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The Non-Transparency of Language 

Manchester School of Art, Pavement Gallery.


12 September 2019

Manchester School of Art

Benzie Building

Room 303; 13:45 - 17:30


The Non-Transparency of Language aims at exploring language-based art within the context of the contemporary gallery space. Hosted by Pavement Gallery and the Manchester School of Art, this event looks at exploring how this art form art has evolved within and the relevance that it still possesses the contemporary setting.


13:45 – 14:00 Welcome

14:00 – 14:30 Simeon Barclay, Building an Argot

14:30 – 15:00 Emma Curd, Words as Tools and Weapons: Using Language to Criticise Art and its Institutions

15:00 – 15:30 Andy Broadly and Richard Hudson-Miles, Art-Language-Art-Teaching

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 16:30 Philip Davenport, A Ribbon Tied to the Rain's Hair

16:30 – 17:00 Nia Williams, A Tactile Language for Everyone

17:00 – 17:30 Joanne Columbine, Text Me - Anxiety, Writing and Identity


Language-based art is a branch of Conceptual Art. Particularly associated with Art & Language (1968) is closely linked to the avant-garde art-works of the 1960’s. Words played an important role for artists; the emphasis being on ideas of visuals forms of work. The production of work maybe seen to be founded upon a linguistic basis. Artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner and Mel Bochner gave language a central role. Language had become subject to a further Minimalist reduction or had ‘dematerialized’. This notion of ‘Dematerialization’ appeared to be fetishist complexion, engaged with such thoroughly substantial materials as paper, and the spaces of gallery walls. The conviction which characterized Art & Language was that it was the inquiry which had to be the work, therefore ‘the work’ is the object of enquiry. 


Pavement Gallery has been known to display artists working with the medium of language such as John Cage (2019), Mark Titchner (2013), Antoni Muntadas (2012) and Lawrence Weiner (2010), examining the possibilities and complications of language and communication in both art and life. The impenetrability of the gallery is countered by the opening out of the exhibition into the outside world. Work which is shown in the gallery is viewable 24/7 by those passing by. This contained space affects the reception of the work, as potential viewers interact and perceive it in an individual manner.

Pavement’s continuous accessibility could be interpreted as a physical representation of how we interact with information in the digital age. Language-based art is a practice that draws on ideas of everyday life. Its relationship with the technological everyday, digital imagery and media spirals endless possibilities for exploring contemporary interpretations of language-based art within the contemporary context. Net Art is a good example of how the abstraction of language-based art was originally reinterpreted through the digital medium. In the Nineties, this movement produced a shift in visual aesthetics which radicality still emerges today as a common theme through highly problematic practices like fake news and deep fakes, which implications are yet to be explored.   


The virtue of language-based art since its emergence of conceptual practices from the late 1960s, is that it questions the way we think, how we judge, how we feel and differ. It can also question the nature of the society we live in and the surrounding socio-political structure of the gallery space the work is exhibited. It allows artists, curators, audiences and passers-by to explore the possibility of language as an idea that still has strong relevance in contemporary practice. 


The symposium aims to generate a discussion around language-based art, current interpretations and modes of curating this specific art form within the contemporary gallery space. It looks at expanding on the ways in which text as art carries on an impact on the viewer’s reception of the work - with particular reference to today’s climate and our habitual lives. The messages that this particular art form embodies are also part of this investigation. The multiple meanings that language-based art expresses link with socio-political messages, digital culture and the notion of humour, among others.


This event is organised by Jillian Gibran, Katie Louise Hockey and Abigail Kearns.

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