The reason I’m so manhandling all my recent work and trying to write out the punchlines in bullet points is that I have to come up with a “critical commentary” by early June. The critical commentary is meant to assume some kind of distinction between research and practice, and to demonstrate that one’s research is thorough, relevant and useful to one’s practice. The trouble is that the rubric talks of having a “clearly defined topic”, and of doing research “in areas that are relevant to the chosen topic”.

That means I have to rather awkwardly step backwards trying not to tread on anything and discern a “topic” that my work is about. It seems a bit of a blunt thing to do but I can see some value in it, and anyway I have to do it if I’m going to pass the first year of my MA.

Curiously, because the MA is in Art Writing, the commentary needn’t be in writing. It has to be “equivalent to 4500 words” for parity with other Goldsmiths courses, but it can be constituted by a performance, or a video, or one of the strands of thought in a story, or some of the lines of a drawing, etc.. Needless to say this means that the divide between the critical commentary and the portfolio of artwork can blur to indistinction.

To follow on from yesterday’s list, here are the final three works I want to include in my portfolio. These ‘intuitive’ works are the ones that I find more difficult to describe.

INTUITIVE WORK (the finished work is not in mind when I start making it)

  • Anticipated Temperature (working title) is a six minute audio recording of two or three identical voices hesitating to approach a foregone conclusion. They seem to be pretending not to know each other, and contriving the situation when in fact the situation really is true. They talk about crying at strategic moments of time in order to catch those moments and create a diachronic link between all of them. One of them has a temperature and might have a sore throat but isn’t sure, and says to another “let me feel your sore throat and I’ll tell you if I’ve got one”.
  • Cup Handle Holder is a china cup with a vegetable peeler attached its handle by two clips, a screw and some string. If the handle of the cup is too hot, you can hold the handle holder. (here)
  • What The Matter Is is an hour-long audio recording of me describing the room where I work. I describe the objects in the room in some detail, and there is a risk – sometimes realized – that the things will combine with one another to make hybrids. An important part is the problem of having aphids on houseplants, which could be treated with ladybirds, but it would be difficult to persuade the ladybirds to live on the insufficient number of houseplants available.

I want to think about the ladybirds.

I have a strong image of the plants on my windowsill with dozens of ladybirds continually landing on their leaves and immediately alighting again, so that the loops of their trajectories are almost visible in the air. The plants are the central focus of the ladybirds’ activity, but reluctantly so. Ladybirds need a whole habitat, not just certain plants, and so they continue to abandon them for somewhere else to land, and are faced with no choice but to return to the same leaves.

A lot of the work I’ve been describing seems to have to do with things going off the ends of things.

  • The cut-up books are prepared and ready for use/action by virtue of their active parts being removed. The action of each book is off the end of the book itself.
  • The marked up books suggest a persistent teasing-out of the information in the words. The completed book has the marks of the preparation of reading, and the actual reading of the book – the bit that flies up off the paper – isn’t visible. I’m not quite sure what this does yet but think the activity of the reader is flung up off the paper and left there, in the air, as if to say “now what?”.
  • Communication using the ocagraph is by touching points in the air that were defined by the training tool. The training tool takes up space between the palms of your hands, and it’s in this space, once the training tool is dispensed with, that points of air can be identified as graphemes.

Perhaps I can think of my reading and looking in these terms too:

  • John Barth’s best sentence of all leaves one or other strand of representation floating out of reach when he slices through the narrative to reveal the grammar beneath it.
  • The animal in Kafka’s The Burrow occasionally exits his burrow (his place of safety), only to find he feels safest from outside it, watching potential predators fail to notice its entrance. That way he can imagine how safe he would be to be inside it. There’s a feeling that when the animal is outside the burrow he isn’t really outside it at all – if he were wholly outside the burrow then he should be anxious about potential dangers to his present self. It’s as though when the animal hides outside and watches, he’s actually an impalpable projection of himself, projected by his burrow-dwelling self out into the world to survey his safety.
  • Michael Fried claims Denis Diderot favoured paintings which obliterate the beholder standing before them. The painting rejects the operation of the viewer, and operates in an entirely self-contained way, like Suzannah and the Elders. But this obliteration of the viewer can only ever be a trope, because the paintings did need viewers in order to operate, to be viewed. For me the appeal of Fried/Diderot’s beholder-obliterating trope is that it stops the painting short of its operation in the world. The painting does operate in the world (it really is seen by beholders) but by that stage it’s none of the painting’s business. The painting’s mind is elsewhere.
  • Here I could insert some thoughts about the role of the artist and the nature of their participation in the world – the question of “who’s making this?” which Julia and I discussed yesterday. In the paragraph above I wonder which instances of the word “painting” could be replaced with the word “painter”.
  • Anthony Kerrigan’s remark about Borges’s Fictions (“In Literature it is only necessary to outline the steps. Let the people dance!”) puts the operation of the literature into the air around/outside of the literature. The readers dance the dance once the steps have been outlined. They play the text.
  • John Cage preparing the piano. The preparations come first, then the playing is already directed by what has been set up. There’s some inevitability about it, it’s an almost foregone conclusion, but you still have to take pains to approach that conclusion because it will only be reached by playing.
  • This reminds me of the story I’m writing about a man becoming cripplingly conscious of the machine of language when he speaks. The burden of the inevitability of grammaticality weighs down on him in some inescapable way when he speaks.

I think there’s a connection between this idea of a foregone conclusion that nevertheless needs to be pursued to its end, and the idea of things going off the ends of things. Is one the negative of the other? I wonder if it’s in the relationship between this negative and this positive that I might find the direction of intention I’m looking for.

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