Teaching a Plant the Alphabet

John Baldessari

1972 | 00:18:08 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video

Collection: Early Video Art, Single Titles

Tags: Art Criticism, Performance, Video History

“[A] rather perverse exercise in futility,” this tape documents Baldessari’s response to Joseph Beuys’s influential performance, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. Baldessari’s approach here is characteristically subtle and ironic, involving ordinary objects and a seemingly banal task. The philosophical underpinnings of Baldessari’s exercise are structuralist theories about the opaque and artificial nature of language as a system of signs. Using a common houseplant to represent nature and instructional flashcards to represent the alphabet, Baldessari ironically illustrates this theorem. That language is the structuring element of the tape—the length of the tape was determined by the number of letters in the alphabet—enforces the connection between language and art, a recurrent theme in Baldessari’s work.

This title was in the original Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.

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