The “starflies” — those butterfly-shaped, W-shaped sheets of printed paper — are Wendy Williams’ signature (see the installation “King“).
In her 2010-11 “Travel Project,” she reached out to those who appreciate her work to put her signature to use with the Internet’s version of “Kilroy was here” as variously practiced by Travelocity and others in the “roaming gnome prank” and by the late Patrick Keiller and others with the fictional character Robinson. Not that she cited those examples, which I mention here to suggest how the “Travel Project” speaks to the “intentional fallacy” anyway.
The intentional fallacy, which those educated in the latter half of the 20th century learned at W.K. Wimsatt’s and Monroe Beardsley’s knees, rests on the premise that “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.” Sounds reasonable, but artists do have intentions, and if they state explicitly that those intentions are woven into the work at hand, what then? How should we interpret the work?
In one of her blog entries in 2010, Williams writes, “The travel project is going OK. People are so hesitant to take a photo of something that isn’t theirs. I have got a few back, which is good as I can use them as examples to show what I’m after. I suppose February is a while off yet so there is plenty of time.” What is Williams “after”?
No one has stolen her “gnome” to take it on a global trek. The viewers of her art are not an army of enlistees or draftees intent on “marking” every tree, lampost and view with their cultural scent. The artist recognizes that there may be discomfort and hesitation in her viewer/artist arising from the boundaries of intellectual property lines. Even in the face of stated intention, the viewer/critic hesitates. In placing Williams’ starflies within the frame of photos taken around the world, what do the contributing participants become: the brush and maulstick of the artist? artists in our own “right” as well?
If the non-participating viewer or critic deems “Travel Project” a meaningful, artistic success, on what criteria is that success measured? Its reflection of Williams’ intention? The quality of Williams’ curation — how does the critic measure that quality if the critic is not privy to the elements “curated out”? The degree to which Williams’ signature integrates the many contributing hands or voices into the implicit hand or voice of a Robinsonian perspective?
By the standard of whether a work of art makes us think and whether it draws us back to itself, the “Travel Project” lays a fair claim.