Lawrence Weiner is one of the chief protagonists in the development of conceptual art. In the 1960s he was a key figure in expanding the definition of a work of art. Along with his contemporaries including Joseph Kosuth (born 1945; see Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version, 1965, Tate T01909) and Douglas Huebler (1924-1997; see Variable Piece No. 44, 1971, Tate P07234), Weiner challenged the notion that an artwork had to consist of a definite physical object, contending instead that it could comprise a concept or idea with which the viewer would be invited to engage. Weiner’s practice focuses on this interaction between artwork and viewer or, in his terminology, the ‘receiver’ of the work of art. The principles underlying his art were outlined in a ‘statement of intent’ that Weiner first published in 1969:
1. THE ARTIST MAY CONSTRUCT THE WORK
2. THE WORK MAY BE FABRICATED
3. THE WORK NEED NOT BE BUILT
EACH BEING EQUAL AND CONSISTENT WITH THE INTENT OF THE ARTIST THE DECISION AS TO CONDITION RESTS WITH THE RECEIVER UPON THE OCCASION OF RECEIVERSHIP
Weiner’s particular contribution to conceptual art was in his use of language. He is best known for his ‘statements’ of which this work is an example. Weiner’s statements do not have any particular physical form in themselves. They exist as language with the potential to be displayed in any typeface, colour, size or medium, or acted out. Weiner’s statements have taken the form of text inscribed in gallery or public spaces, spoken dialogue in audio and video works, printed matter including books and posters, musical lyrics and even tattoos. Weiner defines the medium of his statements as ‘language + the material referred to’, emphasising the flexibility of the presentation of his works and the limitations of language.
GROUND DOWN (&) JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE is one of five statement works (Tate T12006-T12010) that come under the umbrella title SPHERES OF INFLUENCE. SPHERES OF INFLUENCE also comprise two open edition posters (Tate P20269-P20270). These works were first shown at Weiner’s solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1991. Tate acquired the entire installation in 2005.
In a television interview screened during the ICA exhibition, Weiner described the genesis of the SPHERES OF INFLUENCE works. He said:
This particular body of work comes from a series of work I was doing in Norway ... I was up in the rocks between Kristiansand and Stavangar and you could see the sea, sort of, smell the sea more than you could see it. And I realised that there’s a thing called ground water. And whatever I was doing was going through the ground as well. So there were two parts to the work that I was making. There was the final thing, the ‘HIT HARD (&)’ which means those were the things, clearing it up and bringing it to. And at the same time there was something going on that I would not be able to see, which is the eventual flow into the sea or flow into the water system. And that’s what this body of work is about. It’s just on the other side. It really is this: shoot an arrow up in the air, know not where it lands (Weiner, interviewed by Matthew Collings on The Late Show, BBC2, first broadcast 27 February 1991).
While this work can be displayed on its own, at the ICA and more recently in a Collection display at Tate Modern it has formed part of an installation with the other statement works and posters. The statement works have taken the form of vinyl lettering applied directly on the gallery wall. When installed in this manner each of the SPHERES OF INFLUENCE statements follows the same graphic construction with two lines of text separated by a strong horizontal line which the artist likens to a horizon line. This graphic trope emphasises the separation alluded to in the recurring linguistic motif ‘just on the other side’. The language Weiner employs is ambiguous, suggesting relationships in which power is exerted and perhaps abused. The passive construction of the statements, however, lends a degree of distance and allows room for the viewer to bring his or her own allusions to the work.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Alexander Alberro, Alice Zimmerman and David Batchelor, Lawrence Weiner, London 1998.
‘Lawrence Weiner: SPHERES OF INFLUENCE’, exhibition leaflet, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1991.
Liz Kotz and Carlos Basualdo, Lawrence Weiner: Until It Is, exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio 2002.