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

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

W - Wittgenstein and Muhammed - Joe Tilson

Joe Tilson, W - Wittgenstein and Muhammed, 1969-70, screenprint on paper, 749 x 500 mm, Tate.

More from Joe Tilson, the artist who my I Ching-powered art selection system favours above all others, no doubt for cosmic reasons, and his 'A-Z Box'.
   'W' is for Wittgenstein.  In the '60s, 56% of all art produced in Britain was influenced by the ideas of the Austrian philosopher, and was pretty much incomprehensible to anyone who hadn't thought about it all really hard for several years.  Much of this art was therefore misunderstood completely and  roped in with Pop Art.  Artists such as Paolozzi, Tilson and Kitaj were not interested in celebrating pop culture for its own sake however.  Instead they saw it as part of a larger visual vocabulary, which brings us to Wittgensten and his ideas regarding language, notably language-games (each entry in a conversation analogous to a move in a game), and how meaning of words emerge from their use.   These artists saw the modern urbanised world as one large visual conversation,in which the meaning of images arising from how they were used.  Actually, I don't know if these artists thought all that.  I'm just guessing.  But I'm definitely right.  Anyway, Wittgensteinian artists were very fond of expressing their admiration through series of screenprints, which were then purchased by the Tate, making up a significant proportion of their overall collection, before being left in a basement and ignored for years.
   Here, Wittgenstein is given the occulty-starburst effect we've seen in Tilson's work before, denoting his overpowering insight.  Around him, the haircuts of otherwise-obscured '60s people pop out.  Is each haircut a move in a language-game of hair?  Underneath is an abstract collection of dots.  On its own, it's pretty meaningless, raw visual material not doing much.  But by being included in a work of art, it inherently gains some meaning through its use, and so gets sent out in the world, a move in a bigger language-game.
   On the back of this piece, meanwhile, is a screenprinted photo of Malcolm X and accompanying Nation of Islam paper headline, black holes bringing grimly to mind the bullet-holes of his assassination.  It's powerful enough, but I'm not sure what this is doing here.  My move in this language-game is 'eh?'

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