⬤ 16 Oct - 16 Nov 2019
In 2010, Elizabeth Newman exhibited a work called 1988, a brown envelope (propped up on a log), on the lower left hand corner of which ‘Derrida’ is written. The piece can be seen as emblematic of the concerns of much of her work of the last decade or so. Containing Newman’s study notes from a course in continental philosophy she took many years before, the humble brown envelope is charged with a suggestion of meaning. Yet its presumably profound (or at least complex) contents are hidden from us; what we are actually presented with, teasingly, is nothing but a blank surface. The work seems almost didactic in its illustration of Newman’s idea of art as concerning ‘something not seen but nevertheless present’.
These words come from a beautiful, previously unpublished reflective piece contained in Texts, a selection of Newman’s writings between 2005 and 2019, recently published by Discipline. In the same text, Newman explains her work as a process of reduction that attempts to ‘leave only the most fundamental symbolic structures, the fundamental enunciative conditions that make art what it is and not something else’. Newman’s work as a whole can be understood as addressing these questions: what makes ‘art what it is and not something else’, what distinguishes artworks from other kinds of objects? The reduction of formal means in Newman’s work is a strategy that illuminates this mysterious, fragile quality—we might call it a sense of internality or even ‘aura’—that divides artworks from other objects, that allows a material thing to be no longer simply an object among other objects, but the occasion of a connection between subjects (artist and viewer).