Parallax Space and Drift Station Gallery are pleased to present the catalog for Instructions for Initial Conditions. The 267-page catalog includes an introduction by Jeff Thompson (Drift Station) and my essay In/Formation. It also includes the works from the show, minus a few artists who requested that their pieces not be reproduced.

Download the Instructions for Initial Conditions catalog here:

Instructions For Initial Conditions Catalog



November 29, 2010

This is the essay I wrote to accompany our November exhibition Instructions for Initial Conditions (with Drift Station Gallery).


Marissa Vigneault

November 2010

You may read this essay, or you may not.  These words may influence your understanding of the works of art, or they may not.  It is up to you, reader, to participate to the extent that you desire.  My collection of words is a formation of information and ideas, intended as a catalyst for future investigations of the subject matter at hand.

The Shift

The gradual shift of the artwork from appearance to conception during the twentieth-century is continuously marked by the influence of Marcel Duchamp, whose introduction of the readymade undermined an emphasis on retinal authority in favor of the conceptual and intellectual.  By the time of Duchamp’s death in 1968, the artistic experimentations of Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, theater, music, and dance had moved the work of art away from medium-specificity and “wholeness,” towards a breakdown of categorical boundaries and an insistence on the contingent.  With the emergence of Conceptual art in the early 1960s came a realization of the dematerialization of art; the work of art no longer needed a material presence, one that could be constantly measured against traditional modes of art, but could instead exist as a mental concept, one that may or may not be realized.  This shift opened up the passages by which one produces art, as an emphasis on language and text rather than image allows the artist to operate outside the realms of a purely pictorial system.  Yet one has to be aware of the reliance of text upon a pre-existing structure of communication; even though the hierarchical realm of image making is dissolved, the hierarchical schema of language still dictates our participation.

The Text

Text as a strategic insertion into the work of art finds a long history in artistic production, whereas text as a sole materialization of the work emerged in the early part of the 1960s (although one may persuasively argue John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33” as an earlier manifestation).  The trajectory of reductivism that one finds in the mid-century art world, one which has roots in early 20th century avant-garde experimentations, resulted in this emphasis on the textual.  The offering of a text to the reader/viewer, a role which may be combined into that of the participant, creates a situation where the text becomes the work of art, underlining Sol LeWitt’s statement that,  “If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature, numbers are not mathematics.”[i] However, the suggestion of the text as art does not require the reification of this text into a cohesive original work.  If anything, the emphasis on the textual negates the idea of uniqueness and originality, the founding tenets of modernism, in favor of infinite possibilities to be enacted indefinitely.  The text may be presented to the participant by way of documentation, in the form of the book, poster, pamphlet, website, and so on, in a mode of infinite reproducibility that results in unknowable encounters and enactments.

The Participant

Via Wittgenstein, we understand our experiences as linguistically mediated; one may communicate with words, but these words must have meaning in order to be understood, to be meaningful.  The experiential exchange between reader and text activates a performative model of art, whereby the viewer becomes the reader and thus an active participant in the creation of the work of art, a suggestive model which subverts the artist/viewer binary.  Within this blurred line of creation, art becomes democratic; anyone who chooses can make and “own” art.  I again emphasize that this does not result in a solitary, permanent, complete work of art, but rather a transitory, activated space of potential.

[i] Sol LeWitt, “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” Art-Language (May 1969).