exercise 2.4 – text

Observations and Ramblings – a suitably disordered list…

In a similar manner to Richard Long’s ‘textworks’ (see http://www.richardlong.org​), write down 12 – 24 brief observations during a short walk or journey by some means of transport. This may be the journey you intend to make for Assignment Two, or it may be a different one. You don’t need to take any photographs.

LPE Coursebook, p.86

The first bit of journey, I know like the back of my hand: up to Queens Road and past Alice’s school […] beneath the railway lines and over the High Street, stopping to get the paper at the smaller of the two Walthamstow Safeways […] past Mission Grove (where Alice went to school during the early weeks of the first lockdown) […] and then on North to Blackhorse Road Station before turning west to head to the wetlands.


Flats – great blocks of flats – rearing up opposite the station, where the taxi office’s portakabin used to be. They dwarf the dazzle-striped Standard Venue. It is closed, but still there. For now.


A petrol station,  selling Spanish tiles and Italian marble, one generation of reuse on from its time as a hand car-wash. Ruscha no more.


Between reservoirs and across the Lea (and parallel to it, the Lee Navigation), past the Ferryboat Inn and then turn right. Burst into the open space of Tottenham Marshes!


Narrow boats and Dutch barges; down at heel and slightly sinister. Not that I mind that too much, being left-handed myself.

Dogs bark at my wheels.

People walking. People drinking (piles of cans beside empty benches; nooks opened up within the bushes behind them). People – men – fishing coarsely. Locals having an afternoon out, sat there watching the leisured pass by.

The leisured – like me – jog or cycle past along the towpath, taking their own time about it.

But Deliveroo delivers.

Masked men in black on electric scooters buzz past. Stealth and speed.


(Alternative lifestyles through the ages – navvies – building the navigation – bargees, gypsy, hippy, crusty, pikey. Dismissive/derogatory/offensive terms for people who are different enough to be ‘not like us.’ Some people choose to live here; others are born into it. I am passing though. The canal is a reservation for those who don’t – or can’t – find their fit elsewhere)


Further on, scruffy horses graze a narrow strip of still-common land…

Smell of manure.


Smell of sewage from the sewage works.

Smell of bacon from the  cafes at the moorings.

But this isn’t Camden Town so why is the Camden Town brewery here?

Smell of beer.

A hundred yards or so further on, there ain’t no Beavers near the Beavertown brewery neither…


Gravel crackles and spits beneath my tyres. Bridges rumble as I cross from bank to bank. Ridged grips for horses hooves judder and shake the life out of you.

Nameless, numbered locks, then: Picket’s Lock -> Ponder’s End Lock -> Enfield Lock (where they made flintlocks).

Swooping under bridges with multilane traffic drumming overhead.


I remembers when it was all light industry around these parts…


Canals, navigations – like railways – are the tradesman’s entrance to the city.

The arteries of the industrial revolution, canals are grooved into the surface of the land; canals are contained by the place they run through.

Screened-off by bushes and embankments, they were hidden from genteel residents’ sensitive eyes.


The commercial properties that use(d) the water as a way of getting their goods from one place to another are mostly gone, though some remain. There are timber yards and distribution depots. An incinerator. A gas-fired power station.


Returning home, more new flats stick up like postmodern teeth above the greenery.

I think of post-independence Kyiv, mushrooming ugly on the east bank of the Dniepr.

I think of Oz.

 


Consider how you might present your observations. For some more inspiration on text-based artwork, you can search for the following artists:

  • Ed Ruscha
  • Barbara Kruger
  • Mark Titchner

This exercise is designed to help you think about text as an alternative or additional means of expression, and to provide an opportunity to experiment with presenting text creatively.

LPE Coursebook, p.87

 

The least imaginative  way to use my observational text would be to turn it into a shot-list, and take pictures accordingly, but this would only work if the texts were primarily concerned with the visual and the concrete. Instead, most of them are either about ideas (communicable in words) or information derived from my other senses: smell and hearing in particular, but also a bit of touch as I physically cycle along the navigation, getting haptic feedback through my feet on the pedals, my hands on the handlebars and my bum on the saddle.

Some of the phrases/statements could be used as captions, either descriptively to anchor them or to act as a relay, expanding what they appear to show to a viewer (smell of sewage, on a picture that does not suggest it. say) but again, this is fairly standard practice…

In July, I took part in a two-part, OCA workshop on Visual Art and Text (organised by fellow-student Paola Alessandri-Gray and hosted by tutor Bryan Eccleshall). It was mainly concerned with the ways text can be incorporated into a work of art rather than using it as an add-on. In their different ways, this is what the three artists mentioned in the exercise brief do.

Ed Ruscha’s use of words to form part of the surface of large (huge!) painted artworks, intended for display in a gallery is far less familiar to me than his books containing  photography, such  as 26 Gasoline Stations (1963) or Thirty four parking lots (1967).

The way pictures like The Canyons (1979) or Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska (1980) – both in Marshall (2003; 190-191) – use words is to give specifics to two rather abstract landscapes (a low horizon, beneath an orangey-brown sky streaked with clouds) by including text on their surface. The Canyons  has ‘Laurel Canyon, Coldwater Canyon, Benedict Canyon’ running vertically above specific points on the horizon to the far right of the canvas;  the place names from the title of the second picture decrease in size across its whole – enormous – width.

The Canyons becomes the sort of labeled panorama you find at beauty spots, or to make sense of the featureless view across no-man’s land between the trenches on the Western front; Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska situates the viewer firmly to the south of the Rio Grande with a journey north into the USA set out to what becomes a northerly vanishing point. Both paintings make me think about places and establish my physical relationship with them.

When I think of Barbara Kruger’s work, it seems so monolithic – and perfectly realised –  in its red-black-and-whiteness that it seems impossible to take it as an inspiration for work of my own. To do so would be to take on board a whole methodology in order to do something that has already been pretty well realised by someone else. Kruger has staked her claim to a certain section of the artistic frontier, and the best I can do is admire it while keeping off…

Also is hard, initially, to see how Kruger’s work fits around the genre of landscape, but if you refine an online search (‘barbara kruger’) to include the term ‘landscape’ itself you find this:

‘The 2,500-seat amphitheater nudges the “H” of PICTURE THIS — massive, sans-serif caps inscribed on the landscape in various media. This was Barbara Kruger’s contribution to a 1988 landscape plan titled “Imperfect Utopia,” conceived for the [North Carolina Museum of Art] by architects … and landscape architects…’

– Twardy, nd

Unsurprisingly, the firm of landscape architects still feature ‘Imperfect Utopia’ prominently on their website:

Viewed from an airplane, the site reveals the words “PICTURE THIS”, each letter imprinted in the landscape and constructed from a different material, including chain link fencing, plants, natural rocks and wood decking. The letters also serve as seat walls, retaining walls and even buildings.’

– Quennell Rothschild and Partners (Landscape Architects)

This is no longer art to be displayed in a gallery; instead, everything is reliant upon the installation of work in a public space.

‘The idea behind the Krugerian exhortation was to imagine new contexts for art, beyond the typical gallery spaces of the museum’s bland brick home, designed by Edward Durrell Stone and built in 1983’

– Twardy, ibid

It is a reference to ‘new contexts’ in the second quote by Chuck Twardy that links Kruger’s landscaping of the park in North Carolina to Mark Titchner’s work displayed outside the space of ‘the gallery’ on billboards, hoardings and bus stops. While the full wordiness of Kruger’s work is only fully understandable from the air, Titchner’s recent, publicly displayed work (such as ‘Please Believe These Days Will Pass’ which got its third outing in the UK during lockdown #1) consists of statements and questions designed to provoke a reaction – in the viewer. The work becomes a place- and time-specific trigger, rather than art being and end in itself.

Titchner makes art having been engaged to display it in specific places –hospitals, stations and libraries…spaces where we share the experience, but we don’t engage with each other‘(Simpson, 2020) – and will tailor his text so that it resonates in that particular location.

 I think the idea of locating work in a non-art setting is really interesting, but I currently lack the resources to locate my landscape work in an exterior setting. And, unlike Titchner, I am not going to be approached by a creative agency who want to get my work onto billboards the length and breadth of the country. However, I made use of ‘appropriated gallery space‘ for the final revision of one of the assignments in Identity and Place, and – during lockdown, after all OCA work was channelled online – started collecting advertising hoardings that could form a starting point for constructing composited display sites for  some of my work:


Four Lockdown Advertising Sites, Walthamstow


However, this is not the assignment to take this idea further, I think.

Where words and journeys intersect most powerfully for me, is in one of my earliest self-consciously 21st century experiences : I was in a taxi, being driven home from an airport and the driver was getting instructions from a robot woman, who could knew where we were down to the last couple of metres... This was science fiction! The female voice was the AI projection of an early Sat-Nav…

I have begun to think about ways to use text to guide a viewer through the experience of my journey. I would like to make something that engages the viewer as a participant, rather than simply presenting them with a set of pictures set on a wordpress page…


Reference:

 

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