Text by: Stephen Horne
As kids we loved open fields as frontiers beyond adult eyes, frontiers at once sparking and mirroring our range of imagination. The allure of the artist's studio contains much of this, as an architectural reflection of speculative free range. Scott Bowering, 2000
The artist's studio as an open field seems like a good starting point, but can there be such an architecture? Is building not at odds with the artistic obligation to "let things be?" Certainly many interesting artists have thought this. The painter Agnes Martin concentrated her life on the making of an art that would embody such a radiance of freedom. She once wrote that "...the holiday state of mind is the most efficacious for art," (1) What I think she meant was that there is a freedom that consists in letting things be. Meaning, give up that desire for controlling the outcome of things.
Many artists have taken this path, respecting the future as openness, a not-yet that is the place of dream, of hopes and wishes. Through tact and restraint their works create that perpetual estrangement, that source from which we may draw to resist the temporality of modern everyday life, that time of the production line, which serializes its inhabitants. That time of the digital which puts nature’s flux-world permanently in the deep-freeze, but available anytime anywhere.
But, you say, isn't it the work of art to propose a more desirable future? Instead, why not just face the emptiness, the now that never is, that descent into process, the ephemeral and the movement of entropy, “failing” as Samuel Beckett put it. Here, we find those artists whose works refuse or fail to project closure on any moment, artists for whom resistance consists of drifting and in recollection. These are the works within which we may get lost, go nowhere, or elsewhere, failing better. Again, in the words of Agnes Martin, "You may as well give up judging your actions. We just have to let everything go. I am going to work in order to see myself and to free myself." (2)
We can find artists amongst us whose works refuse a time and history as a continuous line with causes and effects, that time where the present is an instant in isolation, artists whose works instead engender a time and a memory more properly cyclical where the condition of temporariness replaces “western” desire for permanence, and where each thing is seen to be in a state of becoming/disappearing. It is in this sense we read the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto's very succinct observation, "Perhaps I am half dead."
The unforeseeable is embraced as we relinquish desire. Robert Morris once proposed that the use of "automating processes opens the work and the artist’s behaviour to completing forces beyond his or her total personal control.” (3) And around that moment, that year of the future, 1968, Lygia Clark wrote, "When there is a struggle with police and I see, in Brazil, a seventeen year old killed, I realize that he dug a place with his body for the generations that succeed him. These young people have the same existential attitude as we, they unleash processes whose end they can’t see, they open a path whose exit is unknown." (4)
Wandering is the form and material for the work of Shimabuku whose work includes, at different moments, such paraphernalia as a164 meter mermaid, an octopus, a floating tea house, a Christmas tree, a hammock and whatever is else is offered. A Shimabuku exhibition is typically carried out with the assistance of "collaborators", the subjectivity of the collaborators often being incorporated as well as their directed labour. Wandering across the conventions of inside and outside, fantasy disrupts linear form, perhaps leaving us unconvinced. This play for freedom of Shimabuku's cuts across the various lines of behaviour, equally destructuring the status of the professional and of the amateur, echoing Fluxus artist Robert Filliou who said, "I worked on the intuition that just being a human being is to be a genius and that by insisting too much on developing our talents we may lose this quality that perhaps we share with every living creature." (5)
Mowry Baden, and Tadashi Kawamata, two more artists whose works put our bodies in motion, folding future time past time into a now which never is, carry out their respective explorations within a context of participatory architectural situations. For each it is the body considered as subject of a “narcissistic” concentration that paradoxically is manifested as self-dispersal, a simultaneous confirmation and loss of identity. Baden’s sculptures are often called “task oriented” for the way in which they engage the viewer/participant in a variety of simple physical activities such as walking, lifting, stretching, pedaling, etc. He wrote, “This body may be mine. That’s enough to start with. This body (possibly mine) runs into other things, but more importantly it runs into itself.” (6)
Kawamata said about his temporary sculpture in the city square at Evreux in 2000, “I had the idea of digging up the memory of the town with the people in the past and present times, and expressing it as the thing to think with about the present time.” (7) In this work we walk five meters above ground level on massive timbered walkways, paths that ring with the sound of one foot in front of another, a circuit that brings us into a gathering of this city’s past and present. His bridgings alternately connect and disrupt the spaces between "things" and the things between spaces.
In Montreal, Mindy Yan Miller created a work of peculiar and ambivalent materiality consisting, on the one hand, entirely of holes pricked into a wall with a pin and a hammer. However, the holes carefully spelled out a phrase visible if one stood at an appropriate distance; I Killed Jesus. The pin holes were not random but organized into vertical rows forming a “woven” pattern. Connecting labour intensive, repetitive, materials based work process as a ritualized recognition of the present, she has drawn on a conception of time based in an experienced temporality; the tapping of her hammer manifested the experienced rhythm of a self-temporalization that was also a literal enactment of a cultural history.
The open field described by Bowering can be found in many human contexts and may be a criteria for what is often called "creative" activity. This becomes a constituent of any genuinely "critical" activity as well where resistance consists in breaking from obedience to normative demands for ever greater control and efficiency.
Agnes Martin, Writings, Cants, 1992
Robert Morris, Notes On Sculpture, in Continuous Project Altered Daily
Lygia Clark, October #69, MIT, Boston,
Robert Filliou, Balkin Gallery, Vancouver, BC,
Mowry Baden, quoted in Jodoin, Task Oriented Sculptures, Mercer Union, Toronto, 1987)
Tadashi Kawamata, in Catherine Grout, Kawamata, Evreux, Steidl Publishers, Germany, 2000).
Stephen Horne lives and works near Paris. His writing has appeared in publications such as Artpress, Flash Art, Parachute, Fuse, Canadian Art and has been collected in various anthologies in Canada and Europe. He has taught writing and theory/criticism at Concordia University and NSCAD in Canada.
Scott Bowering graduated with a MFA from NSCAD in 2002.