Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Fawcett Street, Sunderland SR1 1RE

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iam with Greville Worthington: Learn To Read Differently
Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland
Presented by CIRCA Projects
10 August - 21 September 2013
Review by Rebecca Travis

There has always been a tension between conceptual art and text. Text is something that asks to be read, but does artwork do the same’ The boundaries of the two areas often blur, with artists using text as a visual tool, literary writings manifesting as art and formal blurbs offering contextual explanation to conceptual artworks. The decision whether or not to offer this information, to explain the reasoning behind an artwork is much debated. Does the human desire to understand the context and interpretation of an artwork annul the immediate experience of the artwork itself’ If so, then how can we learn to ‘read’ differently’

This complex exhibition initiated by CIRCA Projects, curated by Greville Worthington in collaboration with publishing group ‘Information as Material’ (iam) and hosted by the NGCA, offers a layered investigation into the relationship between conceptual visual art and its lingual compatriot. It brings together numerous works concerning the union of art and text, suggesting the many different ways that both these entities can be read together, apart, and in particular how they can reciprocally feed off each other to offer fresh viewpoints or generate new concepts.

There is an impressive array of interpretations on offer covering a great variety of text origin and type, played out in a myriad of media. The presentation ranges from object works related to reading or the act of writing (Gareth Long’s ‘Bouvard et Pécuchet’s Invented Desk for Copying’, 2010, and Michael Farion’s ‘Invisible Bookcase’, 1998), to destructive sculptural works, lingual play and combinations of literature versus ‘uncreative’ writing. That ‘Learn to Read Differently’ appears and feels archive- or library-like, serves to further entwine the complexities of the two subjects.

iam provide much of the work in the show, characteristically reframing or re-contextualising existing text-based artworks to present them in an evolved form or as part of entirely new compositions, endowing them with original meaning. It makes the viewing experience an intellectual unpicking of references to art, writers, types of syntax and publication, resulting in works that are knowingly indulgent in their own self-reference, but for that reason, as interesting in their labyrinthine process as in their varied appearance.

Other works are products of deceptively simple concepts, specifically those using purposefully ‘uncreative’ text. For example, Lucia della Paolera’s ‘Instruction Manual’ (2009) catalogues each ‘instruction’ she received in a single day. The list is the epitome of the banal, to the point where the strict but insignificant imperatives become almost comical. As a viewer an automatic reaction is to root the instructions to their origins, with some easily located as directives on packaging or received via social networking, given away by their particular associated vocabulary. The number of instances chronologically recorded (over 300) also highlights the directive nature of much of the language that we encounter, often unconsciously.

‘Learn to Read Differently’ is an impressively savvy gathering of works exploring the ever-evolving symbiotic relationship between words and image. This complex exhibition has the potential to leave viewers lost in its sticky web of highbrow reference. However, perhaps the sense of losing oneself among these infinitely deep subjects of visual art and text is a necessary part of the process in order to move away from traditional, restrictive thought patterns and ‘learn to read differently’.

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