Mirror Lake, 2013

Specificity in Practice

Recent Work by Victor Burgin
Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 7:00pm

In the 18th Century, rejecting a literary approach to painting inherited from classical antiquity, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing drew a distinction between the different specificities of poetry and painting: one is extended in time while the other is extended in space. In the 20th Century the criterion of specificity became foundational to modernism in the visual arts – Clement Greenberg, for example, arguing that ‘content’ be evicted from painting as an irrelevant supplement to that which uniquely differentiates painting from other arts (thereby constituting its specificity): the application of pigment to a flat surface. With the advent of ‘postmodernism’ what might once have been considered irreconcilable differences between the various art forms became routinely ignored in a celebration of pastiche and hybridity. The arrival of digital technologies further eroded formerly categorical distinctions between art forms – for example, photography, film and video – by placing their means of production on the same technological basis. However, Burgin will argue, far from making the concept of specificity redundant, such developments have rendered the issue of specificity unavoidable in any art practice that aspires to critical self-awareness. Burgin will describe how ‘considerations of specificity’ are taken into account in his own art practice, with particular reference to his recent works A Place to Read (2010) and Mirror Lake (2013).

Victor Burgin is a Visiting Mellon Fellow at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, Professor Emeritus of History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Emeritus Millard Chair of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Burgin’s books include Parallel Texts: interviews and interventions about art (Reaktion, 2011), Situational Aesthetics (Leuven University Press, 2009), The Remembered Film (Reaktion, 2004), In/Different Spaces: place and memory in visual culture (University of California Press, 1996), Some Cities (Reaktion, 1996), The End of Art Theory: criticism and postmodernity (Macmillan, 1986), and the edited collections Formations of Fantasy (Methuen, 1986) and Thinking Photography (Macmillan, 1982). Monographs devoted to his visual work include Five Pieces for Projection (Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, 2014), Components of a Practice (Skira, 2008), Victor Burgin: Objets Temporels (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007), Victor Burgin (Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2001), Shadowed (Architectural Association, London, 2000) and Between (Blackwell/ICA, 1986). A collection of essays by others about Burgin’s projection works recently appeared as Projective (Mamco, Geneva, 2014), and another is currently in press: Palmanova (éditions Form[e]s, Paris, 2015). A volume of his scripts for his works will also soon appear as, The writing on the wall (Mamco, Geneva, 2015).   

Co-presented with the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.