The most fun one can have with philosophy is to cherry-pick from its massive historical inventory of themes and ideas – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. One need not absorb every text by Foucault, or attend two-hour lectures on Althusser to gain a healthy reserve of critical resources with which to formulate one’s own theories. For years now I have found endless creative uses for Plato’s cave and Wittgenstein’s stonemasons, for the very reason that philosophical models function in much the same way as art: intense critical thought and complex abstractions simplified to the nth degree as signs, giving flesh to otherwise untranslatable concepts: art builds real architecture in Utopia and peoples it accordingly, whilst artistic movements provides its zeitgeist and, much to Plato’s imagined chagrin, art is in many ways inseparable from critical thinking. On any given day, the human mind is subject to incalculable heterogonous abstractions which superficially bear no relation to one another other than their chronological linearity – or the oft-cited stream of consciousness, that convenient one-size-fits-all coat with which lazy commentators have dressed such diverse literary figures as Beckett, Burroughs, Thompson, Joyce and Proust. Terms such as stream of consciousness exist to categorise that which has no formal category (other than, in this instance, that of literature), and visual artists are no more immune to such taxonomies. It is far too convenient to brand Thomas Hirschhorn a “Relational Aesthetician,” or Rauschenberg a “Pop Artist” when those are two synthetic terms created critically and applied arbitrarily. Rauschenberg could be equally as conceptual as any of his contemporaries in the ‘sixties, and in many ways Hirschhorn would have flourished during Fluxus or the Situationists. The only “real” reason why Pop Art was Pop Art is that there were critics present to record it. There is always more going on than critical terminology allows for – indeed, one of the primary questions an artist must ask of his or herself is whether or not their output should “nutshell” the world when the world, subject to the fundamental laws of universal entropy, will never do the same. It is not an artist’s job to present the world in its de facto state, but rather to recognise its many subliminal codifications, deconstruct said codifications and re-present all of this via strategies of different codifications peculiar to an artist’s peculiar specifications. Certainly, the strategies available to an artist differ all the time, and often in tiny, incremental ways. Lack of available funds has compelled me, on occasion, to buy flowery canvases from charity shops and paint over them, which in itself opens itself up for the artist’s methodological re-interpretation. Strict budgeting need not be a disadvantage if the artist chooses to emphasise his or her situation – one of my favourite paintings of mine concerns itself explicitly with this very
thing – although there is also the implicit institutional critique of the pristine canvas.
Institutional critique is, for me, re-treading old ground and, if I am honest with myself (which artists really should be in the habit of being), a former easy alternative to hanging my coat on one peg. In over four years I have on no occasion felt that any one concern was vital or pressing enough to potentially base an entire career upon. At one time I attributed this to a lack of focus, at another it seemed due to an ennui of sorts with the kinds of thing other folk feel passionately about. The truth is neither one nor both of those options, and I now credit my unfocussed oeuvre to a species of critical distance which sits somewhere in the middle. Cursed with a mind that reflexively unpicks the threads of any given issue, and always wants to comprehend a thing from its most oblique angle, I tend to find the least obvious aspects the most interesting, and this I believe is the thread that unites everything I have ever created. It is not so much a case of “lack of style in fact being a style” as it is a huge visual representation of what makes me tick – perhaps too far beyond the grasp of anyone other than myself as a bracketed concept, the sheer volume of the ideas I tend to churn out means that there should always be something, taken in isolation, for somebody to pick up on. Lately I have likened my output to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, in that the taproot prevalent throughout my work is nothing more complex (nor more trivial) than myself. All other secondary roots consist of the things which concern or interest me, and at this stage in the game I feel a responsibility to examine how all of these secondary roots co-exist and cross over. For the better part of six months, art and artistic practice has been allowed to take a secondary role in my day-to-day existence. This owes much to the fact that, for four years, I had concentrated on little else and – without much breathing space in between – work had been produced in quick succession in an organic, linear order. During this time I constantly soaked up other culture (that is to say, culture as defined by the structural definitions of film, television, literature and theatre) in conjunction with a close eye on contemporary art. In hindsight, this high concentration of influence did not always produce optimum results, owing to the vast array of interests and obsessions I frequently indulged myself in. This year I have taken a break of sorts from the art world (lower case, in this instance), as much to give myself some much needed breathing space and allow myself the opportunity to take stock from a vantage point of removal as it has been to concentrate on other areas of my life (such as they are).
Here we go again…
I know they’re coming. Don’t know when, but sometime over the next few weeks I’ll have to deal with “I don’t understand”s all over again.
Is it really a whole year since Fiona Banner’s retrospective at Ikon?
A re-post of two reviews from last year, freshly PDF-ed.