Tim Etchell For Words, neon sign, 2013
For me, titling and verbalizing a work has always been difficult. How to translate an object or an image into text without losing or changing it and without explaining the work too much, leaving it to be interpreted by the spectator? Lucy R. Lippard talks about writing and titles in her book Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, And Art in the Changing West (2014) in relation to site specific land art and photography:
“Socially engaged landscape photography is dependent on verbal contextualization. The photographer, having “been there”, may feel she has captured the place, but communicating her fragments of insight to those who haven’t been there or those who live there is another matter altogether”.
I see this as one of the issues I need to solve in my current project – how to shorten that physical and mental distance from that site and recreate that experience being there physically present, as one would be standing in the landscape, themselves.
I started thinking about titles a bit differently only quite recently when I was working with my experimental film and installation work N46°45’43” E60°40’39”; the title became a vital extension of the work, extending the space the work was exhibited beyond the studio and the “white cube” to the actual location where the work was born, to the shore of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. The title, a coordinate itself is a living, active being that can be traced to the site, the landscape and transformed into visual, physical space by the spectator – if they decide to do so. It is, however, only a suggestion, an invitation, not a demand as the action, the search has to be done by the viewer to take part in the journey I made via a virtual map. In my future works also, rather than treating titles as explanations, as keys to solve the puzzle an image or an object sets for the viewer, I seek to use titles as extensions, spaces, coded landscapes of the mind where the work locates – leaving room for thinking, interpretation and play.
Titling is a delicate process, the title being able to change how the work is viewed and received. Personally with my practice, majority of my works are quite serious and sensitive with long, complex research and backstory to them, which is why picking a suitable title takes time and a lot of consideration as it has to be right to support the work – as does writing about the work. As Liddard puts it, “cryptic, ironic, arty titles or captions, or none at all, distance the viewer from the subject by transforming it into a non-referential object, unleashed from anyone’s reality”. Self-vandalizing the work and its potential to make an impact on its own field by a misleading, clumsy, contradictious title easily transforms a meaningful work misunderstandingly into a joke, satire or into “untitled nothingness”. Title should be an extension, the “kick” of the work and not a conflict.