School of the Arts, English and Media


While appropriated text abounds in contemporary artworks, appropriation itself has been historically theorised as a critical engagement with images specifically. This is partly due to the outsize impact of Douglas Crimp’s Pictures exhibition (Artists Space, 1977) as well as the influence of a number of highprofile essays on the subject of appropriation, published by Crimp and his peers in the journal October in the late 1970s and early 80s. While these writers explicitly described appropriation as an engagement with representation in general, they only theorised appropriation as a critical engagement with imagery in particular, ignoring any text appearing within an artwork they were describing, an ironic oversight since these writers used literary theory and semiotics to explain appropriation art itself. As text in appropriation art has continued to be disregarded over time, its absence has resulted in a contemporary understanding of appropriation art as narrowly concerned with image-as-sign, to the exclusion of the linguistic (and other) signs also appearing within an artwork’s frame. Thus while Crimp’s work on how images operate in appropriation has been hugely influential, it is problematic that his idiosyncratic curatorial frame for Pictures has become synonymous with appropriation art itself, restricting discourse about the practice to the function of images, which in turn limits not only what content appropriation art is recognised to engage but also what politics it is perceived to express. My thesis looks at the use of text in appropriation art, beginning in this Pictures moment, to reconsider a number of the canonical artworks and essays from that time. The thesis then pivots to look at the contemporary period, tracing how the Pictures frame continues to restrict how we see appropriation art today and also, through the works of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Anne Collier, reconsidering appropriation art now. I have chosen to write about these artists who use appropriation, in part, because this is what I do in my creative work as well. The studio work that makes up the practice-based portion of this PhD submission uses appropriated language to put the messaging of contemporary culture in dialogue with itself, making it what Hal Foster in his 1985 essay ‘Subversive Signs’ calls ‘both a target and weapon’. The work that I have realised under the umbrella of this PhD sits somewhere between the appropriations of the Pictures Generation, and the representations and reclamations of Collier and Tiravanija, in order to consider and contest the operations of language in commercial culture today. My work takes many forms, including photography, performance, neon signs, and prints, and I am submitting it for examination in a portfolio that takes the shape of an artist’s book. The book format is an essential part of the presentation of my artwork here, both because it places my inquiry into text in a form in which text commonly circulates and because the book format underscores a fundamental misunderstanding that motivated much of my work, one that began with me seeking answers from a book on my shelf.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.