Jacob Wren's Blog, page 12

July 5, 2013

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Vollmann reports that suicide rates drop dramatically in people older than forty. Because, as he rightly surmises, the absurdity of doing what nature will do anyway reveals itself.

- Julie Carr, 100 Notes on Violence



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Published on July 05, 2013 13:02 • 32 views

June 30, 2013

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Some police play the protesters while other police play the police.

Be the elephant you wish to see in the room.

And free love made a non-alignment pact with jealousy.

The autodidact is often marked by a fondness for quotations.

The feeling that the poor weather is a direct result of environmental calamity mixed with the feeling that one is in a bad mood because of the poor weather.

Anti-capitalist artist seeks wealthy patron.

When inhuman things become legal, commonplace and generally accepted, there is no limit to the hell we are capable of.

The knight who comes to slay your dragon turns out to be another dragon.

The tendency in conceptual art to foreground intention.

When nothing is finished, everything is possible.



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Published on June 30, 2013 19:38 • 35 views

June 25, 2013

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[This text was originally published in the catalog Disappearing Things by Gwen MacGregor, published by Rodman Hall Arts Centre, Brock University.]



1.
I’ve been making little lists in my head, in my spare moments, as I wait for the bus or for a coffee at the café, lists of all the things that might be disappearing in our rapidly accelerating world. The first things that pop into my head are always a bit too didactic: real winters, the effective left, the social safety net, hundreds of plant and animal species every year, a cultural belief in originality, the idea that art has an inherent, timeless value. But of course all of that strikes me as somehow too easy and my mind casually wanders on to subtler, more nuanced things we may or may not be losing.

Anything that disappears may, some day, also reappear. History works in cycles. The coelacanth was a prehistoric species of fish long assumed to be completely extinct until 1938 when one was discovered off the coast of South Africa. It was gone and came back (not literally but as far as we knew at the time). We of course cannot assume that everything we destroy will some day reappear, most likely most things will not, but neither can we be certain that any given thing is irretrievably lost forever.

Nonetheless, in the meantime there is an undeniable sense of loss, which in our current situation can often also feel like being lost: without direction, without a compass. This sensation of feeling lost is clearly the melancholic undertow behind these seemingly endless lists I’ve been making in my head, while waiting for my coffee, while waiting for the bus.



2.
It’s a borderline science fiction premise, and therefore difficult to take seriously, but I often find myself wondering what life would be like if we simply never died. The fact that each of us is continuously getting older, and that any wisdom we accrue over the course of this process is offset by the pesky knowledge that each year brings us a little closer to the end, is so deeply interwoven into our understanding of what it means to be alive that it is difficult to imagine things otherwise.


This is also a particularly western problem. As Javier Marias writes [I will paraphrase since I am unable to find the exact quote at this juncture, it seems it has disappeared]: ‘Our culture’s relationship to old age is almost suicidal, since each of us will also some day grow old.’ In other cultures they speak with the spirits of their ancestors, and imagine the lives of their own progeny five generations into the future, perhaps giving them a sense that in some general manner they continue to live on. But in our current culture, more and more, there is the feeling that we will simply disappear.

What artist or writer today can reasonably imagine that anyone will still be looking at their work two or three hundred years down the line? Of all the thousands (or hundreds of thousands? or millions?) of artists and writers working today, who among us has the pure gall to assume it will be them who survives into posterity? And yet without the idea of art’s lasting value what is art exactly: something ephemeral? just for the moment? a passing trend? Perhaps we don’t think our own specific work will survive but don’t we assume, hope, suspect that something from our time will last into the future? Or has even that certainty – which I believe every generation of artists throughout history has felt fairly confident in – somehow gone missing?



3.
Perhaps this work is a kind of melancholic detritus of things on the border between having already vanished and still in the process of vanishing. Or perhaps it is not melancholic at all. What might a joyous disappearing look like? Detritus exerts a deep, yet subtle, fascination. These are things created by accident, that we weren’t (especially) meant to see but find ourselves looking at anyway.

The theory of evolution, our culture’s creation myth, has a very striking relationship with accident. Every new mutation is an accident that survives for the almost tautological reason that it is helpful for the species’ survival. Without accident there would be no evolution, and this idea grants accident a kind of resonance: it is what made us, therefore it must be meaningful. Detritus represents that which is left over, the accidents that don’t survive. In this sense detritus feels somehow more intensely accidental, resonates with an interest in accident in a manner that is both ambiguous and precise. In looking at detritus (closely) we begin to bring it back into currency, re-consider the leftovers’ possibility of once again becoming part of the meal. What nutrition are we losing in the things we throw out? Looking at detritus allows us to think about what we choose to keep, as well as all of the many things that surround us and yet give no sense that we’ve ever chosen them.

There is another possibility in evolutionary theory that posits that not every trait a species possesses must be evolutionarily beneficial. Mutations that simply don’t get in the way are also welcome along for the ride. Evolution itself rests on constant cycles of disappearance, species fall away to make room for others, traits within species are pushed aside to make room for something better. The idea that an evolutionary trait can be of no particular benefit, but – if at the same time it is not detrimental, if it stays out of the way – can continue to remain alive within a species for many generations, perhaps indefinitely, is a notion I find deeply moving. There is still room for much which boasts no particular value. There is the detritus nature chooses to keep, unnecessary but not excluded.



4.
We are well aware of the possibility that our species may also someday face extinction. That we too might disappear. It is a possibility that feels distant, unreal, beyond our control, and yet at the same time more significantly real than most of the other elements we call our reality. All the environmental sustainability we might some day be able to muster (and so far we have not managed to muster much) certainly does not ensure our species’ continuance. Walter Benjamin writes: “Mankind’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” And of course there is some truth to this. But far more prevalent in my experience of daily living is ‘the possibility of mankind’s destruction’ as a constant low-level anxiety, as industrial modernity’s original sin, as the painful subconscious inherent within any deeper consideration of the consequences of our actions.

Awareness that all things are impermanent is one of the tell-tale signs of wisdom. It is associated with Taoism, with Buddhism, with systems of thinking much older than Western culture and likely more solid. Nothing lasts forever, and to live with the strength the knowledge of impermanence provides us with is perhaps always to live more fully. It propels one away from clinging unnecessarily to things that won’t last and towards a greater sense of risk, which leads to the unexpected, towards unexpected connections, which in turn lead to a greater sense of feeling alive. Letting go of things that are no longer necessary makes room for new experiences the potentials of which we do not yet know. But then again, there are also the arguments for not letting go prematurely, for fully exploring the unexplored potential of those things already in our lives. When is the exact moment to let go? Are the things that have disappeared gone before their time?



5.
I don’t particularly like The Verve, but I do really like that one song, the one that starts out: “All this talk of getting older, is getting me down, my love.” Actually, what I really like is mostly just that first line, but for me it’s enough. No one really talks much about The Verve any more. They had one minor hit (Bittersweet Symphony) in the mid-nineties and then more or less disappeared. I do often wonder what happens to all of the bands who have one or two hits and are gone: do the bass players become school teachers or yoga instructors? Are they playing their old hits in a smallish bar in Brighton somewhere at this very moment? Do they still cherish the faint possibility of a comeback? Or of making a little bit more cash when their old hit is used in some car commercial?

A friend of mine in Berlin has a theory that art today is far more like pop music than it is like anything else. He says that most individual works of art don’t really hold up to scrutiny but if you look at contemporary artistic output as a whole, taking into account all the trends and artists working along similar trajectories, you are in fact looking at something much more interesting. In his opinion, what this is most similar to is trends and genres within popular music. And that within pop music, if you focus on any one artist or song, it doesn’t necessarily seem to have much cultural value, but if you examine popular music as whole it obviously has an enormous accumulative effect.

I am not sure whether or not I agree with this analysis of contemporary art, but it does strongly resonate with a feeling I have that something has been lost. And at the same time I am intensely suspicious of my own false nostalgia. Would I actually have liked art, or life, any better had I been alive at some other time in history, past or future? Much has been lost but much new energy has also been gained. Jorge Luis Borges writes: “Like all men, he was simply given bad times in which to live.”



6.
What might a ‘joyous disappearing’ actually look like? Why does this phrase feel like such a strange contradiction in terms? A disappearance might also be mysterious, evocative: suggesting the freedom to come and go as one pleases, a freedom to come and go with the potential to energize any given situation. There could certainly be joy in such freedom. E.M. Cioran even considered the possibility of suicide to be liberating, since it suggested that one could always take control of one’s life, could leave the house at any moment.

The flipside of this position is that suicide is the last ditch attempt of the ego to assert full control over this life, which in fact can never be fully controlled, always contingent, full of ironic paradoxes and reversals, showing up our meticulously made plans, revealing them as the presumptuous impostures they so often are. Things rarely turn out exactly as we hope or plan. And even when they do, our reactions, feelings and disappointments with such apparent successes can sometimes surprise us even more deeply. Yet isn’t joy also something that catches us off guard? That thrives on the element of surprise?

Of course our most intense, visceral experience of disappearing is human mortality itself. But, as has often been commented upon – within the considerable but still relative comfort of most western lifestyles – our actual, physical experiences of mortality aren’t particularly intense at all: few and far between, in hospitals that draw out life long past the point where it still seems worth living. Is there some connection between this relative lack of direct experience with the actual potency of dying and my inability to imagine what a joyous disappearing might be or feel like? Because mortality does not more regularly intervene with daily living, because it is felt mainly as an anxiety, as an absence, we are also deprived of the joyous flipside – the sense that we are truly and completely alive? – of this most real of all realities from which there is of course no escape, only ineffective and perpetual avoidance.

It sounds pretentious, even to me, but might a ‘joyous disappearing’ be akin to a world in which we are no longer afraid of death?



7.
Then again, what art from our time might people still be looking at two hundred or three hundred years down the line? It’s not true what I wrote earlier: that nothing from our age will survive, or at least there’s no way we can know for certain. It’s not true what I wrote earlier: that humanity is on some kind of crash course with extinction. It is just as possible that human society, for better or worse, in one form or another, will continue to exist for a very long time. The things that are disappearing, within the process of their possible, eventual disappearance, are continuously filled with uncertainty, with moments of sudden optimism and periods of utter desperation. With what system or what thinking could one wander through contemporary exhibitions and contemporary museums – with what eyes might one see the work on display – in order to have some idea what might actually last?



8.
Sometimes when I’m reading a particularly theoretical and opaque catalogue essay I feel like I’m reading words on the verge of syntactical nonsense. I can almost follow the line of reasoning, almost connect the philosophical citations to the works that are allegedly being written about. It is as if the thread connecting the words I am reading to anything I can fully understand or paraphrase is continually fraying but will never quite break. It charges up a certain insecurity within me: is the text poorly written or am I simply a poor, unsophisticated reader? Is this text doing the art in question a service (by attaching it to ideas that are apparently complex and mysterious) or a disservice (by flattening everything out into obscurantist nonsense.) And I now find myself trying to consider this less-than-perfect relation between art and text, this continuously fraying thread, as another kind of disappearance.

A solid, stable connection between comprehension and art is no longer strongly present in our lives. We try to understand each new thing the best we can. Our comprehension strains toward more and more theoretical formulations, or else we reject theory altogether and trust only what our eyes (and thinking) might tell us. There is a certain kind of overly theoretical writing that reads to me as pure insecurity: insecurity that we are not smart enough and therefore must overcompensate within the realm of language, insecurity that regular language is not rich enough to encompass the full complexity of what is possible within thought. In an art context, such language might also be the best publicity: this art is so dynamically potent its meaning cannot be conveyed without recourse to intricately specialized formulations.

Underneath such writing I sense a potential simplicity, and a desire for simplicity, that is in the process of being erased.



9.
In the lipogrammatic novel La Disparition by Georges Perec, what has disappeared is the letter ‘e’. It is both a novel written entirely without using the letter ‘e’ (the most common letter in the French language) and a detective story about the search for someone who has gone missing: Anton Vowl. And yet even after Anton is found there is still a strange feeling that something remains absent, none of the characters quite able to identify just exactly what.

Perhaps what has gone missing from this text is any direct reference to the artistic works of Gwen MacGregor. Strange melting shapes out of snow that will certainly not be there the next morning, possibly suggesting future winters that will never quite suitably freeze. The colourful lint, rolled and scattered, suggesting the gradual disintegration of our clothing, as if we left our clothes in the dryer for long enough sooner or later there would be nothing left. Or the lint that speaks to the electricity that will someday (soon) no longer quite be at our fingertips, machines that might soon sit idle since we will no longer be able to afford to make them spin. Buildings falling down and being torn down: by gradual attrition, human hand or historical event. All things, in one sense or another, disappearing. All somehow remaining, in one sense or another, missing from this text.

As is well known, Perec’s parents were both lost to the concentration camps. This autobiographical event, far too large to be overlooked, runs subtly, substantially concealed, throughout all of his books. La Disparition is certainly no exception. As Warren Motte writes: “The absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the ‘e’ in A Void [the English title of La Disparition] announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning. Perec cannot say the words père [“father”], mère [“mother”], parents [“parents”], famille [“family”] in his novel, nor can he write the name Georges Perec.”

To write about art without ever (really) speaking about the art in question. Might such a strategy suggest and mirror some of the disappearances we are here attempting to grapple with?



10.
A text ends. Each work of art will someday no longer be looked at or remembered. Each of us in turn will die. And someday humanity as a species will no longer exist. And of course the planet as well. Yet disappearing isn’t only, or even mainly, about ending. Like the coelacanth, each thing that disappears also may live on in some way, somewhere else, simply out of our sight or in some place or sense of which we are currently unaware. A text continues on in the mind of the writer or reader. Works of art inspire other works of art or other thoughts or paradigm shifts or generational rebellions against it. People live on in the memories of others or through reincarnation or in the spirit world. All matter is transformed into energy that, in some other form, might some day be transformed back into matter again. Each disappearance is also a transformation.

To disappear, perhaps above all else, is a kind of freedom: the freedom to reappear at any moment, to gain the upper hand of surprise. All the things that have disappeared are not really gone. Or they are gone but we don’t actually know what that means. We don’t know where we go when we die. And the, in some sense, absolute mystery of the predicament allows us to speculate indefinitely. If we say when we die we are gone and that is all there is to it, it does not really put the matter to rest. It only avoids fully meeting the true depth and breadth of the mystery. Materialism is not a solution to mysticism, only a road that runs alongside it.

Disappearances draw an infinite array of theories towards themselves. Where did things go, where do they go when they are gone? If there are no absolute answers we can continue to wonder indefinitely. They are gone but they might come back. No matter how unlikely, only the most stubborn materialist will claim a total lack of possibility in this respect. For the rest of us we can continue to imagine that other worlds exist, worlds where the things that have disappeared from this one might actually flourish. And where the melancholy of something disappearing from our world is matched by an equal sense of possibility. Not exactly heaven, just somewhere else. A somewhere else where things might go. The things that have disappeared.

I am straining towards a conclusion that is constantly disappearing. I am straining and yet the conclusion is already here. Disappearing like the last vague moments of true twilight. Disappearing like all the things we try to hold onto but that want only to change or to flee. Disappearing like a thought you want to write down but is gone before you have the chance. Disappearing like the little lists I’ve been making in my head, now that this text is done.



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Published on June 25, 2013 09:18 • 24 views

June 20, 2013

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The beauty of non-History came about; all homage to captains, generals, litigators, and governors was abolished – not a single recollection of a mother’s magnificent act, nor a childhood grace, nor the dark suicide of a youth overwhelmed by life; death was left to the dead and people spoke only of the living: soup, the tablecloth, the sofa, the hearth, nasty medicine, little shoes, the steps, the nest, the fig tree, the pine tree, gold, a cloud, the dog, Soon!, roses, a hat, laughter, violets, the teruteru bird (there’s nothing sweeter than to use children’s nonsense to speak of Happiness); plazas and parks that bear the names of superlative human lives, but with no last names; streets named The Bride, Remembrance, the Prince, Retirement, Hope, Silence, Peace, Life and Death, Miracles, Hours, Night, Thought, Youth, Rumor, Breasts, Happiness, Shadow, Eyes, Patience, Love, Mystery, Maternity, Soul.

All the statues that saddened the plazas were evicted, and in their place grew the best roses; the only exception was that the statue of José de San Martín was replaced by another statue symbolizing “Giving, and Leaving.” In the end, something happened to non-flowing time, like history, and there was only a fluid Present, whose only memory was of what returns to being daily, and not what simply repeats, like birthdays. That’s why the city almanac has 365 days with only one name: “Today,” and the city’s main street is also named “Today.”

Many other small things were also accomplished, whose tiny sorrows might fill a life with horror, like what was spared, for example: the half-full glass, or the little lamp with hoarded light, or the twisted tie, or artificial flowers on tombs.

- Macedonio Fernández, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel)



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Published on June 20, 2013 12:10 • 32 views

June 15, 2013

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[This text was written when I was in residency at Passa Porta, Brussels in January 2011.]



Part One: Ondine versus The Unionists

I was at a party in Brussels, on the fourteenth floor of the Brusilia Tower with an unbelievable view overlooking the city, drunk on Jameson, explaining to someone that I was in residency at Passa Porta working on a new novel, and the conversation drifted to my ignorance of Flemish literature at which point I was told that I had to read Chapel Road by Louis Paul Boon. So the next day I am reading it and a week later I am finished, having read the entire book in a kind of feverish dream-state, and it is true, it is a remarkable work, reminding me of so many things in my own writing and in the world. Then it is suggested that I write about it and I am wondering how I might start and remember this passage from an interview with the American visual artist and activist Paul Chan, describing one of his key experiences with organized labor:

At the time, the mid-’90s, the AFL-CIO was doing college recruitment, and big labor unions were going to colleges and universities talking about how they should organize. It was thrilling. It all culminated with the UPS strike in 1997 in Chicago with Ron Carey, the Teamster president. Here’s a guy who came up from the rank and file of the Teamsters, who was forced into confronting a company that refused to negotiate with the workers on a new contract. 185,000 workers walked off the job, and UPS blinked. They broke the company and got a new contract. I lived close to a UPS processing center on the South Side of Chicago, and we’d bring them donuts. It was a great moment. Then of course Carey was booted; after the strike the Teamster hierarchy voted in the son of Jimmy Hoffa as president, even though Carey had just led this insane victory, and even though everyone knew Hoffa Jr. was shady. One of the lessons you learn is that changing things often means losing your job or getting jailed, or worse.

The disillusionment of this experience parallels something that seems, to me, at the heart of Chapel Road: that the complexity of the world’s problems are undeniable and heartbreaking, while solutions are by no means clear.

The struggle to form a union, or at the very least a worker’s sick fund, hovers in the background of the novel-within-a-novel that is the backbone of Chapel Road, as Ondine – the vicious, pre-pubescent, working class failed capitalist – sides with the ruling classes against her own, desiring to crush the burgeoning unionists though it is by no means in her best interest to do so. It is one of the many bitter ironies of the novel that she sees the socialists – who are trying desperately to help her and those around her – as enemies, reminding me of concentration camp graffiti that Heiner Müller was once fascinated by, written in a Jewish child’s hand: ‘I want to be a Nazi.’ It is the way that power and wealth usurp our desires, everyone wants to be the king, no one the servant; the reason disenfranchised Americans vote for Bush, because each and every one of them hopes that some day they too will be millionaires and can benefit from his tax cuts. Solidarity is a hard sell, it entrenches us within our individual status as not-powerful, and yet today, much like when Chapel Road was written, it remains the only method for truly bettering our lot.

I found the story of Ondine almost unbearably sad (I’m too sensitive to such things). I related to her youthful will-to-power, her unrepentant nastiness, her desire to “smash the world to pieces and pieces and pieces” and, most of all, to her eventual self-sabotage. I too wish to raise myself up beyond what is possible and, much like Ondine, find I am destroying my life in the process. But, as every good Salinger fan knows, it is dangerous to over-relate to literature.

At one point the people who live on Chapel Road come to Boon and tell him their stories, hoping to be included in his book, but each of the stories leaves him cold and he finds himself wondering when someone will tell him things that “don’t belong to the darkness of backwards flanders but to the darkness of their own frightened hearts.” However, for Boon, much like for each of us, the only option is to tell such things himself.



Part Two: Friend-Heros versus Books

It is the stories that surround Ondine’s which make Chapel Road as complex as it is and, for me at least, bearable. As Louis Paul Boon slaves away at the story of Ondine, at his “illegal writing” (writing without form or function), he also shows it, chapter by chaper, to his ‘friend-heros,’ – msieu colson of the ministry, johan janssens the journalist, tippetotje the painter, mr pots and professor spothuyzen – their lives and observations intruding on his book, becoming more important than it, taking up more and more space.

The story of Ondine takes place in 1800-and-something, when the unions began their battles, but now, in the present, “all those small socialists whose fathers fought and went on strike” are “led by men who no longer believe in a socialist society.” This disillusionment, which Boon discusses with his friend-heros from every possible angle, is more than anything jam-packed with comedy and spleen, an ironic despair so black it burns like a white hot coal. In the universe of Chapel Road, to view the hopelessness of the world surrounded by friends who can relate is perhaps the best we can hope for.

I have no friend-heros but I do have books. One of the other books I had with me in Brussels was Third Factory by Viktor Shklovsky and there were so many mind-bending parallels between the two, between Shklovsky’s struggle to remain artistically autonomous in twenties Russia – as the members of his literary group Opoyaz were folded into the party and one by one rejected their former ideals – and Boon’s equally tenacious desire to retain his artistic freedom. I believe in political art but, of course, art cannot flourish while tangled up in a party line. No, that was not my real reaction. What I more honestly felt was nostalgia for a time when there still were party lines, when there still was a left strong enough that one was forced to reckon with it. For both Shklovsky and Boon such reckoning might have been a curse, but I can’t help but feel we are similarly cursed without it.



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Published on June 15, 2013 00:54 • 32 views

June 9, 2013

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If there is one abiding purpose to psychoanalysis, it is to make bourgeois lives seem fascinating, at least to those who live them. That it is a form of bourgeois thought is attested by the status of the real in Lacanian doctrine. The real is always something terrible, formless, lawless, which the symbolic order tries to shield from awareness, but which keeps slithering in, unbidden. It is a modern version of the serpents that in [Asger] Jorn’s account Apollonian thought has to slay, again and again. The symbolic preserves for the ruling class, to whom it classically belongs, an order that keeps at bay the self-ornamenting powers of nature and labor, working together, writhing and worming their way into the cracks in Apollonian form.

In Henri Lefebvre the real is the fulcrum of action rather than an apprehension of terror. His vision of it comes to him while swimming against the current, the body acting on raw need to survive. “The real can only be grasped and appreciated via potentiality.” It is by attempting to transform everyday life that the contours of the real are encountered. The real is not entirely formless, even if its forms are not an order that reveals itself in the clear light of day. The encounter with the real, because it is active, informs the imaginary. From the struggle in and with the real emerges an imagining of what might be possible. The object of study for both Lacan and Lefebvre is in a sense always everyday life, but in Lefebvre study is a stage in the project of transforming it.


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Freedom is not the opposite of necessity in Lefebvre. Freedom is born out of need, and the starting point is a theory of needs. Without the experience of need, there can be no being. Needs are few; desires are many. There is no desire without a need at its core. Need can be intense: hunger, thirst, lust. Need without desire, without play, artifice, luxury, superfluity, is no longer human. It is human poverty. Desire abstracted from need loses vitality, spontaneity, and ossifies into the mere accumulation of things. It is abstract and alienating, another kind of poverty. Lefebvre’s critique aims to bring together a presentation of needs and a determination of desires to arrive at a theory of situations, as they arrive in the everyday.


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What forcloses the possibility of praxis is what Lefebvre, citing Debord, calls the spectacle. The spectacle makes totality visible, but only in fragments, and visible only within the space of the private. It does not make the private social as well. The spectacle is a one-way street, the public privatized. “It is the generalization of private life. At one and the same time the mass media have unified and broadcast the everyday; they have disintegrated it by integrating it with ‘world’ current events in a way which is both too real and utterly superficial.”

Lefebvre calls the spectacle the great pleonasm, the Thing of Things. Thought in terms of its totalizing tendency, “it would be a closed circuit from hell, a perfect circle in which the absence of communication and communication pushed to the point of paroxysm would meet and their identities would merge.” What is real is what is known: what is known is what is real. The illusion of permanent novelty occludes the possibility of surprise. It is a world of incessant redundancy. Everything is always the same, only better. It makes the same special offer to everyone, all the time: “the faked orgasms of art and life.”


...


“Philosophy,” says Simon Critchley, “begins in disappointment.” After the death of God, the end of Art, the failure of the Revolution, there’s nothing left but philosophy, the moment of contemplation of the ruins. For Jacques Rancière, it is not that literature arises out of failed revolutions, but that revolutions are failed literature. Certainly the high theory of the post-’68 era was born of the disappointments, not just of May but of the red decade of 1966-1976, of which May was the high water mark. If other failed revolutions gave us Hegel and Stendhal, Marx and Baudelaire, this one gave us Foucault and Deleuze, Derrida and Lyotard. Whatever interest such thoughts may once have held, they are now no more than the routine spasms of an era out of love with itself.

Low theory returns in moments, not of disappointment, but of boredom. We are bored with these burn offerings, these warmed-up leftovers. High theory cedes too much to the existing organization of knowledge and art. It is nothing more than the spectacle of disintegration extending into knowledge itself. Rather a negative theory that reveals the gap between this world and its promises. Rather a negative action that reveals the void between what can be done and what is to be done. Rather a spirited invention of genuine forms within the space of everyday life, than the relentless genuflection to the hidden God that is power. For such experiments the Situationist legacy stands ripe for a détournement that has no respect for those who claim proprietary rights over it. There is plenty of fruit to be gleaned from the vine.



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Published on June 09, 2013 11:56 • 23 views

May 23, 2013

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Perverse Curating is a tentative idea for a group show that would attempt to use the juxtoposition of conflicting works of art in a ‘perverse’ manner, both: 1) as a critique of what often feels (to me) like a generalized, much too ‘well-behaved’, curatorial position; and 2) as a way of seeing how far one might push this mischievous, ethically dubious, possibility for exhibition making.

Many (or most?) group exhibitions attempt to place works in space in such a way that they aesthetically and thematically complement one another, forming an experience for the viewer that supports (or, in a best case scenario, endlessly complicates) some larger curatorial position or thesis. With Perverse Curating I would like to attempt the opposite, as if all the works within the exhibition were are war with one another, fighting for their various approaches and positions, taking turns undermining each other, in never-ending conflict. If I were to do this without the complicity and permission of the artists, such a project would merely be questionable. It is the full co-operation of each artist involved that will make this undertaking ‘perverse’, as they agree to present their own works in ways that subjugate, compromise and undermine them, doing the same to the works of their fellow participants.

At this time, I have no particular artists or works in mind. We might think of Perverse Curating as a thought experiment that, eventually, I would like to turn into a exhibition. What would it mean to juxtapose works of art in a way that feels perverse? How could I do so in a manner that brings into question some of the unquestioned paradigms of conventional exhibition-making?

I am partly thinking of one of Chantal Mouffe’s best-known terms: agonism, ‘a political theory that emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict.’ While, according to Mouffe, agonism is a necessary part of any democratic process, within an artistic exhibition it might be useful to put the works into some sort of more extreme form of inter-thematic conflict. (The word I am using for this more extreme form is ‘perverse.’) As well, because a work of art always has many meanings, I would be interested to see if there were ways of creating conflicts that took place simultaneously on varying levels of visual sensation and content.

I have never curated an exhibition. And though I have done many projects in a visual art context, strictly speaking I am not exactly a visual artist. (Though that seems to be the direction my work is slowly heading in.) Much of my artistic history takes places in performance and literature. Therefore, for me, this project would also be in the tradition of works which bring something unusual to a given context simply because they were generated by someone slightly outside of the reigning paradigms, who does things differently partly to shake things up and partly out of a conscious naivité, because he or she doesn’t completely know how things are usually done. For example, I have always been fascinated by figures like Rem Koolhaus (who began his career as a screenwriter) or Robert Wilson (who began as a visual artist.)

There are many curatorial projects today created by artists, and Perverse Curating could certainly be seen in this light. However, my hope is that it could also be something else. A kind of workshop for everyone involved to question how their works are frequently exhibited. As a provocation for opening up other artistic and exhibition possibilities. This will require considerable collaboration and participation from everyone involved, which means each of the artists will have to be carefully chosen. I have no idea where or when an exhibition like Perverse Curating might take place.



[You can find other approaches to Perverse Curating here, here and here.]


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Published on May 23, 2013 08:31 • 52 views

May 20, 2013

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Someone becomes an artist because at some point in their life someone, implicitly or explicitly, gave them permission to make art.



We need an accurate analysis of the situation to proceed, but the road to an accurate analysis leads only to further debate.



After your presentation, during the questions, at the end of each question, simply admit that you don’t know.



When you’re born it’s real, when you die it’s real, everything else is a mix of reality and conventions.




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Published on May 20, 2013 15:35 • 27 views

May 14, 2013

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So much of my life, like so many artists in the early 21st century, circles around projects. When asked what I’m working on, invariably I’m always working on something I am only able to refer to as a ‘project.’ I have always known one of the things I like about projects is that they end. If you are in a band, and you don’t want to be in the band anymore, the band has to break up, but a project simply runs its course. A project is agreeing to work on a certain set of questions for a certain period of time. I have often wondered if a project is the opposite of activism. With activism you need to keep fighting forever, since injustice is never solved, it must be fought against endlessly. A project ends, while activism must keep going. Of course, each project is followed by another project, the next one. In this sense a project is mainly a way of compartmentalizing time. A project will usually take a couple of months, a longer project might take a few years, but activism is measured in generations. For activism to truly shift society, each generation needs to pick up the struggle and then keep pushing. This is clearly impossible without some larger, active sense of cultural memory.

I wish I were a better activist. The problem is I’m too defeatist. Whatever I undertake, I always have the overwhelming feeling it will fail. The one exception to this defeatism is art. In art, paradoxically, I can often trick myself into thinking that failure is a kind of success. A ‘perfect’ work of art feels dead and sterile to me. Also works that strive towards perfection. For me, in art, it is only failure, imperfection, vulnerability that opens things up, makes them human, leaves room for the viewer or reader to enter the machine. I try to remind myself that activism too is about failure, is always incomplete. Sometimes I wonder if the only problem is that I like art, at times it still gives me energy, but I’m not particularly sure if I like the world. So much activism has a better world as its goal, so if you don’t like the world activism might reflect this desire to see it fundamentally change. What else do you have to believe, before you can believe that something is worth saving?



[Previous excepts: #-1, #0, #1, #2.]



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Published on May 14, 2013 16:19 • 35 views
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Jacob Wren is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His interdisciplinary practice produces striking combinations of performance, visual art, literature, theory and music. His performances, made collaboratively with other artists, engage with the struggle to ‘be oneself’ in a performance situation, with what it means to stand in front of an audience and speak honestly about the things one finds important, at the same time never afraid to show how vulnerable and nervous one might naturally feel in such a situation.

As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize (1998), Unrehearsed Beauty / Le Génie des autres (2002), La famille se crée en copulant (2005), the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including Individualism Was A Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011) and Every Song I’ve Ever Written (2013). PME-ART was nominated for the 27th Conseil des arts de Montréal Grand Prix in the category of New Artistic Practices.

He has also collaborated with Nadia Ross and her company STO Union. Together they co-wrote and co-directed Recent Experiences (2000) and Revolutions in Therapy (2004).

His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. The first two of these have been published in French translation by Le Quartanier.

In a visual art context he has created works such as Five Important Books (in collaboration with Shannon Cochrane) and Hospitality 2: Gradually This Overview (PME-ART), works that focus on how to use the gallery space in an unconventional, always performative, manner.

International collaborations include: a stage adaptation of the 1954 Wolfgang Koeppen novel Der Tod in Rom (Sophiensaele, Berlin, 2007), An Anthology of Optimism (co-created with Pieter De Buysser / Campo, Ghent, 2008), Big Brother Where Art Thou? (a project entirely on Facebook co-created with Lene Berg / OFFTA / PME-ART, 2011) and No Double Life For The Wicked (co-created with Tori Kudo / The Museum of Art, Kochi, Japan, 2012.)

He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.



Links:
www.pme-art.ca
www.radicalcut.blogspot.com
www.everysongiveeverwritten.com
www.goodreads.com/author/show/1841571.Jacob_Wren
www.lequartanier.com/auteurs/wren.htm



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Published on May 14, 2013 13:26 • 50 views