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Now They Are Surrounded

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The article considers questions of internality, autonomy and institutional theory. Against the malign appropriations of institutions, it proposes a possible resistance by artworks through their internality. A certain form of internality is proposed; one that is necessary for autopoeisis and therefore one that knows about itself, is recursive, and as a consequence of this is empowered to know about the world outside. It is in virtue of this dialectical internality that the work of art can work to resist entry by those agencies whose secular power rests on the solipsistic arbitrariness of meaning. The article is in three parts. In the first part, some of the circumstances that gave rise to the production of an artwork titled Now They Are Surrounded are described and an attempt is made to situate the practice of Art & Language relative to contemporary artistic culture. In the second part, Now They Are Surrounded is described in the context of its installation in the Guildhall Art Gallery. The discussion is specifically concerned with a distinction between external- and internal-type descriptions of the artwork. Now They Are Surrounded is a work that addresses its own external and unwanted conditions even as it endeavours to sustain a degree of internality; a work that would attract to itself the predicates of art in thrall to the institution while nevertheless maintaining a measure of critical distinctness from work of that kind. The third part goes on to ask if a change in the circumstances and the form in which Now They Are Surrounded is exhibited would change the modalities of looking and reading and of figure and ground, as well as the work's internal description.

This article was given to the symposium What Work Does the Art Work Do? II in June 2005. The symposium was held at The Guildhall Art Gallery, London in connection with an exhibition by Art & Language at the same location. The work exhibited had been made specifically for the occasion. It was envisaged, however, that the work would be installed in altered configurations in other circumstances. One such circumstance occurred at ZKM, Karlsruhe in November 2005, the article was modified accordingly.

Keywords: autonomy; autopoesis; description; institutional theory; internality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jvap.6.1.13_1

Affiliations: Art & Language.

Publication date: May 10, 2007

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  • The domain of visual art hosts a multitude of artistic forms and practices. The Journal of Visual Art Practice supports research across the entire range of this varied field. The journal engages with the progressive nature of the subject, reflecting upon the changing terrain of art in recent years.
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