a mug’s game

hello reader, this is my all-time favourite mug…

artist studio mug shot

[mug shot]

it’s a hornsea (lion) mug dating from the 1970s, a design created out of cut-up & collaged newsprint typography. unfortunately, i put this mug in in the microwave one day and after that it became a little bit crazed on the inside, and it was later resigned to a more solitary mug’s life in the artist’s room.

some glimpses of other things i have been pondering on lately…

corrugated metal sheets

[shed : stored]

artist studio - corrugated iron shed

[shack : stacked]

wood bark panels sculpture - artist studio

[wood : engraving]

i like the idea of living in a rustic cabin in the middle of the woods, but i’ve been floored by the resolution of this piece. this is another woodwork artwork i started last year. when i realised i would probably never get the opportunity to present it in the right context i (sort of) gave up on it, because its visual aesthetic largely depends upon the neutrality of a white space. i also realised i was making it for no other reason than i wanted (or needed) to, and maybe it doesn’t have a particular place to be right now.

artist studio - wood bark art sculpture

[wood, work in progress]

some people may deride the clinical whiteness of the typical gallery space, but if art is to have any element of transcendence from the ordinary then perhaps it needs such an environment for its debut into the world of contemporary art, one which is conducive to looking & experiencing firsthand, for the invocation of thoughts in response to the expression of the artist’s ideas – or so i once thought. on more than one occasion i have visited a local commercial gallery to see a ‘publicised’ exhibition only to find the work has already disappeared from the white walls (sold out).

interestingly, a few months back i bought (quite by chance) a secondhand copy of robert smithson’s collected writings, and shortly thereafter i read this:

A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world. A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral. Works of art seen in such spaces seem to be going through a kind of esthetic convalescence. They are looked upon as so many inanimate invalids, waiting for critics to pronounce them curable or incurable. The function of the warden-curator is to separate art from the rest of society. Next comes integration. Once the work of art is totally neutralized, ineffective, abstracted, safe, and politically lobotomized it is ready to be consumed by society.

[robert smithson, the collected writings]

well, that nails the contextual argument to the clinical white wall of a gallery, and it brings new meaning to the term ‘art in the community’! – and so art often has to exist independently of these institutional limitations.

whatever the context (selling or exhibiting), every artist hopes for a good prognosis on their art (support & encouragement), and hopes their work (of art) has a life of its own. carefully administer a catalogue, an essay, a gallery talk, or a full-on interactive panel discussion, together with some general public engagement at regular intervals, will all keep the art (and the artist) alive and kicking. art’s consumers are also art’s life savers.

however, this leaves me even more befuddled about galleries & exhibitions, and the reasons for making or showing work…

this particular work evolved out of some ideas about nature’s means of regeneration and renewal, and a form of resurrection or symbolic reverence for something (a life) in the past, with an awareness of a separation from (its) nature heightened by the context. so too a relevance in the use of mundane building materials, respectfully returning them to their natural state. i wanted to recreate the presence or feeling of something (living) to recall the absence (or non-presence) of something (other). i had also spent some time at an old-fashioned woodyard sourcing oak for a family memorial commission, appreciating wood/nature from the tree to the table, as it were.

wood stacked blocks sculpture

[wood : blocked]

such notions of presence and non-presence are sometimes called hauntological:

the paradoxical state of the spectre, which is neither being nor non-being” (from wikipedia).

however, finding a precise definition of hauntological has proven rather difficult. i was interested in the artwork as a sculptural object embodying the spirit of something else, rather than a pictorial representation or illustration of a thing, which is (sometimes) the most literal means of conveying an idea about something.

a thing summons up another (non-present, or absent) thing. the absent thing becomes present and affects the meaning of the moment (the experience) and thereby the meaning of other things, for everything is inter-related through time and place, but this sounds like a crazy, oddball place in which someone like me will get “stuck” when making art, much like trying to connect all the dots – some confusion ensues.

the internet, as the always-on, social network, curiously also lures us into creating a presence to mark time passing, especially in the sharing of pictures, as if being in the moment – or perhaps more self-knowingly, on trend – drives repeated affectations of instant reminiscences about an everyday event (the now ubiquitous, sun-faded or vignetted photograph, for example – i remember 1978 – it looks just like instagram!). although the social networks’ daily updates, annotations and user timelines soon become an archive of our social discourse these life-historical waymarkers appear to direct the travel (and any passing interest) in only one direction – onwards!

there is little space for personal recollection, history or a sense of time when it is all too soon buried by the now and the next. paradoxically, this relentless need for nowness also needs quite a lot of our time – so when do we find the time to reflect on & reconnect the now with the accumulating thoughts, ideas and experiences of the past to bring fresh meaning to things? well, most artists try to do this (when they can).

i wonder if there is any hauntological significance to the process of ‘mediating’ a ’subject’ for the purpose of making art, as all art has a subject, even if its subject is only itself. the painter mediates his/her choice of subject through graphical marks, gestures in paint, qualities of colour, texture, surface – but are artists mediating experiences or the experience of making the art? (it’s just a thought…)

does endless theorising about this sort of stuff merely embellish and refine the artwork for presentation to a specific audience? probably.

most interestingly, someone i follow on twitter recently wrote in an article, bad language, that words about the art often (need to) come before the emergence of the art:

The professionalisation of artistic practice, with its emphasis on artists’ statements and the academic blitzkrieg of the crit, has bound the act of making with that of describing, so that many works of contemporary art seem to enter the world backwards, text-first.

[ben street, bad language]

street goes on to say that the ’text’ is also tantamount to a dress code in the art world, a protocol for professional inclusion, and a critical contribution to any discourse on contemporary art. ongoing discussions about art – between the artists (and the making of their work), their peers, critics & curators, gallerists and collectors – are crucial to audience engagement: the conversation has no absolute beginning or conclusion, it is revisited and revised (by the artist and others), as ideas and thoughts shift in emphasis and meaning, moving us closer to the surface of greater understanding.

therefore, presentation and context is important – assuming the art has been made to be exhibited somewhere (and not created in situ in response to a given location/space, which is the other story). sometimes too much stuff (interior architecture, crowds, texts) gets in the way of the experience, but not always (obviously). i saw an art exhibition in a disused industrial space (much like the original freeze exhibition), and although i didn’t need a text to experience the work, it was interesting to refer to. often critics and writers illuminate the artists’ concerns better, as if (at the very least) two minds are required to consolidate the work as art – and where one confidently leads the way others will surely follow – but to disagree or debate is also a good thing in art.

woodbark art sculpture

[wood : wood]

the small landscape of my personal art world changed and i am packing up this artwork along with everything else related to my art. the question i have long been pondering was answered. i am thankful to the mug for starting a conversation about purpose and value, although i see i have written too many words, once again.

sorry about the thingness thing…

2 Comments

  1. Jazz
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    notes to self:

    a ‘mug’s game’ is a foolish or worthless activity, with the implication here of being a bit of a ‘mug’ by being tricked by or into something (such as in art)…

    the ‘game’ refers to game of making & presenting art (and if it IS art?) – hauntological is a play on words of ‘ontological’

    the ‘context’ refers to presentation of the art and how this supports the ideas underpinning the making of art, and how ‘words’ help or hinder understanding – and how we are (daily) reminded of our ‘place’ in the world through our interaction with others

    i am interested in the basic premise that one’s perception/experience of ‘nature’ is meaningful when separated/away from it – absence makes the heart grow fonder (sort of thing) – here my memory/impression of ‘nature and time’ denoting or recalling other forms/thoughts of presence/absence such as bereavement or loss

    and lastly, the presence/absence of the art/artist (and the text as the intellectual ‘voice’ of the art/artist) – is it art if no-one sees or talks about it?

    [that is all…]

  2. C
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    The Gallery, at first, space seems like a womb, a place of nurture and unconditional regard, perhaps? Do we, in our hearts, offer others such a ’space’ of time and regard? With maturity, it would seem that the gateholders and educational system support their own values and the critics certainly need to justify their own positions – they fear their own redundancy, and their own ‘death’. Therefore, players in their games are welcome, by default, ’sacrificial’.

    There is time to grieve and to come to terms with loss and that which we have loved dearly, for you truly have? your melancholy implies? With death of some sort, comes a renewal, unless we are compelled (for some reason) to face death over and over again. It must serve some sort of purpose?

    Does ‘Art’ with the capital A (if we feel that we are indeed testing boundaries) need validation from others?

    Perhaps I am a pest, a fool on his own folly. :-(

    Their seems to be two worlds, the one that is currently imploding (need we look any further), and the other interior world that we can draw from, although the other makes it hard. All I can say is that your thoughts are inspirational and sensitive, please keep the interior world in mind, and the deeper values of your concerns. The synthesis of both seems to make the ‘artist’ in my opinion, but then again, I am only degree trained.