Wavelength – “Five American Portraits” by Art and Language and The Red Krayola.

This week we continue the investigation into the liaison between the conceptual Art group “Art and Language” and The Red Krayola, naming the members of each outfit would take up the remaining 25 minutes of the programme. Previous programmes focussed on the Red Krayola and the Familiar Ugly up to 1976 when they combined with Art and Language to produce the LP Corrected Slogans. The following quote is by Charles Harrison, himself a one time member of Art and Language from the book Essays on Art and Language: “The artists who were to form Art and Language were among those who had an intuition of what a modern and non-provincial practice might be like, and who desired something of the kind. Yet to ask in the normal places what might be the price of achieving such a practice was to discover that one’s resources were in the wrong form of currency: that the prevailing medium of exchange was “pigges bones” (Chaucer). Though the supposedly magical significance of the objects in question was belied by the fraudulence of their provenance, this fraudulence was itself a function of the magic-authenticating system. As Benjamin said a propos the work of Brecht, the task was to get rid of the magic.” Today I’m leapfrogging a few decades to the latest release by The Red Krayola with Art and Language in association with Drag City Incorporated: “Five American Portraits” recorded in 2008, mixed in 2009 and released in 2010. Once again, I need a magnifying glass to read the ever diminishing texts on a CD cover unlike the easily legible LP covers of old. The personnel on this record are Gina Birch; vocals and bass, Alex Dower on drums, Jim O’Rourke, Tom Rogerson, Mayo Thompson, and Tom Watson. There is no explanation of why these five were chosen from all the Americans in the world: Wile E. Coyote; the cartoon character who never catches up with Road Runner, President George W. Bush, President Jimmy Carter, John Wayne and the artist Ad Reinhardt who started out as a political caricaturist and then turned to painting ever minimalist canvases of black on black squares. The lyrics of each portrait describe the details of each person’s face as though one were looking at the features whilst drawing them perhaps… for example the opening lines of Wile E. Coyote: “The lower region of the inner surface of the left ear. The iris of the left eye. A bit of fur at the extreme upper right of the cheek. A highlight on the nose. Of Wile E. Coyote.” This eccentric formula is repeated for each character. In each case, a bald presentation of the facial characteristics of each person is accompanied by music.