Sic Glyphs at South London Gallery

Saturday, May 21st 2016

Art exhibitions have traditionally segregated the art – whether paintings hanging on the wall or sculptures placed on platforms or plinths – from the viewers who filed slowly past, observing the works from a respectful distance, often separated from them by a virtual or actual barrier of some kind. These days, this barrier is more and more often being dispensed with, allowing viewers to walk around the works, approach them and even in some cases manipulate them, as in the case of Roelof Louw’s now famous Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), where visitors are invited to take an orange from the pyramid, thus modifying the work.

The exhibition we visited at South London Gallery takes this a step further. By Michael Dean, it is entitled Sic Glyphs. The relationship between the visitor and the art is not merely fortuitous but is made explicit as explained by this paragraph on the Web page (read the rest of the page for information on the art and the artist):

Works are encountered in an intimate experience that centres viewers as protagonists in what the artist describes as a “typographical texty field or a fXXXing​ forest​ of physically abstracted versions of my writing”. Dean’s explicit intention is for it to matter that it’s you who walks in through the door: that you are so much more than the reader of the text.

What that seems to mean is that the visitor is not merely a disembodied eye-brain taking in the sight of the art works but maintains an awareness of the self interacting with the works.

I cannot say whether or not I fulfilled the artist’s expectations but only what I actually experienced. One enters first into a small room or antechamber in which there resides a single work.

Sic Glyphs

There is no information or signage to explain or direct you but you proceed through the open doorway ahead and then enter via a door immediately to your left.

Sic Glyphs

This leads into a larger room, the floor and walls of which are painted brilliant white. As a result, this is less a containing area than a space of uncertain dimensions. The floor is scattered with objects large and small, among which you may freely walk. There are also stickers in places on the wall though these do not show up in the photos (mea culpa).

Sic Glyphs

The immediate impression was that I was wandering in an alien landscape of some sort, an area partially cleared after demolition, perhaps, or a zone blasted by war. But then it seemed more as though it was the landscape of someone’s mind though I had no key to decode it. It also reminded me of the sketches and doodles made by some artists and illustrators in the Surrealist period.

Sic Glyphs Sic Glyphs

While most of the objects seemed not to represent or imitate recognizable entities from the real world, some of the smaller ones did, such as this tuft of wild grass rooted in a lump of clay or some clenched hands moulded from clay.

Sic Glyphs*

The eye-brain sort to recognize objects or read a meaning into them but ultimately failed to do so (at least mine did!). One was left feeling that ‘meaning’ lay just beyond the reach of the mind.

Sic Glyphs

Sic Glyphs

Sic Glyphs Sic Glyphs

A panoramic view from the far end (i.e. the end opposite the entrance/exit):

Sic Glyphs

One leaves by the same smaller room through which one arrives:

Sic Glyphs

The gallery’s Web page about the exhibition gives some information on the installation, in particular its connection with the artist’s writing, but beyond that one is left to explore and find one’s own understanding of it.

Copyright © 2016 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to Sic Glyphs at South London Gallery

  1. WOL says:

    I’m afraid I’m with you. Didn’t do much for me either.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I think modern art is something you ‘get’ or you don’t. Unlike traditional art forms, it is hard or even impossible to see what a work is ‘about’ and therefore to determine how well it achieves its purpose. We can ‘understand’ an old master painting and admire the quality of the work even if we don’t particularly like it. This is a lot harder with modern art, especially with abstract works.

  2. Blathering says:

    I like your thoughts that the work represented some war-torn landscape, or then again, might be the landscape of someone else’s mind, and again, that it was like doodles by Surrealist artists (arguably also a representation of the landscape of someone else’s mind.)

    • SilverTiger says:

      Abstract art calls into question not only meaning but also the meaning of ‘meaning’.

      • Blathering says:

        Yes, and some abstract art actively tried to counter the idea that there was any meaning to it at all – it suggested that art could not be anything more than the formal elements you could see (color, shape etc). A key idea in post-modern, conceptual art is that interaction with a viewer is integral to the art work, so there can never be only one, correct “meaning” imposed by the artist, meaning is always just one possible “interpretation”- whether by the artist, or by the individual viewer.

        • SilverTiger says:

          The problem with this Post-Modernist approach has been pointed out by many philosophers, namely that a work that can mean anything by that same token means nothing. Any ‘meaning’ I see in it is purely imaginary and personal to me. At best, that is not a very satisfactory situation since it teaches me nothing, limiting what the work conveys to me to what I know and feel already. Great art takes you out of yourself and stretches your mind. That can’t happen if you are responsible for deciding its meaning yourself.

          A work of art obviously ‘means’ something to the artist or the artist would not create it. For the artist then to say that the work has no meaning (or that that meaning is secret) is, I think, a form of dishonesty.

          Equally, of course, if I am responsible for finding a meaning in a work, then I have a perfect right to say that it has no meaning and to dismiss it as worthless.

          • Blathering says:

            I think most (good) art does have meaning to the artist, the distinction is whether the artist allows that there could be other interpretations brought to the work by viewers with different perspectives and life experiences, and doesn’t try to dictate what the only ‘correct’ meaning of the work is. I also think there is a level at which an artist (or writer or anyone else producing creative work) may not be aware of all the significance their work might contain when they first make it, because they may be too close to see all the significance in it. Hopefully if they have not yet fully grasped what they are trying to say with their work, or are unable to articulate it for some reason, they allow others to offer an interpretation of the work, (for example in an accompanying essay). Otherwise there is, as you say, no point in making it.

            It’s interesting, your point about great art taking you out of yourself and that can’t happen if you are responsible for deciding its meaning yourself. With most contemporary visual art I feel as if I don’t really “get” any clear meaning from a work, but can see symbols and images that suggest certain things, and sometimes when those things are utilised in a certain way, I can have some kind of emotional, or visceral response, (eg video works by Bill Viola come to mind) and that feels like being taken out of myself. And sometimes, a work nudges my sense of imagination, curiosity or wonder – I’m thinking of a work I saw once where the viewer was looking at a glassed-in space underneath the floor they were walking on, and could see a little vignette (under the sea or something, I can’t remember) but there were hints that suggested there was a human down there too – raising curiosity – were they alive or dead, what was the story behind this scene? – and that obviously stayed with me. Of course plenty of art works inspire neither emotion, curiosity or wonder, and I agree that from those I learn nothing.

            • SilverTiger says:

              It’s possible that my view is too narrow and that some some latitude should be allowed. I too have seen abstract works that have exercised a fascination on me despite my being unable to discern a ‘meaning’ expressible in words.

              I think as well that we are in a period when art itself has been called into question. What is a work of art; what is not; how do we decide? New materials and new techniques – not to mention new kinds of experience gained in a rapidly changing world – have suggested novel forms of art that demand new ways of evaluating art.

              Certainly my own acceptance of artworks has become broader than it once was. I would not now reject works out of hand because they don’t seem meaningful to me. I would now say rather that a particular work ‘does nothing for me’ and leave it to others to whom it may be meaningful.

              However, I do firmly believe that if artists are free to display their works in public then I am equally free to say that I do not like a particular work or find it meaningless. I reject the insidious notion that only those with privileged insider knowledge may dare to express an opinion.

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