Ed Herring

Proposition

1970

Not on display

Artist
Ed Herring 1945–2003
Medium
294 postcards and filing cabinet
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2012
Reference
T13814

Summary

Proposition 1970 is a conceptual work by the British artist Ed Herring. It consists of a small metal filing cabinet containing 294 white postcards. The work originally had a participatory aspect to it, the instructions for which were complex:

Four hundred plain, white postcards were faced on one side only with blotting paper.
Fifty participants were asked to maintain constant personal possession of one card per person per week for each one of eight consecutive weeks.
The last card retrieved each week has been replaced by two micrographs (x200 magnification), each one of the central areas of each one of both sides of each one of a total of eight selected cards.
If x is the total number of cards not retrieved or (subsequently) removed; four hundred cards minus x plus eight units of two micrographs constitute the physical presence of this work.
(Herring in Camden Arts Centre 1970, unpaginated.)

With the participatory aspect of the work finished for the work’s first exhibition in 1970, in its present form the filing cabinet and cards stand as a physical record of the conceptual process, exhibited in the gallery space with the draw of the cabinet open, in which several cards are visible. The micrographs (a photograph taken of something under microscopic magnification) were provided by Cambridge Scientific Instruments Ltd.

Proposition uses an intentionally complicated systematic structure to explore both physical and mental connectivity. It was included in the exhibition Idea Structures at Camden Arts Centre in 1970, curated by Charles Harrison, where it was shown alongside work by Keith Arnatt, Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Victor Burgin, Joseph Kosuth and Gerald Hurrell. Herring subsequently said of the work: ‘the whole idea of the activity of the work is involved with the “theory of interchange”, known in forensic science, which purports that it is impossible for me to leave or enter a situation without leaving something behind or taking something away. That is the lynchpin of the whole “Idea Structures” work.’ (Quoted in Art and Artists 1972, p.39.) Prior to making Proposition, Herring had made a number of what he called ‘environmental statements’, in which he used photography and documentation to record interventions into the landscape he made in primarily unpopulated areas (see Oiled Earth 1969, Tate T13817, Tea-bag Piece 1968–9, Tate T13815 and Float 1969, Tate T13816).

Herring studied at Manchester College of Art from 1963–6 and then at St Martins School of Art from 1966–7. In the late 1960s Herring collaborated with fellow artist Keith Arnatt, most notably as the photographer for Arnatt’s Self Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 (Tate T01747).

Further reading
Idea Structures, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 1970.
‘Ed Herring: An Interview with Alistair Mackintosh’, Art and Artists, August 1972, pp.36–41.

Helen Delaney
May 2012
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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