One word

Reflecting on the meanings that a single word can have takes me back a few years to a photo book I did with a couple of other artists in Vancouver. We were making an imitation of a commercial stock photo collection. I kept mulling over subtitles because I wanted our intentions to be clear but also to avoid artiness or too obvious an art world placement; ideally it should have sat on bookstore shelves beside other anonymous photo collections. At the last minute I called the printer and removed everything except the bare title.

Old Mill Society (Jill Ballard, Chris Gergley, Robert Linsley), South Granville 2003

My conclusion was that there is too much editorializing in contemporary art, and not enough respect for the viewer’s intelligence. The latter seems to be an acute problem where the artist is very well educated, and so is their presumed audience. At about that time I saw Martin Parr’s postcard collection, and felt that the title was a good example of too many words, and of how much can be packed into a single word.

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards 1999

To the cognoscenti “boring” means interesting, or aesthetically smart. The irony is heavy handed, but Parr aims at a mass audience too, so everything has to be made obvious. That one word is an editorial, a critical essay, an advertising come on (though as such it is effectively brief), an art world identifier pitched to the scenesters. In the event, when our book appeared many of our Vancouver colleagues didn’t get it.

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