Ian Wilson's Time piece
by Jan Mot, 2008


BRUSSELS, 18 MARCH - As part of the recent exhibition Time Pieces at the gallery, Ian Wilson showed a work with the title Time (spoken).1 This work has rarely been exhibited and was somehow brought back into existence by Mathieu Copeland last fall when he included it in the exhibition Performa with oral works at the Swiss Institute in New York. This work can be described as an instruction piece and needs to be realised by the gallery personnel. When a visitor asks what the contribution is of Ian Wilson, they are instructed to reply: ‘it is the word time spoken’, or ‘c’est le mot temps parlé’ etc. The work is rooted in the first period of his oral works, i.e. in the year 1968. By then Wilson had stopped producing paintings and sculptures and had turned to language as his medium. In the course of the years he would develop a complex set of spoken works, ranging from informal conversations to organized discussions in galleries and museums. In his attempt to take distance from the valuable art object, he refused to have his discussions being recorded or photographed.2

In 1968 Wilson would try to insert the word ‘time’ into his conversations with people in all kinds of situations. To Anne Rorimer he described his Time work from that period as follows: ‘I would be at a gallery opening and someone would ask me: ‘so what are you doing these days?’ I would reply, ‘I am interested in the word time.’ Later, someone would ask: ‘But how can time be your art?’ And I might have replied: ‘As it is spoken, “time”’ Another day, someone might have asked, having heard I was using ‘time’ as my art: ‘So what are you working with these days’ and I would reply: ‘“time” I am interested in the idea’.... I like the word when it is spoken: ‘time’. And so the word was used over and over again.’ 

The work Time (spoken) as shown in the gallery is however dated in 1983. In that year Wilson participated in a group exhibition which was organised by Michel Claura in an abandoned church in Paris.4 Wilson didn’t travel to Paris on this occasion but instructed the people at the reception desk to do his work when visitors asked about it. This work became the first oral work by Wilson that is not realized or spoken by the artist himself and doesn’t imply his physical presence. In fact anyone can bring the work into existence, and whether the person is saying ‘time’ with the intention of doing Wilson’s work or not, is not of any importance to the artist. The work keeps on existing in time as an oral work and in this way distinguishes itself from the Discussions which are realized by the artist (and his public) and take place at a certain time and a certain place.

Between 1968 and 1983 Wilson made other works that didn’t imply his active, oral participation. There are for instance two works described by Wilson as ‘statements’ which take the form of a typed sentence on a sheet of paper and signed by the artist. The texts of these statements are ‘There is a discussion’ and ‘There was a discussion’, both works dating from 1981. There are also works in the form of a catalogue contribution, sometimes limited to the insertion of his name in the list of participating artists. And in 1983 Wilson also started to publish his Sections, a series of small books relating to the subject matter of the discussions. In 1968 when Wilson decided to stop creating physical objects, he excluded the idea that the work Time could take a printable form. But by 1983 he had been working for more than 10 years with formalised Discussions and the use of certificates documenting them. This practice made the way clear for the work Time (Spoken) and the diffusion of it through a written instruction.

For the next show at the gallery three early paintings by Ian Wilson that were destroyed or lost have been reconstructed.


1 Other artists in the show were: Pierre Bismuth, Mario Garcia Torres, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Will Holder, David Lamelas and Jonathan Monk.

2 Wilson had recorded some early Discussions but later he destroyed the tapes and the transcripts.

3 Anne Rorimer, New Art in the 60s and 70s. Redefining Reality’, Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, p. 91

4 The title of the show was ‘Pierre et Marie. Exposition en travaux’. The church was located at 36, rue d’Ulm in Paris.

Source: Gallery Newspaper 61, March 2008