Statement for “Poetic Architecture”


Asher Mains

A Philosophy of Relation

This body of work is a starting point to launch further lines of inquiry regarding interpreting, producing, and consuming art in a dialogic mode.

Poetic Architecture is about a philosophy of relation.

I began thinking about this work when reading thinkers like Saussure, Barthes, and Wittgenstein, amongst others and it became clear that there is a lot of objective meaning assumed in the delivery of text or in the interpretation of visual art.

Because we all have different histories and personal experiences with language as well as images, no one can ever be certain that they know what they’ve said/made or how it was interpreted.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world” (Wittgenstein 74).

We can only know and understand things that we have the language to conceive.

By extension, our relationship to images is limited by our prior experience with images in addition to the language we have gathered to describe or interpret them.

We can only mean what we mean but that may not constitute objective meaning.

We may not mean what we intend to.

Roland Barthes, in Death of the Author, notes that “…in primitive societies, narrative is never undertaken by a person, but by a mediator, shaman, or speaker, whose ‘performance’ may be admired (that is, his mastery of the narrative code)…” (2)

This seems to be the same shaman that Ernst Fischer develops into the artist. “The artist’s task was to expound the profound meaning of events to his fellow men, to make plain to them the process, the necessity, and the rules of social and historical development, to solve for them the riddle of the essential relationships between man and nature and man and society.” (53)

One of my starting points was to explore whether art could be described in a relationship with language the way Wittgenstein related language to logic.

There are ways in which art relates to language but not in a comprehensive, logical way. If we assume, as suggested, that meaning does not reside with the speaker, listener, or the work itself, then we imagine that meaning exists in between all of these things.

We take for granted that with language, 1.) Words have meaning by nature that they are not other words and 2.) We use words all the time that are deeply entrenched in webs of the meanings of other words. In relating to language then, it is not that words objectively have meaning in isolation but by virtue of their relationship to other words.

I believe we carry this bias into our interpretation of visual art.

In considering Poetic Architecture I propose an exhibit that begins with relation and dialogue as a starting point, versus necessarily the convention of creating art objects that may or may not contain meaning in and of themselves.

Meaning exists only in relation or dialogue between entities and objects.


Mikhail Bakhtin describes in The Dialogic Imagination, this word that encompasses the many variables that coexist in what is ultimately understood as a single “linguistic code”. “The word forgets that its object has its own history of contradictory acts of verbal recognition, as well as that heteroglossia that is always present in such acts of recognition.” (278)

In a philosophy of relation, our primary goal is to, as best we can, recognize the many dialogues, encounters, and relation are occurring in a given instant. Meaning resides somewhere in the relation or dialogue itself.

Poetic Architecture began with building an installation using elemental components and simple rules. This construct then informed the other pieces in the exhibit through dialogue. One can consider in this exhibit as well as any other, the following:

Dialogue between the space and the work.

Dialogue between pieces within the body of work.

Dialogue between the objects and light.

Dialogue between viewer and the work.

Dialogue between work not present. Dialogue between work not yet made.

Dialogue between the work and the presence of others.

By extension, we are considering dialogue and relation as a default interpretive mode. I propose that from a Caribbean context, this is exactly what Édouard Glissant suggested as a definition of creolization.

“We are not prompted solely by the defining of our identities but by their relation to everything possible as well – the mutual mutations generated by this interplay of relations.” (90)

Further, “The poetics of Relation senses, assumes, opens, gathers, scatters, continues, and transforms the thought of these elements, these forms, and this motion… totality’s imagination is inexhaustible and always, in every form, wholly legitimate – that is, free of all legitimacy.” (95)

Glissant proposes that as a region, because we constantly engage

with and process what Bakhtin would call heteroglossia, that we are uniquely positioned in the world to bring ideas into relation and produce creolizations that do not rely on an objective or universal idea of meaning or ‘truth’ but exist in fluidity, flux, or relation.

I believe that this repositions the way we produce, consume, and teach visual art.

In the Caribbean we have a fairly unique ability to “place” each other based on context. Partly due to a small population but also due to the way that we use language. There is a recognition socially that no one exists in isolation. Meaning exists somewhere in the result of questions like, “Who you for?” “Where you come out?” “Who is family to you?”. These questions are less telling and provide less information in more populated or industrialized centers.

Our relationship with art has the potential to deepen if we interrogate and produce work according to a position of relation that may already exist by nature of our relationship with language, culture, and diversity in the region.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. University of Texas Press, 1981. Austin and London.

Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967. UbuWeb Papers, content/death_authorbarthes.pdf

Fischer, Ernst, et al. The Necessity of Art. Verso, 2010.

Glissant, Édouard, Poetics of Relation. The University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig.Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus. 1922. Project Gutenberg, 40-pdf.pdf