Art & Language Paints a Landscape Author(s): Charles Harrison Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Spring, 1995), pp.

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Art & Language Paints a Landscape

Charles Harrison

The aim of this paper is to consider some recent paintings by Art & Language, to reflect on the conditions under which they came to be painted, and to offer reasons for their strange technical characteristics.' I also mean to explore a hiatus in the development of a studio practice. I do so not only with the specific project of Art & Language in mind but also from a more general interest in the kinds of untidy and improvised compounds that are often hidden beneath art history's seamless teleological narratives. Before I embark on my main subject, there are a few points to be established both for the purposes of argument and for the benefit of those unfamiliar with Art & Language and its history. The name Art & Language was first adopted in 1968 as the name of an artistic practice and as the title of a partnership. As a formal body, Art & Language was to be responsible for issuing artworks as publications and also for editing and publishing the journal Art-Language.2For those who first used the name, and for the majority of those like myself who came to identify with it over the
1. This is the third of three papers provoked by Art & Language's paintings on the theme of landscape. See Charles Harrison, "'Form" and "Finish" in Modern Painting', Filo1 zofskiVestnik (1991): 49-60 and 'On Painting a Landscape', Kunsten Museumjournaal5, no. 2 (1993): 1-11. The present paper originated in a lecture given at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, in November 1993, during the course of an exhibition of work by Art & Language. 2. The first series of Art-Language was published from May 1969 to March 1985. ArtLanguage, n.s., no. 1 was published in June 1994. The present author is editor of the journal.
CriticalInquiry21 (Spring 1995) ? 1995 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/95/2103-0004$01.00.

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Art & Language Paints a Landscape

next five or six years, Art & Language served as a focus of activity apart from the normal patterns of artistic careers as these were defined at the time. To be more specific, it served as an intellectual base from which to pursue that hardly imaginable change in the profession and position of art that the conceptual art movement seemed to promise in the late sixties and early seventies. What distinguished Art & Language as a tendency was that those centrally involved were in implicit agreement on two substantial principles, although these were not principles adopted in any formal manner at the time. In using principles I am allowing the organizing power of hindsight to order an informal set of shared responses to contingent conditions, attitudes maintained with some regard to the prevailing artistic culture of transatlantic modernism but in opposition to the normal priorities of that culture. The first principle was that the work of art was not simply a matter of the skillful manipulation of physical materials; there was also work to be done on the conceptual and linguistic materials of art and of its attendant theory. It was not so much-as some Americans seem to have thought-that the self-critical logic of modernism had advanced to a stage of such exquisite avant-gardism that arbitrary graphic offerings in the form of words could claim the same form of attention as paintings. On the contrary, the fact that the practical categories of modernist painting and modernist sculpture seemed now empty of virtue was viewed within Art & Language as evidence of failure in the entire self-critical impetus of modernism. It seemed in the late sixties as if artistic categories were in general being used primarily to provide refuge from intellectual demands. It is one matter to claim that artistic work is work done at the limits of language; it is quite another to claim that inarticulacy is a virtue. Modern painting has in general been challenging to criticism. Yet much of the modernist art of the sixties appeared possessed of intellectual content thanks only to a supporting structure of criticism that was generated at a distance from studio practice.3 From Art & Language's point of view, either the pictorial surface could be made to cope with texts that were
3. 'Much of', though never quite all. I mean to represent the impatient perceptions of the time, not now to disparage those few 'late-modernist' artists whose works were still motivating to criticism rather than reliant upon its support.

Charles Harrison is professor of the history and theory of art at the British Open University. He is editor ofArt-Language and author of Essays on Art & Language (1991) and EnglishArt and Modernism (rev. ed. 1994). He 1900-1990 (1992) and is preparis coeditor with Paul Wood ofArt in Theory ing Art in Theory1750-1900 with the same coeditor. His previous contribution to CriticalInquirywas "On the Surface of Painting" (Winter 1989).


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accorded equal status-texts intended not simply to sustain that surface but to function ironically or prescriptively vis-a-vis its pretended content-or painting would have to be abandoned to the guardianship of conservative interests. The second principle of agreement among the contributors to Art & Language was that artistic projects were projects that might be-or might need to be-pursued socially or conversationally among a group of In consequence of this agreement, individuality of authorship people. came to be viewed as a suspect value and as potentially inhibiting to the pursuit of these projects. Of course this principle had political implications. It is not entirely irrelevant that the name Art & Language was first adopted in 1968. But the politics of artistic practice cannot be mapped precisely onto the politics of the larger socioeconomic world. It is true that those adherents to Art & Language who understood the meaning of socialism tended to consider themselves socialists. But it would be a mistake to conceive of Art & Language as a democratic body. In the world of Art & Language, if not in the minds of all its inhabitants, the two principles I have mentioned were mutually implicated and mutually supportive. That is to say, once the work of art was conceived as work that was necessarily discursive and conversational, the sharing of that work became both a social and an intellectual requirement. The audience envisaged for the work of Art & Language was not an audience of solitary and sensitive spectators. It was an audience of speakers and hearers, teachers and learners, writers and readers-an audience that was qualified only by its possession of language, an audience therefore not distinguishable in principle from the collectivity in whose name the work was issued. Between 1969 and 1975, whenever the work of Art & Language was exhibited as art, the forms of its display imposed on spectators the identity of readers. To paraphrase a prescription from Walter Benjamin, in such Art & Language works as the Indexes (1972-74), the consumers of art were invited to become producers of intellectual materials and thus to transform themselves into potential collaborators.4 At the same time, the journal Art-Language was used to publish essays and discussions as 'proceedings'. So much for the preamble. My point has been to establish two premises that have continued to regulate the work of Art & Language. The first premise is that visual art is of little interest if it requires insulation against the problems of language. To this day, the paintings of Art & Language are always liable to be interrupted or haunted by texts, and when they are not they still require of the spectator a form of exertion equivalent to critical reading. The second premise is that art tends to become progressively isolated
4. See Walter Benjamin, 'The Author as Producer', Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock (London, 1983), pp. 85-103.



Art & Language Paints a Landscape

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FIG.1.-Art & Language, V I. Lenin byCharangovitch (1970), in the StyleofJacksonPollock II, 1980. Enamel and cellulose paint on canvas. 239 x 210 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

from forms of modern conversation the more the identity of an individual author is required to define its point of production. Although the principal authors of Art & Language's works are now only two, each project of painting pursued within the studio over the past fifteen years has required them to meet the same condition before the project could be taken to any form of practical resolution. They have had to discover some appropriate device that would serve to divert, disarm, or ironise the callow biological impetus that leads the individual artist to reproduce his style. Thus a series of Portraits Lenin were painted in the style ofJackson of


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FIG. 2.-Art & Language, Index: The Studioat 3 Wesley Place in the Dark (III) and Illuminated byan ExplosionNearby(V, VI, VII, VIII);Drawing (iii), 1982. Pencil and acrylic on paper. 78 x 162 cm. The Tate Gallery, London.

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FIG.3.-Art & Language, Index: The Studioat 3 Wesley Place Illuminatedbyan Explosion Nearby(V); Drawing (vi), 1982. Photograph. 106 x 160 cm. The Tate Gallery, London.

Pollock (fig. 1); a number of Studios were painted either by mouth, or in the dark (fig. 2), or by the dazzling light of an imaginary explosion (fig. 3); while for a long series of Incidentsin a Museum the alien style of a semimodernist figuration was adopted as a kind of disguise, so that Art & Language's own previous works could be reviewed as if from a position of anonymity (figs. 4 and 5). The initial compositions of the landscapes



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FIG.4.-Art & Language, Index: Incidentin a Museum VI, 1986. Oil on canvas. 174 x 271 cm. Annick and Anton Herbert Collection, Ghent. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London.




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FIG. 5.-Art & Language, Index: Incident in a Museum VII, 1986. Oil and alogram on canvas. 174 x 271 cm. Private Collection. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London.

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Art & Language Paints a Landscape

were painted in a similarly alienated style that was then subjected to a form of automatistic deformation (fig. 6) while as for more recent works in the series Index:Now TheyAre if any personal graphic mannerisms were discernible in their original pictorial scenarios they have been entirely obscured behind flesh-coloured masks.5 There is one further matter to consider before coming to the landscapes themselves. I refer to them as landscapes, but the paintings in question are more correctly referred to as Hostages.As such they are distinguished only by their numbering from other, preceding subseries with the same overall designation. The title provides a key to the raison d'etre of the project as a whole, and a diversion is therefore necessary to explain its origins. For a period of three years, between 1985 and 1988, the image of a modern museum was featured in all of Art & Language's painted work. In the long series known as Incidentsin a Museum this image served not simply as a convenient compositional scenario. It served also to represent what modernity had become (see figs. 4 and 5). In these pictures the modern museum appears as the headquarters of an administered culture, an oppressive here and now in which the past works of Art & Language are situated as incoherent fragments and remainders. Like the image of the studio before it, the museum was set up by Art & Language as a kind of device for making allegories. But allegorical worlds tend to develop according to their own inexorable logic. As they do, they may come to determine the very imaginative powers by which they were first created. Over the course of some twenty-five separate works, the figurative museum had established itself as a conceptual and technical framework by which the psychological activities of Art & Language were now increasingly contained. What this meant in practice was that the painters Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden found themselves bound to a repertoire of compositional devices that became harder and harder to animate. As the series progressed, the effort to maintain a sense of difference and anomaly resulted in some remarkable inventions, among them the museum conceived as obscured behind a facade of plywood shuttering (Index:Incidentin a Museum(MadisonAvenue)XIV [ 1986]) and the museum seen as the repository for Art & Language's own undistributed publications (Index:Incidentin a MuseumXXV [1987]).6 But the critical potential
5. The earliest works in this series were shown at the Galerie Grita Insam, Vienna, June-July 1992, and the latest at the Galerie du Jeu de Paume, November 1993-January 1994. In each case, a figurative image derived from Courbet's Originedu Monde is painted on canvas. This is then obscured behind a sheet of glass coated on the underside with flesh-coloured paint. While the vestigial image of a woman's torso is recoverable from each of the resulting surfaces, black-and-white reproductions are entirely uninformative. 6. For illustration and discussion of these works, see Harrison, 'Reading the Museum', Essayson Art & Language (Oxford, 1991), pp. 206-22.


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FIG.7.-Art & Language, Study the Museumin the Future, 1987-88. for Gouache on paper. 100 x 120 cm. Private Collection.

of art is always at risk when a device becomes a habit. The last of the Incidents-the twenty-sixth of the series-appears like an expression of hysteria: a plywood surface, roughly decorated with a vertiginous perspective of a museum interior and bored with holes which allow glimpses of another painted surface beneath-a surface which may also contain a form of picture of a form of museum. of inertia and of dissatisfacAt moments such as these-moments tion-the ethical character of artistic invention is often most tellingly revealed. I am not going to follow the full sequence of moves by which Art & Language finally achieved its escape from the museum. To do so would inevitably be to tidy up an awkward and often desperate process of calculation and hazard-a process that lasted over the course of some three further years, embracing two complete phases of new work but also leaving a number of loose ends. Rather, I want to concentrate on a single initiative that seemed at the time like a cul-de-sac. At the time when the last of the Incidentsin a Museum were being painted, there was some conversation in the studio about the possibility of representing a museum in the future. The intention was not to paint a futuristic picture. The idea was rather that if no escape was possible from the psychological place that the Modern had come to be, then perhaps the idea of a shift to a different time might seem to offer a counterintuitive and hence ironic alternative. But how, without absurdity, was a work of art to be projected into the future? Not for the first time-and



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FIG. 8.-Art & Language, Hostage XI, 1988. Oil on canvas on plywood, with acrylic on canvas on plywood inserts. 128.5 x 128.5 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London.


FIG. 9.-Art & Language, Hostage:An Incidentand a People's Flag V,1988. Oil on canvas, with oil on canvas on plywoood insert. 162 x 274 cm. Courtesy Gallery Max Hetzler, Cologne.


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no doubt not for the last-Baldwin and Ramsden embarked on a series of unpaintable pictures. One or two drawings survive, principally as records of paintings unachieved or destroyed (fig. 7). It was a single surviving failure that was in the end immured behind the plywood surface of the final Incident in a Museum-the very museum from which it was supposed to furnish a means of escape. As I have said, the project for the 'museum' in the future turned out to be a dead end. But there was one significant remainder. The idea of the work of art as 'hostage to the future' furnished the title that Art & Language was to employ for its ensuing three series of works: paintings based on representations of palettes that were shown at the Lisson Gallery in the summer of 1988 (fig. 8); a group of flag paintings shown at Max Hetzler's in Cologne in 1989 (fig. 9); and finally the long series of landscapes painted between 1989 and 1991 that forms the principal subject of this paper, the earliest shown at the Marion Goodman Gallery, New York, in March 1990, and the latest at Galerie de Paris, Paris, in May 1991. The title Hostage thus carries connotations not only of captivity and subjection-in this case subjection to the unsanctioned conditions of the present-but also of some possible emancipation in the future. This imaginary emancipation would no doubt be bought at a price, accomplished with violence or as farce, if the evidence of recent political history is to be believed. In the palettes and the flags the museum may no longer determine the architecture of the picture space, but it is still there as an image of control, insinuating itself in the form of details and fragments, compromising the decorative integrity of the painted surface, giving the lie to any pretense of spontaneity, insisting on the relativity of any artistic autonomy. It is only with those Hostageswhich are paintings of landscapes that the determining presence of the museum seems finally to have been exorcised. In practice, however, matters were not quite so straightforward, nor was the apparent independence so easily achieved. The series of landscape paintings was preceded by one of the more disconcerting episodes in the recent history of Art & Language. After the exhibition of paintings in the series Hostage:An Incidentand a People's Flag, Baldwin and Ramsden returned to the abandoned project for a painting of the future, still concerned with expunging the remnants of the museum from the iconography and the psychology of the practice. A number of texts were written proposing paintings to be realised in the future. This is an example: What remains of the theme of nature in landscape painting? Picthe vernacular tures of trees, rocks, growing things-paysages-are of the amateur or the sentimentalist. The genre has been emptied of its terror; its classical forms are rendered harmless. We mean to restore the terror. A work which we shall execute in 1995 is specified as follows:



Art & Language Paints a Landscape

Hostage III; Fields Near the AstropRoad, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 120cm. x 180cm. The genetic character of this work will link it causally to the site identified in the title: a field of wheat in South Northamptonshire in the English Midlands. The viewer will be able to see an undramatic hillside, a standing crop of wheat, a tiring hedgerow patched up with desultory fencing and a few bits of junk. Unexceptional. These things are to be seen close up; made singular. (It is the extracted nature of some of Courbet's landscape fragments which articulates their real dependency. They are swatches made local and specific by decomposition.) The landscape will materialise as a kind of drawing, a mesh of black and green lines on the gold surface. The recovery of signification or meaning from the topological complexities of this mesh will be borne upon by the possibility of its etiological disfigurement-the possibility that this 'drawing' is not attached to the formal, topographical and psychological properties of the landscape at all, but to something which rejects or denies them.7 These would be paintings in the genre of landscape and as such would be independent of the figurative image of the museum. As the texts described them, the projected works would concern themselves with some of the less dignified consequences of modernity. Their putative subjects would be found in the margin of the modern world-the only place where a possibly paintable piece of land might still be found (which is to say a landscape that has not already been so thoroughly aestheticised as to be beyond reclamation for the purposes of a critically significant art). The promised paintings would be endowed with a kind of superficial complexity and glamour. They would be bathetic in their scale and in the amateurishness of their modernity. They would not be realizable as modern paintings suitable for a modern museum-or not, at least, unless modern culture were to be transformed in such a way that bathos and irony became its representative modes, so that the modern was revealed as a mere ruination of its own supposed attachments. There are two features of this text and the other related texts that are of particular relevance to the discussion so far. The first is the challenge to the capacities of painting that is conveyed by their language-a challenge that is both threatening and self-mocking. The second feature is the use of the first person plural. It is not an 'I' that speaks, but a 'We'. The intention they declare is not the intention of an individual. These two features are connected. As always in the work of Art & Language, the power that language is given to wield in the context of art derives in large part from its status as guarantor that-for better or worse-the significant conditions of our experience are sharable or shared.
7. This text was written by Art & Language and was printed onto the surface of a painting which is no longer extant. It survives here like an effaced picture of a figuratively intended painting.', .-_:r•. eis in! other dsc."pilr s. The crob en'.,o: ',ultiple s of sugges-;s seepis it offer c.ance ca..'-•c:.nar in rs:::ecaus. more than any , t7e f-ctor, d e ir oe st ut ure " ,-jij .?v so se, c2festaLb3is (lan ,structure cou;id b~esaid!!navis.:c that. ".he co',-.-. or ;z-im-,:d t:'.. COfrce"_'c .nd r---d-uction of sti-, ":i . , .:},.ace' 'J ! mnear'i-gs C~1 is :o en."-sure :h'.'at meanin~g its,.e.•f "s "or d asspa:e-.:J -T e m.,ulti..oe botn s" phenor--erco of ,".u t:ioe is k.'ept w?-ithir'.




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ic se.-ra .-gueqess, aotive and cognitive -a ue (Richards). The problem of :o-in ,a~e~~S a rt-_ ... L!GiSrr p a'.vsa considerable oart when t is a •..a•ter of ev•aluatir-• a single n eaning:., w,•hich• contenm.porary document, becomes in fact ~? 'decisire' •n. eva I u.•-ng •r" a..nient text. t?Lt recivg Nmeaning: contes L linguististru.-nur?'-ue mq c Terms of reference. Ba! i.-






is to sav of Fp a linguistic structure pro..,er), the language e or the PC u ....diom•.'. 'n wh,..,!-ch.,,e meaning is :-t i -1 ., jt ' ' J. -sg expres sec. :,rr" . +.L Today Bres affrs Q on "he those . which bal the iuratie eemen S is dominant SIC Norberg Sch-'.uiz . .. 'pa,--icuil-ar structures a hav.e r" aa 'e certain. [i~r'?ed poss:,ioii,.' for .. -? r." uased

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d Brthes schemata tr-.e in Ba,-.r:hes r account C has tried ..o .•posly }inguistic an illustratedto adve- ,visual d sci.:l-ines, on a colour Leiin-:age), *e P (Rhetorie semnent s based v"pes G-~hen c 0!-' 5s re e " of (a g e, c) J picture of a food product, j -comprises - caI?l d tyoes ?: of rnessage,. i ,'--. encoded three ?;'3T~:s L ?t-lr :2Z n d -otr $. Z f1 -N t ~e e,,c-ede,-_. T.h.e . . -F j k- r -'- %,i ,:.nd a'dT iconor~raphic mes:.-".,-e:?.- 0zz? 1V second iconographic rnessage (..'ot 2 c s e a e e e gener-.•. linguistic -•-essage b'eir.f-l,r denotative a.--,dt-,e other :,,,.o coannota.tive as .are. Inq











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FIG.10.-Art & Language (Atkinson and Baldwin), TitleEquals Textno. 12, 1967. Photostat. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London.

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FIG. 11.-MArt & Language, Index 02, 1972. 6 files of 8 drawers each, file cards, 42 photostats on masonite. Installation dimensions variable. Installation Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1993-94. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Konstantinos Ignatiadis.



Art & Language Paints a Landscape

The original purpose of these texts was that they should themselves be presented as kinds of painting; that is to say, they were to be printed directly onto stretched canvasses. The results would be framed and glazed, thus pretending to the status of achievements rather than mere proposals. In fact, the printed canvasses turned out to be failures as embarrassing as any that the texts might ironically have predicted, though they were not failures of the same kind. The problem was that they looked like forms of late conceptual art, as if Art & Language had been reduced to redoing in more expensive and more self-important form its own discursive and ad hoc works of the late sixties (see, for example, fig. 10, which shows a body of text presented in 1967 as if it were a painting). It didn't seem to matter that the actual text was of a very different character from those earlier insouciant interventions. The effect of the stylistic resemblance rendered that difference insignificant. Art & Language was accustomed to mobilizing the power of language against the spurious authority of the visual. Yet in this case it was the power of the pictorial format that seemed to neutralise the critical character of the text. This was a bad moment. The conceptual art movement had generated some problems and anomalies that were troubling to business as usual in the art world: How was the market value of its products to be established? How was the authentic form of the work to be decided? What were curators to do with pieces of paper covered in writing? Of the works of this early period that were not simply forms of painting with words, few can still be read in the manner in which they were originally presented. It seems that of those that have survived at all, many are now destined to end their days as the inaccessible and unreadable contents of vitrines. At the time, however, the problems of presentation generated some interesting solutions, Art & Language's Indexesnotable among them (fig. 11). (At least you can't put an Index in a vitrine.) But the trouble with the printed canvas was that it had no real status either as remainder or as anomaly. It just looked like conceptual art refashioned in more expensive materials, escaping from the vitrine to the wall simply by virtue of its self-importance. No consolation was to be drawn from the observation that such pretentious redoing had become a common strategy among those other ageing avant-gardists whose achievement of power in the market had been coincident with the failure of their self-critical powers. On the contrary, it was in part because conceptual art had degenerated into a form of academic style that Art & Language had turned to painting in 1977. Whatever expedients Baldwin and Ramsden might contemplate when addressing the problems of picturing, they were not now going to identify the practice of Art & Language with an academic form of conceptual art. All that now survives of the printed canvas 'What remains of the theme of nature' is the text recorded above. Doing something to a painting can be a way of changing the direction of a practice. In this case, Art


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FIG. 12.-Art & Language, HostageXXI, 1989. Glass, oil on canvas on wood. 183.4 x 122 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Michael Goodman, New York.

& Language was driven to extreme measures. The printed canvas was first snowed on with white paint, and when that process simply produced a kind of picturesque palimpsest it was literally shot to pieces by Michael Baldwin. This was a hostage that failed to survive its own attempted rescue. After that Baldwin and Ramsden went back to the museum, as it were, with their heads hung in shame. A set of portrait-shaped interiors was produced in the attempt to graft a fresh series onto the remnants of the old one. At this point, a new device was conceived in a spirit of desperation. A sheet of glass was fixed over the image of the interior as if to seal it in or, rather, as if to situate the imaginary viewer as someone outside the museum looking in, as though through a window (fig. 12). Only when this was done-when this distance had been achieved for the notional the proposals for landscapes recoverable, not as paintspectator-were ings, but in the form of posters. The painting HostageXIX shows the use to which another of these texts was finally put. The work has a piece of



Art & Language Paints a Landscape



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FIG. 13.-Art & Language, Hostage XIX, 1989. Text on paper, glass, oil on canvas on wood. 183.4 x 122 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

printed paper glued over its surface of glass, largely obscuring the pictured interior behind (fig. 13). Once the text had thus acquired a function within a larger representational scheme, the actual spectator could once again be made to be a reader and given some imaginative work to do. In thus recovering its aggression towards the pictorial, the proposal for a form of landscape recovered its distinctive content and its ironic purpose. This painting is one of a small group of transitional works made in 1989. There are two technical features of these works that need to be explained. The first is that the glass ends just short of the edges of the canvas. The second is that the paint adheres in places to the underside of the glass. The reason in both cases is to ensure that the glass is included in the spectator's experience of the painting, that it is seen as part of what makes the painting the thing it is, and that it is not mistaken for a protective layer that is merely to be looked through. The blotting of the wet paint against the glass also calls attention to the literal and factitious char-


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FIG. 14.-Art & Language, Dialectical Materialism, 1974. Letraset on card. 49.6 x 32 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters.


FIG. 15.-Art & Language, Surf 36, 1990. Pencil and chalk on paper. 45 x 30 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

acter of the painted surface. In so doing it acts as a kind of modernist counter to the illusory properties of the picture, keeping its theatrical effects in check. The device of the blotted paint serves also to recall a much earlier series of Art & Language works, the ironically titled DialecticalMaterialism of the mid-seventies-perhaps the last phase of Art & Language's work that could securely be included under the heading of conceptual art (fig. 14). The displays in this series involved a very different kind of relationship between language and picture, one in which the semantic contents of texts were mapped onto graphic images, using concepts of surface and depth derived from theories of linguistics. In the argot of Art & Language, the abbreviation SURF stands both for the literal plane of the picture and for a level of unreflected meaning in discourse and in culture-or for nothing much. This connection to the earlier work was rendered explicit in studies made for what were to be the first landscape paintings, following hard on the heels of the transitional works. The letters S, U, R, and F were drawn out in absurdly modernised forms, with reference to a book of designs for modern museums (fig. 15). The resulting configurations were used to mark out those areas of the surface that would be painted thickly

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FIG. 16.-Art & Language, Studyfor Hostage 37, 1990. Acrylic, ink and pencil on paper. 130 x 89.6 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

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FIG.17.-Art & Language, HostageXXXVII, 1990. Glass, oil on canvas on wood. 183.4 x 122 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.



Art & Language Paints a Landscape

and left still wet when the glass was applied over them. From these areas the paint would then be forced outward by pressure from behind, to form a literal coating on the underside of the glass. This coating would be composed of the same colors and materials as the pictured landscapes themselves yet would serve to compromise their illusory aspects, much as figurative slots of museum, inserted into the surfaces of the earlier Hostages, had served to compromise their decorative integrity (figs. 16 and 17). Originally adopted to displace the iconography of the museums, the glass now became the enabling condition of work in a new genre, the very genre, in fact, with which the posters had been concerned. It was as if the reader of the posters had been turned around, his or her back to the museum, to face the world that the museum itself could accommodate only once it had already been given the form of a picture. It has been a notable feature of Art & Language's involvement in the art of painting that the possibility of continuing a substantial tradition has had to be worked for afresh with each new series of work. In each case this has involved a process of reconnection not simply to a relevant genre but more importantly to its historical problem-field. To address the modern problems of landscape is to look back to the impressionists. Art & Language's landscapes make explicit reference to Monet's paintings of poplar trees, executed exactly a hundred years before in 1891 (fig. 18). This reference is established not merely through the laconic use of poplars as a recurrent motif but also through play on different atmospheric effects over the course of a series of related works. The Hostagesthus call to mind the last historical moment at which a heightened naturalistic vision could plausibly be made the vehicle for a technically modern art. But they also take upon themselves the distinctive range of formal problems by which the landscape genre as a whole was animated throughout its early modern phase. This last statement stands in need of some justification. Specifically, it requires an account of the problems in question and of their continuing life in the history of painting. The basic issue can be put like this: In painting that draws much of its figurative and metaphorical depth from reference to a potentially limitless space, how is a sense of presence and concreteness to be achieved in the experience of the spectator?8 That is to say, how is the spectator to be positioned relative to the picture's immediate surface without littering its imaginary foreground with the bearers of anecdote and narrative, weak modern equivalents of those nymphs and shepherds and picturesque peasants that served in classical landscape painting to disguise the fact that these were pictures without properly accredited subjects?
8. I tried to address this problem in Harrison, 'The Effects of Landscape', in Landscape ed. W.J. T. Mitchell (Chicago, 1994), pp. 203-39. Power,









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FIG. 19.-Caspar David Friedrich, Seashorein Fog, c. 1807. Oil on canvas. 34.5 x 52 cm. Osterreichische Galerie, Vienna.

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FIG. 21.-Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892. Oil on canvas. 65.5 x 81.3 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Bruce Borland, 1971.791. @ 1994 The Art Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved.

This is landscape painting's particular form of the modern problem of figure-ground relations. Its historical emergence as an inescapable issue is a cause of poignancy in the very different works of Caspar David Friedrich (fig. 19) and ofJohn Constable (fig. 20). Each needed somehow to introduce the spectator into the imaginative world of his art; to this end each was drawn to use conventional foreground devices, yet each found that he must somehow prevent the picture plane from becoming altogether transparent lest the painting as object be reduced to invisibility and its formal integrity be rendered inconsequential. But if this was a significant technical problem, what was required was not a solution that would render the relevant difficulties unnoticeable. On the contrary, the point was to make the problem palpable in the experience of the engaged spectator. The same type of problem presents itself in various forms throughout the landscape painting of the nineteenth century. It is a truism of modernist theory that a kind of 'crisis of impressionism' works itself out in the landscapes of the 1880s and 1890s, notably in the paintings of Monet and C6zanne. In formal terms, the sign of this crisis is that the

FIG.22.-Claude Monet, Nymphias(Waterlilies),c. 1916. Oil on canvas. 200 x 427 cm. The National Gallery, London. Reproduced by permission of the Trustees.



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Art & Language Paints a Landscape

foreground features of paintings-usually human figures-tend either to appear unduly plastic and thus disruptive of the paintings' spatial integrity, or to lose individuality and credibility in a world viewed as mere pattern (fig. 21). Even now, we live with the legacy of this crisis. A hundred years later it still seems possible to divide all but an interesting minority of painters into those who seek effectiveness through rhetorical forms of modelling and those who seek aesthetic resolution through modernistic forms of pattern making. To paraphrase Karl Kraus, when faced with two unacceptable alternatives, the solution is to choose neither. In fact neither of the courses mentioned was followed by Monet or C6zanne. Their solution to the crisis was virtually to abandon foreground features or alternatively to 'thicken' the pictorial atmosphere so that foreground and background became effectively indistinguishable (figs. 22 and 23). The price paid was that it ceased to be possible for the spectator to reliably distinguish between the activities of looking out and those of looking in, although it was just this distinction that had served to differentiate the experience of landscape from the experience of interiors in the first place. Not only did the experience of landscape become reconnected to the experience of interior spaces but also the self-conscious identity of the spectator could no longer be differently reformulated for each type of imaginative location. At least as represented in painting, it became part of the experience of modernity that one could not leave oneself behind. In fact, Monet and Cezanne made it clear that however absent the human figure may actually be from the pictorial motifs of landscape, the genre constantly evokes human presence. That is to say, it evokes a conscious subject-and in modern painting, a self-conscious subject-who is conceived as seeing what the painting shows. The person who reflects upon what is shown is thus in turn reflected back and identified as the point of origin of the view. Landscape constantly evokes its neighbouring genres, the painting of the solitary figure and the self-portrait. The other lesson to be learned from the art of Monet and C6zanne is that a genre is not necessarily to be modernised simply by updating its motifs. What is required is that the form of looking presupposed should require a critical consciousness. It's time to return to our hostages. The point of my diversion into the nineteenth century has been to suggest that to work within a tradition is not only to face a legacy of meanings; it is also to take on a range of problems irrespective of one's other interests or commitments. But there is no knowing in advance how these problems may be engaged in practice. They may simply be encountered, as it were adventitiously, in the pursuit of other projects. All that can surely be said is that without technical change there can be no significant continuation of a tradition. It is only by means of technical change that the pressure of new historical or


Spring 1995


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FIG. 24.-Art & Language, Hostage LXXVI, 1990. Glass, oil on canvas on wood. 214 x 142.5 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

FIG.25.-Edgar Degas, Danseuse dans sa loge, 1878-79. Pastel on card. 60 x 40 cm. Oskar Reinhardt Collection, Winterthur.

psychological or cultural materials can be brought to bear upon the genre in question. In their attempt to move the practice of Art & Language out of the thrall of the museum, Baldwin and Ramsden found themselves making a number of strange technical moves: paintings dated in the future, texts printed on canvas, sheets of glass stuck to paintings. In the end they found themselves painting landscapes. The reader will perhaps have foreseen the conclusion to which I am leading. The materials used to make the Hostages have certain inherent properties. The techniques employed produce certain effects. These are effects of transparency and opacity, of illusionistic depth and literal superficiality, impressions of naturalistic atmosphere contained within facades as unyielding as those of commercial institutions. Though I do not believe that these effects were calculated by my friends in advance of making the paintings, they go to the heart of landscape and serve immediately to reanimate its modern legacy of concerns and problems. In particular I believe that these works serve to bring up to date the questions that I suggest are central to the traditional experience of landscape: Who is it that looks, what kind of person, inhabiting what kind



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FIG.26.-Art & Language, Studyfor Hostage 74, 1990. Acrylic, ink and pencil on paper. 130 x 90 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

of world? The history of art tells us that there can be no critically significant means of readdressing these questions that does not involve a change in the character of pictorial space and thus in the manner of art's playing upon the relations of the literal and the metaphorical. By admitting the surface of glass into their formal schemes, Art & Language's paintings take into themselves the world of reflections that is normally encountered in the experience of paintings as an irrelevance and a distraction. If it were made clear in the landscape painting of the nineteenth century that one could not leave one's self behind in the experience of art, these paintings serve to reflect that inescapable self as framed in an equally inescapable world of incidentals, a world that changes with changes of background, of light, of relative position, and yet, from the point of view of the picture, stays somehow always the same (fig. 24).


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FIG.27.-Art & Language, Hostage LXXIV,1990. Glass, oil on canvas on wood. 214 x 142.5 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

I suggest that there is a further question that these paintings serve to pose. They ask, What does it feel like to be here? At one level this is to ask of the person supposed to be seeing, What do you see, and what is it like to see it? That this is a pertinent question to address in the face of these paintings recalls once again landscape's relationship to the painting of the figure. This relationship is signalled in many of Art & Language's paintings through the device of a vertical divide-a device typically used in painting both to confirm the verticality of the picture plane and as it were to situate a viewer relative to a given subject, often a viewer whose gaze intersects the picture plane at a downward angle. In the work of



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FIG.28.-Art & Language, HostageLXVI, 1990. Text on paper on glass, oil on canvas on wood. 214 x 142.5 cm. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Gareth Winters, London.

Degas, for instance, the device of a vertical divide normally functions to position the supposedly male viewer both physically and psychologically with regard to a woman being viewed (fig. 25). But the flat vertical surfaces of the Hostages also recall those later forms of painting in which neither landscape nor the solitary human figure is seen as offering a plausible modern subject. These are paintings that seek to establish a form of equivalence in the abstract to the answering human presence that seems to look back alike from the greatest of landscapes and from the most poignant of self-portraits. I refer, as I think the Hostagesdo, to the paintings of Barnett Newman and of Mark Rothko.


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But in the experience of the Hostages, there is another level of meanto the question, What does it feel like? that is not entirely captured ing by reference either to the figure painting of the nineteenth century or to the abstract painting of the twentieth. It is a specific consequence of the meeting of paint and glass. In those areas of the pictures that were thinly painted and allowed to dry before the glass was imposed, the figurative landscape extends into space. Over these areas, the effect of the covering of glass is if anything to heighten the picture's atmospheric properties. But where the wet paint has been compressed against the underside of the glass the effect is as if the illusionistic elements had been gathered up and smeared across the foreground (figs. 26 and 27). The resulting presences are at once highly literal and strangely corporeal, like faces pressed against the glass, alarming both in their proximity and in their deformation. From within each gleaming slab a form of hostage seems to look back out as the semblance-semblable-of our vulnerable selves, while the pictured world behind collapses into shards and fragments. Landscape, it transpires, is no place to hide, no refuge from the modern, nor from the fear of violence, nor from the power of language (fig. 28).

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