Writing Installation - an Introduction
‘Why refuse to admit that writing is rarely attached to a fully autonomous impulse? You write first because others wrote before you wrote, then, because you have already started writing‘1Julien Gracq, Reading Writing, Jeanine Herman (trans.), Turtle Point Press, New York, 1980, p.171. As authors of several books and many texts, writing is a pursuit and a habit that, once begun, will continue. The impulse to write began in earnest when writing about the subject, Installation, we were already engaged in presenting in another form, namely through the exhibition.
The title of this project may strike the viewer/reader as puzzling. Should it not be Making Installation, or even Curating Installation? The former, we often believe to be the provide of artists, while the latter carries overly institutional tones. In the first instance, the title suggests a textual engagement with the medium under the rubric ‘Writing about Installation’. This includes texts by artists on their works (literally artists’ writing)2and even more literally, in the present continuous tense: artists writing. Artists in the business of writing; in the act of writing. as well as catalogue texts on the many projects commissioned and and exhibitions curated.3Also: press releases for-, and funding applications because of- Installations, paper and email correspondence with artists, writers and galleries, invoices and other miscellaneous kinds of text.
Perhaps a distinction is useful here: the notion of writing about something, suggests a detachment from one’s subject,4And of writing around a locus, remote and circulating while writing itself offers a position of participation, immersion, or simply of doing.5And of writing within the locus, local and in circuit Whilst a detached position may be useful to an art historian, who writes with the added benefit of hindsight, those who are actively generating an art-form do not share these privileges.6And, perhaps, would not seek such privileges
The pioneering curator Willem Sandberg describes being ‘in the middle of things’7Ank Leeuw Marcar, Willem Sandberg: Portrait of an Artist, Valiz, Heruitgave Edition, 2013, p.214. as the main concept for his 1962 groundbreaking exhibition Dynamic Laboratory (Dylaby). To be immersed in a work and in the action of producing content is the inverse of an impassive objectivity. However, doing, which may involve a multitude of different activities, should not be seen as pure production, but rather as a form of thinking-in-action.
To combine activities and roles is what generates momentum, as well as the knowledge that arises from cross-checking and contextualisation. These activities that span over a quarter of a century have seen a constant blending of roles, ranging from curator and fundraiser, to writer and artist (not forgetting all the other, often menial gallery-tasks).8See also: The Bottom Line
The roll-call of curators who have frequently tested the boundaries between different positions include early pioneers such as Sandberg, Harald Szeemann, Lucy Lippard, Pontus Hulten and Seth Siegelaub. It was their radical rethinking of exhibition-making that impacted on the display of art in the 1960s and 70s, and their legacy continues today. In their time, they were often accused of taking the role of the artist.9Peter Plagens accused Lucy Lippard of acting like an artist in curating one of her exhibitions. See: Cornelia Butler et al, From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard’s Numbers Exhibitions 1969-74, Afterall Books, London, 2012.
Similarly, many artists and collectives including Marcel Broodthaers, General Idea, and Group Material, incorporated curating strategies within their own practice.10Curating by arrangement, curating by incorporation, curating by enfranchisement, curating by gesturing towards. And, of course, Marcel Broodthaers began his ‘artistic’ career by installing his poetry in plaster in the work Pense-Bête (1964).
Positions within the expanded field of art over which there is little disagreement or dispute have never held any specific interest for us. On the contrary, the more contested a discursive space is, the greater its relevance.
Writing, in this instance, is a way of engaging with the discourse fomented by Installation: to make, document and contest. We might argue that the writing takes place in the midst of Installation, rather than only outside of it. It combines writing about – and of – Installation.11And, in the midst of this writing installation, there are a number of authors. Each of the ‘chapters’ that form this project are the work of one of four authors. Each of them are (in varying proportions) artists, writers, curators and archivists. They are also the confidants of a number of different exhibition spaces’ institutional memories. They are furthermore both guests and hosts in each other’s chapters. It is, in particular, this sense of multilateral hospitality that raises a wider point about the nature of the curatorial and artistic production discussed here: artists are invited into a place to work, and having made their work they in turn become hosts, inviting viewers to communicate in some form with their work. It is then incumbent on the viewers to invite the works into their consciousnesses, and to invite others into their readings of work through discourse. The collaboratively authored nature of these chapters seeks to work in this spirit.
But these prepositions are problematic since they overdetermine the writer’s particular stance regarding the object or noun.12One might also include ‘from’ , ‘during’, and ‘after’, or, more provocatively, ‘despite’ or ‘against’ (Installation).
Since we have argued for a conflation of positions throughout, the possible prepositions would be too numerous to list, leading instead to their complete omission, and hence the title: Writing Installation.13Amongst this conflation of positions and possible prepositions is the role of the footnote – and the role of the footnoter. In some cases the author of the text has footnoted it themselves, and in other cases (such as this one) one or more authors’ footnotes are in dialogue. But the medium of the footnote, whoever its author might be, is an important one to this project. The insertion of a footnote is itself an act of ‘writing installation’, and of collaborative practice between thoughts. In curatorial terms the footnote might be expressed as being the ‘project space’ within the ‘museum’ of the main body of text. In constitutional or political terms it might be expressed as a semi-autonomous region. It is part of a wider nation-state, but is somewhat in command of its own laws and economies. The footnotes in these texts work to this principle: they are not wholly subject to the texts in which they intervene.