|EXHIBITION DATES Friday 25 May – Saturday 23 June 2018|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present ‘Transcript’, a group exhibition curated by gallery director Zavier Ellis and artist
Hugh Mendes. Both Ellis and Mendes have an enduring interest in text based work and in the occurrence of text itself in our
general cultural environment.
This exhibition will explore the use of text in contemporary art that has been transcribed from every day or alternative sources. For
over a century, ushered in by Pablo Picasso’s inclusion of the fragmented word ‘JOU’ and collaged oil cloth in ‘Still-Life with Chair
Caning’ (1912), artists have turned to low sources and materials gleaned from everyday life, thereby navigating visual
communication away from its traditional reliance on imagery. Found elements derived from life in the studio, street and café were
deployed to confront the audience directly with the stuff of reality at a time of great political, social and cultural flux. Fast paced
change was axiomatic of the modern period, echoed by incessant industrial, technical and mechanical progress. Additionally,
during a period of economic depression during and between the two world wars, adopting the use of accessible collage elements
and found objects represented a democratisation of materials in themselves.
Picasso’s introduction of text as a prominent surface component prepared the way for contemporary artists to develop it into a
subject in itself, and to engage directly with popular culture; commercial strategies; and semantics. The artists in this exhibition
wholeheartedly embrace the dissolution of hierarchical materials and sources. ‘Transcript’ will include painting, work on paper,
video, installation, sculpture, performance and assemblage derived from film, signage, posters, advertising, newspapers,
notebooks, diaries, clichés, graffiti, tattoo and schizophrenic acoustic hallucinations.
Beyond this framework, ‘Transcript’ will investigate the disruption of language. In 1916 ‘Course in General Linguistics’ by
Ferdinand de Saussure was posthumously published, and became a critical work in the field of semiotics. Central to Saussure’s
theory is the arbitrary relationship between the signifier and signified. Taking the written word as the ultimate signifier, where
meaning is attached by general consensus, text based work has the facility to communicate universally, at least to an audience
who speak and read the same language. However, again from synthetic cubism onwards, text based work is often characterized
by fragmentation and incoherence, where the association between signifier and signified is disrupted. This exhibition will assert
that broken, covered, erased, reversed, redacted, or dissolving words, letters or sentences serve to deconstruct language in order
to encourage ambiguous, new or unintentional meanings, both cognitively and instinctively.
The exhibition will include a performance by Tim Etchells at the private view and on the final day:
Tim Etchells 'Some Imperatives', 2011 Performance (performed by Andrew Stevenson)
Thursday 24 May at 6.30pm | Saturday 23 June at 3.00pm
|EXHIBITION DATES Friday 25 May – Saturday 23 June 2018|
|This exhibition tackles a very current, and very contentious, subject: the place of text in contemporary art. If you go to the Tate web-site and use the search term ‘conceptual art’, you will be offered just over a thousand results, all from the Tate’s own collection. Many – perhaps a majority – of the works that come up on your screen will involve the use of text. Quite a few of them are text only.
Yet from the Tate site one also gets the impression that this kind of art represents a phase now fading from view. When Tate Britain offered a show called Conceptual Art in Britain, almost exactly two years ago, the subject was presented as a kind of historical relic. The time covered was 1964 to 1979. Text played a major role, but, so the choice of dates implied, its usefulness to art came to a dead stop at the end of the period chosen. One whole gallery was devoted to the group Art & Language. The exhibition guide, still available on the Web, bouncily claimed that:
“To focus on reading rather than looking marked a huge shift for art. Language was to be used as art to question art. It would provide a scientific and critical device to address what was wrong with modernist abstract painting, and this approach became the basis for the activity of the Art & Language group, active from about 1967. They investigated how and under what conditions the naming of art takes place and suggested that meaning in art might lie not with the material object itself, but with the theoretical argument underpinning it.”
I wonder if this claim stood up at the time, and I wonder still more if it actually stands up today. I believe this current exhibition supplies some interesting answers. To tackle just one major point: where the Tate text seems to claim that image and text occupy two separate realms, this show seems to insist that they operate as one. This is supported by what one sees outside the gallery. Leaving this gallery-space one doesn’t have to go far before one encounters examples of image and text inextricably welded together, in the form of huge posters - large-scale examples of modern advertising.
The British Art & Language Group, so Wikipedia tells one, blossomed rapidly, and faded rapidly. In the early 1970s there were about thirty members. By the end of the decade, it was “essentially reduced” to just three.
If one chooses to look for further-flung parallels, how about text in scripts that are not part of our own Latin-derived tradition? For example, Chinese? Chinese in its written form consists of ‘characters’. Each character is in fact a highly stylised, compressed pictorial sign. At base level no real distinction can be made between what is written and what is portrayed.
Nevertheless, I think the works included in this exhibition have something interesting to say about the difference between what is communicated in written words and what is communicated in what one may naively call pictures. In some cases, one can indeed conclude that “There’s nothing to be read here.” Communication in words seems to have been deliberately frustrated. The letters present exist only as visual images, not as communications in their own right.
We are also teased by the variety of different ways in which even perfectly legible words are presented to us. Words in print often have a very different resonance to hand-written words, even when these latter are perfectly readable. When the words are deliberately unreadable, as in J Price’s Schizophrenia in the Dark, the resonance is different again.
What I’m trying to say here is that reading cannot in fact be detached from just seeing. If a dyslexic or even a totally illiterate viewer visits this exhibition it still has something to deliver. The works on show, readable or else deliberately created to frustrate the impulse to read, all have something to offer to the eye. This, in some cases, I may mischievously add, whether the artist concerned fully intends it or not. Part of the context for the event is that it takes place within a literate society. That immediately defines some of the possible reactions to what is presented. Some things you can read. Some you can’t. Get over it.