Broken English August ’91 1997 is a colour screenprint on white wove paper depicting an assemblage of photographic portraits. The images, which are reminiscent of passport photographs, feature a range of contemporary artists, curators, critics and dealers. Pictured against a neutral background, the photographs are scattered across the composition at various angles and are often shown overlapping. Many of the images show signs of deterioration and some are presented face down so that the orange and yellow adhesive on their reverse is visible. Particularly evident in the upper half of the composition are dappled reflections which partly cloud the images. The work is signed by the artist on its reverse.
This print was made by the British artist Anya Gallaccio in London in 1997. It is closely related to Gallaccio’s installation Broken English 1991 (reproduced in van Adrichem, Bryson, Fer and Sanromán, pp.44–5), which she made for a group exhibition of the same name staged at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1991. Broken English comprises hundreds of small photographic portraits floating in a large rectangular pool of water in a low tray positioned on the gallery floor, with the images blown by a fan attached to the wall. The reflections created by the water in the installation and the subsequent damage to the photographs can be seen in Broken English August ’91.
Gallaccio has claimed that in capturing many of her contemporaries in the British art scene, Broken English was a ‘sort of document of a moment of time, a suspended moment’ (quoted in Cvijeta Zuzoric Art Pavilion 2001, p.21), while in 1991 the critic Andrew Graham-Dixon described the installation as an ‘image of transience’ that suggests that Gallaccio’s generation of artists operate within ‘a loose, floating network of relationships’ (quoted in Serpentine Gallery 1991, p.6). The screenprint may be seen to add a further layer of memory to this interpretation, with the work encouraging consideration of how those depicted have changed in the intervening period.
‘Broken English’ is an expression that refers to the linguistic limitations of a non-native speaker of the English language. Gallaccio’s use of the phrase for the titles of her installation and print suggests that English identity may also be decaying or fragmenting, notions supported by the way in which the photographs have been damaged by the water and are dispersed without obvious ordering across the composition.
Born in Paisley in Scotland in 1963, Gallaccio studied at Kingston Polytechnic (1984–5) and Goldsmiths College in London (1985–8). Her installations, often site-specific and located both inside and outside galleries, have frequently explored the changing textures and forms of industrial, manufactured and organic materials such as concrete, chocolate, fruit and ice. Waterloo 1988, a floor-based installation involving poured lead and a child’s cardigan cast in bronze, was included in the exhibition Freeze staged in south London in 1988, a show curated by the artist Damien Hirst that is widely seen as having initiated the Young British Artist phenomenon. preserve ‘beauty’ 1991–2003 (Tate T11829) consists of hundreds of red flowers displayed under glass panels that decompose over the course of their exhibition, while Blessed 1999 features two hundred kilograms of red apples hung on a tree in the Swiss Alps. Since 2008 Gallaccio has lived and worked in San Diego, California, and her installation Where is Where it’s at 2011 features sand and dirt collected in the western United States presented in geometric patterns spread across the gallery floor and walls.
Broken English August ’91 is part of Screen, a portfolio of eleven prints by London-based artists that was published in 1997 by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint The Paragon Press. The works were all made between February and July 1997, and are presented together with a title page and colophon by the graphic designer Phil Baines in a black buckram-covered wooden case. The title of the portfolio refers to the technique of screenprinting and also alludes to the fact that many of the featured artists work with screen-based media. Each print exists in an edition of seventy-five, with the first forty-five produced in portfolio sets, of which the portfolio owned by Tate is number thirty-three.
Broken English, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1991, p.6.
In Print: Contemporary British Art from the Paragon Press, exhibition catalogue, Cvijeta Zuzoric Art Pavilion, Belgrade, London 2001, p.21.
Jan van Adrichem, Norman Bryson, Briony Fer and Lucía Sanromán, Anya Gallaccio, London 2013, pp.44–5, reproduced p.236.
Supported by Christie’s.