How can interpretive material be presented effectively to utilise the act of interpretation? The effects of interpretive material in relation to the role of the artist and viewer.
Extended Essay, Louise Webb BA Fine Art, 2017 Word count â€“ 10,436
This essay investigates the role of interpretive material as context in relation to the Artist and Viewer, investigating how it is possible to converse concepts through promoting alternate ways of formatting, preventing one interpretation being presented as correct. Investigating the significance of interpretive material in contemporary art and challenging its use, as both a beneficial and adverse counterpart to the art object. I have discussed multiple concepts presented by art writers, Susan Sontag, Martin Heidegger and Umberto Eco. Comparing the conflicted relationship between the artist and viewer and highlighting their positions in the creative process. Demonstrating how the viewer adds to the work, through their own perception and previous experiences, in contrast to the issues that can arise within the role of the artist. Discussing how the artist can be limited in the making process by expectation from the viewer and the pressures of being considered as â€œgeniusâ€?. Noting the viewers interest of artist biography being as context. This essay gives multiple examples of how artists have utilsied interpretive materials in relation to the art object, exploring artists Liam Gillick, Laure Prouvost, commenting on the use of interpretive material within my own practice. Interpretation should not be presented though one direct route of descriptive materials, but through multiple pathways created through navigation of information.
Table of illustrations ……………………………………………………………………………………………4
Chapter 1 - Context’s role in the Viewing Experience…………………………………….7
Chapter 2 - Role of the Viewer………………………………………………………………………….14
Chapter 3 - Role of the Artist…………………………………………………………………………….19
Chapter 4 - Liam Gillick………………………………………………………………………………………26
Chapter 5 - Laure Prouvost and Interpretive Material in Relation to Installation. My Own Practice……………………………………………………..33
Table of Illustrations
Cover Image - Webb, Louise (2016) Spencer Says.. v1
Fig.1- Emin, Tracey (1995) ,"Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995” . Traceyeminstudio.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.
Fig. 2- Beban, Breda, Parliament Fall (2000) . Sitegallery.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.
Fig. 3- Gillick, Liam (1994-1996) Erasmus and Ibuka! Realisations. Liamgillick.info. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.
Fig. 4- Gillick, Liam (2009) "How Are You Going To Behave?” A Kitchen Cat Speaks - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao". Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. Fig.5- Gillick, Liam (2009) Text Abstract from “A Kitchen Cat Speaks” Available at: http://www.liamgillick.info/home/texts/a-kitchen-cat-speaks [Accessed 12 Jan. 2017].
Fig.6 – Prouvost, Laure (2015) Hard Drive. British Art Show 8. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.
Fig.7 – Webb, Louise (2016) Layers of Translation and Slate.
â€œThis is the case today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not subtle philistinism.â€? (Sontag,1964; 5)
In current experience of contemporary art, the word context is usually associated with a descriptive text in connection to a physical object. However, there can be multiple variations of interpretive material that ignite interpretation from a spectator, leading to several disputes on validation of a reading. In this report, the issues that ruminate around the involvement and emphasis of context will be explored, in relation to how information is presented alongside a materialised object.
In an environment where the significance of theory has begun to surpass the aesthetic and practical elements of a work, a continuing debate rotating around authorship is highlighted due to the ongoing concept that one interpretation could be correct (Eco, 1992; Sontag, 1966). In Chapter 1, the significance of context in relation to the viewing experience of art is examined, through historical and contemporary perception of interpretive material. This is then followed by an investigation in Chapters 2 and 3 where the role of the viewer and artist in the process of making a work is compared and it is questioned how both participants are valued in relation to their interpretation.
Context being utilised either as a bridge or navigated through multiple directed path ways of interpretive material is then investigated, questioning how the artist can influence the viewer without completely limiting the reading of a work. In Chapters 4 and 5 I discuss the practices of artists Liam Gillick and Laure Prouvost, who both include interpretive material as a basis in their practices. I demonstrate how it is possible to engage with the viewer through discourse between context and the materialized object, challenging the role of context in their differentiating practices through noting their contrasting variations of display. My own practice is then discussed, displaying the significance of interpretive material in relation to the art
object. This essay reflects on the ability to have an in-depth analysis of an art object alongside responsive and specific methods of interpretive material, noting how this can be presented with emphasis on its own aesthetic. Thereby highlighting intention on the way context is received by varying audiences, through consideration of the layout of a correlating text or spoken dialogue. Throughout this essay numerous individuals who have discussed the role of interpretation in regards to text and its functions, usually in relation to literature and semiotics are referenced. Focusing on writings from Susan Sontag, Martin Heidegger, Umberto Eco, Jacques Ranciere and Christopher Kul-Want. From this, a variety of examples are navigated, focusing on how understanding of context can be adapted in art practice. The research for this essay has been predominately collected from secondary sources, focusing on semiotics, the spectator and the artist. In response to this I use primary research in relation to my own practice and experiences of relevant exhibits. The aim of this essay is to investigate how the use of interpretative material converses with created objects and how this can influence the role of the viewer and artist. Creating a dialogue between these elements and informing the viewer of a narrative through negotiation rather than instruction.
Chapter 1 – Context’s Role in the Viewing Experience
Context has become an essential component in the viewing process, an emphasis has been put on text to demonstrate the artist's intention or critical evaluation. Susan Sontag in her essay Against Interpretation describes content as “the pretext, the goal and the lure which engages consciousness in essentially formal processes of transformation” (Sontag, 1966; 23), this being an integral part of the understanding of an artwork and what the viewer looks for to understand an art object.
However, could it be proposed as having an adverse effect? In establishments that encourage viewer participation and the recognition of ideas, context provides risks of limitation. What is being referred to here as context regards the expectation of explanation. It could be seen as having become common practice to display a piece of informative and descriptive material alongside an object (however, this example does include physical forms of documentation, nor is exclusive to this format). This may often be used as a factual and academic source, demonstrating the representational values of an object’s task in portraying one ultimate meaning. The writer Barbra Bolt in Heidegger Reframed, responses to Heidegger commenting “The “re” of representation suggests that to represent is to present again” (Bolt, 2011;54) suggesting that the representation is a complete replica of an original idea.
It could be argued that all art is an attempt to represent an idea fully (Eco, 1992), in regards to demonstrating this ideology through the display of formally structured text holds a useful purpose, enabling a larger audience accessibility regarding different levels of understanding on art. This is presented through a variety of different layouts including gallery texts and artist statements. Validity and success of context is debatable, however due to its questionable ability to fully perform the task of demonstrating the meaning behind a works intention and the artist’s original concepts. Sontag’s comments in Against Interpretation “that we never have a purely aesthetic response to works of art neither to a play or novel” (Sontag, 1966; 23), could suggest that only with relation to subjective human experience can we begin to fully appreciate a piece of art’s representational value. This encourages an idea that
interpretative material can only be successful in relation to the viewer’s perception. The significance of the viewer in relation the reading of work is investigated further in Chapter 2.
In contemporary art there is an increasing amount of artists that respond to the role of context in art practice, for example Laure Prouvost utilises the viewer’s involvement through intentionally manipulating dialogue to ignite multiple visualisations. Prouvost acknowledges audiences’ individual experiences in response to her multiple fictional perspectives, transmitted through selected objects.
A historical example of how interpretative material could be perceived in relation to a audience is the writings of the philosopher Martin Heideggar highlighted in KulWants collection of essays. Heidegger's argument was inspired from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's writing and questions that the art's purpose is to “disclose or reveal what is usually not acknowledged or taken for granted, so much that it remains unconscious” (Heidegger, 2010,120), debating whether it is possible to fully represent this unconscious idea without a written signifier. In this statement he reveals the unconscious mental process that can occur through intervention of written material. The process highlights that the result is only found in what Heidegger describes as “the work of art, and not techne” (Heidegger.2002;120). This leads the role of igniting a response away from the art object and instead places it on the correlating informative text. From disregarding the craftsmanship ability to demonstrate this concept it begins to challenge the limitations of what is considered the work of art’s meaning, that the placement of context could actually work as the signifier in representing and demonstrating an unacknowledged mental process. Although this presenting “the work of art” indicates the concept that the work is finished using the placement of a text as signifier of its completion.
To further investigate the concept of a work being completed, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy will be examined. Nancy uses the term “perfect” (Nancy, 265; 2010) to describe a piece of work emphasising a sense of completion, this statement is
questionable in regards to the definition of a completed work. In reference to context’s limitations, it may be worth considering whether there is a need to allocate a formative description onto the work to define its completion. It may often be assumed that with the presentation of a gallery text that the work is finished, that the inclusion of a statement is only revealed in regards to the finished object It is debatable whether it is possible to have a “completed work and if it is likely that a work is continuously adaptable and through multiple interpretation and response, it could be considered in constant process. In the essay Interpretation and OverInterpretation by Umberto Eco he expresses “A text is an opened-ended universe where the interpreter can discover infinite interconnections” (Eco,1992; 39). Looking at this comment it is assumed that in fact there is no ending result, through the inclusion of viewers there is an opportunity for an unlimited amount of readings. This will be explored further in Chapters 2 and 3 regarding authorship.
Continuing on the validity of context in art the ability of individual pieces to successfully demonstrate its concealed concepts, the approach that art can display prosperously its ultimate meaning is difficult when relying on a viewer to understand the object and idea presented. In response to the philosopher Roland Barthes, Christopher Kul-Want wrote a series of essays regarding numerous philosopher’s ideas on art Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists: A Critical Reader, commenting on the representational success in art, where he implied that art is “deficient in relation to any ultimate meaning” (Kul Want, 2010; 4). If this is the case and art fails to demonstrate the intended concept than this could mean that context is in fact false, misleading informative text which does not reflect the works ideology, as the work itself is incorrect in doing so.
Although, interpretative material could work as structure that encourages, what is considered a successful reading in regards to the artists original intention being reflected in the viewers interpretation (Eco, 1992; 25). Kul-Want in commenting on the collection of essays by Nietzsche reflects on the highlighted issues regarding an experience being beyond our known dialects (language concerning art) and that contextual material cannot fully express a concept for work because it does not have
the capacity or language to accomplish this (Kul-Want, 2010; 4). Questions on what truth is in relation to interpretive material begin to arise from this concept. Since Plato, philosophers have debated art’s association with being false, including Umberto Eco, Susan Sontag and others.
Sontag refers to Plato’s ideologies in her series of essays Against Interpretation (Sontag, 1966; 3), commenting on his concept that even objects were mimics of other forms and structures, meaning that the “best painting of a bed would be only an “imitation of an imitation” (Sontag, 1966; 2). This focus on all art being false presents art as a negative construct, a state of trickery attempting to present an object as something else, a counterfeit. Relying on the idea that art is created to represent an original meaning, this predisposes art to failure. Plato’s concept could arguable be seen to limit an object to representing one entity and not putting in consideration a representing a mental construct, however this is based on the assumption of work being figurative. Sontag continues to discuss how Western art continues to have “remained within the confines staked out by the Greek Theory of art as mimesis or representation” (Sontag, 1966; 3), therefore, although ideals of art may have progressed since that of represented figurative focus, art produced today could potentially be only an illusion of a concept of representation. It could be worth consider that when viewing work, is there a formula of knowing whether a work was a successful representation. It is debatable if it is suggested that the idea not being recognised is not the fault of the artist, if their work is not understood, but that it could be due to a lack of knowledge of the viewer. However, this may be a controversial idea as it presents itself within a hierarchy that devalues the viewer in an offensive manner; potentially presenting the artist as genius, although their original idea has been created through interpretation of something else.
In his essay Interpretation and Over Interpretation, Eco comments on a popular opinion on this topic, “the only valid interpretation aims at finding the original intention of the author.” (Eco.1992,25) If this was the case then interpretive material would not be needed, instead it would be forced through descriptive, factual material. It would rely on the ability to interpret “correctly” (Eco.1992) on the viewer's part, a
task that may be impossible when considering multiple subjective elements that influence a reading. Therefore, removing the need to interpret and removing any engagement for the spectator, leaving the work in a purgatory state, never developing after completion.
Continuing with the idea that the artist’s concept is the “correct” one (Eco. 1992), with the use of context alongside a piece it is possible that the text presented in relation to the materialized object is false. This may be due to it being presented incorrectly, or not the manner the artist originally anticipated, by a third party, curator, art establishment that is separate from the artist. This, however, can be intentionally fictional through interference of the artist. Take for example Laure Provost who intentionally play with the merging of fact and fiction. With the involvement of fictional narrative, it acts as way of redaction, removing information through inclusion of fictional material. This is apparent within my own art practice, where I navigate around the idea of narrative, using context as a tool to create a space between the artist and viewer. Although within my created text, elements of factual elements merge with fiction.
Referring to Plato’s concept and the philosopher Nietzsche “truth” can be seen as just another adapted representation, a failed attempt of demonstrating a mental construct. The difference being that the fictional element is intentional. Looking at Heidegger's comments on Nietzsche, in particular referencing How the “True World Finally” became a Fable; The History of an Error (Nietzsche,2010.60-73), Bolt notes in Heidegger Reframed Heidegger’s attempts to assign art a purpose “Art is historical, and as historical it is the creative preserving of truth in the work” (Bolt. 2011; 52).
Looking at the use of art in this manner leads the idea that art has a responsibility to represent factual material in relation to the art object and artist, this concept increases the value of art in a way of maintaining a historical aspect of an event. However, it is questionable if this is the original intention in making work or a reflection and tool to give meaning to a work. From giving this responsibility it
becomes something else, no longer an imitation but something that is precious, it holds a documentation purpose of a specific time, it is presented as an artefact.
In regards to the concept being the most valuable aspect, a historical evaluation of an idea, whether this a form of validation in correlation to a work of art, if this was the case why would not all art be presented in this manner as artefacts may require further consideration, as part of Plato’s debate regarding the usefulness of art. In his series of essays, In Heigegger Reframed it suggests that “the truth in art involves the task of thinking and interpretation” (Bolt, 2011; 134). This navigates around the idea of presenting a sense of truth is not a physical fact, but a looser mental construct leaving the act of viewing central in the understanding of a work and the significance of its importance. A significant way to give a piece a sense of factual relevance is for a viewer to interpret the work; though this is not a successful way of recognition in any other way of research or historic fact. This subjective act means that either the success comes from the viewer reaching the artist’s intention, this is rare almost impossible if not presented with some form of context. There is an acceptance and inevitable understanding that all interpretation for an art to be successful will be different, meaning the validation of truth is a very different mechanism to any research subject. These ideas on perceptions of factual information in art could be considered outdated in an era where science dominates the society’s perception of fact. This has caused arts understanding to transform into role of imitation.
Perhaps this is why context is used as a tool of validation, referring to academic resource as a support method, giving the work authority. By looking at the layout of art establishments, they are often carefully considered to represent context in an efficient and academically professional standard, with comparable methods found in museums, in which their function is to display artefacts.
By examining the prospect of context as the “factual” element we will continue to explore the realm of imagination and the influence this has on a person's ability to interpret and experience a work. Looking at the relationship between fiction and the imagination, the concepts discussed by Immanuel Kant in his essay the Critique of
Judgement will be discussed, particularly the questions on using imagination as valid resource for perception is highlighted, “the faculty of imagination is a kind of sensory organ” ( Kant, 2010;22), by putting this in the same category of the other major senses, it emphasises its importance. Imagination is a completely subjective experience, although has the ability to be influenced by events and personal involvement. With this title, it further challenges the boundaries of the idea of “fact”, for something as subjective as imagination to be considered equal to physical examples of perception, further demonstrating the mental significance in understanding a work. This mental process is a fundamental part to the act of interpretation, from doing this the viewer also has creative input to the work itself, thereby adding to the argument of Roland Barthes’s Death of the Author (Barthes,1967) (who argues the viewer’s ownership of a work), expanding how a work is read and introducing an element that has validity yet is not proven fact. The act of understanding is usually connected with logical thinking, something that exists in reality.
Nevertheless, to understand one must rely on one’s personal knowledge and experiences to create an in depth understanding, as relying on a piece of context is limited and can only function properly with the relation to this mental process. Continuing to look at Kant’s argument on the role of imagination, he writes that “the imagination is never entirely independent from the understanding” (Kul-Want, 2010; 22). Although this discusses both elements as individual functions, it states that both interlink and rely on each other to create fully appreciate a work. To successfully understand, the imagination and previous experiences must be engaged critically, the later relying as well on our ability to imagine and create subjective thought. The role of the viewer will be investigated in relation to this in Chapter 2.
Chapter 2 - Role of the Viewer
In the process of validation in art, there is a specific role presented to the viewer. The viewer acts as a destination, the artist’s journey being an attempt to express an idea. Although being a fundamental aspect in the reading of a work, the viewer is usually considered as an audience member. People who look and spectate, but do not in a traditional sense participate in the creation of a work. Specific areas within art practice have expanded to explore this notion as viewer as participant, such as in performative arts and happenings.
The artist’s context is usually seen as a way of presenting authorship over their work. However, in a time where Contemporary Art attempts to encourage openness in relation the reading of a work, encouraging interaction with the 'spectators' that traditionally observed in the background, context can now be used as a bridge between artist and viewer instead of being a barrier.
As viewers, the issues of “taste” (Bowie; 2003) becomes apparent, taste in this case representing subjective opinions on work due to a person own interests and ability to negotiate what they find appealing. By examining Umberto Eco’s argument in his essay The Open Work (Eco,1989) he continues to recognise the importance of memory in the act of perception “charged with a complex scheme of references mostly drawn from our memories of previous experiences” (Eco,1989; 34). Memories have a distinct interaction with the signified message through the means of the signifier.
These notions may strongly suggest that an act of perception can only be subjective. Therefore, when looking at a work, it maybe common to say that initial reactions would be one of a physical sense, however it is only when engaged on a mental level, do we then have the ability to interact with the artist’s original intentions, albeit this being from a new, pragmatic, perspective. By this it does not mean attempting to approximate the artist’s intent, instead it means the ability to converse with the work, to argue, to agree or even to create a new meaning.
This conversation is vital in the in-depth process of understanding a work, from this the main structures of the works meaning are developed. Although this may result in the boundaries of authorship begin to expand, for owning a mental process, an idea, is a challenging case to accurately put forward. The perception of work is in a constant state of adaption. For example, if an individual who has witnessed the same work a multitude of times, then this person’s opinion could change, regardless of their initial impress, his subjective opinion on it would be the cause of an evolving mental process, that is influenced through previous experiences.
Eco suggested that, “there is a moment when the work is beautiful to us only because we have long considered it such” (Eco 1989; 38), so when viewing a work too frequently, a person can become familiar with its stimulus, it no longer works as a tool to ignite a response but in some way acts as a trap. The act of looking and reading a piece of context seems to limit an ability to interact with a work instead of expanding. Reading an accompanying formatted text repetitively may force the viewer to look at a work through one way of interpretation. With significance on context’s presentation in contemporary art practice, it could be imagined the potential outcome if an art work was left as an aesthetic stimulus (one that could not be closed to one particular meaning). This success of this proposition would rely directly on the viewer’s ability to understand a work through intuition. Without the inclusion of text, the relationship between artist and viewer may seem nonexistence, for it could appear that the two individuals would have completely different meanings, removing the act of discussion and leaving the scenario with what could be considered two complete different works.
The piece of context (on this occasion it being presented as a gallery text) used as a referential stimulus acts as a pathway connecting the two participants, this being the artist and viewer. However, it still can be used to present one agreed interpretation, if for instance the audience is one community from a similar background, thus highlighting the significance of experience in relation to the act of perception. Even through the means of the written word, the act of imagination, memory and
knowledge coincide to alter our sense of understanding of the specific presented idea.
The process of looking can be controlled due to the manipulation of the gaze. In a series of essays selected by Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum in On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, Emma Cocker comments “the eyes can only see what they have been condition to notice; recognition involves the re-seeing of what is already known. The rest remains blurred” (Cocker, 2013; 129). Certain words and phrases act as triggers when viewed by an individual, they reflect previous experiences. These will differ due to the subjective nature of perception, for example, when witnessing a family discussing a childhood memory each individual interpreted the event differently due to their ages and emotional reaction to the event. Location alters people’s reaction to a description, if someone has never been to a place they can only imagine in response to their knowledge and rely on what they are being told, whereas someone who has been to a location will be heavily influence by their personal experience of the place.
Eco mentions this in his example based around names of locations that a certain town name could “evoke images not of a precise geographic location but of a “fantastic” place”. (Eco,1989; 30). The way a word sounds could even lead an audience member to assume the location or fact behind a word. Taking the use of text in relation to specific audiences into consideration, it is arguable that this intention of making a work to inspire one audience group or to rely on one person’s intelligence, reinforcing a hierarchy. Intelligence
Yet to avoid such an event would be difficult from the artist’s perspective because they will belong to one demographic and from create a bias. When creating pieces of text in relation to their own practice, an individual may find themselves in the position of anxiety. Overthinking about using an appropriate dialect can put the artist in a position of yielding their personal depiction of an idea. In contrast, the outside viewer’s role cannot be undervalued for without the viewer, so the valediction of a work comes into questions. The philosopher Jacques Ranceire in The Emancipated
Spectator highlights the negative reputation of the spectator, as “viewing is the opposite to knowing” (Ranicere, 2009; 2), Ranceire then concludes the impression that the viewer’s intelligence and perception is limited, so the viewer’s role may be devalued and is placed in a position of uninspired or nonintellectual observation. This suggests that it is only possible to know something through observing unless it results from something instinctual, it is through observation that new information is learnt. However, it could be argued that to look is not the only method of learning through doing and adaption we can learn new information. Ranciere’s point of view leads towards the concept that the viewer does not act in the process of a work, they do not add to a piece of work but consume it. This is also challenged by artist intention
Further adding to the argument that the act of producing art is hierarchal and that the viewer is used as a tool instead of a participant. This observation is an idea which may not be entirely plausible, as stating this disregards the ability of any form of response. In an age where there is encouragement for reaction, this idea may seem dated. It falls into what Ranciere argues as an example that “the pupil must learn what the schoolteacher must teach her” Ranciere (Ranciere, 2009; 14). This is limiting, yet again it tries to present art as fact only enabling one presented reading of the work.
To inspire a response, an outside reference can be involved, this being on this occasion a form of written or spoken dialect, although in relation to work as a nonbiased connection, it cannot be owned by anyone. This would mean that an outside device would have to be created, so it may be possible for a method of displaying context to satisfy this purpose. As for context, it is usually initiated from the artist’s perspective and even if it was to be created by a third party, there would still be issues regarding authorship. There must be a device that enables both artist and viewer an equal opportunity to create an interpretation.
There is still an opportunity to do this in the process of reading a piece of work, it relies on there being equal participation from both involved sides. Authorship may
have to be sacrificed and the other must bring forward their own knowledge. To further investigate the interplay between artist and viewer the role of the artist in response to the role of the viewer will now be discussed.
Chapter 3 - Role of the Artist
“The artist remains inconsequential as compared to the work, almost like a passageway that destroys itself in the creative process for the work to emerge.” (Heidegger, 1977,166)
The artist, the supposed creator, the beginning element in the process of a work. Traditionally, the artist has been placed in a position of authority, the owner of an idea that they have represented through some sort of physical entity. However, within contemporary art, the role of the artist can be transformed into having multiple outlets of involvement. They are no longer just the creator, they may play a role of spectator, interpreting an original idea and reflect it to an audience. The significance of the artist could be seen to have changed, although still considered important, the space between viewer and artist has begun to merge. The associated attributes that an artist holds, to think, to respond, to create have begun to change and the question on whether the ‘art' stops adapting after it is 'finished' has altered the artist’s importance in regards to the authorship of a work. The cycle of the work is usually noted to end on completion, the artist saying the work is finished and using their authority to do so. Although the reading of the work, does not end there, as for the viewer, it has only begun, this presents the position of validation that can only be achieved through another perspective. The act of interpretation has strength behind it, through understanding using a mental process and from experience, one created element can be appreciated as a work.
To continue the act of creation is the fundamental role given to the artist. However, when discussing Martin Heidegger, Barbara Bolt engages with the concept that “creation involves letting something emerge as a thing, rather than making a thing” (Bolt, 2011;110). This refers to the concept being presented already existing, not being created but in fact more so being found and displayed. Leaving the artist being a tool of navigation, the creative act being that of selection and presentation rather than creation. Perhaps it may be the artist who is the middle section of the process, rather than the beginning; for removing the creation aspect, changes the cycle of a
work. In this instance, the role of the artist is similar to the role of context, a pathway of one concept, slowly adapting as it transmutes from one individual to the next, sacrificing their ownership.
When creating a work, an artist knows there may be an inevitable loss, they began with a close and intimate relation to the work, the idea, which may eventually have to be sacrificed when revealed to the outside viewer, once removed from the act of making the artist will have little control of their work. Although this could be perceived as a negative connotation, it is a known price to pay for the work to engage someone else an idea, as this may be considered on of the primary function for art. If this is so, then this separation of work can only be accepted and in fact welcomed as a sense of success.
The artist, as a character is also an interesting realm to explore, when discussing a work, we look for the artist. This however is not to note only their relation to the current piece but with an interest in the artist as a celebrity, an interest in them as being. This is in order to link this biography to the reading of a work. In certain circumstances the artist’s reputation can become more important than the work, the context in this scenario makes the biography itself the context. However this may limit the ability to interpret a text due to the distraction of the artist themselves. One artist that falls into the category of artist as celebrity is Tracey Emin, mostly known for her controversial works based on her personal life. On her artist website, her own statement includes “Tracey Emin’s “art is one of disclosure, using her life events as inspiration for works” (Emin, 2017). She recognises the significance of her biography in relation her practice, she has utilised it to develop her work. In one of Emin’s most notable works, this being “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With” (Fig. 1) she has through ease with displaying very intimate areas of her life, not only highlighted the artist’s role in the making of a work but revealed the spectator’s interest in the personal life of the artist.
This becomes a question of why the viewer is intrigued by the artist as an individual. The ongoing culture of celebrities that encourages people to bare their personal life,
relies on the continuous intrigue of its audience, it is apparent in not only art but any communicative device for example magazines. The interest in the artist as Sontag suggests is â€œbecause of the insatiable modern preoccupation with psychologyâ€? (Sontag,1996; 42). This follows the assumption that to understand a work we must look directly to the artist as a being and not what influenced them to make the work. Although this statement it holds relevance to wider culture, the artistâ€™s display of personal life does not demonstrate factual biography, it still forms and opportunity to include fiction, leading the interpretive material to still be manipulated through interpretation.
Figure 1. Tracey Emin (1963-1995) Everyone I Have Ever Slept With
For although it could be incorrect, the information may be read as fact due to its apparent biographical nature. There comes a desire to associate the work with a romantic assumption if reflects a part of the artists being, perhaps this is to gain some sort of emotional connection or relation to the artist. An example of this is the artist Breda Beban, in her series of photographs Parliament Fall (Figure 2), it is only once the context of the work is revealed does the work have a larger emotional impact. The photograph documents a man falling outside the Houses of Parliament, this could be read as political statement however it holds personal relevance to the artist. The man was her partner, whose health begun to decline and in the months after this image was taken he died.
This involvement of tragedy is not only another example of the interest in artist biography but shows how significant emotional reference can change an interpretation of a work. The work becomes successful in engaging with the viewer through creating an empathetic response. Further commenting on the interest of artist biography, Sontag continues â€œThe writer is the exemplary sufferer because he has found both the deepest level of suffering and also a professional means to sublimate his sufferingâ€? (Sontag,1966; 42). The artwork becomes a vehicle that transmutes the pain of the artist to the viewer, emotional pain is relatable. The artist presents this pain in a way that successfully presents the original concept but also enables to the viewer to relate to their own emotional experiences.
Figure 2. Breda Beban, (2000) Parliament Fall
However, it may fail to present the exact emotion Beban feels, in reality not only is it unlikely that two individuals will experience the same thing perhaps only experiencing a similar notion. The artistâ€™s intention may not be to present something that represents themselves but of something else.
This intention would make biography insignificant, a hindrance to finding this so called true meaning to a work. Arguably it could be assumed that a certain audience is actually interested in another person’s response as they are insecure of their own ability to understand the work, or the act of connecting a piece of work to a person allows audiences to relate to the work. It acts as method of comfort in a sense, this intrigue of the person, a way of navigating reason. It ignites a similar reaction to that of celebrity, the human interest into drama. Falling into the stereotype of the artist’s connection to tragedy, once their biography is known the work becomes altered. The art writer John Berger in Ways of Seeing presents an example of this within the painting Wheatfield with Crows, by the artist Vincent Van Gogh. ( Berger, 2008;28) What seems a pretty landscape is quickly transformed with the inclusion of context, that this image is the last image Van Gogh created before he killed himself. Noting the significance that text has on the subject Berger comments “Reproduced paintings, like all information, have to hold their own against all the other information being continually transmitted.”( Berger, 2008;28) Context acts as a grounding for the artwork, preventing miscommunication through inclusion of factual information.
Interpretive material is constantly adapting through redaction of information; the interesting part is who takes part in altering it. When an artist intends there to be an alteration of information, the interpretative material is given a new role in the outcome. It no longer acts as just a bridge, transporting the artist’s view point to the viewer but is directly part of the physical representation of the idea. An equal to its physical counterpart however, its alternative nature creates a different aspect of emersion. It enables a greater understanding of a work without removal of either the artist or viewer’s role in interpretation a work. It is common to see a piece of text that is written about the artist in a third person perspective, this being the outside description of a work. This does have its advantages leaving room for an outside opinion as it does not include direct language, such as ‘I’ or other personal pronouns, however this still is limiting. It is still an opinion, not fact; the only fact which can be assumed to be the biography of the artist. Yet the authority of the establishment that presents this information is held higher than the reading of the viewer. If the artist
had a direct interference with how the context is presented, it could encourage the viewer to interpret a work the same way, they would read an object.
“Those wordy white panels telling visitors what paintings or installations mean have long been a controversial feature of the Tate galleries – often criticised but always there. “ (Jones, 2013)
Looking at the current popular way of displaying work, where context is presented the same for all artists included in an exhibition, a house style. This is a contrast to how individuality is encouraged yet there is still a desire to have order when it comes to presenting a work, separating the context from the work, making it seem like just a necessity. This is a challenging concept considering that the context can be main part of an artist’s practice. Two examples are discussed in Chapter 4 and 5 of how an artist’s focus in on the physicality of context and how it be plausible to limit a practice through formatting context. This is more so an issue when taken into account the situation that occurs often, where the viewer reads the information before looking at a work. Should the artist not have authority to assert how the context is displayed? For it could be considered that the idea of the artist that is meant to be represented. To remove this role from the artist is to disadvantage both participants, the initial concept is not recognised through interpretation but forced upon by description.
This is only relevant if the artist is interested in presenting the information as an art form, if they take into account the significance of text and its ability to be altered, the work as object is a debated subject. Within my practice, I am interested in the collection of elements as conversation, a unit. Each segment being equal in the representation of an idea, the emphasis being on the relationships between them. This would involve the context being part of this creative dialogue changing the structure of certain establishments that have strong methods of presentation, in relation to the object holding importance when being presented to the audience. For example, for an artist intending to exhibit in a show, it has become common practice for an establishment to set a structured format in relation to context. In this the artist
is limited with a word count and stylistic instructions, this reduces the ability to consider context as an aesthetic component. The artist’s dialect may risk being misrepresentation.
An artist who creates playful, youthful work writing a text that is presented in a traditional, serious format may not be encouraged to engage with style, rather it is removed from the work. This can create difficulty for the viewer, as they may become pressured to connect two disparate elements, resulting in a distorted perspective of the work in an influenced way that is disconnected from the original dialect. If there is an expectation to write a text that is readable by all audiences, this can hinder the artist, if they must adapt their language to comply with another. This could fail to display the intended idea, meaning that from a communicative perspective it may be redundant.
Disconnecting the artist through removing references to their identity in relation to the work could be a method of challenging this preferred method of display. On some occasions the artists text could negatively impact the reading of a work, that there could be a “possibility that the artist’s words maybe less interesting than their art works” (Fisher, 2013; 79), giving a narrative or dialogue directly in response to the physical work removing material of a descriptive nature.
The artist is essential, their authorship is recognised when presented to an audience, the spectator will look for them. Although it is disputable where the artist’s involvement belongs in the process of a work, they are not only the maker of a work but the discoverer of concept, a spectator themselves who has interpreted another source. To investigate how an artist can approach the presentation of an idea through language and a range interpretive material, two differing and influential artists, Liam Gillick and Laure Prouvost will be analysed in the next two sections.
Chapter 4 – Liam Gillick
“Each piece works as a provisional solution towards understanding the book’s function as a condensed central core of ideas rather than original research material or commentary.” (Gillick,2016)
An applicable artist who navigates around the involvement of context is Liam Gillick. Associated with the Young British Artists, Gillick is famous for his numerous representations of text in relation and response to social concepts, exploring the representation of concepts in both process based and written form, he plays with fictitious narration within his work to put across serious issues influenced by current or historical events. Having created texts that follow formats of literature stylistically in form, this being that of a novel Erasmus is Late (Fig. 3) or segmented narrative.
Figure 3. Liam Gillick, Erasmus and Ibuka! Realisations. (1994 -1996)
Gillick creates materialised objects that act as a way of understanding the written work, this acting in the role of context. The role of text holds a significant role in influencing the practical based work, as the curator Nicolaus Schafhuausen comments in response to Gillick’s exhibition “How are you going to behave?” in the
German pavilion, part of the 2009 Venice Biennale. “These texts create a conceptual framework for the work itself.Gillick exhibited A Kitchen Cat Speaks
Figure 4 . Liam Gillick, “Kitchen Cat Speaks” 2009 This piece involved a structure constructed from kitchen cabinet segments and a stuffed cat projecting an audio spoken by the artist. Presented as a maze, the functional and plain wooden surfaces reflected an aesthetic that mimicked that of minimalist sculpture, for instance the work of Carl Andre (Cenicola, T,2010). Alongside this Gillick presents a structured text in the form of a narrative. This acts as a signifier, evoking a mental reaction revolving around specific social issues. In this Gillick questions the function of the location in which he is exhibiting, the kitchen reflecting Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s 1926 Frankfurt kitchen design. Using the interpretative material as a platform to argue against the historical function of the building through a present dialogue, there is a reversal of the traditional making cycle discussed in Chapter 3 ,in which text is usually used with responsive or descriptive attributes towards the end. Changing the role that context has to play within the recognition of a finalised work leads the reading of it to alter, it is presented as
responsive material and not reflective. Gillick’s practice presents a variety of rhetorical questions that can be perceived from multiple perspectives from not using direct language, instead he constructs a dialogue that encourages these rhetorical incentives.
There is a playfulness in this instead of demonstrating his concepts in a serious manner he uses the presence of a created character, In the text presented in A Kitchen Cat Speaks (Fig 5) this is simplified as a cat that has been assigned with human characteristics. This is an intriguing device, a cat given a voice mimics the role that the context has within the work. The context’s role has been adapted in the same way this cat has been given a voice, from initial glance it appears humorous. A cat being given a history and having a celebrity status relates strongly with a sense of naivety, it is the centre character of the story. It is only with the inclusion of a documented dialogue do darker undertones appear. There is a clear use of certain literary practices centred within storytelling, there is no inclusion of name for any of the characters, these characters represent larger audiences through this conscious decision to remove a specific identity. Using the layout of the text and the inclusion of children is a dramatic technique; it mimics the structure of a children’s novel leading to this works interpretation towards being a disturbing satire. Reflecting the communicative ability of children’s stories and their intent to transport specific
messages to their absorbent audience.
Figure 5. Liam Gillick, Abstract of text from “A Kitchen Cat Speaks” 2009
The use of interpretative material in this setting avoids being a direct illustration of an idea, Schafhuausen, the curator of the show goes on to discuss the openness of Gillick’s work in his Curator’s forward of the exhibition “they open up possibilities: the possibilities contained in a “what if” scenario” (Schafhuausen. 2009; 89) This is apparent in where we are presented with a narrative that does not distinctively end in relation to having one intended message, there are multiple readings and interpretations that can be created to what the cat represents and what the outcome is. This piece of text could be argued as an unreliable method of portraying context due to its non-direct language and non-descriptive structure, however when representing a work that is minimal it should be acceptable for its correlating text to hold similar properties. From this, it becomes questionable whether or not this information acts as context for a work in the same sense a gallery text does or if it is a separate entity. Through careful positioning, the work is read in correlation to the materialised object due to the instinct to find textual confirmation.
Through this interplay between installation and text there could be seen to be a clear reference to the successful approach fiction has with engaging a larger scale audience. It uses simplified language to influence and designate certain understandings. Its connection with interpretation and using specific signifiers in the form of an abstracted character also links deeper within certain structures of semiotic theory. Regarding the word ‘cat’, it is a common term when expressing the complexity of interpretation to note how people will read the word dog, when reading this each individual viewer will most likely think of a different breed. It is a common word that has an expanded range of interpretation in relation to subjective perception (Chandler, 2007).
Gillick’s relationship with the audience is a significant aspect within his practice, as in an online interview in conversation with Alex Greenberger presented on the website Art Space, he states when questioned on his conciseness of the audience,
“The whole point is that I don’t have a target audience. But I do think hard about the difference between an audience and a public. There is a potential audience for anything—for the most specific and obscure interests. The notion of a public, however, is something completely different. It involves attempting to address difference and collectivity.” (Gillick. 2014)
Reflecting on Chapter 3, in regards to the artists recognition of the audience, this statement could show a deliberate avoidance to the narrowing of his work in relation to the viewer. Interestingly, he divides the audience and public into two separate categories. To create for an audience leans towards a work demonstrating a specific idea, whereas the concept of displaying to the public may appear a more challenging endeavour, as it relies on a work to successfully engage with a diverse audience.
Whether this possible through the use of text in relation to a materialised object is debatable. In the introduction to Meaning Liam Gillick, Monika Szewczyk discusses the issues in reading the texts and art objects separately “if words, texts and concepts have been said to dematerialize the art object, Gillick’s work continually
tests their material dimensions” (Szewczyk. 2009; 20. This may suggest that it is not achievable to combine context and an object through an equal standing, that they instead hold different purposes and to consider them equal would in fact devalue the object, giving rise to the need to question whether there needs to be an object if context is the method of materialising a concept. From altering the layout of text in an intentional manner in regards to the aesthetic, it is possible that it has in fact become the object. However, in Gillick’s practice he has determined a significance of both context and object being in contact within an exhibition.
To divide these two elements would be difficult as there is a clear discourse between them, this discourse is a fundamental grounding within the work. The writer Peio Agurrie states in Meaning Liam Gillick that the texts are “geared towards forging a form (or materialised thought)” (Agurrie. 2009; 1). The initial role given to the text transforms their reading, it no longer is something describing an element that already exists in response to an object but is in fact igniting a physical response from an initial idea. There is a relationship between the processes that may be based on reliance. Through the creative method of alteration, it leads information being presented as stories, influenced through a reconfigured past (Gillick. 2009; 98).
Gillick’s interest in social issues is presented in an intuitive way, he constructs complex parallels instead of simple representational language. From this considered dialogue, certain phrases can be extracted in way that through descriptive language would not be as engaging for Gillick the text has a different role.
“The key to the work is the fact you end up with some work, you end up some stuff but the thinking behind it is based on preproduction and post production rather than on the articulation of some fundamental values or reflection of the way it is.” (Gillick.2009; 103)
The text is not a direct reflection, instead Gillick has acknowledged traditional methods of context and has manipulated the format to alter how the viewer will perceive information through their own reaction. Although still controlling what
message is put across, he has given the viewer significance through using suggestive speech.
Chapter 5 - Laure Prouvost and Interpretive Material in Relation to Installation. My Own Practice.
Laure Prouvost is a prominent contemporary example of how context presented as interpretive can be used in direct relation within a materialised practice. Prouvost is notorious for her bizarre disjointed narratives that merge fiction and fact; exploring the interplay between what is considered context and a physical presence through the use of immersive installations. She relies on the relationships between words and objects as forms of communicating her discontent for language in both French, her native language, and English.
In the recent touring exhibition, the British Art Show 8, Prouvost presented Hard Drive (Fig 6), which that explored the idea of inanimate objects having a dialogue and a sense of individual perspective, and it demonstrated a clear involvement of context in relation to the audience through playful interaction.
Through giving a series of objects human attributes (on this occasion it being informal and seductive speech, the work highlighted the unobserved) Prouvost’s work “gives voice to things that we usually take for granted, including floors, lighting and electronic devices” (British Art Show 8, 2016). Displaying a conscious presentation of idea through a non-direct dialect, a similar method that of Liam Gillick, who instead uses an animal as method of communicating a human relate issue.
Figure 6. Laure Prouvost, Hard Drive, 2015 Installation view: British Art Show 8, 2015-17
In an interview for the ICA, Prouvost comments on her use of objects in relation to igniting a reading in relation to language, referring to objects as being “Not props but more like relics” (ICA, 2011).. Prouvost displays clear intent on exploiting this connection through using it to persuade audiences into putting trust in altered information. From having a personal experience with work from being a gallery assistant in the show, I noted how it communicated with the audience through theatrical effect. A relationship between the viewer and these animated objects was enabled by the audience being able to physically interact with the work.
In regards to the public’s reaction to this bold piece, it appeared to conflict reviews. For some this mischievous use of dramatic lighting, sensual linguistics in contrast to non-inspiring objects proved comical; others it disturbed. Reflecting issues that occurs with differing audiences, less experienced spectators appeared shocked by these immersive pieces. Whereas some audience members whom established
themselves as individuals interested in attending art exhibitions were bothered by the lack of formal gallery texts and explanation finding it ‘pretentious’. This intent of discoursing an unusual narrative to the public through performative techniques is exaggerated through the involvement of the artist’s voice. Prouvost explores this interplay between artist and viewer through using her own voice as a vehicle for a separated entity, the artist having describe her reason for using this method as “practical” (Prouvost, 2014) based, it is to have a sense of control with how the language is portrayed in relation to a conversation. Through this, Prouvost ignites a visual response within the viewer, this being subjective to each individual. This emphasises the importance of the viewer in response to the creation of a work, in regards to the work being successful it relies on the viewer interaction. For the series of effects to transpire, the sensors must detect a spectator’s presence. Without this the work is in a purgatory state, representing the concept that the objects are insignificant without the correlation of interpretive dialogue.
When looking through the British Art Show 8 exhibition catalogue it is obvious that Prouvost provides context in an alternative way to the fellow exhibitors in the show. Instead of a descriptive gallery text we are provided with a fictitious documented conversation between to inanimate objects. An audience is instantly provided with an acknowledgment that Prouvost is interested in the removal of fact, descriptive biography, instead providing the viewer with fragmented communication through this unusual presentation highlighted by the contrast to coinciding descriptive artist statements.
When viewing Hard Drive, a detailed explanation may not be needed, rather it could potentially undermine the interpretative value of the work, as responding to the materialised objects with intention to fully explain the object would contrast with the mischievous application and distract from intension to confuse. Unlike Gillick, who presented his own publication to demonstrate his written narratives, Prouvost is put in a position that usually would limit the artist’s ability to control how they are presented. By being in a large curated group show and through the inclusion in an
exhibition catalogue, an artist could find themselves having to constrict their interpretive material to follow the house style of the outside establishment.
Interpretive Material in Relation to Installation. My Own Practice.
Figure 7. Louise Webb. Layers of translation and slate. 2016
Interplay between object and narrative in relation to the inclusion of interpretive material is a focus within my own art practice, through which I attempt to challenge the boundaries of process through categorisation in art (such as painting and sculpture); creating installations that incorporate various forms of techniques that act as multiple perspectives of one scenario and playing with the characteristics of each area enabling conversation between each created component. Objects inspired by my own interpretation of collected photographs and collages are manufactured in response to the idea being presented to the audience and is transmitted through fractured representations. In regards to the inclusion of the audience, I intend there to be an interaction that mimics that of the game â€˜Chinese Whispersâ€™, where a statement is altered through the continuous referral of information between a group of people, each time being miscommunicated and mistranslated to the point where the original information is no longer recognisable, with only certain elements reappearing unaltered, these usually being the most prominent or easily understood.
It reflects mistranslation between language, where there is a possibility to create new words from the understanding of others.
The involvement of the audience centres around addition, there is a constant process evolving through the responsive act of interpretation. When presenting my original thoughts and ideas, I use interpretive material as a vehicle to suggest a concept to the audience without directly referencing factual or descriptive elements. This is usually presented through altered text formats printed on to acetate or recorded dialogue projected into a space. Interpretive material is presented as an equal component to the materialised objects in the installation, giving a voice to the inanimate instead of concentrating on the artistâ€™s voice.
The involvement of interpretive material is equally important when it is presented alongside its counterpart, the object. For the whole work to be successful the viewer must engage with the elements and be given the same opportunity to interpret a dialect as they would an art object.
Chapter 6 - Conclusion
This essay has investigated the role of interpretive material as context in relation to the artist and viewer, exploring how it is possible to converse concepts in a variety of ways to prevent one interpretation being presented as correct. The role of context in the viewing experience of contemporary art has been discussed and the roles of the artist and viewer in the making process have been compared. Through the investigation of the role of context within the viewing experience of contemporary art in Chapter 1, the inclusion of interpretive material was addressed and considered as both beneficial and adverse when presented through specific formats. On certain occasions limiting the reading of a work when presented as artefact or expanding a reading through considered aesthetic layout of work.
The involvement of interpretative material as a method of presenting context is a necessity, without a type of displayed language there is no bridge between artist and viewer, as Sontag observed, “To avoid interpretation, art may become parody. Or it may become abstract. Or it might merely become non art” (Sontag, 1966; 11). Without the inclusion of presented context both parties isolated and conflicted against each other through lack of communicative outlets. To put artist and spectator into two separate roles without appreciating that multiple interpretations can be created through a dialect understood and shared between both participants, leaves the work in a state of non-development. It becomes fragmented and divided, with no means of presenting the artist’s idea or encouraging the viewer’s interpretation. In Chapter 2 the viewer’s previously undervalued role was discussed; presented as an unknowing observer who is being educated by the artist. Nevertheless, the viewer plays an important role, they add through their own perception and from previous experience, altering the work and presenting it in a way that leaves the work in an unfinished state. They are a participant; they have a purpose in the making of a work that deserves acknowledgement. It is only through their involvement can an artist communicate ideas, through active reaction to a presented work they prove its existence. Eco comments in The Open Work his
comprehension of the original artefact “is always modified by his “particular and individual perspective.” (Eco;1989;49)
Leading to the issues on the successfulness of a work discussed in Chapter 3, where the possibility for a work to fully present one concept was examined, focusing on the artist’s involvement in the process of the creation of a work. Commenting on the artist biography being considered as context instead of being interested in the initial idea. The artist may be left in a difficult situation from being confined by expectation, usually considered as “Genius” (Heidegger, 2002); they are pushed to present their concept in a formatted way with the “awareness of the impact they can have on their processes” (Fisher, 2013; 79). In Chapters 4 and 5 multiple examples where an artist has made intentional changes to the way context is portrayed were compared, with both Liam Gillick and Laure Prouvost have utilised interpretive material, giving equal significance aesthetic consideration to that of the art object.
The inclusion of context when presented in an adverse way can disadvantage a work. This can occur through third party intervention (e.g. house style format), or where an artist using an inappropriate language or through being too literal in description of the object. In a time where emphasis is placed upon the concept behind the object, the focus on how ideas are presented may seem to be disregarded, with focus being to engage with larger audiences through formatted text in multiple establishments such as the Tate (Jones, 2013). These enforced layouts could actually be limiting the potential for the spectator’s engagement. The space between the artist and viewer is not as large as it could be assumed, they both have been the product of interpretation, they both have added and redacted aspects to a work through interpretation. This could provoke a dispute on authorship and the role that each side plays, as through the inclusion of interpretive material, a bond is created, enabling the work to become immersive through the accessibility of a reading. The way interpretive material is presented should be equally considered in relation to the aesthetic of an object. It is the dialect of the artwork, the language that transforms an image created. There may not be a correct interpretation presented
through one direct route of descriptive material, but multiple pathways created through navigation of information.
“The end product of an author’s effort to arrange sequence of communicative effects in such a way that each individual addressees can refashion the original composition devised.” (Eco, 1989;3)
Word Count – 10,436
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