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Paul Kos

American, b. 1942

rEVOLUTION: Notes for the Invasion - mar mar march

Wood, typewriter, notebook, monitor, and video
in. (cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

By 1972, the counterculture of the 1960s had successfully drummed itself into everyday life. Government, the church, and other institutions had lost their inherent authority. Art audiences in particular became newly empowered as a result of theoretical developments in the study of language and signification that sought to elevate the value of viewer interpretation over the intentions of the artist.

In this context Paul Kos created rEVOLUTION: Notes for the Invasion: mar mar march, a chapel-like installation lit deeply in red. A small video monitor rests on a plinth toward the rear, emitting a faint tapping sound. A series of floor planks, rhythmically arranged like pews, forms a barrier viewers must march over to see what’s playing on the monitor. Once there, they find a split screen, with hands typing mar mar march in rhythm on the bottom and a woman marching across the top.

Having been lured to the focal point of the installation, viewers are primed to discover its meaning but are instead simply confronted with what they’ve just done—march. Like a fortune cookie whose fortune reads “fortune cookie,” the circular nature of mar mar march traps the viewer in a paradoxical space. Self-referential absurdity substitutes for denouement, just as it does in The Sound of Ice Melting, another work by Kos, in which an array of microphones is set up in the manner of a press conference to record two large blocks of ice turning slowly into water. Of course there is no audible sound. The actual event is the act of attention: observing the recording process and listening to the silence. Kos’s sense of humor, his use of arte povera materials, and the way he liquidates those materials into voids have accounted for his stature as a pioneer of Bay Area conceptual art. Less examined is his unorthodox use of typography and playful language, particularly in early works such as mar mar march, A Trophy/Atrophy, Are Tinny/Aren’t Any, and Riley Roily River. Such titles are inextricably woven into the fabric of the works, exploding them from within rather than illustrating or explaining them from without. They remind viewers that, as Kos told generations of students, “If it’s not in the picture, it’s not in the picture.”

Steven Wolf

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