format and context

In this text, different ways are presented so as to understand “designated art” (as Paul Crowther calls it) in terms of its engagement with contextual space and the expression of phenomenological depth. I found this extremely helpful for anyone who engages with artistic creation, even though it refers particularly to conceptual art (although I believe that there is still something ‘conceptual’ in every artwork). The following categories can help a creator to fully understand the phenomenological depth of his/her work, the theoretical background and contextual space in which he/she places it and the procedures followed.

conceptual possibilities / different approaches concerning format and context:

  •  the unassisted found object – that is, one designated as ‘art’ through being presented in a display format or context associated with art, and no further physical intervention (if, indeed, any at all) from the artist.
  •  the assisted found object – where the artist or his or her agent alters the found object (though not to such a degree that the object’s original or artefactual character ceases to be recognizable).
  •  manufactured objects – where some artefact is made on the basis of instructions from the artist, rather than the artist in person.
  •  fixed assemblages – where examples of either kind of found object or manufactured object are physically adapted and permanently connected in relation to one another so as to form a complex single work, or a serial work composed from complex individual units.
  •  transient assemblages – namely works which can be physically disassembled into their component found or manufactured parts, and where the manifestation of this possibility is a key element is describing how the work appears.
  •  site specificity – where a work is created for a specific site, or is allocated to such a site on a permanent basis.
  •  site transience – where a work is created for a specific site, but can, in principle, be exhibited in any location.
  •  directorial designation – invoked in those cases where an artist intends some real or imagined item, event, or state of affairs to be regarded as a work of art without doing anything other than perform this act of designation. He or she simply directs attention towards the intended object on the basis of instructions or descriptions (or a series thereof).
  •  found bodily activity, i.e. directed towards some purpose other than that of traditional gestural art idioms such as dance or mime, alone. Records of the performance are kept or not kept, on the basis of the artist’s requirements. In some cases, the making of such records is made integral to the meaning of the piece. It may be that the work is enacted on the basis of instructions that make it repeatable.
  •  bodily activity or representation of the aforementioned kind which is intended to solicit and engage with direct audience response.

conceptual strategies / avenues of association which engage with ideas and values ranging beyond the visual:

  •  ad hoc denotation – where some item, event, or state of affairs is stipulated as referring to some other than itself, or, indeed as not referring to anything at all. In such cases (if the work is to be intelligible to people other than the artist) it is logically presupposed that the nature of the semantic relation being established is explained by means of some accompanying title or text.
  •  iconic denotation – an unusual idiom whereby instances of format and context categories 1-3 (unassisted found object, assisted found object, manufactured objects) are joined so as to create works that pictorially or sculpturally represent kinds of item, event, or state of affairs other than themselves.
  •  metonymy – where a work is presented so as to symbolize some greater physical whole of which it is part, or something with which it is contiguous or has an indexical relation, or something of which it is an instance or token.
  •  connotation – involves a work having loose but familiar range of cultural or biological associations.
  •  metaphor – when a work’s associational meaning is able to suggest a definite kind of item, event or state of affairs other than itself.
  •  allegory – when a work presents an extended metaphor with some narrative element.
  •  irony – where meaning is achieved through the work being associated with some factor that is manifestly at odds with its found or ‘ready-made’ identity.

text from:
Phenomenology of the Visual Arts (Even the Frame) by Paul Crowther


Proposition pour une nouvelle sculpture grecque by Nikos Kessanlis


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