Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Text Written For "Text Fields" installation "TF002"

Text Fields SITE

TF002 is an exploration of the liminal zone that lies between the kind of quotidian space through which one walks everyday, the sort of enclosure that captures our habitual trajectories -a corridor, a staircase- and the words, the name, the noun, the ‘text’ which denotes that space, signifies it, and categorises it in our minds. Between the thing that denotes, and the experience of what it represents.

‘The Corridor’ is an emphatically mental construct of a definite article and a name, it is an open container of 11 letters which has the ability to encapsulate any number of individual associations, from the memory of hospitals, to the endless labyrinths of nightmares, to -in this case for those involved in the gallery- warm conversations and grandiose discussions about art, and the curation of small exhibitions. The space itself, with its awkward little skylights and concrete floor, is a resolutely physical construct, a passive collection of impressions of cold and warmth, light and dark, echoes and silences, and dirt and colour, all of which are taken up and sensually experienced in any number of ways by each person who passes through it; whether it is the concrete sucking the warmth out of the thin soles of their plimsolls, freezing their feet, or the light from the sunny day outside as it slices the path into pieces through the skylights, and leaves the space disorientating and difficult to navigate.

It is the subjective apprehension of those letters which is a concern of typography. The delicate and calibrated adjustment of the form of the word, of the text, that subtly manoeuvres the tone in which the associations which the word conjures up are received; a form of design in which the scope of subjective mental impressions to which a word may lead – whether hospitals and labyrinths or drinks and openings- are decorated, coloured and unified by a typeface. Where the typographer deals with the subjective experience of the ‘text’, the spatial designer deals in the analogous act of organising the elements of enclosure, in order that they provide a framework for similarly indeterminate, and individual experiences of the object of design -whether they frame and unify the feeling of freezing feet and the disorientation from shafts of blinding light, or the annoyance of having to crouch underneath something and squeeze past people in the impossibly tight space.

TF002 is an act of design precisely positioned between these two complementary practices, an act in which those involved have explicitly attempted to draw the cerebral and associative qualities inherent in the nature of typefaces and text, out into the physical and material space of architecture; and inversely to draw the sensual and impressionistic nature of designed space into the arena of the partially constructed thought. These qualities from the two practices -the qualities from the two which were closer to a relationship of mutual reciprocality between the experience and reading of the space, and its design- were extracted, leaving behind any approach which formed an overtly explicit description of how the space should be read, or experienced. This meant that embodied in the process through which the group arrived at the form of the installation (the formulation of a three dimensional font, the writing of the name of the gallery in space, and the subsequent simulation of that name’s explosion within the gallery, and its freezing and materialisation at a moment of ambiguous eloquence) is a critical distancing from any form of declamatory object-hood on the side of the architecture, and a positioning away from any conclusive declamation of meaning by text from the side of typography. The fact that the research project is called Text Fields and not Text Space or Built Text, is precisely because the group want to create immersive environments of indeterminate origins and ambiguous meaning, in which the usual roles of the various design professions lose their central, fixed functions and roles, and begin to bleed into one another in a field of uninterrupted mental and physical figures and impressions, whose valification lies dually in the freedom of the subject from dictated readings (more towards fields of connotation), and the liberation of the designer from isolated categorisation.

The goals are broad and ambitious, and TF002 is the first built step in the exploration of these themes. It is the first 1:1 physical manifestation of the group and its discussions, and through its realisation has helped to summarize and bring together the issues, and how those issues might be transfigured into a spatial field, something which through the feedback the group has received from the installation, TF002 seems to be doing well.

Next step TF003

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Extract from Proust's "The Fugitive"

"When I wrote them, the sentences of my article were so weak compared to my thought, so complicated and opaque compared to my harmonious and transparent vision, so full of gaps which I had not managed to fill, that reading them caused me to suffer, they had only accentuated my feelings of impotence and an incurable lack of talent. But now in forcing myself to become a reader, if I delegated to others the painful duty of judging me, I was at least able to wipe the slate clean of what I had intended to do, by reading what I had done."

Friday, 15 May 2009

Opinion, and Extracts From Erwin Panofsky's Idea, A Concept In Art Theory

In true Panofsky fashion the book hops in and out of Neo-Platonism, Aristotelianism, Scholasticism, and many of their recombinations and reformations from the high renaissance through to Neo-Classicism, in search of the chain of transformations undergone by the notion of the Idea in art, from its restriction of art to the world of shadows, to its glorification of art as matter enlivened by thought, to its role as weapon in the battle between the subjective and the objective, and even its use in the overcoming of such an opposition in the chasing of its origins back to the groundlessness of divinity. His narrative chain is impressive and fun, however I cannot help but be disappointed that after his recounting of all the fights and debates and dialectics over the centuries which have invigorated artists and artistic production, from the squabbling camps of the Caravvagisti naturalists and the Mannerist stylists, to the oppositions of the Impressionists and Expressionists, that after citing so much colourful material and debate that has arisen from the cyclical return of these recurrent themes, he seems to draw a line under the whole investigation, under all those themes, placing his narrative in the trash-heap of futility, as if it were a failed scientific experiment whose very subject had proven itself worthless and unsuitable for investigation. He wrote that “To recognize the diversity of these solutions and to understand their historical presuppositions is worthwhile for history’s sake, even though philosophy has come to realize that the problem underlying them is by its very nature insoluble”, and in so doing once again brings down philosophy’s heavy and blunt axe onto the nape of art’s soft neck, paternalistically pointing out to art that its energetic dialogues are pointless, that all they need to do is to look at the divine Kant and see that there can be no ground for artistic perception outside of itself, that there can be recourse neither to a pure nature nor to a transcendental “thing-in-itself”, that oppositions like that between “idealism” and “naturalism” are illusions of illogic, dialectical antinomies that have arisen from a misunderstanding of the origins of artistic perception; and so the debate is closed. The oppositions of subject-object, nature-style, systematization-intuition, etc are all passionate phantasms over which so much intellectual energy has been wasted, the interesting residue of which just so happens to be the voluminous and eminently inexplicable mass of sculpture and painting that silently sits in its museums, tormenting the likes of Panofsky in their wordlessness, but which he cannot ignore, and so after convicting the reasons behind their production as being guilty of epistemological inadequacy, he must simply catalogue the sculptures and the ideas behind them like a good botanist cataloguing a species doomed to extinction, and so having noted their existence, having marked their irrelevance, he closes the book on the vainness of art.

How would a writer feel if a theorist came and declared that philosophy had discovered the insolubility of the problem underlying the nature of literary invention? That all the discussions between writers as to the nature of factual history and fictional representation, of style and content, of reality and truth, were all silly disagreements based on their inability to see that the problems themselves had been misplaced, that they were locked in endlessly circling dialectical antinomies? I would think that he might be rather perplexed at the nature of ideas in writing being posed as a problem that should be solvable, that such a notion was as laughable and arid as being told that while people can discuss as much as they like about whatever they so please, it is all pointless because the sum of all their debates cannot be resolved into a proof that concludes a philosophically framed problem. There seems to me to be a misunderstanding about the oppositions in art-production, in that I do not think their value lies in their ability to compose in aggregate an elegant answer to any of the problems they present (which is what many an art theorist seems to look for), or even that their connections in time should be logical enough to form a coherent history, rather it seems to me that their value lies in the quantity and quality of the artistic phenomena they engender; that the amount of investigation they demand be justified not by their quality as resolvable equations, but by the strength and vigour of the pursuit after an unachievable goal which they inspire in the artists pre-occupied with their ideas. And the reason that certain oppositions and questions keep coming back in various forms, and keep inspiring generation after generation of artists to produce, is not that they are logically interesting and eminently given to discursiveness, but that they are representative of various facets of human nature, perfect mirrors and justifications of all the various shades of character-types in the pool of humanity (the ‘rigorous’ types disposed first to systematization and then ‘the scientific’, and the ‘spiritual’ types first to the idealistic and later the absolute, etc etc); and just as (I pray) the diversity of civilisation will never implode to a point where all is in agreement with all else, but will rather remain abundant in human archetypes which subtly shift in combination from person to person and generation to generation, so artistic discourse will continue to be rich in discussions and disagreements which are as rich and inspiring, but also as repetitive and unchanging, as the nature of human character itself.

Plotinus says:
For he who contemplates physical beauty must not lose himself therein, but he must recognise that it is an image and a vestige and a shadow, and he must flee to that of which it is a likeness. For if one were to rush forth and to grasp for truth that which is only a beautiful reflection in the water, then the same thing will happen to him that happened to the one about whom a meaningful myth tells how he, wanting to grasp a mirrored reflection, vanished in the depths of the waters; in the same way, he who holds on to physical beauty and will not let go of it, will sink, not with his body but with his soul, into the dark abysses, horrible for the mind to behold, where he will languish blindly in Orcus, consorting with shadows there as he did here.

Thus the Platonic attack accuses the arts of continually arresting man’s inner vision within the realm of sensory images, that is, of actually obstructing his contemplation of the world of Ideas [relevant passage not included in this extract, see p30]; and the Plotinian defence condemns the arts to the tragic fate of eternally driving man’s inner eye beyond these sensory images, that is, of opening to him the prospect of the world of Ideas but at the same time veiling the view. Understood as copies of the sensory world, works of art are divested of a more elevated spiritual or, if you will, symbolic meaning; understood as revelations of Ideas, they are divested of the timeless validity and self-sufficiency which properly belongs to them.

Scholasticism in general, just like Plato, showed far less interest in the problem of art than in the problem of the beautiful, much more compelling because of its amalgamation with the problem of the good.

[Alberti’s Treatise] differs from earlier literature of art by no longer answering the question “how to do it?” but the quite different and thoroughly unmedieval question “what abilities and, above al, what kind of knowledge enable the artist to confront nature with confidence whenever he is required to do so?”
In its attitude toward art the Renaissance thus differed fundamentally from the Middle Ages in that it removed the object from the inner world of the artist’s imagination and placed it firmly in the “outer world”. This was accomplished by laying a distance between the “subject” and “object” much as in artistic practice perspective placed a distance between the eye and the world of things –a distance which at the same time objectifies the “object” and personalizes the “subject”.

It is clear from what has been said that the “subject-object problem” was now ripe for a basic clarification. For as soon as the “subject” is given the task of obtaining the laws of artistic production from reality by his own effort instead of being allowed to presuppose them above reality (and above himself), there necessarily arises the question of when and for what reasons he is justified in claiming to have these laws correct. Yet –and this is particularly significant- it was only the definitely “Mannnerist” school of thought which first achieved a basic clarification of the problem, or at least consciously demanded it.

The concept of the “Idea” was already transformed into the concept of the “ideal” during the renaissance. This stripped the Idea of its metaphysical nobility but at the same time brought it into a beautiful and almost organic conformity with nature: and Idea which is produced by the human mind but, far from being subjective and arbitrary, at the same time expresses the laws of nature embodied in each object, achieves basically the same thing by intuitive synthesis that Alberti, Leonardo, and Durer had tried to achieve by discursive synthesis when they summarized and systematized a rich material, gained by observation and approved by expert judgement, into a theory of proportion: the perfection of the “natural” by means of art.

[Mannersists] rejected both the flowing freedom of baroque space and the lawful order and stability of Renaissance space, and created instead even severer restraints precisely by means of planarity. In a similar way the avowals of artistic freedom co-existed –not too peacefully- with the dogma that artistic creativity could be taught and learned, that is, that it could be systematized. Perhaps this dogma received very special stress precisely because it was feared that otherwise art might be threatened by subjective arbitrariness.

At the end of his book Zuccari interprets the term disegno interno as an etymological symbol of man’ssimilarity to God (disegno = segno di dio in noi), and he celebrates it as the “second sun of the cosmos”, the “second creating Nature”, and the “second life-giving and life-sustaining world spirit”

He who has done much measuring will develop his own Augenmass (ie intuitive sense of proportion); he who “has filled his mind full” by much Abmachen (ie reproducing nature from life), will accumulate a “secret treasure of the heart”, from which he can pour forth what he “has gathered in from the outside for a long time”.

Ideas normally provide a guarantee of objective validity and beauty in the work of art; with Durer however, their proper function is to ensure originality and inexhaustibility in that they enable the artist to pour forth “always something new” from his mind. The theory of Ideas, which here almost take on the character of inspirations, serves to support that romantic conception of genius that recognizes the mark of true artistry not in correctness and beauty but in an unending plenitude that always creates things unique and things that never existed before.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Positive and Negative Creativity

The post in which I revisited an old text talked about a form of heaviness, a solid presence which I often feel weighing down from somewhere just antecedent to my thoughts, a presence which, when it has coagulated a certain amount of units of pure subjectivity around itself, forms a dense intuitive singularity of a ripeness which is impossible to ignore, a pungent and pendulous fatness which imposes itself on every waking thought like the distinct and material urge to empty one’s bowels, except insisting on its release through the hands via the intellect rather than the anus via the intestine. This urge to release what has been metabolised in the mysterious organ that is the brain is the result of the bodily digestion of external reality, the by-product of the process by which the brain consumes that which is external to itself and assimilates it as part of its being, a necessarily continuous nourishment that keeps the mind full of a fresh sense of reality as it loses the present to the vagaries of memory in an uninterrupted stream, forming a mental analogue to the materially essential and unceasing replenishment of our cells by consuming physical matter from the world around us. The processes themselves are metabolic and vital, one for physical health and the other mental, and while both continually replenish their respective realms they conversely create superfluous material which must be excreted as it does not constitute a functioning part of the body, superfluous material which makes its presence felt in the gut, and the mind. The build-up of this by-product of existence and engagement with the surrounding world might have become intolerable for me, might have been a great source of pain if I had not been fortunate enough in life to have had my hands and thoughts introduced to -and trained in- the transubstantiation of mental figure to physical matter, a skill which has allowed me to not only rid myself of these accumulations, which I imagine would otherwise have clogged up my primary apprehension of things outside of myself, but to even begin refashioning small segments of the world around me in consonance with the intuitive and internal process of mental metabolis, in other words the release of this superfluous material now brings me not just the relief of excretion, but also the pleasure of creation.

I have become somehow intimate with the exigencies of the natural functioning of both the stomach and the mind, and have become relatively adept at procuring both food and stimuli that will make me at once feel reasonably healthy and adequately engaged and productive, rendering these biological systems generally predictable, predominantly stable, verging on the habitual. Unfortunately, permeating every stage of the metabolism of both my mind and body, there is an unstable element, a tenacious and inscrutable presence which destabilises the placid equanimity that would be so pleasantly balanced without it. I hadn’t thought about it much recently, preferring to stare into the wine-glass rather than into its entirely specular face, but a brief conversation on the terrace at the AA, and my attempt to be truthful rather than phatic, led me to think a little about its impact on my production, and by association my life. Asked how (or why, I cannot remember which) I was so continuously ‘creative’, I replied phatically that it was because ‘I enjoy it’, vaguely justifying the ease and emptiness of the response to myself via the narrow connection of its positive verb to the slow, quiet and broad pleasure to be extracted from the metabolic, biological creativity I enjoy so much; and while usually such vague justifications are satisfactory this one was clearly insufficient in that the question had been asked about the quantity of my creativity, its incessancy rather than about any quality, and the slow form of production with its occasionally heavy moments of fecundity which I was referring the ‘I enjoy it’ to is not one that produces anything in great quantities at all, it is something entirely else that fills in the gaps between those moments of weight and substantiality, something totally different in kind that forces a certain pace to hands that would otherwise perhaps be helping others or working to make money. It is that other thing which needed to be referred to, and I could not reconcile it to ‘I enjoy it’ because –and this struck me rather heavily at that moment- there was no pleasure contained within my recollection of it whatsoever, it was entirely devoid of delight, or of enjoyment. Rather than emerging painlessly from within me, than being products of a harmony between body and intent, the majority of works I produce are artistic palliatives; not independent sources of joy or pride, but manifestations of a repeated and desperate desire to be rid of an implacable, vicious and mercurial substance which corrupts and agitates every part of my nature that it touches. When I am trying to rest and relax it inserts itself into the gap between the silence and my enjoyment of it, disrupting any germinal relationship between the two by taking the form of an immaterial and shapeless anxiety, an anxiousness which drives me into the arms of books and drink in search of other forms of silence; when I am trying to enjoy an entirely innocent and enjoyable meal it sinks into the delightful union of nature and pleasure that is the transcendental heart of dining, and corrupts it, distorting the balance between hunger and enjoyment so that hunger grows so frantically unstable, so hysterically nervous, that the best that can be hoped for from meals becomes not delight, but relief from a monstrously enlarged hunger; and when I am trying to work, trying to do anything that is not within the orbit of a creative activity, the greater the time spent away from making things, the more items of artifice that I feel I should have made in the preceding interval, the smaller the value that seems appended to me, the further my internal self-estimation falls towards the crushing point of worthlessness, and it is the feeling of proximity to that point of nothingness which agitates a yawning terror and drives me wildly back into production, clawing feverishly drawing by drawing, design by design back from the brink of nothingness. Works produced under these circumstances are definitely not positives, not items of pleasure with value in themselves, they are instead negatives, momentary reliefs from the terror of worthlessness whose value lie in the absence of an unpleasant feeling, the lack of a troubling agitation. They are artistic analgesics, and form a potent medicine in the cabinet of calmatives that habit has developed to give me respite from that one same devilish toxicity, that selfsame noxiousness that is always there in the smooth integers of my personality, ready to crack them into unrelated and selfish fractions; that unitary disruptor which is the ticking heart of that terrible anxiety I always find in silence, that monstrous starvation I have to face in meals and the awful descent into worthlessness I cannot avoid if I am not producing.

It would not be true to say that everything I do is tainted in this way, since there is always the genius of that silent metabolic process which continues to consume reality, reaffirm existence and excrete singular beauty; it is a genius which resides in a place that lies behind and before the areas where anxiety and agitation inject themselves, a position which allows those positive, natural and pre-neurotic creative acts to develop and occur simultaneously with those negative ones whose aim is palliative. And the two have even fed each other’s ability for self-realisation, in that the relentless drive to assuage the ego’s perpetually diminishing self-worth through production has always had the positive consequence of forcing the hands to learn new techniques, hone old ones, and broach new mediums, skills which in turn have helped in the creative excretion of the residual build-up of mental metabolis, helped in the formation of natural, positive, complete, and joyful objects of creation.

And so if asked the question again of how or why I am so constantly creative, while I cannot in good faith reply that it is because ‘I enjoy it’, I equally would not be able to say that it is only because ‘I want to avoid torment’, my reduced and lazy reply would simply have to be ‘because it pre-occupies me entirely’.