Activity Group 3: Context and Translation

In this series of activities, we invite you to think more about how Weiner works in relation to particular contexts.

Lawrence Weiner’s work with language is often likened to an aphorism, a short phrase that makes a general truth or sharp observation about life. (Ex “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.") These phrases help us better understand aspects of ourselves and the world. However, Weiner’s work is also sensitive to the fact that these observations about life are culturally, historically, and linguistically specific. As his artwork is commissioned and installed around the world, he presents his works differently in response to each different context. We could think of the way that Weiner works within different contexts as an act of translation: he typically translates the actual words of his works into languages spoken in the area that it is installed. Using a broader idea of translation, we could say that he also “translates” his artworks into the context of their presentation. This context includes location (whether the work is inside a gallery, on the face of a building, etc.), format (whether the work is painted on the wall, printed on a poster or inside a book), and cultural norms. Through this act of translation, Weiner aims to enable all people, regardless of the languages they speak and places they live in, to access his artworks and understand them in their own terms.

The book format is ideal for enabling this act of translation, and Weiner is known for using books as a primary site for the presentation of his artwork. (His work has been highly influential for the development of artist’s books more broadly: see a definition and history of artist’s books and publishing here.) For Weiner, artist’s books are a means of democratically producing and distributing works: they provide a context for the presentation of a work, as well as an accessible, relatively affordable, and reproducible means of sharing it with broad audiences.

This section focuses on two examples of Weiner’s use of translation: his artist book, "Henry the Navigator" and the artwork, "SMASHED TO PIECES (IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT)," which is installed in Vienna, Austria.

We would also love to hear how you have used Reading Resources. Please share feedback and student work here.

Exercise Two (Kids)
  1. Retell the story of Weiner’s book Henry the Navigator in your own words. You can do this orally by turning to someone and saying it aloud or you can write it down. After you’ve done this, consider how does putting it into your own words change the story?

  2. Create illustrations to go with Weiner’s book "Henry the Navigator". You can do this on any spare pieces of paper you have available. Once you have finished, what do your illustrations change or highlight about Weiner’s book? What do they help you see differently about his book and its story?
Summative Individual or Group Exhibition Activity (Kids, Teens, Adults)

In this summative individual or group exhibition activity, we invite you to create an artist’s book, or create an exhibition of your writing and artwork.

Select a number of responses to the various activities and develop them into a book (these can be written or visual responses) or hang them up in the library or classroom space in which you are working.

— Suggestions for Creating a Book

  1. Have everyone reproduce their contribution on an 8/12 by 11 inch piece of paper.
  2. Given the contributions, what order will they go in?
  3. Create, or have someone create, a title page and a table of contents.
  4. Add page numbers once the order is finished.
  5. Once you are finished with designing the layout and order of the book, use a photocopier to make copies of your book.

— Suggestions for Creating a Group or Individual Exhibition

  1. Similar to creating a book, choose the writing or the artwork that you want to use in your exhibition. There are many ways you can organize the writing/artwork on the walls. However, it is important to first consider who the audience is for this exhibition. Write down some of your thoughts to the following questions:

Who is your potential audience?
What kind of experiences and knowledge do they bring?
If you know any of them personally, what do they like? What will grab their attention?

  1. Next, pull together all the contributions to your exhibition to begin to figure out how you will organize everything visually.

You can group things by theme (even using the themes of this activity guide). Layout all the contributions and begin brainstorming possible themes or connections that you see develop between them. You can then decide on the most important themes and organize the contributions accordingly.

Where in the space of the room(s) will you hang the contributions to your exhibition? You can think about organizing writing and artwork on bulletin boards if they are available or you can use poster board on which to put the writings/artworks you want to show together.

  1. Now, promote your exhibition:

Choose a date and time for the opening of your exhibition.

Create a title for your exhibition that hints at the theme(s) which you’ve put together.

Create a poster/flyer which announces the exhibition’s title, the opening date/time and includes how long the exhibition will be on view.

Get the word out: post your flyers where you think people will most see them and create social media awareness through instagram, facebook, and the like.

  1. Installation:

Ask for volunteers to help you put up the exhibition.

Put up wall labels (you can use notecards or cut out small pieces of paper) which include the title of each writing/artwork and the author/artist.


Reading Resources: Lawrence Weiner was produced by Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) in collaboration with Wendy Tronrud (A.R.T. Education Consultant) in summer/fall 2017.

A.R.T. acknowledges the invaluable generosity, assistance, and enthusiasm of all who contributed to Reading Resources production:

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

We also thank:
María Sprowls Cervantes and MaryJo Marks at Lawrence Weiner Studio
A.R.T. Board of Directors
National Endowment for the Arts
H.W. Wilson Foundation
and most specially, Lawrence Weiner.

Web programming by Jeff Khonsary.
Copyright © Art Resources Transfer, Inc 2017.

All images are protected under copyright by the original rights holders.

A.R.T. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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