Mapping out (social) spaces of representation in conceptual art
Mathematical and cartographical systems became increasingly popular amongst conceptual artists. Apart from the dialogue between the arts and the sciences at the time, many artists turned to better-defined reference systems as a way of criticising the art establishment and socio-political reality. They sought to push the limits of traditional art forms, interrogate the scope of art and the nature of representation, and examine how social space is constructed. Using three case studies – Art & Language’s Map to not Indicate (1967), David Lamelas’s A Study of the Relationships between Inner and Outer Space (1969) and Juan Carlos Romero’s 4,000,000 m2 of the City of Buenos Aires (1970) – this chapter explores how space, and in particular social space, is mapped out in conceptual art. It considers cartographic framing and binary juxtapositions between inside/outside and art/non-art, and examines how artworks position the artist and the viewer in relation to institutional, physical and social environments. A further concern is dislocation: how do works that closely engage their context remain meaningful and critical elsewhere? While reproducible, ‘dematerialised’ conceptual artworks circulated through global networks, transregionality is today a key characteristic of contemporary art. With this in mind, this chapter seeks to determine the spatio-temporal locality of art and its limits.
This chapter is devoted to two works by Patrick Ireland, a pseudonym adopted for his visual art practice by emigrant Irish, New York-based Brian O’Doherty in 1972, in response to Bloody Sunday. Both are modified maps: Ireland: A Modest Proposal (1980) and Studies on O.S. maps for the Purgatory of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicher Humunculus Rope Drawing #73 (1985). The early 1980s were a violent time on the island of Ireland, marked by bombs and hunger strikes. The title of the first work quotes Jonathan Swift’s 1792 proposal for the children of the starving (Catholic) population of Ireland to be used as meat for fricassee. Patrick Ireland’s equivalent is to ‘amputate’ Northern Ireland and place the population (i.e. map sections) in the centre of the island. The caption speaks of ‘increased fishing opportunities’ and ‘encouraging dialogue’. The critique constituted by the second work is more complex, but no less pointed: being invited by Trinity College Dublin to exhibit presented a conundrum for Brian O’Doherty, as the college only began to admit Catholics in 1979. ‘O.S.’ in the title refers to the Ordnance Survey, the British colonial enterprise of mapping (thus owning) Ireland. Patrick Ireland presents Trinity College Dublin as ‘purgatory’ and references James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The chapter will show how in these maps the artist uses his home country’s geography, politics and culture (literature and Ogham writing) to destabilise the colonial enterprise and imaginatively intervene in its violent aftermath."
By the late 1960s cartographic formats and spatial information were a recurring feature in many conceptualist artworks. While maps have received some scholarly attention, Charting space offers a rich study of conceptualism’s mapping practices that includes more expanded forms of spatial representations. Departing from the perspective that artists were merely recording and communicating information, this book expands on the philosophical and political imperatives within their artistic practices. The volume brings together twelve in-depth case studies that address artists’ engagement with matters of space at a time when concepts of space garnered new significance in art, theory and culture. It covers a diverse range of subjects, such as London’s socio-spatial sphere in the 1970s, geopolitics and decoloniality in Brazil, the global networking strategies of the Psychophysiology Research Institute in Japan, the subjective body in relation to cosmological space from the Great Basin Desert in the United States, and notions of identity and race in the urban itinerant practices of transnational artists. Together the chapters shed fresh light on an evident ‘spatial turn’ from the postwar period into the contemporary, and the influence of larger historical, social and cultural contexts upon it. The contributors illustrate how conceptualism’s cartographies were critical sites in formulating artists’ politics, graphing heterogeneous spaces and upsetting prevailing systems.
Since the 1960s, Anna Bella Geiger has redesigned and reconceptualised spaces. Beginning with her images of human entrails, alterations in the composition of internal organs show the suppression and control exercised over bodies. With the arrival of man on the moon and the expansion of the edges of the planet, new formats of spatial projections entered Geiger’s poetics and expanded her interest in new areas of knowledge. Since then, a poetic and political topography has developed in her career, in which the representations and conventions of formats and boundaries are denaturalised and make way for a new type of arbitrary typology. Additionally, her own works expanded spatially and reshaped her interest in new artistic media, such as videos, mail art etc. What I propose here is to analyse Geiger’s production in the 1970s, in which the altered scale of her maps reveals economic and political powers, as it still engages the themes of national borders and the restriction of movement across them. This study will show that, on the landscape of the global artistic community, these subjects continue to be timely – even if on different scales.
This chapter revisits the notion of Delirium ambulatorium conceived by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica in 1978. It describes Oiticica’s interest in the simple act of wandering or walking through different areas of a city, particularly the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Here, Delirium ambulatorium consisted of the act of identifying the elements that compose the city and the subsequent generation of creative situations around these elements. Looking beyond Delirium ambulatorium in Oiticica’s own practice, this chapter considers its relevance as a methodology for artists working transnationally with conceptual art as mapping. It draws connections to approaches by diasporic artists – particularly from South and Southeast Asia – who carried out artistic walks (accompanied by material and documentary interventions) during the 1960s and 1990s amidst heightened moments of racial and postcolonial discourses. These include UK-based Rasheed Araeen (b. 1938, Karachi, Pakistan) who undertook photo-documented journeys through London’s transport infrastructure (Christmas Day, 1979) and sites of workers’ strikes and anti-racism protests (Paki Bastard (Portrait of the Artist as a Black Person), 1977–8), as well as Lee Wen’s (1957–2019, Singapore) performance-series Journey of a Yellow Man (1992–2012), in which he video-documented himself walking through cities with his body painted yellow. In light of such works, this paper explores Delirium ambulatorium as representative of a shared philosophy and methodology of transnational ‘conceptual mapping’ between the 1960s and the 1990s.
This chapter examines the multifaceted work of Hungarian artist Gábor Attalai, the importance of countercartographic strategies in his conceptual works, and its profound contextualisation within the cultural and political setting of socialist Hungary in the early-to-mid 1970s. In the early 1970s Attalai produced process-based artworks that have a certain continuity in respect to spatial subversion. The work Continental Change transforms the atlas, an act of deconstruction and construction that drew new contours for countries and continents in a counterhegemonic manner. Here the countries and continents equal geopolitical entities of power as well as ideology that Attalai disregards with his map collage. Using three case studies – Balding, Snow Works and Continental Change I and II – the chapter reveals Attalai’s tendency towards spatial modification, which is read as a series of spatial interventions on three levels: the body, urban space and map collages. The chapter will show how these modifications were a plea against (political) fixations of space and place.
Existing scholarship on conceptual art’s prevalent use of maps focuses on their scientific, semiotic and documentary purpose. This introduction explains that this narrow analysis tends to occlude conceptualism’s idiosyncratic and complex explorations of mapping and spatiality. The chapter proposes a broader definition of the map to include other cartographies within conceptual-based artistic practices, including Fluxus and land art, that effectively ‘chart space’ and probe, if not reformulate, the multiple dimensions of the world. This chapter traces conceptualism’s ‘spatial turn’ through 1969 exhibition Spaces at the Museum of Modern Art New York, and the symposium ‘Art without Space’. These two examples are evidence of a preoccupation with art’s relationship to space, but also New York’s rather narrow notion of it. This introduction acquaints readers with new, complex conceptualisations of space that emerge from conceptual artists’ work between the 1960s and 1990s. It discusses this turn relative to the shifts in philosophical thinking of space and altered experience brought on by urbanisation, technological development and the space age. Finally, it argues that conceptualism advanced an open, dynamic and relational concept of space that has affinities with Henri Lefebvre’s ‘social space’, but which expands its parameters to include feminist and decolonial approaches to space-making. With an overview of the volume’s parts and chapters, this introduction explains how the contributions in this book reassess conceptualism’s history and provide new perspectives on its socio-political relevance through spatially oriented practices.
This chapter examines American artist Nancy Holt’s conceptual strategies of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Reflecting Holt’s aesthetic interest in the earth’s relationship to the universe – which burgeoned within popular culture and first seized her imagination with the 1969 moon landing – Holt’s conceptualism was grounded in her implicit critique of cartography’s deferral away from embodied experience. As I argue, this critique is most compelling when Holt’s work moves away from the evidentiary status of recording techniques towards more conceptualist understandings of space and time. Her emphasis upon the relation between planetary and celestial milieus in her poetic practice in the late 1960s and 1970s and her major outdoor sculpture Sun Tunnels (1973–6) – their mutual imbrications and simultaneities – and embodied experience produced novel planetary cartographies. Engaging the writing of Henri Lefebvre, Dennis Cosgrove, Roland Barthes and Eugen Gomringer, this chapter demonstrates how site-specificity operates paralinguistically in her poetry, and how the Sun Tunnels and its eponymous film deviates from normative forms of cartographic representation and signification. In Sun Tunnels, representational forms issue forth from the work, yet the viewer experiences these cartographic, abstract modes of thinking in real time and space, a circumstance incommensurate with representation. Ultimately, this chapter addresses how spatial constellations in Holt’s concrete poetry and sculpture mobilise the relativistic and indexical nature of language and linguistic systems.
Spatial concerns and the mapping of place are not generally associated with early conceptual art. In fact, Lucy Lippard and John Chandler’s article ‘The dematerialisation of art’, which marked that foundational shift in the late 1960s, focused on anti-aesthetic strategies within a critique of the international market structure of art. In the process, origins (outside modernism) and other symbolic and political geographies and mental maps were, if not ignored, largely displaced. This chapter traces one of these strange but identifiable paths to conceptual art, through the early collaborations of Ian Burn and Mel Ramsden (IBMR), prior to their forming part of the New York wing of Art & Language. In 1966 these two young artists were obsessed by the idea of space and perception, even in their entirely theoretical texts. Over this period Burn had sent back minimal-type painting from London for exhibition in Australia, where both had previously lived. The work met with blank incomprehension, which led them to make a work about distance, Soft-Tape (1966). This chapter looks at this their first collaboration, and one later one, Comparative Models (1971–2), to assess how these quasi-installations mapped the position of the viewer, creating an acute awareness of spatial matters. It also asks how the idea of travel, distance and international distribution informed their practice, and how these early collaborations would shape their future participation in Art & Language.
Seishin Seirigaku Kenkyūjo (Psychophysiology Research Institute) was a short-lived collective that aspired to create a network of conceptualists using mail art. It was initiated and led by two art students, Ina Ken’ichirō and Takeda Kiyoshi, at Tokyo Zōkei University, for their seminar project. They conceived a project consisting of seven ‘acts’ undertaken individually but simultaneously by up to sixteen participants at specified times between December 1969 and May 1970. After each act, the participants mailed a ‘report’ to Ina and Takeda (the headquarters), who then duplicated and distributed them to everyone in the group via mail. In 1970 they compiled all sixty-eight correspondences into a portfolio of offset-printed loose-leaf sheets to be circulated outside the group. The participants included such luminaries of Japanese conceptualism as Matsuzawa Yutaka and GUN members Horikawa Michio and Maeyama Tadashi, as well as such die-hard Anti-Art practitioners as Itoi Kanji (aka Dada Kan) and such established figures as Maeda Jōsaku (painter) and Tōno Yoshiaki (critic). In light of such a roster, the group’s project offers a valuable window through which to examine the working of conceptualism in 1960s Japan, especially in relation to networking (both domestic and international) and performance art.