Monday, 21 January 2008

Artistic Statement

I've been asked to write an ‘artists statement’ for my forthcoming tour of cathedrals of my installation In Other People's Skins.

The matter of art has become a complex one. On the one hand the time-honored wisdom concerning the silence of the artist in response to questions about the work still holds: The work is the statement - any words spoken should be from others. Yet for some while now we have been in the grip of the latter end of the modernist project where it's strongest impulse is to obscure through over intellectualising the art itself - those that now comment have ritualized the act so that no one can possibly understand the art without engaging with concepts. An end result of this, in the hands of lesser artists, is that the art becomes, as one curator said to me recently, 'like watching paint drying'. Curators were schooled to understand and also promote this kind of art.

For me that is not the point.

I recently understood that there is a very simple explanation of what art is. An artist uses inspiration to make art. The word ‘inspire’ derives from the Latin ‘spire’ meaning to breath. Inspire alludes to an in-breath, inner whisperings, inner tales told. In making an art work, if the artist is listening well and then acting clearly, then the work contains a resonance of that inspiration which prompted the work in the first place and the work then communicates to the viewer that very inspiration. In a work like in Other People’s Skins I simply wanted to communicate what I’d learned about making art and being with people. As an artist I am inspired by people coming together to eat and talk and commune - for me this is an important act. The more diverse the people the better, because then we generate an understanding that transcends difference and this understanding might just get us beyond the violence we do to eachother; especially if that understanding becomes a realisation. If you sit down and partake in this work then you will understand something of what I am saying. Listen to your own intuition and you will hear the same thing I have been understanding this kind of art.

So, the paragraph above is what I shall try to offer the people who are asking for a statement because that is the truth of the understanding I now have. Of course, the re-write is the way they will receive it:

In making In Other People’s Skins, I was inspired by the kind of feelings I get when people come together to eat and talk and commune – and the more diverse the people, then there is the possibility of developing an understanding that transcends difference, and this might just get us beyond the violence we do to each other. I used the word inspiration when talking making art: the word ‘inspire’ derives from the Latin ‘spirare’ meaning “to breathe”. Inspire alludes to an in-breath, inner whisperings. If the artist is listening well and then acting clearly, the work will contain a resonance of that inspiration which prompted the work in the first place. It is important to me that more than one person sits at the table at any one time, that it is a shared experience, as it is when people meet and share food for real. If you sit down and partake in this work, and listen to your own intuition, then you will understand something of my inspiration for doing the work. When people sit down and try to touch this work they of course cannot, because all of the images are virtual – I am trying to lead the viewers attention away from the material of the piece to where we each intuitively understand the values held within a shared experience.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The Politics of Definition and early 21st Century Capitalism

I meant to put this up on January 1st - somehow it slipped my mind, so with apologies, here it is:
It's 2008 and I find my thinking coming around to delving into the bases of the technologies I am involved in investigating. I use the plural form 'technologies' because originally I considered that I was investigating High Definition within Digital technologies - therefore a singular Investigation. However, as I began to understanding that digitality itself is an eventual manifestation of a new kind of mathematics derived from Fourier's 1807 wavelet transform proposition, this forces the realization that this is no singular investigation, because like everything in our world, everything arises dependent on everything else. In the western idiom this is characterized by the idea of relativism, and in the eastern idiom this is characterized by the Buddhist theory of dependent origination.

But, given my background is primarily western I see with western eyes and therefore note the series of ideas that then require that I reflect upon where capitalism now is being as this moment is a distilling of the governing set of parameters of 'democratic' societies.

And, in the west, we do like the notion of democracy, or at least the notion of liberal democracy, a Utopian construction where you get to speak your mind and consume as much as you like without any effect upon the planet. I am aware that notions of Gaia and ecology are of our time and therefore circumscribed by a set of unknowables that may make our descendants laugh at our naivety.

I should confess here also that I have read various tracts of Situationist literature and have in the past considered that set of thoughts as being insightful of the society that was being created at the time it was written and is now very profoundly manifest in TV programmes like Big Brother and slogans like Porn Star on a 5 year olds tee shirt. Owning Situationist literature used to get one raided by the police in my particular liberal democracy.

So the notion that everyone and everything is a subject of and an adherent of the need to spectacularise, to make spectacular ones own self and condition is now firmly embedded in early 21st century capitalism as an expression of the developing ego's need to singularize itself or individualize itself in a more defined way – even if the subject is profoundly boring and quotidian. This project of the second millennial self says "I exist therefore I require a spotlight to celebrate that existence". It needs a My Space to celebrate that it is worthy of having something that is worthy of being perused by others - and of course it is all the others that visit that space in a circular feedback motion that is of so much comfort to the gargantuan capitalist entrepreneurial egos that now recognize trends and fashions within the fast moving zeitgeist - every ready to harvest the negative ego as expressed as disposable income. Lucas’s Jabba the hut comes to mind to characterize the spiritual state of those beings and the use of my term ‘negative ego’ is formed because I believe that puffing up is not at all useful when an ego is trying to adopt useful behavior to exist in a ‘real’ way in the world.

But we have deeper ruts to furrow in search of the shape of advanced capitalism. I say 'shape' but actually I mean essential nature.

In using the term capitalism I do not mean to cast it in a negative light. One thing I do know in this ever changing world is that what you might consider to be Luciferic at one moment can be angelic the next. That's probably related to the fact that the Bringer of Light himself was of course an angel. Whenever one uses an analogy one should be conscious of all possible connotations and associations, but one has a limited field of view of course.

So I set off on the course of describing contemporary capitalism as technological capitalism and of course I'm mindful that there are intense and profound theoretical discussions around the idea of technology and whether or not 'man' in and of him/herself is a profoundly technological re-imagining of the creation myth circa early 21st century thinking. For myself I still believe the first technological act is not the taking of something outside oneself like a stone to crack another stone to make a tool - but the very idea exemplified by Joe Ape to come down out of the trees and actually get up on his hind legs, not as something to amuse his friends, but actually to take to this trick as a profoundly useful technological stance toward the manipulation of his own world. I think if this is in any sense 'true' then one can extrapolate from this back in time and realize that 'mother nature' herself was at play in this species in particular because like Sea Biscuit in the 5.40, 'the early hominid had a good chance of becoming self-realized through developing fire, the wheel, the spinning jenny and 3d holographic projection – and of course the early sea-slug, did not.

If you accept this proposition, then of course technology is the main means of realizing man's utopian tendency. Coupled with the gas/juice/fuel/motive power behind our reaching towards the stars themselves. They are after all placed where they are as part of the overall scheme, drawing us into a standing position and probably becoming dis-incarnate in the long run.

Please excuse my poetic excesses at this time - I have been on a long celebration of the Christmas period and I cannot abide despair in any form. Instead of despair we should celebrate the root of despair, the dark side, the path sinister, the left hand path, the path that looks least likely when contemplating the search for self realization and knowledge of our place on the spinning ball of dust, iron, nitrogen, human tissue and vegetable matter that revolves around a rather supreme expression of hydrogen to helium technology that is after all ubiquitous in our known universe.

The universe itself of course, is a technological entity, as are its self-conscious inhabitants.

14 History Lessons, 18 Visions, 21 Beatification

Last night, Friday 18th January 2008 I premiered a work that has taken me 18 years to make. It is called 14 History Lessons, 18 Visions, 21 Beatification. This large scale moving image artwork is the culmination of a response to a piece of work by John Wyver, a friend who made a programme entitled L'objet d'art a l'age electronique. This programme, featuring the thoughts of prominent French intellectuals Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virillio, amongst others, opened the then new satellite channel, La Sept. The programme made reference to Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay that discussed the idea of whether a reproduction of an object of art in the age of mechanical reproduction could retain some element of the original ‘aura’ of the work itself. By updating the argument to the current age it argued that in an era of electronic reproduction, where the copy itself had the possibility of a certain verisimilitude of the original, that the ‘image’ no longer had any meaning, as it had become so reproducible, so ubiquitous and therefore meaning had been eradicated by dilution.

At the time of my first response to this programme I was Artist in Residence at Complete Video, a leading commercials production house that had acquired D1 recorders, which were the first commercially available digital recorders in the UK – or for that matter, the world. Digital recorders promised to eradicate deterioration of the image and this set me to thinking that I might be able to construct landscapes or ‘picture-scapes’ from images combined together – previously, analogue images deteriorated on being copied.

I then promptly wrote to channel 4 and they gave me £20,000 to argue with the French. Of course, the project became transformed in the doing and took the form of a series of dialogues. This became The Inevitability of Colour where I used the analogy of the idea of colour as inevitable in the construction of the eye as the idea of meaning and significance were inevitable in the construction of the looking, seeing, sentient self. This transmitted on Channel 4 in 1990.

A principle idea in the project was the myth of Echo and Narcissus, sound and image, who were locked together through eternity, somehow producing meaning in the mystery of their imprisonment together. I wanted to see if I could construct an image track that apparently ‘randomly’ accompanied the soundtrack that through the act of repetition at certain points gave a set of meanings to the images.

Soon other ideas began to come and I then made Echo’s Revenge shortly followed by The Object of Desire which takes Narcissus’s viewpoint as he is captured by his punishment to only see himself – Echo’s punishment was to only be able to use the words of others with her own meaning injected.

These three pieces became the Colour Trilogy, which premiered at the 1992 Bonn Biennale. As this was happening I was beginning to get more ideas and wrote 4 other parts which joined the other pieces and together to become the larger 7 part work which I called, The Colour Myths. After moving to Somerset, and with the state of computing and low level video it took some time to have the resources to make the pieces at the level I wanted to make them and finally, by 2005, as so much time had passed I also had to go back to the first piece and ‘interrupt’ it, to confess some experiences I had had as a youth which of course coloured my beliefs. This then prompted the last name change.

Last night after the screening I organized a response session, because as I said to the audience, the proprietor of the Phoenix Project, Liz Beech had taught me through her curatorial skills, the artwork may be finished and ready to view, but one can learn a lot from the first viewings and so my intent was to learn from the audience’s. Of course many things came up it being a complex piece of work. But principally I was congratulated for making a ‘vulnerable’ piece of work, an open piece of work.

Given that I’ve recently realized that the artist taps into an inspirational creative act when making an artwork – and that inspire has it’s roots in the Latin verb spire, to breath and in this case to ‘in-breathe’ or to take note of positive internal intuitive impulses – then what the audience receives through the artwork maybe the distant resonance of that inspiration. If the artwork is ‘true’ then much of the original inspiration will be carried through to the viewer. So, if the main message was openness and vulnerability (depending on the audience member, because I can see that vulnerability is not directly swappable for openness) then what I managed to do was to transmit my original intent through to the audience – which from my point of view is very good because the work began in the intellect (after the first motions and inner whisperings that prompted me to respond).

Vulnerability always evokes a protective response in a listener or viewer, but openness is about simply baring ones inner emotions and thoughts and in this works case, ‘spirituality’. I can see how some people think that that is making oneself vulnerable. One person said to me that watching the work felt like seeing a man hanging on a cross. Another noted that the technique I'd used of making impossible phone calls to long dead people, because they took place in West Country landscapes, afforded a welcome break from the denser parts of the 'text' which took place in constructed environments. An appealing response was that of enjoying the duration of the work which was 'an intense 67 minutes - like being washed over by a wave of creative energy - an inspirational wave". Others wanted the work to be longer still, with more space between the elements.

For myself I’m so glad I premiered this work within a local context as opposed to a big international premier – the smallness of the event allowed me an intimate contact with my audience, which will feed through to any new formulations of the work. Various people had intimated in their comments a need for a less dense experience and I get from this a desire to expand the work and let spaciousness into the experience. I may even place some other images in the work for it’s second screening in February – I am now a fan of an opening that does not represent a closed piece of work – but instead an open piece of work.

(The Colour Trilogy, The Colour Myths: Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age - A Work in 8 Parts) 1989–2007, 67 minutes
THE INEVITABILITY OF COLOUR (1989 - 2007) (part 1 of both The Colour Trilogy and The Colour Myths) 21 minutes (now interrupted by my own tales)
Echo's Revenge (90/91) (part 2 of both The Colour Trilogy and The Colour Myths) 5 minutes
THE EYE PROJECTS THE WORLD: 1992 - 2005 1 minute (part 3 of The Colour Myths)
ECHO'S COMPASSION: Echo’s Gift, 5 minutes 2006 (part 4 of The Colour Myths) 4 minutes
TIMEPIECE 1992 - 2005 (part 5 of The Colour Myths)
THE OBJECT OF DESIRE: (1992) (part 3 of The Colour Trilogy and part 6 of The Colour Myths) 6 minutes
NEMESIS: THE MYSTERY AT THE HEART OF MEANING 5 minutes, 1992 - 2007 (Part 7 of The Colour Myths)
EPILOGUE: UNREAL TIME PIECE 1992 - 2005 1 minute