Ian Wilson (conceptual artist)

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Ian Wilson (1940 - 2020) is a South African conceptual artist, known for his work on art and language.


  • O: Why did you leave sculpture for pure reflection? I mean thoughts, language and speech.
W: The last sculpture I made was a white chalk circle drawn on the floor. It was more interesting to talk about it than draw it.
O: Why?
W: Because what was interesting about it was that it was a circle and you can speak about a circle as well.
  • I would be at a gallery opening and someone would ask me: “so what are you doing these days?” I would reply, “I am interested in the word ‘time’.” Later, someone would ask: “But how can time be your art?” And I might have replied, ‘as it is spoken: “time”.’ Another day, someone might have asked, having heard I was using time as my art: “So what are you working with these days?” and I would reply: “time”. I am interested in the idea […] I like the work when it is spoken: “time”.’ And so the work was used over and over again.
  • Language is the most formless means of expression. Its capacity to describe concepts without physical or visual references carries us into an advanced state of abstraction.

Quotes about Ian Wilson[edit]

  • By adopting language as their exclusive medium, Weiner, Barry, Wilson, Kosuth and Art & Language were able to sweep aside the vestiges of authorial presence manifested by formal invention and the handling of materials
    • Anne Rorimer, New Art in the Sixties and Seventies, Thames & Hudson, 2001. p. 76
  • In 1968 Ian Wilson made his final sculpture. Since then, he has explored the idea of oral communication as an art form... Wilson’s work is very hard to track down, even in terms of documentation. He has been compared to the Socratic philosophers but if there is a similarity between his practice and theirs, it probably lies mainly in the fact that everything we have from that period of philosophy takes the form of secondary fragments embedded in other texts. Wilson’s work functions almost like archaeological or geological evidence: it consists of objects that we examine in order to deduce, from scanty clues, what must have happened.
  • Conceptual artist Ian Wilson (1940 in Durban, South Africa) has been interested in spoken language as an art form since 1968. He describes his own work as ‘oral communication’, and later on as ‘discussion’. At Wilsons own request, his work is never recorded either as film or audio in order to preserve the transient nature of the spoken word.

External links[edit]