Brighton students explore Wittgenstein's theories in Grammar, Nonsense and Imagination

By Laura Burgess Published: 16 January 2011

Pub installation by the students on the Critical Fine Arts course
Critical Fine Art student's installation pub© Tamsin Devereux
Exhibition: Grammar, Nonsense and Imagination, University of Brighton, Brighton, until February 22 2011

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the world could be defined by the study of language and its relationship with reality and the imagination. He created the idea of private language, a philosophy closer to the arts than sciences.

Someone understands a word or phrase through behaviour, but Wittgenstein believed that someone behaves as if they understand a language which no one else can make sense of. The tricky concept has been taken up by second year students at the University of Brighton in the first of three exhibitions.

In their display Grammar, Nonsense and Imagination, students from three different courses – critical fine art, moving image and paint – worked around one another in response to Wittgenstein and language.

The most symbolic piece in the exhibition could easily, yet accidentally, be overlooked by visitors queuing for a drink. For Critical Fine Art student Rebecca Field to explain her contribution she simply says: "This is it.” Of course, the installation piece is a pub.

“We’re playing on language and communication,” Field elaborates. “We decided to do a collaborative piece, we sat down and wondered where and how people comfortably conversed.”

“We wanted to create a recognisably informal environment, somewhere casual where friends can talk and generate discussion. What better way of creating such a space than in the style of an old English pub? It’s a chance to question the traditional relationship between viewer and artist whilst a fun place that people are interested in.

“We looked to Wittgenstein’s theories for inspiration, not just with experimenting with what language is, but to play with the space. The aesthetics of the environment were a big part of what our course decided to do."

Yet students from the painting and moving images courses decided to take on their own individual contributions to the exhibition, such as mixed media artist Sophie Dickson.

The untitled piece from Dickson is, as she describes, “child like,” with the image of two South Africans colourfully painted on a sign from a scaffolding building - clearly letting her imagination running away with her.

“It’s been interesting working on this project,” says Dickson. “With the three courses mixing together, we’re all very different in our practises. it’s been quite inspiring. We have all learnt from one another and taken a piece of each other’s ideas and styles.”

Artist Ed Liddle decided to play to the idea of nonsense with his piece One to Ten. Liddle focused his attention on the home, experimenting with the scale of the living room in his house.  

“I was looking at the everyday home and how ordinary it really is," he explains. "Television shows and glossy magazines glamorise the home with words and images, when really its nonsense and the interior of a house is very banal.”

Visitors can also watch the short film Rika Moyo and the Digital Space She Inhabits by moving image students Mizu Sugai and Rowan Briscoe. The title of the piece explores a name which mysteriously appeared during a succession of Google mistranslations.

In typical student style there will also be a pub quiz and an auction alongside the exhibition, as well as lectures from political illustrator and cartoonist Chris Riddell, video artist Mick Hartney and art researcher and historian Lara Perry, to name a few.

The ambitious exhibition explores one of the 20th-century's most influential philosopher’s musings on language as a concept. Three very different styles of art have been used to play on objects, words and environments in a response to how a person can interpret communication.

For further details on the programme of guest speakers visit the project on Facebook.