Research point: artists whose work incorporates text

  • Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006; sculpture, writing, graphic art, poetry)—Many of Finlay's works incorporate text and he had a fondness for inscribing words and entire poems on stone although he worked in many media. Perhaps his most famous work, Little Sparta, is the garden he created southwest of Edinburgh. Little Sparta brings together sculpture, poetry and gardening to create an environment that both fits into, and stands apart from, the local landscape. As one of Finlay's own lines asserts, "It is the case with some gardens as with societies; some things require to be fixed so that others can be placed."
  • Alec Finlay (1966-; poetry, sculpture, collage, technology, publishing)—An interesting work, The Road North, consists of poems written on a blog during a year-long trip around Scotland with a friend. It is described as a "collaborative audio and visual word-map" and is loosely inspired by a journey taken by the Japanese poet Basho. The blog entries contain photographs, snatches of conversation, reflections on places visited and poetry, along with pictures of sights along the way.
  • Doug Aitken (1968-; photography, video, sculpture, illustration, installation)—A series of creations consisting of a single word in large type that provides the outline of an image or images: examples include "Star," "Party," "Free," "Riot," "One," "Sunset." The images contained within the words sometimes work against the word ("Party" contains an image of many discarded tin cans) and sometimes appear to support it ("Sex" suggests a lush garden and fruitful nature and "Vulnerable" contains an image of a lone aircraft sitting on a tarmac apron).
  • Graham Gussin (1960-; neon, video, installation, sound)—"Someplace Sometime" is a blue neon sign that undermines the typical use of a large, bright, coloured sign: to signal something or somewhere worth noticing. Instead, the work catches the user's attention to underline no particular place or time. Is this humour, something deeper or a bit of both? Possibly a regular theme of Gussin's, given that we see it present in other of his works, such as "Untitled" and "Zone Out Plinth" where words again signify less than they promise.
  • Marine Hugonnier (1969-; film, photography, sculpture)—Series "Art for Modern Architecture" systematically replaces pictures from newspaper front pages with colourful geometric shapes. Replacing the images detracts from the stories by removing helpful visual references, but it also has the effect of relativizing the text as well: the columns and paragraphs of words now take their place as graphic elements alongside the brightly coloured blocks. It's a strange effect: if there had only been text on the page we might not miss the images but, once the image content is present only as pure colour and form, the words carrying meaning are also lessened in impact.

Many of the pieces produced by these artists are relevant to theme of "place," albeit in significantly different ways. Ian Hamilton Finlay has shaped the landscape around himself and incorporated his work directly into it. Alec Finlay's work is not so much tied to one place but involves travel, reflection and response to a series of places around Scotland. Dou Aitken's installations constitute one-word comments involving places, but it is not always clear whether the place comments on the text or the text is a comment on the place. Graham Gussin's neon sign seems to invoke place through its absence by telling the viewer that there is nothing particularly special about the location of his installation. Even Marine Hugonnier's graphic constructions with newspaper might be seen—at a stretch?—as a comment on place: how do we understand the architecture of a place or the use of space when what we think we need to create meaning is replaced by something completely different?