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Joseph Kosuth commission (detail), Talbot Rice Gallery, installation view, 2009

“In looking for venues for the projects I happened to meet my colleague, curator Pat Fisher in her outer chamber, which is the Georgian library at the University of Edinburgh, in which Charles Darwin as a student, first started to frame up his thoughts in respect of the origin of species. In this special year, celebrating Darwin’s ground-breaking contribution, I was immediately certain that the library had to feature in my plans. It is a beautiful space—an architectural example of symmetrical design with the playful, yet restrained decoration of stylized nature in its cornices and on its columns. Now Joseph Kosuth is not only a leading conceptualist, he is also a major bibliophile, and has, over a number of years made projects in libraries and so I decided to invite him to consider making a project for this one.

The work is a series of debates between Darwin and Joseph’s long time collaborators, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. These Kosuthian sentences and dialogues probe the paradox of content that occurs between philosophy, science and art. Presented as a set of neon diagrams and words we find Darwin’s own immediate, intuitive and creative doodles and drawings introducing the ideas that we later take as the blue prints for scientific truths. Joseph uses Nietzsche’s thoughts with a Wittgensteinian approach to interrogate the creative and philosophical slippages that occur in the convergent descriptions of philosophy in relation to art.

The room will glow with the illuminations of neon. Another beautiful enlightenment. When we first showed Pat Fisher the plans for the work, she announced ‘it is as if magic has come into the room’, and that is a lovely statement of the conceptual sublime that Joseph manifests.”

Joseph Kosuth, Talbot Rice Gallery, 7 August–26 September