“Distress Signals V”, 2006, by Art & Language (A&L) is where looking at a photographs of an artwork rather than the work itself breaks down if it hasn’t already. It consists of a paintings mounted inside a shallow wooden box that looks like a bespoke packing crate of the kind that paintings are shipped in. Into the front of this box large holes have been cut, allowing the viewer to see some of the painting’s surface. This frustrates the viewer’s gaze and tantalises them with the prospect of recovering the image.
This scheme refers back to the most deliberately frustrating work in the series “Index: Incident In The Museum”, Incident XIV, the work that A&L exhibited when they were entered for the Turner Prize. The standard painting of a view of a museum was covered with wooden cladding into which random holes were drilled and onto which a simple schematic diagram of a perspective view of a room was drawn. This referred to the literal outside of the museum used as the model for the paintings, the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The holes in the wood of “Distress Signals” are much wider relative to the size of the painting than those of Incident XIV. They give the viewer greater hope of simply recovering the concealed image. Unless they are the (re)viewer of a photograph of the work, in which case they can only guess. Is the painting coloured plaid of the kind that “No Secret Painting” refers to?
This is a work that quite literally reveals the inner workings of the global art market’s distribution networks, and that quite literally penetrates its obfuscations and representations. This is art quite literally as middle-sized dry goods ready for shipping. We can see through this its content, but this is not the view of the audience that such art is made for.