Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Joseph Kosuth '(Waiting for—) Texts for Nothing' Samuel Beckett, in play’ Draft

The effect of entering the large and very dark space of '(Waiting for—) Texts for Nothing' Samuel Beckett, in play’ (2010) is palpable. The experience of darkness is poetically accentuated by blackened neon text displayed at an extravagant height around the circumference of the top of the gallery walls. The text is dialogue from Samuel Becket’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ (1953). The dark space minimises the visual experience but the neon retains enough of an outline to give the room its enclosed shape. There is a mythic sense similar to the feelings evoked in a cathedral, theatre or a cinema. Darkness and light create an emphasis on language as the word of god rather than the speech of a meagre orator or actor. Joseph Kosuth’s installation recreates the drama of Beckett’s play in a theatrical space taking place without the cast of actors.

A small black and white reproduction of ‘Two Men Contemplating the Moon’ (c. 1825–30) by Caspar David Friedrich is displayed, illuminated from behind, in the far reaches of the darkness. Friedrich’s painting is often cited as Beckett’s inspiration for ‘Waiting for Godot’. The tree in Friedrich’s painting replaces the tree in dramatisations of ‘Waiting for Godot’. For Friedrich, the moon before dawn referred to a renewal of Germanic nationalism and nature as a force of redemption after the Napoleonic era. It is easy to understand how Beckett, in the 1950s, imagined the painting as an ironic never-ending night and day. As if the two men will return before dawn forever. It seems, though, that Kosuth literally sees the men as frozen: forever in of paint. Visual art has a timeless capacity. 

The neon text of dialogue from the play is represented as what Jacques Lacan refers to as a “partial object” or an object that drives us. In ‘Waiting for Godot’ the character Lucky thinks: out loud. “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua...”recites Lucky in a lengthy and meaningless address. Lucky’s thoughts aren’t natural they seem to come through him like a radio receiving a broadcast. The other characters can start or stop Lucky’s thinking by putting his hat on his head or removing it. Similar to Lucky’s thoughts, the neon text of the play’s dialogue exists (in the context of a performance) without being said by a character: without a subjective enunciation. Kosuth’s installation evokes the theatre when the house-lights go down. The viewer participates in Kosuth’s production in a way similar to chorus’s role in classical theatre. The viewer represents the chorus’s collective voice—social space for an essence to speak. In Lacanian psychoanalysis the “Symbolic registerer” is loosely equivocal to the classical idea of “essence” in comparison to the “Imaginary register” of common reality. Kosuth uses darkness to minimise our primary sense of sight and engagement with the Imaginary. The partial object of “voice”, like the gaze, isn’t mortal it doesn’t require any kind of person to articulate it. Voice exists in the Symbolic. Voice is a drive. It creates the meaning of common reality subjectively through people’s unconscious desires. As in Kosuth’s early artworks like ‘One and Three Chairs’ (1965) where the chair in reality is treated equally to the image of a chair and the word “chair”. Meaning is an abstract collective institution created through a combination of people’s subjective experiences on a number of different levels. In art Kosuth make meaning plastic. Like Lacanian drive; like Platonic essence; like the moon; like Estragon and Vladimir’s absence in Kosuth’s play meaning goes on after individuals are gone.  

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