The Red Krayola with Art & Language
Nine Gross and Conspicuous Errors, 1976, with Kathryn Bigelow (voc.), Ian Burn (voc.), Jesse Chamberlain (perc.), Christine Kozlov (voc.), Nigel Lendon (voc.), Mel Ramsden (voc.), Paula Ramsden (voc.), Terry Smith (voc.), Mayo Thompson (guit., keyboard, accordion), 24:00 min.
Film: Art & Language, Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London
Shot in New York while recording the LP Corrected Slogans, the video was originally intended for didactic purposes, such as teaching art students. In keeping with its title, it deliberately had poor production values, as reflected in the image and sound quality, which is significantly below par by today’s standards. Cast in a self-critical or self-ironic vein, the video addressed incompetence with regard to political issues, as revealed by the group’s numerous self-analyses. As the title suggests, the intention was to reproduce this in a seemingly flawed manner. The nine pieces in the video feature instrumentation by Thompson (guitar, keyboards, accordion) and Jesse Chamberlain (drums). Most of the texts were written especially for it by Mel Ramsden. The lyrics, which have a strong theoretical component and are sometimes difficult to sing, are performed by various constellations of Art & Language members, including Ramsden herself, artists Ian Burn and Nigel Lendon, art historian Terry Smith, artists Christine Kozlov and Paula Ramsden, and Kathryn Bigelow, who later became a filmmaker.
The individual performances often begin with the announcement »It is a G and CE« (»It is a gross and conspicuous error«), followed by laconically distanced or affirmatively euphoric recitations, with performers sight-reading the score.
Accompanied by Thompson’s minimal elegiac accordion, a trio of women, consisting of Bigelow, Kozlov, and Paula Ramsden, intones at one point: »It is a gross and conspicuous error (›a G and CE‹) to regard language as a classless means of communication—language belongs to the managers.« This is followed by a credo of humankind’s reification, which was prevalent at the time: »Our individual particularity gets transfixed into a reified mind or self.« At the end, all three join in unison for the following pronouncement: »Non-sensuous interpretation insidiously transforms us all into tourists … contemplators of a world not of our own making.« We are all just spectators, tourists in a world that we did not create ourselves. Later in the video, Ian Burn recites the same text once again with a completely different timbre and visual tenor (looking, as he does so, like a copy of the lead character in Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver).
The 1976 collaboration between Art & Language and The Red Crayola is also recorded in another film document—the almost ten-minute final section of Serbian director Zoran Popović’s film Struggle in New York. At that time, the conceptual art group’s US faction had split irrevocably, having failed to patch up tensions between its more social and more artistic strands. Before the remaining members of the group moved to England, they gave one final performance in November 1976, which Popović recorded in his film; alluding to Monty Python, it was entitled »And Now for Something Completely Different.«
The cooperation between Art & Language and The Red Crayola would develop fresh impetus in England, continuing—albeit with interruptions—to this day.