The reader gives text its meaning

Roland Barthes wrote in his essay “Death of the Author” that it is not about the meaning the author gives to a work – it’s the reader that gives text its meaning. Along the same lines, for my current project Tomorrow and Today my intention is that the varying perspectives of others will give the work its meaning. 

The discovery of artistic work happening behind city walls gives a proper sense of the way city inhabitants are recreating the city with every step. Everyone has their own perspective and creates their own experience – artists happen to express it in ways that can be captured and conveyed. Each artwork – whether music, film or painting – combines to form a colorful tapestry of the creative life behind city walls.

When I first moved to London last June, I picked up a pamphlet from Create London who have a rich arts program with events, workshops and community practice. They launched the Create Art Award in 2008, which encourages East London artists to deliver socially engaged projects by working with their neighbors.

They ask questions such as, “What is the value of having an artist in a community?” and “How can an artist uncover and harness the imaginative potential that lies within us all, for positive change?” Artists have a powerful ability to bring new perspectives on ordinary surroundings, and perhaps create commentary or reflection on social and environmental issues through their art.

Three years ago my MFA thesis exhibition was about the history of a building in downtown NYC, but the way the installation was constructed meant that the meaning was interpreted differently by every passerby. Likewise, this is a key component of Tomorrow and Today – that the interpretations of a place are as multitudinous as the history and people of the city.

Tomorrow and Today focuses on areas of massive transition – pretty much the entire East End of London. This project focuses on spaces with multiple layers of cultural transformation, conveyed through the lens of the creative work within and the surrounding network.

The meaning of the artwork, which is in this case the place or neighborhood, is created by the inhabitants. Visitors to the site who will experience the work will be able to add their own perspective, in the same way that Barthes’ reader gives his text his or her own meaning.

Earlier this summer I spoke to my first set of artists and gathered initial thoughts on the site. Something that stands out to me is that artists want a sincere and interesting way to talk about their work that’s not so commercial as many of the current platforms. Attaching their work to a place, and offering the synesthesia of all of the significance of that place – people in their network, music they’re listening to, books they’re currently reading – is a new way to talk about their work. Eventually there will be a platform for artists to have complete control of the experience, to develop a long-form artwork about a particular place, or a list of inspirations related to the work if they are so inclined.

It’s not the death of the author per se, but its allowing the people who gain the most value from your site to create it for themselves.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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