Aesthetic Silence

In his book Audiovision Michel Chion describes a scene in a war film in which a child is run over by a tank - is it a tank? Or even a war film? It doesn't matter. what matters is the sound. He describes how the footage of this child being run over is accompanied by a terrible sound effect, added in post-production which gives the impression to the viewer of the childs head bursting under the weight of the vehicle. The reality is that the sound it made by a watermelon being squashed. But the result, when combined witht the film is intensely emotive, sensorial, visceral. Viewers recoil from the scene, disgusted by what they see/hear. Curiosly, when the sound is removed, the film itself has none of this upcloseness created by the sound effect. the action is remote, intellectual, visual. The viewer understands what has happened, but is not brought so close to the physical, sickening reality of what they are witnessing.

In this example, used by Chinon to point to the fact that the reality of film is created as much through the audio as the visual, I begin to see a more profound division between these two aspects of film. The 'reality' of which Chinon writes is not what concerns me exactly, but certainly this combination of sound and vision impacts on the way any film is experienced. The sound brings the action close-to, makes the image thick and visceral; physically affecting to the viewer. Sound removed, the moving image has a markedly different quality. Soundless film (rather than 'silent film'), it seems to me, is characterised by a strange detachment, or distancing of the viewer from the relaity of the action. The image flattens and the visual itself becomes the focus. No longer a transparent, unnoticed surface which opens like a window onto the action which it depicts. The experience for the viewer is one of the visual surface. An aethetic view rather than an experiential one. And with this separation I would like to suggest comes a different type of interpretation - intellectual rather than emotive or sensorial.


When talking about my work it is opposition that I always come to. Materiality/unmateriality, material/intellectual, looking/touching, the real/mediated. But what use do these oppositions make? It's a bit 1st year undergrad right? Post-structuralism 1A: the existence of the other within the one, or something like that. What, I'm sure, began as a serious and radical shift in thinking in the 70's is now a convenient convention of critical theory, made vague and simplistic by over use and over simplification.

I'm worried about falling into this trap. It's easy (or easier) to use the same types of language and familiar concepts when talking about the work one makes. Superficially as well, it makes your work look more coherent than perhaps it might otherwise seem. By choosing vague and simplistic terms the work itself can be fairly haphazard, even thoughtless in its specific realisations whilst maintaining the veneer of forethought and planning - that scientific, empirical, philosophical aura one is expected to imbue the work with in order for it to be worthy of consideration.

But the work, those items of art making deemed substantial enough for the title, is perhaps more interesting in its subtleties, its idiosyncrasies, its surprises and unexpected glitches, imperfections and spontaneous machinations, than the writing allows. And this is the position I find myself in as I write this. Because without the overarching vagaries of the 'artistic practice' under which I labour, there swells the emotional turmoil of the directionless mind. I have heard other artists talk in terms of having a 'period of experimentation' before 'reigning it in' or 'bringing these experiments together'. But as sensible and rational as this sounds, what does it actually mean. Does it mean spending a couple of months pissing about? Does it mean procrastion until the deadline of the next show becomes close enough to provide some focus, does it mean learning some new skills? It seems to me that what is suggested most of all by the opposition of experimentation and the later reigning of it in, is that one is characterised by dispersion, the other focus. One proliferates the other makes decisions. But in practice is it really possible to create for oneself, through sheer force of will and rational justification, to separate out these types of work? If it is I am yet to find it. In many ways I would like to be a machine. And to be able to separate these things up, to be rational enough to make plans and stick to them, to follow ideas through till the bitter end, to not get swayed or influenced along the way by anything irrelevant to my process. But it's just not like that. Stuff comes at you and to you at different speeds, at different times and in different ways. I am continually being taken off track by whims and by small moments of inspiration and excitement. I am easily excited when encountering new things and often grow quickly tired of ideas which at first seemed to sparkle brightly in my imagination. That is not to say that I am entirely adrift. In some sort of schitzophrenic drift. It's just that, what I have been encouraged to call research, practice and theory, are (despite what they tried to maintain during my degree) separate and distinct modes of operation. What I mean is, although they are all doubtlessly useful in building and maintaining a career as an artist, they require different types of concentration, thinking, movement and imagination and they tend to pull the work as much in different direction as along a course. Let me try to get past this stifling cliché. What I mean by pulling the work in different directions is that they suggest different things that one might do. Different ways for the physical art work to be made, thought about, conceptualised, publicised, and written about. As if all the discoveries slight or significant burrow out from the core fo the work in different direction at any one time. Rather than a straight path the temporal development of the work is continually splintering. It could go in any direction at any time. And I suppose it is one of the jobs of the artist to continually keep check on these many possibilities and the decisions being made. But that, I find, is a hard thing to do. And so this business of being an artist, this trade (in the language of my tax return) is one which is continually uncertain until such time as that deadline approaches, when decisions are made and carried out, as much through necessity as design.

But where was I? Oppositions. Vagaries. Indecision. It isn't sounding very glamorous right now. Nor is this ‘art practice' looking like a very convincing business model. Uncertainty and hesitation, in business as in politics, is fatal. The market moves too fast, confidences easily lost. These worlds are all about decisiveness, ruthlessness and single-mindedness, in sharp contrast to the imagined world of scientific empiricism. Slow, methodical and logical. So where the hell does this leave the artist? What life model can s/he occupy? And let's be fair, this is more of a life than a job. How can success be acknowledged, how can progress be articulated? Let's reach for some well worn pieces of language, the old concepts which give an impression of knowingness, empiricism, clear decision making and expected outcomes. No? Too cynical an omission? Perhaps you’re right.

Let me try to write something which is honest about my work. Which does not try to justify its existance, which does not aggrandise decisions which I did not come to logically, or to raise the market value or academic significance? I'll try to describe what's happening as straightforwardly as I can, without using tired phrases, metaphors or conceptual frames. Here goes.

I think that the work I am making at the moment (and by this I mean projects or ideas which began perhaps as long ago as a year but which remain present concerns and will continue to be worked upon for some time) can be split in to three groups for the sake of clarity, and which correspond loosely to different media.

Firstly there is video and film. Moving image work. The second are small sculptures or maquettes which I have been making to photograph and to film (and in this way this second category overlaps significantly with the first. The third and final are larger sculptures, which have been made of papier-mâché and painted, but with which I am now working with clay and plaster. Besides these there are also paintings and drawings which tend to deal with imagery taken from the work already mentioned, but which are not numerous enough to deserve an entire category of their own.

A characteristic of all my work to date, and one which I am trying to work against, is that it tends to be messy, uneven, to have a hastily constructed look that shapes are amorphous, blobby, that surfaces are thickly textured. Whereas before I was most excited by excessive and effusive techniques of making and performing, now I'm trying to be more neat, more considered in what I make and how I make it. More slight in gesture, less obvious (and by obvious I mean physically obtrusive or calling for attention rather than conceptually glib (although the fear is that one equates with the other).

In my earlier videos I used a lot of frantic camera movements, hand held, filming myself doing things. I dressed as a monkey and made monochrome paintings. To compliment the frenetic camera work I made effusive and violent actions, slapping paint onto canvases with my hands. Somehow the visceral quality of the digital video, which can seem very close up and engaging fitted with the dramatic action that it captured but was in many ways involved in. My latest film project (I call it a project because I made a video in the summer but am not entirely happy with it and want to reshoot it) focuses more on the objects and materials of my attention than on me as the subject of the film. Although in the earlier films I had been creating paintings, these in themselves were secondary to the action of painting. In the recent video the action is secondary to the visual effects created as i make arrangements of small objects in front of the camera, moving it around to make unusual framings, or exploring the textures of the objects by bringing the camera very close to them. This video holds in its execution one of the central questions of the current work (although I must admit it is only now I write this that it seems central). The question has to do with performance. I made performance for several years before turning to video and later sculpture. In retrospect the transition when something like this: from theatre to performance art to videoing actions to making props for films to these props becoming things in their own right. What is interesting is also a shift in what I want. Video, with its clarity of image, its gourdy viscerality and faithfulness was an obvious media for translating the physical, bodily aspects of performance. The emphasis now shifts away from the actions preformed, towards the visual qualities of the objects captured by the camera and more and more I am tempted by film. Silent, highly visual, removed from the brashness of video. This shift is the central question. Many of the sculptures I made at first were large, bulbous and coated in thick layers of gloss paint, in an attempt to keep the visceral quality of film. To me sculpture is a puzzle and because I came to it through making it was the performance of creating something which I found exciting. But then, when this process is over and the work presented where is the performance? No matter how physically affecting the materials used or the violence of the process which created it, the sculpture stands inert, silent. It has a spatial aspect and in some ways is tactile and temporal; it is experienced in time and the texture of the surface and size in the gallery are undoubtedly physically affecting to the viewer. But still the work remains silent and unmoving. It is a major shift. In my video and performance everything is very present. The sculptures are, by nature, more ambiguous and enigmatic, in the same way that silent film can be. It is this silence that I am most intrigued by, but which is the most troubling for me and the ways in which I understand what I do.

Because these new works do not say anything, have no voice in which to justify their existence, they are much more troubling. Because they do not move it is harder to distinguish in what ways they perform. But I return to the silence. It is this, more than any other conceptual notion that distinguishes sculpture from performance and (silent) film from video. This seems to me now the one distinguishing factor. Silence. How to deal with silence. Perhaps it is only through silence that one comes to the purely visual or aesthetic. But then, cannot silence make time stretch out, be felt ever more keenly? I think I must be brave to enter into this silent world. Where the work neither says anything, nor makes a move.

I will write more about this.

Materiality or Immateriality, what's it gonna be punk?

Ok, so I've been chillin' on the blog front for a while. Reeling from a few shows in the summer.

It's occured to me that Science fictions films, although fantastical, far fetched, and dependent on special effects, are incredibly corporeal. They illicit strong bodily sensations or at least appeal to the viewer on an emotive, senorious level. Whether through shock tactics, or gruesome sounds and visuals, or through the double edged pleasure of seeing the manmade world being variously destroyed, the appeal is sensual rather than purely intellectual.

Materiality or Immateriality, what's it gonna be punk? is the name of a performance I made over the summer. It was concieved of as a performance that was also a filming. The materiality of the performance would come up against the immateriality of the moving image. Of course, it isn't as clear cut as that, and this (I think) is what makes it interesting. Video can be very visceral. The audience watched the performance (if it could be called that) with a live feed from the camera running to stacks of monitors either side of the set/stage. The audio was also amplified, so the audience could hear loudly all those scuffs and scrapes that I like so much on playback.

I think that this piece marks a point of crisis for my work, betrayed in the title, between the material and the intellectual. And between objects - impassive, fixed and timeless - and performance. Recently I've been making sculptures. Sculpture inevitably concerned with materials. Makign sculpture is all hands and touch and materiality. But looking at sculptures when finished is different. It's still material, but at the same time a material which does not have the same upcloseness or visceral attack as those images on the screen. Without movement, or physical contact material has a markedly different aspect. Sculptures observed in a gallery loose somethign of this visceral materiality, moving into the realms of the visual and the spatial.

The performance wasn't really a performance. At least not in the way the audience I had was expecting (although perhaps i am being slightly paranoid here). Let's say then that it wasn't a show. That I, the 'performer' wasn't the main focus of the work. The focus (literally of the camera) was on a series of objects, large and small, which littered the set. It was the objects that I hoped would perform, through my interaction with them. My interest was in the doubling of imagery. The long view of the live action and the framing, often up close and irratic, of the video image. I set up a series of different arrangements, building them in front of the camera. Moving them around, knocking them over. Exploring the space and the objects' shapes and textures with the camera. Playing on the stillness of the objects and the movement of the video. It has always intruiged me that sculptures, always considered in their untouchableness, can be held and dragged and lifed and moved around by human hands. And there is a comedy to this. A comedy of materials in the disjunction between what is happening and our expectations towards certain things. A shattering of the silent, visual and therefore immaterial contemplation of an art object and the fleshy conduct of the body that moves it.

What I'm interested in seems to be this wish for direct contact. Fleshy feelings. The sculptures I've been making are painted in thick vivid gloss paint. With expressionistic brush strokes, smears and drips. It has the effect of always looking as if it might be wet and sticky. You can feel the application when looking at it. And they are big too. Human size at their smallest, monumental at their largest. When attending the opening of a show in Bournemouth where I made the biggest of these bright green, rock-like objects (3 metres high by 2 meters wide) people kept touching it. Not obviously, but many people did it. Reached out a sly finger, or went around the side by the wall and pressed their hands against it. A little material gesture towards an otherwise visual and spatial experience.

King Kong

I recently bought some strips of 35mm film off ebay. They’re from the 2007 remake of King Kong. Looking at them has made me realise what an incredibly excessive medium film is. How many thousands of frames it takes to make up a feature. There is, of course, the sheer volume of celluloid, hundreds and hundreds of feet rattling through the gate at 24 frames per second. (24 times 35mm makes 840mm per second, which is just over 3 kilometres an hour). Looking at the individual frames you also realise the level of detail: each frame a separate photograph. Just to maintain a still image requires constant repetition. But it’s the level of detail in a film like King Kong which is really remarkable. Every frame an intricate image of an elaborate set, with stunning lighting, CGI graphics, beautiful people covered in makeup, dressed and styled. A friend of mine makes staged diorama photographs and each one can take months to orchestrate and here in my hand I am holding dozens, if not hundreds, of beautiful, vibrant, widescreen images that I bought for under a fiver. But really, there’s nothing special about this, I am merely stating the obvious. What has shaken me to this realisation, of something which I already knew but never really gave any thought to, is that I am holding these images in my hand. They are not being projected, seamlessly melded into one continuous moving image. I am not sitting at a distance from an illusive and immaterial flat surface of moving shapes and colours giving the illusion of depth and depiction. I am holding these bendy bits of coloured plastic in my grubby hands. And they’re fascinating in the same sort of way as any perfectly formed miniature.

But what to do with this discovery? With these strips of plastic? They’re so small it’s hard to make out the images clearly and I don’t have a projector. Even if I did the film has been cut into short strips anyway so you couldn’t play it. It seems crazy that such small thigs can be projected so large and with so much detail. What should I do with them? Fuck knows. I just like them.

Distracted, undependable and drifting: 3 artworks evading meaning in the eye of the viewer.

Art is a distraction, or at least it can be. Not necessarily in the sense that it diverts attention from the important business of life, but that distraction can be a critical strategy on the part of the artwork, a lack or excess of information which allows for a particular quality of encounter. Whatever this strategy is, it has something to do with the way in which a piece of art holds the viewer’s attention.

Sensory perception is a fickle thing. And vision especially so. In his book Action in Perception Alva Noë shows that vision is not the primary means by which we create and maintain our high-definition, full colour picture of the world around us. Human visual perception, he suggests, is actually very poor, uneven and largely in black and white. It is also bound up with attention. Stare intently on the thing in front of you. Can you really distinguish objects in your periphery? Can you tell what colour they are? More strikingly, studies have shown that people can miss dramatic changes that occur in the centre of their vision, if their attention is focused elsewhere. A famous example is that of a study in which participants watch a video of a basketball match and are asked to count how many times the team in red take possession of the ball. After a minute or so a person in a gorilla outfit appears, walks into the centre of the screen, and does a little dance. Concentrating on the ball, participants uniformly fail to notice the gorilla even though it is large, moving and in the centre of the visual field.

What else are we missing? And how might this impact on the processes of viewing art? How would a piece of art distract, and from what?

Let’s take a concrete example in the form of a film by iconic British avant-garde filmmaker Jeff Keen Marvo Movie (1967) recently released in a DVD boxset, GASWKX the films of Jeff Keen, BFI. Marvo Movie is indicative of the style of filmmaking Keen developed throughout his career: fast paced, frenetic, a mixture of footage of action overlaid sometimes three or four times, stop-frame animation, collage and painterly effects. Watching this film is something of a visual onslaught. And it is very difficult to keep your attention fixed, because of the fast succession of imagery. There is also no fixed way in which the film invites the viewer to watch it, it is hard to tell where one’s attention should be focused at any one time, and this quality makes the film very much about the experience of watching. Writing in 1965, Raymond Durgnat maintained that his films depended ‘more on movement than photographic texture’, meaning perhaps that the depictional content of the film is secondary to the way in which this material is played with. But texture is also an important part of the work and the great varieties of surfaces and colours that scream across the screen. Whereas mainstream cinema, in most places, seeks to underplay the material qualities of the medium, preferring instead to focus attention on the interior depictional world of the film narrative, Keen’s films play heavily on the medium’s thickness and viscerality. Thus the many textures of collage and paint, the continual overlaying of material (often done in camera by winding the film back and re-shooting), the spluttery rhythms of stop-frame, all thrown together at rapid pace lend themselves, I would suggest, to a far more immediate, sensorial, experience of film itself, rather than a considered, or involved reflection upon the filmic content.

It is often acknowledged that different viewers see different things in a work, but this is usually thought of as a matter of interpretation: what people see in a work. However with Keen’s frantic paced imagery the real question arises of whether different viewers have in any way the same visual experience. One might be focused in the top corner at a patch of swirling colour and miss the large collage Superman which appears to another viewer in the opposite corner and so on. It could be that viewers have markedly different visual experiences of the work, to such an extent that one may see a film of a basketball match, another a person dancing in a gorilla costume.

What we have here is a deferral of meaning caused by the distracting up-closeness of the medium, but also a very real suggestion that what is seen may be very different from person to person and from viewing to viewing. It may in fact be possible to claim that there can be no singular viewing of this film. No completeness or wholeness to a film which cannot be taken-in in its entirety and which obstinately refuses to let our gaze settle.

Writing in relation to the sculptures of Rebecca Warren, Barry Schwabsky writes:

When the artist makes something that seems to point back to itself rather than the bull’s eye of significance that it at first seemed to be indicating, the viewer may feel frustrated by the thing’s undependability or delighted by its artful hocus pocus, but in either case will have been made more aware of his own desire at work – which just might be the work’s ulterior subject. Scwabsky B. 2009: ‘Fragments’ in Rebecca Warren, London: Serpentine Gallery /Koenig Books

This undependability then becomes a deliberate strategy on the part of the artwork, similar to a distracting of attention. Every time the viewer begins to settle on a stable interpretation the artwork presents a complication, an element that does not fit, or simply the object sits silently and refuses to be definite enough in any of its qualities to allow a stable meaning to settle over it. Rebecca Warren’s sculpture series We Are Dead I-VIII (2008) may be a good example. Like much of her work it is not figurative, but maintains a flirting relationship with the figurative. We Are Dead is made up of a number of roughly sculpted blocks of unfired clay sitting on pedestals. It is hard not to imagine this work as a group of figures, but the blobs themselves have no recognizably human (or animal) attributes. They are impassive bulks bearing the finger marks of seemingly rapid production. Up-close the swirls and marks of the sculpting lead the eye to rove endlessly over the clay surface. As Schwabsky suggests the unfired clay gives the work an unfinished quality which again points to an openness in the way the work is read. The tension in Warren’s works perhaps comes from a contradiction: that the works are simple, solid and impassive, yet they evade easy signification. Distraction becomes deflection. Or, the distracted gaze becomes the deflected interpretation.

The ‘bull’s eye of significance’ might also be related to the moving image, and in the case of Keen, by continually knocking us back to the surface of the projected image he continually reinforces the conditions of viewing and the constructed reality of the film. The Glass Parallax (2009) by sculptor and filmmaker Sam Dowd operates an almost reverse strategy. The slow pace of his film differs markedly from the frenetic pace of Keen’s oeuvre (although it perhaps bears a similarity to the silent impassivity of Warren’s work.) There is, however, a similar deferral of meaning at work.

The measured pace of The Glass Parallax, the lingering shots of modernist architecture, slow pans across crystalline, geometric objects and the odd presence of four silent figures, walking as if in a daze combine to create a calm, but unsettling feeling reminiscent of Bergman or Goddard. Dowd speaks of the film as a stimulus for daydreaming, as the attention of the viewer shifts away from the image. Installed with the objects from the film the work has a similar impassivity to Warren’s sculptures, with the inclusion of the rattling of the projector. The space of the exhibition then seems to extend the filmic space and the potential for the viewer to drift within it.

This is coupled with a feeling that something is being deliberately obscured from view. That there is some meaning which evades the camera and which sits perpetually on the periphery of one’s vision. It is as if something is left perpetually unsaid, frustrating the viewer’s attempts to make sense of the filmic content. A content which is tied as much to material considerations as Keen and Warren: Dowd is playing on the black and white widescreen film image and its power for nostalgia and dreaminess, giving the entire piece an aesthetic, rather than realistic, character. The lines of the horizon crisscrossing the lines of architecture and object make this work as much about a painterly geometry as an exploration of the photographic image. Here distraction becomes deferral becomes drifting.

Whether it be Keen’s Visual overload, Warren’s stubborn silence, or Dowd’s peripheral drift, a singular reading will not settle in, on or around these works. And this is the pleasure and beauty of them in all their differences. For every viewer there will be a difference perspective, not just of interpretation but of the very act of seeing caused by the work’s playful pointing back to itself: its material, construction, and situation of encounter.

GAZWRX the film of Jeff Keen, (DVD) BFI, 2009.
Rebecca Warren at the Serpentine Gallery until 19th April 2009
Sam Dowd The Glass Parallax in Lost Horizons at the Towner Gallery Eastbourne until 7th June 2009.

Noë, A. (2004) Action in Perception. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
Durgnat, R. (2009) Flyweight Flicks in GAZWRX the Films of Jeff Keen booklet. BFI:London, pp.30-31
Scwabsky B. (2009) ‘Fragments’ in Rebecca Warren ,London: Serpentine Gallery /Koenig Books, pp. 39-49



• noun 1 a thing that diverts attention. 2 a thing offering entertainment. 3 mental agitation.

He was at his letter-writing again in the morning. The little desk at the window was black, rivaling the blackness of his fire escape, those rails dipped in asphalt, a heavy cosmetic coat of black, rails equidistant but appearing according to the rules of perspective. He had letters to write. He was busy, busy, in pursuit of objects he was only now, and dimly, beginning to understand.
(Saul Bellow Herzog, Penguin Modern Classics, 2007, p. 102)

Revolve Mock Up

I'm going to start a magazine caller 'This is Useful'.

It's going to be all stuff that helps you do art. Whether your an artist, writer, viewer. A cross between a practical do-it-yourself, self-help guide, review and critical journal. It'll have lots of pictures.

Negative Appreciation

Boris Groys talking about art criticism...

They [readers] absolutely didn’t respond to what I wrote, be it description or evaluation, and they absolutely couldn’t distinguish between positive and negative evaluation. So if they saw, for example, a long text with illustrations on the first page, and it was a negative review, everybody perceived it as a positive review.

If you mention them [artists] it makes no sense to criticise them, because it’s obvious that whatever you say is an advertisement for them. If you don’t like them, you just don’t mention them; if you like them, you just approve them. So the system excludes the phenomenon of negative appreciation: something that has a very long tradition… So today’s criticism mostly does not function as critique.

A critic creates a search engine for the reader; fundamentally he just says ‘look at this!’ Whatever is said beyond this will be perceived merely as an explanation or legitimization of the advice to look.

Interview with Boris Groys, Frieze 121

Is this an attitude of an art world dominated by the market? Of consumer consciousness, where time is short and not to be wasted? Where going to see something becomes a question of 'is it worth my time, do I need to see this?' Rather than a general or genuine curiosity to experience and form opinions about cultural stuff (I nearly wrote products, which perhaps betrays the way in with which current language use is bound to consumerism.)There is an expectation here that the critic will do the work for the gallery goer, somethign like a personal shopper. Letting them know what they should go and see and what they should miss. The reader/viewer is thereofore, not in the position to make decisions for themselves. That is not what is expected of the art encounter.

As an artist then, getting 'into' an art magazine or journal is all important (and this is the same with having shows at 'recognised' galleries and the like). Getting mentioned and the exposure it brings is constitutive of your status as artist within the economy of the visible artworld. Without this representation (from galleries and critics) you effectively do not exist. In this sense, the critic can do nothing but reinforce the dynamic. And because the value of the writing, what is visible about it, is quantitive rather than qualitative (ie. more about column inches and jpeg dimentions than about the critical analysis itself.) The engagement between critic and artist becomes much the same as between critic and viewer and presumably artist and viewer. These relationships become based on quantitive values, with a presumption that art can be easily valued, more in terms of its visiblilty (as an object within a system of comercial relations), than as an object of interest within itself, or within a meaningful, personal and individual encounter.

Negative appreciation (deppreciation?)would only be possible if the critic had nothing invested in this dynamic. But how can their writing be divorced from this context? As Groys says, if it appears in an art magazine it will not really be 'read'. But if the writing is taken out of this context it will lose its visibility, no one will read it. So the critic, like the artist, is caught in a bind. Within the 'professional' world the output of both writer and artist is reduced merely to its visibilty, its position within the field. The possibilities of what the art or writing can do is radically reduced. All it can do, in fact, is take a position. They are visible, but silent.

Basically, what's the fucking point right?
Today I came across these:

I get sent a vast amount of press material each day, almost all of which employs a strikingly similar tone of voice. Most common is the one of academic solemnity infused with a barely veiled aggression, as though art were engaged in some cultural ‘war on terror’. Words such as ‘forcing’, ‘interrogating’ or ‘subverting’ occur with incredible frequency. Boundaries are ‘broken down’ and ‘preconceptions challenged’ so often as to make subversion and radicality seem like a mandatory daily chore rather than a blow to the status quo. They perpetuate old-fashioned notions, such as that of the artist visionary liberating the masses from mental enslavement by bourgeois values. Overuse has made these words sounds strangely toothless, for what’s at stake in the art is often less important (but not necessarily without value) than the language suggests.

The seductionsof jargon affect artistic production. A word you hear many artists use today when describing what they do is ‘practice’ (or ‘praxis’ – urrgh!), much as you might describe an architectural or doctor’s practice. Occassionally prefaced with the phrase ‘research-based’, the word has faintly scientific, academic and conventional ‘professional’ overtones, suggesting fixed methodologies with quantifiable outcomes. Perhaps originating in the 1970s’ Conceptual artist, it speaks of the rationalist flipside to the old-fashioned model of artist-as-licenced-transgressor, positioning the artist alongside applied artists, philosopher, sociologists or community workers.

Quotes from ‘A Serious Business’ by Dan Fox
in Frieze 121, March 2009, pp. 108-113

I think I use this sort of language all the time! It was sort of mandatory at art school, and it's also influenced by the type of governemtal rhetoric that you have to employ when writing an arts council proposal. Justificatory, quantifiable, methodical... all the things making art is rarely about, at least in my experience. How about, vague ideas, moments of clarity quickly fading, unhealthy obsession with detail, fear, panic, mistakes, something seeeming to go well and then completely fucking you, mad rushes toward deadlines, never getting as far as you'd like, tears of frustration, recrimination, embarrassment, or at least that slight feeling of shame when suddenly all these people are looking at somethign you've made, reading stuff, looking at pictures, going for walks, getting headaches from paint fumes, dust and 12 hours of sitting under striplights, getting drunk, getting up late, not getting much done, looking at the same thing over and over again trying to see it in a different light, trying to see the problems, the potential solutions, then becoming blind to it all, anything could mean anything, I've been on my own for too long, I need to get out of here. I've gone strange.

Narrative, psychology and economics.

I've just read my way through the the latest edition of ArtWorld and patterns are emerging. It has a slightly more fresh and funky, down to earth style than something like Art Forum, or even Frieze. The interviews all start with the same question about the artist's name and end with 'If you could live with any artwork, what would it be'. Not particularly enlightening perhaps, but with articles about Valie Export and Ceal Floyer, both of whom changed their names for arguably artistic resons perhaps the name question does serve as a good opener. Art, one could surmise from this magazine, is very much about personality. Features tend to be mainly biographical in content, with references to psycology, politics, historical context and aethetics trends.

What every article does, and perhaps one could argue that this is a quality of much writing about art, is draw a narrative through an artist's work. Even when a piece starts out declaring the ideosycracy or disparity of an artists practice, the basic drive of the writing will be to create a coherent storyline to the work. And why not? A good piece of art criticism of this kind will forground the artist's biography, will make some claims as to the coherent progress of the work as a dynamic oevre, will find some juicy pschological justifications - Franz West's mother, for example, was a dentist in the days when dentists were to be feared, and thus his works might be read as embodying this pschological trauma - or a particular series of works may have been painted at 'a bad time in the artists life' as I recently read in the notes to the White Light/White Heat exhibition at Hauser and Wirth about a piece by Joan Mitchell. They will also place the work within a certain art historical context, 1970's Vienna dominated by the actionists for West, the Lower East Side for Dan Colen, and use this context to compare and contrast with the artist's output. There may also be thrown in a bit of politics, but usually only if the artist is seen as overtly 'political', in which case (as with the current article on Valie Export in Art World) the writing will be dominated with the works political concerns. These concerns, however, will be written through with biographical detail: because she was a woman, living in Vienna.......

It would be easy to point to the fact that articles such as these are reductive of what maybe seen as far more complex work. Much can be made of divergence, disparity, fragmentation, the sort of rhetoric that was banded around in the heady days of Postmodernism. And indeed it is true. An article can only do so much. The sort of overview which is common in Art World could be argued to give a distorted view of an artists work, but this is a necessary factor of writing about art at all. And perhaps points to the point, made by Nicolas Bourriard in the catalogue to Altermodern, that people just don't care about these issues anymore. We know we can't trust the media to fully represent the world, so let's just get on with it. Reviews and articles may alway partial, but in their partiality they can be enlightening, exciting, and give you access to work you may otherwise not have seen, or enable you to engage with work in a new or unexpected way. Articles also have a job. They have to fill the pages of their respective magazine, be the flesh of editorial strategy. They may also bring an artists work to the fore, serve to strengthen or establish a reputation. This may seem cynical, but in this respect the article plays an important role in the interconnected sphere of contemporary art and in this respect the writing, and editorial, may be seen to be highly skillful.

More importantly for me, and the main reason for this writing here, is that the creating of narrative is perhaps fundamental to the artist themselves. In a cynical way of course, the contemporary artist is expected to do exactly what magazine articles do. Write for themselves a narrative in which their work gains coherence, import and reputation. This may happen though a variety of means including shows and exhibitions, artist statements, interviews, chit chat and may also be augmented by outside sources such as gallery press releases, critcal commentary and so forth. But more importantly than this, and speaking as an artist, the construction of narrative is fundamental to the day to day practice of making and living. Narrative in these terms is something like a strategy, a constant assessment of what the work has been, what it is now and where it might go. Without this sense of grounding, making decisions about the work can be very difficult. How does one diferentiate between was is wanted and what is not, what is genuinely interesting and what is a failed attempt. These strategies will naturally differ depending on the approach of the artist. And a certain amount of accident must accompany any creative process. And surely making art can be a terrifying experience, there is alway a sense of uncertainty when one is trying to breach new ground, which is embedded in the prevailent idea that art should in some sense always be dynamic and forward looking, even in an age when appropriation, borrowing and reworking are all fairly well established forms. Because art-making is largely self-directed, and not purely driven by economic concerns, an artist needs to have a sens eof purpose and direction. In my experience new works can often come to be realised in surprising ways snd following these moments a time of taking stock is often needed. Some time to work out how this new work fits in with the old. What new directions it may suggest. How it will be looked back upon as part of the narrative of my work as a whole, whenever the whole may be reached.