In the beginning was the word. Text is narrative, instruction, statement and the printed word from mass media and signage has found its way into modern and contemporary artworks. Text is immediate and exemplifies the sloganism of consumer capitalism.
The political, philosophical and narrative possibilities of text appealed to artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger; placing provocative, often highly politicised statements in public places – projected onto buildings, or displayed on electronic signboards – investigating the phenomenon of mass communication and questioning the information we receive.
Tracey Emin uses text as confession. ‘In Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’ Emin uses appliqué to sew the names of her bedfellows (lovers, friends and family) onto the inside of a small tent. To view the work, the viewer has to crawl inside, becoming voyeur and confidante at the same time. Emin’s series of patchworks and embroidered blankets include rare and treasured fabrics from her past as well as recycled materials such as flags, sofa coverings and urine-stained sheets. The blankets use colourful capitalised text to describe candid tales of love, desire and betrayal through poetic descriptions such as ‘Drunk to the bottom of my Soul’ and ‘Meet me in Heaven’.
In all these cases the openness and ambiguity of language offers artists the means to provoke and suggest, urge and instruct, compelling the viewer or rather, the reader to explore realms beyond the physical presence of an object in a gallery.
Wanna know the thing that really got me?
The violent, anti-authoritarian drawings by Raymond Pettibon. Spewing out a spectrum of pop culture from art and music to sports, religion and politics. Motifs include blood, sex, death, surfers, Elvis Presley, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and the cartoon figure Gumby. Some images appear alone, but most often appear with handwritten snippets of text, either the artist’s own, or quotations from Henry James, John Ruskin, Christopher Marlowe, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and others.