No Job for a Grown Man (part seven) – The Compatibility of Simple and Complex Machines

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…when one writes, the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into, must be plugged into in order to work.” These words, written by Deleuze and Guattari in the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, are key to an understanding of how many contemporary artists – myself included – manipulate the abstract fabric of their works into a cohesion. Artists are haecceities (again using the term as described in A Thousand Plateaus), just as every human being is a haecceity, or a sum of all the events and forces involved in an organism, object or event. Certainly, artists tend to be focal haecceities, but individual haeccaeities all the same, and therefore subject to every singular element and event which led to the individual making x or y decision concerning z art piece. How have I incorporated influences such as The Fall, Alfred Jarry, Louis Althusser or European cinema into my work in the past?  I negotiated a method of plugging these separate machines into the art machine, to varying degrees of success (which in itself was subject to the laws of the haecceity). The side of the machine that faces the strata is where all of the external machines are plugged into, and its obverse side – the side which is observed by the audience – is smooth (or as smooth as the artist is able to make the machine). Deleuze and Guattari discuss Kafka and his incredible bureaucratic machine. Kafka himself was a haecceity governed by the strict laws of bureaucracy, now inexorably and miserably linked to its dehumanising values and de-humanised social necessity. The bleak world of Kafka has ever been – and continues to be – a rich source of inspiration for the artist. Fitting, that in a contemporary age subject to fears not only of our employability and stability, but of our very survival, that we still see the relevance in that bureaucratic machine of a century ago begin to erode away at the humanity of its subjects. As such, Kafka has remained relevant throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, because that bureaucratic coding has never altered: on the contrary, it has mutated and made itself more sophisticated; it has mimicked our human behaviour; it has presented itself to us in our own image. It can be argued that some species of symbiosis has taken place, whereby we have become bureaucratic beings (linguistically, at least) and bureaucracy has become more humanised (obviously, this latter is far from the case, yet the maintainers of the bureaucratic machine have understood that, for the machine to survive, it was necessary to make the machine more human-like). Certain machines – like Kafka’s bureaucratic machine – have long-lasting compatibility with the art machine, as has been illustrated. There are however an infinity of machines, varying in size and form, which are ever-present in orbit around our plane of existence. Some of these machines are more difficult to plug into the art machine, and have only a limited time in which they are compatible. Political art tends to suffer from this limitation of compatibility because not all political matters persist longer than a decade-or-two. The trick is always in ratiocinating what larger machine governs the smaller machines, or what greater social factors must be in place for the smaller political machines to function. It has long been an ambition of mine to find a way of re-formatting (particularly resistant to re-formatting) literature and presenting it as art. I have had my eye of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman for a number of years now, and I think that this initially came about because of the parallels one can draw between the protagonist struggling financially to complete his critical work on the fictional scholar de Selby. Any art student can certainly appreciate the protagonist’s frustration at being unable to complete a work of subjective importance due to a factor as fleeting and arbitrary as money. It is not just for this reason, though, that The Third Policeman is ripe for re-presentation: the book is full of that rich absurdist humour which also draws me to Alfred Jarry, Steve Aylett and Sergio Caballero. This absurdist literary machine, to work in this context, must be compatible with the particulars of my current art machine, and that is where the real work lies.

Assembling a Rhizome

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It is often the case that what one initially thinks of as a heterogeneous collection of works in fact, when assembled, turns out to be anything but. There are three distinct lines of thought at play here: the linguistic, the machinic and the Body without Organs. If my original plan was to take the spirit of A Thousand Plateaus as my starting point for this work, then said work is turning out to be quite literal in its influences.

No Job for a Grown Man (part two) – The Rhizome Meets the Assemblage

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Three-or-four years ago I had a conversation about a certain artist who, for a goodly percentage of the year, entirely shut himself (for I am fairly sure it was a “he”) off from art practice and instead did nothing other than absorb other culture.  When said artist (who, although I still can’t recall his identity, is by no means hypothetical) returned to art creation, his perspective had altered slightly, thus his output remained fresh.  I have gone from Ruscha to Turrell and back again trying to remember who this artist was, but this is ultimately of little importance here: I know first-hand that this method works (to some extent), because I myself employ it.  To churn out artworks continuously implies the Deleuzean Body without Organs in its empty, non-productive state, whereby influences pass freely through the body without assimilation or re-direction.  Thus cultural influences enter the body without being processed, fully understood or given new form in an artist’s work, rendering the artist less of an Artist and more of a casual consumer.

I could have used the Summer months to commit to serious study and develop my practice, but I honestly cannot imagine this having as positive an effect on my outlook towards my work as my considered abnegation thereof has afforded.  I would eventually have become that Body without Organs.  Which, although is sound and remains a method which has (so far and touch wood) never failed me before, brings to the artistic its own problems – or rather problem – in that it can be frustratingly difficult to find a way back into art creation.  When everything one has created in the past is passed (and the artist has been so in name only for several months), the artist must then find a way back into a daily routine of the practicing artist.  There is usually (and perhaps necessarily) a period of re-adjustment to endure before the artist has fully returned to working at his or her full tempo – a matter of weeks during which any and all new elements and perspectives recently absorbed find their “voice” and those which remain adapt and assimilate these new factors.  While this happens on the most sublime level, its results are quite often remarkable.

As an artist, one of my main concerns is how I coherently string my work together, given that there is little in the way of commonality running through it.  As previously mentioned, many of the things that interest, concern or catch my attention in any way are sometimes superficial and fleeting, two words which I use advisedly.  “Superficial” here does not necessarily mean shallow or vapid, but rather refers to the way that elements of a thing have the power to interest me, while other elements do not.  I do not consider this a vacuous habit.  Nor do I say “fleeting” in a way to imply that my attention span is limited: I believe that it is now nigh-on universal for an individual to scan rather than contemplate, to briefly consider an object and how it connects to known objects as opposed to deep ratiocination.  This is only natural in a world that is literally overflowing with (what I shall for the sake of brevity call) “stuff,” and it is not so much that we don’t have the attention spans anymore as it is that we do not have the time to consider it all.  I sift through stuff retaining those elements that not only have distinct form, but which also – in some manner or small way – relate to other elements of other forms.  This is how I liken my output lately to A Thousand Plateaus, in that the various chapters of said book (on the surface) bear little relation to one another, but are ultimately joined by a consensual (between Deleuze and Guattari) linguistic thread.  This is precisely the way in which I work, akin to Walter Benjamin’s ragman, picking through the clutter and debris of culture and society for that which shines (another advisedly-used word).  Much like Jason Rhoades and many like him, this is how an artist feels compelled to work in the Twenty-First Century being walled-in on all sides by ephemera and consumables.  What the artist then chooses to make of the “things that shine” is by and large an approximation of what said artist would do with traditional materials.  Here then we see nothing more than a material shift in artistic practice, while I strive to maintain traditionalist media, for whatever reason makes sense to me to do so at any given time.

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No Job for a Grown Man (part one) – I like Philosophy, but I Couldn’t Eat a Whole One

gilles-deleuze-est-mort-il-y-a-20-ans-il-n-est-toujours-pas-post-il-est-neom272036The 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.

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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).