In companion with the exhibition: TEXTURE.TXT

by Sarah Butler

While recent thinking about text in art focuses on the conceptual capacities of language, works in this exhibition can also be appreciated through the broader, cross cultural histories of the decorative arts. In this sense – language as texture is more ornament, or disposition, than idea, or exposition. Exploring text through the expanded fields of architecture re/moves concern from content, layout, technique, and composition, or meaning and concept, in order to address the tactility, flavor, aroma, or general impression of txt, as if you were mouthing the words.

Writing in the tenth century, medieval Islamic theologian Al-Tha’alibi describes the worst writing as “the writing of angels, because it must be illegible to humans.”[i] Following an explosion of writing perhaps comparable to current manifestations of new media, medieval decorative use of texts exceeds the necessity of transmitting information, re/covering entire facades. Scholars attribute the illegibility of these texts to a mystical function.

Similarly, text-writ-large as by Josh Faught, Lucy Kim, and Kristen Kee is language to be consumed in a glance, not transcribed word for word. Here, now, writing is means (to convey meaning) but literal meaning is not the end. Also comparable to Chinese calligraphy, the sense in these works is not found in their careful transcription but in their capacity to hold energy, perhaps express the force/frailty of possibility.

For example, in the work of Josh Faught our words are spun in sloppy, careful careless blankets; comforting, suffocating, both. Loose threads hang visible from the common sense fabric of domestic turns of phrase. Gender, class, and ethnicity unravel and become tangled in half forgotten handicraft languages: the work is all at once finger painting and needle point, sculpture and collage. Lucy Kim likewise speaks of damaging remarks, but with the magnetic tin taste of words whose bite is felt not only in reception, but utterance also. A delicate skein of worn, rumpled metal for an even more delicate film shows the comparable frailty of objective reality glossed by lie. A similar darkness is written in the work of Kristen Kee, where a soaked yarn and vellum skin openly state powerful secrets, but yet do not reveal them. A primitive digital art, simple stab and stitch, the work demonstrates an insurmountable gulf between code and the gargantuan crimes in its capacity.

As Bernard Lamarche-Vadel has writ: “Thus what we consider in the visible, in the work of art, should be first and foremost the consistency of an extreme doubt about the consistency of the visible,” and it somehow makes sense that by embedding text in material, these artists confirm the impossibility of really seeing.

Ideology is indeed, often more solid than things. Together, these works betray the formal considerations proper to a culture of distraction; a space where signs and objects have been long unhinged, where text is the everyday symptom of the virus of language (a terminal condition we know how to live with, but never take for granted). While Duchamp is more commonly held the grandfather of contemporary art making, these artists also draw on broader trajectories. The value in language is not to be found only in the linguistic turns of Saussurean spaces between speech and writing, Barthian or Derridian re-readings, but also ― in the swirling pads of your fingers: a sloppy cocoon of non-meaning, a wet yarn outline of massive proportions, the repellent magnetism of aluminum, the textural translation of what’s so rarely said.

[i] Oleg Grabar, The Mediation of Ornament (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992).

writing index

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