Project Highlight: Stephanie Syjuco’s “Free Texts”

Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

by Rachel Heidenry

A wall lined with tear-tab flyers. Nothing more.

That is what comprises Stephanie Syjuco’s Free Texts.

While the materiality of the project may be bare, the content, however, is monumental. On each flyer, Syjuco provides the information – title, author, synopsis, link of access – to a critical text. These include Lucy Lippard’s “Escape Attempts” (1997); Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1977);  David M. Berry’s “Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source” (2008); and Claire Bishop’s “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” (2004). Viewers are invited to browse the wall of flyers and tear off a tab whenever a topic grabs their attention. From this small piece of paper they are then directed to a hyperlink where a PDF of the essay can be found online – for free.

Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

The artist includes art historical texts, political essays and open-source theory. As explained in the project statement “featured texts reflect on the predicament of art and its commodification, theories of everyday resistance and the contemporary economy. Together, these seemingly disparate topics are united by their online presence and the attempt to physicallize and distribute their ideas via a distinctly analog medium — the public flyer.”

Installation view, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany, February 2012. Photo by Jacob Birken. Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

Indeed, Syjuco’s process of distribution is particularly compelling. She merges an old method of informational dissemination with the newest method – the Internet. By exhibiting the text, she makes apparent the practice of privileging theoretical information, despite the radicalism inherent in many of the texts themselves. Thus, Free Texts posits a larger aim to examine distribution and copyright law through its own appropriation of open source ideology.

In response to these criticisms of larger commodity culture and privileging information, the artist allows Free Texts itself to be free. The artist provides a PDF of the compiled sheets on her website, which anyone is invited to print and exhibit in any space, at any size. The only requirement is that the work be displayed with tear-off tabs so that the public can engage the work.

Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

Indeed, it is this act of tearing-off that becomes emblematic of public desire – the desire for information, inclusion, education and/or rights. The longer the work is displayed the more it becomes apparent which texts are most popular or which fail to attract a public. Only fourteen tabs are provided, meaning only fourteen individuals will receive the information, and once removed, the link is no longer visible — the purpose of its content longer active. In this way, Free Texts communicates a sense of urgency in each place it is exhibited, and offers a conceptual and performative take on information’s distribution in its existence.

Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

Free Texts has been exhibited in numerous individual and group exhibitions, including “Alien She,” Vox Populi, Philadelphia; Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany; “Mind the System, Find the Gap,” Z33 House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt, Belgium; “Raiders,” Catharine Clark Gallery; among others.

Listen to Stephanie Syjuco discuss Free Texts:

View a PDF of Free Texts

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