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Arakawa and Madeline Gins’s Mechanism of Meaning
Sarah Garland

The Mechanism of Meaning (1963-1973; 1996) by artist-architect-poet-philosophers Arakawa and Madeline Gins, unfolds over more than eighty eight-foot high painted and collaged panels, using image, object and text together to produce an epic diagram of the mind as it works at problem solving and meaning making. At the core of this project is a mobilisation of impossibility, ambiguity, mistakes, frustrations, puns and illogicality that, in asking for a solution or movement and then denying it, self-reflexively sends the viewer-reader back to their own actions as meaning-making mechanisms in the manner of Zen koans and Dada jokes. Arakawa and Gins, working in a neo-Duchampian tradition, use ‘non-retinal’ resources to reconfigure perception and reason by problematising the visual and textual world through embedding it within a set of playfully illogical conceptual constructs, acting to bring back to perception those other, non-visual senses, whilst embedding them in a consideration of bodily experience brought forth by sightlessness and physical frustration. The Mechanism of Meaning uses its combination of visual, haptic and verbal to move between visible and invisible form, Garland argues, to provoke the viewer-reader into considering the active roles of the mind and of the other non-visual senses in reading, seeing and reasoning.

in Mixed messages
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American correspondences in visual and verbal practices

Mixed Messages presents and interrogates ten distinct moments from the arts of nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century America where visual and verbal forms blend and clash. Charting correspondences concerned with the expression and meaning of human experience, this volume moves beyond standard interdisciplinary theoretical approaches to consider the written and visual artwork in embodied, cognitive, and contextual terms. Offering a genuinely interdisciplinary contribution to the intersecting fields of art history, avant-garde studies, word-image relations, and literary studies, Mixed Messages takes in architecture, notebooks, poetry, painting, conceptual art, contemporary art, comic books, photographs and installations, ending with a speculative conclusion on the role of the body in the experience of digital mixed media. Each of the ten case studies explores the juxtaposition of visual and verbal forms in a manner that moves away from treating verbal and visual symbols as operating in binary or oppositional systems, and towards a consideration of mixed media, multi-media and intermedia work as brought together in acts of creation, exhibition, reading, viewing, and immersion. The collection advances research into embodiment theory, affect, pragmatist aesthetics, as well as into the continuing legacy of romanticism and of dada, conceptual art and surrealism in an American context.

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To fasten words again to visible – and invisible – things
Catherine Gander
and
Sarah Garland

In this extended introductory essay, Catherine Gander and Sarah Garland suggest new ways of looking at the correspondences between visual and verbal practices to consider their material and conceptual connections in a specifically American set of histories, contexts and interpretive traditions. Tracing a lineage of experiential philosophy that is grounded in the overturning of a Cartesian mind/body split, the authors argue for pluralistic perspectives on intermedial innovations that situate embodied and imaginative reader-viewer response as vital to the life of the artwork. Gander and Garland chart two main strands to this approach: the pragmatist strain of American aesthetics and social politics, rooted in the essays of transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and emanating from the writings of John Dewey and William James; and the conceptualist strain of French-American Marcel Duchamp, whose ground-breaking ideas both positioned the artwork as a phenomenological construction and liberated the artist from established methods of practice and discourse. The ‘imagetext’ (after W. J. T. Mitchell) is therefore, argue Gander and Garland, a site consisting of far more than word and image – but a living assemblage of language, idea, thing, cognition, affect and shared experience.

in Mixed messages
Word and image in the twenty-first century. Envoi
Catherine Gander
and
Sarah Garland

Taking in recent advances in neuroscience and digital technology, Gander and Garland assess the state of the inter-arts in America and the Western world, exploring and questioning the primacy of affect in an increasingly hypertextual everyday environment. In this analysis they signal a move beyond W. J. T. Mitchell’s coinage of the ‘imagetext’ to an approach that centres the reader-viewer in a recognition, after John Dewey, of ‘art as experience’. New thinking in cognitive and computer sciences about the relationship between the body and the mind challenges any established definitions of ‘embodiment’, ‘materiality’, ‘virtuality’ and even ‘intelligence, they argue, whilst ‘Extended Mind Theory’, they note, marries our cognitive processes with the material forms with which we engage, confirming and complicating Marshall McLuhan’s insight, decades ago, that ‘all media are "extensions of man"’. In this chapter, Gander and Garland open paths and suggest directions into understandings and critical interpretations of new and emerging imagetext worlds and experiences.

in Mixed messages