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Finnegan's Wake installation wall

This Installation Celebrates the Autonomy of Language in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake


Language in its purest form, like that in Finnegan's Wake, seems to have an autonomy all its own which artist Joseph Kosuth has represented in an installation in Istanbul.

If Ulysses already has the reputation of being demanding, Finnegan’s Wake ignores any of the common literary rules, turning Joyce into a true demiurge. With only the power of language, he opens (and closes) a world that sometimes seems autonomous and sometimes even impenetrable.

Such values are collected by American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth (1945), who erected an installation entitled The Wake (An Arrangement of References with all the Appearance of Autonomy). For this somewhat cartographic exercise, he spent four years meticulously picking out words from Finnegan’s Wake which he then upon a page according to their meaning. His last step was to take these pages of words and turn them into neon lit sculptures mounted on grey walls. He says:

Each work, that page fragment, finds its ontological moment in the same way (and at the same time) as any one word in each work (page) finds its moment of existence.

Throughout his artistic career, Kosuth has maintained a creative and incisive relationship with language, often referencing authors like Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin and Jorge Luis Bores. In The Wake he sheds light on the impossibility to reproduce Joyce’s work and praises beautifully the sovereignty of the incontrollable.

To approach my work The Wake, one must think of a map, if one can imagine the map of a dream of human history. But maps are only useful through what they leave out, they are a construction made of absence, without which they omit they would be useless. If you would imagine a map which includes everything, all of which we find in the world, maybe not the world maybe only of Istanbul, even perhaps just of the street of the Kuad gallery, Suleyman Seba Caddesi, it would be overwhelming, too big to carry, too big to use. It wouldn’t be a map of the world, it would be a reproduction of the world, so we can say maps are defined by what they leave out. What remains of the pages of Finnegan’s Wake which makes my work here, the part you see when you look at my work have the role of not being there in order to make my work.

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