Conceptual and text-based art works have been ongoing subjects of debate with regard to their relationship with the viewer – and their seeming lack of visual composition, relying on cognitive stimulation.
‘A Set of Lines, A Stack of Paper’ at KARST in Plymouth aims to again unfold the visual and the conceptual in this history. It is the second in a series of exhibitions and publications based on the broader research-based project ‘Possible Content for 18 Pages’ curated by Franz Thalmair, which claims to ‘reflect upon the act of writing at the interface of linguistic, visual, physical, and spatial communication’ and ‘in the context of literary, artistic, and curatorial-editorial fields of action’. It features two from a mounting eighteen research chapters, and also contributions by Maria Fusco and Karolis Kosas that supposedly play a subordinate role in the research project – slightly confusing the curatorial structure through their relevant yet clumsy explanation for inclusion.
The exhibition extracts foundational elements of structure and surface from Vilém Flusser’s essay ‘The Gesture of Writing’, being the line and the paper, and explores both their restrictions and possibilities for materiality. One of the main points expressed by Flusser is writing’s similarity to inscription and sculpture versus notions of construction or architectural form.
In the first room of the exhibition is a thoughtfully installed video by John Wood and Paul Harrison titled ‘One More Kilometre’. In this filmed performance, a large stack of A4 paper material is slowly pressed by a belt sander, resulting in a sputtering, rhythmic dissemination of pages off the staging table and screen. Other works in the exhibition that manipulate paper’s sculptural surface in surprisingly dynamic ways are Birgit Knoechl’s series ‘black line_scion’, which materialise as an ink on paper drawing and latex on paper objects, and not only bridge Flusser’s argument between architectural and sculptural forms, but also question his claims on the nature of writing as well. Ane Mette Hol’s meticulously hand drawn pencil lines on spiral bound paper, ‘Untitled (Notes #5)’ initially appear as a readymade, and provide a humorous rebuttal to the notebook as a medium for source material.
Falling into the curatorial categorical investigation of the line, Ovidiu Anton’s ballpoint pen on paper drawings, ‘précaire’ and ‘very contemporary art’ are exquisite seas of fluctuating lines covering the paper, apart from the space containing the works’ titles. The lines here create the subject versus supplying their framing device. Peter Downbrough’s ‘LINK’, is a book that can only be exchanged for another, and on display in the exhibition, exists as a listing of the exchanged publications. Both the title and methodology of the work defy linear structures. Also extending beyond the assumed two-dimensionality of the line, are Lotte Lyon’s ‘Windows’, a set of painted, site-conditional replicas of the windows, which bridge the architecture of the industrial gallery space into a new sculptural form.
The exhibition is loaded with further referents to reproduction, dissemination and labour, and in that sense, well suited to KARST’s own position within an industrial area of a port town. It is also successful in furthering the legacy of artists like Terry Atkinson and Joseph Kosuth, who continually return to the politics within image making and evolve acts of art through linguistic terms.