NAU EM I ART BILONG YUMI. THE ART OF TODAY BELONGS TO US.
A leading figure in Conceptual Art, Lawrence Weiner is renowned for his text-based works, many of which outline instructions on how to build something, describe actions that could be taken with a material, or use shapes and colors in conjunction with text to produce meaning. Similar to his peers Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth, Weiner produced radical work that questioned the nature of art as never before by placing the emphasis on an artwork’s concept over its form. Like the Minimalists, the Conceptualists made art about art, and in Weiner’s text works, the language, shapes and colors he selects are the finished piece—the actual physical object itself, as described by Weiner’s words, never needs to be realized. As Weiner states, “Art is not a metaphor upon the relationship of human beings to objects and objects to objects in relation to human beings but a representation of an empirical existing fact. It does not tell the potential and capabilities of an object (material) but presents a reality concerning that relationship” (L. Weiner, “Notes from Art (4 pages),” in Clive Phillpot, ed., “Words and Word Works,” Art Journal 42, no. 2 (Summer 1982), p. 122).
Naum Em I Art Bilong Yumi is an eloquent investigation into self-referential art and the masterful culmination of Weiner’s Conceptual strategies. For the present work, Weiner has amended a book that he produced after a 1988 trip to New Guinea, which contained everything from pictures of tattoos Weiner saw there to his more typical drawings of geometric shapes with text. Weiner originally created the book from notes that he took in his Filofax during the trip, and several of the pages keep the appearance of the lined notebook paper. In this new piece, Weiner has introduced ink and watercolor additions that correspond to the pages opposite: on the page with watercolor illustrations of the tattoos, for example, Weiner has added an adjacent text stating that “CULT MEANING WAS ATTRIBUTED TO ADORNMENT. IN FACT THE TATTOOS WERE & ARE SIMPLY ADORNMENT.” Weiner’s new text is often formulated as a response to the original text in the book, and in places where he has included pictograms, they inform or act as a foil to the shapes and colors illustrated in the 1994 edition. Naum Em I Art Bilong Yumi contains several of the same elements that mark the rest of Weiner’s art: in addition to utilizing language as their main structural and aesthetic component, it also is meant to be interacted with in the same way as his other art. For Weiner, the viewer completes the artwork through receiving it, and similarly, the audience experiencing Naum Em I Art Bilong Yumi activates the dynamic set up by between the old and new text and pictograms.
Lawrence Weiner (b. 1942), Nau Em I Art Bilong Yumi. Ink and watercolor on printed book 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. Published in 1994 and executed in 2014.