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Word and Art, Action and Concept: Language Experimentation and the Conceptual

ENGL 294.401
fulfills requirements:
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

In this course, we will explore a series of exemplary artworks from 1971 that all experiment with language. They attest to crucial issues for our generation: the desire for a new epistemology of art, the desire for new ways of connecting with the public, and the desire to question political authority. For artists such as Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, Shusaku Arakawa, Hans Haacke, Braco Dimitrijevic, and Peter Weibel, a page suddenly began to seem too small to contain movement. Calling into question the disciplinary and museological structures of their time, these artists began to define language not as representational but rather as presentational, combining spoken-word recordings with proto-architectural constructions and performances ranging from street provocations to theme parks and even floating islands. Through works such as these, such artists brought words into closer relation to physical space and physical objects, and the artist into closer relation to a newly participatory audience. Distinguishing the politically traumatic and compelling events of 1968 from their later symbolic realization in the cultural happenings of 1971, we will explore how 1971 may be the axial moment of contemporary art history, a point at which language experimentation reached a critical apex. If 1968 is the populist apex of a certain revolutionary fervor, 1971 represents its eruption in conceptual art.  We will explore the parallel visual and written manifestations of that crucial decade.

Students will be asked to write 4 papers of 6-8 pages each, to participate in class discussions, and to give one class presentation.