Joseph Kosuth at Hirshhorn: Demetrion Lecture

Joseph Kosuth at Hirshhorn: Demetrion Lecture


– It’s been exactly 10 years
since my last lecture here. It was titled Public Texts, Stolen Texts and it was on the occasion
of the Panza exhibition. For my lecture tonight, I
want to briefly consider what makes installations different
from other kinds of work. And before I conclude with these comments, I will take you through the images of about 20% of my work
of the past 20 years, all in an hour. (laughs) I will take you through, this is difficult task, and the selection process
borders on the arbitrary since I don’t put it in
the work, in the world, unless it is relevant to my practice. However, the ontological moment for art, which every work of art represents, permits these works to serve the argument that I want to propose. This was my project for
the Magritte retrospective in 1996 and ’97 at the Montreal
Museum of Fine Arts, Canada, and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Dusseldorf, Germany, curated by Didier Ottinger
of the Pompidou Center. I was selected as one of
the six contemporary artists to be invited to present works within the Magritte exhibition, and for my part of the exhibition, I was given all of the works
of Magritte utilizing words. These works of Magritte
were hung on the walls of one large room upon which
my installation was installed. The installation was based on
a particular work by Magritte, L’Apparition, from the collection of the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany, which was also installed in the room. In this installation,
the series of elements, the words of Magritte were replaced by those of Michel Foucault,
with key concepts from his book On Magritte, Ceci
N’est Pas Une Pipe, from 1973, constructing a parallel
work to L’Apparition, yet one which constituted an
overview of Magritte’s oeuvre. What the photos don’t show
was that the light in the room was reduced with the soft floodlights on each of Magritte’s work, so that, entering the room, one only saw the works of Magritte. My wall installation was only visible after the eye adjusted
to the overall light. For the photo, of course, they
had to have brighter lights. At the Palazzo Querini
Stampalia, 1997, in Venice, I did the Material of Ornament, which was part of the
Sarajevo 2000 exhibition of the Venice Biennale. The source for this work
was a text by John Ruskin, dated from the middle of the 19th century. Ruskin’s goal was to list the elements that constituted
architectural ornamentation. In my work, I was also curious to see if I could stand some of my
own presumptions on their head and do a work about
decoration and ornamentation, fairly taboo, which,
nonetheless, at the same time, was a reflexive state of
its own decorative role, even if in contradiction. I was interested in the idea of taking a theoretical model of ornamentation and using that as ornamentation. Twice Defined, 1997. Miyake Prefecture
Library, Yokohama, Japan. The architect is Hara. Miyake is where the first
Japanese dictionary was written. It is on deposit in this library. It was based on Webster’s,
the first American dictionary. My work employed texts from
both of the first dictionaries. The Boundaries of the Limitless, 1997. Queens Square, Yokohama, Japan. This is the atrium of the
largest building in Japan. Approximately 500,000
people a day see my work because the Yokohama train
station is at the bottom of it. (laughs) Leipzig Laocoon, Leipzig, 1997, on the floor of the Bundesbank. I can’t talk about every one. Sorry, but time doesn’t permit. Freedom and Belief,
Their Own Affair, 1998. Parliament Square, Stockholm, Sweden. This work, which was
located in the center square of the Swedish parliament building is also at the point where
the main street in Stockholm joins the old town and the new town. The work, consisting of text by August Strindberg and Selma Lagerlöf. Its permanent home divides the work between the facade of the
Moderna Museet facade, where it is now installed, and the interior main hall
of the permanent collection at the Moderna Museet. Conditions of Absence, the
Name and Its Bearer for G., 1999, Villa Medici at the
French Academy in Rome. This is an installation about absence. I utilized the titles of the works which were removed from these niches when the Medici family
returned to Florence. The work was a response
to the recent death of a close friend in
Rome, Gina De Dominici. A Map For a Silenced Library, 1999. The Kunstmuseum of the Kantons Thurgau, Kartause, Ittingen, Switzerland. Initially a three-year
installation of a work based on a library which
no longer exists there. These are just teasers, understand? The Chair in Front of the Door, 1999. San Gimignano, Italy. A text of Walter Benjamin’s, written by him while visiting the town. The wall is in front of a geriatric hospital in San Gimignano. Percola and Comata, 2000. Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. The program of the Kunsthalle Basel is to present the works of
younger, emerging artists However, the director, Peter Pakesch, deiced that it would be
interesting to present the work of the four he felt
most influential artists working at that time for this generation. The four artists were chosen, were Michelangelo
Pistoletto, John Baldessari, Ilya Kabakov, and myself. The proposal initiated by Peter Pakesch was that we should collaborate
together on an exhibition. We had several meetings together. Should have been filmed,
but they weren’t. (laughs) And decided that the date
of 1968 would constitute a kind of causal nexus
linking the four of us. The idea was that Pistoletto would be anchored to Torino, 1968, Baldessari to Los Angeles, 1968, Kabakov to Moscow, 1968, and I would have New York, 1968. So for this project, I decided to take the names of 10 people from the New York area
that were born in 1968, and also of 10 people
from the New York area that died in 1968. In this way, the work covers
a period of around 100 years, which actually constitutes
the 20th century. A link exists between the two lists, which is Robert Kennedy and
his daughter, Rory Kennedy. When Robert Kennedy was
assassinated in 1968, his wife was pregnant with Rory. They never met. The names on both lists are representative of a social and cultural life, sorry, with each name constituting
a context of human presence and representing in each case a context which is rich with implication. It is a work about life and death, a record of implied potential
and known accomplishment, about arrival and departure. We can think of individuals and sense how each person is
in fact a world in themselves. We can also think about the
links between the people, which we call culture, a
link which forms the fabric of a social whole and forms a
community and a civilization. It is also a comment on
what we have to teach and what we have to learn. Ripensare il vero, 2001, Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples. The result of an annual
invitation to an artist to do a temporary work
over Christmas and New Year in the main square in Naples. I presented an obscure text of
Benedetto Croce from Naples, he was, I mean, pertaining to the concept of truth. The work was a scandal with articles in the
local press nearly daily for and against the work. Eventually, a cultured politician
was asked on Italian TV what he thought of the work, and he said, well, I was discussing it with
Pope Paul II the other day and I asked him what his opinion was, and he said, I almost hear the words, “I do not support the work of Kosuth “because it relativizes truth. “I cannot support this.” The upside of the whole
thing was a letter, and I said to myself, when was the last time you had
a chance to piss off a pope? (audience laughs) That’s truthful, okay. The upside of the whole thing was a letter from one of the still-living
granddaughters of Croce who wrote me with thanks for initiating a new discussion
about their grandfather. Was War Also Das Leben, 2000. My project for the German
parliament in Berlin for the project at the Bundestag. There are, I don’t know, some
of this is garbled, sorry. There are even other
special considerations which can potentially enrich the work as an interface of political meanings uplifted to a level of cultural symbolism. I’d chosen for this work
two texts by two authors, Ricarda Huch and Thomas Mann. From Magic Mountain, where Mann talks about the origin of life, for those of you familiar with that book, but these two individuals have made an important contribution
to German literature and the writing of history. Haw, who spent an important
part of her professional life in the east of Germany,
and is also a woman, seemed a good balance to Mann, who considered Huch the
greatest woman of his time. Ricarda Huch lived many
years in East Germany and was an early proponent of feminism, and was the first professor to speak out against the firing of her
Jewish colleagues who were being removed from the German
universities in the 1930s. Frammenti di Vitruvio, 2001, Foro Traiano, Rome. Too fast? A 30,000 meter work
located through the Foro, visible by night. A paragraph on the nature
of architecture by the most important architectural
theoretician of ancient times. In fact, the Foro was
based on his theories. It was cut into fragments and located on the architectural
fragments of the photo. Let’s see, yeah. Contemplation, 2002. I conceived this work for
the museum of typewriters in Parcines, Bolzano, and it was placed in the public
space adjacent to the museum through the period of the exhibition. In this work, I juxtaposed
a text by Nietzsche with a photograph of
Nietzsche’s own typewriter. Nietzsche was the first
philosopher to use a typewriter, an event which Friedrich Kittler calls a turning point in the
organization of discourse. A View to Memory, Vienna, Austria, 2002. In 2001, the Sigmund
Freud Museum in Vienna acquired the building storefront which once housed Sigmund
Kornmehl’s kosher butcher shop. The space was converted to present site-specific
works by contemporary artists as well as showcase some of the Freud museum’s
contemporary art collection, which I cofounded with
the curator Peter Pakesch and then Sigmund Freud museum director, Inga Schultz Strasser. I inaugurated the opening
of the storefront, which was then used for
the series hereafter, the series of installations for contemporary site-specific works. My installation for this space was titled A View to Memory, and as a work that utilizes public space by appropriating historical
photographic documentation of the original facade of
what was once Freud’s home on Berggasse 19. The appropriated image
shows the storefront and the Nazi bunting over
the entrance to Berggasse 19. I included a copy of
the original photograph, positioned it near the windowfront, and enlarged part of the document so as to literally recreate
the entire entrance to Kornmehl’s kosher butcher shop exactly in its original location, juxtaposing a quote by
Sigmund Freud as a banner on the top of the appropriated image. This work is a reflection
on public memory and shows how the photograph constitutes
two sides of the subject, its maker and its delayed viewer, as it attempts to reveal
the represented world and its subject within and how these two
elements mirror each other and thereby reflect the world. An old photograph locates the past as it problematizes the present. Isabella Stewart Gardner
Museum, Boston show, 2003. I was chosen to be the
centennial artist of the museum. This exhibition was
comprised of three parts, each an autonomous work that
functioned both independently as well as being three
elements of the whole. The exhibition rests on three individuals who had three separate roles within the production of
cultural meaning of their time, James Whistler, Bernard Berenson, and Isabella Stewart Gardner. For those of you who don’t know, Bernard Berenson traveled across Europe and would take photographs of works he would propose to
Isabella Stewart Gardner. This was the first collection
that was put together based on photographs, primarily. This installation from the Galleria
Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy. The context of art, how
it both produces meaning and is itself affected by the world as it affects the world is reflected in this work of 2005. A permanent installation on
the floor of the courtyard at the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, which employs mosaics produced
based on computer drawings to construct a work rooted in
the writing of Giordano Bruno in the museum courtyard. Recognizable Differences, Andersen, self-described, 2009. Five, sorry. Recognizable Differences
literally presents an opportunity to wander about Andersen’s intellectual universe. Recognizable Differences’
form of presentation is a giant carpet covering
all of the Nikolaj museum in Copenhagen’s upper gallery. On the lower gallery was an
installation by Ilya Kabakov. We were both invited together. Andersen’s fairytale, The
Emperor’s New Clothes, has been woven into the carpet, as has a selection of
quotes by Søren Kierkegaard which are presented as a
subtext to the fairytale. Andersen was quite obsessed with being taken seriously as a writer, a difficulty, given that
he wrote for children. Eventually heard that a
contemporary, Søren Kierkegaard, planned on writing about
him in a forthcoming book. However, when the book came
out, he was crushed to find that it was a damning
criticism of his writing. This was a cause of depression for him throughout the rest of his life. What I did for Andersen
on his 100th birthday was to research through
the writing of Kierkegaard and find quotes that could be seen as support for his writing, using Kierkegaard’s own words and thus providing a fine
present to him on his birthday. My second work is a neon
work consisting of two parts inside and outside the
tower, respectively. This work relates to Hans
Christian Andersen’s replies to the many questions in a visitor’s book concerning his preferences
within all aspects of his life, and it thus serves as a
kind of self portrait. The questions can be
found inside the tower and Andersen’s replies
will shine over the city from the outside of
Nikolaj’s distinctive tower. Seeing and Knowing. This double billboard
work was commissioned by, for the Castello Rivoli museum
of contemporary art in Turin in 2004 as a site-specific work and produced in conjunction
with a series of exhibitions called Concept, Body and Dream in 2006. The installation work is a
double-illuminated panel, one part installed on the
top of the roof of the museum while the other is
installed in the interior, under the roof on the third floor. The work quotes Giovan Battista Vico in both Italian and English and manifests how knowledge itself is constituted in the knower. Seeing/knowing is part of
the permanent collection at the Castello di Rivoli. The Language of Equilibrium, 2007. This project in yellow neon has as its basis language itself. It is a work which is both a reflection on its own construction as well as on the history
and culture of the location. This work is comprised of words from the Armenian, Italian,
and English languages. Language here is used as a signifier of the history of the project
of the Mectarian order, which is the religious order that has the buildings. They have control of the whole island. Yellow neon is chosen for this work because the symbolic
understanding of yellow at the time of the
founding of the monastery as meaning virtue, intellect,
esteem, and majesty. Böckler, 1688. The two supportive components of the work based on the word water,
are comprised of words arrived at through a view
of their history in use. One aspect of this installation
shows this relationship. The other part reflects
the role of these words in the (speaking in foreign language) or the Armenian dictionary which is 1749, written by Abbott Mechtar, founder of the order. Structure of the sensation
is two elements which are integrated on four diverse
architectural locations. The bell tower, the northwest wall, the promontory, and the observatory. These four locations reflect both the diversity of
the island’s architecture as well as articulate the history
and culture of the island. The work reflects the
cultural and social history of the evolution of language itself. How the history of a word
shows its ties to culture and social realities quite
distinct and disconnected. It is only in the present
when a word is used, as it is with a work of
art being experienced, that all that which
compromises the present finds its location in the
process of making meaning. Here in this work, language
becomes both an allegory and an actual result of all
which it would want to speak. Not Appearance, Not Illusion at the Musée du Louvre,
2009, Paris, France. This originally began as
a show for nine months and then it was made permanent. The first question
Jacinto Lageira asked me in our interview in the
catalog to the show, which I think is a useful beginning here, how and why have you chosen this very special place in the Louvre? And this was my response. There were several reasons. First, I wanted a place which was, in a sense, generic Louvre. I wanted the sense of
history of the place of art suggested by the totality of the Louvre. With that providing a kind of tabula rasa upon which I could write. It is the cellar, the underground, and the weight of all that history is pressing down on it. Yet it is an empty space, one which is passed
through on the way upstairs to see other concrete
and specific fragments of our cultural history. When you are in the passage
of the medieval walls, you sense the weight of history,
almost as history itself, but it’s not a specific history, as the defined and articulated areas with its objects are upstairs. It also seemed appropriate that my work was one with
the architecture itself, without the surplus meaning which the art and artifacts
above would provide. The foundation walls, by the way, this was the original 12th century walls of the Louvre Palace. It was discovered when
the built the pyramid. The foundation walls of
the original Louvre Palace seemed, well, to be foundational as a place for me to produce
the meaning which I wanted. I also liked that the space is a passage, is discoursive, a location
where one walks and talks on your way somewhere else. The box-like arrival location of rooms are often experienced as a
series of endgames where you stop and there, the work plays its role as objects of contemplation, and thus seem final and totalizing. I chose a similar kind of space, a passage from my show at the
Hersham some years before. There is a particular quality to the outside spaces in museum interiors. Edging work seen there as the graffiti in relation to the more
formal and institutionalized stasis of the works in the room. Architecture is the most
psychological of the arts. It defines the approach to work and frames your response to the kinds of meanings you find in it. These spaces are freer,
more open, obviously, and it permits a somewhat
different kind of relationship with the work seen there. The area I chose of the
Louvre is the psychological, it is the psychological interior streets of the city of the Louvre. You’re not in the house yet, where the work’s accumulated
history of its culture resides. At this point, you can only
anticipate that history. The Dog House. This was a private commission done for someone named Johnnie Walker. If you know him, he’s
quite famous in Tokyo. 2011. Nothing to Say. These are all quotes about dogs. ‘Cause of the light, if you don’t mind. This was a commission, next, a commission for a work on the facade of the Dutch equivalent of the Office of the State
Department at Holland. My choice was these quotes from Spinoza. Camu illuminated, Paris, 2013. An installation of works
based on the writing of Albert Camus in French,
Arabic, and English. Sigmund Freud in the play On
the Burden of Representation. 2014. 21st house. It was part of the Belvedere. This was the, my foundation
there that’s part of the Sigmund Freud (speaking
in foreign language), and I put together a
collection over the years by asking artists, friends, to donate works to the Freud Museum. And so it was showing that collection, and there was a room of
just my works of the ’80s, which they’re all based on Freud. I did it when, it’s the 50th anniversary, and this is the second, and that was in the Sigmund Freud Museum. That’s actually his apartment,
which they finally acquired, and this was the 75th anniversary
of the death of Freud, was the occasion. This is the Kuntsmuseum Thurgau, where you earlier saw
the work on the floor. This is a permanent work on
the outside of the museum. This is Havana. This is part of the, it was part of the Biennale of Havana. I was given an honoris causa
doctorate while I was there. For 300 years in this area, there were silver mines. The silver mines slowly died. They ran out of silver. Mostly, the money from the
silver mines were used, given to the King of Denmark
to wage war on Europe. Anyway, this is a new building. I was given the commission to do a work. Keep going, there you
see, this, stop there. These are the names of the silver mines and when they died, essentially. This was a big project. I think about 185 meters long. That’s at the main train station in Taipei, Taiwan, and this was two years
ago, three years ago now. It’s a novel by a local
writer about travel. To keep it simple, I’ll say that. So this is, I did a work at the Querini Stampalia, which
is a famous Scarpa garden, and I did the work on
the facade, as you saw. Now, this is a room that
Scarpa did at the university and it’s on the Grand Canal. That was up for the architecture biennale, and then it was kept up
for the art biennale. Nice doing two biennales at one time. This was a great invitation I got from the museum in Philadelphia, right next to the big
Duchamps installation, where it was kind of, I went many times in my life to see. It was a work that I did in honor of Nude Descending a Staircase for
a show with Francis Naumann. This is a famous 18th century staircase in the Somerset house, and it was a big exhibition organized in honor of Stanley Kubrick. It was great because I got to go to the storage of all of the
props from all of his films, as one of the artists in the show, in case we needed to get any ideas. But I brought my ideas with me. But nonetheless, this is the staircase. Quite a beautiful one. But it was a temporary show. This is a work I did, I was the only living artist in the show. It was a marvelous show about essentially Magrittan philosophy at Centre Pompidou. This work, next year I
will be installing it in the Magritte museum in
Brussels, in a permanent way. So this is a recent work, last year. It was an exhibition in Kaohsiung, which is at the very bottom of Taiwan. It was a group show based on the river that goes through the town, which is the second largest
town, called Love River. It was taken from, anyway, it interrogates the objects produced by cartographers and explores the language
inherent in map making. The artist questions the
very, meaning myself, semantics of localization and how this linguistic need stems not so much from an
inquiry into representation but from a process of production and ultimately the
shaping of meaning itself. The work entitled Mappa
Mundi, Taiwan, 2017, is comprised of large site-specific neon installed installation, accompanied by a series
of silk-screened panels containing a selection of
quotes by various writers, each text referring to the ontology of cartography and mapping. The neon work is a line drawing, a reproduction of an existing
Dutch map dated circa 1638. I composed an illuminated trace of the perimeter of an old cartography of the south end of the island of Taiwan. While I have often referred
both directly and indirectly to maps and the process of
mapping in previous works, the current work represents
my first geological neon map. I have said the use of old
maps is a useful device. Unlike the maps we have naturalized as part of our contemporary
national identity on the one hand, and our practical use
of them on the other, an old map bears a device of
its own vision of the world through the picture of it that that worldview constructs. It’s one we experience as a difference from our present concept
of the world, obviously, and thus becomes something visible. There’s a kind of linguistic
component to maps. Language loses its transparency in an interesting way in an old map. Intellectual opinion. This was, I just came from
L.A., I was there last week. I was at a show called Plato in L.A. at the Getty Villa. This was the work I did for that show. À Propos Réflecteur de Réflecteur, 2004, from my exhibition at Sean Kelly. It’s constructed as a kind of intellectual map of French philosophy. It’s, for me, a very, very
important installation, so I show it here. A little bit out of order,
in terms of the chronology, but doesn’t matter. Nietzsche, Darwin, and
the Paradox of Content was at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Scotland. The work you see on the screen
was originally conceived in occasion of the Edinburgh Festival. They do usually one big
art exhibition, at least, in the University of Edinburgh’s
Talbot Rice Gallery, 2009. This is where the young Charles Darwin studied the stuffed birds that filled the vitrines at that time. In reference to this
installation project, titled, an interpretation of this title, well, we already said that, didn’t we? So nevermind. Oh, it went to Sydney after. The drawings by Charles Darwin, as depicted of a scientific
order being posited are maps of relations as
much as representations of the face of science as
a belief in its making. They constitute both
creativity and a truth to be. We have a historical view of
the formation of our beliefs and their exodus from the hand of a man. These are on deposit at
Cambridge University. I found all these drawings by Darwin, and none of the Darwin experts
know what any of them mean. Fantastic. Then, I could step in. We have in this same space a horizon line of two texts by Nietzsche, which sets the perspective
of the total installation, a comment on the play of its parts. This provides both a self reflection as well as a deeper edification of the work’s combined elements to be understood and
experienced as a whole, as they simultaneously provide a warning and a critique of the work’s presumptions. Above, on the mezzanine level, there’s another kind of map of relations which shadow and illuminates science as constituted by the
drawings of Darwin below. The web of connections between these quotes of Nietzsche follow interior arguments
concerning art and nature, to art and science, to art and philosophy. This tree of relationships
elliptically self-reflects Nietzsche’s view of how
art as a construction serves the self and asserts the self-made. In this view, the truth claims of science are put in suspicion, sorry,
that was a good Freudian slip. Suspension in order to propose
an aesthetic project that, while being located externally,
posits an understanding manifested by being asserted indirectly. And yet, no less as an
epistemic restraint, and thus, honestly. As Nietzsche stated, quote, “Our ultimate gratitude is to art. “If we had not welcomed the arts “and invented this kind
of cult of the untrue, “then the realization of general untruth “and mendaciousness that now
comes to us through science, “the realization that delusion and error “are conditions of human
knowledge and sensation, “would be utterly unbearable. “It honestly would lead
to nausea and suicide. “But now there is a
counterforce against our honesty “that helps us to avoid such consequences. “Art as the good will to appearance.” You can always count on Nietzsche. Texts for Nothing, 2010. The installation work you
currently see on the screen was developed for the architecture of the Australian Center
for Contemporary Art, ACCA, in Melbourne. The text, written in warm white neon and partially blackened
out on the front surface are comprised of passages
from the dialogue of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, put in play in relation to his lesser-known writing,
Texts for Nothing. The illuminated image is that of Caspar David
Friedrich’s painting, Two Men Looking at the Moon, 1819, which is considered to be the painting that inspired Beckett to
write Waiting for Godot. Abandoned for years by the
major critics of Beckett’s work and rarely included in
anthologies of his writing, Texts for Nothing was seen
as outside of the mainstream of Beckett’s writing. Previously viewed as somewhat of a pause in the oeuvre of Beckett, for me, as an artist approaching his work, this writing, for my purpose,
is quintessential Beckett, the perfect example of his
particular artistic integrity. Beckett’s project as an artist
has been instructive to me and touches on questions
which occupy my own work. That is, a concern with meaning. One of many differences,
of course, is that Beckett approaches the question of
meaning from its absence. In my work, I have been concerned
with how meaning is made. But, that said, the approach can neither be obvious nor singular. Texts for Nothing is the least narrative of all of Beckett’s writing and has been the most useful to me. To manifest descriptions
of the parts unsaid, and only to be seen in Beckett, is to underscore that this work and that is also my work awaits for the viewer/reader. That is, it is a process
and it is incomplete. It is work that only
begins, it does not end. My work is made possible by
what is shared in both works. This work, in both senses,
constitutes language itself. It is self-described, and as an object, it is one constructed as an absence. An absence from which our
questions about meaning can flow. Even if only through a lack which manifests itself
as a form of desire. With Beckett, we have language
self-erasing as it arrives, seeing itself reflected in the collapse of its own significance, and meaning being manifested through confrontation
with its own nothingness. Meaning here is what is left behind as a kind of residue
of the world’s effect. In the case of Waiting for Godot, it has been described as a drama concerned with the collapse
of language itself, collapse of language, belief,
and ultimately meaning. By doing so, Beckett bears the device of all of the theatrical
projects before and after. The how of traditional,
even modern theater, pales, even becomes meaningless
in the face of why that is revealed as quite
possibly unsupportable. Not unlike the philosophical
project of Ludwig Wittgenstein of the artistic project
of Ernst Reinhardt, saying what’s not possible may be the only approach
to showing what is. The project is to glimpse in passing what it would be like to believe in where meaning might be found. This is the painting by
David Caspar Friedrich. This post-modern project, however, out of the process of an etymological-like formative historical path
of growth within culture has internalized a carried-over
feature of modernism. This can be seen as that art
requires a self-definition, even if a continually transformatory one to be put in play in the service of maintaining the recognition of itself. That of having a quality
of transitory autonomy. This feature is a necessary one for art to be readable and meaningful in a given cultural and historical moment. This is the operative play of art and it’s part of the nature of the dynamic of its own inherent cultural force to self-describe itself
in relation to the world in which it finds itself, even if always in a way
which is subject to revision by the practitioners
of culture themselves, who must embrace it. It is the internal drive of
art toward implicit autonomy that provides its traction with the world. Art’s ultimate refusal to participate with the world as a knowing partner within the context of other meanings, corporate, religious,
entertainment, et al., is how it preserves and
maintains its own particular even if non-prescriptive character. Viral-like, as Felix Gonzales-Torres
put it so eloquently, “Art’s paradoxical dialectic requires “that it must take on the forms “and meanings of the world of the living “and borrowing freely as part of “a dynamic of an interior order “which protects its identity “as something other than the world “in order to make meaning
for the living in the world. “That which distinguishes
the actual production of art, “from that of paintings by monkeys “or the drawings of children “is that international act “manifesting a specific
kind of meaning, art, “within human cultural and social meaning. “One which necessitates
an individual’s intention “to take subjective
responsibility for that act, “without which such an activity
can have no political life. “Without such a profile of autonomy, “art could never see itself. “That is, it would lose
its self-reflexivity “and thus, its capacity as a critical “and political force within culture.” Or, as Gaston Bachelard put it, “As soon as art becomes autonomous, “it makes a fresh start.” In this way, art manifests itself as a continual and
dialectical new beginning. As part of its own autonomous spiral, it must be able to see itself, which also means to see the
world in itself as it proceeds. This self-reflexive moment
constitutes in culture the basis for its political life, as a critical space, and
as a transformatory one. A moment within its role as part of the production
of consciousness itself. And as it does so, human
intention takes on its role as a producer of meaning along with the subjective
responsibility for having done so. And thereby anchors the cultural discourse of which it is a part to the historical moment
in which it happens. It is this which gives
art its authenticity, both in the present and
for future generations. Installations, as a structural
or constructive element, can often be conceived by the
artist as a kind of stage set. An autonomous one, built to generate the play
which follows from it. The play itself, a connecting
and disrupted narrative of discourse of historical
and cultural references, makes formal associations with
both art and non-art sources and contains both social
and political meaning within a cultural view,
along with the psychological and other associative responses
to an architectural setting already internalized as
part of the installation. The play arrives with the viewer and it consists of the approach itself toward what the viewer finds there. The dialogue as initiated is
provided by this discourse and it begins as an interior one. The theater of which I speak
is one anchored in the world and as installation has
been a liberating platform for practicing artists who establish it as their own post-modern zone of play. The actors in this play
are without a script and the viewing audience and actors are, in fact, one and the same. Neither the fictive nor
the properly theatrical are to be found in the program
of this artistic enterprise. There’s no need for absorption nor a passage to transcendence. There’s only a construction
within a cultural discourse at a moment of its own history. One having its language
that needs to be seen as the interface where
meaning in this world is in the process of construction. It’s a meaning which shows
construction in a way which is specific to art and its assertions are no less significant philosophically or culturally for being manifested and implicit. Installations arrived as the
result of the need of artists to produce works which were in the world, whether employing objects or not, but which were not framed
by the limits imposed by the fictive space requirement of modernist sculpture and painting. Thus, in important ways,
installations were also free of the ideological baggage of modernism, particularly given the consequences of the hijacking of late modernism by Greenberg, Fried, and their followers. That third contribution
was seen at the time as more than just an
intellectual event in academia, where it has since been consigned, remains a curiosity for my generation. One can now see that
the contributions then was primarily negative because there emerged no
art of any significance which was generated by or had the support and positive influence of this theory. Its role was permanently
one of a negative framing and misreading of work, such as pop art or minimalism, which in fact has since proved to be both significant and consequential. If by reactionary, one means a response intended to maintain the status quo, this certainly defines the efforts of Greenberg, Fried, et al. It was the theoretical
shoring up of a form of art which was modernism itself that was already beginning
to lose its relevance. That was certainly obvious
to many of us even then and is simply a fact now,
some 40-some years later. The lesson here is about the power of art to define its own self-conception
within the practice itself as it participates in shaping
the culture of its time. What it reveals is a limited value and effect of any theory
without the anchor of an actual artistic
practice supporting it. The system of beliefs which accompanies and shapes the view of an object intended as art as being not simply an
object, but as a construction, was, for me, exactly where the
rupture needed to take place. And it was the location where
a practice concerned with why found itself with a mission that felt, at the time, like historical necessity. And it should be said that, even if still modernist
in many ways at the time, minimalism nonetheless was
important for making a break which showed the way out
of that swamp of meaning. Hard to use the word swamp now, isn’t it? Which modernist art practice, in the form of sculpture and painting, increasingly represented. This was long before the market turned minimal art back into sculpture for its own purposes. The view from the balcony now is a view which includes both
modernism and post-modernism, and the terrain we see is
one built over the past 40, 30 or 40 years, and
resulting in another culture with other expectations
and a different mission. If John showed us how a canvas wasn’t a window into another space, installations constitute
a leap and a break. They are already in the world we inhabit and the effect they have
is meant to happen there. The questions our work became free to ask are a result of us, as artists,
finding ourselves there. The work which this has
initiated in the past decades has shown that playing
field to be a fertile one, as has the theory also initiated
by institutional critique, which in its various forms has
benefited most significantly. It is actual works upon which
art theory must be anchored, and without the discourse
begun by conceptual artworks, the conversation we call
institutional critique couldn’t be taking place. The material of an installation is first a psychological
and social experience provided by the room’s architecture. They result from the meaning of the social and cultural history of its use, along with the combined experience of the psychology of that
particular architectural context added to our prior
architectural experience. We know and experience
that, why we also know that? Why, we are standing in the world. We also know that in a
musuem or a gallery that, like anything else, its being there could
be of limited duration but we suspend our understanding that world as that location, that institution or place
of cultural activity will change and continue in another way. This location in time provides
contemporary installations, that texture of history which is part of one’s more
immediate experience of them. The point is that an installation work, even a temporary one, insofar as the experience
of the work goes, is attached to a location. It’s fixed as part of the architecture and seals its fate along
with the history and culture of that one location in the world. The implication being quite
unlike the free-floating object that transcends any particular place, finding its aura in the market on the way to its final resting place of the heavenly museum. It is the loss of the sense
of self with absorption which removes the viewer
from the here and now and makes the experience of
effective space even possible. Why installations are
so intrinsically linked with this understanding of post-modernism is that their commitment to a location links them to the here and now, and yet discoursively part
of what makes them art, and as such, as art, they can do so while they remain in the world. Thank you. (audience applauds)

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