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Language Art: Visual Artists Who Write

ENGL 016.302
TR 10:30-12

This introductory seminar will teach students about contemporary art from a literary point of view.  Many of the practices we will examine are indicative of a relatively unexplored cultural sensibility that is motivated not by an interest in simply being creative, but in presenting a problem, not simply by an interest in making something coherent, but in creating something purposefully critical or provocative.  These artists and authors explore new and unusual forms of argument and audience, and invite us to reconsider the boundaries of literature and literary practice in an age of interdisciplinary practice and scholarship.   In particular, we will explore the ways in which many visual artists are, today, increasingly employing language as their primary medium, as well as the corresponding tendency among authors and writers today to engage and address the visual in their work.

Some of the other themes that we will explore in this interdisciplinary course include the way that experiences of endurance, risk, exhaustion, and provocation are manifested in contemporary art and literature; the emergence today of bodily performance and spectatorship as privileged sites of activity; and the ways in which artists and writers are increasingly concerned with “negative” or oppositional logic in which they create practices which deliberately question or challenge conventional ways of reading, thinking, and cultivating art and community.

We will explore these topics and themes by examining a wide range of works by visual artists and writers associated with the historic and contemporary avant-gardes, including, but not limited to, F.T. Marinetti, Joseph Beuys, Sophie Calle, Hamish Fulton, Andrea Fraser, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Hermann Nitsch, J.M. Coetzee, Helene Cixous, Paul Auster, and Roland Barthes.

Additionally, students will be encouraged to attend a series of events at Slought Foundation, a contemporary arts organization in Philadelphia, that explore these and related themes.  These public programs include: an exhibition of work by Viennese Actionist Gunter Brus and a related talk by Cecilia Novero, a lecture by Tim Dean on barebacking subcultures, and a lecture by Barrett Watten on the idea of negativity as employed in the historic and contemporary avant-gardes.

Course requirements include a short writing exercise each week, a midterm paper, as well as a final paper.  Familiarity with contemporary art is not required.