Read: ‘Place – The First of All Things’ by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar
List artists mentioned and look at least one piece by those whose work incorporates text.
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Fig. 1 Finlay, I. H. The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans (1985)
I find this piece quite baffling. This image was taken from the Tate’s website (see list of illustrations below). In the text that accompanied the image, it was explained that “Despite its ruin-like appearance, Finlay’s sculpture was in fact specially made in its present form.” The text goes onto discuss various aspects of the context of the work, in particular that this is the first part of a sentence which concludes, “But the memory of the Romans fills it. They go on prophesying liberty.”
This exercise has asked whether the pieces have any relevance to ‘place’ and how they reference it.
The piece is quoting a reference to the Romans but “The World” as understood by the Romans was not the planet, it was largely Europe, North Africa and those parts of western Asia abutting the Mediterranean Sea.
The sentence is attributed to Antoine de Saint-Just, a military and political leader during the French Revolution. In terms of place, there is something curious about a revolutionary leader of the 18th Century referencing the Roman concept of the world. Whatever his aims and ideals for the French revolution, the quote suggests an antiquated sense of what he felt the world was or could become, which is underscored by the old and damaged appearance of the stones.
In this piece, Huebler explains that his intention was to photograph the Trevi Fountain in Rome from exactly the same position as the postcard (bottom right of the work).
He goes onto explain he had to take six photos which he then used to form the composite that makes up the larger photograph. The text concludes with instructions which the owner should follow to enable the completion of the piece.
The place is specific and familiar. Huebler is not interested in reinterpreting or reinventing the architecture or sculpture that make up the Trevi fountain. Rather this work seems to act as a reaffirmation of the fountain’s existence.
Interestingly the postcard will almost certainly have been postmarked, so it’s existence is confirmed in time too.
Fig. 3. Graham, D. March 31, 1966 (1966)
This piece appears to specify its location very clearly; approximately 19 feet from the front door of Apartment 1D. But this is playful. We are not told whether it is inside the apartment or outside the apartment. It certainly wasn’t that close to the front door of the apartment when it was first exhibited.
This piece suggests two things to me. Firstly, the whimsical focus on accuracy of position whilst the language actually omits important details of position, emphasises that “place” is more important to us than position. Secondly, we are reminded of the scale of the universe. This builds on the whimsy of the first point, as we are now faced with the insignificance of the size of our place in the universe. In short, no matter how important place is to us, our place is in the universe is trivial.
Fig. 4. Graham, D. HOME, 2014
Clearly the text, and its inherent sense of place dominates this work. I feel that we are being asked to consider what we mean by home. For a few days the moon is home to the astronaut and his unseen colleague. But his gaze towards the horizon tells us home is Earth. So home is our planet.
But of course for most of us (who are lucky to live somewhere we consider home) home is a house, an apartment, possibly one of plural residences. In effect, then, this piece asks us to consider what home means and how “home” changes according to our circumstances and context. A person visiting another country may well think of, or refer to, home in terms of their home country. Visiting another city or town we may similarly refer to home as the town in which we live.
I know nothing of the artist and what his intentions were with this piece, but my feeling is that for most of us, home is not simply a place, it is the people we share that place with. The memories we share with them. This desolate moonscape, inhabited by two people reminds us that home is a collection of people, memories and emotions.
(It is probably obvious that this was my favourite piece of the four that I selected.)
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Finlay, I. H. The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans (1985) At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/finlay-the-world-has-been-empty-since-the-romans-t07531 (Accessed on 5 April 2017)
Figure 2. Huebler, D. Location Piece 25 Rome (1973) [Lithograph with postcard] At: At: http://www.artnet.com/WebServices/images/ll693594llgpGfDrCWXJHSXAD/douglas-huebler-location-piece-25,-rome.jpg (Accessed on 5 April 2017)
Figure 3. Graham, D. March 31, 1966 (1966) Dan Graham, March 31, 1966, (1966) [Typewriter on paper, 7.9 × 22.9 cm] At: https://www.thearchiveislimited.com/dan-graham-2001-paper-shopping-bag/ (Accessed on 5 April 2017)
Figure 4. Aitken, D. Home (2014) [Aluminium lightbox, LED lights, chromogenic transparency, acrylic, 63.5 x 255.9 x 18.7 cm] At: https://elephantmag.com/doug-aitken-nomad-art/ (Accessed on 5 April 2017)