Monday, July 26, 2021

the seven greek vowels

Ever since I found it (in the basement of the Bayntun Consulate), the folded art exhibition brochure from 1967 has seemed to me a talisman of its time, with its consciously cool design in red and purple and its avant-garde lower-case lettering, a bright token of adventure and experiment, an opening-out into new dimensions of thought. It seems a passport to another country where optimism and spirit are in the air: you feel you might like to go there.

It includes an invitation to ‘a private look and listen on 12 July 1967 between 8 and 10pm' with 'music by the mike gray entet’. ‘Entet’ is not in the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1975 revision. I like to entertain the thought that the ‘en’ part bears a relation to the “N” of Arthur Machen’s story, but I wonder if the prefix was intended to convey its meaning of "in" or "within" and its use in "energy" and "enthusiasm". 

The exhibition, entitled Arlington 2, was of ‘sight & sound by students of bath academy of art 13 July-14 August 1967’ at ‘arlington mill bibury nr. cirencester glos.’  

It is ‘a sequel to arlington one, the international exhibition of concrete, visual, and spatial poetry’ in 1966 and ‘offering a closer view of three british concrete artists, john furnival, ian hamilton finlay and dom Sylvester houedard’ who have been working with the students. 

room 1, by ian hamilton finlay in collaboration with the students, features ‘eavelines-headlines’, ‘a lighthearted folder of 13 sheets of imaginary headlines’, together with special projects by six students, some with very Age of Aquarius titles: ring of waves; net planet; cube poem; acrobats; homage to malevitch; au pair girl. I at once want to see these. 

in room 2 seven art students offer a graphic and diagrammatic project, vowel cubes, inspired by the seven Greek vowels. The cubes were made by John Rayment and Barbara Clift and colleagues: the vowels are also depicted in the funky chunky rounded lettering of the heading. The catalogue says: 

‘a group of students have been asked by john furnival to present a body of information revolving around the seven greek vowels and their related colours and planets. there are no mystical overtones to this project, unless you like to read them into it yourselves; simply the knowledge that no knowledge is useless and ignorable’

William has taken Alpha, Deborah responds to Epsilon, Melody works with Eta, Simon with Iota, Ann with Omicron, Christopher with Upsilon, and Paul with Omega.

The disclaimer about the ‘mystical overtones’ seems curious given the vibes in 1967 and made me think that there were in fact some and this note was put in to deflect any consternation from straights. The project certainly has the aura of a work of hermetic art-magic. 

in room 3, dsh (a monk and concrete poet) co-ordinates ‘la tante tantrique’, ‘an etymological voyage of discovery from the Sanskrit root ‘ta’ meaning “to expand”’ resulting in word-images painted on screens to ‘become a complete word-form environment’, as visualised by four students. This evidently reflects the very Sixties interest in Eastern mysticism.

That is an impressive line-up of cutting-edge arts tutors. I wondered what became of each of the young artists and their radical works. I thought about trying to trace them to find out whether the excitement and energies from the exhibition stayed with them and still reverberate. Had it changed them? But I reflected that such an approach might result in disillusion. Better to keep the exhibition in the crystal moment of its time.

Still, I remained convinced that the brochure contained a story. I had a picture of a wayfarer in rural Gloucestershire suddenly coming upon a scene like something out of The Prisoner where vast Greek vowel cubes tumble down a hill to glide into a lake and drift serenely towards a great white dome, guided, using thought-waves, from a colonnaded terrace by white-robed figures with unusual heads.

In my imagination mike gray and his entet have evolved into a particularly otherworldly drone outfit and provide a long lingering haunting soundscape for the scene, like the work of Ian Holloway, Brian Lavelle, Susan Matthews or Richard Skelton.  

After this prologue, the story would be about a strange continuation of the 1967 project in the lives of the students, of how their visions and images had remained in the aether or the landscape or in their own inner space. They would all sense something about this, but some would not want to acknowledge it, others would dismiss it, because their lives afterwards had led them elsewhere, and another set would say it was better left in the past, and things were not all love and light then anyway.

But the rest, a few, would want to find out more. What was it that their work as young art students had released? Their renewed contact with each other and with their art from that time would lead to strange changes in them, and in the world. 

(Mark Valentine)


  1. What a wonderful piece, Mark, and typically enigmatic...the Bayntun Consulate indeed (surely you know it never had a basement in the first place).

    Thanks for the mention, too. That was a lovely surprise on reading through this! I feel it might be time to get the Mike Gray Entet back together...

    1. Thanks, Brian. That's the soundtrack to the film version of the as yet unwritten story sorted out then! Mark

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  2. Why thank you Mark.
    I would definitely read that story and help soundtrack it if needed.

    1. Thanks, Ian. All I have to do now is write it! M