Lawrence Weiner

Lawrence Weiner has elaborated a rigorous oeuvre that reflects and encourages the interaction of both linguistic and artistic themes, having worked with installations (especially site-specific ones), videos, films, books, audio recordings, sculptures, and performances.
Considered one of the founders of Conceptual Art, Weiner is known for his interest in establishing new artistic forms, searching for innovative modes of reception. His commitment in terms of a renewed notion of “democratic” art, an art capable of adapting itself and modifying its forms in relation to cultural and social changes, is the fundamental characteristic of his entire body of work. His videos and films are the result of an analysis and research dealing with the process and the act itself of “making art” in relation to the nature of the artistic object and the variable contexts in which the most diverse materials are employed.
Since his first works, Weiner has developed an artistic investigation expressed both through video and cinema. This consisted in using all of the elements of cinema production, although restructuring these and often drastically reinventing their underlying rules and conventions.
Weiner’s particular and original work method takes on form in the audiovisual medium exactly as it does in his publications, posters, and vast site-specific installations. His typical “statements”—often in the form of phrases or sentences—become instruction-objects, a work method proposed and personified through actors, situations, and actions. With cinema and video Weiner demonstrates the multiplicity of possibilities with which investigation and reflection can take on form—whether physical or theoretical—and how this can influence our own interpretation of the world. [F.B.]

List of Works

Beached, 1970
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 3 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Dedicated to five material possibilities relating to a piece of wood, this work presents the artist involved in different actions in which he grasps or removes the wood floating on the sea.

Broken Off, 1970
video, black and white, sound, 2 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Five specific actions “under the direct responsibility of the artist” make up this video. He snaps a branch, hits the ground with his foot, detaches a piece of wood from a stake-fence, scratches a stone with his fingers, and, in conclusion, disconnects the cables of the technical console.

Shifted from the Side, 1972
video, black and white, sound, 1 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With a fixed framing, a packet of cigarettes on a table is repeatedly moved back and forth by a hand while an off-screen voice repeats the manifold conditions of existence of a work of art.

To and Fro. Fro and To. And To and Fro. And Fro and To, 1972
video, black and white, sound, 1 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A glass ashtray is repeatedly moved by a hand from one side of a table to the other while an off-screen voice rapidly pronounces the same sentences of the Shifted from the Side video. The framing remains fixed.

A First Quarter, 1973
16 mm film transferred from video, black and white, sound, 85 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist’s first full-length film, it was originally produced in video form and then transferred on 16 mm film, which lends the images a soft and blurred texture. In a variety of situations, shot both outside and inside, we follow the days of two women and a man who live and often work together, sharing spaces and places. The occasional dialogues consist in an equal number of statements of the artist, works read, interpreted, and lived by the protagonists.

Affected and/or Effected, 1974
video, black and white, sound, 20 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The video opens with the close-up of a woman who reads a book seated at a table. A male off-screen voice repeats “affected.” A female voice completes the phrase replying “and/or effected.” In the course of the video, the two voices alternate and propose different verbal associations between the word “affected” and fragments of phrases, leading to the statement on which the work is based.

Done To, 1974
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 23 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A woman is seated alone on a couch while reading. She is then joined by a girlfriend with whom she begins to talk. Simultaneously, two alternated voices give rise to a quick series of questions and statements. As in a number of Wiener videos, the woman is Kathryn Bigelow.

A Second Quarter, 1975
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 85 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This second full-length film was created during a study sojourn in Berlin. The entire film reflects the close proximity of barriers, focusing on concepts of borders and the geophysics and geopolitics of the city that at the time was divided by the Wall.

Green as Well as Blue as Well as Red, 1975–1976
video, color, sound, 18 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Two women sit opposite each other at a table, using and handling some objects and two small red books. Off-screen, the voices of a woman and a man, Bigelow and Weiner, are heard along with a march in the background, an historical recording of a Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. The work is structured around a series of dialectical relationships among the staged actions, focusing on gestures and words, colors of objects and clothing, and topics discussed by the voices, including methodology, logic, dialectics, syllogisms, and forms of domination.

A Bit of Matter and a Little Bit More, 1976
video, color, sound, 23 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The relationships between man and woman, between subject and object are here taken to a degree of explicit representation. The video portrays heterosexuals, homosexuals, and more eccentric heterosexual behavior. In particular, a young woman discusses with an off-screen female voice her role as observer and moderator. Finally, a male voice reads two statements regarding “some questions and an equal number of answers dealing with images in motion.”

Do You Believe in Water?, 1976
video, color, sound, 39 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
“Do you think you are able to give qualitative judgements about colors? Do you think there can be emotive answers to colors?” In these questions, repeated more than once in this long and refined video, lies the heart of the work itself. In a spacious loft with columns and a large octagonal table, there are three couples: one is composed of two women, one by two men, and one by a woman and a man. Various actions—including those of an erotic nature—are elaborated by the protagonists while the lighting conditions vary and some cylindrical and square objects are moved. This work was created for Weiner’s solo exhibition held in New York at The Kitchen in 1976. Ambiences and objects present in the video were also part of the exhibition installations.

For Example: Decorated, 1977
video, color, sound, 23 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In a single, long, and continuous sequence, two men and a woman—Peter Gordon, Sarkis, and Britta LeVa—gaudily dressed and made-up and seated around a table, talk about themes regarding the relationship between artists and their activity, between activity and the new forms of communication and television, and between the artist and the public. The audio track becomes progressively confused with the superimposition of sound from previous audio works by Weiner. The conversation moves successively on to other themes like fashion, cross-dressing, and lifestyles.

Altered to Suit, 1979
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 23 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Set in the artist’s studio, it is the first film by Weiner in which the narrative aspect is prevalent. Through the use of images that are often unsynchronized with the soundtrack, together with the choice of unusual framings, the film reconstructs the story of a man, his female companion who suffers from agoraphobia, their daughter, and a female friend of the family.

There But For, 1980
video, color, sound, 20 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Filmed inside an apartment, the video is centered on the daily life of a couple in crisis and their friends. The story takes place in a clearly defined domestic space in which the interaction among the stereotyped characters of the protagonists constitutes the structure of the narration. The soundtrack by Peter Gordon is played live during the shooting.

Passage to the North, 1981
transferred from 16 mm film, color, sound, 16 min. 20 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A group of men and women are forced to share cramped spaces. Some of them would like to go north, others do not want to, and others do not seem to care and discuss the differences between north and south. Some of the dialogues are improvised while others are part of the script. Images of a boat in flames, put out by firemen, are included in the course of the dialogue. The atmosphere is tense, cold, and uncertain: the themes of the journey, of emigration, and of distance recur almost as refrains to the occasional and spontaneous flow of the meetings and dialogues of the characters.

Plowman’s Lunch, 1982
transferred from 16 mm film, color, sound, 29 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Probably Weiner’s most complete film, the work is a fictional narrative with characters. Filmed in color, with original music by Peter Gordon, the film involves three protagonists, two women and a transvestite, in a plot dealing with the theme of emigration and the journey. Mainly set on an old boat while traveling, this work describes the desires, thoughts, and actions of the various characters and mixes different languages, including English, Dutch, French, and German. In a continuous intersection of different situations, the journey continues amidst dialogues, discussions, and clashes as the group complains to the Captain of the boat. As stated by the protagonists they want to go “somewhere” but they have simply arrived “nowhere” and wonder why they have not arrived “anywhere.”

Nothing to Lose, 1984
video, color, sound, 22 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The video documents a performance presented in the morning and in the evening on October 16, 1984 at the Cultureel Centrum Kuiperspoort in Middleburg (Holland). The set of the event is made up of two buildings around which a sailor and two women in costume—one interpreted by Marina Abramovic—obsessively repeat the same gestures.

Reading Lips, 1996
video, black and white, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Three women in close-up discuss death and sentiments while busy carrying out simple, everyday activities.

Hearts and Helicopters: A Trilogy, 1999, compiled in 2000
video, color, sound, 52 min. 25 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Eyes on the Prize: Part One of Hearts and Helicopters, 1999
video, color, sound, 19 min. 25 sec.
How Far Is There: Part Two of Hearts and Helicopters, 1999
video, color, sound, 17 min.
With a Grain of Salt: Part Three of Hearts and Helicopters, 1999
video, color, sound, 16 min.
Divided into three parts, the work investigates a moment of change in the life of the four protagonists. In an analogous way to the previous videos with their strong narrative impact, the three episodes stage refined linguistic games and role playing.

Artworks
Exhibitions