Harrison Chapter 1

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Stefan Römer: Ok, we are guests of Charles Harrison in Oxford on the 29 th November 2004 and my first question is: How did you start to work together with the collective Art and Language what was the starting point for you?

Charles Harrison: It was gradual. I was working at Studio International the magazine in London as an assistant editor and I'd have heard a little bit about the activities of Art and Language in Coventry from a colleague who was there associated with the international American girl called Barbara Rice. She was teaching at Coventry so she knew the people there. So I heard a little bit about them and about the work they were doing and then Terry Atkinson and Harold Hurrel from the original group Art and Language came to see me at Studio bringing some materials. They were just introducing themselves as artist to somebody who worked on an art magazine. I found it very interesting because they were very different from the other artist I met. They looked a little bit more like ... well they had suits and briefcases you know quite like an artist and Harold was very depressed. Shortly after that hype in the spring of 69 I went to New York. I went partly because I wanted to meet Clement Greenberg and I wanted to see more American painting and I met Joseph Kosuth. I met him in a Ken Noland(?) exhibition in Larry Luton's gallery and we got talking and he latched on to me as somebody who was an English art critic and told me around, introduced me to people in New York. So through him I met Lucy Lippard and the (?) state of artists When I came back to England I was keen to try and get more involved with the kind of work that I had seen in New York, I think and renewed my contacts with the Art and Language people. I can't remember exactly how that happened but I do remember being invited up to Coventry to talk. I think it must have been by Terry where I met Michael and David Bainbridge. That confirmed my sense that these were interesting people. I think that also I was very upset about what I was doing ... I wanted to be an art critic and wanted to know that curator but I started to find that this kind of career that I thought I had set up to myself didn't really work and I explain more about why not in a little while. And I didn't really know why it wasn't working why/where.... the competence is that I thought I had didn't seem to give me the results that I hoped for but these were people who knew why they knew what was wrong with having sensitivity, culture and class in a context with art where that didn't work any more I suppose and I felt increasingly that they were people I could learn from I suppose but I was still then working as a exhibition organiser critic and so what I tried to do was to get involved with them in that roll and so initially I(?) my context with art and language by trying to organise exhibitions with their working and put them into exhibitions that I had a chance to organise by writing about that work also and through them I became more closely involved with the group. I remember writing an article about Art and Language, Burgon and Kosuth in Studio, I think in 1970 and what I remember from that is I remember Michael Baldwin coming on to visit my house in London where I was living. The first he said was:»Your article was shit» And I said how good, Art and Language was so important ... that was not a reaction I'd had from many of the other artists I had written about and it was interesting and he was right. So it increased my sense that these were people that I could learn with. So I suppose I worked to become more closely involved. The other strong content was through the magazine through Art and Language which I was certainly interested but (?) I didn't stand it. That was the thing that made it interesting it was really difficult and strange. But it was also full of mistakes and I am quite a competent editor and I couldn't bare the fact that this interesting material was being spoiled slightly by the fact that you couldn't tell a difference between what was difficult and what was a radiant form of mistake. So I offered my services as an editor to the magazine just to try and get some of the mistakes out and I became initially more closely involved with A+L as a just as a working editor but of course what happened to AL is that those who join in the work and particularly those who try and made a (?) critics become drawn into the production. So I just got gradually more closely to the journal. [...]

S.R.: What was the challenge of this project?

Ch.H.: The project of Art and Language?

S.R.: Yes.

Ch.H.: Partly it sheer(?) difficulty, it was also strange. They were making claims for a kind of artistic status for works that took a form but simply not formal texts that were very hard to understand hard to read. So there was a kind of intellectual challenge. But it also was work that seemed to have kind of a critical purchase on the standard kind of modernist fair of the time and that made it interesting and I think it made it particularly interesting to me because I was trying to be a competent and sophisticated consumer of modernist art and couldn't find out why I was failed.


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