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Pro Forma: Language/Text/Visual Art, a three-volume set edited by Jessica Wyman, tackles the expansive subject of the role of language in visual art. There is literally something for every sort of reader in these volumes, as the authors cover various territories and utilise differing approaches to tackling the matter of language in visual art. For those who enjoy strong critical texts, there are terrific essays such as Philip Monk’s text on Ian Carr-Harris’ work, and “Some Thoughts on Speech Bubbles” by Michelle Jacques, among others.

For those who delight in intellectual irreverence and pure visual pleasure, Michael Maranda’s “Syntactic Analysis (Bespoke),” “Templates for Walking Theatre (2000-03)” and “Flashlight (2005)” by Luis Jacob, and several other contributions fit the bill nicely. Texts such as Barbara Balfour’s “Written Iteration: Signatures and Lists” cleverly bring in questions of the quotidian into the conversation. Balfour calls up pertinent examples of how written acts of the signature and the list — which are, on the surface, relatively banal — have figured into some compelling works of visual art. Because of the range of the work and ideas presented, the set is essential reading for practitioners, researchers and even those simply interested in the subject.

Wyman notes in the introduction: “Language is always performed and meaning is always fleeting and we’ll never stop using the one to try and find the other.” These capricious meanings, both lost and (temporarily) found, are present in abundance in these three slim volumes. (Michelle Kasprzak)

by Jessica Wyman, $39.95 for set, YYZBOOKS, 140 – 401 Richmond St. W., Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8,

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