Friday, 8 May 2015

Text versus a piece of Art

Text and Work
Part 1

There are clear precedents for exploring the territories which are overlapping in the not so simple play-off between "Text" and "Art". It has been well documented and argued elsewhere that U.S. and U.K. ‘conceptual art’ was wrestling with the philosophical and aesthetic relationships between art and text, art as text, text as art, word and image, word as idea, the literary versus non-literary etc. from the outset.  Within the context of the ‘contemporary’ (by which I mean here the post-conceptual and/or even post-historical) Text in art is as much a ubiquitous a means of production as any other a medium within the realm of what we might commonly understand as, ‘contemporary art’.

So why then am I working with ‘text’ in the context of ‘art’?  By working with text what I am I really doing? Indeed, why do I concern myself with it as a question at all?

I’m asking these questions because I’m working on a paper for a conference entitled, ‘Text Versus a piece of Art’ in Łódź next week. As usual I’m still pretty clueless, but as I’ve written before, this cluelessness may be a valuable commodity (albeit a fragile one) in the over purposive territory of the ‘artademy’(© Dutton) . What I’m initially trying to focus on, or better, the place I’d like to work within, is a territory which is implied by the application of the proposition, 'Versus' which is set between the nouns 'Text' and 'Art' in the conference title,  'Text versus a piece of Art'.  

Versus can be understood to signify a turn toward or against. In other words it can be suggestive of an antagonism, ‘against’, or as a comparison, ‘with’. Either way, the proposition is used to declare a necessarily pre-existing sense of some classificatory difference between two ‘concept-things’, with the difference which is presupposed (or summoned) by the versus being the central distinction between those two ‘concept-things’ at that given moment of co-habitation. However, although versus presupposes and summons difference and distinction, it must also assume some sense of familial similarity within which to identify the distinctions (race horse versus race horse, octopus versus squid, not race horse versus squid).[1]

In any case, the antagonism suggested by the conference title doesn’t stop at the level of ‘between Text and Art’ because the actual conference title is of course ‘Text versus a piece of art’ (my italics).

So here, does the ‘piece of Art’ refer to an ‘object’, an ‘Artefact’ or an ‘idea’, a framed something-or-other (framed in the broadest sense) which exists as ‘piece of Art’ in the context of all the other ‘pieces of Art’ which are both being produced, have been produced and are yet to be produced? Is the ‘piece of Art’ more or less than Art as a totality because it is merely a piece? Or is the ‘piece’ a fragment of the chaos of the totality made safe[2]. Certainly one might presume that to be a ‘piece of art’ at all, there must be larger corpus of which to be a piece of.  Is art then a ‘piece’ of this meta-‘art’?  Does Art call upon this Art-as-totality by invoking it in fragments because the fragment is the only way to understand the whole? Is this a way of slowly immunising ourselves to chaos, to preparing for it, or to fall in love with it?

And yet, and yet.. again the title of the conference is ‘Text versus a piece of Art’.

Not, ‘A Text versus a piece of Art’, nor ‘Text versus Art’, but categorically, as if to underline the fact, a transcendental whole (TEXT). So whole it needs no definite article (like GOD), versus some form of a fragment, a sliver, or a slice ( A PIECE OF ART ) of that which also commands no THE.

What a titanic struggle this is turning out to be.

I suspect that what is at stake then, in the phrase ‘Text versus a piece of Art’ is going to have some theological undertones. That it is not so much a fight for territory or meaning of each term, as much as an enquiry and even an evocation of a form of oppositional irresolution, a lens though which we might try to understand the terms as existing within a singular and dynamic whole, and if this is the case, a question of what this whole might be.

Here, the proposition versus is already first placing ‘text’ and ‘a piece of art’ into a familial field in order then to subdivide once  more them into more precise categories from which to retrieve them in new formations, producing a new ‘sense’ of Text and versus a piece of Art. Both Text and Art are checking each other out, are about to be transformed by their mutual re-assessment and love-in during the discursive course of the conference paper.

It is precisely this contradictory territory, between the whole and the fragment, the general and the particular, the image and the text which is conjured up by the conference title that I want to try to explore as a means towards understanding what might be possible in and through the work of art which approaches itself through text, or the text which approaches itself through art, with a longer view on what thinking and seeing within these oppositions might mean for ‘experience’ or ‘world’ and in particular what this might mean in respect of ‘time’.

As a maker, I recognise a ‘value’(a quality perhaps) of evolving criteria from within the ‘work’ of art (in the spirit of  immanence ) so, in the spirit of this work, I can only begin here by recognising the proposition of two differing and seemingly mutually exclusive totalities which are also  entirely intertwined as they are being presented to me in the conference title alone. My criteria for this paper must originate then from within here and here alone, from this stand off of two totalities; on the one hand the totality of Text, the über Text which enmeshes all texts which come before after and within, and on the other the totality of the thing (Art) of which we can only make sense by making reference to a fragment (a piece), a totality which is so unknowable and Chaotic we must access it via an agent (a piece of art), the cipher or the fragment, all of which elements are subsumed under the generic classification of what ever this new work thing is yet to be called .

So, I’m approaching this division (the versus of art and text) as a spatial, conceptual and temporal territory which I might inhabit, or in the spirit of my recent work, temporarily occupy. This territory, which orientates around that which may or may not be considered a piece of art, that which may or may not be considered Text (and as a consequence what may or may not be considered an image?), is key not because I’m too concerned with defining what is or isn’t anything else, (I’m happy with Reinhardt on this one) but because that territory of inconclusiveness might also be as of itself, a means, a movement of occupation towards an affective realm within a practice/life/world in which the ontological flickering between states of being emerges as a form of  aesthetic affect ( by which I mean here what Peter Osbourne describes as being ‘felt by the mind’[3]). In short, the production of an interior reflexive zone within which what is proposed to happen is also felt in the process of it happening. Or to be more precise, to suggest that the proposition itself is ‘felt by the mind’ AS a proposition as it becomes, not merely understood as one after the fact, not a spatial zone but territory of time experienced and felt by the mind.

[1] What would be purpose of random oppositions, of comparing a race horse to a squid? The purposelessness might indeed be the purpose.
[2] ( see Elizabeth Grosz, “Chaos, territory, art”).
[3] see Peter Osbourne, Anywhere if not at all, London, Verso (2013)  p. 45.


  1. The proposition is also perhaps the state by which 'disruption' might has to disrupt any perceived consensus between and around the notion of text vs art, to subvert both the textural and the artefact.....I quite like Kafir's work around text 'requiring it's shadow'...a light and shade of texture and form emerging....the chiaroscuro unison, the parallel between the two. Lovely blog Steve as ever...thanks!

  2. did I see fragments of the word REVOLUTION in there? Steve, I like this very much!


    It will be a most inspiring presentation I have no doubt!

    p.s re SURPRISE and chaos - have you read the work of Alfonso Montuori?