Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Tilt West Journal.
Tilt West is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to stimulating inclusive community exchange about art, ideas, and culture.
We believe that discourse is essential to supporting the growing cultural sector in Colorado. Since our founding in 2016, we have organized more than 20 roundtable conversations covering a range of topics situated at the intersection of artistic practice and contemporary issues. We have convened participants from across the cultural community to discuss such subjects as Truth & Fiction, The Art & Politics of Afrofuturism, and Technology & the Body. We share these conversations on our SoundCloud stream and regularly commission related articles for our Medium channel. With the launch of the Tilt West Journal, we expand our programming in this same spirit.
Art & Language, the topic for our inaugural issue, seemed a fitting choice for an organization that seeks to gather diverse voices, harness the power of language in fostering discourse about art and ideas, and break down barriers among cultural practices. A primal mode of describing and explaining the world, language is often the conductor through which art and culture are understood.
Art & Language has significant origins in conceptual practices; an artist collaboration founded in England in the late 1960s took Art & Language as its name. These artists married intellectual ideas and theory to their visual creative practice and ultimately became influential in the conceptual art movement in the United States. Not insignificantly, they launched a journal in May of 1969 which served to introduce and cement a textual context for conceptual art. This journal, later called Art-Language: The Journal of Conceptual Art, was published from 1969 to 1985 and is often cited as one of the most extensive works of conceptual art.
Since that time, cultural practices have evolved in ways that continue to erode the barriers between disciplines and mediums, arriving at less rigid distinctions between art and criticism. With this inspiration in mind, the contributions in this issue approach the topic of Art & Language through essays and poems, as well as visual and time-based artwork. All of our contributors live, work, or have a significant presence in Colorado, and each examines Art & Language from a distinct point of view.
Designer Rick Griffith uses language as the building blocks for his visual works in a trio of brightly-hued pieces appropriately titled A., B., and C. In A., tiny phrases scatter across the page, punctuated by circles and squares; in B., magnified but barely legible red and orange letters nest together mid-composition; and in C., lines of typewritten text sprout into geometric shapes. We are honored to feature A. as the cover art for this issue.
Artist and writer Joel Swanson, who prompted our October 2018 roundtable on Art & Language, offers a visual work from his scratchboard series, titled BLINK/BLANK, and the related essay, “Language Blinks.” In both, he reflects on the ubiquity of blinking in a world where various forms of digital expression continually vie for our attention. Language blinks as it vacillates between presence and absence, speech and silence, the blink and the blank.
MCA Denver Director Nora Burnett Abrams takes Swanson’s artwork as the subject of her essay, “The Dys/functionality of Language: The Art of Joel Swanson.” Abrams discusses Swanson’s large-scale sculpture of the < or > sign, titled Logic Only Works in 2-Dimensions, to illustrate Swanson’s use and subversion of language in the creation of his art. In this work, Swanson exposes how a symbol or word can have one meaning or its opposite, depending on one’s perspective.
In her imagery-rich work about the ravages and betrayals of gentrification, “We Pay Cash for Houses,” poet and performer Suzi Q. Smith also explores how perspective creates meaning, but with a focus on whose perspective is considered and given value. Smith’s poem is intended to be read in multiple directions; its import and emphasis shift depending upon whether one reads the poem across the page, top to bottom, bottom to top, or stanza by stanza.
Writer Noel Black’s essay, “A Conceptualist Walks into a Bar: Thoughts on Art, Language, and Absence,” entertains the notion that language is always about what is missing, before addressing who was missing from the twentieth century art cannon: namely, women, queers, and people of color. Black argues that there is something inherent to conceptual mediums that has enabled members of these groups to forge entry.
Experimental animator Kelly Sears offers a contemporary incarnation of the idea of harnessing conceptual art to subvert dominant power structures in her time-based work, After Fall. The piece focuses on the 2018 nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Sears reconstructs the power narrative to showcase women in protest and imagines an alternative ending. In appropriating still imagery from news coverage, Sears’s work reflects the way in which visual images have become a dominant language in our digital world.
In Endings, new media artist Angie Eng, who also creates using appropriation and remix, constructs a continuous loop of old black-and-white film credits, all reading: “The End.” Eng’s piece offers a critique of consumerism. She telegraphs the intended but stereotypically portrayed target of much advertising—women—by employing the recurring moving image of an army of women pushing shopping carts and marching ominously toward the viewer.
Finally, because language, by its very nature, includes some while excluding others, the issue of translation emerges as a theme in some of the works.
Composer, writer, and artist Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky) provides two graphic conceptual works in which the Japanese characters for “peace” appear untranslated. Miller made these works in conjunction with a concert he composed and performed at the preserved ruins of Nagasaki in anticipation of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This multimedia concert, which is excerpted in the Journal, reveals how the layering of different mediums from music to projected images can provide points of entry where language falls short.
Poet and editor Juan Morales addresses a different aspect of translation in his touching personal essay, “Let’s Call It Home: Learning Language, Translation, & Literary Citizenship.” Morales explores the complexity and struggle of being a Latinx writer who was not raised to be bilingual. He describes his experience of learning Spanish—a language that is for him both formative and foreign—as an adult.
We hope we’ve piqued your curiosity and whet your appetite to enjoy the provocations and cross-pollinations inspired by the work in this inaugural issue of the Tilt West Journal. As always, we thank you for engaging in this ongoing cultural conversation.
—Kate Nicholson and Whitney Carter
Special thanks to Sarah Wambold, who conceived and developed our digital platform with help from Marty Spellerberg. We are also grateful to Maria Buszek for her editorial assistance and to all of our board members for everything they do!