Los Angeles

Lawrence Weiner

Stuart Regen Gallery

Lawrence Weiner’s work has been remarkably consistent over the years. Although committed to post-Structuralist notions such as the contingency of the open text, deferred meaning, and the death of the author, Weiner has pursued a predominantly language-based strategy that is also stubbornly empirical, transforming discourse into content through a transient process of production, presentation, and reception. Indeed, Weiner has wavered very little from his often-quoted 1968 declaration of intent: “1. The artist may construct the piece. 2. The piece may be fabricated. 3. The piece 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.” In this theoretical context, hermeneutics and the art institution, far from being mere supplemental adjuncts to the presentation of the autonomous artwork, become active partners in a productive chain of semantic difference and proliferation. For this reason, Weiner has always worked with a wide variety of media and representational strategies, whether gallery installations, posters, announcements, books, records, films, or videos.

Weiner’s recent installation, Assuming the Position, 1989, was a good example of his ability to use both the gallery space and the viewer’s interpretative and physical interjection as transformative catalysts. The four walls of the main gallery were the site for a four-part mural text. Each segment was anchored by the phrase “ASSUMING THE POSITION,” framed by a rectangular box and a pair of large, silver-painted parentheses. This element was accompanied, in each case, by different fragments of text placed above and below the box, linked by the circled word “OR,” floating in an oval frame: PLACED ON TOP/OR/PLACED BELOW, PUT TOGETHER/OR/ SPREAD APART, HARD AS A ROCK/OR/SOFT AS SILK, TOSSED ASIDE/OR/ CARRIED ALONG.

This arrangement yields considerable narrative confusion. Are these phrases to be read metaphorically or metonymically, as paradigms or syntagmas, or as both? The vertical relationship of the texts suggests a male/female dialectic, perhaps alluding to sexual positions or power relationships. The phrases also recall advertising slogans, a possible reference to the actual material and graphic placement of the wall texts themselves, as well as to their status within the confines of the gallery. Should the top and bottom lines be read independently, or as narrative chains circulating the space as a whole? Whichever option we choose, semantic closure is impossible. The narratives take on the characteristics of allegorical fragments, much like Dada poems or children’s nonsense chants, in which the correspondences struck between words conjure up deeper resonances than the individual words or phrases themselves. This sense of meaning as lack or deferral is reinforced by Weiner’s predilection for the parenthesis or ellipsis: we are constantly reminded that something is being left out or taken out of context. By “assuming the position” of reader, we literally and metaphorically piece the fragments together. However, by arbitrarily “assuming” what we think is an ideologically “correct” position of reception, we also generate meanings that can only be contingent and provisional. In this sense, the gallery space becomes an active field of transformative discourse between Weiner and the viewer, rather than a passive “holder” of the artist’s autonomous statements.

However, as if to keep us from falling into the trap of thinking that Weiner sees language as a mere by-play of floating signifiers, two wall texts in a neighboring room place art/language in a distinctly social context. Over the Wall & In Front of the Next, 1989, was originally exhibited in France in connection with the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Such placement breeds associations regarding a particular geography and history—barricades? storming the Bastille?—while the recontextualization here gives rise to thoughts on the Berlin wall. Just when we think that Weiner has freed the art object/text from the specificity of time and place and placed it in the realm of language games, he reminds us of its innately social content. For this reason, Weiner’s art, despite its often theatrical conceptual framework, is always rigorously political and practical in its transformation of social and linguistic space. In short, it never loses its connection with this text, this wall, this empirical reality.

Colin Gardner