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Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: James Notin

James Notin by Ugochukwu Emebiriodo

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Alfredo Jaar offers a powerful reflection on the limits of language and the role of creative expression in times of tragedy. A lament for today’s darkness and a call to find the words to confront these tragic hours, the bold new public intervention displays the arresting title of a poem by Adrienne Rich (1929–2012), a figure of inspiration for Jaar since the 1980s, who observed the limits of words in times of unthinkable violence: “no poetry can serve to mitigate such acts, they nullify language itself,” she wrote in 2011. Throughout November 2023, Alfredo Jaar and CIRCA commissioned a series of poetic dialogues, curated by Vittoria de Franchis, from international writers, thinkers and speakers. Giving voice to those who find themselves silenced or without words, the poems hope to achieve Rich’s ambition that creative expression can reconcile conflicting realities.


We are going through a very repressive moment, when nuance is lost and free speech is threatened. But I strongly believe that the spaces of art and culture must remain spaces of freedom. Artists will not be intimidated. In this environment, I have turned to the words of anti-war campaigner and poet Adrienne Rich to reflect both the limits of language and the frustration felt by many that voices for peace and justice cannot sound out as clearly as we wish. And, as part of the CIRCA commission, I am turning to today’s poets, writers, and artists, to support a forum for creative expression where the clear-sighted demands of humanity and empathy can be heard. In these times when politics have failed us miserably, art and culture are our only hope. Art is like the air we breathe, without art, life would be unlivable. Art creates spaces of resistance, spaces of hope.


Un “-” known by James Notin


In “-“ hale 


I suppose between this prefix and its tactile stem there is a new world. Like what happens between the last moment of an extremely bent tree and its snapping?


What lives in the neglected fragment of life before these vowels or consonants steals enough life from you?  That little moment before you corrode all the life you have seized from the world. 


Ex “-“ hale. 

You are now freeing your throats, again corroding what is left of the world you stole from. And what’s left to live? Standing at one of the many exits to a market, a coin is only as heavy as how much water it can buy. And in the ounce of life between the exchanging of hands and wanting is a different world. 


Dear un “-“ known friend, In the little life between contraction and loosing, how can living be measured ?



Hand-signed limited edition print by Alfredo Jaar, £120+VAT. Proceeds will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Available here.




James Notin is a Yoruba-Nigerian experimental artist and performance curator whose work investigates individuals in universal space and structure. Their works are based on the curation of public opinion and selective observation as a tool for distorting contemporary society to create a liberal space for analysing the social structure and their politics. 

Assuming human societies are bordered by future anxiety and future perspectives, Notin engages systems through the lens of an outsider to open up an alternative and interactive space that enables individuals to engage in sociopolitical issues.

Working as a co-curator at Tantdile Xperimenta Lab, their works also expand to performance art, photography, and interactive literature.