Text in Art
In a similar manner to Richard Long’s ‘textworks’ (see www.richardlong.org ), write down 12 – 24 brief observations during a short walk or journey by some means of transport. This may be the journey you intend to make for Assignment Two, or it may be a different one. You don’t need to take any photographs.LP&E, p.86
Consider how you might present your observations. For some more inspiration on text-based artwork, you can search for the following artists:
● Ed Ruscha.
● Barbara Kruger.
● Mark Titchner.
This exercise is designed to help you think about text as an alternative or additional means of expression, and to provide an opportunity to experiment with presenting text creatively.
Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations(1962) “inaugurated the genre of the ‘artist’s book’, a form which has become extremely important and widespread mode of production for artists, particularly conceptual artists” (Badger, 2007, p.208). Grundberg (2021, p.18) says of Twentysix…, “How such a modest and peculiar chapbook came to be considered one of the most innovative works of contemporary art is a long story, but suffice it to say that, one, its use of photography was unprecedented at the time; two it represented a new kind of artist’s book, one without the pretensions of hand-set type, deluxe bindings, and other markers of earlier artistic productions; and three, it can be considered a pioneering example of Conceptual Art, having been created according to a procedure that the artist devised in advance of its execution.”
Regarding Ruscha’s text works, Phaidon produced a book of them in 2000, They Called Her Styrene and the publicity for the book states, “the artist began with simple, single word-works, such as Comics, from 1961, and Oof, from 1962, drawing inspiration from cartoon strips and other pop sources. He moved on to multiple-word combinations in the following decade, with more obscure combinations, such as Cotton Puffs and Baby Cakes, both of which date from 1974. Ruscha combined this extension of subject with a concordant development of materials; Cotton Puff is created using egg yolk; in Baby Cakes he uses blueberry extract to get his words down; while later works were created using tobacco juice, mint-leaf stains and gun powder …
the phrases seem strongest when the source and meaning isn’t entirely clear, as the artist himself acknowledges. Sometimes found words are the most pure because they have nothing to do with you, Ruscha explains. I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.” (2015).
Kruger (see also I&P) – Ariela Gittlen (2017), writing in artsy.net asks, “What do the Nazi Party, NASA, Wes Anderson, Forever 21, Louis Vuitton, Ed Ruscha, and Barbara Kruger have in common? All of them have favored the same font — Futura, the geometric sans-serif typeface designed in 1924 by German designer Paul Renner”, specifically Futura Bold Oblique, according to Megan Power (2010).
Her text questions consumerism, individual autonomy and feminism and the images she uses are often culled from mainstream media ads. Besides galleries, her work appears on t-shirts, mugs, bus placards and billboards, confusing the boundaries between art and commerce and calling attention to the role of the advertising in public debate.Power, 2010
Modrak and Anthes (2011, p.378) describe Kruger’s antecedents, background and methods,
The radical tradition of photomontage continues in the work of American feminist artist Barbara Kruger (b. 1945). In the early 1970s, Kruger was frustrated by her traditional art school education, which emphasized issues of form over those of content and communication. She left art school to be a graphic designer, and designed book covers and magazine layouts; Kruger worked for ten years as a picture editor for the publishing company Conde Nast. Her experience in the world of mass media transformed her art. In an interview with critic Jeanne Siegel, Kruger explained: I started writing and performing narrative and verse while I was still painting and found that the entry of words into my work soon brought my painting to a grinding halt. By 1978 I was working with photographs and words. “ Kruger developed an interest in the way that mass media, especially television, have altered our patterns of reading and our relationship to verbal as well as pictorial information. She explained that, as a designer, she learned how to think about a kind of quickened effectivity, an accelerated seeing and reading which reaches a near apotheosis in television. With her use of a signature typeface (Futura Bold) over vintage black and white photographs, Kruger’s artwork duplicates the look and feel of contemporary advertising and media, mimicking a corporation that has created a recognizable “brand image”.Modrak & Anthes (2011, p.378)
While Baltz, in discussing the breadth and “generosity” of Felix Gonzales-Torres’ work, curtly dismisses Kruger’s as, “simplistic sloganeering” (2012, p.132), Abigail Solomon-Godeau, writing in 1994 from a feminist perspective, states,
Kruger’s photo/text work makes no concessions to glamor. Furthermore, Kruger’s appropriated images tend to be more aggressive, funky, or even violent. Thus, if [Vikky] Alexander is concerned to unmask the devices of seduction, Kruger may be said to unmask the conditions for rape (here understood as a mechanism of power, rather than an act of sexuality). To make invisible social and political forces visible has, of course, been an important goal of politicized art practice at least since the 1920s, and Kruger’s work can be seen as linked conceptually and formally to that of John Heartfield’s certainly one of the more successful deconstructors of the photographic imageSolomon-Godeau, 1994, pp.91-93
In his important essay On the Invention of Photographic Meaning, Allan Sekula observed: The overwhelming majority of messages sent into the ‘public domain’ in advanced industrial society are spoken with the voice of anonymous authority and preclude the possibility of anything but affirmation. It is this voice of impersonal, anonymous, and masculine authority that Kruger mimics, typically in the form of phrases or individual words in boldface type emblazoned across the image. Like Alexander’s, the photographs themselves are appropriated, but instead of the sleekly elegant blandishments of fashion, Kruger generally works with vaguely retro, generic-seeming black and white images – images that seem quite as anonymous (but familiar) as the texts that label them.
That the mass media are agents of cultural control and domination is relatively easy to theorize, but somewhat harder to demonstrate in art practice. What is therefore particularly important in Kruger’s work is her use of the technologies and forms of mass communication (for example, billboards, posters, matchbooks, and so forth) to reveal (unmask) the patriarchal base that is a substrate of all institutionalized forms of oppression.
Kruger’s work, which is explicitly political and explicitly feminist, is equally concerned with the mechanisms (semantic, rhetorical, textual, and discursive) of photographic meaning. Consistent with the analyses of photographic meaning proposed by Barthes, Kruger’s work demonstrates the contingency of such meanings and their essential instability.
In the original entry for Kruger during I&P, A.D. Coleman’s reaction to her installation at Mary Booth Gallery, New York in 1991,
At first glance, this elaborate installation may seem impressive – eyecatching in its dramatic black, white and bright red, and definitely labor-intensive. As one engages with its ideas and structures, however, it gradually reveals itself to be hollow at the core. The hard-edged, commercial-art/agitprop graphic style on which she depends has lost whatever impact it derived initially from its introduction into the high-art context; in terms of visual interest, its limitations are severe, and Kruger has pushed it as far as it will go. By now it has devolved into mere fashion.A.D. Coleman, Letter from New York, No.21 in Critical Focus, 1995, pp. 95-96
Moreover, her hectoring voice is wearing thin. Add to this the fact that her analysis of social ills becomes ever vaguer instead of more precise, and what you end up with are harangues that resonate with righteous indignation and give all the signals of political correctness but never actually make their point. Complicated rather than truly complex, the result in this case is a neo-rococo environment, involving a great deal of planning and work the actual return on which is minimal – not unlike, say, the set of Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse. It also looks really ’80s, and – though I hate to be the bearer of such bad tidings – someone has to tell Kruger that the ’80s are over.
My own view is that Kruger played an important role in the development of anti-establishment and anti-art-establishment photo-Postmodernism and also in using art to champion the feminist cause, but that Kruger’s signature style soon loses its impact and this, combined with her embrace of gallerisation, diminishes her stature over time.
Titchner was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2006. The Tate announcement states
Mark Titchner has been nominated for his solo exhibition at Arnolfini, Bristol, in which his hybrid installations furthered his exploration into systems of belief. Working across a wide range of media, including light boxes and extraordinary hand-carved contraptions, his work continues to interweave a vast array of references from pop lyrics to philosophy.Tate
Mark Titchner’s art explores the tensions between the different belief systems that inform society, be they religious, scientific or political.
His sculptural installations are provocative hybrids that often combine new technologies with old techniques. For instance, How To Change Behaviour (Tiny Masters Of The World Come Out) 2006 uses a computer designed billboard alongside hand-chiselled quasi-magical contraptions. Titchner presents conflicting ideologies and outmoded ideas without mockery or cynicism, allowing the viewer to form their own conclusions. In so doing, his installation questions both our blind faith in science and our obedience to authority.
Titchner describes his art as a dialogue about how you receive thought and ideas. His works investigate communication and perception. Found text is a constant ingredient. Messages scavenged from song lyrics, corporate creeds, philosophical treatises and political manifestos have been physically described and digitally scripted into the works. In a sculpture such as Ergo Ergot 2006 Titchner uses dizzying optical illusions and hypnotic animation to evoke an hallucinatory experience, emphasising the fragility of our senses and understanding.
At the core of Titchner’s work is an ambiguous attitude towards the ideas that he appropriates that has the effect of empowering the viewer. Put simply, he has said, it’s about people having a different relationship to art. Rather than something you walk around, it’s something you have to step inside and interact with. It’s really affirmative.
Some of his other works include
- Me. Here. Now.(2018) London Bridge Station – Stainer Street Art commission
- What I want more than anything else, (2017) Various venues Hull, Wigan, Leigh & Burnley. Commissioned by FACT
- Beacon, (2016) The Hat Factory, Luton
- Live the life that you imagine, (2015) One St Peters Square, Manchester
- Our work is today together, (2015 ) Sceaux Gardens Estate, London (Commissioned by South London Gallery)
Another option for this exercise is the example of Georges Perec’s simple, textual location descriptors, encountered in I&P.
I am intending to make a second outing for Assignment 2 this week, probably by bus, and will engage with this exercise then.
[9Mar] I neglected this part of the exercise and only noticed when I transferred the material to WordPress.
The exercise was (eventually) undertaken on a journey by train from New Eltham to Charing Cross. I think in terms of typologies: as previously noted, I believe that every working photographer does: I therefore made a note of any items on the journey that might be made into a project.
- Kerbstones – I noticed an unexplained marking on a kerbsone on the road to the station a while ago and found two more today. I have been on the lookout for more since.
- a consistent station feature – clocks used to be interesting but are now standardised displays
- independent coffee kiosks would work
- church spires
- clandestine portraits, after Walker Evans (figs. D1, E1)
- balconies (long lens)
- building sites
- vacant lots
- graffiti (a cliché, many of these are)
- brave flora
- pigeons (any other wildlife? the black mice on the underground are a treat, but difficult to spot and even harder to photograph)
- architectural contrasts old / new etc.
- passenger groups, such as bench occupation spread
- abstract (e.g. building details)
- line maintenance detritus
- ghost signs
LPE Exc 2.4 References
Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Badger, G. (2007) The genius of photography. London: Quadrille Publishing.
Baltz, L. (ed.), 2012, Lewis Baltz Texts, Göttingen: Steidl.
Coleman, A.D. (1995) Critical focus. Tucson, AZ.: Nazraeli Press.
Gittlen, A. (2017) How Feminist Artists Reclaimed Futura from New York’s Mad Men [online]. artsy.net. Available from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-feminist-artists-reclaimed-futura-new-yorks-mad-men [Accessed 17 January 2020].
Modrak, R. & Anthes, B (2011) Reframing photography: theory and practice. Oxford: Routledge.
Power, M. (2010) Barbara Kruger & Futura Bold Oblique [online]. meganpower.blogspot.com. Available from http://meganpower.blogspot.com/2010/11/barbara-kruger-futura-bold-oblique.html [Accessed 17 January 2020].
Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) Photography at the dock. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.p
Tate (2006) Turner Prize 2006 artists: Mark Titchner [online]. tate.org.uk. Available from https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/turner-prize-2006/turner-prize-2006-artists-mark-titchner [Accessed 18 January 2020].