Wouldn’t a Title…

Wouldn’t A Title Just Make It Worse?

24 April – 16 May 2010

Artists: Stephen Cornford, Graham Gussin, Mark Hutchinson and Paul O’Neill, Elizabeth McAlpine, Philippe Parreno, Katie Paterson, Hannah Rickards, Edward Tucker and Carey Young

And, in the end, it simply isn’t worth / Your while to try and clean your life away. / You can’t. For, everything you do or say / Is there, forever. It leaves evidence. / In fact it’s really only common sense; / There’s no such thing as nothing, not at all. / It may be really very, very small / But it’s still there. In fact I think I’d guess / That “no” does not exist. There’s only “yes” [1]

Wouldn’t A Title Just Make It Worse? is an exhibition and programme of events at Central—Reservation that considers the editing process as a productive subtraction: creating by means of interruption, obstruction and withdrawal. From this beginning, the project investigates what is revealed when something is removed, the works operating with the site to locate the ‘main event’ in the remainder, the incidental and the in-between.

The title of the project is taken from a book of short stories by Gordon Lish, the editor of writer Raymond Carver. As an editor, Lish transformed Carver’s work and was responsible for the blunt mid-air endings and trademark economy of silence and suggestion associated with the author. A recently published collection of Carver’s unedited stories makes visible the abstraction composed by Lish, and has prompted fresh debate over the originality of the authors’ voice.

Wouldn’t A Title Just Make It Worse? is curated by Lucy Badrocke and Jane Porter.

[1] Yes (2004) by Sally Potter


  • Film screening: Biggie and Tupac (2002) by Nick Broomfield – Tuesday 27 April, 6.30pm, FREE
  • Nonapianogon (A Performance for 9 Pianos), Stephen Cornford – Saturday 1 May, 8pm
  • Film screening: The Gleaners and I (2000) by Agnes Varda – Tuesday 4 May, 6.30pm, FREE
  • Film screening: Short Cuts (1993) by Robert Altman – Tuesday 11 May, 6.30pm, FREE
  • Curating as Caring: A Conversation ‘about’ Interruption, Mark Hutchinson and Paul O’Neill. Performance followed by a screening of The Five Obstructions (2003) by Lars von Trier – Friday 14 May, 7pm, FREE
  • Private Dancer (a silent disco) – 22 May, 9pm til late

Also a new text by Frances Loeffler in response to the project Wouldn’t a Title Just Make It Worse?

Photography by http://www.maxmcclure.com

Ancient Darkness TV, 2009, Katie Paterson

“98m” (the height of the Campanelie, San Marco, Venice), 2005, Elizabeth McAlpine

To enable me to fix my attention on any one of these symbols I was to imagine that I was looking at the colours as I might see them on a moving picture screen, 2009, Hannah Rickards

Exhibition view of Wouldn’t A Title Just Make It Worse?

Please find further information about each event below starting with the most recent 


The final event in the Wouldn’t A Title Just Make It Worse? programme…

Poster by Duncan McGonigle


A new text by Frances Loeffler in response to the project Wouldn’t a Title Just Make It Worse?

I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It

Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world

Robert Barry, 1968

“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” says William Zinsser in his classic 1976 text, On Writing Well. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.”[1]

I tend to over-clutter my sentences. In part, I know this to be the trait of an enthusiastic amateur. It’s difficult to exercise restraint when one is enthralled by the magic of language and would like best, as the writer Virginia Woolf described, to plunge “into a sea of words and come up dripping”.[2] But it’s also my urgent and anxious need to communicate that causes words to fall over themselves in tumbled convolutions. I cram my sentences full because I hope to be understood, because each sentence trembles with the potential to lose meaning. In today’s so-called Information Age, we have more means than ever before to communicate the clutter of “unnecessary words”. Yet paradoxically, as the ways to make contact with one another multiply (“let’s chat on skype”, we promise, “we’ll text each other”, “I’ll email you”), the possibility of communication seems increasingly precarious. Because of space limitations, a text message requires an economy of which Zinsser would approve. But the ease and speed of transmission can make for perilously unguarded missives. The message appears on the screen before it even formulates in your thoughts and is sent with mouse-click ease. Then you sit back and wait for the reply, wondering anxiously what it really was you wanted to say.

Long before the advent of mobile phones, artists have considered the implications of an information-saturated society. Frequently, this has resulted in a process of withdrawal, a paring back. “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more,” wrote Douglas Huebler in 1969. The ecology that Huebler’s statement indicates was shared by a number of artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Resisting the ‘bigger is better’ aesthetic characterising art and society of the time, their conceptualist practices sought to close down, to subtract, to restrain. Robert Barry’s 1968 work Carrier Wave, for example, emptied radio of its noise and chatter by transmitting only its carrier signal. Reducing radio to its lowest possible denominator, its means of mediation alone, Barry sought an experience that went beyond material objects and beyond words. Others borrowed in order to subvert the ever-increasing forms of media culture. Working at a time of growing television, radio and press attention on art and artists, General Idea’s advice in the rising din of media (mis)communication, was simply to ‘shut the fuck up!’, if you don’t have anything meaningful to say (Shut the Fuck Up, 1984).

The artists in Wouldn’t A Title Just Make it Worse? continue to reflect on these concerns. In Nothing Ventured (2001), Carey Young employed a call centre to answer visitor enquiries about her work. Speaking to a script put together by the artist, the call workers were obliged to deliver strictly limited information, for example truncated lines from a review: “Young’s work retains a ludic approach that should not be written-off as co-opted.”’ The ensuing conversations – transcribed and included here in the exhibition – reveal the attempts to overturn the monotony and engage meaningful dialogue in an exchange restricted to short, futile information bites. Included in the poster for the exhibition, Young’s Gap Fillers (2001) points to the stock phrases issued to call workers (“I’ won’t keep you a moment” and “just bear with me while I’m finding that information”) to show how such placating sentences that would indicate care and attention, are emptied of meaning when operating in a commercialised framework. What care and attention do we expect when we enter cultural institutions seeking an art experience? Phillipe Parreno presents a DVD that has been fabricated to oxidize and decays 48 hours after it is removed from the sleeve.  Audiences are privy to one viewing only of his seminal 2005 The Boy From Mars, after which the experience becomes an impossibility. Presented in this way, as a singular event that sets forth the process of its own destruction, the work is about memory and the passing of time, and our individual expectations when we come to view art.

Other artists in the exhibition focus on the processes and potentiality of denial. In Graham Gussin’s Unseen Film (2001), all the tickets for a film have been bought in advance, thereby preventing audiences from attending the screening. By refusing to stage the main event, the work becomes a series of offside occurrences: Unseen Film takes place in the rumours and speculation around what might or might not occur, in the frustration of having ‘missed out’ on seeing the film and in the material remainder – a stack of unused cinema tickets and a wall text stating the date and time of the unseen film. For Ancient Darkness TV (2009), Katie Paterson worked with astronomers to film an image of ‘ancient darkness’ and broadcast it on television. For one minute, a blank, black screen interrupted the television’s frenetic feed of information. Here, Paterson underlines the imaginative sensibilities that come into play when we move beyond the visual and material. Viewers may be presented with an empty screen. But the knowledge that they are observing the furthest point of the universe, a moment before Earth, when galaxies and the first light began to form, makes this a deeply evocative piece.

As these works suggest, a void is, in a sense, an impossibility. As soon as we close down certain visible or material qualities, others come to life: memories, the imaginary, liminal occurrences we would otherwise discount. As Susan Sontag said, silence is never pure, after all, your heart is always beating.[3] The absence of words does not imply absence as such, but a way through the clutter: the space between words is space to think more clearly about what you really want to say. Given this discussion’s twenty-first century concerns, it may seem odd to go back to Virginia Woolf.  But Woolf was someone who paid careful attention to language and its means of communication. A century on, her description of the telephone’s ring, high-pitched and intrusive, still seems relevant. Interrupting the most serious conversations and cutting short the most weighty observations, it ‘has a romance of its own’[4]. Imagine a chorus of bleeping whirring mobile phones, skype calls and email notifications, all chirping in urgent unison. In the ensuing commotion that obstructs all conversation, may lie the potential for another kind of exchange. Then we can say, alongside John Cage, “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it, and that is poetry”.

Frances Loeffler, 2010

[1] William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction

(Quill Press, 2001), p 18.

[2] Virginia Woolf, ‘Notes on an Elizabethan Play’, in The Common Reader (Mariner Books, 2002).

[3] Susan Sontag, ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’, Aspen 5 + 6, Item 3. http://www.ubu.com/aspen/intro.html, accessed 29 April 2010.

[4] Michael Whitworth, Authors in Context: Virgnia Woolf

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p 189.


Friday 14 May, 7pm

Paul O’Neill and Mark Hutchinson

Curating as Caring: A Conversation ‘about’ Interruption

Performance followed by a screening of The Five Obstructions (2003) by Lars von Trier



Photography: http://www.maxmcclure.com


Summary of events:

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