Around 4 pm last Friday I made my way over to David Zwirner and stood in a line outside for approximately 5 minutes before a woman from the gallery came out declaring there was an additional line on the inside that extended the wait time by another hour, and that she could not guarantee that everyone would be able to see the show. Of course I immediately left and made my plan to return - tomorrow morning. For what reason? Oh, to see the work of Doug Wheeler, he's constructed a piece out of light - much paralleling James Turrell- and it's been so vastly reviewed that I must share in the experience. Emphasis on that note - experience, and you know, relational aesthetics, and participating in art pieces by famous artists because I can. This all brings us to an essay that is a staple in understanding the fundamentals of relational aesthetics:
The Death of the Author//1968
This essay was written a while back yes, and when Barthes was writing it he was mostly talking about literature, but in more ways than not, his examples can and do parallel fine art in so many ways. Again- the editor gives us more context to understand the theory and why we're reading it,
"Barthes was concerned primarily with literature but his insights are analogous to much contemporary art of the period, particularly work that emphasize the viewer's role in their completion."
Great, so I'll take you through this short essay and highlight some key points. One of the first points that Barthes makes is that we are limited in understanding a work when we know the author. He explains that we are limited because we want an explanation of the work,
"The explanation of the work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author 'confiding' in us."Barthes states that we want that explanation from the artist, that a work is an allegory of the artist sharing something personal with the viewer. This limits us because we can only see that work in relation to the artist. He goes on to make the point that literature exists without the author, and without knowing the author, there are an infinite many more associations that can be made.
"...it is language that speaks, not the author; to write is, through prerequisite impersonality(not at all to be confused with the castrating objectivity of the realist novelist), to reach that point where only language acts, 'performs', and not 'me'."Excellent, and if you relay this exactly to a work of art, and imagine for a moment that a work of art 'speaks' in relation to other works art and 'performs' on it's own, you can begin to understand why maybe the identity of the artist could hinder ones imagination. Barthes continues on with this notion,
"The removal of the Author (one could talk here with Brecht of a veritable 'distancing', the Author diminishing like a figurine at the far end of the literary stage) is not merely an historical fact or an act of writing; it utterly transforms the modern text (or- which is the same thing-the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that at all its levels the author is absent)."
To take the author, or artist, away from a work Barthes makes the point that the origin is taken away from the work, and you are left with just language, or in our case, just art. Because human beings try to identify their surroundings, to make meaning, if you erase the origin, it calls into question all origins - which becomes a much larger frame of reference than we'd like to admit. Barthes is saying that the work can move into a multi-dimensional space where a variety of works blend and clash, and it becomes almost futile to try and originate it. Essentially, what his final point becomes is that the creator/artist/author must be absent for the viewer to have and experience with the work, and that experience is more valuable than the limited meaning that would have been otherwise created by your knowing the origin of the work. I am a fan of this idea, to take the author/artist out of the work, and make it universally referential, there is much more to be learned in this scenario.
Fantastic - but the problem is, that now I know that I should not know the artist in order to really experience the piece that I will (hopefully) experience tomorrow morning. No use pretending that I didn't see what I saw, or that I didn't read what I read, might as well enjoy some photos of previous works by David Wheeler, and get amped to experience the, "wondrous blankness—the purest form of minimalism you'll likely ever encounter..." As Robert Shuster from the Village Voice states. Looking. Forward. To. It.