At Publication Studio Vancouver until November 2
Lorna Brown’s solo show, called Carets, strike-outs, underlines, circles and dots, makes a great fit with its gallery space.
In addition to collaborating with artists in the creation of books, and printing a range of books on demand, Publication Studio Vancouver gives as its mandate the presentation of exhibitions “that blur the boundaries between editorial and curatorial practices”. To this you could add that its shows demonstrate the entwining of language and artmaking so that each in a sense becomes the other.
A Vancouver-based artist, curator, and educator, Brown has long folded her various practices into written or printed language. She was the inaugural curator of the Inside the Library project, which commissioned artists to create works within the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, and was also the much esteemed director-curator of Artspeak from 1999 to 2004.
A modest but engaging aspect of Brown’s concept-driven visual-arts practice, Carets consists of 48 small oil paintings arranged in a long vertical grid (evocative of lines of type) on the west wall of the studio. Each painting consists of an editorial mark in red placed on a white ground, and all of them allude to a fast-becoming-obsolete notation system of copy-edit marks.
Where previously copy editors jotted their handwritten notes to writers, printers, and publishers directly on the manuscript page—over the type, between the lines, or in the margins—they now employ computerized editing programs, and undertake all their changes on a screen. Naturally, such programs eliminate the old notations, removing the mark of the human hand along with the physical piece of paper.
Brown’s paintings, however, reassert the mark-making element—although indirectly, through a couple of digital and manual filters. She made digital scans of handwritten copy editing marks she found online, then handed these over to an unnamed sign painter to re-create in the very old-fashioned medium of oil paint on wood.
Through this sequence of actions, Brown both challenges and participates in notions of immediacy and distance, authenticity and reproduction, abstraction and representation, publishing history and art history.
Her project may sound weirdly circumscribed, but it is visually very charming.
Mind you, critics are essentially writers, and writers are interested in whatever processes get their words onto the printed page. Or the pixelated screen.
Curiously, some of the most familiar notations—the loose sideways S that means “transpose”, the backward P with the double bar that means “new paragraph”, the long-legged curlicue that means “delete”—don’t appear here. Instead, Brown gives us the marks for “move right”, “move left”, “let stand”, and “capitalize”, and a passel of complex signs that look like mathematical formulas.
Unless you’re an editor, you have the sense, standing in the gallery, of trying to decipher an obscure code or even a stream of ancient glyphs—and in some ways, that’s what you’re doing.
These copy-editing symbols will soon fall into the dead-language files of the world. Happily, Brown has marked—yes, marked—their passing.