When and how is all this going to stop? What will happen when this period, proclaimed to be the new normality, is no longer something out of the ordinary? And who will we be, having then possibly learnt to live—to coexist—a little better with the constant threat facing our existence and its precarious nature?
Those are questions that can only be answered to a limited degree from our current perspective. Questions that have also led to a search for alternatives to our former customary procedures, in the art world as elsewhere. Questions, finally, that give us cause to think beyond what constituted the status quo until just a short time ago, both in terms of content and in pragmatic, organizational terms. Since last spring, for example, a new speculative search for alterity, for an unavoidable opening-up of discourse, can be observed in many places—entailing more than simply the online propositions rapidly conjured up by institutions that otherwise rely on the presence of an audience. One of the signs of this openness is that artists are once again beginning to think more intensively about their involvement in pre-determined production and distribution processes that cannot simply be taken for granted or guaranteed in the long term. And realizing that, in other words, reflection on their practice is increasingly in their own hands.
Contemporary art is characterized inter alia by the way in which analysis and reflectivity function as part of the artistic process per se. There is certainly a—likewise typical—more comprehensive and in many respects more heterogeneous discourse about the way art is created, circulated and perceived. Rarely, however, is any thought given in this context to the extent to which artists themselves drive this process forward by writing, producing texts and discourse. Or, to go a little further, to the question of how the function of criticism and reflective thinking have long since found their own way into artistic creation—and not only in exceptional historical circumstances. This issue attempts to illustrate how much this creative output owes today to what might be called Contemporary Artist Writing in the broadest sense of the term.
This issue was created in cooperation with the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München [Academy of Fine Arts, Munich] where classes led by Florian Pumhösl, Nicole Wermers and Alexandra Bircken attempted in a series of lectures in spring 2020 to pragmatically delineate this kind of “Artist Writing”. Since face-to-face teaching was not possible during that period, selected contemporary artists as well as individual art historians and curators were invited to introduce their work for a limited period of time in the form of online presentations. This issue brings together a selection of these presentations, which have been specially adapted and/or expanded once again for the magazine format.
In her contribution, Nora Schultz turns an artistic spotlight on the specific format of the remote lecture. This also entails a design dimension, as her graphic/draftsmanship-driven approach picks up on various parameters of temporal and spatial distance and—transforming these through the media prism—combines them in a five-page, compressed arrangement. Sam Lewitt operates at the other extremity of what one could describe as an (imaginary) spectrum of Artist Writing. For him, a single—non-artistic—image forms the starting point for reflecting on the conditions of contemporary production. That image is one recorded by a thermal imaging camera of the type used in many locations today, primarily in logistics processes, in order to directly depict the degree of efficiency and performance and, if possible, to increase these. On the basis of this simple-looking mapping process, Lewitt derives reflections on how fundamental techniques from mathematics and physics, such as rasterization or, more recently, gradient reduction, find parallels in the artistic process—a process that in many cases prides itself on moving resolutely beyond the economic imperatives of its epistemic setting.
In an interview with curator Amy Zion, Ulrike Müller explores the extent to which this setting can be counteracted by specifically artistic “ways of writing”. Müller has designed a large mural painting for Queens Museum, based on the children’s book The Animals’ Conference, which triggers reflections on the significance (and frequent negation) of non-canonical art forms, such as children’s drawings. Cameron Rowland’s exemplary text-image combination homes in on a completely different type of historical negation in Birmingham, in which he examines the history of American slave labor and its successor regime, known as the Convict Lease System. Cameron’s richly detailed and referenced text depicts a profound historical-critical bracket that holds together the artefacts he prepares and configures as an installation (in this case, objects from the US railway system).
Maurin Dietrich in her contribution on American “copy artist” Pati Hill and Andreas Neufert in his conversation about Viennese-born Surrealist Wolfgang Paalen examine how artistic writing can have an effect over and above beyond the tangible act of writing. A common feature of both approaches is their demonstration of the discursive range—extending beyond mere writing—and cognitive depth of Artist Writing that is of relevance for our contemporary world. In addition, both reveal how alterity and openness can always be accessed from within practice too (particularly if this is discourse-related).