13th May 2014
Today, I'll write about the preciousness of form. A monologue I recorded yesterday seemed to fit the topic, so I put it up there as a starter.
I'm looking at a work. Let's say it's a series of ten blurred stock photographs of a lake. Each picture looks quite the same, they are of the same size, and so on. Say there's a date under each one. It seems they've been taken in consecutive years. I don't get it. I look again.
Then I read the text. The artist (or curator or whoever) tells me that every year she hires a photographer specialized in stock images to take a picture of Lake Eerie in a way that emulates a scene from a certain Hitchock film. She has chosen Hitchcock, as her late grandfather used to work in his films as an electrician. The grandfather committed suicide in May 1977 by walking into Lake Eerie one day with rocks in his backpack. Hitchcock died one week later in a boating accident. The artist's grandmother, the electrician's wife, used to work in advertising. The grandmother was one of the first photographers to specialize in stock photography. She lost her arm in a freak accident, after which she steered away from the advertising bussiness into being an artist, something she could afford to after years of being a sought-after commercial photographer. For the artist, these stock images are a way to handle this family strategy. She commissions one image every year, always moving the camera along the lake 5 degrees clockwards, ie. to the future. The blurring is a nod to the late grandmother, reminding the artist of the change in vision the grandmother experienced after losing her hand. In 1968, she wrote: "This is peculiar. I look at the work differently, although my eyes haven't changed, nor the way I take pictures: I'm perfectly capable of using the camera with one hand only. But my viewpoint is different now."
The artist is not a photographer herself, but a multimedia artist.
Do you think that a repetitive, formal structure somehow makes the art work mean more?
In 2010-2011, I had this performance titled Express Yourself (I'll add a link here later), where I played a sample from the Madonna song of the same name, with her singing "Express Yourself". We'd hear that, and then 10 seconds of silence, during which I spoke, quickly. So every time Madonna was silent, I would speak. The performance was just that for about 23 minutes. In the end, I was almost screaming on top of Madonna, because I felt I had so much to say & could barely wait for my turn.
It's the same with this thing here. I actually edit these texts before publishing them. Sometimes I spent more than an hour writing them. I check the text for typos. And when I record the monologues that I sometimes have along with the posts, I edit the shitty parts out of them, take multiple takes, and mix them (more gain, compression, less room tone, etc). Nowadays I actually listen to or read my stuff before I post them.
For me, concepts are tools that help me get things done. It's hard for me to concentrate, because there are always multiple projects underway. These projects require replying to e-mails, negotiating dates and materials, calculating budgets, arranging travels, going through the project with everyone involved, advertising the events, taking care of documentation and pre-/post-production, dealing with failed attempts and misgivings, applying for grants & writing reports, and so on. Just like with a lot of people in the work force today, most of my time goes to doing stuff that makes it possible to do my actual work.
Naturally, you may begin to question this valued idea of "actual work". This questioning has been the basis of numerous art works, even careers, for at least 50 years now, or ever since we started to deal with such wildy vaying concepts as de-skilling, post-fordist economy, managerialism, mass production, post-modernism, service economy, third sector, affective labor, art workers, and so on. That list makes no sense as such, but from there one can draw the connections from artist's work to contemporary conditions of labor and skill.
The artist in my example in the beginning of the text had a system. The camera angle moving, the minimalist-like way they were mounted in the exhibition, the repetition of the process. You use form and repetition to create sense, or meanings. Not that you have to create meanings, as it's up to the viewer to choose whether she wants to look for them or not. I mean I could watch anything and have a lot to say about it, or I could just look at it for a moment and say that I didn't really get it, and move on with my life towards other sensory experiences, whatever.
This is of course self-evident, I think. What I really find interesting is the sometimes religious faith we have towards this process. That by repeating a thing, anything, and by presenting within an understandable form, my work will be powerful. And if I don't do it by these rules I've set for myself, the work might not be successful. What if the artist had had a picture of a laptop in her series, without no explanation?
American composer Morton Feldman used to do this. He'd have a two-hour ultra-minimalist (in the sense of very few notes, that is) piano piece based on two or three notes repeating slowly. Suddenly, after 35 minutes, we hear a new note or a chord, but it doesn't repeat or evolve. It just comes by and leaves us.
The other thing is connections between different parts or materials of the work. The lake connects with the family legend, and with Hitchcock (who could be in a more prominent role here, my apologies for a lame example), and with, you know, taking pictures. The 5 degrees thing would be even more cohesive if the number five or five degrees had some sort of connection to, well, Hitchcock (he used to have a measurement tool so he could do just that during filming when he wasn't totally satisfied with the camera angle). Or like I use post-it notes in my artistic practice, since I deal with the aftermath of Finland's recession period in the 90's because they were used in the Finnish parliament during the day they voted for austerity measures, and the vote counting machine was broke so they had to use post-it notes, and since the 90's recession really had an effect in my life because reasons a, b, and c.
Even writing this makes me nausous. Everyone will say: that is not how art works. There's no formula. Well, they said the same thing about pop music, but KLF kinda proved them wrong (LINK HERE TO NO1 BOOK).
Why wouldn't there be a formula for contemporary art practice? Especially when all the works, the press releases, artist statements, and the way art works are put on display, are extremely formulaic? The formal side of art seems rather conservative me, albeit the content might seem more disparate and surprising.
A strict form makes thing usually more, not less interesting. No one would follow sports if the rules and playing fields would change all the time. DJs want dance music tracks to be of a certain form, so they can be easily and intuitively mixed together in a club setting. The audience knows and feels this, and have learned to expect the breaks and build-ups (LINK HERE TO EDM ARTICLE).
Then again, if you have something to say, it would be nice to just say it in your own way, without forcing it to whatever structure and form is fashionable at a given moment.
I can admit I really enjoy works that make little sense in this regard. There's something exciting about messy, unmediated, unharmonic, illogical etc. works that manage to mock their own standards.
I'm beginning to realize that this one-hour format doesn't serve actual opinions that well. So tomorrow I guess I'm back at attempting to write out my fears, the situation I'm in, and the like.
Here's a radio play I did here.