Issue 27:1 | March 2007 | The Word As Art
The Word As Art
Issue 27:1 | March 2007


Richard Tipping looks at the role of text and language from an historical and contemporary context, covering areas of interest such as recent technological advancements, graffiti culture and going as far back as 46,000 years to briefly discuss some of the oldest found examples of Indigenous cave art in the south of Australia. Along the way he looks to medieval and ancient Phoenician developments, Clement Greenbergs promotion of painting as a purely optical experience, one in which text has no place except as another kind of surface, the role of Dada in claiming the relationship between word and image and discusses other important figures such as Duchamp, Brancusi, Stephane Mallarme, Christopher Brennan, Picasso, Braque, Kurt Schwitters, Charles Olson, Alex Selenitsch, Allan Riddell, Rosalie Gascoigne and many others.
The virus and the oracle: words as signs
Jane Goodall explores the notion of text and the word as a kind of virus, something William Burroughs considers a parasitic organism, especially as is the case in contemporary visual and semantic culture. Words act as signifiers for semioticians, but their visual presence in art makes them work as spatial indicators, suggesting that they contain directions or instructions. Here Goodall poses the potential of words in revealing something else about themselves: a secret yearning not to give orders but rather to be oracles, channelling strange truths from who knows what sources. Artists discussed include: Suzann Victor, Susie Lingham, Joseph Ng, Tony Schwensen, Samuel Beckett, Cheo Chai-Hiang, Redza Piyadasa, Heather Ellyard, Barbara Campbell.
Fluxus and after
Fluxus is a phenomenon that defies ready classification. This article highlights some of the printed and published matter that Fluxus inspired, starting with Maciunas-directed productions, those of Dick Higgins and other examples of individuals working in Australia today. A common factor in the instances of all Fluxus activity is a passion for improvisation and experimentation, a conscious elevation of the mundane and over-looked, often an active zeal in the face of disturbing political events, and not least, a stress on producing unusual and visually arresting statements. Australian artists following the Fluxus tradition here discussed include Michael Phillips, Madonna Staunton, Alex Selenitsch and Richard Tipping.
In black & white: text in Indigenous Queensland art
Timothy Morrell examines the significance of words within the context of Australian Indigenous art subsequent to the efforts of colonisation in neutralising indigenous identity through assimilation. The point is made through this article that: Words give artists the opportunity to be more direct than they usually are with images. Morrell uses the case of a handful of Queensland based indigenous artists such as Gordon Bennett, Richard Bell, Ah Kee, Fiona Foley and Vanessa Fisher.
Playing with art & language: some personal memories
Peter Hill chooses here to examine a personal interest in the marriage of text and image in contemporary art. From the inextricable links between text and image made through magazine and advertising media to the mix of graffiti and gravitas achieved through the works of Jean Michael Basquiat, this article covers a wide range of avenues and artists paramount to this investigation. Other key figures mentioned include Joseph Kosuth, John A. Walker, Ed Ruscha, Peter Burgess, Bruce McLean, Lawrence Weiner, Douglas Gordon, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Thyrza Nicholas Goodeve.
Words and things
Concrete Poetry is both a form and an attitude to poetry that emphasises the visual and material elements of letters and thus words in relation to their meaning. 'Words and Things' is a project Patrick Jones set out to produce to represent concrete poetry and text-based art in Australia. A project that took him four years and that has attempted to dissolve the traditional form boundaries between art and poetry. The material considerations of 'Words and Things', both environmental and aesthetic, lead the reader into a work that is more like a sequence of short films than a standard book. Contributors to the book included Richard Tipping, Aleks Danko, Alex Selenitsch, Peter Tyndall, Geoffrey Baxter, Peter OMara, Jeff Stewart and Marie Sierra.
Walking with letters: Michael Parekowhai, John Reynolds, John Pule
This article looks at the recent works of New Zealand artists Michael Parekowhai, John Pule and John Reynolds to explore notions of identity through text and image relations. Parekowhais sculptural piece The Indefinite Article spells out I AM HE in an ironic critique of Colin McCahon and goes further through wordplay to cement a link between the word, identity and the complexities of translation. Reynolds Cloud comprised of nearly 7,000 white canvases transcribed with words from Harry Orsmans Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English and acts to illuminate New Zealands separate identity and regional diversity within a worldwide community of English speakers. Stories of migration, of dispossession, of alienation characterise the work of John Pule. Similar to Parekowhai and Reynolds, Pule deploys words to multiply meanings and confound interpretation or translation.
Words, words, words: Mike Brown, Ruark Lewis, Rose Nolan
On its own, a word points to both the sentence that it might end up in, and also to the thought that precedes it. This zone between thought and convention allows artists to foreground qualities that are normally ignored in linguistic acts. Alex Selenitsch looks at a number of post WW2 tendencies or art movements which have made use of words: Action Painting, Graffiti, Concrete Art, Conceptual Art, Fluxus and Pop Art. Selenitsch uses the examples of Mike Brown, Rose Nolan and Ruark Lewis to highlight specific functions of the word, whether it be the morphing of word and image into one, the iconic and formal aspects of words or the relationship between visual and aural language.
Sacred texts
Books hold a privileged place in our society as keepers of knowledge, spiritual truth and cultural heritage. Melinda Rankin examines the role of books in artistic practice and the robust relationship that exists between artist and book via a willingness to challenge some of the apparent conventions of structure and content. Simryn Gill, Ken Orchard, Alex Selenitsch and Gerard Genette are artists whose practice is deeply entrenched in the seemingly offensive act of fiddling with these sacred texts. For these artists, the slicing, tearing and unpicking of books is not an act of violence or irreverence. In subverting the original narrative to their own purpose, they reconsecrate the text into artworks creating contemporary objects of veneration and desire.
Text-art and interactive reading
James Stuart explores the spatial and interactive aspects of text-based artworks, leaping off the page and into the textual practices of Peter Lyssiotis and Franz Ehmann. Lyssiotis is a writer and photomedia/collage artist and creates books that generally combine his own artworks and writings in collaborations with others. Among the most impressive of his projects is the recent A Gardener at Midnight: Journey into the Holy Lands, developed as part of a Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria in 2003 which is of particular focus in this text. Brisbane-based/Australian-born Ehmann is concerned with the physical reading environment of the gallery and in turn deploys a multi-disciplinary approach to the physical space and temporal duration of his exhibitions. Via the works of these two practitioners Staurt here wishes to posit the very real sense of bodily and not just intellectual interaction with language that reading entails.
Word as Image: Islamic calligraphy in contemporary art
In the broadest terms calligraphy can be seen as a prescriptive form of drawing and in this liberated sense an artist is free to investigate its role as both message and ornament. This article looks at the nature of Islamic calligraphy via the works of two very different artists working in Australia today  Iranian born Hossein Valamanesh and Naeem Rana of Pakistan. With the significance of language and the written word in Islamic culture it is hardly surprising that visual artists have in recent decades turned to it as the source of cultural and political potency.
Review: Visible Language magazine on Fluxus
Review of two special issues of Visible Language magazine Vol 39 no 3 'Fluxus and Legacy' (2005) and Vol 40 no 1 'Fluxus after Fluxus' (2006), guest- edited by Ken Friedman and Owen Smith. The publications evaluate the ongoing life of Fluxus as an idea including what Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics owes to it. Fluxus 'scores' by Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono, and Vuc Cosic.
Unreadable Writing
This brief article offers insight into a form of writing or drawing that Henri Michaux has termed asemic and which is the subject of interest for Tim Gaze, editor of Asemic magazine, published in Adelaide. As stated by Michaux Most people make asemic writing at some time, possibly when testing a new pen. They tend to have no fixed meaning. Their meaning is open. To explore the nature of asemic writing visit http://www.
A new alphabet? Guan Wei goes bush
A project coordinated by 24HR Art in Darwin brought artists of Chinese, European and Japanese origin to the township of Injalak in Gunbalanya, Western Arnhem Land. Ashley Crawford looks at the time Chinese-born, Sydney-based artist Guan Wei spent with three members of the local community and the stories he learnt to accompany the ancient rock art of this region. Subsequent to discovering the similarities between Indigenous Australian and Chinese visual narratives, Wei wanted to use the images as an alphabet to tell the story of his own encounters and experiences with the people and the landscape of Gunbalanya.
The book, the poet, the artist and the breakthrough
As a container of information in text form, the book is designed in a linear fashion to move the reader along line by line. Many artists seek to break this convention and direct the reader/viewer into a more exploratory realm, as is true of the work of Jan Davis. This article leads the reader (in a somewhat linear sense) through Davis seven-volume artist book simply titled SOLOMON  a journey developed out of the artists concern with the operation of space in visual imagery and her interest in writing.
Emily Floyd against herself
Emily Floyd is attracted to texts that focus on identity and place and that offer new ways of thinking about these issues in the light of globalisation and post-colonialism. She is interested in the malleability of language and its connection to knowledge and power. The process Floyd employs to produce her numerous large-scale wooden letters mirrors the anxiety and obsessions with the various novels they are referencing  Dostoevskys Crime and Punishment, Kafkas The Trial and Camus The Outsider. Sarah Tutton looks at Floyds practice, calling particular attention to her recent installation works its because I talk too much that I do nothing, Gen-existential Crisis and Compulsory for young intellectuals.
The idea of four-dimensional sculpture proposed by the Dimensionalist Manifesto of 1936 has found its realisation through the continuing use of skywriting as a medium in contemporary art. Here Richard Tipping briefly discusses the phenomenon looking at artists Mary Lou Pavlovic and Guy Warren who produced works in association with major public, sporting and political events within Australia. Tipping also raises the question of how such a temporal practice as this is to be considered within the realm of contemporary art.
Gwangju Biennale, South Korea
2006 marked the 6th Gwangju Biennale: Fever Variations in South Korea. Stephanie Britton sets the scene for what she describes as having been generous and daring, though not grand or pretentious and never (that kiss of death) magisterial. This event saw a definite shift from an international focus to look more intently at Asian preoccupations of the recent past as played out in the minds and hands of artists. Some of the simple headings at the recent Biennale were Myth and Fantasy; Nature and Body; Trace of Mind; Past in Present, as a way to initiate dialogue and illuminate the stories of how Asian artists began to work within an international context. Some of the artists showcased were Xu Bing (China), Kim Jong-ku (Korea), Miwa Yanagi (Japan) and Lee Sookyung (Korea).
Vivienne Binns survey at TMAG, curator: Merryn Gates
The Tasmanian School of Art in collaboration with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have created an exhibition focused on the phenomenon of the solo survey, using the work of Vivienne Binns to open a space for conversation about the personal aspirations of the artist and the broader role of curator and institution. Through the complex layering of this exhibition the artist and curator entice the viewer to engage more directly with the trials and joys of the artist's struggle. By engaging a museum-style presentation, Vivienne Binns becomes a contextual display marking milestones, thoughts, actions, protests, interactions, people, places, discisions and emotional responses that accumulate to give meaning to current choices.
Glory, glory, glory curated by Elizabeth Gertsakis
Melbourne public culture, curator/artist Elizabeth Gertsakis assembled a visual arts project around the life and work of early twentieth century Melbourne entrepreneur, sports and entertainment manager John Wren1871-1953. Artmaking, curating, presentation and display  in a broad not narrowly discipline-centric definition  are explored and unpicked. His world is, as Gertsakis argues, a constructed, directed one of effect and presentation within which Wren emerges as exemplar and victim in a process of image creation and narrative spinning that is central to social life in a media age.
Tom Muller > Gold Standard Art
This article discusses the artistic practice of Tom Muller - one concerned with both elegance of appearance and versatility of application. It is argued here that his astringent imagery is surely the art of our times not only in terms of its subject matter but its ease of distribution. Two works closely examined are Mullers 2006 piece 'Gold Card' in which the artist offered an edition of 24 carat gold credit cards and 'World Passport' (2000  present), considered to be two of Mullers most accomplished works because of the tension between their formalist pleasures and their real time operation.
5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT5) Queensland Art Gallery Gallery of Modern Art Brisbane 2 December - 27 May 2007
5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT5) Queensland Art Gallery Gallery of Modern Art Brisbane 2 December - 27 May 2007
The Other APT
Raw Space Galleries
99 Melbourne St, South Brisbane
28 November 2006 - 23 January 2007
Ann Newmarch
Anticipation Ann Newmarch Prospect Gallery Adelaide 5 - 26 November 2006
Northcliffe Sculpture Walk
The Southern Forest Sculpture Walk Northcliffe, Western Australia Permanent artworks, launched 25 November 2006
Megan Walch
Doppel Lecker: Megan Walch Criterion Gallery Hobart 12 October  - 11 November 2006
Adam Cuthbert
Warporn Adam Cuthbert CAST Gallery Hobart 28 October - 26 November, 2006
Michael Callaghan: a survey
Michael Callaghan: A survey 1967 -2006 1 December 2006 - 21 January 2007 Manly Art Gallery 2 - 24 March 2007 Tin Sheds, University of Sydney 5 May- 24 June 2007 Wollongong City Gallery
Rapt! 20 Contemporary Artists from Japan Nobuya Hoki, Tomoaki Ishihara, Yuki Kimura Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) Clayton, Victoria 6 Sept - 18 November 2006
Rodney Glick/Lynette Voevedin
24Hr Panoramas Rodney Glick and Lynnette Voevodin Curator: Gary Dufour Art Gallery of Western Australia Perth 16 November 2006 - 21 January 2007
Anton Hart
Thenatureofthings Anton Hart South Australian School of Art Gallery Adelaide 2 November - 23 November 2006
Hiraki Sawa
Hiraki Sawa New Media Gallery, Level 3 National Gallery of Victoria International Melbourne 7 July - 3 December 2006
Shane Forrest
Shane Forrest: Float A-Space on Cleveland Sydney November 8-15, 2006
Nick Mangan
The Mutant Message Nick Mangan Sutton Gallery Melbourne 21 October- 15 November 2006
Postcard from China: 900 years of kneeling - censored

In his work, Chinese artist Jin Feng maintains a continuing interest in 'problem people'. Concerned with socio-philosophical issues, he is testing the limits of tolerance. He is also interested in challenging public prejudices against the too easily condemned. Tamara Winikoff interviews Jin Feng about his sculptural piece 'We Want A Rest By Standing Up'  depicting two infamous figures from China's history. This was the subject of much recent controversy and was censored by the authorities.