exhibition archive

Aphasic Disturbance
curated by Stephen Bury

19.01.11 - 19.02.11

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Private view:
Tuesday 18th January 6 – 8.30pm


Stephen Bury takes Roman Jakobson’s seminal essay of 1956, ‘Two types of language and two types of aphasic disturbance’, as the starting point for this exploration of artists’ books and artists’ multiples, mostly from the collections of Chelsea College of Art & Design Library, which he built up 1978-2000.

Jakobson analysed the similarity and contiguity disorders of aphasics, which can be defined as a loss of power of expression through speech. In the former condition, the patient struggles to begin a sentence unless prompted; sentences are ‘elliptical sequels’ that are supplied from previous sentences available and general nouns can be substituted for specific ones. In the contiguity disorder, the patient loses the ability to make propositions; grammatically functioning words such as conjunctions and articles are dropped and sentences are reduced to singular words. These conditions are reversed out by Jakobson into an axis with a vertical for similarity/metaphor and a horizontal for contiguity/metonymy: he then extends these axes by mapping them onto a poetry/verse and a romanticism/realism divide:

‘A salient example from the history of painting is the manifestly metonymic orientation of Cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches; the Surrealists responded with a patently metaphoric attitude.’

This exhibition explores how contiguity and narrative operate in artists’ books and multiples, how putting text next to image, image next to image, text next to text, reversing the function of text and image, generates narrative or subverts expectations of narrative. It includes works by John Baldessari, Fiona Banner, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Victor Burgin, Neil Cummings and Marisya Lewandowska, Layla Curtis, Douglas Huebler, Kenny Hunter, Anselm Kiefer, Sol LeWitt, Peter Liversidge, Aleksandra Mir, Dieter Roth, Leanne Shapton, Jane Simpson, Sarah Staton, Daniel Spoerri, and Yoko Terauchi.

Stephen Bury has made an artist’s book especially for the exhibition, entitled ‘Strange’, based on the removal of all words except for adjectives from Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’. This is the fourth work in his series exploring metonymy, which began with his samizdat-esque contribution to ‘Volumes of vulnerabilty’, exhibited at the Standpoint Gallery, London, in 2000.

Stephen Bury was the Librarian of Chelsea School/College of Art/& Design until 2000, when he became the Head of Modern English Collections at the British Library, and then Head of European and American Collections (including Maps, Music & Philatelic). He is now Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian of the Frick Art Reference Library, New York. He has published ‘Artists’ books’(1995), ‘Artists’multiples’ (2000) and ‘Breaking the rules’ (2007). He is working on ‘Looking backwards’, a study of science fiction utopias and dystopias and their relationship to constructivism.


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Steve Bury

Steve Bury

pages from the artists 'book Strange
by Stephen Bury 2010