Monday, May 25, 2015

Why We Need Autonomy, Why We Need a Crew

I’m in dissertation land and my focus, as of now, is on mimetics and desire and how that constructs oneself. There’s a lot more involved with all that but that’s the basics. With that I have been thinking, reading and writing about it for the past few weeks and this has been influencing and infiltrating other things in my own life and what I am perceiving.

What it has made be think a lot about these past few days is the notion of autonomy and of belonging to a group/crew. These two things seem like oppositional poles in the construction of identity but they are linked and reflect what I think is a constant flux of self.

Let’s start with autonomy. Autonomy is independence of self. It is singularity, it is defined, it is most times thought of as a position of isolation or at least the lack of intrusion by external forces. It is the creation of the self through solitude, it is constant, and a concentrated preservation of some sort of essence/essentiality. It is that feeling when you know that you are unique, only, special, alone, doomed. Autonomy for me is a desire to preserve something about oneself in the face of being socialized. It is that ‘you’ that only you know is honest and when others try to extinguish, diminish, or distract it there is an almost animal nature to guard and protect it.

Autonomy makes us conscious humans able to cope and believe in self-awareness and to have volition of self. It is the thing that lets us define ourselves in the world that we live in that is both a secret and a mission. Without it, identity gets flattened. Without it, passion gets punched out. Without it, you just become a coextensive and most probably a bore.

Now what is a group, aka a crew, and what people also call a fam? You know what it is. It is a group (more then 3) people that are friends but it is deeper then that. Together you are a roving collective, a micro scene, a shifting force to the room, to the party, to the night. You are friends in individual ways but you share something else. You share a philosophy of living, you share aesthetics, you share lifestyles, you share an attitude of acting and thinking about things and when together there is an us/them line that is clear to yourselves and others.

The crew is where you can slide in and out while still being yourself and although it seems to not define you, it does, it creeps into you because it is the background in which you play your life, take you photos, spend your days and nights. It is the source of memory making and those memories make up you who you are.

The desire to be a part of a crew is animal too. We are social creatures. We are not meant to be alone. That is why when you hear about a hermit in the cave or in the woods it seems glorious but also frightening and it is very very rare. That’s why most of them were made into saints or poetic treasures because that shit is hard to do, to be truly alone. It is not natural. We commend the ability to be unnatural because it makes us less animal.

Being a part of a crew makes us animal, makes us human. It is sometimes a replacement for a blood family because those are now just reproduction and early-life-stage nurturing way stations in becoming who we are really going to be. We get older. We get to choose who we spend time with and we choose those that fit with us or project what it is we want to be like. Everyone is trying to be a concept of themselves because that’s life. That’s the nature of self-realization.

But the crew has failures too. It is a mind meld; it is peer pressure cooker where everything can turn into an undefined stew. It makes things easier to say yes to and it makes the truth that we are all truly alone and will dye alone seem far off in a horizon we don’t even think will be real by the time we reach it. Science will save us all.

So what happens to autonomy in the crew? It can thrive or it can get demented. Crews can be seen as a support network in one’s climb to self-awareness. It is through contrast and interaction that one defines the limiting lines of where and who one wants to be. Adversely, the crew can be where one flat lines. You are there, all of you and you can feel that itch of yourself trying to expand and the crew will either let you or it will prevent you or it will just stay put. Then there is a problem. Then there is sometimes a deep existential problem when you and the crew don’t match anymore and that makes you think even deeper and harder about who the hell you actually are and who the hell are these people around you.

Can you be autonomous in a crew? Yes. Can you have a crew and that informs your autonomy? Yes. This is all an obvious thought in many ways but I have been thinking about this because for me, both seem to be burdens but necessary ones.

To me the real question is does one need autonomy? Does one need a crew?

Both of these seem to be beneficial and necessary in some ways but there is this sticky feeling that I have been getting when thinking about this the last few days. Does this need of autonomy actually exist or is it just a construction that we hold onto, cling to because without it the truth that shit is really fucked and we are just less the specks would just make us all catatonic? Does being a part of a crew make the journey in this thing better, funner, more full or is it a distraction in which we become myopic in our proximities and lack a wider openness and comprehension of humanity???!!!!???!!!!

I am not sure. All I know is that it’s a twisted thing being a person sometimes and that at the end of the day all we got is love baby.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Duchamp – The Creative Act

I fell and bruised my face so instead of a post post I will share with you Marcel Duchamp’s essay The Creative Act from 1957. Stay safe kids.

The Creative Act

Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity.

To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing. If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consCiousness on the esthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.

T. S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and the Individual Talent," writes: "The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material."

Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated by posterity. In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Art History.

I know that this statement will not meet with the approval of many artists who refuse this mediumistic role and insist on the validity of their awareness in the creative act-yet, art history has consistently decided upon the virtues of a work of art through considerations completely divorced from the rationalized explanations of the artist.

If the artist, as a human being, full of the best intentions toward himself and the whole world, plays no role at all in the judgment of his own work, how can one describe the phenomenon which prompts the spectator to react critically to the work of art? In other words how does this reaction come about?

This phenomenon is comparable to a transference from the artist to the spectator in the form of an esthetic osmosis taking place through the inert matter, such as pigment, piano or marble.

But before we go further, I want to clarify our understanding of the word "art"-to be sure, without an attempt to a definition. What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way as a bad emotion is still an emotion.

Therefore, when I refer to "art coefficient," it will be understood that I refer not only to great art, but I am trying to describe the subjective mechanism which produces art in a raw state-d l'etat brut-bad, good or indifferent.

In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfactions, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the esthetic plane.

The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware of.

Consequently, in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap which represents the inability of the artist to express fully his intention; this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal "art coefficient" contained in the work.

In other words, the personal "art coefficient" is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.

To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this "art coefficient" is a personal expression of art "d /'etat brut," that is, still in a raw state, which must be "refined" as pure sugar from molasses, by the spectator; the digit of this coefficient has no beadng whatsoever on his verdict. The creative act takes another aspect when the spectator experiences the phenomenon of transmutation; through the change from inert matter into a work of art, an actual transubstantiation has taken place, and the role of the spectator is to determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.

All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives its final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Chris Burden died yesterday at the age of 69 and most times when an artist dies that I like/has influenced me, I feel something but usually not enough to write about it. But this morning when I woke up I was still thinking about him. It was the same sort of feeling when Mike Kelley died. Kelley killed himself though, Burden died of malignant melanoma. That doesn’t change things that much but for Kelley it was a choice and for Burden it is the fate of things and that makes it seem somehow sadder but also bigger and uncontrollable.

The first time I learned of Burden’s work was when I was an undergrad in art school. I was from the suburbs of New Jersey and going to a conceptually focused program was a jolt to my brain. A good jolt. I learned about Burden’s infamous works. The one where he had someone shoot him in the arm, the one where he crucified himself to a VW bug, the one where he bare chested crawled on pieces of glass, the one where he stood for hours on end on a stool, the one where fire was involved.

It was a brain melt for a seventeen year old who didn’t even know what contemporary art was let alone performance art. It was cool, it was punk, it was ‘art’ to me right away. I didn’t need any convincing. I was sold, I knew that this was weird, good and honest.

Burden has this bizarre quality to his work. It is off, it is nervy and makes you nervous. There is this commitment, this total belief and follow through. It is spectacle but without the irony, without the motivations. It is a test of something. They are one-liners, they are male, they are slightly dumb in some ways but there is something so bare and knuckle white about them that make them compelling. The early performances are like car wrecks; you just have to look even if they make you queasy.

This vibe is also in his video works. I saw them online a few years later but then saw them in their entirety at a PS1 show. This is when he bought slots of commercial time on prime time TV in the late 70s and made inserted advertisements. They were bizarre. They are only a few seconds. They were like splashes of cold water, slaps in the face, a dark comedy bit. They were of him claiming himself to be an artist in the likes of Leonardo da Vinci.  Or of his performances like the one with him slithering on broken glass. They were adbusters before there was such a thing. They were funny, wry, dark and I can’t imagine how it might have felt to see them as they were purposed for. Was there someone in the middle of somewhere who saw this and thought ‘Who is this Chris Burden?’ I hope so.

These defining early works were not it though. Burden has had this rare arc of an artists’ life and actualization where he didn’t re-invent himself but just evolved and people followed him and supported him along that path. He was a sculptor most essentially. The body was the medium in the early works but then this branched to more rational and placeable objects. He loved models, trains, mini metropolises, topographies of humanity. It was like he was a kid perpetually tinkering and imagining and although, for me, they feel over-thought at times, they were obviously things of passion. 

The most recent show of his works that I saw was at the New Museum in 2013. It was as good as you could get in that crap building.  In the show there was this video in which steel beams were dropped from a large crane into mud. They plopped and plopped and it was amusingly playful in its violence. It was the Burden I feel for in college. It was a perfect note of a piece.

The work that sticks into my mind the most though is something that I may have made up but am pretty sure is attributable to him. I’m just going to go with it and keep it allotted to him in my memory zone. It may not be a piece, per se, but it is a reflection Burden’s character. There was a group of collectors, or maybe they were trustees for a museum in LA, anyways, they were told that they were going to meet the artist in one of those glad handing fundraising events everyone has to endure. The guide was instructed to bring them to a cliff near the Pacific Ocean. The group walked and walked and walked. Finally they get to a lookout point. The guide gives them binoculars. Then there is Burden. In a one man canoe (kayak) in the middle of the Ocean. There he is. You saw him.

Monday, May 4, 2015

On Being Cool

The concept of ‘cool’ is something that has been on my mind a lot recently. It probably has to do with my reading, research and happenings upon the idea of ‘the contemporary,’ ‘realness,’ and ‘truth’ in theoretical texts. It is about this idea of authenticity and how it feels, is found, how it translates and what that means, if it means anything at all.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of coolness not in a top down, society tells you so sort of way but in another sort of way that is more about confidence, Zen, self awareness and feelings. Stay with me people, I’m not trying to get all hippie or next level pretentious on you, but I do think that the idea of the cool is fascinating to think about in the construction of oneself and the relativity you have with the time in which you live.

Saying all this I of course would be the first person to look you dead in the eyes and say ‘I’m not cool.’ I’m not, but this coolness I’m talking about it not that type of cool. It’s this other thing when one is inhabiting their bodies, space, time, and location in a manner which seems graceful and specific. It can also be hectic and whirlwind but in whatever way there is a sense of this necessity of ‘nowness.’

This concept of the now is something I was talking about with a friend the other day and is probably why coolness is so much on my mind. I had a thought, and maybe this is totally wrong or will totally change, but the thought was that the present/the now is the last thing we have. I mean this in the zone of First World problems, late-capitalism, and postmodernism. Within this zone, the past is edited and rearranged so that it is barely stable and is constantly being tinged with the drug of nostalgia. The near future is constantly being mediated and the far future is a myth. This leaves only the now and this now is the last place where there might be freedom for subjective construction. (Yes, I am in an MA program for theory so this was bound to eventually infiltrate this blog. Whoops)

But seriously, this idea is something that has been sticking with me and I think it has something to it. With this thought then, this idea of how one is in the now and what the now is and how that now is constructed within this slight slice of freedom and potential for otherness; how one is within this space is key. This is where the concept of coolness comes in. It’s not about being a certain way, looking a certain way, or reflecting something. It is this embrace and articulation of a now and it influences others that are also a part of this little sliver of self-creation and freedom.

This act is not a motivation or a desire. It is the being of a thing, an idea, an aesthetic, a concept, a whatever it is that feels real and is present to that person. It is an actualization and an opening up to. It is natural, easy and fun. And when this happens or when one sees this happening it is so clear, obvious and undeniable.

You see this right away in certain people. They are just ‘cool’ they have this present-ness to them. They have this quality to them, a fascination about them, a calm. They are by no means super humans and probably have massive baggage in other ways but in their being in time and space in their bodies, in their movements, in their ways of living, thinking, behaving, and projecting out into the present, they posses this cool.

I’m not sure where this is going, where to take it or even if needs to go any further then this odd ramble. All I know is that this thing of being in the now and being the most honest you can be in that now seems like an exciting and attainable way to think about living.