September 9, 2008

Things Under Erasure

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to discuss my work with my colleague and friend, Dr. Lisa Lipinski. The subject of our talk was my text-bisection practice and my current Song for Europe installation that is in The Athenaeum. Dr. Lipinski’s skillful preparation of her succinct questions and her collegial support allowed our talk to unfold effortlessly. Our conversation ranged from the difficulty in describing my work (neither “drawing” nor “painting” but uses media of the former and inhabits critical positions of the latter) to how it differs from the work of earlier conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner.

One question that proved fruitful was how I came to this technique of text-bisection. I recounted my discovery of Jacques Derrida’s expansion on Martin Heidegger’s “unique device” for acknowledging a word’s “inaccuracy” by crossing it out.(1) Derrida extends this idea of sous rature - placing the word “under erasure” – to all words. Thus, my text-bisection process is a simple but direct attempt to extend Derrida’s belief to a visual system. Text-bisection literalizes this idea and also incorporates “illegibility” to literalize the “play” of differences in language. I further explained there is both “reading” and “looking” in Song for Europe and the participatory nature of the work conflates both these into an experiential process of the “language” of art.

A small but decidedly interested group of people attended our gallery talk and I have exchanged emails with some audience members in the ensuing two days. One of these emails was from artist and teacher Carol Dupré who posed a “minor” question that introduces a possible continuation of discourse begun earlier and, given the importance and necessity that I attribute to “supplemental materials” on art, I reprint it here for our edification:

“One minor one is the 'erasure' concept that used to be known as 'bracketing,' changing it considerably. In a sense keeping it visual, on the shelf. Has anyone approached that change in usage-imagery?”

I now close this post with my previously emailed reply to Ms. Dupré, re-printed here in its entirety - ampersands and contractions intact - knowing (and expecting) her “follow-up question” that is waiting in the wings and that will perhaps generate further discussion from you gentle and international readers of this site:

“Your thoughts on "bracketing" vs. sous rature brought back fuzzy memories of Heidegger & Husserl. Heidegger said we can't experience the external world apart from our mental constructs of it & that our "pre-reflective" consciousness is a more authentic orientation to the world than our reflective consciousness. Husserl emphasized that "bracketing" was a way to get to Zu den Sachen ("the things themselves")(2) as we post-pone or set aside our "baggage" about the world (our mental constructs of it) to attempt to focus on noumena, or the thing itself.

Is this similar to placing words "under erasure?" I think not, as bracketing requires a total disengagement from the external world whereas sous rature acknowledges the necessity of seeing that word behind the erasure in order to discuss it.”

Song for Europe continues through September 21, 2008 at The Athenaeum. Gallery hours: Thursday-Sunday, 12-4 pm. For information: 1-703-548-0035.

Image: Song for Europe: Signs are not thoughts (English); detail with visitor contributions on 8/20/08; © Copyright 2008.


1. “Since the word is inaccurate, it is crossed out. Since the word is necessary, it remains legible.” - Gayatri Spivak in the “Translator’s Preface” to Derrida's Of Grammatology (revised edition), Baltimore, 1998, xiv.

2. Forgive my elimination of selbst from Husserl’s term. More on Husserl and phenomenology at


tackad said...

First, let me say that I enjoy the posted painting just as it is (pre bisection)
and by the way, have you ever considered doing something to your word paintings other than bisecting ?
But for me, most importantly at the moment - what can we call paintings whose content, construction, structure, etc is Writing ? what word can we come up with that when Googled would show us work like yours.
As you know , my blog is all about finding and then sharing with my readers, art and artists who write in their paintings. That's how I found You.
How can we identify this very broad oeuvre ???
I realize this is a little off-topic, but reading your post made me think of these things . . . . .

Mark Cameron Boyd said...

Thank you for your comment. However, the posted detail is post-bisection, i.e., the words were previously bisected with tape prior to installation, then the tape was removed and the panels were installed, and its current state is represented in the image that shows The Athenaeum visitors' contributions to the English panels.

Irregardless, your query about "how can we identify . . . paintings whose content, construction, structure, etc. is writing?" is worth pursuing. I humbly refer to my description above, wherein, as a post-gallery talk recollection I wrote that it is "neither 'drawing' nor 'painting' but uses media of the former and inhabits critical positions of the latter."

Not to deny the necessity of a singular word that would help niche studio practice such as mine to presumably allow easier discovery via Internet search, but perhaps (post)conceptual art reveals the flaw in "medium-specificity" after all.

tackad said...

How does the word "Pwrainting" sound/work ?