Teaching a Plant the Alphabet

1972, 18:40 min, b&w, sound

Teaching a Plant the Alphabet is an exercise in futility, an absurdist lesson in cognition and recognition. The scenario is elementary: A small potted plant sits atop a stool. In the role of teacher, Baldessari holds up a series of children's alphabet cards in sequence, repeating each letter to the plant until he has completed the alphabet. The plant, of course, does not respond. Eliciting deadpan humor from the incongruous juxtaposition of the rote instruction and the uncomprehending pupil, Baldessari creates illogic from a logical construct, making nonsense from sense. An elaboration of working notes in which Baldessari wrote, "Is it worth it to teach ants the alphabet?" this piece also responds to Joseph Beuys' 1965 performance How to explain pictures to a dead hare.

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See also