Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Nonsense And Gaps


They really don't know who they are. 

Or do they?

Following his death in Lisbon in 1935, Anglophile Portuguese Modernist poet Fernando Pessoa, although rarely published, was discovered to have accumulated a substantial back catalogue of scribblings and musings regarding the act, and fact, of being a writer. 

His contemporary standing is built on the fact that much of his output, discovered in a trunk of articles following his death, was executed in the voice and language of a parade of ‘heteronyms‘ - extreme versions of pseudonyms with distinct biographies and personalities of their own.

In contemporary ‘art’ practice the idea of the ‘double’ is nearly always a thinly veiled ‘me,’ even if that ‘me’ is a compilation of ‘us’-ness using undigested theory-text picked up from dust-jackets and half-remembered college seminars as a platform for a moral high ground ( often neatly sidestepping responsibility for addressing the problem of a qualitative dimension).  

Here’s where the apparent autobiographical volte-face of literary anarchist and S and M buff Alain Robbe-Grillet becomes a useful pointer

‘ “Articulated” language,...,is structured like our lucid consciousness, which is to say, according to the laws of meaning. Thus, it follows directly that it is incapable of accounting either for an external world that is precisely not us or for the restless ghosts within us. But at the same time, I do have to use this material, language, however ill-suited it may be, because it is this lucid consciousness - nothing else - that finds fault with nonsense and gaps.’ 

Odds And Ends


The contemporary version. 

Collected bits and bobs.

What’s it all about then?

In contemporary ‘art’ practice the question often remains how does one successfully gain the freedom to compile odds-and-ends and cultural detritus and present the end-results as carrying the imprimatur of ‘art’? How does one present a play with stuff as ‘art’?  More accurately, how does one play correctly with stuff to make the engagement artful, or, at worst, appear usefully artful?

The job in hand may seem to be to successfully cello-tape an elusive logic to the component bits rather than suffocate under a turgid wash of coherence; a noodle tangle of linear chronologies allowing digressions, dead-ends, repetitions, and shifts in perspective built on a controlled architectural ideational foundation to proceedings, leading inevitably to old-school aesthetic considerations (the devil’s always in the details).

Further success could depend upon a playful misunderstanding of the expected rote means of display - text, objects presented, informed environment, cultural subculture ‘knowingness’ - to fragment the presumption of a simplistic, directive authorial whip-hand. 

However, objects are circumscribed by the era in which they are produced; ideas nesting in objects organically benefit from the newly elastic conceptual boundaries of a playground of intentions which is promiscuously intimate with a relentless tsunami of digital imagery.

Archiving can become art’s default mode, an uncreative parasitic administrative impulse; not systematic enough to warrant the clothing of a scientific taxonomy but banal enough to simultaneously legitimize parallel histories, a thirst for measurable truths demoted to the merely measurable.

Too often the resulting sculptural collections grounded in the material excess of the quotidian’s flow of surplus ‘things’ no longer achieves the potency of a fetish - the event status of a ‘readymade’ - but sits as an elegant car-crash of leftovers lacking even the simplifying virtue of a narrative.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Books And Thatness

Books. Ban them all. Every one of them.

According to virtual communal web librarian Wikipedia

‘A lover of books is usually referred to as a bibliophile a bibliophilist, or a philobiblist, or, more informally, a bookworm’.

(‘Philobiblist’ really should be repopularized in common parlance, it manages to be both pompous, dignified and suggests a fiercely anal cleric with God most definitely on his / her side.)

The rollicking yarns the educational establishment thinks will successfully snare the wandering attention of dissolute ‘yoof’ are rarely as imaginatively off-kilter as the average person’s fantasy world.
Morally uplifting, state sanctioned novellas are generally prosaic, plodding and generic, their main attraction being the predictability of their narrative arc. Hence the universal deflating of lungs when a classroom is faced with the irritating keenness of a class dullard chasing institutional brownie points with a terrifyingly shallow analysis of a set texts subplots and thematics.

This muffled dirge rarely penetrates the skull of the moody pupils at the back of the room; still psychically traumatized by the previous evenings two chapters of William Burroughs, or suffering from a migraine induced by James Elroy’s insane retro-journalism. 

In reality the best books always retain the feeling of illicit texts passed from hand-to-hand under counters wrapped in brown paper - introductions to a bizarre Masonic-style cult with its own rules and concerns.

This is most definitely compounded by the sheer invasive physical ‘thatness’ of 
book-as-object: book as musty smell; book as a diary of stains and accidents; book as a compilation of pretentious musings nestling between the hard black print in a cramped and mannered hand. 

Yet the consistent physicality of the pleasing banality of a standardized oblong slab can’t hide the fact that different books have different weights regardless of their tangible mass. It’s not a matter of gravitas, more the differing degrees of success in defying gravity, in undermining the ‘now’ and its repetitions, its unbreakable laws, and proposing healthy differences in perspective and focus. 

To further complicate matters, in parallel with this is a books automatic complicity with all other books. The social environment may now be seen as a surface to be read but this is a conceptual model which could only exist after the invention of the printing press; after all books are still a relatively new form. Volume (depth) is revealed to be a pile of slices of speculative organization waiting to be spread out, flattened into one large page documenting human folly or charting salvation.

An organized noise or self haunting ghost, heartfelt juvenilia or a twinge of nostalgia, baring the illusion of identity or exposing the human animals flexibility of character traits - it really depends on the mood of the day or the degree of existential angst chucked up by the quotidian’s enforced repetitions.
Always keeping in mind the fact that books can also make stupidity into a viable cultural currency; unreflective tick lists of bigotry.
Actually maybe they should be banned, nothing but trouble after all. 

Transparent Things


Placing stuff in a space.

What’s the point! Really, what is the point?

Well, it’s interesting to talk about, or write about, or both.

What it also is, very often, is not worth doing. 

Expanding on Hans Ulrich Obrist, Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier notion of ‘an exhibition that could constantly generate new versions of itself’ by collecting ‘a growing series of artists instructions’, Manchester City Gallery has decided that it would be a good idea for artists to ‘Do It’, then forcefully demonstrated that the ‘It’ probably isn’t worth doing after all.

The shouty, excitable, fun-for-the-whole-family ‘event’ status of the affair should not be encouraged even if it is the default mode of the majority of government funded institutions (or ‘shops’ depending on your perspective). 

Conversely the whole affair is tastefully presented with a predictable lower-case title and the restrained pastel shades of Farrow and Ball which is even more grating. 

Text on a wall is still indeed a thing, a physically substantial object, but it keeps the operation of the works as an instructive, directive formula. Ideas remain as transparent things operating between substance and the backlog of latent imagery that lives in our communal and individual heads.

The strength of the more engaging artists’ propositions is the fact that they haven’t been anchored in the banality of matter and retain the energy of a throwaway observation that gets under the skin.

Completely missing this point, the gallery and a handful of contemporary artists who really should know better have actually ‘realized’ some of the less unhinged propositions.

The end result looks like a ridiculously well-funded student exhibition.

Argue about ‘it’, think about ‘it’, even write ‘it’ down if you really must but please, please, please don’t actually do it.