achieve a kind of profound simplicity in which there is no superfluity. the poem is the result of momentary awareness, and i feel it is important to preserve this instantaneity by making the poem itself an event on the page.
for the sake of convenience you can call me a “concrete poet”, but for me the term “concrete” means gomringer et al, and i’m not that. they were working within a specific discipline which i find too limited for my purposes. my work is predominantly visual and nonlinear but i still write syntactical poetry because i write what i see, & i use whatever means is best to express my vision. i’m stretching the limits of language (and experience), playing with words, inventing new languages, combine word/image, etc. i share the view of korzybsky that there is no need to go beyond words, beyond the arbitrary limitations on experience imposed by the tyranny of syntax, and hence i admire the work and ideas of wm. burroughs, brion gysin, & co.
it all comes down to this : how to express the ineffable? the void? perhaps to renounce art altogether as a serious intellectual activity and just live playfully ????
(to be continued)’. [Gibbs’ original spelling]
In 1973 Peter Finch’s publishing house, ‘Second Aeon’, published Gibbs’ collection of concrete/visual poetry ‘Connotations’. Despite his regrets about the poor quality of the printing, it still gives an impressive picture of the variety of his methods of dealing with language. On the back flap he states that: ‘I’m concerned with the reduction of language in its structural elements — taking it apart to see how it works. Words don’t always mean what they say – their patterns and forms reveal inner processes and events, ambiguous connotations of meaning.’
Gibbs makes generous reference to his sources of inspiration: Dom Sylvester Houédard, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Brancusi, Mallarmé and Yves Klein. Another leitmotif is the presence of Buddhist concepts such as mindfulness, Tao, haiku, tantra and mantra.
In the meantime Gibbs abandoned his studies in Exeter. In March 1974 he departed for Amsterdam for an exhibition of his work in the InOut Center gallery, which was possibly held as an initiative of Ulises Carrión who had by now moved to Amsterdam. To accompany his exhibition he produced the booklet ‘Extinction’ that consisted of a series of photographs of the letters of the alphabet being set on fire.
On his return to England a month later, a great deal had changed: his employer, for whom he had worked for the past eighteen months had gone bankrupt and the Beau Geste group had split up. He got a job as a teacher, but showed little enthusiasm for this work and at the end of 1974, when he received an invitation to show his work in the Agora Studio in Maastricht and was able to combine this with a lecture and workshop at the Jan van Eyckacademie, he decided to stay on in the Netherlands. The workshop resulted in his book ‘Scriptimages’, printed on the Jan van Eyckacademie’s presses. The combined sixth and seventh issues of Kontexts were also published there.
Kontexts 6 & 7 (spring 1975) had as its subtitle ‘a review of visual / experimental poetry and language art’. Concrete/visual poetry is still a pronounced presence, but it is supplemented with language reductions, semiotics, essays about artist’s books and dada, calligraphy, narrative photography and graphics, video, conceptual art and language experiments. Richard Kostelanetz, Lawrence Weiner and Maurizio Nannucci are mentioned as collaborators and Carrión’s essay ‘The new art of making books’ will be the most quoted source from the magazine.
In the journal Fundangos 5 (1975), published by Agora Studio and with a.o. Raúl Marroquin as editor and Michael as contributing editor, Gibbs restates his views of twentieth-century literature: ‘19th C. concepts of linear order, of time and space, have been superceded[sic] in 20th C. literature by strategies of silence and synthesis (including a return to source). External reality proving too chaotic and indefinite has resulted in withdrawal into the self. into the solipsism of Beckett where the self is the last remaining sign of life / or into the private realism of art.’ One of his concIusions in the article is that ‘The experimental poet is a “languagedesigner”; he escribes rather than describes. LANGUAGE AS A GAME in which the given structure and rules of the game (grammar/message/situation) predetermine the moves in the game (words/signs/gestures/actions) and progressively limit the possible alternatives, the earlier move conditioning thoose [sic] that follow.’
In June 1975 Gibbs moved to Amsterdam where he assisted Carrión in making contact with publishers of concrete/visual poetry for the latter’s artist’s bookshop, Other Books & So. He kept in touch with Maastricht and printed Kontexts 8 (spring 1976) there on the hospitable presses of the Jan van Eyckacademie. The subtitle was altered slightly to ‘an occasional review of visual poetries and language arts’. Ulises Carrión was now the ‘contributing editor’ and his book gallery Other Books & So was the editorial address. Just as all the issues of Kontexts are different in form, this one too looks different. In form it resembles a newspaper and it is concerned especially with performances, sound poetry (Jackson Mac Low, Henri Chopin, Arrigo LoraTotino), cutups(Burroughs, Brion Gysin) and computer poetry (Greta Monach).
In Amsterdam Michael earned some money giving English lessons and – with John Liggins – he published the ‘6 Plays’ (1976) by Carrión in letterpress in the Drukhuis, a printing press next door to Other Books & So. He also embarked on the time-consuming compilation of his book ‘Pages’ (1976), which was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges and consisted of successive pages all from other books so that out of the chaotic variety of content, typography and language another book emerges that is about everything and nothing.
From the above account one can see how Gibbs’ ideas about the poetic use of language changed over the years. The first five issues (19691973) of Kontexts were concerned with concrete poetry, in 1975 he turned instead to ‘visual / experimental poetry and language art’, while in 1976 his theme was ‘visual poetries and language arts’ and Kontexts 9 & 10 (February 1977) contained ‘Langwe Jart’ – a term invented by Gibbs. He describes the contents as ‘the development of a more conceptual, rather than purely visual (or “retinal”) approach to language experimentation, together with related processes in the fields of photography, video, performance and music.’
In an undated note (1974?) he describes Langwe Jart as: ‘visual art in any form/media/intermedia, in which the principle idea is related to linguistic (and para/metalinguistic) expression and invention in terms of writing, speech, words, letters, syntax etc. (i.e. language systems.) my own particular contribution in this new genre was initially “concrete” and visual poetry, but more recently I have been concerned with exploring the basic elements of language in terms of minimal verbovisual structures this led me to a number of works which use the visual possibilities of one of the most basic linguistic structures: the alphabet.’
In July 1975, at the opening of the exhibition of International Visual Poetry in Utrecht, he presented his more physical relation with language with a performance in which he wrote the letters of the alphabet with his own blood.
In Dremples (spring 1976) he described Language Art as follows: ‘It’s true that all artists make use of language in one way or another (the language of form, colour, imagery, etc.), but what distinguishes language art is its concern with language as a system possessing an infrastructure, and a wide range of external forms. While the visual poets have emphasised the plastic (surface) elements, the conceptualists have concentrated on the semantic (subsurface) ones. Ways of seeing and ways of thinking.’
Another possibility of working with language in the presence of an audience that Gibbs explored was sound poetry. He attended the 8th International Festival of Sound Poetry at the Poetry Society in London (May 1975). On the occasion of the sound poetry event ‘Text in Sound’ in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (April 1977), of which he was one of the organizers, he presented Kontextsound: ‘a compilation of sound poetry, textsound compositions, poésie sonore, auditive texts, optophonics, verbosonics, lingual music’. It included the sound poetry of Sten Hanson, Ilmar Laaban, Bernard Heidsieck, François Dufrêne, Gerhard Rühm, Arrigo LoraTotino, Jeremy Adler, Katalin Ladik, Theo van Doesburg and others. Gibbs also attended the international sound poetry festivals in Stockholm (1977), Toronto (1978) and New York (1980) and in 1978 he worked on the audio cassette Sound Proof no. 0, published by Carrión, which also included work by Carrión, Greta Monach and G.J. de Rook.
In his performances he harked back to a subject that was already present in his ‘Connotations’ collection, namely Zen Buddhism. ‘Tonight, he will adopt the lotus position on stage, flanked by two guttering candles behind him, a projector will flash illuminations of mandalas from ancient Tibetan prayer books, and as it does so, he will chant a translation of the prayers related to the mandalas but chopped and rearranged like a blast from a spiritual scatter gun. “I’m interested in magic, but in twentieth century terms. And to me, the spinning of a prayer wheel or the casting of sticks in the I Ching is no different from the random number tables in a computer. That’s our kind of magic, and I’m not afraid of it.”‘ (The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 21 June 1977)
In a manuscript he throws further light on his approach: ‘Random Selection Sutras are based on an ancient Tantric text, the Kamakalavilasa. The original verses are treated word by word by progressive elimination determined by dicethrows, peeling off layers of words until only the “seedwords” remain. The evolutionary process in reverse, from the complex to the particular. Tantric thought holds that the world and all that is in it was created by the dívine utterance of the alphabet names and things sprang from the alphabet, which is both seed and sprout. With the RSS [Random Selection Sutras] the listener is able to make his own verbal creations grow from the seeds he hears the sounds of the cymbols [cymbals] which punctuate the recitation, or the randomtreated mandalas which are projected, are intended to be aids. The first 10 Sutras are scheduled for publication later in 1977, together with a cassette tape version which uses taperecorder techniques to achieve the word elimination procedure.’
Like a number of his other plans for books, however, this idea was never realized.
In summer 1977 Gibbs travelled for three months in Canada, the USA and Mexico. He visited George Maciunas and had conversations with a large number of artists such as Jackson Mac Low, Richard Kostelanetz and Lawrence Weiner in New York, Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione in San Francisco and John Baldessari and Chris Burden in Los Angeles. He then stayed in Mexico for a month where he met Felipe Ehrenberg. He returned to New York by way of Austin, Texas, where he stayed with Loris Essary. Back in New York he had meetings with Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bernstein and Ray di Palma of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=Egroup, Jill Kroesen, Carolee Schneeman and other artists and writers. He was stimulated by their kindred ideas about language. In 1983 he looked back on these contacts: ‘When I first encountered this concerted, serious effort at renewing poetic language I was immediately attracted. I could appreciate their use of words, or fractions of words, as things in themselves, freed from their role as referents to an outside world. They dealt with language as opaque material, not as formally as the concrete poets, who often did little more than make patterns, but with an awareness of the philosophical implications of their work.’ (Menu 1)
One result of this journey was his book ‘Deciphering America’, with work by twenty-six artists from the USA, five from Canada and two from Latin America.
Gibbs presented a summary of ways of working with text in his book ‘Selected Pages’ (1978). He starts by listing sixteen approaches to dealing with texts, which vary from ‘kindly’ to ‘with contempt’. After that printed texts are juxtaposed in competition with handwritten ones, are ‘translated’ into graphic symbols, crossed out, converted into numbers, subjected to word reduction or to being read on the basis of another language. They are cut into ribbons and composed all over again, rendered illegible, subjected to memory tests or else – partially – erased.
At the end of 1978 he presented his project in a show with Ania Bien, John Liggins and Pnina Reichman in Gallery A+ in Amsterdam, which the owner Harry Ruhé put at their disposal for four months. In 1982 and 1985 he also had one-man shows in Ruhé’s Galerie A.
He dealt with books in his performances and exhibitions in a similar way as he did with language in his publications. He deployed all his emotions: he threw them around, pronounced them dead but he also got them to sing. ‘The sounds of the making, and the inherent sound of the finished object (the page / the book / the reading) are what interest me. How the sound of typing a sonnet differs from that of free verse. How the pages of a book can be flipped, thumbed or slammed shut, to produce a symphony of “tome tones.”‘ (cat. Sound Poetry Festival Toronto, 1978) In his exhibitions he made objects of them (1977); in his artworks he deconstructed, reconstructed and reduced them.
Later he remarked: ‘I have an emotional relation with books, a sort of love-hate relation. The book is a metaphor for me, an erotic symbol.’ (cat. The Absent Words, 1980) A striking example of his physical approach is his ‘Wounded Book’ (1979) in which he staunches thebleeding wound of the book with a real sticking plaster.
In the period from 1977 to 1983 performances, installations and video played an important role in Gibbs’ work. Stéphane Mallarmé’s unfinished work ‘Le Livre’ in particular formed an important source of inspiration: ‘Each reading of the Livre would be a performance or séance in which it would adapt itself to its circumstance’.
Gibbs was active on a number of different fronts during this period. From November 1978 to November 1982 he published twenty-eight issues of the magazine Artzien, which he edited (after early 1982, with Harry Ruhé as co-editor).
In 1980 he published an Artzien Audio Cassette (with work by Hezy Leskly, Dirk Larsen, Ulises Carrión, Robert Joseph & Pier van Dijk, Remko Scha and others). In 198081 he also contributed to a number of audio cassettes published by Rod Summers under the latter’s VEC label. Half way through 1983 however he declared: ‘But sound poetry itself seems to have run out of steam, or to have become less relevant nowadays when more interesting work is being done by visual artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Laurie Anderson.’ (manuscript)
In the period from 1975 to 1981 he also produced work in the field of stamp art, partly thanks to the Stempelplaats gallery run by Aart van Barneveld, the partner of Ulises Carrión. He also made a number of books with stamps. From 19761984 Gibbs contributed to some thirty international exhibitions of Mail Art and twenty of artist’s books. In the period from 1968 to 2015 he also contributed concrete/visual poetry and language art to more than eighty issues of about sixty different journals and to fifty books. But his activities in the field of concrete/visual poetry and language art were above all dominant: in the period from 1968 to 2015 his work appeared in a good eighty issues of about sixty different journals and around fifty books. He also presented his work in a dozen solo shows and a good thirty group exhibitions.
This article could not have come about without the generous support of Eva GibbsGonggrijp who gave permission to study Michael’s posthumous writings.
All or nothing, and other pages (Uniformpress/Boekie Woekie) Axminster/Amsterdam, 2016)
Some themes explained – by Gerrit Jan de Rook
Concrete and Visual Poetry
Michael Gibbs’ interest in experimenting with language started in 1965 and became more prominent after meeting Bob Cobbing, who directed the bookshop Better Books in London. He started participating in international exhibitions of ‘poetry on the wall’ and liked use their sound in performances as well. In 1969 he published the first issue of his magazine Kontexts in which he published works by colleagues from Europe, Latin America and the United States. His network spread and he was invited to Sound Poetry Festivals and many shows. The 10th and last issue of Kontexts was published in Amsterdam and co-edited by Ulises Carrión, the founder of the iconic ‘book-gallery’ Other Books & So.
Cages writings and compositions were sources of inspiration for the young Michael. During his studies at the American Arts Documentation Centre at Exeter University he devoted a Special Option Essay to him and Burroughs. He liked the use of chance in Cage’s work and his use of the tape recorder. Inspired by Cage who saw music as ‘organised sound’, Gibbs wrote later ‘anything, syntactically ordered, can constitute a language‘. And Cage’s opinion that ‘the intention of the artist should be abandoned’ and that ‘the highest purpose is to have no purpose at all’ Gibbs tried to let words and images speak, without hiding ‘a message’ in them.
In October 1981 he had a 21 minutes long public conversation by telephone with Cage during the event One World Poetry at de Melkweg in Amsterdam.
Although Gibbs regarded Brion Gysin as the inventor of the cut-up technique he saw Burroughs as the most important user of it. ‘Cut-up is a juxtaposition of what’s happening outside and what you’re thinking of’ wrote Gibbs. He saw it as a means of breaking free of the control of politicians and advertising agencies as well a ‘mind expanding’.
Being a passionate book collector, he tried to collect as may publications by Burroughs as he could get and interviewed him and Gysin in September 1972 for a small magazine he published.
Three years later he met them again when he hitch hiked to Geneva for the conference Colloque de Tanger which was devoted to their work.
In the seventies Michael Gibbs became interested in sound poetry mainly inspired by Bob Cobbing and Jackson Mac Low. He participated in Festivals in London, Stockholm and New York and was one of the organizers of a Sound Poetry Festival in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1977. He noted: ‘The use of abstract vocal sounds releases language from its servitude to semantic meaning and gives it the freedom of music. (…) Whatever the case, the syntactical structure of language is abolished, which produces a link with the cut-up technique.’
He also contributed to VEC-audiocassettes published by his friend Rod Summers who is living in Maastricht and also published an Artzien-audiocassette with works by o.a. Ulises Carrión, Dirk Larsen and Remko Scha..
During the mid-sixties London was the place ‘where it was happening’ and Michael saw may things that inspired him. He attended the iconic Destruction In Art Symposium, saw performances by Yoko Ono and once got a piece from her destroyed dress, He saw performances by other Fluxus artists like Wolf Vostell. He read the underground magazines like International Times and Heatwave and even participated in a CND- ban the bomb – march.
His knowledge of Fluxus became stimulated by getting involved in the Fluxshoe-tour, organized by Michaels colleague-student David Mayor and the Beau Geste Publishers-collective living near Exeter.
Later, in a trip in North- and Latin-America Gibbs met the central person of the Fluxus-activities, George Maciunas.
Michael Gibbs – very much in the spirit or the later DIY ethic – was an avid small publisher. Starting with mimeo in the early seventies for Kontexts and some other publications, he transferred to offset in the middle of the seventies, made possible bu the presses of the Maastricht-based Jan van Eyckacademie where was a guest-tutor.
Later in Amsterdam he would buy his own Gestetner mimeo machine for his magazine Artzien.
He also used the letterpress from the Drukhuis to print small editions of books by a.o. Ulises Carrión and Czech visual poet Jiří Valoch. In his stamp-art period he made a couple of stamp-books in very small editions.
Stimulated by Stempelplaats, a small gallery founded in 1976 on the centre of Amsterdam with the intention of showing that the medium of rubber stamps had artistic possibilities as well, Michael become active in this genre. He used them in his publications and books and participated in a number of international exhibitions devoted to this new trend.
One of his dreams was to produce wallpaper with his one-million-copies-stamp. But after 1981, when Stempelpaats stopped, Gibbs’ experiments with stamp-art came to a halt.
This kind of communication between artists had a longer lifespan. It started in sixties, partly by artists around Fluxus and it exists until now.
Perhaps because it became a worldwide movement with artists from successive generations participating. Gibbs participated in a number of shows in many countries, from Germany to Brazil, from Australia to the United States.
Later he wrote about this movement: ‘Mail art, etc. is p(a)roletarian. It is the vernacular language, the dialect(ic), the slang, it smuggles in new expressions and idioms, alters the meaning of the old ones. It is often unintelligible to outsiders.’
In November 1978 Gibbs published the first issue of Artzien, a magazine with reviews of art exhibitions mainly in Amsterdam and written by visual artists. The first issues were free but later on – as the number of pages grew and the printing technique went to offset – the price became fl 1,50. In 1981 – when Amsterdam gallery-owner Harry Ruhé joined Gibbs as editor – Artzien got a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture and became more national, both in content as in distribution. It also became bilingual and the edition grew to one thousand copies.
Michael interviewed for Artzien many artists who were in Amsterdam a.o. Marina Abramović, A.A. Bronson, Sanja Ivekovíć and Lawrence Weiner.
But one year later the magazine came to a stop. The costs in money and time were too high for Gibbs and he became more and more disappointed by the lack of good visual artists cum writers.
Gibbs articulated his ideas about performance as: ‘Take the text off the page & onto the stage’. In all his performances – a.o. in De Appel and Stedelijk Museum Schiedam – language was the common factor. With the use of many lights, tape recorders and slides he tried to surprise, amaze and destabilise the audience. The many words he used were often difficult to understand and in his use of books he showed his love-hate relation to them: he damaged them but kissed them as well.
As one critic wrote ‘A collage of precious fragments turned into an absurdity, or something more difficult to reach because it is so precious.’
This was exactly what Michael wanted to achieve, he wanted to overwhelm the visitors by many senses at the same time with sound, light, language, uncommon material and actions but without any specified or clear message. ‘In the same way I’ve started out without any intentional themes. The meanings should come after it, not before. (…) I want to let the work create itself by reflecting on its own discourse, by using photographic elements to generate verbal material, and vice versa. The unfixed points of contact between them will be the meaning of the work.’
In his perfomances Mallarmé’s unpublished work Le Livre became more and more important for Gibbs. Mallarmé, the author of the famous Un coup de dés, writes that everything in the world exists to end in a book.
This sentence inspired Gibbs in many of his performances and books.
In his performance Ocean Park he ‘translated’ Mallarmé’s idea of presenting a random selection of thousands of pages to a small audience in a ‘séance’ in a 20th century installation with 150 photographic slides, 50 short written texts and about 30 musical excerpts. The same idea but with more modern means.
In his book Limits Gibbs states ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world’’
This medium, which started in the sixties, flourished in the seventies, stimulated by exhibitions in museums and specialized bookshops like Art Metropole in Toronto, Other Books & So in Amsterdam and Printed Matter in New York.
The idea that an artwork could be best presented in the form of a book became important for Michael Gibbs as well. His methods were the same as in his performances: to make his book Pages he had to destroy hundreds of other books, to make his Wounded Book he healed his publication and in his All or Nothing. An anthology of blanc books he combines a series of books that reduced language to a minimum.