Grey Area, Sat 26th Feb 4-6:30pm, Sun 12-5pm
The second Rework residency at Grey Area will culminate in an event over the weekend of 26th Feb that will include painting installation and performance.
As with the last Rework project discussions about painting have taken place concurrent with producing new work. One idea explored was how the interior relationships of a painting read either aesthetically or metaphysically may survive commodification.
Another subject for debate is how the institutional critique undertaken in art since the sixties may develop into an art of connectivity and becoming without “becoming fascist” or “becoming McGreenberger”.
From Staging the Event by John Russell.
1. The first approach involves the idea of staging as located within the problematic contemporary theoretical and political context(s) of `the art world’ and/or `the art institution. ‘ This envisages the artworld as a `cultural prison’ To operate within this
confinement requires either faith in the idea that art transcends the structures that stage it, or otherwise it involves some form of critical engagement with these structures….
2. The second approach develops as an alternative to ideas of strategic (or critical) staging and proposes the possibility of a speculatively (or non-strategically) staged practice or artwork. The idea here might be that the artwork is staged as a kind of meaningless-ness in respect of the official codes and scripts of the institution. In a sense this is suggested as an alternative to, or a reaction against BANK’s strategic approach. However something of this attitude was evident in the staging of bizarre juxtapositions of texts and artworks and outlandish titles and staging of exhibitions.
3. The third approach relates to the possibilities of staging-as-speech-act. By this I am referring to the way(s) in which BANK self-institutionalised itself as BANK: this involved the physical occupation and naming of a series of venues (Bankspace, Dog, Gallery Poo Poo) and the construction of a series of interlocking identities, for example Bank Tabloid and Bank Fax-Bak In an article in 1997 Steve Rushton argues that in this naming of virtual institutions (he also talked about Factual Nonsense and Mike Nelson in this context) we were using `a recursive narrative structure’ as a kind of speech-acting:`BANK recently created a subsection called DOG before embarking (no pun intended) on a series of forays into the virtual institution. BANK TV, Dogumental (a Documenta lookie-likie) and The BANK newspaper have consolidated this tendency. BANK now fits into a frame labelled DOG which in turn fits into a frame labelled BANK TV which alongside The Bank newspaper, fit into their `media empire’ frame. We encounter a series of stories within stories, virtual institutions within virtual institutions. These, as with the examples instanced above, form a baroque complex of worlds which are meaningful within the setting of a constructed place. They form a mutated pastiche of the `real media’ and the `real art world’. Their critical relevance comes at the point where the realness of the media and the artworld are brought into question and lead us to ask to what extent the `real’ institutions are also fictions.
The Cubist Epoch by Douglas Cooper was one of the first books I read while I was at college that discussed painting in terms of formal development and treated it as being solutions to successive problems. The difficulty was identifying what the problems concerning painting at that time might be. Conceptual art had held sway for many years abandoning painting totally. Pop and neo-Dada were the nearest there was to critical non-abstract painting and a lot of it didn’t actually seem like painting at all. Paul Gopal-Chowdhury proclaimed himself as the next great thing in painting but we had our reservations. Painting returned as farce in the 80’s after the New Spirit in Painting show and Saatchi’s acquisitions (practically the same thing). Richter’s work seemed to be conceptual and strategic – but was it painting? Considerations of aura weren’t developed. A conceptual model for critical painting had yet to be undertaken.
Is it surprising that theorising painting is difficult? A painting proceeds by invention and having an a priori conceptual schema can either be constraining or inadequate. Painting has to be described in speech before it can be analysed with all the slippage and aporias that might entail.
Writing about painting has developed and not always from a purely painting perspective. Here is a fragment from a critique of Deleuze’s book on Bacon concerning the thorny old duality of figurative and abstract painting.
“According to Deleuze, painting has two possible ways of escaping the figurative: toward pure form, through abstraction, or toward the purely figural, through extraction and isolation…to break with representation, to disrupt narration, to escape illustration [is to] isolate the figure [p. 3].
To liberate the figure from the figurative is to isolate it against the ground. Now, Deleuze may be talking of bodies as figures or he may be talking more of figure- ground relationships. For the hysteric or the malingerer it’s frequently hard to say which is which. But remember, in the curator-fixated world of art and art writing barely a moment has gone by without someone coming up with ‘the body’ or with ‘new gentleness’ – or something – as a solution to – or a salve for – the insecurities and scandals of abstraction.
Deleuze sees the parallelpiped theatre as somehow essential to Bacon’s ‘logic’. The voice off says that this is how Bacon gets to have puppets that he can adorn as he pleases with artistically conventional artifices of expressivity, emotional gravitas, etc. The puppets that are created by the Punch and Judy show décor-cum-space are merely the hooks from which Bacon’s style-shopping, his self-regarding anxiety in the face of the modern(ist), are hung. This is a theatre in which well established artistic conventions can be mistaken for critical or violent or otherwise urgent and significant insertions of the figural. This is not what they really are. They are usually borrowed artistic swatches, patches of artifice that anticipate readymade responses. The little theatre enables the figure to stay in place the easy way. We might say that it is clearly an artifice that is not impinged upon by reality. Bacon sees no need, or can’t be bothered, to find a surprising angle or bit of the world – a table or a window or whatever à la Manet, Degas or Bonnard – but he makes a few smears, a few decorative gestures, and redeems them with the small conventions of ‘perspective’ to produce theatre and to allude to a grander and more auratic Weltanschauung of religious art (the Renaissance, curtained rooms, confessionals, ecclesiastical power, and so on). This is in fact the Weltanschauung – or rather the panoply – of the conjurer/illusionist. It is kitsch. ” A&L
Deleuze’s project was to bring new concepts into philosophy and this book as the title says is to treat sensation as a philosophical topic. Reading the book as an analysis of painting is as far removed from the point as treating his two books on time and motion as having anything to do with cinema. The Bacon book is conceived around what has been said about his work as much as the paintings themselves. Having said this the A&L critique which also appeared in a similar form in their their recent show at the Lisson gallery points up the lack of resitstance to the insitution that flows from Bacon’s methodology and Deleuze’s uncritical complicity with that. Unpicking a work and the narratives that sustain it in this way gives some purchase on how a critical position might be constructed and how it might inform new work. The Deleuze book does present a particular view of painting to be taken note of by artists and subject to their critical scrutiny. Close reading such as this is a way of avoiding the fuzzy formulations of my college days. In line with Deleuze’s project the book does attempt to produce new concepts that may or may not be of interest to an artist either in themselves or as critical points of departure.
These critiques are enlarge the basic aesthetic formulation of the dynamics of viewer and painting which were largely lost through Greenbergian formalism and abstraction which I would characterise as the viewer’s relationship to otherness that painting has a particular adequacy to address. A&L’s project addresses this with particular attention to contingency.
As an example of the basic aesthetics I referred to Titian’s Marsyas is a metaphor for the act of painting and how a world achieved through the preposterous act of smearing pigment on material might have some reflection on our own. Going beyond the formal aspects of painting and engaging with its interior narratives seems basic to attaining some form of complex literacy regarding painting which might then serve with the production of more contingent work. That is to engage with the sea of shit rather than claiming to circumnavigate it
“We have seen how Titian’s self-assertive late style is inherently meta-reflexive — the work reflects its own creation. The Marsyas furthermore seems to extend this into the dissolute figuration itself. The contemplative Midas, often seen to be a self-portrait of the artist — can be seen as an figural embodiment of this reflection, while the figure of Apollo vividly recalls Palma’s and Boschini’s account of the master at work, scrupulously moulding the pigment with his hands. His hands concentrated at the richest concentration of colour on the canvas — an area in which Titian possibly used his fingers to smoothen the edges of the brushstrokes and make the colours coalesce — Apollo’s does, upon further scrutiny, not solely seem as an act of destruction, but also one of creation, of love even. This interpretation becomes even more poignant when comparing the picture with the late Pietà, now in the Accademia in Venice. Intended by Titian as the adornment of his own tomb, first in the Church of the Frari, and subsequently probably for the family chapel in his hometown of Pieve di Cadore, this painting is a solemn devotional statement which provides a resonant contrast to the exalted, but grisly Marsyas.
The analogies between Marsyas and Christ have already been touched upon and account well for the similarities in composition. Representing as they both do a moment of transcendence, the paintings approach the issue of incarnation in similar, yet quite different ways. While Marsyas, as explained, is mired in the physical, his exposed flesh densely rendered with tender carnality, the body of Christ — painted with equally abstract, but less smooth touch — is almost ephemeral, as if dissolving into the Lux mundi emanating from within it. Where the Marsyas is a still, almost stifling scene of contemplative horror, the Pietà is open and airy while covering the extremes, being simultaneously a scene of outrage and peace. This makes for quite different end results; while the two pictures are in a way equally sombre, the Pietà carries with it a more explicit promise of resurrection and redemption.”
Perhaps it is no accident that this myth also produced Anish Kapoor’s only good work.
Similarly Manet’s Olympia and Dejeuner are metaphors for the condition of looking which have been much discussed.
This kind of approach seems to me to be essential for acquiring a basic vocabulary for making serious complex work (and now there is much more in the way of in depth writing about painting). Coming to grips with the actual problem of producing painting in the crumbling milieu of late capitalism and ongoing simulation where oppositional critiques merely further promote the system seems to me to be the work in hand. The A&L practice of adopting different strategies in response to different questions is exemplary. My Culture Bunker project was an installation showing the work of a fictitous artist where individual components depended on each other for meaning. They would collapse as meaningful works if removed from that context. From the original framing narrative of the fictitious artist the works were further assembled within narrative groupings. An artist like Ryan Gander adopts similar strategies.
Bearing this in mind it would be interesting if an execrable painting like this one by Jim Shaw could be put in a context where it was actually good. Not to say that it doesn’t have a genetic logic, but we know in our hearts that it is plain wrong.
One fears the return of Francis Bacon with figural smears and a parallelpiped but perhaps there is another solution using 3D glasses and prozac.
If the power of the institution is to be resisted, it may be necessary to restore the internal complexity of the artwork. Painting may supply some clues to how this is to be accomplished. A&L
This is the signpost referred to in the previous blog in the quote “We aim to be amateurs” or at least it appears in the same section in Charles Harrison’s books on Art & Language even if the milages don’t strictly correspond.
A possible location for the sign is here in Streetview which would have been pointing to the turning behind this viewpoint, however the road it points to has now been bisected by a bypass and is effectively only an access route to local fields rather than to other villages.
Panning right from this image shows a woman attending her baby unaware of the special nature of the passing car.
The car moves towards the woman but she is focused on attending her baby while what is probably her son cycles on ahead
He looks at the passing car. We don’t know if he understands its significance or knows that his image has been plucked from a road where he was cycling into the extended collaged panoramic world of Streetview to eventually become the subject of a blog putatively about painting.
Panning back from this particular node outside Middleton Cheney (no relation to Dick we hope) we see his mother still absorbed by her other child.
There are a couple of reasons why these photos are related to painting. One is the idea of absorbtion which is a subject Michael Fried has written about extensively. Briefly it is the idea that painting is a parallel world in which the actors are absorbed and unaware of our world and as soon as they do become aware of it painting becomes “theatrical” because they know they are actors. In Fried’s book on Courbet he proposes the idea of the embodiment of the artist in the painting in the manner Courbet did as a kind of solution to the absorption/theatrical bind. The woman is absorbed and the boy is rather unknowingly an actor. The second thing is the idea of narrativity which is something that modernist art has a horror of. Streetview gives a failed illusion of being immersive due to the property of being able to pan around each node.
Fried has also written a book called Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before
The title of this post comes from a chapter heading in Ralph Meyer’s book on artists’ methods and materials. I used it as a subheading for the first section in my final essay at college which borrowed its title Method for Sorting Cows from a piece written by Robert Morris. I took the chapter Grounds for Oil Painting and altered the words to give them a sexual twist, not that I had to try too hard because it was already pretty steamy.
Then I used a quote from Henry Miller which I remember as: “Not a word was spoken. We were like two gravediggers working away in the dark”.
The final section was Charlotte Guest’s translation from the Mabinogion of the death of LLew Llaw Gyffes which is summarised here from Wikipedia: Blodeuwedd has an affair with Gronwy Pebr, the lord of Penllyn, and the two conspire to murder Lleu. Blodeuwedd tricks Lleu into revealing how he may be killed, since he can not be killed during the day or night, nor indoors or outdoors, neither riding nor walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made. He reveals to her that he can only be killed at dusk, wrapped in a net with one foot on a cauldron and one on a goat and with a spear forged for a year during the hours when everyone is at mass. With this information she arranges his death.
I supposed that something mirroring my conception of a work of art would be produced by the method I had adopted assembling these texts and their relationships to one another. I wasn’t thinking in terms of deconstruction which was then only starting to emerge in the UK. All the texts referred to opposing states suspended between two terms either by deliberate misreading, as metaphor or through narrative. It was conceptually vague and unrelated to other ideas about painting. I had no theoretical basis for painting that included a notion of context and nothing that expanded on the appropriated Ralph Meyer chapter heading.
Four years before this in 1975 and seven years after Art & Language were formally constituted Mel Ramsden wrote: ‘If ever I felt the necessity for a painting or a sculpture, I would make one straight away’
In 1980 the essay A portrat of V I Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock appeared in Artforum followed by the first A&L paintings of the same title. The world was awash with men wielding paint brushes and Ramsden’s unavoidable necessity would have its moment.
I add two more texts from A&L. One refers to Duchamp’s aim for painting. The other is a text about a projected painting that might never be made or made at some future time that was incorporated into another A&L painting.
From Art-Language Vol 1 No 1 May 1969 Introduction
The British ‘conceptual artists’ are still attempting to go into this notion of the meta-stratas of art-language. Duchamp wrote early in the century that he ‘ wanted to put painting back into the service of the mind’. There are two things to be especially taken into account here, ‘painting’ and ‘the mind’. Leaving aside here ontological questions concerning ‘the mind’, what the British artists have, rightly or wrongly, analysed out and constructed might be summarised in words something like: ‘There is no question of putting painting, sculpture, et al, back in the service of the mind (because as painting and sculpture it has only served the mind within the limits of the language of painting and sculpture and the mind cannot do anything about the limits of painting and sculpture after a certain physical point, simply because ‘those are the limits of painting and sculpture). Painting and sculpture have physical limits and the limit of what can be said in them is finally decided by precisely those physical limits’. Painting and sculpture, et al, have never been out of the service of the mind, but they can only serve the mind to the limits of what they are. The British conceptual artists found at a certain point that the nature of their involvements exceeded the language limits of the concrete object, soon after they found the same thing with regard to theoretical objects, both put precise limits on what kind of concepts can be used. There has never been any question of these latter projects coming for the count as members of the class ‘painting’ or the class ‘ sculpture ‘, or the class ‘art object’ which envelops the classes ‘painting’ and ‘ sculpture ‘. There is some question of these latter projects coming up for the count as members of the class ‘art work’.
“ We aim to be amateurs, to act in the unsecular forbidden margins. We shall make a painting in 1995 and call it Hostage, A roadsign Near the Overthorpe Turn. The work will be executed in oil on canvas. It will measure 60 cm x 40 cm. The white roadsign will occupy about half the picture. It tells us we are 7 miles from Brackley, 2 frm Overthorpe and 2 from Warkworth. These names will be scarcely visible in a tangle of lines. The professional may cast a colonising eye, but the tangle will go to a corporal convulsion beyond her power. The painting will be homely and priggish. We may hide behind our speech at this appalling moment”.
For me a theoretical basis for painting or any other art work is essential. Another way of saying this is that if the conceptual underpinnings of an art work aren’t consciously engaged the work is liable to be easily subsumed to somebody else’s interest. I’m not proposing that art needs rescuing from commerce by an elite fraternity or sorority. Not much critical work these days (usually defined in some way as being conceptual) presents any difficulty to the viewer. It is all too easily absorbed. If we still feel the necessity to paint it can at least be done with a view to awkwardness and difficulty.