Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Investigations: The Expanded Field of Writing in the Works of Robert Morris

 | 
Katia Schneller
, 
Noura Wedell

II. The Text/Image Problem under Investigation

Picturing Texts: Robert Morris’ “Beetle in a Box”

Brian Winkenweder

Texte intégral

  • 1 Clement Greenberg’s most succinct statement and widely cited source regarding his theory is Clemen (...)

1From September 3rd to October 2nd, 1963, Robert Morris produced a sequence of five Memory Drawings. Executed in ink on paper, the drawings consist of Morris’ distinct handwritten cursive script. The text established a sequence of angular lines, attenuated loops, and sharp dashes that can be seen as either gestural abstractions or as lexical units that correspond to a specific syntax carrying rhetorical meaning. In 1963, few would have accepted a hand-written text as a work of fine art. Morris’ Memory Drawings are significant because they anticipate what has now become a common strategy for artists seeking an experimental mode of expression. Morris’ early drawings initiate a career-long rebellion against the dominance of art critic Clement Greenberg’s theory of modern art in which honoring a medium’s “purity”—inherent qualities that distinguish it from all other media (including language)—guarantees aesthetic quality.1 In his landmark essay “Modernist Painting,” Greenberg insisted:

  • 2 Ibid., p. 86.

The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thereby each art would be rendered pure” and in its “purity” find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. “Purity” meant self-definition, and the enterprise of self-criticism in the arts became one of self-definition with a vengeance.2

  • 3 Ibid., p. 87.
  • 4 Robert Morris, “Three Folds in the Fabric and Four Autobiographical Asides as Allegories (or Inter (...)

2In the case of two-dimensional art, flatness reigned supreme, resulting in an abundance of abstract art during the twentieth century: “Flatness, two-dimensionality, was the only condition shared with no other art, and so modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else.”3 By conceiving of a text as an image, Morris challenged the logic of late modernism: “Abstraction was and is [modernism’s] first commandment. The history of the development of abstract art is also one of the repression of words.”4

3For the Initial Memory Drawing, Morris composed a text in which he summarized contemporary scientific theories regarding the physiology of memory. His caption for this first drawing in the series reads:

  • 5 The text of Initial Memory Drawing: “The physiological basis for memory has not been determined. T (...)

Drawing established and memorized 9/3/63,
8pm.5

4The following day, Morris produced the First Memory Drawing (Fig. 24) by writing out the memorized sequence of words established previously. In this drawing, the artist made an error and corrected it by placing an asterisk where one sentence of the text was omitted and a second asterisk with a parenthetical explanation— “(Error. Insert the following above.)”— and wrote the sentence out of sequence. Four days later, the Second Memory Drawing was produced with increasing errors that were in some locations hastily corrected by striking them out and in others the mistakes remained uncorrected. Eight days elapsed before the Third Memory Drawing was made; in this version, although errors occurred, especially omissions and the use of synonyms of words present in the primary text, there are neither editorial insertions nor misplaced words stricken from the text. Sixteen days later, a month after executing the initial composition, the Fourth Memory Drawing was created. The final work repeated many of the same omissions and wording errors of previous efforts. Given the self-referential nature of this series, the viewer is encouraged to check each Memory Drawing against the Initial Drawing— for the work is premised upon a game of cross-referencing to determine the degree to which the artist successfully memorized the passage and the deterioration of his memory over the course of a month.

24. Robert Morris, First Memory Drawing (9/4/63, 9 p.m.), 1963. Ink on gray paper, 20 1/2 × 13 inches (52.1 × 33 cm). Collection of the artist.

24. Robert Morris, First Memory Drawing (9/4/63, 9 p.m.), 1963. Ink on gray paper, 20 1/2 × 13 inches (52.1 × 33 cm). Collection of the artist.

Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 6 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen, 1953, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, Philosophical In (...)
  • 7 Robert Morris, From Mnemosyne to Clio: The Mirror to the Labyrinth (1998-1999-2000), ex. cat., 200 (...)

5With the Memory Drawings, composition simultaneously and equally refers to the content as well as the form of the drawing; they are concurrently textual and visual structures. These textual drawings accord with Greenberg’s flatness rule, but far from his rule regarding “purity”, this series conflates two elements simultaneously with neither ascendant. Rejecting Greenberg’s theory, Morris found solace in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. In the opening passages of this book, Wittgenstein stressed that “purity,” in this philosopher’s terms “a simple,” could never be achieved (a “composite” is always implied).6 Through a careful and sustained reading of Wittgenstein’s language-game theories, Morris discovered a discourse that refuted Greenberg’s reductive formalism and promoted a set of ideas that initiated the beginnings of conceptual art: “Wittgenstein’s writing has changed me, and I continue to re-read his texts.”7 By turning to language-games as an inspiration for the visual arts (in this sense, the art-game), Morris found a way out of the cul-de-sac of late modernism.

  • 8 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 212.

6In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein challenged the possibility of a private language and emphasized the social uses of language within a “form of life.” The vibrant interplay between text and image through which meaning is made and understanding shared dominates the work of both thinkers. Wittgenstein’s aphorism—“We find certain things about seeing puzzling, because we do not find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough”8— stimulates Morris’ repeated attempts to synthesize the Cartesian split between body and mind, or between phenomenological and semiological epistemologies. Beginning in 1962, Morris’ art utilized the vocabulary and imagery of Philosophical Investigations to initiate his own exploration of the inter-related dynamics between language and knowing.

  • 9 Email correspondence with the artist, 1st February 2000 and 26th August 2000.
  • 10 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 199.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 199.
  • 12 ‘Seeing-as’ is discussed in part II, section xi of Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., pp. 193 (...)

7Wittgenstein acknowledges that we can neither know nor understand something until we name it. However, the name is the equivalent of merely pointing to an aspect of a concept, but we never have certainty as to which aspect we point without a language-game that follows the rules of usage. Drawing on this theory, Morris considers art to be a pointing and naming game that never ends; great works of art always suggest a name that has no name, a tip of the tongue sensation within the grasp of the mind through the mediation of the body and its senses.9 Art, when it succeeds, viscerally affects the body even as it addresses the mind. Morris wants his viewers to embody Wittgenstein’s axiom: “If you search in a figure (1) for another figure (2), and then find it, you see (1) in a new way. Not only can you give a new kind of description of it, but noticing the second figure was a new visual experience.”10 “Seeing-as” is Wittgenstein’s term for such linguistic vagaries; for any coded message—be it textual, graphic or sensory—facilitates multivalency in which different, even contradictory, aspects can be “seen.” To illustrate this, Wittgenstein discusses a drawing that can be seen as either a rabbit or a duck, but not both simultaneously: “There are certain things which fall equally under the concept “picture-rabbit” and under the concept “picture-duck.” And a picture, a drawing, is such a thing.—But the impression is not simultaneously of a picture-duck and a picture-rabbit.”11 Wittgenstein described differences between “continuous seeing” and “aspect blindness” emphasizing the degree to which all communication is open to competing interpretations. And, he stresses that language is both a visual and a textual game.12

8For Morris, Greenberg’s formalist theory of modernism, by celebrating “purity”, typifies Wittgenstein’s concept of aspect-blindness by not acknowledging that equally viable or “impure” interpretations can be extracted from abstract paintings. That is, Greenberg’s “purity” is impossible to achieve—an image always suggests a multiplicity of possible interpretations or aspects, each of them equally valid. Wittgenstein’s example of a triangle illustrates this point:

  • 13 Ibid., p. 200.

Take as an example the aspects of a triangle. This triangle ►can be seen as a triangular hole, as a solid, as a geometrical drawing; as standing on its base, as hanging from its apex; as a mountain, as a wedge, as an arrow or pointer, as an overturned object which is meant to stand on the shorter side of the right angle, as a half parallelogram, and as various other things.13

9Greenberg’s “purity”, what Wittgenstein called “continuous seeing,” is sullied by the potential for its opposite, what Wittgenstein called “the dawning of an aspect,” that any abstract gesture on a flat surface might conjure in the viewer’s mind. The capacity for seeing something as something else relates to modernist painting as much as to any other graphic system. Morris, recognizing this as leverage for his critique of modernism, made a point of exacerbating its implications.

  • 14 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 340.
  • 15 Robert Morris, From Mnemosyne to Clio…, ex. cat., 2000, p. 205.

10A quarter century after making the Memory Drawings, Morris returned to these themes in his essay “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism.” This essay, his first publication to explicitly cite Wittgenstein, mused on the potential for a written text to become an image devoid of syntactical meaning: “Paragraphs turned on their side can function as pictures. Usage does determine the symbol system in force.”14 Yet, the Memory Drawings eclipsed text and image, conflating them as different aspects of the same impulse. The Memory Drawings constitute a key stage in Morris’ development as a conceptual artist: “I have kept a few early works, such as Memory Drawings…They are markers along the way. Places I stopped, or signposts to what came after.”15

  • 16 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 198.

11The Memory Drawings belong to a constellation of objects Morris produced in 1963 that challenged Greenberg’s rules of the art game by offering a set of paradoxes that established the foundations of conceptual art. Shortly after completing the Memory Drawings, Morris produced several self-portraits exploring the interiority of self. For instance, Morris’ Self-Portrait (EEG) (Fig. 25) consists of an electroencephalogram that is nearly 71” in length, the artist’s precise height. As the EEG was recorded, Morris claimed to have concentrated on himself, producing a drawing that shows what Morris “thinks like” as opposed to what he “looks like.” Given that there is no linguistic message in the electrically registered scribbles which merely measure the presence of brain wave activity but not the content of what the brain is thinking, Morris provided a self-portrait in which reference to the self is limited to objective measurement. With this image, we learn neither what Robert Morris looks like nor how he thinks. While we can interpret what the squiggles reference, we can not arrive at a subjective meaning for them. For Wittgenstein, the answer is emphatic: “any interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it any support. Interpretations by themselves do not determine meaning.”16

25. Robert Morris, Self-Portrait (E.E.G), 1963. Electroencephalogram and lead labels, framed with metal and glass, 70 3/4 × 17 inches (179.7 × 43.2 cm). Collection of the artist.

25. Robert Morris, Self-Portrait (E.E.G), 1963. Electroencephalogram and lead labels, framed with metal and glass, 70 3/4 × 17 inches (179.7 × 43.2 cm). Collection of the artist.

Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 17 Ibid., § 262.
  • 18 Ibid., § 280.
  • 19 Wittgenstein wrote: “Look at the blue of the sky and say to your self ‘How blue the sky is!’…And y (...)

12Certainly, Self-Portrait (EEG) alludes to the artist and his psyche, but it offers no insight. The apparatus drawing suggests a transparency but reveals itself to be opaque. That is, Self-Portrait (EEG) is an ironic gimmick whereby the promise of the title is deferred by the scientific objectivity of the EEG’s impersonal markings. A drawing directed by the mind is like a private language which must be directed by a grammatical structure: “It might be said: if you have given yourself a private definition of a word, then you must inwardly undertake to use the word in such-and-such a way. And how do you undertake that? Is it to be assumed that you invent the technique of using the word; or that you found it ready-made?”17 We cannot know of what precisely Morris thought while the EEG was recorded. He can claim to have thought of himself, but the squiggled lines do not offer a correlative to Morris’ thoughts which must be packaged by, and conform to, the rules of language in order for another to know of what he thought. His impressions and experiences during the EEG are neither a private language nor a part of a language-game with which his audience participates—as Wittgenstein stated: “To him his private impression of the picture means what he has imagined, in a sense in which the picture cannot mean this to others.”18 In this case, Morris claimed to point to himself with attention but such a claim can not be validated.19 Here, Morris investigated the potential to visualize a private language, producing a work that defeats its own truth claims. Through irony, Self-Portrait (EEG) reveals the inability of “pointing-into-yourself” and the insignificance of a private language. Language, as a Deconstructionist might claim, is always already a social event.

13Similarly, Morris’ Portrait (1963), consisting of eight bottles, painted grey, isolated by a compartmentalized wooden frame, also grey, provides neither insight into Morris’ outward appearance nor his mental, emotional, and behavioral disposition. While we are shown vials ostensibly containing blood, sweat, sperm, saliva, phlegm, tears, urine, and feces we have no means of testing the veracity of these claims, we must rely on the authority of the object that its truth-claim is unassailable. Here, Wittgenstein’s investigations bear markedly on the nature of Morris’ work. For the claims made by the labels of these bottles require an exchange between the viewer, the art work and the artist. Morris’ self-portraits fail as portraiture but succeed in revealing the inadequacies of private languages. This Portrait accords with Wittgenstein’s “beetle in a box” example. Both disprove the possibility of a private language—in this case, bottles of bodily fluids replace the “beetle in a box”:

  • 20 Ibid., § 293.

Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle.” No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language game at all; not even as a something. …That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of “object and designation” the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.20

  • 21 Ibid., § 432.

14We do not need to verify the presence of tears, sweat, or blood etc in these vials to understand to what Morris points; the position of the term, in this case the names of bodily fluids, denotes a consistent grammatical function and whether or not he and we mean the same thing by it, ontologically speaking, is irrelevant. We agree to the rules by which the names operate; and, the rules of their operation, their syntactic reliability, are of greater significance than their ontological status. Or, the signified is irrelevant; the use of the signifier is all that matters. The use of a word trumps its denotative properties, as Wittgenstein declares: “One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that.”21

  • 22 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris (Chicago: Open Court, 1983 (...)

15Therefore, we must remember how signs have been previously used in order to ensure that we can properly use the same signs with accuracy in the future. Wittgenstein’s conception of memory parallels Ferdinand de Saussure’s explanation of synchronic and diachronic linguistics. For Wittgenstein, a “form of life” establishes synchrony, or the conventional, static rules of usage. However, each participant playing in a language-game can also reinterpret the rules, offering a new use for a word thereby allowing for a diachronic intrusion on a “form of life” and its rules of communication. Saussure rejected any attempt to systematically chart linguistic evolution between the interdependency of synchronic, static linguistics and diachronic, evolutionary linguistics.22 Synchronic linguistics relates to Wittgenstein’s concept of a “form of life” as both are static, fixed and stable. Diachronic linguistics corresponds with “language-games” whereby the rules of usage are susceptible to evolutionary change. As Wittgenstein asks:

  • 23 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 85.

A rule stands there like a sign-post.—Does the sign-post leave no doubt open about the way I have to go? Does it show which direction I am to take when I have passed it; whether along the road or the footpath, or cross-country? But where is it said which way I am to follow it; whether in the direction of its finger or (e.g.) in the opposite one?—And if there were not a single sign-post, but a chain of adjacent ones or of chalk marks on the ground—is there only one way of interpreting them?23

16“Form of life” amalgamates the semiotic concepts of synchrony and contingency as the matrix by which meaning is derived and stabilized. In the case of Morris’ art game, Greenberg’s “purity” theory of modern art established a “form of life” that relied on a privileged set of maxims to which one must agree to participate. If modern art is a game, its first two rules are 1) Seek originality and 2) Maintain a unique signature style. Morris ignores these synchronic prescriptions adopting a diachronic stance that queries the logic of the modernist art-game. In its place he adopts a new art game in which the first rule is “re-write the rules.”

17Wittgenstein’s analysis of language is so wide-ranging, his examples so numerous, that one could note connections between his writings and Morris’ art without exhausting either. However, such an exercise would neither produce relevant insight nor clarify the inspiration Morris draws from Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Instead, a more productive operation would be to apply the dynamic of seeing as to Morris’ own work. That is, to apply Wittgenstein’s philosophy to Morris’ oeuvre generates insightful results revealing the polyvalent nature of his art and the nuanced interpretation of analytic philosophy that informs his objects. Given his reliance on Wittgenstein’s theories, Morris’ sixty years of significant artistic production can be described as an ongoing art game (a game of endgames with no end in sight).

  • 24 In addition to Pollock and Johns, Morris has also played games with the oeuvre and legacy of Marce (...)

18Throughout his career, Morris has played games with the innovative techniques of, among others, Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns so as to critically interrogate the act of creation.24 He reveals a dialectical oscillation between the joint enterprise of making and thinking, or acting and contemplating. This aspect of Morris’ art was never more evident than during the early 1990s, when he produced a series of drawings that relied heavily on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Investigations, 1990; Fig. 26) and quoted from this philosopher’s late work, as well as an encaustic from the same year: Monument Dead Monument/Rush Life Rush which appropriated both Johns’ signature medium—encaustic—and a Hans Namuth photograph of Jackson Pollock painting.

26. Robert Morris, Investigations: Could I also Represent Hope in this Way? Hardly. And What about Belief?, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).

26. Robert Morris, Investigations: Could I also Represent Hope in this Way? Hardly. And What about Belief?, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Sonnabend Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

19Most importantly, this period marked the beginning of his use of Wittgenstein’s writings. By repeatedly invoking Wittgenstein, Morris’ game encourages interpretations extending beyond traditional art historical parameters and demands the viewer to engage in advanced acts of seeing-as. Morris’ intertextual appropriation of iconic images associated with late modernism suggests he plays fast and loose with a tradition and discourse he mastered as a graduate student at Hunter College. Morris plays an art-game, a metaphorical chess tournament with Pollock and Johns which proceeds in a manner akin to Wittgenstein’s imaginary chess players:

  • 25 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 200.

It is, of course, imaginable that two people unacquainted with games should sit at a chess-board and go through the moves of a game of chess; and even with all the appropriate mental accompaniments. And if we were to see it we should say they were playing chess. But now imagine a game of chess translated according to certain rules into a series of actions which we do not ordinarily associate with a game—say into yells and stamping of feet. And now suppose those two people to yell and stamp instead of playing the form of chess we are used to; and this in such a way that their procedure is translatable by suitable rules into a game of chess.25

20Now, I do not mean to reduce Morris’ art to a series of “yells and stamping of feet.” Rather, his approach to the art game is unexpected, if not unprecedented. Through the dynamic of seeing-as, Morris produces enigmatic art works that suggest numerous interpretations and multiple uses.

  • 26 See Amelia Jones, “The ‘Pollockian Performative’ and the Revision of the Modernist Subject,” in Bo (...)

21By reproducing Namuth’s photographs of Pollock painting, Morris participates in the critical discourse that derives from the hagiography of Pollock’s life and work. On at least three occasions in 1990, Morris copies a Namuth photograph of Pollock painting. These works emphasize what Amelia Jones labels the “Pollockian Performative”, whereby the painter’s process is recognized as greater than the finished product.26 However, through the dynamic of seeing-as, Morris’ images of Pollock painting can simultaneously be seen as an articulation of the “Contemplative Pollock.” Dialectics between the “Pollockian Performative” and the “Contemplative Pollock” emerge in Morris’ work from this year. Furthermore, Morris’ appropriation of iconic images of the “Pollockian Performative” can be seen as a celebratory revival of the “Contemplative Pollock.” Operating as a Lyotardian anamodernist, Morris resuscitates an aspect of Pollock’s process, the contemplative mode which has repeatedly been eclipsed by the consecration of this artist’s physical encounters with pigment and canvas. More importantly, this can only be discerned by seeing Morris’ representations of the “Pollockian Performative” as the “Contemplative Pollock.” Indeed, Wittgenstein’s theories alone indicate the complex nature of Morris’ extra-aesthetic agenda. Additionally, the polyvalency of Morris’ art from 1990 extends the dynamic of seeing-as to include intertextual engagement with Pollock and Johns. Therefore, by conflating the legacies of these two artists with his own work, Morris’ “art history as art” suggests an anxiety of influence that reveals critical continuities and consistencies between modernism and postmodernism.

  • 27 The quotes from Philosophical Investigations were taken from passages Morris had underlined while (...)

22Robert Morris’ Investigations, a series of graphite on vellum drawings (consisting of more than twenty 18 × 18" examples) juxtapose a dizzying pastiche of imagery with selected statements by Wittgenstein. Returning to underlined passages in his well-worn copy of Philosophical Investigations, Morris adopted these passages for this series of drawings.27 These works contain an overwhelming abundance of art historical and mass cultural imagery.

  • 28 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 203.

23Investigations consists of four overlapping elements: 1) Wittgenstein’s words—hybrid marks straddling the fence between text/image operating in a liminal space in between both sign systems (just like the Memory Drawings) emphasizing Wittgenstein’s exempla of pain and memory; 2) photographs culled from mass media—the choices include political figures such as FDR, Joseph McCarthy, and the Rosenbergs or media celebrities whose popularity may be fleeting like deceased aviator Charles Lindbergh, retired running back Franco Harris (holding his Football Hall of Fame bust), and the contralto Marian Anderson (as photographed by Richard Avedon); 3) intratextual representations of Morris’ previous works, and, of all his diverse signature styles it is his labyrinths that dominate the series; one appears in each drawing. Clearly, Morris had Wittgenstein’s aphorism in mind: “Language is a labyrinth of paths.”28 But more aptly, the kind of labyrinth Investigations suggests is not a traditional one of a continuous line that is “ruled by a blind necessity.” And 4) intertextual allusions to art history, particularly 5th-century Greek statuary, notably the Three Goddesses from the East pediment of the Parthenon and Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, a relief from the balustrade of the Temple of Athena Nike, Timothy O’Sullivan’s Civil War image Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, PA, Antonio Giulio Bragaglia’s “Photodynamics” and, most importantly, Hans Namuth’s photographs of Jackson Pollock painting.

24Morris’ painterly touch is evident in these self-consciously stylized drawings. This spectacular barrage of imagery is unified by Morris’ evocation of transfer rubbings (a process using lighter fluid to dissolve and transfer ink from a mass media source by pressure). Here, Morris adopts a technique associated with Robert Rauschenberg, adding yet another layer of art historical intertextuality. By stylizing his drawing to look like the indexical mark of the nub in the transfer process (a kind of seeing-as), Morris adds rich layers of meaning regarding representation, reproduction and the ubiquity of mass media imagery as the definitive features of postmodern culture. These drawings of photographs are a simulacrum creating an illusion as if rendered by a transfer technique when in fact they are drawn directly by hand.

25Despite their montaged appearance, these drawings bear many compositional consistencies as Morris divides the ground into three “loose” registers. Similar types of images often reappear in the same register of each drawing. The upper register consistently serves as the locus for mass media imagery. Images from Morris’ oeuvre frequently appear in the central register. And, iconic art historical imagery appears in the lower register. The texts, in contrast, do not adhere to such compositional constraints as they are situated in multiple locations throughout the series. Certainly, numerous variations to this formula exist, but the consistent redundancies between them enable the viewer to perceive the series as a whole.

26Given this onslaught of multivalent signifiers and indices, the viewer is bewildered by polysemy. No reading of these works can be complete, as not all of the elements could ever be accounted for coherently. More importantly, an autobiographical reflexivity dominates this series which suggests Morris is exploring the possibility of a private-language. Given that the main thrust of Wittgenstein’s theory is to disprove concepts of a private-language, Morris’ idiosyncratically arranged, carefully considered, sources communicate in some way, or in too many ways. The paradox here is that some of the sources must carry far more personal meaning for Morris than others. For instance, Morris consciously includes numerous canonical images from the history of photography, such as O’Sullivan’s Harvest of Death, Eakins’s Double Jump, and Hans Namuth’s photographs of Pollock at work. Since Morris’ advanced degree is in art history, these images must certainly resonate with him. But, in what way do these historical documents offer insights into Morris’ understanding of philosophy in general and Wittgenstein in particular? Investigations are documentary in nature, as the artist reviews his career revealing continuities that had heretofore remained beneath the surface. Predictably, the over-riding theme, as determined by the philosophical aphorisms, regards relationships between language, meaning, and representation. A tone of despair and anguish, as well as melancholia and nostalgia, pervades this series.

  • 29 Ibid., § 201.
  • 30 Ibid.

27Throughout his career, Morris has conceived of art history as a discourse and a form of life, treating its flexible rules as comprising a language-game. Emboldened by Wittgenstein’s concept of seeing-as, Morris recognizes that the interpretation of a set of rules is open-ended, incomplete and inconclusive. There is always interpretive wiggle room: “No course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made to accord with the rule.”29 Perhaps as a clue to the Investigation series, Morris includes this quote in one of the drawings that deviates the most from the series’ conventions (Fig. 27). Only the obscured overlay line-drawing labyrinth represents Morris’ oeuvre. Instead of referencing his previous work, Morris includes such images as a fragment of a Renoir painting, Thomas Jefferson’s visage on Mt. Rushmore, a Paul Strand photo and the Parthenon’s Three Graces. This drawing does not follow the compositional “rules” of the Investigation series—it shares few family resemblances. While not included in the drawing, the remainder of the passage Morris quotes clarifies Wittgenstein’s understanding of the relationship between rules and interpretation: “Every action according to the rule is an interpretation. But we ought to restrict the term ‘interpretation’ to the substitution of one expression of the rule for another.”30

27. Robert Morris, Investigations: No Course of Action Could Be Determined by a Rule, Because Every Course of Action Can Be Made to Accord with a Rule, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).

27. Robert Morris, Investigations: No Course of Action Could Be Determined by a Rule, Because Every Course of Action Can Be Made to Accord with a Rule, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Sonnabend Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 31 This definition is supplied by Leon Roudiez in his introduction to Julia Kristeva. Desire in Langu (...)
  • 32 Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Loup Thébaud, Just Gaming, Theory and History of Literature 20, trans. (...)
  • 33 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 197.

28In this regard, Wittgenstein touches upon what Julia Kristeva indentifies as intertextuality: “the transposition of one or more systems of signs into another, accompanied by a new articulation of the enunciative and denotative position.”31 For both, substituting one expression for another, and what is gained or lost in this transformative act is a key to their analysis. This idea is echoed by Jean-François Lyotard, who recognizes that artists “move from one game to another, and in each of these games they try to figure out new moves. And even better, they try to invent new games…for example, proposes new rules of the painting game.”32 Translating rules in the theories of Wittgenstein and Lyotard, or shifting texts in Kristeva’s model, is always already underway. Each time we engage a rule in the language-game, we can “obey it” and remain aspect-blind, or “go against it”, and notice a new aspect or see the rule as something else: “Hence the flashing of an aspect on us seems half visual experience, half thought.”33 A “flashing of an aspect” is simultaneously directly seen, as the obscure but identifiable imagery in the Investigations, and a sudden insight based on an unexpected shift in focus. The permutability of seeing-as reiterates that the rules of language-games are unstable. Throughout his career, Morris has examined both sides of this paradox—oscillating between “obeying the rules” (Aspect-Blindness) and “going against them” (seeing-as). 

Notes

1 Clement Greenberg’s most succinct statement and widely cited source regarding his theory is Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” Arts Yearbook, no. 4 (1961), pp. 103-108, reprinted in Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969, John O’Brian, ed., vol. 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 85-94.

2 Ibid., p. 86.

3 Ibid., p. 87.

4 Robert Morris, “Three Folds in the Fabric and Four Autobiographical Asides as Allegories (or Interruptions),” 1989, pp. 142-151, reprinted in Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, p. 266.

5 The text of Initial Memory Drawing: “The physiological basis for memory has not been determined. Theories advanced to explain memory fall mainly into two classes: (1) Those which seek explanation in changes of composition of the brain cells; and (2) those which seek explanation in changes of electrical currents between cells. If one leaves the analogy at a crude level, comparisons can be made to the two basic ways in which man establishes a cultural memory, i.e. either spatially through preservation of models, pictures, maps, etc. or temporally through sequential records in print, audial recordings and more recently by electronic means. Theories have also been advanced which attempt to combine these two processes. Such theories attempt to discriminate between types of memories, assigning the coding of some to physical alteration of the molecular structure of brain cells and others to reflex electrical circuits. The latter process is sometimes appended with a hypothesis of a mechanical nature viz. through minute changes of synaptic fibers which grow larger or closer together and facilitate electrical pathways. Analog computing machines can be made to learn—a process impossible without storage of information. This storage is effected by specific variation in a time series together with a scanning device. Recent investigations in electroencephalography seem to point to such a scanning mechanism responsible for oscillating currents which tend to fade with concentration and attention. However the storing of visual images can be more easily ascribed to protein molecule alterations. All suggestions as to the locus of memory, either in terms of composition or action agree on the point that it is not held in any specific area of the cortex. Decimations of the cortex do not cut out particular memories, but the severing neural pathways between the visual cortex and the frontal regions, while not disturbing vision, reduces to the unrecognizable that which is seen. The richness of and necessities for the interconnections of all parts of the cortex will undoubtedly be part of whatever theory is eventually established. Drawing established and memorized 9/3/63, 8pm.”

6 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen, 1953, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, Philosophical Investigations, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), § 47. The first part of this book is divided into numbered remarks; therefore, my citations will reference the remark number rather than the page number. The second part is paginated, and the appropriate page numbers will be used for citations from this section.

7 Robert Morris, From Mnemosyne to Clio: The Mirror to the Labyrinth (1998-1999-2000), ex. cat., 2000, p. 194.

8 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 212.

9 Email correspondence with the artist, 1st February 2000 and 26th August 2000.

10 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 199.

11 Ibid., p. 199.

12 ‘Seeing-as’ is discussed in part II, section xi of Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., pp. 193-229.

13 Ibid., p. 200.

14 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 340.

15 Robert Morris, From Mnemosyne to Clio…, ex. cat., 2000, p. 205.

16 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 198.

17 Ibid., § 262.

18 Ibid., § 280.

19 Wittgenstein wrote: “Look at the blue of the sky and say to your self ‘How blue the sky is!’…And you have no hesitation in exclaiming that to someone else. And if you point at anything as you say the words you point at the sky. I am saying: you have not the feeling of pointing into yourself, which often accompanies ‘naming the sensation’ when one thinking about ‘private language’. Nor do you think that you really you ought not to point to the color with your hand, but with your attention.” Ibid., § 275.

20 Ibid., § 293.

21 Ibid., § 432.

22 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris (Chicago: Open Court, 1983), p. 81.

23 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 85.

24 In addition to Pollock and Johns, Morris has also played games with the oeuvre and legacy of Marcel Duchamp and Edward Hopper. See Robert Morris, “American Quartet,” 1981, pp. 92-105, reprinted in Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, pp. 233-258. See also, Brian Winkenweder, Reading Wittgenstein: Robert Morris’s Art-as-Philosophy (Saarbrüken: VDM, 2008).

25 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 200.

26 See Amelia Jones, “The ‘Pollockian Performative’ and the Revision of the Modernist Subject,” in Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: Univerity of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 53-102.

27 The quotes from Philosophical Investigations were taken from passages Morris had underlined while preparing the text for Hearing in 1972.

28 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., § 203.

29 Ibid., § 201.

30 Ibid.

31 This definition is supplied by Leon Roudiez in his introduction to Julia Kristeva. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Language and Art, Leon Roudiez, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 15.

32 Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Loup Thébaud, Just Gaming, Theory and History of Literature 20, trans. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 61.

33 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit., p. 197.

Table des illustrations

Titre 24. Robert Morris, First Memory Drawing (9/4/63, 9 p.m.), 1963. Ink on gray paper, 20 1/2 × 13 inches (52.1 × 33 cm). Collection of the artist.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3826/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 268k
Titre 25. Robert Morris, Self-Portrait (E.E.G), 1963. Electroencephalogram and lead labels, framed with metal and glass, 70 3/4 × 17 inches (179.7 × 43.2 cm). Collection of the artist.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3826/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 78k
Titre 26. Robert Morris, Investigations: Could I also Represent Hope in this Way? Hardly. And What about Belief?, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Sonnabend Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3826/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k
Titre 27. Robert Morris, Investigations: No Course of Action Could Be Determined by a Rule, Because Every Course of Action Can Be Made to Accord with a Rule, 1990. Graphite on vellum, 18 × 18 inches (45.7 × 45.7 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Sonnabend Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3826/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 133k

Auteur

Associate professor of art history, Linfield College in McMinnville, OR.

© ENS Éditions, 2015

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540