Zoe Leonard, Strange Fruit (for David) (detail), 1992-97
There is something sad and touching about emptied out fruit stitched back up in a futile attempt at mending. But there’s also something about it that amuses me in a way. I think in Zoe Leonard’s installation Strange Fruit (for David) the thing that both moves me and makes me smile is the scale of the thing. It feels like a point that could have been made with a few pieces has taken control and not let Leonard stop; the empty fruit are scattered liberally across the floor, filling the space. In total roughly three hundred pieces of fruit have had their peel or skin dried out and put back together with stitching or other forms of fixing or adornment.
David Wojnarowicz, image from A Fire in My Belly, 1989
David Wojnarowicz is one of those artists. I find his work really interesting and immensely powerful but I haven’t seen very much of it in real life. One day I hope to get the chance to rectify that but in the meanwhile I’ll carry on looking at his work in reproduction. I like his approach to putting images – and often text – together in collages, prints and paintings but it’s his film work that interests me most, in part because it’s here that everything comes together.
And in terms of this blog and the way I let my attention move from one artist to the next by following the most literal of connections – I’m all about the unashamedly clunky segue after all – the use of read thread in his film A Fire in My Belly is more than a little convenient.
I confess to not much liking spiders. If they stayed outdoors I’d feel a lot more benevolent towards them, but when they come inside and scurry about like they own the place they make me distinctly edgy. But even I acknowledge that they do make very beautiful webs. In her Mended Spiderweb series – part of a large body of work called Uninvited collaborations with nature – Nina Katchadourian has helped out by patching up damaged spiders’ webs with fine red thread. The results are not only very beautiful, they are also unexpectedly interesting.
Sofia Hultén, Fuck It Up and Start Again, 2001 (one guitar smashed and mended 7 times
The idea of auto-destructive art may to a very large extent be of its time, something that fitted with other forms of protest – particularly the anti-nuclear movement – of the late 1950s and the 1960s, but its influences continue to be felt. And, of course, the idea of smashing guitars has long since gone from shocking indication of the state of young people and their music to rock cliché.
There are lots of ways to paint, as a quick wander through any major art museum will amply demonstrate. But there are those who change out understanding of art through their work, and Gustav Metzger is one such. Metzger’s notion of auto-destructive art, which he initially defined in 1959, was an interesting and highly-influential on which was rooted in the belief that Western society was failing (Metzger has been a Marxist all his adult life). The idea is that the work has the capacity to destroy itself or that it is destroyed by the actions of its creator.
Gustav Metzger: Auto-Destructive Art (1959)
Auto-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies.
Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method, and timing of the disintegrative process.
Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.
The amplified sound of the auto-destructive process can be an element of the total conception.
The artist may collaborate with scientists, engineers.
Self-destructive art can be machine produced and factory assembled.
Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and constructions have a life time varying from a few moments to twenty years. When the disintegrative process is complete the work is to be removed from the site and scrapped.
Before moving on from text and language – at least temporarily, there’s more I want to write about at some point – it seems like a good idea to go back to the basic building blocks of text: letters and punctuation. Typography is more usually the domain of designers but given that lots of artists have concerned themselves with language as a sign system, it’s no great surprise that some have also worked with its constituent parts.
In Every Word Unmade, Fiona Banner presents the alphabet as an opportunity for communication; the basic letterforms have the potential to become words.
Although this work has been in the back of my mind for a while, it isn’t the Hans Haacke piece I expected to write about first but somehow it seems like an appropriate way to follow on from Krzysztof Wodiczko‘s projection onto South Africa House and earlier posts about art, text and advertising.
Hans Haacke’s work most often critiques the power relationships within the art world – specifically the symbiotic relationship between museums and their corporate sponsors – but wider issues around institutional systems and corporate responsibility are also regularly subject to his critical gaze. Haacke’s commitment to exposing corruption and other dubious corporate practices is absolute and as a result his work is uncompromising even though he operates from within the art world he seeks to demystify.
Krzysztof Wodiczko, City Projections – Nelson’s Column, 1985
Commissioned to make a projection onto Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Sqaure for two nights in 1985, Krzysztof Wodiczko focused on the military aspects of the square and decided to project an image of a missile wrapped in barbed wire. But while in London for the event, Wodiczko realised that the square, as home of South Africa House, also played host to a longterm protest against the apartheid regime still very much in charge of South Africa and supported by then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Redirecting his projector, Wodiczko changed the image…
Jenny Holzer, Truisms, 1977-9 displayed at Times Square, 1982
For Jenny Holzer the work lies in the words rather than the particular way in which they are disseminated. So her Truisms have been projected in public spaces, worn as T-shirts, placed on gallery walls, plaques, stickers and postcards and more. The art lies in getting the words out there. Of course there are aesthetic and conceptual decisions about how and where they appear but it is the text and the way the audience encounters it that drives these.
Among the means of display Holzer employs, several involve sites or approaches more usually associated with advertising automatically colouring our response to the messages. Holzer’s slogans often challenge the political status quo in some way, making this appropriation of public display mechanisms all the more interesting.
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (It’s a small world), 1990
If art reflects and comments on the world around us then it’s not surprising that it also has the potential to change minds. There are lots of artists whose work engages with political issues with the aim of helping bring about social change. And while I’m on a text theme it makes sense to think about some of those who use text directly to get their message across.
Barbara Kruger’s work draws on her own background in design and particularly in the magazine business. In her work, Kruger combines black and white photographs – often from magazines that promote the lifestyle she critiques – combined with text on a red ground. It’s a simple formula but it’s also a powerful one.