Go With The Flow/Swim Against The Tide

Camberwell Space, March – April 2019

This exhibition explored the uses of language as material, featuring works in ephemeral formats including posters, wall paintings, film and photographs. Bringing together works utilising language in its various forms, including symbols, glyphs and emoticons, the exhibition addressed ideas around social change.

With artists Kay Rosen, Tim Etchells, Jamie Shovlin, Jonathan Parsons, Mark Titchner Theo Thurpin, and Claire Undy.

Introductory exhibition text

Go With The Flow/Swim Against The Tide explores the use of language to address and comment on social change. Many of the works play on the flexibility of text and language; double-meanings, hidden words and oppositional phrases create tension and slippages between visual and textual meaning. This is perhaps best surmised by Kenneth Goldsmith in his essay Uncreative Writing: “Impermanent language, moveable type, fluid language, language that refuses to be stuck in one form, sentiments expressed in language that can be swapped on a whim, a change of mind, a change of heart surround both our physical and digital environments.”1 Here, the economies of language (with its double meaning as both currency and implying brevity) are at play, with modes of exchange and ephemeral forms of making present throughout.

This is perhaps most clearly present in Kay Rosen’s two wall paintings Trickle Down and Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing. Made directly onto the wall, these pieces are visual representations of the words they are made up of. ‘Virgin Wool’ hidden inside ‘Virginia Woolf’ hints at the ability of language to hide itself in plain sight. This theme of disguise is also found in Claire Undy’s work Emotional Intelligence where the artist’s face is painted to resemble the digital versions, which can be downloaded by scanning a QR code and then exchanged in real-world messages. The currency of emojis is also found in Tim Etchells’ new text work which has been made as an insert into this booklet, reinterpreting standard emojis back into textual, as opposed to symbolic, language.

The theme of social media and the contrast between the digital and handmade is echoed in Harvest, renew us! by Mark Titchner. This wall painting is based on the text of Facebook’s corporate mission statement. The words, focusing on community and power of people to change the world, obscure the corporate agenda hidden within. The double layered text and wire fence pattern hint that the words might be keeping us out as much as letting us in.

Found text is an important basis of many of the works in the exhibition, including Jonathan Parsons’ drawings and painting, and as the source material of Jamie Shovlin’s video work Scroll (Placeholder Version). Jonathan Parsons’ works are direct transcriptions of found gestural forms that have been photographically recorded and are, in effect, hyper-real ‘portraits’ of the source material. The drawings are made using a completely dry process of graphite pencil drawing; they are slow and meticulous depictions of what were originally very rapidly made marks produced with spray paint. Parson’s painting Bluestar (TERS inverted) is a ‘reverse painting’ – the graffiti tag is cut and masked, with the background rollered over the top – the method of making the painting is the opposite of the way the original mark was made. Shovlin’s work takes fragments of an American secondary school text A History of the Modern World, published in 12 editions since 1950. Shovlin has compiled a narrative taken from these editions, using only sections underlined or annotated. The resulting remixed text creates a new, fragmented history of the modern world and highlights how attitudes have changed over time. The text is read out by a synthetic voice, adding to the eerie quality of these revised and evolving versions of the same history.

Also in the exhibition is a selection from Tim Etchells’ series of Fight Posters which announce imaginary fights, contests or competitions, both absurd and topical. The oppositions set up are surprising and both socially and politically current, the provocative content enhanced by the neon, lurid glow of the paper on which the posters are printed. This ephemeral aesthetic is echoed by Theo Turpin’s work Irregular Thoughts, Racing Pulses looks at how normative social narratives impinge upon our daily lives, particularly in the age of social media. It’s made from of a series of sections of pinboard that construct an imagined night-scape; on one of the boards is pinned a piece of printed text reading ‘Wednesday 14th, Irregular Thoughts, Mild Despair, Racing Pulses, Live Music’. The text sits somewhere between an old club flyer, a set of desires and a confessional.

The exhibition is intended to offer a range of perspectives and methods for creating works using language as a material in its own right.

  1. Goldsmith, K., 2011, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press

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