In preparation for the workshop, participants were asked to select a text to introduce to others in the group. Lori Waxman describes this task as follows:
Writing presupposes reading. We learn to be great, or at least interesting, writers through exposure to a broad array of texts written inside and outside of our chosen fields. We write with these words, and sometimes against them.
With this in mind, participants were asked to choose a single, relatively brief piece of published writing to bring with them to the workshop to share with colleagues. The text could be written by an art historian, a novelist, a journalist, a philosopher, a poet, a curator, an artist — anyone, really — but it was supposed to be about art, or the act of looking, something that had inspired them, or prompted them to conspire, or even made them transpire.
Subsequently participants were asked to summarize their introductions in a few sentences. Edited and compiled by Lori Waxman, the introductions and extracts published here are the outcomes of this workshop session:
Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘The mediation that communicates the work is, in principle, total.’ Truth and Method, 1960
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Following Lori’s call-out I was looking for a text that had made me sweat or spurred me into action. I was Curatorial Assistant for an exhibition project in Berlin when I met people who spoke about curating as a subject studied at university — something that, when I inscribed myself as a student, was not on the curriculum in Germany. Having studied Cultural Studies, I now thought that maybe I had to read up on the topic of curating and bought the book ‘Curating Subjects’ of which I brought the first text to the workshop. When I came to the middle of the first page I got a little warm when the authors likened the figure of the middleman – read curator – to a ‘parasitical agent’ with ‘an aura of mediocrity’, ‘a suspect character’, but I decided that an anthology on curating would not abolish its subject on the first page already and I read on. But the rest of the text left me cold. Whilst I found it interesting to read and think about what a curator is or does, I realised that I did not want to get buried under another shipload of theoretical texts but rather make exhibitions.
Søren Andreasen and Lars Bang Larsen, ‘The Middleman: Beginning to talk about mediation.’ In: Curating Subjects, ed. Paul O’Neill, De Appel, London, 2007, pp. 20-30
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I chose an unpublished text by Icelandic art critic Olafur Gislason, who was my tutor for my BA and MA degrees of Fine Art. Gislason is a well-known art theorist in Iceland and has written texts for numerous catalogues.
The text is titled ‘The Langenlois Work of Art speaking’, referring to the town of Langenlois in Austria where Icelandic artist Katrin I. Jonsdottir participated in a recent exhibition.
In her own absence, Jonsdottir asked Gislason to travel from Iceland to Austria to present himself as her artwork, as her contribution to the exhibition. This is a text that Gislason wrote for and performed at the opening.
Gislason, who has until now solely written texts to be read from print and not to be performed or listened to aloud, includes this specific dilemma — his experience of himself as a work of art — in the text that he then performs.
I find it interesting to regard Gislason’s writing as action, challenging his usual forms of writing and thinking about text, and the perception of his text. Unlike before, the writer now gets to know exactly who his audience/‘readers’ are and receive immediate feedback!
Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos
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This novel seems to be relevant to the topic for several reasons. It tells a dark story about a holiday trip out of town that becomes a crime story. A bird hanged by the neck on a metal wire becomes a trigger for the protagonists to resolve a mystery. Gombrowicz tries to unravel the act of perception and how a common thing that easily could be overlooked can, if focused on, bring disorder and cause chaos. Gombrowicz uses the novel to discredit the human construction of meaning. The living moment is incoherent. If it means anything in and of itself, the message does not come through. It’s an ongoing process without beginning or end. But the novel could also become a metaphor for the act of perceiving an artwork as a phenomenon encountered in a natural environment.
Agnieszka Pindera, ‘Touring Culture’ in Re-tooling Residencies, A Closer Look at the Mobility of Art Professionals, ed. Anna Ptak, Warsaw, 2011
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This essay covers a long history of taking artists outside of cities to participate in events that were first organised by the People’s Republic of Poland. Originally known as plein airs, since 1989 and the impact of the Western art scene they have become known in Poland as residencies. The author argues that the two formats have more in common than we think and that their creation and functioning are each the outcome of a specific political context. Taking into consideration this replacement of one by another, the residency model seems in fact from a certain point of view a rebranding of the former. It is worth bearing in mind the reasons why the state became interested in organizing plein airs for neo-avant-garde artists.
Matthew Goulish, 39 Microlectures in proximity of performance
As someone who has an ongoing, irrational and obstructive anxiety surrounding reading, it feels particularly significant to have discovered a book that has changed my life.
I read this book after my friend offered to lend it to me during the summer holidays of my second year at University. I was struggling with being a painter (my chosen discipline) and particularly with the notion of failure within a painting practice. My friend Rae thought that this book might help, I’m not really sure why, but she was right.
The book taught me about ways of ‘finding’ an approach (within an arts practice), about starting with questions and not answers, about the importance of process, and it taught me to embrace failure. It also taught me to free up the way I read, to worry less about starting at the start and finishing at the end.
It encouraged me to write in a way that was informed by finding a voice through the voices of others. I learned about the value of sampling, borrowing, re-telling and reusing others people’s words.
The book also gave me the confidence to seek out other writing around performance as well as to go to see live work. In a short period of time I attended some key live art events and performances (including Inbetween Time Festival, Bristol and Live Culture at Tate Modern) and started experimenting with making low-fi performative works. After a short while I quit painting and for almost nine years now, I have been making work under the name LOW PROFILE, a collaborative duo producing predominantly live work, alongside associated ephemera, photography, bookworks, video and publications.
Mark Twain, ‘Two ways of Seeing a River’, excerpt from Life on the Mississippi. Published by Penguin Classics; reprint edition (25 April 1985)
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We were invited to bring a piece of writing that described the act of looking. I selected ‘Two Ways of Seeing a River’ by Mark Twain. It describes the perils of careful study.
Ignorance is bliss.
Andrei Monastyrski, ‘Earthworks’ (‘The Theme of the peacock and the condor on the expositional sign field of Moscow’), 1987
Andrei Monastyrski’s text “Earthworks” is possibly the single most particular piece of writing I have read by an artist in which the “root work” of artistic objectivity is defined in intricate detail. It is at once a specific text about a particular place (Soviet Moscow in the 1980s); a text about how artists (in particular Kabakov and Monastyrski himself) look at a “place” and use this specific reading in their work; and as well a preface to the striking photographic series he made following the writing of this text (which aptly takes the same title). The notion of the “sign field” plays a central role here, with the distinct fields of the “demonstrative” and the “expository” delineating moments in which something is demonstrated and fixed, versus something being motivated or set forth for exploration. It is Monastyrski’s words on the term “inspirator” that are most revealing about what was influencing conceptual art practices in 1980s Moscow. As a whole the text therefore offers a glimpse into the very logical mind of Monastyrski and a society clearly concerned with being defined.
On my return from the workshop, I came across this text while reading Monastyrski’s writing in preparation for composing the press release for the exhibition of his work that we were opening at e-flux. It seemed to coalesce these parallel moments in which I was thinking about localities and artistic production, albeit in places that are polar opposites: Cornwall in the present day and Moscow in the 1980s.
Brian O’Doherty, Inside the white cube: The ideology of the gallery space, (originally appeared in Artforum 1976), Lapis Press, San Francisco, pp. 14 & 15
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My interest in this text is linked to several of its aspects. I relate to it both as an artist and as a curator, my practice proceeds both from the inside and the outside. The white cube has at times been seen as a utopian and outdated arena for art. But in its simplicity, the timeless cube has become an arena for new strategies and remains a central structure for contemporary art. It creates a framework, not only formally but for meetings, discourse and opportunity. The white cube is also a paradox; it is a design created for art, not for me, but mysteriously I enjoy being inside it, without windows and away from the world.
Seth Price, Dispersion, 38th Street Publishers(distributed by Motto), 2008
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Also available at: http://www.distributedhistory.com/Dispersion2008.pdf
This 14-page essay by artist Seth Price begins with a quote by another artist. Marcel Broodthaers states, ‘The definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution.’
This is an exercise in actively re-framing the legacy of Conceptualism as a ‘radically incomplete’ project, which continues to metamorphose, cross-reference and re-negotiate its presence(s).
Dispersion is a special text as it involves a doing as much as a ‘saying’— first appearing as a self-produced booklet in 2002, then appearing as ‘This Version’, a Ukrainian-art-student-bootleg edition in 2006. Finally, it was published by 38th Street Publishers with a hand-designed cover and continues to be hosted online. (It may also be encountered in exhibitions as sculptural fragments). When looking into the continued existence and modes of ‘appearance’ of dematerialized/non-object based praxes, Price brings refreshing perspectives on Art’s potential role toward disguise, counter-production and disappearances facilitated through distributed media.
I brought this text to the workshop so that it might provoke collective responses/counter-positions and active re-readings of Cornwall as a ‘dispersed’ region.
John Waters, ‘Roommates’ from Role Models, 2011
When I was asked to provide a piece of writing for The Cornwall Workshop I instantly knew I didn’t want to choose an academic text. I’m interested in responding to audiences, and that style of writing can seem unrepeatable and confusing.
I chose this chapter by John Waters, where he talks about his personal collection, because of the way he talks about his passion and knowledge of art in such a humorous and light-hearted manner.
Waters talks about the art he owns as though they are his roommates, each with distinctive personalities. Mike Kelley’s work likes to be obnoxious whilst Fischli and Weiss have a sense of humour. This is such a creative way of talking about art, neatly conveying what the art is about without being dry.
There’s a beautiful section where he translates Cy Twomby’s ‘Letter of Resignation’. Each page of distinctive Twombly scribble becomes a viscously hilarious quote in the author’s hands.
Waters knows that art can seem ridiculous or baffling. He knows that it can make people angry, but he seems to revel in that. This piece of writing comes from both an outside and an inside perspective, and it is rare because it laughs with contemporary art, not at it.
Allan Kaprow, ‘The Real Experiment’ in Artforum International, No. 4, 1983, December, pp. 37-43
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I have never really been able to reconcile what appears at first to be a dichotomy in arts practice: an artist’s vision of the larger world as a revelatory exploration, as opposed to a commercial value that corrals art works and artists, and creates a market worth. As Kaprow states, there is ‘art like art and art like life’. In essence the tension would lie in the use value of art, its ability to act as a lightening rod, to explore, challenge and have a dialogue with a viewer, or else to have a monetary value, an art historical place. I don’t want to perpetuate the notion that art needs to be ‘useful’, but I would wish for it at least to be having a dialogue with itself or the viewer, even if the language used is at first indiscernible. The ‘blurring’ that Kaprow talks of, between an arts practice and life, has always felt personally more relevant, and more honest and straightforward, and ultimately more fun.