Art & Language Chapter 1

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S.R.: The interesting thing for me with conceptual art is that it is conceived as something like a break in art history or the history of art, because suddenly there was this strong interest for philosophical items and for linguistic questions in art. They haven't been there before. In this specific case also for me is very interesting that you were working from the beginning with this label "Art & Language" in a collective situation and this label for me seemed to be always from the beginning on as I noticed that this label has a kind of programmatic model. Can you say something about that?

Michael: It's very hard to answer that question briefly. Quite difficult.

Mel: First. I doubt very much whether A & L had ever been programmatic in any sense of a research program or anything of that nature. And insofar as it was collective we used to suggest that people considered that it was, as it were, an ordinal collective rather than a cardinal collective. So you would see him and then you would see me, but it was not a thing, which made a cardinal number of people. Some of that was connected to a critique of the mystifications associated with the modernist individual hero artist, the »Pollock« model of the artist. It seemed to us both politically retrograde in certain senses, sociologically dubious and practically probably false that work was made in the way that [...] the stereotypes were dished out. It was in fact to us, certainly in late 60s, it seemed to us much more about the profiling of a product, to attach it to the heroic producer, than about the nature of the production itself. So there was that element of critique in that collectivity. The programmatic dimension occurred because, I think because, we began to recognize quite early, well the apparent programmatic to mention, because we began to realize quite early that the naiveties of dematerialization, ultra-minimalism whatever you want to call it, were tending to become absurd, that is to say. [...] I suppose we began, as did many, with a sort of Duchampian position, [...] an appropriative gesture was involved somewhere. I mean we will talk about this in due course this evening but this gesture tended to be generative of discussion and conversation, not of, if you like so, the mere dramatics of an artistic fiat. So it seemed that in as much as this, what began as an appropriative gesture, began to generate questions, if you like, ontological questions, epistemological questions and so forth and we had better address them, albeit in the amateurish and inexpert way that we did. In many ways the materials that we used were a kind of wreckage of what you might argue was an already discouraging program of analytical philosophy in some ways. I'm not sure if it's discouraging or not. I mean there were moments when I [...] felt then that it was something that was coming to a rather shattering conclusion. I'm less sure of that now, I think. Anyway, [...] the only programmatic sense came of the exigencies and dynamic of a conversation, I think, and it has continued I think.

Art & Language (Michael Baldwin, Mel Ramsden) »