So we decide to listen to Brecht and begin building from the assumption that form and content are not mutually exclusive, that when they are held in tension they can activate a critical awareness in the author and/or reader.
Arranged below are a series of diagrams that represent the ways in which and artwork’s relationship to form and content can be viewed. The diagrams do not so much represent “stages” that are moved through progressively as they do “available modes” that can be navigated at will by a viewing subject (author and/or reader), depending on the nature of their dialogue with any given artwork.
Form and content locked in binary opposition.
The first diagram represents the idea of a form/content relationship that is the most basic; that is, there is only form and content, and an artwork is either a divisive screen between the two, breaking them both into mutually exclusive areas, or the artwork is an anchor, holding them both in tension.
The fixed or stable artwork in the expanded field. The space of the field eats away at the work’s edges.
The second diagram shows “the expanded field,” where an artwork is seen to exist in a larger field of practices, simultaneously mediated by both the author and the reader (and their ideas of each other). This diagram is a specific elaboration that comes out of working with books, where issues of process/production and display/reception come to the fore (when they are considered against conventional forms of visual art).
The work expanded, making it spatial, like the field itself.
The crucial difference between Figs 12.09.10 and 12.09.11 is the imagining of the artwork in each. In Fig. 12.09.10 the artwork is a fixed point in the field, holding the different poles in tension. In Fig. 12.09.11 the artwork is not a fixed point but a mutable zone that changes as the author/reader navigates the various channels or lines of meaning of the artwork. The artwork, then, literally is a kind of work or movement, as opposed to a fixed object for contemplation, and for sale.
The work exceeds the field. The field exceeds the work. These are moments where discourse is shaped and channeled.
And when we really get them going they start to exceed their or our own frame, and we find ourselves radically reoriented to the discursive parameters that allow the functioning of the work.
(Notice how in Fig. 12.09.12 the artwork still is bounded by another invisible frame on one side. It is possible for multiple frames to be exceeded simultaneously, but that’s when they really take us apart, when we have those experiences of sublimity, standing before the turbulent oceans of language and structures.)