Wednesday 13 May 2015

GUEST POST → Text in the City (Robert Good)

 Robert Good (Art Language Location organiser) reflects on how other artists have relocated texts away from the printed page.

in the reflected sky was a three-part installation by Collective Investigations for Art Language Location (ALL), installed in Cambridge during October 2014. 

Whisper it, but books are boring.

Not the content - there are plenty of interesting texts to be found, sampled and enjoyed - but the context in which that text has been placed and offered to us for consumption is, too often, dull. The paperback, in particular, tends towards mere utility, with its frequently mealy paper, single digit font sizes and abhorrence of white space. But even a book which is without doubt an object of great beauty and desirability is like a mono recording in a stereo world.

For books are designed for the private, solitary consumption of words. We curl up with a good book, adopting the foetal position on the womb of the sofa. We become lost in a book, adrift from the anchors of the everyday. Turning inwards, there is no externality, nothing beyond. A book is the wafer of communion between reader and text: miraculous maybe, but nevertheless a functional go-between in a private exchange.
Artists who present text in other formats and in other places are therefore performing an act of liberation. The words are rescued from the confines of the printer's galley and set loose to breathe amidst the joyous possibilities of The Real World. Here, text can truly flourish: it becomes social.

In Art Language Location we see this transformation of text in a magnificent array of guises. Text on the wall, text on the floor, text on the river, text at the bus stop. Text to be sat on, text to be walked over, text to be eaten. Text inhabits the world.

This relationship between text and place can work in several ways.

Lilian Cooper, 24 hours in Cambridge, 2012

First, it is an interruption: an unexpected encounter and a confrontation. The consumption of words is no longer on the reader's own terms, for the reader has chosen neither the content of the text nor the time and place of the encounter. It is a violation of the quotidian routine. This provides the text with a force that it does not possess on the printed page.
In Lilian Cooper's work these interruptions are gentle yet insistent, beautifully realised reminders of the world around us that we so often forget to see.


Susie Olczak, Perception, 2014

Second, there is an enriched visual hit. The superimposition of text onto the everyday creates an additional layer. Our observed landscape is at once both aesthetically modified and also made to serve as a substrate, on top of which the text can lie.
So with Susie Olczak's work: its punchy playfulness creates a set of buzy new sense-data. Our retinas respond; then our brains set to work on the process of assimilation and interpretation.

Guy Bigland All the four-letter words I could find on the Casimir Lewy Library webpages 2015

But then there is a third relationship: the way in which the content of the text interacts with the borrowed landscape of its location. The words themselves, which on the sofa trigger private thoughts and private responses, now cannot avoid referencing public objects and the world beyond, conversing with the surrounding visual array.
In Guy Bigland's intervention for the Casimir Lewy Philosophy Library, the content of the text, its placement and its mode of display all echo and comment upon the library itself. Placed right outside the entrance to the library, it becomes a mirror with which the institution can view itself.


Adding of context to text is like adding sound to movies, or colour to photos. There is new vitality, a richness and an added dimension. A synaesthesia between text and context. Text becomes social, experiential. Of course the nature of the intervention between text and place is almost limitless in possibilities. But a successful intervention always seems to create a dynamic between the two, a buzz of interactivity where the visual and the verbal meet and spar. Context enhances text like switching on the surround sound and feeling the boom of the subwoofer.

[Robert Good]

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