An Archive of Ideas



Guests: David Batchelor, Roger Palmer, Alison Turnbull, Sarah Staton, Gareth Fisher, Keith Farquar, Emma Talbot, Cathy Naden (Forced Entertainment), Becky Shaw, Penny McCarthy

For the next series of Gravity we want to challenge the stupidity that colour is the terrain of 'mere' formalism. While this will be an endeavour wholly centred in the materials and acts of art practice, we are reminded by Deleuze that impeding stupidity is one of the basic principles of philosophy. We will present a range of artists and speakers who utilise colour as a vehicle and site for creative and critical practice. By inviting artists, writers and designers who understand colour on different registers we hope to galvanise some focused practice and debate about this intensely oracular but strangely invisible area of research.

In the last five years the spectre of material form has forced, crept or bled its way back through the equally mystical figure of conceptualism. Of course, form never went away, however artists and writers have been looking for new ways to talk about it and reclaim its importance. In this new series of Gravity lectures we want to provide a focused ground on which to debate form, and we plan to do this through the subject of colour. We also want to feed back into the national and international debate about form, by talking about practice.

In his 2009 book, What Color is the Sacred? anthropologist Michael Taussig spills out an intoxicating narrative describing those moments when colour disrupts the edges of objects and what we know as known. Colour disorientates, and creates uncertainty because it is a molecular, physiological quality of objects only made real through a physiological reaction. We do not know if others see the world's rainbow as we do. At the same time, colour has a social and political context, as depicted by Taussig in the contrast of colonial white uniforms against the perceived colourful exoticism of dominated peoples. On his irradiated journey Taussig spends lots of time with Proust, reflecting on the ability of language to conjure colour in the mind's eye. Taussig also spends time on an imaginary walk with William Burroughs and Walter Benjamin, thinking about the relationship between colour and light and their ability to hide as well as reveal. Colour can be transgressive rather than heavenly. Taussig describes terrifying and visceral rituals where diamonds are ingested and then pulled through the chest in a puff of ochre.

In another key text, Synthetic Worlds, Esther Leslie releases the rainbow of colours from the sticky black depths of the earth, documenting the history of the German chemical industry. Leslie sits between a rock and a hard place, celebrating the radiant colour of the first analine dyes, produced by the same industrial machine that makes mustard gas and produces the holocaust. We have always craved intense colour, but also always paid for it heavily. Colour is the perfect agent of capitalism. When used with precision in advertising and production, its seduction is absolute.

The way colour reaches us is also more and more complex. The glory of digital representation reaches us only through limited html or binary codes. The art books and journals we use (and create) represent analogue experience through pantone charts. In his incredible text, Techniques of the Observer (2007), Jonathan Crary describes how viewing machines from the 18th and 19th century, like the camera obscura and stereograph, show us how those peoples viewed the world. What then would our means of colour reproduction and viewing tell us about our society?

At the same time as understanding all of the above, we often cite colour as being a vehicle for an intimate depiction of the soul or personality. Countless therapies use colour- from aura reading to art therapy. How do we hold onto the value and experience of intense personal encounters with colour, as well as being able to use it effectively in the work we make?

Can colour ever be a pure affect detached from its material form?

How do we understand colour as historical and culturally prescribed at the same time as being a seen as a universal quality of viewing?

Why are serious things black and while?