Concrete, Phonetic, Simultaneous, Semaphore Poems 1970/71 (2006)

From the typewriter bombers to the flag poem Callaghan’s early works on paper are either an anti-war protest or a homage to conceptual art movements. Visual poetics – the word or the semaphore alphabet is also the image.

Visual poetics – the word or the semaphore alphabet is also the image. Heavily influenced by the conceptual art Dada movement of the 20s and the Concrete Poetry movement of the 50s and 60s Callaghan’s earliest work took the form of the Box Magazine.

 The Box Magazine – a once off edition was publishing in 1968 by Callaghan and his high school friend Philip Batty. It contained Concrete, Phonetic, Chance and Simultaneous poems. In 2006, the work was reproduced as prints scanned from the original typewritten pages. Together with other school friends, they went on to perform simultaneous poetry, at the invitation of Albie Thoms and Aggy Read of Ubu Films as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival at Sydney University Footbridge Theatre and later at the Mandal Theatre and Martin Sharpe’s Yellow House.

Enrolling in the National Art School in Sydney, Australia in 1969 Callaghan became involved in the emerging ‘Post Object Art’ (as coined by Donald Brook from the Fine Arts Department at the University of Sydney) namely a shift away from the art object as a precious commodity to ‘anti-art’ grounded in the social times and influenced by elements of Pop Art.

Sketched out but set aside at this time were works for two larger groups of poems – the typewriter bombers and flag poems. As the Dada movement with its mockery of materialistic and nationalistic attitudes grew out of a protest against the horrors of WW1, this early work was a reaction to the wars of our time in South East Asia.

As Alex Selenitsch says in his essay ‘The Guest in the Machine’ – ‘Each group could be considered as a single, multiple work: in contrast to the spectrum of concerns that BOX held on the page, and which were the spirit of the simultaneous poems, the bombers and flags are focussed and directed to two distinct operation of visual language: making pictures and inventing signs. The typewriter poems are obviously pictures: profiles of American Death from below and from the side. The original diagrams were sketched out on graph paper c1969 or 1970-71, using the military language of the Vietnam War. Constructed through Figure/ground images f planes and bombs, the pixel-like format of typing is used to carry the military semantics.

‘One senses the words function as titles when drawing the figure, and as context when drawing the ground. When a pair is viewed together, the shift of the figure from one sheet to another reveals a military ghost of white paper. The ghost of the machine floats in a page of euphemism, the machine itself covered or even made entirely of language. The phrases are familiar to anyone who lived through the time: rollingthunder, heartsandminds, distantdeath, dominotheory, defoliateannihilate.’

Box Magazine
Box Magazine
Philip Batty, Michael Callaghan - 1967/68


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