See It Now or Miss It Forever: Materiality, Visuality, and the Written Word in Janice Kerbel’s Recent Artwork
Contemporary text-based art owes much to 1960s Conceptual art and to earlier twentieth-century art that involved language. However, contemporary practices deploy language as a medium in sophisticated ways that diverge greatly from Conceptual art practices, conflating word and image, idea and material in ways that would have seemed contrary to many tenets of the Conceptual movement. Removed from the rhetoric of “dematerialization” of 1960s criticism, contemporary text-based art demonstrates the written word’s potential as a medium that is at once conceptual, visual, material, and critically self-reflexive. This essay explores the act of seeing/reading in Conceptual art as a starting point for considering the research-led contemporary artwork of Canadian artist Janice Kerbel, and shows how Kerbel’s written word is in dialogue with its visual form, revealing at the same time that the context in which a text-based artwork is shown shifts the audiences’ interpretation of the word and the visual codes it invokes. The analysis centres on Remarkable (2007–10), a series of typographical posters originally commissioned for the Frieze Art Fair in London and then shown in a solo exhibition at Tate Britain in 2010. In addressing art-historical trajectories that inform the ways in which the word is invoked in art today, I am working toward a vocabulary for the written word as a contemporary critical medium that is both visual and material.
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