WORDS TEXT ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART
“In general, language is always an insuffient tool to represent human thought. It is not enough to express the idea of the human mind, but language … can help to provide an imaginative space for people….” Hong Kong artist Hung Keung in discussion with ‘Art Radar’.
Many people have tried to define the various ways in which we use language; even the word “language” has numerous definitions. We use language to express ourselves, to tell stories and to manipulate or influence our environments. During the twentieth century, written language – words, letters and numbers – began to be incorporated into contemporary and visual art practice.
“In every dynasty, we have different translations. And there are so many books … [that] talk about … how to interpret a Tang poem…. But this [book] is very unique. It talks about the Tang poem through an English version.” Artist Wenda Gu discusses his installation work ‘Forest of Stone Steles’.
Dada and Surrealism were known for using the written language as a medium. These two movements radically altered the perception of how art should be discussed, viewed and appreciated, but it was not until the 1960s that the use of the written language as a work of art in itself really took off.
One and three chairs (1965), a conceptual piece by Joseph Kosuth, is a famous example. The work consists of a chair, a photograph of this chair and a copy of a dictionary definition of the word “chair”. In this work, Kosuth wanted to highlight the relationship between language, picture and referent.
The written word was also celebrated in the Pop art movement. Robert Indiana, an American artist, created what he calls “sculptural poems.” His best-known example, LOVE is a sculpture that consists of the letters “LO” over the letters “VE”. The original 1964 design was meant for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card and the first large-scale sculpture was exhibited in 1970. Indiana created many later versions in other languages such as Hebrew.
“When [a character] interacts with a human being, then [it] will be divided into two strokes. When the two strokes interact with a human being, they will divide into four [strokes] and then into eight. Afterwards, it is not one anymore or just only a stroke. It will become a word…, then slang, then a sentence, then a poem.” Hung Keung discusses his work ‘Dao gives birth to one’.
Today we see text being used more and more in contemporary art creation worldwide, whether it is projected, painted, carved or animated. Some forms of contemporary art are even being viewed as visual poetry, stories or diaries. Artists are using words and text as a way to show their artistic expression, their views, thoughts and experiences. Some artists use words as a special effect, some to express a religious or political angle in an abstract work, while others use text purely for its aesthetic value.
“There are no good or bad words. The words that make their way into a work are the words that fit the work.” Raqs Media Collective describe how they choose the words in their works.
Art Radar Asia was determined to explore this feature of contemporary art as it appears in work created by artists from, living in or working in the Asian region. We spoke (and will be speaking) with several Asian artists who we identified as working with words. During these conversations we have attempted to gain their views on the use of text and words in contemporary art.
Among the artists that we will include in this series are Raqs Media Collective (India), Hung Keung (Hong Kong), Sujata Bajaj (India), Wenda Gu (China), Manuel Ocampo (Philippines) and Josephine Starrs (Australia). We have asked them questions about why and how they use words, script and text in their works and why language is significant to their work and to their world.
We would like readers to note that we hope to provide an insight into, rather than a comprehensive study of, this feature. Also, as we are focussing on a specific area we realise that this in no way represents a worldview of the concept and we welcome comments from readers regarding the use of text and words by artists living and creating in areas outside the Asian region.
So, to find out more about what these artists have to say about words in art, please follow our series over the coming weeks.
- Happy Holidays! From all at Art Radar – December 2010 – Art Radar looks back on the year 2010 and gives a short summary of what will come in 2011
- How is Chinese ink painting explored in contemporary art? RedBox Review in discussion with Liang Quan – October 2010 – this artist discusses the differences between ink art and ink painting
- Sotheby’s to hold first ever international auction house sale of Calligraphy in Doha – July 2010 –
- Is text writing or image? Bloomberg prize-winner Phoebe Hui examines – video interview – June 2010 – an overview of a ChooChoo TV interview with this Hong Kong artist who explores the use of text as a medium
- Questioning “Made in China” – Interview Avant-Garde Beijing Artist: Huang Ru – October 2009 – an interview with Huang Rui and his view on Chinese contemporary art