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ZKM_Events 11|2005

Art & Language & Luhmann III
What work does the artwork do?

Symposium in the ZKM-Media Theater
Sat-Sun 11/05-06/2005
Sat 2:30 pm, Sun 10:00 am
Admission free

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Speakers / Abstracts

Art & Language | Chris Gilbert | Charles Harrison | Matthew Jackson



Charles Harrison : »The Discourse and the object«

A hypothesis is suggested by the chance comparison of two stained-glass windows in an English church. The first was commissioned in 1856. It is made in a consistently neo-medieval style, so that there is some unity between formalised figures and decorative background. The second was commissioned in 1872. While the tendency of the background and decorative detail is towards a consistent patterning, the attempt to convey psychological content and emotion through the figures has led the designers to treat these figures naturalistically. The result is a crippling lack of stylistic unity. It is suggested that by 1872 the two tendencies to decorative unity and to psychological content - were pulling in opposite directions. The failure is a failure to be modern.
Pissarro's Hoarfrost of 1873 suffers from a similar division. It is suggested that certain kinds of interesting failure are revealing of moments when the historical and cultural ground is shifting beneath artistic practice.

There is a connection to Art & Language's Snow paintings of the mid 1980s. These can be seen as attempts not so much to reconcile two diverging tendencies towards aesthetic unity on the one hand and theoretical consistency on the other as to work self-consciously with the condition of their separation; as it were to make exhibitable material from the problematic. [Imagine what it would have been like if the designers of the 1872 window had understood the stylistic division in their work and had pursued it intentionally; the result would presumably have been a form of modernism irreconcilable with the religious function.] It is suggested that in A & L's case there is a consistent tendency to work against the self-images of the [now 'postmodern'] age by holding the supposedly irreconcilable in a kind of self-conscious practical tension. The Portraits of V.I.Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock provide clear examples. More generally there is a tendency to inhabit the supposed dichotomies of intellectual 'discourse' and practical 'object' to conjoin modes of practical discourse with kinds of intellectual object and in the process to challenge prevailing notions of how content is to be read out of or into art.

In a current series of paintings each work is composed of a decorative plaid a pattern of intersecting coloured horizontal and vertical stripes. The appearance of 'texture' in the stripes is produced not by the weave of the canvas, but by thousands of words of printed text writings by Art & Language reduced down to the very threshold of legibility. Each of these paintings is accompanied by poster-sized paper sheets printed with summaries of the texts included. The effect is not to resolve the supposed dichotomies between 'looking' and 'reading', or between the decorative and the intellectual, but rather to increase the challenge for any cultural theory that might seek to thematise their relations.

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