3: Text and Image: Woman Lost In Process

Lawrence Weiner

3: Text and Image: Woman Lost In Process

Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing is a contemporary British artist whose conceptually driven photographs and videos investigate power dynamics and voyeurism in everyday life. Focused more on capturing the self-awareness of her subjects than on issues of aesthetics, Wearing employs prosthetic masks, voice dubbing, altered photographs, in her portraits of herself, individuals, and groups. This is especially notable in her series of work Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say (1992-1993), in which the artist confronted strangers and asked them write what they were thinking, then photographed them holding the sign. “It’s always important as an artist to find a unique language, and that’s why the Signs excited me,” she said of her series. “They felt new. But I didn’t realize they were going to be so influential, on everything from advertising to people doing signs for their Facebook page.” Born in 1963 in Birmingham, United Kingdom, she moved to London in 1983, studying first at the Chelsea School of Art then Goldsmiths College where she became a part of the Young British Artists generation alongside Damien Hirst. In 1997, the artist was the winner of the prestigious Turner Prize for her 1996 piece “60 Minutes Silence“. She currently lives and works in London, UK. Today, Wearing’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., among others.

3: Text and Image: Woman Lost In Process

Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha works in a very open-ended way exploiting tension between images and text that often seem rather arbitrary in their juxtaposition, making the viewer make their own connections and interpretations.

His approach is mainly aesthetic – interested in abstract potential of words against abstract design underlying his photographs and paintings. Some commentators on the You Tube videos below have seen this as rather vacuous. What concerns me is the way a focus on ‘cool’ leads to a sort of ‘apathy of the sublime’.

Catalogue Raisonnee of his photography and signage work.

MoMA Painting Words

Rapid but pretty comprehensive visual overview of his work: photobooks, painting and text with comments by other artists.
An extended interview where Ed Ruscha discusses how his work evolved from his early journey from Oklahoma (slow and simple) to LA (fast and furious). His first car journey he produced as the photobook 26 Gasolene Stations influenced by Robert Frank, Walker Evans and Jack Kerouac, His work on the Hollywood sign comes from the time in 1960s when he could see it from his window as a ‘weather report’ of smog levels.
Not sure where ideas come from, but they do. They come. He has to preconceive ideas and puts recognisable things like words and things. Background in abstract painting, type setting and graphic design.
His work is about the tension between images eg landscape, mountain tops and their symbolism ‘not making any noise’ and words that he can overlay in any size. He often uses stencils.
Experiments with gunpowder.
He discusses his photobooks of gasolene stations, parking lots and swimming pools. He describes them as not having any political point, aiming for a cool distance and ‘no style’. But of gasolene stations he also says ‘ what used to be Navaho land now belongs to the white man to put gasolene stations on.’ The work on parking lots and swimming pools seen from a helicopter also point to something (what? Waste? Wealth? Emptiness?) about life in LA.
Discusses the ways he works across media, particularly etchings.
Ed Ruscha discusses his exhibition ‘Course of Empire’ at National gallery of large paintings of sections of buildings in LA at two points in time. The first 1990s in black and white and the second 2004 showing changes. References the paintings of rise and fall of civilisation by Thomas Cole on exhibition at National Gallery at the same time.
He discusses how coincidences happen in the making of a work. He does not think too much about meaning and has a compulsion to make things as an ‘involuntary reflex’ as he gets up in the morning. The words come from movies, things he hears on the radio, overheard conversations, things he reads. ‘Things just come out of the air’. Then viewers make up all sorts of meanings and connections.

3: Text and Image: Woman Lost In Process

Martha Rosler


Martha Rosler is an American artist. She works in photography and photo text, video, installation, sculpture, and performance, as well as writing about art and culture. Rosler’s work is centered on everyday life and the public sphere, often with an eye to women’s experience. Wikipedia


Rosler’s work is quite diverse, but can be seen as underwriiten by four main themes around the question ‘What is subjectivity in the context of late capitalism?’

  • Biopolitical: the way that power orchestrates the body, particularly for women. Draws on de Beauvoir, Lefevre and later Foucault.
  • Everyday/ordinary/banale and commodification
  • Vernacular projects referencing Pop Art, snapshot photography and citizen journalism
  • Urbanism an political economy of place

Her work is directly linked to her activism: feminist, anti-power, anti-militarist and in support of human subjectivity. She draws on the theory and practice of ‘estrangement’ of Brecht and Godard where the work invites the viewer to recognise/misrecognise and then deny the content of what they are seeing – leading to critical thinking – leading to taking a position that things should be different.

She has used image and text in different ways. Some of her work is very effective in exploiting gaps and contradictions between the two ‘descriptive systems’.

The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems

This work is a large gallery frieze of a series of photographs of buildings and store fronts with bottles in various positions as traces of events, as a dyptych with ‘poems to alcohol’ – lists of words and phrases referring to drunkenness. They were produced as a counter to what Rosler sees as the voyeuristic and parasitic photography of homeless people and people with alcohol issues with quotations from them that are often taken by students, journalists or NGOs.

I find the unusual juxtaposition of two ‘ descriptive systems’ of image and text that are ‘inadequate’ in themselves to communicate collisions of power very poignant.

Semiotics of the Kitchen

Short video intended for easy showing and distribution shot in single frontal framing. Contrasts single spoken words for everyday kitchen objects with video of possible ways in which they can be used, generally with explicit or implicit violence and a dark feminist humour.

House beautiful: bringing the war home

House Beautiful: Bringing the War Back Home is an activist series of collage images that integrate comforting domestic images of American life (mostly from Life Magazine) life with images of the Vietnam war that were shown on TV each evening. She is concerned with the ways in which viewer distancing from identification with people in the photographs is achieved as a means of raising their political awareness. Some of these images are very striking in their juxtaposition and captioning eg ‘Cleaning the Drapes’. These images were photocopied and handed out to protesters on marches, and reprinted later as part of protest against other US comflicts eg Middle East.

Other works are much more direct and – I think to a modern audience used to very polished and well-constructed video on what are nowadays common themes – rather cliche. Though the same issues remain.

This 1977 video uses archive footage from US government eugenic experiments and links this with the explicit racism and violence underlying it (data on black and Southern Europeans was destroyed as ‘abnormal’, and the internalisation of ideal body types linked to anorexia and suicide. By modern standards the work is rather over-long, repetitive and direct.
Martha Rosler reads Vogue 1982 is a much more explicit critique of the fashion industry in terms of manipulation of women’s self-image and exploitation of workers. Although the narrative often contradicts the images, this is rather too obvious and (for a modern viewer) cliche. It is over long and unnecessarily repetitive in conveying what is actually a simple message. If the repetition itself is the point, then that needs to be made clear somehow.
Rather rambling unfortunately.
  • Look up
  • secrets from the Street
  • Middle East photomontages
  • Garage
  • Passionate Signals
  • rites of passage
  • airports
3: Text and Image: Woman Lost In Process

Rene Magritte