(In a Forest of Signs)

Appendix F: Uses of text within the works of Richard Long, Lawrence Weiner, and the Fluxus Movement.

There are three artists/movements that clearly inspired the creation and tone of the Line-making score, and I would like to examine them in turn, comparing examples of each with pages from A Process of Line-making score.

The first, and possibly the most obvious influence, is the Fluxus movement, and particularly the scores from An Anthology of Chance Operations (Young, 2016).  Although a wide and often disparate movement, the Fluxus scores most conducive to the accessible, open-ended, participatory art event, are those that utilise specific grammar or verbal devices to present an often ambiguous scenario. With my own work, I was particularly interested in the use of ambiguous declarations as a means of providing both direction and autonomy. As such, sentences like -

‘it will increasingly be a thump instead of a bang. The thing to do is to gather up one’s ability to respond and go on at varying speeds’  (Cage, in young, 2016)

propose what should be a specific scenario, in a subjective fashion. The difference between the willfully vague thump and bang, is framed by a directed movement between the two over a non-specific time period, in the form of increasingly.  It is clear what the performer is expected to do, however the finer details, and the object upon which it will be enacted, are unclear.  Likewise, the imperative that follows - gather up one's ability - refuses to state what is being gathered up, save that it is specific to, and defined by, the performer. Declarations risk providing set instructions or concepts with little creative distance, but can successfully articulate potential by pointing towards elements outside of the current logic of a work, bringing external ideas to life via an existent clause, as with -

Smokers die younger
there is a quiet humming in the background’ (Kudirka, in Lely and Saunders, 2012)


most of them were very old grasshoppers’ (Young, 2016)

Here, it is the specificity (very old) that frames an otherwise seemingly random subject (grasshopper) within a clear narrative, that can then be explored by the performer. It is not simply a random word, but a specific character, open to specific, and autonomous interrogation (Where is the grasshopper? How old is it? Why is it important?) that locates the performer in a specific context (a world with grasshoppers in it). Likewise, imperatives such as -

‘Draw a straight line and follow it’ (Young, 2016)


‘remember this doesn’t mean anything’ (De-Maria, in Young, 2016)

point not so much towards the action that is to be undertaken (remembering, drawing, following), as the conceptual or philosophical journey implied by such an undertaking.  Within the Line-Making score there are similar uses of declarations and imperatives, -

‘append a statement of intent
a recognition of context and the
wider narrative that supplants it
take pains to justify
however arbitrarily
where it begins and where it ends’

Here, the declaration, like Cage’s, is reliant on its surroundings. If a statement of intent points to an unspecified position of its performer, the verb append suggests that whatever action is being undertaken is an extension of some already present feeling or approach.  Likewise, though it uses emotive language (take pains) it refuses to provide the performer with an emotional position, relying on their unique experience to provide the substance. The text serves not to direct or instruct its performer, but to orientate them. Such tools, as is the case with Young’s grasshopper, do not have to be vague in order to promote autonomy. Imperatives such as -

‘Stand for a moment in every corner
touch every wall or edge
climb as high or as low
as you can’

instruct the performer to undertake a specific (corner) activity (stand) to an extent defined by both the specific environment (every) and the undertaker (…as you can).

Two other aspects of Fluxus scores that I was keen to explore, were the use of contingency and context - in essence, if statements. These statements appear in two forms - the first being the completion or instigation of one action being dependent on another, as in -

‘if the performer wears a hearing aid
it would be best to make the sounds close to the microphone
(of the hearing aid)’ (Riley, in Young, 2016)

and the second, wherein some external matter outside the performer's control imposes upon the work of the performer, as in -

‘bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the piano to eat and drink
the performer may then feed the piano or leave it to eat by itself
If the former, the piece is over after the piano has been fed
If the latter, it is over after the piano eats or decides not to’ (Young, 2016)

The latter instance locates the performer not only in relation to a physical process (bring, feed, leave), but also - and somewhat abstractly - to a mental process, since the contingency it refers to is clearly impossible, and the performer is put in the mental predicament of knowing their actions are futile. In the Line-Making score, such contingencies also tend to appear as both physical and mental processes, -

strike, if appropriate
a bowl hidden at the back of the room
a name from a list
a match or a meadow
the side of a street

if not appropriate
instead pause to mourn its loss

However, contingencies can risk too clearly defining the objects and actions to which they refer.  As such, many of the contingencies with the Line-Making score are meta-contingencies, referring to either deliberately unarticulated stimuli, or asking the performer to imagine the imposition that directs their action, as in -

either opened or left ajar so as to suggest content


as if suddenly aware that we
had driven up a hill
terrible at perspective
can’t draw for shit

panic or attempt to climb down without notice

The conflation of multiple grammatical devices allows the text score to explore physical and conceptual processes, and to do so without relying on the sort of objects that would populate an instruction sheet or musical score - do this, then do that.  As such, text scores can be considered to be what Douglas Barrett calls ‘meta-textual’, providing concurrently ‘both more and less than a blueprint of what to do’ (Barrett, in Lely and Saunders, p.95, 2012).  If the use of individual words or phrases naturally points towards fixed objects in the world, the use of grammatical devices - register, process, tense, modality, mood, voice, circumstance - allows for a level of global indeterminacy that locates the performer not simply as a carrier of another creative output, but as responsible, autonomous creative agent themselves.

The two other main sources of inspiration are from artists who use text in a manner that I argue points towards certain actions or orientations, and as such can be read as scores even if this is not their original intent.  The land artist Richard Long uses text as a means of documenting his walks through the environment, with a specific focus on temporality, and thus, the instability of the objects he encounters. Sections such as -

‘seven days and seven nights camping
in the mountains of Connemara and south Mayo
a sound from each of the campsites along the way

rain drumming on the tent
the wild flapping of the tent in the wind
a gurgling stream
abbey bells
the light hiss of mist on the tent
a rushing river
the lark in the morning’ (Long, 2003)

contrast specific geographic locations with the perception of certain material processes. The use of adjectives and verbs (gurgling, light, rushing), whilst framing the journey as specific to Long’s experience of it, equally act as sensorial way-markers. Rather than ‘head left past the abbey’, Long’s journey places the route as contingent on the mental process of the walker, who must listen for, rather than arrive at, the abbey bells indicated. Long’s work exemplifies Beuys’s ideas concerning the visible processes of natural materials and, as with Beuys’s preparation, his walks could be seen as a means of encouraging participants to connect with their environment on a procedural level. Thus, -

from a high tide to the vernal equinox sunset
from apple blossom to quartz conglomerate
from a cumulus cloud to a river source
from first moonlight to a fox bark
from a black lamb to a bird’s nest
from a sunrise to a low tide (Long, p.187, 2002)

exposes its reader not to locations but to stages within such processes (high, blossom, source), with the cyclical nature of the passage indicating a movement between them over time. A focus on temporality - equally present in the Fluxus scores - serves to locate its participant in both time and space, but does so without the kind of precision that would interrupt creative autonomy. His focus on the mundane - the rocks, rivers and pebbles that populate the environment - points its reader not towards the outcome of an arrival, the equivalent of reading a map, but towards the everyday, small elements that construct our experience. In Long’s work, it is not the objects of the exteriority that are prioritised, but our movement between them -

walking with five stones
walking across five rivers
walking over five tors
walking around five bogs
walking for five days (Long, p.167, 2002)

The objects invoked (stones, rivers, bogs) are themselves signifiers of an ongoing process, used to orientate its participants in a broad direction and speed, rather than explicitly demanding specific actions or temporalities. Likewise, the Line-Making score points to certain materials and actions, but in a fashion that allows similar levels of autonomy, even whilst suggesting a more articulated artistic outcome, -

with chalk or
make at least seven impressions and
spread them before you as you work

Within Long’s work, it is often the interplay between the objects and regions he invokes that provide resonance - a key part of my event-based practice. As such, imperatives often take the form of declarations, or inhabit some grey areas between the two -

fragile mark(s) lined up in series
 trodden line
somehow suspended
several centimetres above the ground
swaying at odds with its environment
obfuscated by the very thing
that provides its difference

The score seeks to blur the boundary between percepts and actions, in the same way my practice can be seen as blurring the division between actor and spectator. The above, for instance, can be read as an instruction for a material process (lining up, suspending, swaying), for a relational process (examining the environment to find traits that match the descriptions), or for a mental process (imagining what that might be, or how it could be invoked in a different form).

It is worth noting that my interest in both the Fluxus artists and Long extends beyond their use of text, and covers the manner in which they locate their work within the community.  The Fluxus artists examined many of the same models of participation and event-based practices that I have done, and Long’s focus on the environment and walking resonates with my work.  Likewise, Lawrence Weiner’s work, whilst serving as a way to consider how I might use text, also corresponds to the wider contours of my practice. For Weiner, his work involves not only the use of text for artistic effect, but also its placement within the community, and as such it harbours distinct qualities for the emergence of communitas.  One of the earliest pages of the Line-Making score, ‘there have been xx seconds since our last theft’, explored just this intersection between text and location, created to be written not on the page, but on bus-stops, stairwells, and pavements.  Weiner’s statements often occupy a similar conceptual place, pointing not only to an action, but also to an ethical or social position relating to the reception and creation of his artwork. Weiner invokes short statements, such as -

‘there is an assumption that certain things must be kept apart
some sandstone some limestone
enclosed for some reason’ (Weiner, 1993)

in order to critique the changing social and material qualities of the industrial North, with the words emblazoned in steel on the surface of a weighbridge leading to an abandoned Yorkshire building that was once the largest carpet factory in the world. Such simple statements are resonant because they point, in an indirect and wayward fashion, to the geographic, historic and social contexts in which they are received.  It is difficult to discuss specific ways in which Weiner’s worlds and material coalesce, as much of their resonance lies in the overlap between modes of perception and articulation.  The weighbridge, a device to measure and communicate mass, joins the abandoned factory to the rest of the world.  As such, Weiner’s ‘assumption that certain things must be kept apart’ points to both the literal construct (bridge), the new and old world (abandoned factory, the rest of the world), and the value of art (now replacing the industrial function of an object designed to communicate the extent of a things weight).  Likewise, the allusion to some sandstone and limestone, rendered in a copper industrial bridge, points to both the demise of that industry (in so far as it invalidates the specific function of the weighbridge) and to the historic qualities of the sand and limestone rock that defined the landscape pre-industrial era.  The beauty of the work however, lies in the fact that it points to none of these things directly, prioritising the conceptual journey between perception and signification.
Similarly, Weiner’s ‘many coloured objects placed side by side in a row of many coloured objects’ (Weiner, in Alberro, Zimmerman, Buchloh and Batchelor, p.74, 2004), invokes its action in the structure of its sentence - simple, repetitive, language that seems somehow as monotonous as the action it describes. And yet, the utility of such open-ended tools as ‘objects’ and ’coloured’ project a universality that affixes the declaration to whichever environment it is perceived within.  In this way, whether the writing is written on the walls of a gallery or cast upon the side of a factory, the perceiver is drawn to perceive the objects of that environment through Weiner’s statement.  In an art gallery it can become a sarcastic critique of the uniformity of other artists, on an urban wall it can draw you to attend to the otherwise overlooked bricks that comprise it.
The Line-Making score operates in a similar fashion, often relying on non-specific generalised concepts to encourage intense, but undefined, relationships between its performer and their environment, -

not particularly complicated
easy on the _______
each slightly different
each somehow the same

never really moving forward but
making some kind of progress

As with Weiner’s coloured objects, the text could relate to any number of things within the environment the performer finds themselves in, and as such expands rather than delineates potential, asking its performer to turn their mental processes towards the environment as a means of fostering creativity. Statements such as -

this page had been intentionally left blank


delegate fees
plenary riots

not exactly lacking tangent but
acknowledge intersection but
sedimented over time but
unnecessary repetition is generally considered pretentious

point in turn to real world phenomena (plenaries, blank pages, riots), as well as the mental processes of the performer (acknowledge) and their community (generally considered). At the same time, the suggestion of unnecessary repetition and sedimentation points to the material processes that occur in both the action upon, and perception of, objects.
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