Nathan Coley, There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2006, Scaffolding and Illuminated Text, 6m x 6m x 4m
Photo credit: Vincent Desjardins on Flickr
As D.C. is plastered by rainy weather, lately I’ve found myself with my nose in a book or returning to some of my favorite poetry in an act of defiance. “Ha, you thought you could make me bored, rain? Stir crazy, yes, but certainly not bored!” In tribute, I have decided to dedicate these next two posts to the aesthetic of written word. I’ll let you know that when I was young I was an avid reader and I would not get out of my bed for anyone or anything unless the option existed to take my books with me. As an artist and art appreciator now, I crave to see written word integrated into visual arts, or even as the primary focus.
Words are often coordinated into design or marketing, but I am here to tell you that there is a life full of words outside of quirky logos. I am here to also tell you that words in fine art are not necessarily calligraphic. There is a practice of using words in contemporary and fine arts that is profound, satiric, melancholy, and anywhere in between and beyond. There are artists emerging from the woodwork who see the possibility of integration between linguistics and visual presentation. In recent years, there has been growing exposure for varying types of presentation of words and artistic methods of presenting these words.
Lawrence Weiner, Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole, laser-cut aluminum typography on brick. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Photo credit: GearedBull on Wikimedia
The letters and words used can create images such as letter portraiture (wherein letters and symbols are unified or spaced to create shadows or highlights of a face) or be as simple as bold type pasted or stenciled onto a public or interior space. Words can be used for illegible graffiti or masterful tagging. Words in art can be (and often are) biting, pointed, and direct, but if presented correctly can be used to intrigue.
René Magritte, The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe), 1929
Photo credit: daryl_mitchell on Flickr
Photo credit: gw1 on Flickr
While René Magritte isn’t exactly contemporary, his question about the nature of reality transcends into many themes of contemporary works. One of my favorite current artists, Anatol Knotek, utilizes wordplay and doublespeak to pique the interest of his audience. If you are so interested, you can click on the links to view Knotek’s work. In the example I provided in the previous link, Knotek picks apart pieces of the word “forever” to demonstrate the temporality of life, ideas, and promises. “Forever” sheds its pretenses and allows itself to be mutable. The Hirshhorn featured one of these high-profile text artists, Shirin Neshat, whose exhibition ended on September 20, 2015 and whose work also encompasses written text. She appropriated famous Persian poetry and placed them with photography and images that would force the viewer to think contextually about Iranian culture and the role of the Iranian woman.
The very first image of this post is a piece by Nathan Coley, who likes to experiment with the relationship of art in architectural and public spaces-- he creates objects just for the sake of forcing strangers to confront the visual declarations. There Will Be No Miracles Here has a history: in an interview, Nathan Coley states that there was a French medieval village where miracles were frequently taking place and peasants were getting out of hand. As a result, the king stationed a sign that said, “There will be no miracles here by order of the King.” Understanding this whimsical narrative from a 17th century France, we’re faced with a playful interpretation of antiquity. The piece, which is mysterious and almost depressing upon first interaction, transforms into something simultaneously droll.
If you’re hungry for more text-inclusive art, I’ll go ahead and leave a few links to artists who exemplify this type of work and whom I find decidedly intriguing (some of this content may be on the more mature side):
Since this post and the next relate to the use of words in art, my next piece will be about the National Postal Museum’s exhibit, “PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard.” I encourage you to check back soon!