‘Place – The First of All Things’ (Project 3: Place in Art – Exercise 1)

Exploring Art

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.

1. Notes

Ian Hamilton Finlay

Finlay I H The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans - 1985

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.   


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