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

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

Barbara Kruger

Most important element is the political content, making it clear and bold, though often based on enigmatic images and comntradiction.

Short introductory overview.

She works visually with text usually short quotes in bold typeface eg futura, and uses black, white and ‘lipstick’ red, sometimes other bold colours or limited palettes. Sometimes in caps, sometimes lower case and often reversing front and background colours.

Appropriation eg images from 1950s used in 1980s. Silkscreen.

Kruger discusses how she constructs her work – deciding which elements of the image interests her most, then placing text accordingly.
Barbara Kruger discusses her life and work and how it has evolved from magazine cut and paste to large public murals.
Kruger discusses a collaborative project. It is the questions that are important in having a critical view of the world. Whose values, whose hopes and whose fears?
The questions are the important thing. Enjoys putting questins on a buge mural space.

Barbara Kruger (born January 26, 1945) is an American conceptual artist and collagist.[1] Most of her work consists of black-and-white photographs, overlaid with declarative captions, stated in white-on-red Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed text. The phrases in her works often include pronouns such as “you”, “your”, “I”, “we”, and “they”, addressing cultural constructions of power, identity, and sexuality. Kruger currently lives and works in New York and Los Angeles.

Imagery and text[edit]

Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989

Belief+Doubt (2012) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Much of Kruger’s work pairs found photographs with pithy and assertive text that challenges the viewer. Her method includes developing her ideas on a computer, later transferring the results (often billboard-sized) into images.[5] Examples of her instantly recognizable slogans read “I shop therefore I am,” and “Your body is a battleground,” appearing in her trademark white letters against a red background. Much of her text calls attention to ideas such as feminismconsumerism, and individual autonomy and desire, frequently appropriating images from mainstream magazines and using her bold phrases to frame them in a new context.

Kruger has said that “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.”[15] A larger category that threads through her work is the appropriation and alteration of existing images. In describing her use of appropriation, Kruger states:

Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions. I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.[16]

Her poster for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington in support of legal abortion included a woman’s face bisected into positive and negative photographic reproductions, accompanied by the text “Your body is a battleground.”[5] A year later, Kruger used this slogan in a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Twelve hours later, a group opposed to abortion responded to Kruger’s work by replacing the adjacent billboard with an image depicting an eight-week-old fetus.[17]

Kruger’s early monochrome pre-digital works, known as ‘paste ups’, reveal the influence of the artist’s experience as a magazine editorial designer during her early career. These small scale works, the largest of which is 11 x 13 inches (28 x 33 cm), are composed of altered found images, and texts either culled from the media or invented by the artist. A negative of each work was then produced and used to make enlarged versions of these initial ‘paste ups’.[18] Between 1978 and 1979, she completed “Picture/Readings,” simple photographs of modest houses alternating with panels of words.[5] From 1992 on, Kruger designed several magazine covers, such as Ms.EsquireNewsweek, and The New Republic.[19] Her signature font style of Futura Bold type is likely inspired from the “Big Idea” or “Creative Revolution” advertising style of the 1960s that she was exposed to during her experience at Mademoiselle.[6]

In 1990, Kruger scandalized the Japanese American community of Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, with her proposal to paint the Pledge of Allegiance, bordered by provocative questions, on the side of a warehouse in the heart of the historic downtown neighborhood.[5] Kruger had been commissioned by MOCA to paint a mural for “A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation,” a 1989 exhibition that also included works by Barbara BloomJenny HolzerJeff KoonsSherrie Levine, and Richard Prince. But before the mural went up, Kruger herself and curator Ann Goldstein presented it at various community meetings over the time period of 18 months.[20] Only after protests did the artist offer to eliminate the pledge from her mural proposal, while still retaining a series of questions painted in the colors and format of the American flag: “Who is bought and sold? Who is beyond the law? Who is free to choose? Who follows orders? Who salutes longest? Who prays loudest? Who dies first? Who laughs last?”.[5] A full year after the exhibition closed, Kruger’s reconfigured mural finally went up for a two-year run.[20]

In 1994, Kruger’s L’empathie peut changer le monde (Empathy can change the world) was installed on a train station platform in Strasbourg, France. One year later, with architects Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson and landscape architect Nicholas Quennell, she designed the 200-foot-long (60 m) sculptural letters Picture This for a stage and outdoor amphitheater at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh.[5] Between 1998 and 2008, she created permanent installations for the Fisher College of Business, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Price Center at the University of California, San Diego.[21] For a site-specific piece that she produced at the Parrish Art Museum in 1998, Kruger placed across the upper range of the museum’s Romanesque facade stark red letters that read, “You belong here”; below, on columns separating three arched entry portals, stacked letters spelled “Money” and “Taste.”[22] As part of the Venice Biennale in 2005, Kruger installed a digitally printed vinyl mural across the entire facade of the Italian pavilion, thereby dividing it into three parts—green at the left, red at the right, white in between. In English and Italian, the words “money” and “power” climbed the portico’s columns; the left wall said, “Pretend things are going as planned,” while “God is on my side; he told me so” fills the right.[23] In 2012, her installation Belief+Doubt, which covers 6,700 square feet (620 m²) of surface area and was printed onto wallpaper-like sheets in the artist’s signature colors of red, black and white, was installed at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.[24]