Stephen Bann

The Garden as a Parenthesis

1980

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Stephen Bann born 1942
Medium
Screenprint on paper; collabortation with Bob Chaplin
Dimensions
Support: 503 x 335 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2017
Reference
P20834

Summary

The Garden as a Parenthesis is one of three prints in Tate’s collection, all dated 1980, that follow the same basic format of a coloured upright oblong screen printed on a portrait format sheet of paper. The other two are Landscape of St Ives, Huntingdonshire (Tate P20833) and Doves over the Sarthe at Solesmes (Tate P20835). The oblong bears either letters or punctuations marks and above or below the square are single lines of text acting as a form of title or caption. In this print, the text ‘The Garden as a Parenthesis’ is printed in black above a green oblong; centrally placed within this are two large square brackets separated by a space. Below the oblong is the line of text, ‘Ref. William Morris’s “Long walks and trellis-enclosed plots”’.

The print was originally produced in 1970, to a very similar format, as a poem-card produced by Tarasque Press – a small press run by the poets Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills in Nottingham that had links with Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006). Examples of this and other poem-cards produced at the time by Bann are included in Tate Library Special Collections. They are evidence of a shift in Bann’s work away from repetition as a means to create a graphic image (see, for example, Orange 1964 [Tate P20831] and Fleece 1967 [Tate P20832]) and towards a treatment of that image as a field for a single word or sign for which the relationship between title, reference and poem causes a need for reflection. In each poem the connection between the sign held in the colour field, the title and the reference is clear but also allusive. For instance, with Doves over the Sarthe at Solesmes, the horizontal line can be read as a river, the quotation marks as doves in flight and the apostrophe, a dove at rest. The title suggests an equation between doves, the River Sarthe of western France and the Benedictine abbey at Solesmes, the renowned centre for Gregorian chant, positioned near Anjou on the Sarthe. More simply, in Landscape of St Ives, Huntingdonshire the text ‘st. eeples’ provides religious co-ordinates for the geography of the town of St Ives in the flat landscape of the Fens – the two steeples of All Saints Church and the Free Church – with the tail of the ‘p’ suggestive of the bridge over the river Ouse.

The prints from 1980 were printed by Bob Chaplin in editions of twenty. This copy of The Garden as a Parenthesis is number nineteen in the edition. It was included in an exhibition of Bann and Chaplin’s collaborative works at the Royal Museum Canterbury in 1982 and the catalogue, largely written by Bann, describes this and related works as, ‘topographical … Each is a response to a particular stimulus – landscape or work of art. But the mythic references enable more general themes and patterns to be built up over the series as a whole.’ (In Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982, unpaginated.)

The Garden as a Parenthesis is one of a group of Bann’s ‘poem/prints’ in Tate’s collection that reflect at first his discovery of concrete poetry through his friendship with Ian Hamilton Finlay after 1964, and then the subsequent development of his own poetic language). In 1964 Bann had been introduced to Finlay’s work by his friend Mike Weaver, and together they visited him in Edinburgh that August; Bann has explained that the visit to Finlay ‘resulted in a frequent exchange of letters. Rapel (1963), his first major collection of concrete poetry, appeared to me to hold the promise of a new kind of poetic art, at once deconstructing language and reassembling its component terms to create a visual expression.’ (Stephen Bann, artist’s statement, 2016, for the website of the exhibition Design and the Concrete Poem, Lighthouse, Glasgow 2016, https://designandconcretepoem.wordpress.com/texts/, accessed 9 August 2017.) In 1967 Bann produced the first anthology of concrete poetry to be published in Britain, concrete poetry: an international anthology. Bann included both himself and Finlay in the anthology and this relationship grew to one of collaboration and exchange over the years, so that Bann became Finlay’s major facilitator and interpreter. The historian Deborah Cherry has concluded, ‘Bann is ever attentive to the image, its “generative force” and analytical power, to the ways in which visual media offer not a record of the past, but “historical culture in the making”.’ (Cherry 2006, p.1.)

The use of square brackets in The Garden as a Parenthesis denotes the garden as a place of quiet contemplation separated from the outside world by design and function. Bann wrote to Finlay about this poem on 17 June 1971, explaining that ‘I am trying to see the garden/enclosure as the capture of an (Eden) that is complete in one sense (since the parenthesis does enclose meaning), yet ineffective in another sense, as it is visibly broken.’ (Quoted in Stephen Bann [ed.], Stonypath Days, Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay to Stephen Bann 1970–72, London 2016, p.136.) The reference to William Morris (1834–1896) and his Trellis wallpaper design of 1864 recalls the courtyard gardens at Morris’s Red House that, according to the medieval principle, were enclosed but by being grouped together also had the capacity to create long grass walks – a motif that was returned to by Morris in his poetry as much as his designs. Edward Burne-Jones’s (1833–1898) wife Georgiana, for instance, described the garden at the Red House as ‘four little square gardens making a big square together, each of the smaller squares having a wattle fence round it, with roses growing thickly’ (quoted in Fiona MacCarthy, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, 26 July 2003, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/jul/26/art.architecture, accessed 8 August 2017). The Garden as a Parenthesis reveals Bann’s growing interest in the cultural history of garden design and his increasing dialogue with Ian Hamilton Finlay regarding the development of his garden at his home Stonypath, in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh.

Further reading
Stephen Bann (ed.), concrete poetry, an international anthology, London 1967.
Bob Chaplin & Stephen Bann, A Mythic Topography, exhibition catalogue, Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982.
Deborah Cherry (ed.), About Stephen Bann, Oxford 2006.

Andrew Wilson
August 2017

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