Art & Language

These Scenes

The work of ART & LANGUAGE defies easy explanations. This project made with Rene Schmitt is a portfolio you might say of prints, but the techniques used make it look more like a singular group of radical works on paper; it began as a collaboration at the instigation of jsvcPROJECTS/London (Jill Silverman van Coenegrachts) suggesting a curious new dimension in the collaborative practice known around the world as the Rolling Stones of Conceptual Art. Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden took on the challenge of making a new body of works that dealt with one of the earliest ideas they treated in the late ’60s — the impact of Malevich and the Black Square. This inquiry made its way into the very first works the artists created individually as works on paper and installations in 1965-7 and now fifty years later it seemed a prime time to revisit the issue in a fresh way.

As they have said, they saw this Black Square as a mask, like make-up, it covers and disguises something, „It purports to have entities within which Malevich had never intended it to have,“ explained Michael Baldwin. In a way it illustrates the abandonment of text, or he continued, „it effectively operates as if there were a person standing here describing the content of the Black Square text.“ This is familiar ground in the oeuvre of ART & LANGUAGE.

The five works included in this hand painted boxed set incorporate the strategies and interests ART & LANGUAGE evidenced from the very beginning of their careers: 1) Suprematist Squares 2) Secret Painting 3) Guaranteed Painting 4) Cracked surface with text beneath 5) No secret at all. The freshness of this group is evidenced by the way each sheet needed a newly developed technique to realize the works. Even the colophon became unique as it incorporates a hand written addendum by ART & LANGUAGE noting, „Interestingly, mixed media also includes letraset.“ Like the prints, it is stamped, signed and numbered.

Together, this set of works illustrates the varied and unrelenting commitment these artists maintained for five decades to the discussion of language and its place in the visual process we call art. Is reading a text the same thing as looking at a black abstract square. If you put one behind the other is the meaning changed. If you open fissures in the foreground of the abstract monochrome square so rivulets of text seep into the visual field, is it still a text work or a painting? How do we read? Is the same kind of seeing we use when we look at a black square? These new works raise‘ these issues with a crisp authority.

THESE SCENES, 2016 can be interpreted as a mini-retrospective of the earliest seminal ideas that make ART & LANGUAGE the radicals they are, with a coherent essayistic position that pushes the viewer to entertain a process of thinking and discussion with the artist and with the works themselves. This inventive use of printing techniques makes these works in every way a continuation of the oeuvre and its earliest physical attributes, including the very performance like nature of laying letraset down on paper one letter at a time — (a process that took four people, three weeks to achieve). The making of this project took six months of continuous printing, and in the process one Xerox machine was cracked.