Lacuna: Mind the Gap

*Note: Due to a issue with formatting there are grammatical errors in this writing. This occurs as a lack of a space between words. I apologize for this and will fix it as soon as possible.

“‘If men learn [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls,’ he told the god. ‘They will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory but for reminding.’”

- Socrates through the words of Plato, Phaedrus

“[A] signifier that has lost its signified has thereby been transformed into an image.”

- Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism and Consumer Society

Out of my research was born work about research, about reading and about trying to understand the symbols that lay in front of me on paper and screen. Making this body of work I became more and more overwhelmed by a mounting list of books and essays to read, artists to look at and ideas to develop. I felt as if I was drowning in my research even though I was aware of only having scratched the surface of a few topics. The knowledge I supposedly received was degenerating into just information, meaningless and abstract, unrelated to life and difficult to judge. I was driven to absorb as much information as I could, but the research began to feel superficial.

Out of this experience developed an intense interest to explore the foundations of this feeling of superficiality: semiotics and the making of meaning. Where is meaning kept and how do we find it? By layering words directly on top of one another my work presents a visual relationship in text, the words visibly becoming an indistinguishable mass – a void or gap of meaninglessness. The distance between the sign and the signified is stretched to an extreme, becoming a dysfunctional deconstruction. The process I employed produced seemingly random compositions that removed meaning and destabilized direct understandings of language. The idea that words are arbitrarily assigned to their meanings is not new (Saussure, Derrida), but to experience this arbitrariness in its simultaneity made the experience at once visceral, tangible and yet surprisingly unsettling.

This series of works do not connote understanding, but rather confusion. Instead of adding more meaning I create voids of meaninglessness, empty and obscuring. And so began the physical action of removal, various forms of digging act as frustrated modes that fruitlessly attempt to retrieve the lost knowledge. By using different materials to house the composite images I found I could speak to different words and texts that required different approaches and investigations of content. For specific source words and their synonyms I would use specific materials and actions, one must chisel out ‘meaning’, look through ‘memory’ or follow the lines of ‘trace’. This approach is purposefully paradoxical: I was subtracting instead of adding material, creating words in material instead of on it. This began with the idea that meaning was stored inside the physical qualities of text, treating the medium as the impossibility of the message.

Whether chiseling plastic, peeling paper or laser engraving, the surface is always removed – an archeological process. Removing layers of dross and sediment away from the items of ‘importance’ is aprocess replicated in my work. As our eyes scan over text we engage insomething similar to this archeological process to find something of interestand greater importance than arbitrary symbols. This relationship can be seen in my laser rastered works as a mechanical process mimicking the eye.

The plastics I use in my work continue this mimicking process through reflection. I was originally drawn to the black acrylic surface for its void-like feeling, largely due to its smooth andreflective surface. The clear acrylic seemed an apt follow-up for its symbolic qualities relating to how we ‘see through’ text. Together they play on the self-reflexive nature of meaning, the experience of seeing yourself in or around the text, which is both surprising and distracting. The layering of words on top of one another, in a way, commingles with the spectator’s reflection that is a layer of the work itself.

The process of layering can be seen in the work of Jasper Johns, Idris Khan and Arturo Herrera. Johns’ series 0 through 9, layers single digit numbers on top of one another to make recognizable forms that exist simultaneously illegible and understood. Khan uses photography to layer bodies of text and archival material, resulting in ghostly, quivering images that seem like memories in his works Every Page from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (2004), Every Page from the Holy Koran (2004), and Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny (2006). Herrera’s work with Disney cartoons in his installation at the Hammer Museum, When Alone Again, and his Untitled series from 2001 cuts the images of well-known characters into abstract pieces that are then reassembled into an abstract lattice. These are largely unrecognizable but maintain an odd semblance of familiarity. Together, these artists’ combine and condense their source imagery to create confusing composite images that, for me, radiate a familiarity that can be difficult to place.

By obscuring words through layering the content or meaning is lost and what remains is the context, the structure of text. Khan and Johns’ work play more on recognition of the subject than either Herrera or myself. Their work seems more about plurality and simultaneity, while Herrera and I work more with disconnectionand arbitrary association. However, the main issue at hand in this layering process is, I argue, the difference between information and knowledge. By utilizing symbols of cultural and communicative significance there is a play upon the symbol that is worth more than its aesthetics. By layering symbols, their meaning is taken apart, dismantled and subjected to interpretations that are far more fluid and personal than before. In 1957, Marcel Duchamp gave a lecture suggesting that the creative act is spread equally between artist and spectator, “all in all, the creative actis not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world”. This is the difference between intention and reception in the creation of meaning.

In On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, Jonathan Culler describes deconstruction as something that “reveals the impossibility of any science of literature or science of discourse and returns critical inquiry to the task of interpretation” (220). Interpretation as critical inquiry was the source of my earlier mentioned frustration and meaninglessness I felt towards my research. The works’ inspiration - although I hadn’t acknowledged it yet - was the recognition of each piece of research as an interpretation, but my desire was for objective truth. This post-structuralist view is built upon the idea that meaning is associative and exists in a subjective context, not necessarily in the object/subject. Because of this, I believe we find forms of meaning and understanding through memory. The laborious process of working away on a text can be expressed through the approach of ancient thinkers. In antiquity, knowledge was attained through rote memorization of texts and contemplation. Memorization, I find, is often played down today, replaced by Google searches and CTRL-F functions. I feel this is a symptom of text not as memory but as a reminder, asstated by Plato’s characters in Phaedrus. The absorption of knowledge is something that takes time, effort and repetition; “one didn’t just memorize texts; one ruminated on them – chewed them up and regurgitated them like cud – and in the process became intimate with them in a way that made them one’s own” (Foer, 110). This process of memorization ischaracterized by an act of interpretation to make it “one’s own”. The creationof art seems to me the manifestation of this process. Each word, sentence and idea is transformed into departures from the original idea, but not separations from it. This supports post-structuralist ideas of reality being founded on interpretation. As we witness in the works of Johns, Khan and Herrera, the only thing left in the wake of the layered symbols is interpretation: the void spaces (either literally or through symbolic uncertainty, primarily in Johns) that explicitly asks viewers to ‘read into’ the image, to fill the void with their interpretations.

One might hope to see more of a material connection between linguistics and abstract concepts, but when looking at text we are invited to experience and learn about things beyond our physical and psychological confinements. In this sense we see through text, past the physical qualities of letters, to the meaning they represent, even though unrelated. The act of reading is an exploration of new ideas, connections, stories and characters. It is a creative act that works the imagination by using the repeating symbols of text as reminders of sounds, concepts, images and more. We stitch these together into a rich and vibrant internal scene that is both incredibly personal as well as shared through the text. But, looking through text only seems possible to me when it is a reminder of previous ideas and associations. When confronted with unfamiliar or ambiguous terms the functioning of the symbol becomes a struggle. We dig into these terms looking for definitions in dictionaries, synonyms in thesauri and related concepts in other writings or places. As we dig our own personal understandings of words are actively projected into the terms as we build networks of meaning through association and similarity – through similitude rather than representation. Unknown terms in this way remind us of what we already know.

Using the English language, my work contrasts a lack of physical similarity in words against the ideas that bind them together. The words simply act as reminders that emphasize the lack of objective and foundational truths. Although my work acts to highlight a lack of inherent meaning in meaning making processes, this knowledge also encourages the creation of subjective meanings that we already know. The artist may have pointed intentions with their work but when it comes down to it “he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator” (Duchamp,"The Creative Act").

Works Cited

Barad, Karen. Karen Barad: What Is the Measure ofNothingness? Infinity, Virtuality, Justice = Was Ist Wirklich Das Mass DesNichts? Unendlichkeit, Virtulität, Gerechtigkeit. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz,2012. Print.

Bellinger, Gene, Durval Castro, and Anthony Mills."Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom." Data, Information,Knowledge, & Wisdom. 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.<>.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths: Selected Stories &Other Writings. New York, NY: New Directions, 2007. Print.

Crimp, Douglas, and Louise Lawler. On the Museum'sRuins. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1993. Print.

Culler, Jonathan D. On Deconstruction: Theory andCriticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1982. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “Of Grammatology.” Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. 2nded. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 944-949. Print.

Duchamp, Marcel. "The Creative Act: Marcel Duchamp’s1957 Classic, Read by the Artist Himself." Brain Pickings RSS. Web.22 Mar. 2015.<>.

Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art andScience of Remembering

Everything. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeologyof the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon, 1971. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism and ConsumerSociety." The Anti-aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. PortTownsend, Wash.: Bay, 1983. 127-144. Print.

Kosuth, Joseph. “Art After Philosophy.” Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology ofChanging Ideas. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003.852-861. Print.

Sacks, Oliver W. "Silent Multitudes: Charles BonnetSyndrome”, “Prisoner’sCinema: Sensory Deprivation."Hallucinations. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 3-44. Print.

Smith, Teddy. "Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity."The Anti-aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Port Townsend, Wash.:Bay, 1983. 127-144. Print.

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