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About words as art

He could have removed any historic or real-life sensibility but instead, he held up his hands in submission, exclaimed that yes indeed, he was a white male and he had done something wrong, and “needs to make progress” [10]. But Durant has been making this kind of “progress” for over 10 years, hopefully when producing works about white supremacy from 2003, so it’s quite hard to believe that Scaffold was produced in an uninformed place. This is an artist whose focus is on socio-politics in art, and he is claiming to not be well versed in socio-politics in art. Is this believable? And is this excuse really justified?

The main question is: should it have even been made in the first place?

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The whole ordeal is deathly embarrassing, offensive, humorous and morbid. viewing the topic of government-orchestrated murder through a monumental error in moral judgement by The Walker in Minneapolis, the art world once again drowned in its own discourse about what is politically correct, and the potential for fame and notoriety increased. One of Durant’s works shown at the Miami Basel 2016, produced in 2003, illustrates the words “Landscape art is only good when it shows the oppressor hanging from a tree by his mother**king Neck” [11] which now seems pre-emptively autobiographical.

Without the response, the piece would be nearly worthless. It was erected in various European countries before America It has no artful quality, no extravagant beauty or compelling architectural decisions. It has been dismantled, replaced, and erected multiple times. Sources conflict as to what happened to the wood erected in Minneapolis, either it was buried or burned, but the designs will still be in Durant’s possession. If he wanted to he could reproduce the piece with relative ease.

It is the faux-passion which is chiefly offensive, the fast-art narrative that he is a part of, and the fact that he is inserting himself in places where he doesn’t belong. Twombly did this too- but did so artfully and respectfully.

When you compare his work to a piece like Herodiade, it’s evident how there are two different kinds of lasting permanence in play. Durant’s contributions to socio-political discourse will be immortalised, but there is not much of an artful quality to his actions or message that could be remembered.

This event could have been avoided by the organisation and the artist communicating directly with the indigenous peoples that this work relates to, but instead, Durant can’t help but to conceptualise the protest and try and morph the narrative into one that makes him look like a good contributor.

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In the United Kingdom there is no shortage of political-activist artists, and Banksy has rose to infamy through. His simple stencilled graffiti points out the absurdity in human life in a way that is comedic and feels well-timed. He relates to people through pop culture iconography and references but is inherently British in all respects. His artwork elevates banal quotidian events into something marketed to ‘tackle’ the art world and antagonize it. Through this approach, it favours the postmodern values of irony and metacriticism.

It is also worth mentioning Tracey Emin, an artist that denies this sentiment. She has a body of work that emotively transcribes words that depict personal events and thoughts, resulting in a display of sincere expression that feels universally relatable. The way the words behave on the surface allow them to develop a voice of their own. Marred with print-smears, these pieces surpass Twombly and Wools attempts at relating to the public and presents something uniquely distinct yet still universal.

Everyone living in the United Kingdom can understand Banksy’s message, but with Emin it is different. Banksy’s art is made for the people and displayed as such, but Emin practices on a much more personal level. I believe this sentiment is echoed in her white canvases that seem to operate in the same way as Twombly’s- deep within the empty space, what can be seen is modern antiquity, a way of recalling classicism fondly and in the most respectful way. The white canvas remains a permanent Arena for artistic expression.

Patrick Brill uses the Pseudonym Bob & Roberta Smith has physically pushed his words to have prominence. He describes the piece Art Makes Children Powerful (2012) as an open letter to Michael Gove, expressing his opposition to removing art from GCSE curriculums.

Brill ‘puts the spectator in charge’ of his artwork. Comparing this piece to Wool’s Apocalypse Now, both pieces use the idea of power in words from opposite sides of the spectrum. While Wool turns inward to make statements on the art world, Brill faces outward, using his platitude to affect history beyond the confines of a canvas.

This piece defines Brill as an artist who cares about issues, and wants to make a change, which is in complete opposition to Christopher Wools fundamental theories. They are both from the postmodern generation but use their voice in radically different ways. They both inherently function on the wall as posters, with no frames, with the main focus being on the words. This is how the piece identifies itself, how it defines its use and elicits response.

It is no coincidence that there is a polar opposition between the elegance and emotive sincerity in Twombly’s or Emin’s elegant, handwritten love note-esque words and the poster / signage quality of Wool and Brill. Their subject matter, the meaning of the words or phrases they are using, requires a certain kind of information-transmission.

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Patrick Brill is using his words in an attempt to express his opinion and protest certain political ideas. The background colour is saturated, as is the tonal variations in the lettering, with a font that is futuristic in new and old ways- but also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Brill ran against Michael Gove in a London election but claimed the goal was to spread his message more easily. He sold prints of his slogan All Schools Should be Art Schools for £100 each, which he used to fund his campaign.

Brill’s message is universal and agreeable, but as art has not yet been removed from GCSE curriculums, where is its opportunity for legacy? How much power does the piece have now if it has already succeeded in the thing it set out to do?

An image must have inherent visual permanence beyond its message, so it can transcend the fate of political obsolescence. But that is only if the piece is to be remembered over generations. Scott King takes advantage of this form of ‘generation art’ by using a dated part of English history as the vessel for his social critique on Brexit. It was a parody of Butlins, a national camp-holiday business that rose to popularity before falling out of public favour due to its mass appeal and regimented structure.

Welcome to Saxnot is a dystopian future post-Brexit vision that is choreographed largely by ‘Britlins’ merchandise and infographics. In an interview with Wallpaper*, King explains that the work can be understood by people who are not aware of this niche part of UK culture as the message is comparable to “the rise of Nationalism across Europe and Trump’s presidency in the US.” [12]

This sincere embrace of sentimentality allows King to antagonise pro-Brexit politicians, as well as media permanence. It is a critique on a cultural practice that, for a British viewer, will conjure up nostalgic memories as this business was so well known to 3 generations. The unabashed desire to “go back” is frequent, and the idea of masses (of icons, merchandise, building complexes) cements an awareness of when nostalgia ticks over and becomes out-of-fashion.

Saxnot‘s corporate-psychedelic colour scheme aligns itself to the same earnest-yet-politically-absurd party as Patrick Brills work, albeit in a way that’s less about statements and more about questions answered comedically. The mystery of what a post-Brexit future will look like keeps this artwork alive and breathing in an ambiguous way, and the humour softens the tone and retains optimism.

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The words are first and foremost, and they have the most impact over infographics and print patterns. King, a graphic designer, knows how strong words are in the new-modern world. They are the thing our eyes gravitate to first, before bright colours or soft teddy bears, and the words he decides to use possess an extremely strong sentiment in their simplicity. Perhaps echoing Christopher Wool, he places the minimal style of word-display within a considered-yet-lackadaisical installation, prompting further ironic critique about the ability and ‘place’ of painting.

His work is heavily inspired by Graphic Design practice and his methodology reflects this wholeheartedly. But the room on its own generates a light ambience of familiar absurdity.

When using text in artwork, the imagery sets the tone and ‘environment’ that the words operate in. the truth of the work lies in its words- it’s explanation, title, the placard next to it that explains its significance… but visually the artwork must identify as something.

Cy Twombly’s apartments, from Rome to Gaeta, are in Vogue Archives for their beauty. The same cannot be said for Christopher Wool, or Sam Durant, or Patrick Brill.

With words, you can elicit various meanings and different responses. They can be oxymorons, false statements or true facts. Artists can use this method to make political expressions, parodies, and illustrate a personal part of their life. Through the fragmentation of the contemporary zeitgeist, anything can be art, any words or opinions are justified- their success is measured in the impact that the pieces produce at the time, and its historical legacy.

Art will always have a literal or linguistic element, either in its physical appearance, or in the theories or conversation it produces. This is now a fully integrated aspect into nearly every artwork that’s produced, and artists must now treat it as a modern fundamental. It is arguable that the shift from social realism to abstract expressionism, and developments made by conceptualism and minimalism, radicalised the integrity of art. On the other hand, art may have organically developed through response to the culture of the time. We are seeing a more graphical return to painting in the UK, with artists being no doubt influenced by the opinions favoured by our current media and our collectors through social networking sites and apps. Advertising is more frequent than ever. Artists will continue to try and grasp the future or explain the past. Artists will always sincerely express conjecture in their work.

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