… I thought you did not permit the work to be in a sea of meanings in which spectators could fish at random.
This is from ‘Representation, Suspicions, and Critical Transparency: An Interview with Jeff Wall by T.J. Clark, Claude Gintz, Serge Guilbaut, and Anne Wagner’ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):
[ … ]
Jeff Wall: … There are no closed works of art, really. My experience of the works that I have really admired is a kind of out-of-body experience. That is, it’s a kind of phenomenology of identification and dis-identification which is continuously happening, and which is essential to the experience, and even the possibility of experience.
[ … ]
JW: … [I]n general my primary objective is to create a sort of identity crisis with the viewer in some form, maybe even a subliminal one. I do go through a sort of continuous process of “imagining the viewer.” I think all artists, in the process of making a work, hypothesize an audience, invent an imaginary audience which is exactly the one which will appreciate that work profoundly. When Stendhal dedicated The Red and the Black to “the happy few” he was doing that. This is a utopia of artists, the hypothetical world and its imaginary population.
Another way of looking at it is that one sets in motion a sequence of identifications, recognitions, misrecognitions, de-identifications and reidentifications, in which the audience is continually decomposed, fractured, reformed, and reidentified with itself. Anybody who has had a long relationship with a work of art knows how that happens over time.
Serge Guilbaut: I thought your work was precisely different from that attitude. I thought that in fact what made its force was the rejection of the love affair with the floating signifier. I thought you did not permit the work to be in a sea of meanings in which spectators could fish at random.
JW: No, I don’t mean it that way. I think that this process of misrecognition, of a crisis of identification in relation to representations, happens in all experience, even in personal or interpersonal experience. In that sense, it is objective, a condition of experience as well as a content of it.
The fact that I accept the fact that viewers of works cannot be marshalled into seeing the work in any specified way doesn’t mean that I accept the idea that no signification necessarily means anything specific. There’s a difference between the two attitudes. The process of experience of a work, while it must be open to the associations brought to it by different people, is still structured and regulated and contains determinations. I think it is controlled, above all, by genre, by the generic character of the picture types and the types of subjects.