My name is Elena Crippa, I am Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate Britain.
This is Roy Ascott, Video Roget from 1962, a piece made of five horizontal panels, four of them feature basic wooden abstract forms and there is a central element that is made of green perspex sitting on two horizontal lines that are intersected with a few notches, and on the top of this Perspex element is another square piece of glass with a vertical red line. This element in glass can be moved from the left to the right. This vertical red line, and the horizontal lines, give a sense of a possibility of change and progression over time.
This work brings together a number of interests of Ascott, he had just studied in Newcastle with Victor Pasmore, the course that Pasmore structured was titled Basic Forms, it was based on the idea that artists were developing a fully abstract idiom and were working with basic forms that would be changed, expanded, explored. Roy Ascott is here taking these basic forms, starting from more organic types at the top and progressing towards the more abstract, and is suggesting a possibility of a more active involvement on the part of the viewer who can play, on an imaginary level, with the shapes and change their nature or their final form.
Ascott was influenced by a number of disciplines and interests, one of those was cybernetics.
Cybernetics is the science of communications in automatic controlled systems in both machines and living things, this is the definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary, cybernetics was a discipline that was gaining incredible currency at the time. It was a structuralist approach to the analysis and understanding of our reality, our language, the way we interacted in society, a society that was becoming increasingly driven by machines and technology.
The work conflates very different languages and material, the forms move from organic to abstract.
The study of forms and the relationship between organic forms and much more abstracted rendition also relates to the reading among artists, especially in the ‘50s and early ‘60s of a book by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form. The book tries to map the development of organic forms, inscribing them within a grid and looking how we can study organic developments through mathematical mapping and this is something that resonated among artists, this relationship between the organic and the formal and how the two could be studied and linked together.
The title comes from the combination of video, which comes from Latin, and means ‘I see’ and Roget, who devised the first thesaurus, the first publication looking at words that shared the same meanings. Video Roget is visualising language through forms and relates to what was still a pressing idea of the time, thinking of abstraction as a universal language, as something that could be analysed and expressed to a very broad audience.