Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Sunday, 4 August 2013

[no title: p. 239] - Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips, [no title: p. 239], 1970, lithograph on paper, 190 x 140 mm, Tate.

On a bad day, Tom Phillips is an artist I sometimes confuse with Joe Tilson, whose work we looked at a couple of weeks back.  Indeed, superficially, the image here and the Tilson are remarkably similar.  Found text messed around with so that the original meaning is lost.  Their aims are quite different, however.  Tilson is interested in language and semiotic systems, exploring them by chopping them up so they don't work so well any more.  This print by Phillips, however, is part of a much larger and ongoing work, A Humument, in which a found, forgotten novel called A Human Document is altered page by page, so a new ambiguous and poetic story emerges from the parts of the text Phillips isolates.  It verges on Surrealism, with Phillips letting new arrangements of words emerge in the same way Max Ernst saw fantastical creatures in wood rubbings.  There is also a sense that we are hearing fragments of thought ('repeated... music of your mistake') that recalls Joyce.  Reading it is a surprisingly powerful, out-and-out modernist experience.
   It is not simply literature presented as art, however.  The fact that there is no clear order in which to read the text, which rests on a pointillist background of summer colour, means that navigating it is reliant on the eye finding its own way around the structure of the image.  It is art and literature simultaneously.  Or if you will, literarture!  No, wait, forget I said that.  Oh Christ, I'm so ashamed.  DELETE DELETE DELETE

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