What are words worth? [Show update]

The relationship between words and eachother, and words and the reader is an intrinsic and complicated dynamic. First off, words hold meaning in and of themselves; we are taught from the very beginning how to define words, and when their use is inappropriate. We are taught what words go with others, and which don’t. The dichotomy between the two is inherent in our language system through ideas like “opposites”; if something is good, it isn’t bad. If something is pretty, it isn’t ugly. If something is big, it isn’t little…etc.

But then we are also taught how phrases are to be used; you can say “wow, this is cool”, which translates into something being good, or cold, or even both (depending on the context). Words then are like people; they change with their surroundings. You learn, when you don’t know a word, to read it within the sentence, to try and determine it’s context. You also may look at the voice saying it; what they are like? are they optimistic? are they sarcastic? Have they stumbled across hard times and are saying something out of character?

This installation incorporates different aspects of exactly what context does to something. With the first, which reads “no hope remains. no, hope remains”, it would seem that these statements are completely contrary, dichotomous, opposites. One seemingly cannot exist with the other. How can hope remain while ceasing to remain? How can something be both hopeful and hopeless?

The same sort of dichotomy, however, is constantly present. We all will eventually physically expire; it is hopeless to believe otherwise. However, as a Christian, there is hope in that situation as well. There is a promise of a continuation, a resurrection, a rebirth. Death, then, is a hopeful situation. Death, then, becomes an and/and situation for us, rather than an and/or. The letters are then painted in grey to reflect that merger of black and white.

In this same way, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ letter to Ross functions similarly (The text, of which, i have already included on my blog, but to see an image of the actual letter, see below). Felix is writing about time, a thing he is aware (with Ross currently dying of AIDS), he doesn’t have left with Ross. Yet the context of his words, though they could easily and justifiably be angry, isn’t the expected context; he talks about being grateful for time, about time being a blessing. He talks about a victory, something we certainly do not typically associate with death. However, in the context of Gonzalez-Torres’ work, this sense of victory makes sense conceptually; all of his work reflects a sense of triumph over physical death, a resurrection.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Ross Laycock, 1988.

In the second piece, the words “It’s just a matter of time”, which is a phrase commonly used but also chosen in light of Torres (see his billboard featuring the phrase (in Spanish)) One has two particular ways of reading this statement: the first being an overbearing, seemingly dramatic statement in which something horrible looms in the distance; death, for instance. The second is that it is only a matter of time in the sense that we are not gone forever; it is just a matter of time until i see you again, for instance. Because it is just the phrase, and no image or statement to accompany the phrase, Torres allows for his viewers to see it and alter the piece for their own use. It becomes a way to share experiences rather than being told what to feel or see. In this way, ineveitably, the viewer controls the context in which the piece is read. Similarly, I chose to reflect that control, using reflective contact paper to cut the letters out of. You see yourself in the phrase, seeing that you are the context. You determine the meaning.

Pictures to follow. Show opens tonight with Brady Davidson and Caleb Mulder’s show “Unpacked”.




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