On the (im)possibility of a pure praise poem

British Council & Man&Eve, London
21 Jun – 27 Jul 2013

Aliki Braine, Mark Dean, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Anna Sikorska

Phil Baines, ‘On the (im)possibility of a pure praise poem’, Art & Christianity, No 75, Autumn 2013
Lucy Newman Cleeve, On the (im)possibility of a pure praise poem, catalogue essay, 2013

exhibited works:




Nothing Compares 2 U (Bas Jan Ader Mirrors Joan of Arc)





Ascension (nothing/Something Good)




Nothing Comes From Nothing (Lucretius, Rodgers & Hammerstein)


“Poetry all art is one of universal worships a l’insu of god the unknown.”
– Dom Sylvester Houédard

In an interview with Ian MacMillan in 2006, the poet Geoffrey Hill spoke about “the impossibility of a pure praise poem”. Hill’s bold assertion forms the basis of enquiry for this exhibition, which brings together work by the late Benedictine priest, theologian and Concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard (aka dsh), with work by three contemporary artists: Aliki Braine, Mark Dean and Anna Sikorska. The exhibition explores, in various media, whether the creative act and its product can ever comprise ‘pure praise’, or whether the incidence of a ‘pure praise poem’ (or equally of a pure praise photograph, painting, video or sculpture) is unattainable.

A number of intriguing symmetries occur within the exhibition, not least the fact that it includes work made by two ordained priests (dsh and Dean). dsh understood his visual poems and ‘typestracts’ as “icons depicting sacred questions,” and Dean’s video works, which have been described by David Curtis as “votive offerings,” also function in the interrogative mode. In each case, there is a tacit acceptance that answers will not be forthcoming. For dsh, questions are met with mysteries, “to which the appropriate response can never be an ‘answer’ but has to be a growth of awareness and awe – gratitude, depth and pleasure.” This attitude of praise defines the creative act, but cannot necessarily be conveyed to the viewer who joins with the artist in constructing the meaning of the work.

Dean’s work relies heavily upon the appropriation of, often iconic, film and video footage and music. It introduces visual and aural puns that behave as the generators and interrogators of meaning within the work, setting up a series of disputations between the different elements being sampled. Although the work is always carefully constructed, the reverberations and analogies created by placing potent symbols side by side are myriad. The screen becomes a crucible in which layers of meaning are compounded, burnt and refined.’