“My intention …was instead to describe what remains: that which we generally don’t notice, which doesn’t call attention to itself, which is of no importance: what happens when nothing happens, what passes when nothing passes, except time, people, cars, and clouds.” Georges Perec
Recently I was describing the complete and utter revolution I’ve experienced in my artistic practice, only to have the listener remark “but that sounds like what all artists do in the studio”. At that moment it became clear to me that perhaps I needed to develop my language skills… a bit. But I must say that on some level she is correct. Yes, I am doing what all artists do in the studio. But now I am doing it DIFFERENTLY than I was before.
How, you ask? This brings me to the Aha! moments. Let me explain: one thing I have discovered about crossing the shadow line as Joseph Conrad called it – the line between youth and age, between knowledge of a thing and experience of a thing, whichever you prefer – is that frequently experience teaches you that what you thought was true is actually the case, but it is somehow completely different than what you had imagined. For instance, I know that on clear day the sky is blue. I’ve seen it. It’s been documented. It is a fact. But one day I look out the window and I realize, no, no it’s… BLUE. Only now, blue means something completely different than it did the day before. And how do I go about explaining my newfound awareness? I say to the person next to me: “I know you think the sky is blue, but really… it’s BLUE.” The person next to me gives me the same look that you are giving me now, and understandably so.
Here I will rely on the words of others, Raymond Queneau’s words to be exact: “The really inspired person is never inspired, but always inspired.” What? This is your idea of clarification? But really, when we imagine what artists do in the studio, we imagine them entering that glorious fertile creative space, raising the brush like a lance in the face of the unknown and WHAM! they are inspired. We have all sorts of romantic notions about this inspiration stuff, whether the artist is struck, like by a bolt of lightning, or he/she serves as medium channeling some higher force, inspiration seems to be marked by chance or genius. When not being consumed by this capricious, fickle and inconstant inspiration, artists engage in self-questioning, abnegation, and doubt. Cut – to the scene where the artist knocks back multiple whiskies at some bar that is remarkable only in its conformity to our expectation of bar-ness – cut – the artist passed out in the stairwell – cut – sleeping in yesterday’s clothes on an unmade mattress… We know the angst ridden story. We’ve watched Pollock! The movie!
But, back to the quote, let Jean Lescure explain: “this sentence implied the revolutionary conception of the objectivity of literature, and from that time forward opened the latter to all possible modes of manipulation. In short, like mathematics, literature could be explored.” Bye bye chance, bye bye bolt of lightning, now everybody can cook with gas, anytime they want – no more rubbing the mental sticks together over a bit of loose fluff, no more key on the kite string. Once upon a time I would have claimed that I used the language of painting as a tool, but now I will admit that the tool is vying with the image as the subject of the paintings, and through this insistence the formal tools do much to control the outcome. The process has become the subject, the finished product it’s artifact. And how is this apparent? Do I care? I am not sure it needs to be apparent. To me it seems enough that the process propels and supports the product, leave it to temporal mediums to reveal themselves in progression. What interests me is the potential of removing the romantic quality of inspiration and replacing it with something everyday. What happens when nothing happens? My goal is that by following the process, my process, I will have recorded something of what was there in the moment, perhaps an unseen, unrealized truth floating nebulous in the air, or perhaps I will mark a point in time before having the knowledge of its importance. I hope to know something of what is by not closing down the possibilities too soon, by not judging, and thus creating a structure for progress that is both scientific and reflexive, a process which exists in time and makes a relic of that time; something that will mark the day, the moment: not a train wreck or an earthquake, but a slow erosion of the hours.
Um… this brings us to another of my Aha! moments, and this one is bit awkward. So about original thought – I am not sure I believe in it as such. There is a lot of pressure for artists to conform to their own originality. Artists should have one or more brilliant thoughts and stick to them, and even if they have many many thoughts they should express these thoughts in similar ways. This is called style. Good artists are frequently recognizable by their style. But in a world so dominated by the corporate, style smacks of branding. I begin to resist style. It feels like an unnecessary and arbitrary constraint, as does facility – and I fear these are not the sort of constraints that open up possibilities, but those that instead prematurely place limits on potential. As an antidote to facility I look for ways to reinsert frustration, effort, and labor. I look for ways to slow down my process, to magnify, and to dissect it, to lengthen or compress it. Here I make use of constraints – both visible and invisible, of instructions, legibility and illegibility – awkwardness and unease.
As I reread this, I am intrigued by the number of definite statements I have made. Usually I like to avoid confusing opinion with truth, so I will call this the manifesto of the moment, as it is just as likely that I believe something completely different than I thought I thought. Mapping my own mind is akin to hitting ping pongs into a dark room and waiting to see how quickly they bounce back, if at all.
“I find my way by moving.”