torstai 31. toukokuuta 2018

YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE THE PROBLEM



If there's a rule I think applies to all creative work, it's this one: don't be part of a scene. 

If you do, or you're being put into one because you're X or live in Y or whatever, you shouldn't be the one who affirms their beliefs. We all need affirmation, but consider if that's something you want to deliver & what's the price you pay for labouring away on it.

No one who's in a scene would ever say a bad thing about it (publicly). Its practitioners will tell you how dismissing a whole medium is such a lame opinion, and how you should check out this or that artist. 

They say these things because they need to say that. Their justification for their practice stems from the practice itself which is a somewhat problematic point of departure for any kind of creative endeavour. Obviously there are situations where you need to conserve a practice, but for the sake of argument etc.

The people running an artists' association need to be into all the nauseating art done in the name of the genre or medium they are representing. Artists following the doctrine of the day will always be lumped together in group shows with other such artists, which in itself makes it harder to make anything worthwhile since you're now stuck making sure your work doesn't say anything that's outside the norm.

A lot of it has to do with reputation. You want to make sure people take you seriously. Serious behaviour is being highly regulated, as our understanding of truth is dependent on us taking each other seriously enough to trust one another, something I derived from philosopher Gloria Origgi. (Here's a nice podcast about their latest book.) Reputation is an avatar you tend to with your life.

Reputation leads pretty quickly into informal consolidation of acceptable gestures: How to say things, and what things. We check each other to see what passes today.

This leads to every musical sub-genre producing infinite amount of identical tracks. It explains why we always already know what we're gonna see when there's an exhibition done under a given topical theme. And it lends itself to understanding why the most visible artists are all raving about the same cultural objects, from books to TV shows.

You could say that's a good thing: It's delightful to see art that reflects its times. And it kinda is. That's how you'll know what's going on. But there are so many other ways to feel the tremors of the day. Like by living today? Maybe we should make sure everyone can do that?

Art mirroring its times is the trope by which vanilla art becomes histrionic: it's the stuff that's most exciting for future researchers who try to decipher a time long gone. It's just extremely rare that those historical works would carry any ideas worth exploring. I can still remember how it felt to be shoved tedious Dadaist art down my throat without anyone explaining why those works should mean anything to us anymore, other than that they "reflected the tumult and promise of the new century." I must add that being forced to attend an intonarumori concert should be a police matter.
venn diagram showing how very few artists do groundbreaking work while adhering to given ideals
image description: venn diagram showing how very few artists do groundbreaking work while adhering to given ideals.
Courtesy of my Instagram.


























Is art pointless then?

Doing art is selfish. Reconciling for this fact with political flag-waving will never produce anything I want to see. Exciting ideas do not equal nice ideas. 

I haven't seen almost any art or entertainment that truly grabs me and infiltrates my worldview, my attitudes, my way of being in the world, while serving the goals of a given community. Although when that happens it's profoundly moving. But in most cases, if anyone cares about most cases, the creation of resonating work requires some sense of disengagement. 

This doesn't dictate what you should do as a citizen, by any means. This is not some backhanded way of defending inexcusable bad-boy behaviour in art, or saying artists must be narcissistic assholes by design. What I'm after here is charting my own experiences as a spectator, without mixing the artist and the work.  

If you feel that making art is pointless and you should spend your time helping others, you're probably right. All the culture we produce as a civilisation is based on plunder and exploitation. That same plunder makes possible both ice hockey matches and critical performance art. And doing the latter doesn't make the imbalance tip back. It doesn't mean we should give up, either, only sober up, and be real about the effects and ineffects of our activities.

Can you name a useful idea from the past 20 years that originated in art and become widespread? I couldn't come up with anything. Then, I'm not too educated or experienced. Still, I have never witnessed any proof that ideas in art done in my time would have traveled into the mainstream, or almost into any other realm, save for fringe parts of humanist studies. Maybe they have and we'll notice it later. 

And maybe, in general, it's better to see yourself as part of a grey mass than as some key individual who will save us with their latest art project. The fact that art is so drastically rooted in the personality of a singular artist is one of its key obstacles in inflicting any kind of change.

I've stopped going to art-related talks and lectures with pressing political themes in their titles. Those conversations are exactly what art anyways is: artists talking to each other, with an affirmation-hungry, educated audience watching from the sides. 

Lastly: there are, of course, artists deeply embedded in community work. I don't think it's a stretch to say they're doing that although they're artists, not because of it, as such work goes against the fabric of the art world. You could change those foundations, possibly. But then we're back at institutional critique as I wrote earlier.

INTERLUDE: badmouthing

Here's some paranoid subtweeting for you all: I could name people from the Helsinki scene who, if they'd read this, would chuckle and think "oh my god Kimmo is so clueless have they not heard about this-and-this Soviet-era art movement in Eastern Europe that, really, was so bold and transgressive." No, I haven't. No-one else has, either. I can see how unearthing such stories can be empowering and exciting. I love reading about that stuff. But make no mistake, no one outside our circle of colleagues will learn about it.

What do we experience?

Art has changed me tremendously but it has never taught me anything. That change has taken place in a hard-to-map, structural, even molecular level. My outlook has changed. 

You could say it's particularly interesting when artists tackle real-world subjects with poetic license, or meld art with science. But why would I want to listen to an artist talk about science? Like, what, you completed a PhD on the flight over here? 

I do want to see the foundations of Western scientific knowledge being interrogated, but I have very little hope that we'll get anywhere with that by curating group exhibitions about epistemologies.

It's just that I hear all this talk about all these issues, and all these names of authors being thrown in the air (season 2014-2018: Karen Barad, more on that here), but no one seems to catch them when they fall. I've been chasing that space of reflection literally all my life. I really wanna talk about the experience of coming together and what happens there. 

But the situation of art as a site of knowledge is rotten at the core: someone is always getting paid or advancing their career by organising the event or being vocal. The agency is always hijacked before it is set. So I've given up.

What happened there at the event at the gallery you just went to? Did you really experience intra-agency or was it just a mess of materials splattered across the space that everyone tried their best not to touch? Do I feel closer to other species after imagining I'm an amoeba for the duration of a performance, or could it be that such cognitive transformation would take hundreds of years? 

As we all know, it's way more complicated than the snapshot I'm giving to you here. I admire shows that make me face this problem in an inspiring way, like this show did.

Obviously, if an art event about co-existing with plants makes you feel the things you wanna feel, that's amazing, and I'm genuinely happy for you. It just hasn't happened to me yet. 

I have good reason to believe a lot of people silently feel the way I do. We are not getting anything out of this apart from learning to signal we sort of get it. Hence art is like social media: I am afraid I won't get the references if I step out. But maybe talking without reference anxiety is a goal worth pursuing?

Nice people

Scene-cultivation and reference nit-picking will only hold us down and demand we follow the party line. Of course no one really demands anything because we're all nice people with manners. But no seriously, your colleagues are the problem. Hanging out with other artists makes you produce the kind of work that you think people would like to hang out with. 

I'm too scared and tired of trying to disagree in public so I'd rather withdraw and do my work in stealth mode and deliver the goods when the time comes. When you can afford to choose it, being aside has nothing to do with a romantic loner pose. It's a strategic move.

***

Lastly, I wanna thank everyone who has read my blog posts and commented IRL or online. I would not do anything without those fleeting moments of affirmation and exchange of ideas. Here are top 5 most popular posts so far (note: only one exhibition review made the cut)
screen shot of my top 5 blog posts by pageviews
image description: with 1775 page views, this blog post has been most popular so far.


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