Project 3: Place in Art

Exercise 1 continued – Research Point

Below is a list of the artists (note: I haven’t included the names of writers) mentioned in Place (London: Thames and Hudson by Dean, T and Millar, J. 2005). Where a specific work was discussed in the essay, I’ve mentioned it next to their name. Below each bolded name, I’ve included links to at least one work that incorporate text, plus any additional online resources I consulted as I took notes.

I didn’t find examples of work incorporating text for each artist, nor did I find that each example of work that incorporates text deals with the theme of place. The scope of this exercise didn’t seem to include the time and research necessary to validate those initial findings, and—as per the exercise instructions—I recorded my thoughts about those artists whose work both incorporates text and seems to reference place.

All links listed were accessed on 13/03/2017.

Research method:

I used the Bridgeman Education library and standard online keyword searches to find out more about each of the above-listed artists. I privileged official artist sites/blogs, and large museums or gallery websites to access information about how these artists work. I also considered articles or reviews—in one case, an obituary—in The Guardian and in the New York Times, as these are serious international journals with qualitative arts content and criticism.

Occasionally at a loss, Google Image searches offered me a glimpse into more obscure—or less online—bodies of work and in most cases I was able to trace any findings incorporating text back to a credible source.

Findings: relevance and reference to “place”

  • Komar and Melamids The People’s Choice series, which uses text in the form of a translated surveys administered in different countries, addresses place quite literally to ask the question: what do consumers of art in different parts of the world want in art? How, then, does place (and all the cultural, historical, geopolitical, etc. aspects of place) inform peoples’ aesthetic tastes and expectations?
  • Ian Hamilton Finlay‘s work speaks to place in more subtle, reflective ways: how words can occupy place in the mind, for example. The small vase speaks of wildflowers and weeds in a field (gives place to poetry), and the function of the piece—to hold space for small, perhaps weedy flowers—assumes it will occupy a small, specific and probably changing place on a table or counter in someone’s home. The other two pieces, which look like garden stones, again seem designed for a specific place but also seem to give place in the present—a lasting acknowledgement—to the past, whether it be the words of Saint Just or a prayer for a tree. There is also a sense of giving Nature her due place—that is, a place of priority: nature being the greatest artwork of all, and his work accentuating that with the human inventions of language, the most elevated form of which is poetry.
  • I really enjoyed looking through Alec Finlay‘s blog, which seems to be a summary and record of his artwork. He is both a visual artist and poet, and a lot of his compositions seem to recompose or recontextualize the work of other poets, writers and lyricists. The works I chose (and felt moved by) above do not especially link to place, though one can draw place out of “poetry is still beautiful” if one takes the time to read the accompanying essay. Here, five short selections from diverse text sources are juxtaposed and together form a story. Indeed, the embroidered texts are taken out of their original place and invited to occupy fresh space, both literally and figuratively. It seems that many of Finlay’s other works are site-specific installations or short poems superimposed on photographs of scenes from nature. Similar to his father’s work, mentioned above, there seems to be a kind of reverence for poetry, and an effort to take elegant groupings of words off of a page, or out of the air (as in a song)—where they might get lost amidst the other language—and give them an equally elegant stage to be seen and considered anew.
  • Douglas Huebler‘s work (what I  know of it) doesn’t appeal to me personally. It feels to me too distant, monotonous, almost thoughtless. Huebler famously said, “”The world is more or less full of objects, more or less interesting. I do not wish to add anymore. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and place.” Indeed, the “statements” that accompany Huebler’s photographs in the Duration and Location series are keys to understanding how exactly the work relates to themes of time or place, even though the series’ titles—and his words, cited above—make these preoccupations clear. In his location series, specific places within specific places are linked to individually-specific emotional experiences. In the duration series, location figures into the title, although it isn’t clear to me what the meaning of that is. I suppose my issue with Huebler’s work is that I can’t figure out if he’s saying time and place are important or irrelevant. Or is the thematic focus on time and place (knowing he was influenced by Duchamp and the Minimalist art movement) simply a way of saying that art already exists in simple things, nature and ideas, and simply documenting it as such is enough, forcing us to see it differently, perhaps to really see it for the first time.
  • In A Heap of Language, Robert Smithson seems more concerned with the materiality and plasticity of language than with place. His more famous “earthworks” are more literally concerned with, grounded in, even composed of (specific) place.
  • Doug Aitken‘s text sculptures deal with place in the often surprising intersection of signifier (a word’s physical form) and signified (meaning). The word “riot” for example, contains a paradisaical image of a flat, white-sand beach and clear blue sky.
  • Roni Horn has spent a lot of time in Iceland and her fascination with the place has inspired a body of work. In particular,  To Place, a nine-volume series of books (Horn also refers to this piece as an “encyclopedia”) brings together Horn’s own texts, photographs, drawings—all of or about or inspired by Iceland, and published over a period of more than 15 years. The books are a thorough exploration of “the relationship between identity and place” (Horn’s own words, taken from a summary on the Tate website). Horn describes the series as an important entrance into her work; this language suggest a fixed place, an access point, for engaging with her key artistic concerns. Each book takes a different focus, a different method, and—contingent with Horn’s thoughts about the mutability of identity—resists typical book formatting and related serial conventions. Regardless of the shifting focus, Horn says, “the underlying subject stays the same: Iceland and myself, the viewer and the view. This is the dialectic that defines each [book] in itself.” (Journal of Contemporary Art online, 1995, accessed 14/03/17)
  • Graham Gussin‘s piece Someplace Sometime tasks the viewer with unpacking the vagueness of these words. Side by side, they signify something between all/any and no possibility. I wonder if it’s a statement about communication today. It’s easy for a person speaking/leading an interaction to say something vague, open-ended—to omit key contextual details. It’s less palatable for the person receiving that message: we want to make meaning, to find sense and order and rightness—ultimately, something we can identify with or relate to—in language. I first experienced Someplace Sometime as an invitation to multiple possibilities. After sitting with it, confused, I began to feel it was quite the opposite: deliberately slippery and non-committal, it’s impossible to situate. The words don’t have staying power; I think the medium (neon blue electric light) reinforces this. One expects to see this piece flashing in a late-night big-cityscape, but it has no place in the intimate space of a home, neither would we communicate with someone we know or love using these words. Someplace sometime is lonely and unwelcoming; these are words that disorient, displace and confuse because they defy commitment. Gazing at this piece, the viewer has the isolating impression that something they thought they recognized is, in fact, foreign and unknowable. If time and place serve as situational anchors, this piece leaves us drifting in a no man’s land that we naively thought we could belong to.
  • Guy Moreton‘s photographic collaboration with Alec Finlay and Jeremy Millar is concerned with the reciprocally nourishing relationship between a specific place and the mental landscape of one philosopher (Ludwig Wittgenstein) who spent time walking and pondering there. The theme of place has several layers in this piece, as it plays off of the collaborating artists’ own knowledge of Wittgenstein’s personal relationship to place (as a general concept), and the journey the artists must go on to document Wittgenstein’s house (which, as Moreton’s photograph indicates) no longer exists as such. What’s left is the ruined foundation of the place, like a fossil: proof that the past occupies (emotional, intellectual, philosophical, and often literal) space in the present.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s