Adults

Activity Group 1: Language as Material

This activity series investigates the theme of language as material, an important principle of Weiner’s practice. Its activities engage with Weiner’s artwork, “BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE”.

Weiner’s work uses language to express an idea, much like other artists use materials like paint, cement, video, etc. This first activity asks learners to reconsider language as a material by visualizing it. If we visualize a word, how do we change its form or its purpose? In this case, we are working with the building blocks of a sentence: noun, verb and object. Does visualizing each of these components change their relationship to each other, or create a new relationship altogether?

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

Exercise 1

Choose a noun and then draw it. Have someone guess

Choose a verb and then draw it. Have someone guess.

Make a sentence out of these drawings (noun verb object). Keep each word in its visual form and put the drawing together in the subject verb object order.

— REFLECTION:
Did your drawing out of a noun versus a verb look differently? Why/why not? What did the drawing out of the word help you to see about the nature of that word? How did putting them together in a sentence change them or form new relationships in any way? Describe what it was like to “read” this sentence made of your drawings? Did the act of reading work differently? If so, how?

Exercise 2

Find three or four easily accessible objects (paper, pen, stapler, computer mouse, book, etc.). You will now construct a sentence with them.

First, take a few moments to brainstorm associations or ideas around each one. Do this on paper. Take your time. Really observe and notice characteristics of each one.

Given your various associations, decide which object will play each role in a sentence: noun, verb, object. If you have four objects, make one an adverb (a word that describes a verb like “he happily ran home”).

Place each object in the order it goes in your sentence.

Take a few moments to do some reflective writing. Why did you choose the particular role in the sentence for each object? What made one seem more “verb” and another seem more “noun”? Describe what your sentence means. It doesn’t have to translate directly into words; it can also be about relationships between particular objects and their qualities (colors, shapes, sizes, etc.).

Finally, invite someone to “read” your sentence. Ask them to tell you what they think it means or what kind of relationships they see between the objects.

Exercise 3

Take a few moments to do some reflective writing. Why did you choose the particular role in the sentence for each object? What made one seem more “verb” and another seem more “noun”? Describe what your sentence means. It doesn’t have to translate directly into words; it can also be about relationships between particular objects and their qualities (colors, shapes, sizes, etc.).

Finally, invite someone to “read” your sentence. Ask them to tell you what they think it means or what kind of relationships they see between the objects.

Exercise 4

Given your work with Weiner in this section, how would you approach thinking about Weiner’s artwork, “BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE”?

The photograph above shows this work as it was installed on the exterior of the Walker Museum in Minneapolis. It is a good example of how Weiner uses language to present the relationship between particular objects in a given context. On the museum's exterior, it can be seen and read by wide audiences who may or may not attend this public institution. The sentence's meaning is equally shaped by the connections between its particular words—"bits & pieces," "semblance," "whole"—and the space in which we encounter it.

You have already experimented with sentence making in Exercise 1. This exercise provides a series of writing-as-thinking prompts that invite you to consider how the work's site-specific presentation relates to the ways that you understand this sentence. Please use a piece of paper to write down your responses to each question.

  1. In Weiner’s sentence, “Bits and Pieces put together to present a semblance of a whole,” what is the noun, the verb and the object? Write down the sentence and mark it up.
  2. Now look back at the picture. What words does Weiner call attention to? Consider the role of the particular words (noun, verb, or object) in the sentence. Why do you think he does that? Spend a few moments writing out your thoughts. Come up with 2-3 possibilities.
  3. Go back to his artwork to spend some time close reading it. You should have the sentence written down on a piece of paper. Circle words that stand out to you (such as “bits,” “pieces,” “present,” “semblance,” and so on). Brainstorm associations around each word (what other ideas images or words does “bits” bring to mind?). You can turn your circles into bubble maps or write down your brainstorm directly around each word. You can look up words in the dictionary; even if you think you know the meaning, the dictionary can always remind us of surprising connotations or less obvious meanings. The goal of this is to consider Weiner’s particular choice of words and what each word brings to the meaning of this artwork.
  4. Once you’ve finished with this, take a look at the sentence and ask questions of it. These can be clarifying questions (right answer questions) or debatable questions (no right answer). What stands out to you? What word choices seem strange? We encourage you to go back to the image and ask questions of the artwork as it is installed.
  5. Now explore and respond to your questions. You can respond in writing directly on your paper and/or you can discuss them with someone else. The goal is to generate ideas and possibilities; don’t worry about coming up with the “right answer.” There may not be one!
  6. After asking your questions, now experiment with paraphrasing or putting Weiner’s sentence into your own words. What does this artwork say? Why does it say “semblance” and not just “put together to present a whole”? Why does Weiner use “present” in this context?
  7. Given that Weiner considers language as material, what other kinds of materials (“bits & pieces”) can be “put together” to “present a semblance of a whole”? What makes a whole? What other examples of a whole can you think of? Is a “semblance of a whole” the same thing as a whole? Why/why not.
  8. Gather “bits & pieces” (any small objects or even words or letters cut out from a magazine or newspaper) you have around you. Experiment with presenting them as a “semblance of a whole.” What kinds of wholes are you creating with these "bits & pieces"?
Colophon

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:
REGEN PROJECTS
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, with typography by Benedikt Reichenbach.
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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