Leeds School of Arts

Professor of Art labelled 'philosophically irresponsible.'

Professor Simon Morris founded Information as Material in 2002 - a publishing imprint for experimental literature that has subsequently published over fifty books by artists and poets around the globe. He has variously been described as ‘philosophically irresponsible’ (Revue d’esthétique, Paris, France), ‘a literary pervert’ (Whitechapel Gallery, London), ‘mischevious’ (Times Literary Supplement) and ‘an inspired lunatic’ (Guardian).

Simon Morris' artwork

Professor Morris makes work by reading or purposefully misreading the words of others, conducting these investigations with his tongue pressed firmly against the inside of his cheek. Professor Morris is not all put off by these critical comments which he describes as ‘playful epiphets’. Morris talked to me about his working process:

“I conduct my experimental work with the book as a form ripe for examination in the digital age. Using art strategies, I test the very nature of the literary medium to find out what its limits are. My work tampers with language, its use and misuse, its presentation, and its reception. My work is intent on disrupting the triangulation between meaning, support, and context—the materiality of words and the materiality of the ground on which they are inscribed, the context that frames the meaning, the margins, the edges, the borderlines. In my creative practice, I aim to achieve an engaging interplay between word, context, and the medium of the page, as well as recording the current shift between the analogue and the digital. These playful interventions recognize reading and publishing as aesthetic acts, in and of themselves. The philosopher Jacques Derrida used the term ‘pedagogically intolerable’, to describe the act of disrupting the linguistic reception and presentation of language. He stated that what the ‘institution cannot bear is for anyone to tamper with language’. This is the territory that my work and the work I support through my publishing imprint explores: we tamper with language, its use, and misuse, its presentation and its reception.”

Morris works with an editorial team on the imprint’s collective endeavours that includes Professor Craig Dworkin (Utah University), Dr Kaja Marczewska (Coventry University) and Nick Thurston (Leeds University – edited between 2006-2018). All of them are passionate about art and literature and believe that it’s worth testing the limits of language in order to take possession more certainly of language itself.

In May 2019 Gill Partington for The Times Literary Supplement reviewed an Information as Material title, Nicholas D. Nace’s Catch-words. In her article, Partington recognized the important work the press is doing:

“These kinds of conundrums are the stock-in-trade of Nace’s publisher, INFORMATION AS MATERIAL, an experimental collective specializing in upending the parametres of literature, reworking existing books in unexpected, mischevious ways (Simon Morris produced an exact facsimile of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, but with all its words rearranged, for instance)” – Gill Partington, TLS, May, 2019, p.30

I asked Professor Morris what his favourite book was and he told me it is Bartleby & Company by the Spanish author Enrique Vilas-Matas. The book documents 86 humorous anecdotes of writers and artists that write through their refusal to write. Vilas-Matas refers to it as ‘the literature of no.’

I asked Professor Morris what he is currently working on and he said he is responding to an invitation to exhibit in a group show entitled The Flourish of Liberty. Invited artists were tasked with responding imaginatively to the passage in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, where Corporal Trim declares: “Whilst a man is free – cried the Corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus…” The exhibition will be held at Shandy Hall in Coxwold, North Yorkshire which is the former home of the celebrated author Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), seen by many as the progenitor of experimental literature. Professor Morris told me in order to create his own ‘flourish of liberty’ he has purchased a snow machine and is urinating in the snow and then photographically documenting the flourishes. Morris then went on to say how the work was a homage to Helen Chadwick’s ‘Piss-Flowers’ and Andy Warhol’s ‘Oxidisation’ series. Chadwick, on an artist’s residency in Bampf, Canada urinated in the snow and then took fine plaster casts of the hole made in the snow by the hot liquid – these when upended looked like extraordinary flowers, hence the name they were given. Warhol on the other hand worked inside, spreading out a canvas on the studio floor and then covering it in copper paint and inviting visitors to the Factory to urinate on it, causing a reaction between the uric acid and the metallic copper that produced some wonderful abstracts. One of them was sold at Christie’s in 2008 for an astonishing $1,889,000. Professor Morris then asked me if I would like to come to his studio to see the photographs he had taken. I politely declined, using a phrase borrowed from Bartleby the Scrivener (Herman Melville novel): “I would prefer not to.”

[1] ‘What this institution cannot bear, is for anyone to tamper with language. It can bear more readily the most apparently revolutionary ideological sorts of ‘content’, if only that content doesn’t touch the borders of language and all of the juridico-political contracts that it guarantees.’ Craig Dworkin quotes Jacques Derrida from ‘Living On: Borderlines’ in Reading the Illegible (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2003) p.157.

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