|Dimensions||19 x 19 x 2 cm|
Edition of one thousand, 2015
A list of the titles of paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK. Ranging from intricacy to abstract obfuscation; the words are detached from the paintings and alphabetically regimented as an inventory informed by art historical conventions, clichés and the idiosyncrasies of archivists and curators.
Acquired by Chelsea UAL, Swarthmore College, the SAIC Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection and Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
|Dimensions||19 x 19 x 2 cm|
Guy Bigland is a man of many words, in many senses. His bookworks span diverse fields of interest – he is an artist who makes lists about everything from books found on the shelves of rented holiday accommodation to the old masters in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. His book Things You Have Done was a list of ten nouns combined with ten past tense verbs in all possible sentence combinations, and was one of the winners of the 2015 Sheffield International Artists’ Book Prize. His book All the Paintings in the Museum was selected for KALEID’s 2016 collection.
“The project began in 2015 when I submitted a proposal to Art:Language:Location (ALL), an annual exhibition in Cambridge,” Guy explains. “The previous year (2014) I had shown a wall-based text in Cambridge University Philosophy Library. I visited the city to research and install the work, which was the first time I had been to Cambridge. On one of these visits I discovered the Fitzwilliam Museum. When formulating a proposal the following year, I wanted to bring the Fitzwilliam’s collection of Old Master paintings into ALL – an exhibition based on the junctures of art, language and location.”
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge was described as “one of the greatest art collections of the nation and a monument of the first importance” and holds many significant pieces, including work by Titian and Veronese. Often access to artists wanting to work with collections such as this is highly limited – but the advantage with Guy’s work is that he doesn’t need access to the material archives to work with the collection. “I see a painting’s title as its primary engagement, or juxtaposition, with language,” He elaborates. “On researching the history of the titling of artworks I found that it is a relatively modern practice established during the late nineteenth century. Stabilised or ‘official’ titles became necessary for collectors, archivists and historians to catalogue works as collections grew. So I used the most fundamental of archivists’ tools – alphabetising, to list all 1620 titles of the paintings on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s digital archive.”
For several years Guy’s work has focused on language systems and the various rules that can be applied to different kinds of texts. All the Paintings in the Museum encompasses an entire collection and is the most ambitious of all his previous work; examining in volume, the concept and form that museum cataloguing takes.
“This project initially felt more ambitious in its aspirations than other works I have done, in that I was using data that ‘belonged’ to a large organisation whose interest I hoped to arouse enough for them to want to host the work. Technically it was slow work but simple to do. Other books have used more complicated ordering (and disordering) processes, for example Lineman and Dancing About Architecture.”
He elaborates more on his use of systems: “I’m interested in using what you might call ‘administrative’ approaches such as cataloguing, alphabetising and using lists and permutations as methods of imposing order on things. Methodical processes and organisational procedures are the stuff of daily life whether it’s the individual writing a shopping list, a museum cataloguing its archive or a government storing data. For me there is a sense of security (and possibly power) attached to such order. What is more interesting though, is that such processes involve arbitrariness and judgment (even when you are trying to avoid such things) and probably offer only an illusion or a perceived sense of control or insight.”
Recently his work took on a new dimension when he performed Lineman with Tom Sowden at the Bristol Artists’ Book Event in 2015. Was this indicative of a desire to perform his work in general – or was it this specific piece? “I always read them silently, in my head. I then realised that if you read them with someone else you both tend to read aloud, it becomes a social interaction, and that led me to think of them as being like scores for a reading or vocal performance.”
“When Sarah Bodman was organising last year’s BABE, she asked me if I would like to do a reading, which initially terrified me! I chose Lineman because I wanted someone else to share the ’stage’ with me and as the book enacts a dialogue between recto and verso pages it was fitting for two voices. I asked Tom Sowden who organizes BABE with Sarah to be the other voice partly because it would be funny as Tom and I look similar and the text enacts a dissection of a romantic Country ballad.”
Guy Bigland’s bookworks appear deceptively simple; his use of systems and ordering play with both the microcosms of language and the hierarchy of art institutions. He admits that he has bigger plans for All the Paintings in the Museum in the future – “I plan to make a list of all the publicly owned paintings in the country. The charity Art UK (previously called the Public Catalogue Foundation) has catalogued all 212,754 paintings in UK public ownership. This seems like fodder for a book/text/digital work that I need to make!”
And finally – what reception did the Fitzwilliam give All the Paintings in the Museum? “Once the book had gained some attention in the artists’ book world and art press I contacted the Fitzwilliam Book Shop to see if they would be interested in stocking it. They said their customers would only buy books with quality reproductions and words alone are not enough.” We wholeheartedly disagree.