Editorial – part one
Heads. I go first.
An editorial is a strange sort of thing. Part of the extended – and dysfunctional – family that includes promises, manifestos, prefaces, advertisements, and the names given to perfumes and land developments. It is both description and embodiment. It seeks to direct but may claim to inform or introduce. It needs to bind the following works together into some cogent whole, but not so tightly as to stop each thing being the thing it needs to be.
Even the form of the editorial is telling. In the first few pages of the first issue of this journal we are to set out something of our working practices, our predilections and our intent. Should we be concerted in a single editorial voice, or employ the transcript from a conversation conducted in person or via email? We have chosen rather to present an editorial in two parts. Not because we do not believe in collaboration, but because this is a project based as much in the possibilities of disagreement as accord.
In the summer of 2009 when the notion of this journal was first being discussed, the ICA, London, showed Poor. Old. Tired. Horse., an exhibition devoted to text-based art practices. More specifically, the show began with artists associated with concrete poetry in the 1960s and continued with an apparent legacy of this movement. The opportunity for an expansive study was, disappointingly, missed. The role of language in art was here subordinate to the visual manifestation of words, in an idiosyncratic survey not in keeping with the vast possibilities of language and aesthetics. This fixation with the graphic rendering of language gave a sense of narrowness to the show, a sense that it had defined and now safely occupied its niche. Nowhere was this more evident than in the drawings by Robert Smithson. These were mash-ups of vaguely mythological figures, numerical and alphabetical characters, which approached each other via repetitive gestural marks. Contrast these muddy musings with the force and invention of Smithson’s numerous photo-essays – A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey for instance – and a sense of the opportunity missed, due to dogmatic following of the notion of graphic poetics, begins to take shape. To force the meeting of language and aesthetics onto such a dogmatic path is a folly we shall be aiming not to repeat.
And as for you, what are you to be called? An editorial needs someone to address, needs perhaps to evince some kind of affinity with the position of its audience (what is an editor if not first a member of this group?). An editorial would generally expect to address a reader, but a member of an art audience is more often discussed as a viewer. Is this a problem? Yes. Or at least it is a tension, and tensions can be productive. I am already aware of the discomfort at having to choose terms – reader, viewer, audience, and my investment here is not simply for the sake of semantic efficacy. What is at stake is, of course, not just terminologies but modes of encounter. To experience something as a reader is potentially very different to doing so as a viewer; the presence of the two is certainly very different. The activation of the viewer’s body in the context of minimalist (literalist) sculpture is not something the reader has known. Does the reader even have a body? The space of the reader is the space of literature – where the page has disappeared to leave the reader alone with(in) the (body of) text.
What might we glean from elsewhere; is it a reader who studies a newspaper with its stories built from both text and image? The recent reports of the Sea World employee killed by a killer whale existed very differently in their visual and textual elements. The text was ordered, narrative, elucidating. The image (in this case, a video still) barely related to the neatly placed elements of the story in the text. The woman – the victim – facing away, toward the dark amorphous shape we took to be the killer whale. Just visible on the back of the woman’s head, her ponytail, the brush of which against the whale was suggested (in the text) to have been the catalyst of the sudden blood lust in the animal. This image, despite depicting the characters described in the text, functioned with brooding symbolism rather than any sense of literal detail. To be sure, this is not a model I am proposing for the interrelation of text and image, but it is an example of two elements functioning differently within a singular context. So does one read the text and view the image in a case like the Sea World tragedy? As a reporter of world events – political, social, (lifestyle) – is the newspaper digested by the citizen? Or perhaps the spectator? There are no shortage of terms that might be employed, and if there were not, we could assemble our own – readerviewer for instance. The discomfort felt in employing such terms is still here. And so it should be – we know the power of naming. It should not come as too much of a surprise to discover that I do not intend to nominate a term here. My preference not to is not an attempt to retain control of the meaning that would become vulnerable when fixed, rather it is to setup the opportunity that this journal presents, the same one that was missed in the ICA last summer; a site of shifting register in which none of the players or works involved are given the comfort of formal priority, and meaning can be distributed or disturbed through and between image and text, art and writing.
– Tom Robinson
click here to read Jon K Shaw’s editorial to issue one