Passive Resistance

 

I have been wondering over the past couple of days about the nature of the agency I am working on for the project proposal. My work is not performative in a kinetic way. It is still, passive, motionless. Sound disrupts this passivity by moving through time, projecting onto corporeal senses perceived through vibration. It cannot be avoided. No longer does the work’s agency wholly rely on the viewers volitional behaviour.

But what of the three-dimensional object itself? I see the agency in the bodily work I make as presenting a passive resistance. The viewer, unless an iconoclast, cannot change the work at the point of viewing. This implies the exertion of a power to affect the viewer through its own stillness, its own passivity, particularly since the works have an ambivalent organic correspondence with human anatomy.

I often deal with the relationship between passive resistance and the projective quality of sound. The context and aims determine the balance between the two, between stillness, silence, intangibility and a state characterised by their disruption.

The project proposal is planned with this dynamic in mind. Aimed at bringing to light the content of the work through an engagement premised on distance, as I wrote in the previous blog, it is designed to alter the index/recipient relationship or object/subject balance.
 

Conversation, Intersubjectivity and the Suspension of Reality

 

 
Conversation is an often used word implying an informal exchange of ideas and thoughts, perhaps altering these in the process. Useful as it might be as a term, I have always felt uneasy using it with respect to artwork. I am talking here about visual arts and motionless works in particular, not performing arts, artificial intelligence or certain forms of interactive art. In these latter cases the argument is different on account of the degree to which a two way interactivity may take place between art and the recipient. With performances, it is likely that the performer is affected more or less than the audience. With visual arts such painting, sculpture and video, the relationship is one way.

An artworks such as mine would be better described as agent; aiming to affect the recipient in some way through a social nexus. This status as agent is applicable to other art forms, but it is particularly pertinent to visual arts of inanimate nature and passivity of kinetic response: stillness, silence and in the case of video, intangibility. Audiences project their individual or collective feelings, ideas, beliefs onto the art object. The one way nature of this behaviour precludes a full intersubjective relationship. Whitney Davis says that, ‘Artworks are never subjects, but always objects; only subjects are subjects.’ The asymmetry of action that arises when considering an object-subject exchange is something I foster or disrupt according to my intention.

Intersubjectivity is the exchange that takes place between two equivalent subjects. As the status or autonomy of one subject is reduced the intersubjectivity becomes increasingly asymmetric to the point where it is meaningless. I  think that this inverse relationship needs to be considered if one is to talk about a conversation with any sort of clarity.

In order for an art object to fulfil its full capacity as agent for social interaction, there needs to be a suspension of a sense of reality. The recipient enters into a contract where they accept certain premises set by the work or context. The consensual nature of this behaviour gives the artwork a fragile hold over the recipient while the contract holds. This is not necessarily self delusion but part of the artistic process. Without it, a purely literal or rational stance would create a difficulty in imagining and affecting the recipient as might be intended with an artwork.

I feel that this suspension is necessary as part of creating an imaginary universe. It is not enough for me to adhere purely to representation, commentary or illustration although these do form part of my practice. The non-enforceable contract I enter with the recipient is that they too suspend a sense of ‘reality’, their reality. In this way, a dialectic can take place between the ideas behind the artwork and the recipients own. How this is done is a matter for delineating those prototype ideas, give them form within a coherent narrative however irrational, and curate the outcome. But principle above all is the freedom to break the rules and traverse into new realities. In short, art is about creating a reality out of something that we know is not real and making it real.

Going full circle, the word conversation is perhaps apt when confronted with an artwork. However, entering into such a relationship requires a consensual agreement either individually or collectively that permits the work to exert its presence or power and affect the recipient(s). This does not mean that critical thinking cannot be applied but there is a place for both. It is here that prior knowledge of what one is experiences can be beneficial in understanding a novel work. But this does not preclude whether a work works for one or not, it just might help.
 

Mnemosyne

 

 
Aby Warburg exchanged a great banking fortune for a life studying human activity. He gave his inheritance as eldest child to his brother so long as the brother would buy him any book he wanted. Warburg together with Erwin Panowsky is considered the father of iconology. 1 Warburg’s final endeavour was an atlas of human culture. This comprised forty black panels to which he pinning nearly one thousand images arranging them according to themes. The work remained unfinished at the time of his death. There is little text and the viewer is left to make connections and associations between the items. Warburg named this series Mnemosyne after the muse of memory.2

Perhaps what Warburg’s Mnemosyne represents, is a looking back on human culture as a memory built of images, symbols and objects left behind as art and artefacts. From these traces, a speculative view of the evolution of culture and the visual arts can be constructed analogous to how an individual uses memory to compose a narrative of the past. The fragmented nature of this process is one that allows for constant reformation of that narrative and thereby leave great scope for the imagination. This is an important aspect of what I do, making objects and images as icons that connect ideas. I started the MA, by looking to bring together the disparate branches of my practice into one narrative. The story is latent, the ideas fragmentary, shaped by works that outline the spaces in between. These spaces are opened out to scrutiny, the imagination, new narratives. Mnemosyne could be another good title for a work, installation or collection.
 

  1. Iconology contrasts with the more tightly defined iconography. Whereas iconology is the study of the history of culture and visual arts through imagery and symbols, iconography is more specifically the study of specific symbols with respect to given art genres or forms. Many make no distinction between the two terms and use them synonymously. The grey area that exists between the two terms is a source of debate amongst academics but so long as one specifies the parameters of an argument probably bears little import on discussions about art.[]
  2. Mnemosyne is a Titanide and minor goddess of memory and sister to Calliope who Hesiod and Ovid considered chief amongst the muses.[]

Subject-Object Relationship

 

I have thought a great deal about the role of the sculpture, display and sound in the final show, What is the relationship between these apparently distinct elements and the viewer? This is not primarily about making a multimedia work, it is an exploration of how the stillness of a sculpture, a statue in particular, can be disrupted meaningfully. I see statuary sculptures as passive objects. Their performativity is one of passive resistance to the motility and volitional interaction of the viewer. The viewer can walk around it, touch it, threaten its integrity, choose his or her distance of view, asserting their kinetic capabilities as an expression of their living essence.

A statue is made of inanimate matter yet, as Alfred Gell suggests, can be treated in some ways as though it were living. But this is not living in a biological sense, the living-presence response refers to something that has agency in a social sense. However, a sculpture is not a subject in the  ‘conversation’ generated, it is only an object. Its object status distinguishes it from the viewer because of its stillness. This passive silence is underlined by a lack of movement. And even if it were to be animated, this would not change its objecthood. In Ode to a Grecian Urn, Keats’ speaks for the object in a pretence that the object speaks for itself. Clearly the poet’s interpretation, his apparent conversation is one way as though it were a dialogue. The virtue of the vase lies in its silence, allowing the poet to exercise a dominion over the object. 

David Getsy explores this power play between object and subject in his essay,  Acts of Stillness: Statues, Perfomativity, and Passive Resistance. A statue’s ambivalence with respect to its position vis a viz the viewer is also its strength. As passive object, a statue is subject to the actions of the viewer(s). However this very inability of a statue to be physically volitional towards a viewer, alters the latter’s behaviour through its passive resistance. It exerts a form of power that is used in monuments, sacred art and gallery based works. I explored this notion in Chaos Contained. The works were displayed openly in museum and gallery settings, vulnerable in their fragility and delicacy of form. This created a tension between the act of looking and the desire to touch whilst offering a jeopardy in the very act of viewing. This altered the viewers’ behaviours, largely from being dominantly motile to cautious and circumspect. The works were approached often with trepidation which was accentuated by the deliberately aesthetic structures which proclaimed their brittle integrity. Although the works in Chaos Contained exerted a power and agency by virtue of their formal and material properties, they were not subjects in a conversation. I was aware of their agency, they were conceived as such, but I saw them as objects and referred to them as objects of the mind. In these conversations I remained largely hidden behind the act of completion of the works. This view of the art object does not discount performativity of the works themselves, just as listening to a recording does not alter the fact that what one is listening to is an acoustic object in a one way conversation at the time of listening. With a static statue, the performance is its stillness, its silence, its resistance by virtue of its non-motility.

Gell’s view of the art object as a social agent is all well and good, but a sculpture cannot speak for itself. Meaning and the social nexus can only come as a function of the nexus formed by the recipient, the context, prototype and index, to use Gell’s terminology. But is that all? I think not, what Gell does not take into account is the agency of the artist, who is hidden in all probability. (However, I must say at this point that the nexus can become largely distorted in contemporary contexts as to whether the artist is known, unknown, famous or notorious.) Perhaps this omission is  on account of Gell’s anthropological standpoint. The artist is reduced to artisan level, interpreting the idea being represented, with skill and according to the current view of things. I think that the artist is far more than an artisan but not because the work cannot come about without the artist’s action. A work of art is in my view, not only a reflection of the social setting but has a point of poietic origin within the artist’s inner self. There is a danger in extrapolating Gell’s anthropological work, set in well established, relatively stable social contexts, where tradition dictates the artisan’s work. This is not the case in Western tradition of art which despite the constraints of contemporary established cannons, has always displayed a great capacity for experimentation and innovative change.

This complex relationship between artwork, context and viewer is often reduced to the metaphor of conversation. But there is more going on here than an exchange that alters viewpoints. An artwork does not just have agency on a rational or dialectic level, it affects the emotions in some way. One could argue that this is its prime function, to affect the recipient beyond rhetoric. This is not so much a conversation as an experience that is processed more rationally after the encounter.

Where does this take me in relation to the project proposal? The works I am currently engaged with could be left as still representations of an idea. But I am also working with sound and display. The aim is to break through the silence, the stillness of the statue. Rather than exert its affect passively, dependent on how the viewer decides to approach it, I am looking at ways of controlling the motility of the viewer in various ways. Khadija von Zinnenberg Carroll sees the vitrine as a performative element in its own right. It only takes a little observation to see how a vitrine can affect the behaviour of visitors in a museum. Their physicality changes with respect to other forms of display. A vitrine not only alters the way a work is viewed but also how it is experienced. A vitrine creates a barrier that frustrates the impulse to touch and approach closely paradoxically forcing the viewer to come as close as they can. This is something that von Zinnenberg plays with in the video accompanying her essay Vitrinenedenken: Vectors Between Subject and Object.  The vitrine becomes, not just a means to display, but an object in itself, an interactive participant in the work with its own agency.

I am using a vitrine in one of the works, I aim to create that barrier between the work and the viewer as the recipient is distanced from the subject matter in time. This transparent tegument is, however, pierced allowing sound narratives to transpire across the membrane. The permeability is designed to draw the viewer closer creating a sort of intimacy, scent the inner world and lower the resistance to engage. The stillness of the statue is broken yet it remains immotile. A painting’s frame circumscribes the limits of its world, untouchable yet tangible, that thingliness that forms an aura. The three dimensional frame alters the statue to something removed, as are the notions (prototypes) indexed by it, and its passivity and aloofness is disrupted by the sound. This idea has arisen out of consideration for the subject matter: the unreachability of the past, contingency and the vulnerability of meaning in language through interpretation, a form of Babel. Yet, the devices I mention here stand alone as conceptual works in themselves, as demonstrations of process.

I also look to use sound as an invisible ‘vitrine’ with its own performativity. This time the membrane is not rendered permeable by means of piercing a physical integument but by creating a kinetic relationship with the sculpture Again the viewer can control and is controlled by their kinetics and those of the sound, choreographing movements in a different way. In this case, the acoustic vibrations ‘encase’ the sculpture as an electron cloud might enclose the nucleus of its atom. It affects the properties with a charge of energy, indeterminate and diffuse.

Both these works take from the notion of the statue as a vessel with an internal and external world. The integument created by the modes of display I am planning, are to be permeable with elements of distal-proximal engagements.

 

Angles, Atoms and Rhythm: A Reference

Something I wrote in the previous post More Studies and Why regarding atoms and caves, made me think of the rhythm of movement, the natural flow of inanimate things that is also found in the way life is constructed. Taken down to the smallest unit of matter before becoming subject to the uncertainty of probability, the atom’s uncannily and mindful symmetry dictates a precision of angles when neighbour attracts neighbour to form a molecule, a structure that possesses a graceful efficiency of space.

So, the components of the sculpture can take from this principle of angles to trace a rhythmic line and entrain the eye as the sounds might with the ear: as the shape of a line in a poem might shape the meaning of its verse.

More Studies and Why

 

 

A second set of studies. They are still crude in their visualisation. I am working without any references, images or models. I am as blind but for the illumination of touch. The aim is to become familiar with every aspect, with every angle of view, so that when it comes to it, the process of making is free and spontaneous. Each angle, every intersection, plane and proportion is to become second nature. This is necessary as I have never worked with such a form or idea before and there will be practical challenges along the way. In addition, with the idea clear in my mind, the mode of making, the handling of the porcelain will not be a necessarily defining element.

Incidentally, the form of the sculpture is emerging as something that reminds me of a molecular structure and the cast of a cave system. The micro and macro coming together in a gut form, bringing together elements of the narrative that partially underlies current work.

In the meantime I continue with the third component of the work  Enshrinement  which I hope to have formed well before the New Year.
 
 

 

Between Theory and Practice

 

 
There is a world of difference between thinking art and doing it. That seems obvious, I know, but it is easily forgotten with the blurring of boundaries between disciplines in the arts today. It is good that things intermix, heterozygosity is so much healthier than the alternative. However, it is also good to bear in mind the distinction between theory and practice. I cannot see how making an artwork can be anything but practice based. To theorise is not the same as to do, theory is seldom wholly applicable in the real world: metal buckles, clay slumps, paint is hard to handle and planning never quite fits the vagaries of  time. This is where the role of the imagination comes in and can cause problems. Imagination is essential for idea formation and ambition but is it enough? Can an artwork exist and be produced through the imagination alone?

An artwork can stimulate the imagination but I do not see it as the sole element in the making of that artwork. To go from imagining making to actually making is a very large step indeed. One that needs years of practice, failure and training for it to be possible to think of something and then do it without encountering technical, skill and practicability boundaries. An artwork, albeit the product of imaginative thinking, is not its sole product. There is the techne, the episteme and the phronesis; the craft, the knowledge and the wisdom to use it, whether writing poetry or designing a monumental work. Often it seems that the ancient Greeks found a word for everything that is not technologically based.

In the previous post, I mentioned how the latest work is a hybrid of a number of other ideas and models I have gone through in the past year. It presents challenges both of concept and making, two things that constrain the translation of an unfettered notion, product of the imagination into a physical artwork in a given material.

Amy Kind in her article on Aeon describes how she approaches the dichotomy, or ambivalence, that can arise from the ways in which the imagination has traditionally been thought of exemplified by Immanuel Kant’s classification. What Kant called productive imagination and reproductive imagination are differences in kind and perhaps do not help much in deciding which the role of imaginative thinking in a given situation. Kant and others before him noted the difference between cognitive rational productive imagination, constrained by the ‘rules of the game’ which forms concepts, and the ability to form a mental world view in the mind, using reproductive imagination which is divorced from reality but based on what we infer using the former kind.

Kind resolves ambivalences that arise from this classification by looking, not at different kinds but different uses of the imagination. She suggests that imagination can be transcendent or instructive in function. Science and problem solving are instructive ways constrained by convention and purpose. Art and literature lean more towards the transcendent form of imagination. This can seem frivolous at times, without obvious utilitarian purpose which may go some way to explain why artists are always be called to justify themselves by doing something ‘useful’. But this is a discussion for another time.

Art can transgress boundaries and ignore the constraint of practicality. But even here there is problem solving and constraints when translating from that space in the mind and its embodiment. This is something that purely process led art practice has largely resolved by allowing things to take their course once set in motion with the artist as facilitator. But even hear, there are needs to be met when designing the execution of such thought experiments.
 

 
My practice is very much orientated towards outcome through process. This means, that the way something is done is an essential part of an envisaged outcome: behaviours and circumstances change the direction of travel during making. However, because my work is dependent on chosen materials with their specific behaviours I need to be in control of those behaviours. I could make the behaviours themselves be the content of the work itself and relinquish any formal part in the process but that is not in my nature. So in this project, planning and practice form an essential part of the process. Drawing and modelling are part of using the instructive imagination to explore the practical possibility for transcendent visualisations to be brought into the physical field. By drawing and looking at every aspect and detail in a cognitive fashion, I gradually resolve the inconsistencies that would render the work less free to behave during its making. By this freedom I mean, allowing the unexpected to play a positive role instead of frustrating the process. I feel fortunate because I can draw the idea and develop a felt detailed knowledge of how it comes together. I am aware of the danger of overcontrolling the outcome and that poietic spontaneity is important during making. However, knowing the material thoroughly and understanding the formal elements and making process goes a long way to maintaining material vigour and allowing surprises hitherto unseen to play their part: behaviours are given boundaries within which they can meaningfully become express.
 

 

Skype Chat 4.8: Unit 2

 

Summary Explication of Unit 2

 


 
Unit 2 Learning Outcomes

 
1. Present a resolved body of original creative practice that has evidenced the systematic enhancement of your knowledge and understanding.

Resolved body of work does not mean ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ or ‘ended’… it is a subtle but important difference… and it is more than simply ‘work in progress’. Resolved means you have worked through your ideas and this is the body of work that has resulted from your research and practice. Most likely, your ongoing work will build on what you have done in the MA course, so the body of work cannot be ‘final’ or ‘complete’.

Jonathan, do you mean it points towards the future rather than represent a final resting point?

Alexis – it has that possibility at least – but ‘resting point’ is quite a nice phrase, the resolved body of work and the show is a pause – it does mark a completion of two years but you don’t need to fear it being the ‘end’ and therefore the work needs to be perfect and complete in some way.

I think that is clear – the final show demonstrates what you have worked out during the two years; it is not essential for the work to look finished, although that does help, but it must show cohesion and clarity. It needs also to show that there is room for it to grow further or into something else – coherently

and learning outcome 2 uses exactly the word – coherent…

2. Analyse and critically reflect coherently upon your own practice and its context.

This is your ongoing blog posts, the reflective process – keep doing the blog and you will meet this learning outcome.

3. Summarise and evaluate your overall progress and formulate a constructive plan for continuing Personal and Professional Development.

Again this is covered in the blog but there is one short written post that I will address specifically in a minute.

 


 
Unit Components

 
1. Symposium II

In May you will all make a 5 minute video summarising your research and practice and we will have one of those long days of watching and discussing your work and ideas. The Symposium is not a silent crit, you will be able to speak. 

2. Critical Evaluation

This is the only extra specific written work you now need to do, it is a simple blog post – about 500 words that does 2 things:

a. critically reflects on the 2 years on the course, 
b. describes your future plans post the MA course.

3. Reflective Journal

It says word count of 2000 – you can ignore that – it is more for MA illustration students who generally just have sketch books but often not much reflective writing – for you, you will all have done more than 2000 words easily on your blogs.

4. Practical work

This is your art – your work – resolved and presented on your blog and in the show.

Hopefully you can see that if you continue making work and reflecting – then you will meet the learning outcomes.

Pav – Is the work assessed against the project proposal? I meant, do I need to keep updating my proposal in the light of new developments and changes?

Jonathan – The proposal is still the start point but of course things continue to develop and change – so the story has a beginning but you may and probably will have wandered in many different directions! so yes updating the proposal is useful. 

5. Research Discussions

We will be running these over 5 weeks of next term. You will all have half of a chat session to lead a discussion about some of the ideas in your research paper – so you will have 45 minutes to 1 hour and you will be responsible for facilitating the discussion – then the other weeks taking part in the discussions.

I suggest that you focus on something from your paper (you wont have time to cover everything) — you then think through some material that will help us discuss the ideas and move towards a better understanding of your ideas. For example, you might want to write 3 or 4 short blog posts that we read then discuss, or make 2 or 3 minute videos that introduce the ideas and raise questions that take us step by step through your thinking. You can include the link to your own practice if you want to and we can discuss that as well.

For some people like Pav and Matt and Alexis, who have done some teaching or like Pav who does loads of it! – then this is more familiar territory but for everyone it is great practice at summarising your ideas and research and thinking through how best to give access to these ideas for other people. The London based students will be doing the same thing — we will keep these as two separate sessions: London based 10.00-12.00 UK time and online 13.00-15.00 UK time.

I think we will try live streaming the discussion in the studio for anyone who has time and wants to join in and also I will invite all the students to the typed chat sessions in skype. Not everyone will be able to attend everything but you do need to attend one lot of sessions, ie for most of you it is the online sessions. You all have some important material in your papers, it is important to share it and gain more from the process of research.

My research paper has led me from considering an artwork as a living entity as an analogue for a biological organism, to a living entity in a social sense. i.e social agent. Could this be the centre of the discussion rather than dwelling on the research paper which forms the foundation for this transition but is only part of the story?

Alexis yes, that could work. We know that there is too much to cover in such a short period of time so a focus is important.

Sessions will start in week 4 of next term on Tuesday 28 Jan – I will put a timetable on the wiki soon.
 

A Time for Reflection

Being away from the studio is always a time for reviewing my practice and current work. Today is such a day, and reflection has given me insight into a number of things. Work is cyclical and directional. The project proposal is taking physical shape and what is emerging is not only according to the latest proposal version but harks back to the original one in which I was looking at the relationship between statuary and sound in the context of mythological ideas.

A second reflection regards the suspended sculpture. This piece has gone through significant changes from Oracle to Icon to its current iteration just a couple of days ago. What I am thinking of now incorporates elements of various ideas including horizontality, sound, cave systems, molecular structures and the form of Icon and Oracle. It is more dynamic and presents a number of challenges in its assemblage and display. It is a matter of stability which needs careful thinking regarding the unit parts and their fitting together.

I have also had the idea of displaying work on iron stands. The idea came to me from the most unlikely of sources. Watching the Netflix serial Bolivar the starring props, as far as I am concerned, have been the candle sticks or candelabra. Iron work in all manner of designs; functional, decorative and votive objects that permeate almost every interior scene. The works I am doing are in a way votive objects that enter the sacred sphere.  This solution offers relatively easy fabrication and logistics as well as the capability to order and reorder elements in the show according to spatial disposition and light. The structures would also be relatively unobtrusive and be in keeping with the material, form and content of the sculptures.

The video Mythopoeia V – Hope is the first time I truly bring together my physical work with video techniques. I worked intuitively with a number of clips to compose the short film. I allowed the experience gained in the previous films in the series to merge with the work I am doing. Working from the gut rather than the head, I gave myself only a day, a morning truth be told, to edit the clips and add the sound track. It is only with hindsight that I see what I was doing.

The principle idea when editing and composing the video was to dislocate time by overlaying two different viewpoints asynchronous. I did this to add depth to the visuals and give a sense of the manifold aspects that underpin the making of the ceramic work. By showing the action from two points diametrically opposed, overlaying one another, the action is slowed and given a greater weight and significance. It is a way of creating a double take, a deja vue and at the same time giving the narrative a multiplicity: that this action does not only apply to this particular moment but is a universal speaking of other circumstances.

The action is divided in two parts. Again this was a spontaneous decision which fits the narrative, a before and after. These two moments linked by a tension of opposites were not planned but arose naturally out of the process of making and remaking. I don’t have to plan the details of this, only be aware of when it happens. Then, talking of awareness – after the fact – there are details such as the stone sculpture with her hands on her head. A fortuitous accident of placement, one of so many. When all is considered. life and art is all a coincidence of place and time, making something out of contingent events, if one is only willful enough to see things through.

Mythopoeia V – Hope

 

 

Video for Entanglement show next week, Wednesday, 11 December.

The video is both part of the project proposal, orbiting the work Enshrinement and the latest in the series that has emerged since the first term. Each video is a stand alone exploration of an idea, using the contingency of what is available, made within a very restricted time frame. Each one is an extemporaneous projection of thought emerging from notions that have subliminally evolved in my mind. They have been catalysed in the moment by the materials and circumstances at hand using the video medium as an available tool to expose these thoughts to the light of day. 

Each video suggest a notion or instance congruent with my overall vision, penetrating into a part of my mental metabolism that can remain blind to itself until it is unearthed in the process of reflection, after having used a means other than that with which I work normally such as digital video.