December 15, 2006
Reflections on the Playground
As Logocentric Playground comes to a close, and before I make some general comments here on my experiences and the knowledge gained during the installation, I should provide a brief background on the history and purpose of the work:
My art practice has evolved from original text written on panels, using my particular “text-bisection process” and resulting in a dense veil of fragmented sentences, works that addressed the difficulties of meaning in this system of representation that we call language. Around a year ago I began to write a proposal for an installation of blackboard panels to be presented as “inactive” and open to public interaction, this interaction to take the form of “deciphering” my writing with provided chalk. The reason that I called these proposed blackboard panels “inactive” was that only with the hands-on action of a site-visitor would the interactive process actually become a literal "questioning" of the fragility of meaning in the written word.
One impression I have gained is that there were two distinct possibilities for the interactions, not the types of actions, i.e., deciphering, writing, drawing, etc. but the essential directions a visitor interaction could conceivably take:
1) There is a perceived sense (wall text, museum press release, website) that I am engaging in a conversational discourse if I present sentences on the blackboards that are bisected with reduced recognition, then there is a game afoot, with the realization that there is a possible “understanding,” deciphering or recognition to be gained. There is also the possibility of misrecognition or an ignorance of the original text. These interactions have to do with understanding that something is written there and acquiescing to the perceived importance of what is written, and comprehending that the artist is wishing the interaction to be directed along his own lines of inquiry or his “preferred” direction.
2) However, there is the equally real possibility, with actual proven instances, that the original words are of secondary importance to a visitor, that the words are ignored or overlooked (in some cases literally over-written) to promote and further personal agendas, said agendas taking the form of personal thoughts, philosophical musings, “tagging” or signatures for recognition, even interpersonal conversations between individuals.
This means that there are two avenues to traverse [one of which alludes to “logocentricism,” not only the questionable belief that ideas exist outside of the words we use to express them, but the logocentricism of the “author’s” original bisected text]. If the artist’s intention is recognized as the essential purpose, then the deciphering of the bisected words takes on paramount importance. However, if one chose to ignore, avoid, or not yield to the artist’s intended direction then one could privilege one’s own interaction (and text) over the artist’s.
Mystery of Interaction
The additions or contributions to the panels by visitors became quite mysterious to me as the installation progressed. Clearly this was because rarely was I able to “witness” the act of people writing – the interactions only appeared when I made a site-visit. I am undecided whether this should remain a mystery to me, as well as to “repeat visitors.” There is the obvious possibility of including a technological aspect to the installation, i.e., closed-circuit video or stop-action cameras. Yet perhaps the intrusion of technology would shift the emphasis from the original conception of the work to the performances of individual visitors, which seems to be a very real desire, as articulated by the . . .
Power of the Platform
By providing a “stage” or a platform upon which unknown individuals can engage in a culturally sanctioned “conversation,” I have entered the provocative “arena of public discourse.” If one decides not to play my “game” of deciphering text then it is tantamount to declaring that one’s “choices” are going to be more important than the platform. The fact that the platform has been erected in respect of the artist’s intentions bears little or no importance in this “power-play” as the sequencing of power yields to the “public” stranger. This stranger’s persona is quite practically an unknown individual who has an invitation to “collaborate” with the artist on this platform, but the opportunity to collaborate is obviously not enough to counteract the personal desire for power.
This particular four-week installation at the Katzen made me acutely aware of an approximate ten-day incubation period for the “peak” of the discourse. Within three days, I had positive, clear contributions that began to “fill-in” missing fragments of words. This occurred quickly but soon the panels became inexorably consumed with visitors' catch phrases, self-promotions or ironic humor. By the end of the second week there was an accumulation of detritus, a networking of lines, scribbles, and other writing, that began to obscure the original bisected texts. If I continue the project, whether with these particular panels or new ones, I am certain that I will determine the most effective duration to optimize the discourse.
I am concerned with the immediacy of a discourse between artist, viewer and the artwork, a discourse that is essentially self-aware, self-critical and self-reflective about the process of viewing and “interacting,” whether passively or actively, with the work. I am making work that comes from a conceptual position, i.e., concept over object. This installation was conceived as an expansion of the artwork from a "precious object" to a "living" thing, to focus the visitor's attention on where art actually resides - in the discourse itself instead of "in" the object.