Claire Nichols reviews Lawrence Weiner’s As Far as the Eye Can See. Edited by Donna De Salvo and Ann Goldstein, published by Yale University Press.
Lawrence Weiner is one of the most renowned artists practicing today. He has made work in nearly every major museum worldwide, appears in practically every international art collection and has left his permanent inscriptions on many a public site. The sheer variety of his experiments in language, on the wall, the floor, outside and inside public spaces and private residences, in publications, and on film, is captured in this catalogue. There are over 150 pages of images consisting of better and lesser known pieces, interspersed between eight very different essays about Weiner’s work.
Donna De Salvo (co-curator of the exhibition that accompanies this book, currently on at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles until 14 July 2008) maps Weiner’s art historical trajectory, whilst Liam Gillick explores the local, social and physical conditions that foreground Weiner’s acts. Gregor Stemmrich’s offering is an interesting take on the philosophy of language in Weiner’s work. Stemmrich attempts to reconcile Weiner’s personal choices and the particular implications of his artistic use of language. He reads Weiner through the tensions between linguist.Noam Chomsky and developmental theorist Jean Piaget: two of the artist’s lasting influences.
An aspect of Weiner’s work that is often overlooked is his approach to film and video. This is the central tenet of Edward Leffingwell’s catalogue text, ‘Ships at Sea’. Weiner has observed, ‘My use of film…was an attempt to place it within the stream of life (im Stroom des Lebens). And the stream of life becomes what film is.’ Weiner’s jump-cut edits in his films embody this ‘stream of life’, and Leffingwell’s descriptions of the films reflect these edits. Leffingwell’s comments become a particularly interesting read when he describes A First Quarter, a film in which two hundred and fifty of Weiner’s works dated before 1971 are spoken, read, and conferred upon, by methodical and complicit performers. A part of Leffingwell’s description reads: The players convene over coffee. They read aloud and type. The blonde builds To and Fro on the table. The scene on the hood of the car is repeated: To and Fro.’ It is in the spirit of Weiner’s work that it is open to narratives of becoming. Thus, Leffingwell’s far from impartial descriptions invent a dynamic dialogue with the remaining texts in the catalogue. Similarly the other seven texts respond to Weiner’s original vision, and contribute to the richness of the collection. This collection of essays is a vital contemporary record of Weiner’s work by important historians of his art, philosophy and culture.