Whilst undertaking my masters, I learned much about the visual language of art. This ever increasing understanding (and the practice of translating information from one language into another) has fostered in me a driving interest in the possibilities, power and limits of language – both in the context of art, and in life more generally.
As Susanne Cook-Greuter explains, language “serves as the main tool for recognizing, learning, conceptualizing, interpreting, and communicating in and about all aspects of experience.”1 It is the mediator between all internal and external processes. “As a symbolic code [however], language is always reductionist, always less than the experience it is meant to represent.”2
This project explores the limitations and possibilities of language through representational drawing and hand written text. Early projects examine the different meanings conveyed by varying the drawing style used to depict everyday objects, and later projects focus on written language as the physical manifestation of an attempt to communicate thought processes and internal paradigms.
Working with extended text descriptions written directly onto the wall, which I describe using the term ‘wordscapes’, is a direct reference to the work of Fiona Banner for whose work this word was originally coined and whose “practice centres on the problems and possibilities of language, both written and metaphorical.”3
In Apocalypse Now (1979), THE NAM (1997) and 1066 (2010) Banner uses wordscapes as
re-presentations of information normally conveyed to the viewer through a different language (film or tapestry). In so doing, she challenges the viewer “to correlate the relationships between looking and seeing, and between sign and meaning.”4 She highlights the inherent qualities in the different languages as well as the role of language as a conveyor of meaning.
By putting written language into the gallery context I aim to change the paradigm through which we approach and interpret the text, redirecting the focus from the content to the means of idea transmission – the language itself. Since the content is still there however, the viewer is then faced with two simultaneous paradigms, foregrounding the fact that the language used is not the meaning conveyed – ‘the map is not the territory’.
Joseph Kosuth explores similar ideas. His work is a “continuous interrogation of the construction of meaning through consciousness and representation, through words and their unstable ontological condition as representations.”5
By presenting the viewer with multiple modes of presentation – for example his work One and three chairs (1965) consisting of a chair, a photo of that chair and the dictionary definition of chair – Kosuth asks the viewer to consider the limits and possibilities of differing types of representation as well as the nature of the relationship between representation and meaning.
Roland Barthes and other Post-structuralists highlighted the integral involvement of the reader in determining the meaning of a text. Attributing to the reader “at least an equal part in the interpretation of a piece to the cultural and social circumstances of the author.”6
This is taken further in Social constructionism which argues that all meaning is socially constructed. That there is no study of a thing, only a thing from a standpoint and that since language is what we use to describe a thing from a standpoint it becomes both the carrier and the creator of meaning and value.
In considering these ideas, my final projects use the format of the ‘Happening’ and are collaborative, include multiple perspectives and blur the line between the artist, the participant and the viewer. Allan Kaprow, working in the late 50s and early 60s first coined the term Happening, describing it as “an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place. The Happening is performed according to plan but without rehearsal, audience, or repetition. It is art but seems closer to life.”7
The structure of my Happenings are strongly influenced by the work of Sol LeWitt. His sets of instructions for others to follow, working large and directly onto the wall, and his use of line are all referenced.
In my happenings stream of consciousness writing is used as a mindfulness practice that also serves to bring to the attention of the writer the limitations inherent in translating thought into words. The leftover trail of this process – the writing on the wall and video/photographic documentation – serves to illustrate this struggle, inviting the viewer to consider the process of thinking and the challenges inherent in communicating this internal paradigm to others.
1Cook-Greuter, S R 1995 Comprehensive language awareness: A definition of the phenomenon and a review of its treatment in the postformal adult development literature Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Education pg17
3http://www.frithstreetgallery.com/shows/view/the_naked_ear/a1066 Accessed 32/8/15
4http://www.fionabanner.com/words/Michael%20Bracewll/Michael%20Bracewell%20pdf.pdf Accessed 3/9/15
5Engberg, J 2012, Joseph Kosuth ‘An Interpretation of This Title’ Nietzche, Darwin and the Paradox of Content Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne. pg 1
7Kaprow, A 1966, Some Recent Happenings Originally published as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press. Viewed 2/10/15 http://www.ubu.com/historical/gb/kaprow_recent.pdf