FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
October 03, 2008
We will do language and aesthetics this term, memory probably the next.
Today we will see first a video about Gabriel Orozco, a Mexican artist, make sure you get
the spelling of his name correctly.
Then a lecture on language with reference to Hall, then we will watch another film about
the design of an object by a French architect, Philippe Stark. An established language, the
language of furniture, how it was transformed into something new. We will discuss about
this in a moment.
Think about one question while watching the film. What do you think are some of the
media, materials, languages that the artist is using in this film. It’s not easy to say that he
is using a certain material, he is using a number of materials. Relate that to other ideas
that you have seen in this course up to this point. This artist’s work, what does it tell us
about some of the themes so far?
Video presentation: Gabriel Orozco, Loss and Desire
• The artist uses the camera as a way of awareness. He doesn’t have a studio, which
he considers to be an isolated, artificial place, like a bubble. “You have to be
confronted with reality all the time, be outdoors.”
• He tries to be intimate with everything around him, needs trust. He has no
technique, just different ways to work. “When I finish something I need to invent
a new thing in a different place.”
• He is using bicycles and cars, remaking them. He worked for a month in a garage
with a technician to reconstruct this car which is half distorted.
• Artist is shown going to the supermarket, such a perfect world. He disturbs its
perfection rearranging potatoes on top of notebooks, cat food cans on top of
• He also reconfigures games, such as chess. He populates it entirely with knights.
Chess is a world in itself, designed to perfection. Or the ping pong game, he
makes it so that four people are playing, the net is open, there is a new space in
between which he transforms into a small pond. He calls this new game ping
1 • The Foucault pendulum proves that the earth is rotating. The artist modifies the
billiard game so that one ball on the table is a pendulum and the table is oval. This
way we play close to the laws of the universe.
• “I try to use the tools that everybody can use.” He is shown doing ceramic. Like a
hobby for him. He likes to be a beginner in a variety of techniques rather than a
specialist in one. Interested in pottery as a mass, needs a specific clay.
• “The thinking process is related to the body in many ways. Moving in a train,
looking at the ocean, working with the hands, you are stimulating the brain and
thinking. I feel that when the shape is ready, it represents what just happened
before. Pottery can be related to anything in the world, it is part of history.”
• “The space between work and life is hard to negotiate for everybody. The
important thing is to work and sustain life, all the spaces in between are a bit lost.
Every person has to fight for those spaces. When you live and work in the same
space, everything is about work.”
• He is shown working with things in the environment, plants and metal pipes.
“Building bridges of communication with other people.”
What are some other media that the artist is using in his work? Think about that for a few
---plant life and nature.
---the movement of the earth itself in Foucault’s pendulum.
---cars and bikes.
---old things transformed into artistic things.
Found objects, objects that already exist and have their own reality.
---he uses photography to document to interaction with the objects.
He is using photography to document experience and process. The importance of process
as a medium. His art is not about clay, paint, drawing, but about the process you engage
with as a creative person.
---everyday objects, stuff you can find anywhere.
He sees things that exist in the world as having a process. He is keeping track of his own
experience of what objects mean. He likes to generate chaos in relationship to these
everyday things he finds.
2 ---he likes to choose the environment of objects.
He is engaging with the environments that objects are in, that is he engages with space.
---he is playing with our cultural concepts of what is normal, what is surprising.
He has this attitude about our taken for granted concepts of what things are. A good list
---he tears down old structures and creates new functional structures.
He is redesigning things that have already been designed to have one purpose, he is
transforming them to make new designs.
---he is giving meaning to things like garbage.
He is taking what we might disregard as marginal things and values them.
---he uses material anyone can use.
He has a democratic attitude about media. He doesn’t want to be an expert in any
particular media. A democratic attitude about things. A different sense of what it means
to be an artist.
---he is focused on symmetry.
He is interested in juxtaposing universal concepts with notions of chaos. He recognizes
the world is both ordered and chaotic at the same time. A paradoxical quality.
---he uses the light itself.
He is documenting the interplay between the space and the way light falls on objects. He
is interested in the force of life around us. A very spiritual approach to art making. A
sense of the life in things, how life is a process of exploring things and having seen new
There is this tension in language which is so ordered that we might be interested in
introducing chaos in that order. We have to understand the patterns, the organization of
language on the one hand. How we actually experience language can be chaotic, difficult.
Cat food on melons, he is suggesting there is a patterned language in a grocery store, a
vocabulary. Stores have a grammar. The perishable stuff are all around the perimeter, you
can walk around just to pick up that stuff. Inside are the canned goods and the displays
are all structured. He is running interference on that universe. That’s at the core of this
course, this idea that you can take what is taken for granted in your experience of the
world and you can mix it up, you can transform it.
3 A creative person understands the rules and changes the rules. Creative people need to
understand how language works in order to understand how it is structured. At the same
time we want to be able to destabilize that order, to rethink how things work. It’s a big
job. If you want to change the world, you have to understand how it works first.
You can’t just be angry, have a temper tantrum, that’s not how things happen. So much
of the world today doesn’t work very well for us. The way we produce things in the
world is very destructive, exploitative. We want to change the way that’s laid out. We
have to figure out how does it work first. We want to learn how to play games. He is
using games as a medium. Taking what is the structured, ordered universe of a game, like
a landscape that invites you in to play. A landscape is what a chessboard is. He turns all
the pieces into knights.
The ping pong table, he removes the centre and introduces a new space. He takes the
billiard game and introduces Foucault’s pendulum. He is interested in the structure and
also interrupting that structure. That’s how we can find new meanings and create new
meanings out of what is around us. What I am defining here is creativity, a disciplined
response to what is out there in order to create new things. Discipline is about
understanding the language that you’re working in and using that understanding to create
A language is a formal and organized system of communication. Formal means it has
form to it. It has a formal quality. Painting has the formal qualities of canvas,
underpainting, stretcher, paint, the art gallery it sits in.
In some ways even more interestingly language also includes informal things. Those
everyday things around us that are there as part of our environment and our experience.
How we respond to the environments we live in, to the experiences that we have.
When you do some ecstasy on Friday night, you can’t say “these are the formal organized
qualities of the rave experience.” That experience is also a language. Rave culture has its
own thing. That bodily experience, of feeling ecstatic.
Language is so much part of who we are that we have difficulty seeing how it works. We
have internalized language. Today I will throw you into the deep end. I give you a
framework to these ideas and then open them up more throughout the course. At the end
of November your job is to tell us what you know about these ideas. Integral stuff to what
you will be telling us. For today be patient and trust the process that these ideas will get
clearer and clearer.
Some questions we will raise today, some questions that the study of language raises.
Is language transparent? Like a window that allows us to look at a reality that is there,
that helps us name that reality? We take it for granted we can pick up these words and
4 ideas to represent what we know. That is a dog, that’s what it is. Does language have the
capacity to represent reality in a straightforward way?
Is language a reflection? Something we look at and see ourselves reflected back, it
bounces ideas back to us, a reflection of reality? These are questions that we will be
talking more about.
Is language objective? Does it objectively indicate what is real? You kind of know at
some level that it is not. Somebody trying to ask you to describe something, you know
what it is, but when it comes time to explain it you don’t know what to say. What is love.
I love you, what does that mean for you. Suddenly in some moments of our lives
language fails us because we realize it’s not that easy to represent what we know.
In this course we want to explore these questions, is language something that gives us the
basis to say this is true, this is false. We want to break out of this mold, of putting things
in this or that box.
Is language able to show the “truth” about the real world? We will challenge this idea that
language is simply a representation of what we know and of reality. Language becomes
very difficult to study and understand precisely because of this quality of not being black
Male and female categories, not as black and white as they appear to be on the surface. If
language is simply a window that shows us the truth then we would all be saying the
same thing, seeing the same thing, understanding the same thing, being able to represent
it through that window and we don’t. We use this language system called male and
female but if I were to ask you what male and female means we would have a classroom
material to work with until April.
We have an idea that is straightforward but when we experience gender it is not that good
a tool to represent who we really are. We need to break through these taken for granted
things that we use, challenge them.
Next term we will directly address questions about gender and sexuality. Why do we put
people in a box of gay and straight. The system of thinking of people’s sexuality is
largely binary still.
One last thing about language. There is an interplay happening here. The problem with
the idea that language simply operates as a reflection or a window. The idea that we are
standing on one side of reality sets up a kind of separation between ourselves and that
reality. We do that a lot in western society, we tend to think of reality as something that is
objective. When we say that nature is outside of ourselves, we make this separation. We
are human while nature is out there.
Language has a similar problem, we sometimes set up a distinction between the language
and the user, the text and the persons reading it, the music and how we hear it. We want
to understand language in a more integral way. We want to understand language in
5 context, that language is something that is generated by the world and we are part of that
Language not as a thing but as a process. One thing to remember, language in this course
is not a thing, it is a process. Through that process you have experience of the world.
Those things that seem to be outside of you are integral to your experience of your life.
They are connected to you. We are connected to everything around us. Think about that
idea, how it works in the context of our lives.