Its origins are indeterminate
12 March 2017

Publication (anthology) and Screening Series (4 programmes) (in development)

*Supported by the inaugural
Stuart Croft Foundation
Special Projects Award

and will premiere in 2018.

The title for the intended anthology of artists’ writing and the screening series comes from Robert Barry’s Untitled (Its Origins are Indeterminate). On a single page, a series of type-written statements, all capitals with no punctuation, cascade down the page, followed after some space by the artist’s name and year of completion, 1970.

The text reads as follows:

Its origin is indeterminate

Sometimes it is alone

It can cause things to happen

It is affected by other things

Some of it is unknown

It may appear to be something it is not

This breezy, relatively open text appears vulnerable to the reader glancing at it in a gallery, book, or a Google image search. There is no extra foliage in the sentences, nothing to stop the blowing of thought through the few branches of words arranged on the page. Even the moorings of periods have fallen away. This slight of hand on typewriter allows for the airy lift of words, received and floating in the reader’s mind, there combined with unnecessary poetics and theories as to what ‘it’ is and what ‘it’ does. Perhaps even what ‘it’ means. This page with arrangements of pressed ink letters is a virus; ‘it’ needs this process, thrives there. Through this circuit of hypothetical comprehension, ‘it’ mutates, building a defence to any one solitary meaning. The process allows another potentiality. These mutations can be put back on the page. Not the very same page, but a copy. The ambiguous and foreboding words can be cut and pasted, sutured with other text, appropriated and re-distributed. What infects is infected back.

Its origin is indeterminate

Seeping up through syntax, meaning coagulates

Sometimes it is alone

Sometimes it is not…some ‘thing’ else may have come through with it

It can cause things to happen

Hiding between letters and frames, it lurks, ready

It is affected by other things

Mutations bring momentum, and a somewhat compliant host

Some of it is unknown

Transmission to other hosts begins with little notice

It may appear to be something it is not

The skin of an image and word are permeable surfaces, only thinly covering intended and unintended meaning underneath. As carriers, they appear to allow space for semiotic stowaways and mutinous mutations. The anthology and the screening series see that William S. Burroughs’ statement in The Electronic Revolution is thoroughly considered: ‘I have frequently spoken of word and image as viruses or as acting as viruses, and this is not an allegorical comparison’ (Burroughs, 35). The presented artists’ texts, along with films and videos, prod and poke this sentence, teasing out both possibilities, that of the unwanted ‘allegorical comparison’, which lies in wait, and the more insidious option that lies beneath it, an empty vessel, lack of metaphor, working parts that are solid virus without meaning, that have existed from the moment the first words and images came into being.

Untitled (Its Origins are Indeterminate), Robert Barry, 1970.
Typewriter ink and pencil on paper, 8½ x 12½ inches.
Tanja Grunert and Klemen Gasser Inc, New York.