I'd like to think that ART - as a culturally contested zone where desires, play, surprise and rules get mediated. Of course this means that any activity that is 'avant garde' is placed immediately in a position of recuperation within consumer culture and this is largely what ART institutions are designed to do: manage creativity so it can be harnessed and projected back into the capitalist imaginary. The speculative art market is just the financial fetishizing of this very significant cultural role that ART actually plays in consumer society. I also think that 'outsider' art is just as implicated within capitalist cultural management as anything else. And I don’t see kitsch as some sort of quasi-primitivist authentic parallel universe. I think shunting art into this little space of ‘outsiderism’ often just facilitates the acute conformity, either of the individuals concerned, or of the society that champions it. The most bourgeoise boring fucks in the world wet themselves at the idea of the artist as ‘enfant terrible’, and the real tragedy of genuinely madness – is that mentally ill people are incredibly boring. There are few surprises in a solid word salad.
So I think art is implicated with capitalism. Artists do operate largely as extreme sports entrepreneurs. Most of us are just fledgling bits of the petite bourgeoise who find new forms of real estate (from squats to warehouse apartments), new fashion (obvious) new communication systems (blogs, podcasting, film) and other accroutements. And also new forms of self sufficiency. Artists work from home, work odd hours, don’t unionise, don’t separate themselves from their work. We’re a perfect model for the new TEAMCREW corporate slaves of the new knowledge economy. Why is it that so many artists either come from middle class (open minded but cautious parents) families, or drag along huge suitcases of their aspirational class resenting baggage?
I shouldn’t be so cynical should I? Why do I cane the avant-garde – when so much art, especially in Sydney is not even aspiring to being avant-garde? Its just really drab flat stylised shit – that’s about as transgressive as a misspelt cappuccino in a country town? You know the kath & kim stuff on Glenmore road, or the evil evil toadlike shit of Pro Hart & Charles Billich, that sucks the soul out through your eyeballs. People reckon they are “aussie heros” but people also vote for John Howard. There’s no excuses for confusing demagogy with popularism.
I think its because the avant-garde still represents the capitalist imaginary and its an imaginary that still holds true for most people – and almost certainly for the readers/contributors of OSAS. How many of us are scraping by the fringes of academia/curatorship – or some other little fucked up corner of the knowledge economy? (Who else is living off a trust account? Or an inheritance?) Just on the edge of some nice hidey hole – that we try to despise while clinging to like a life-raft as we drift on the sea of precarity… Hell! there’s no way I’d say no to a lectureship or some nice curatorial position – would you? Isn’t OSAS also about creating our own circulations – our own new niche that can allow us to wedge our way into the systems that exist. I’ve heard that a couple of uni lecturers now mention my BLOG in their art writing courses. It gives them easy kudos to be talking about blogging – when they only publish where they can earn DEST credit points, and it might help me brow-nose my way into the odd guest lecturing scam – where I get paid to be the officially sponsored freak for an hour. Queer theory anyone? Would you like it illustrated or served with Deleuze? Then I can say I’m an artist, maybe show a coupla slides from some naked whacky performance piece – but no, not my oil paintings. No that won’t quite do, will it?
But back to sex. Not that I’m getting any of it lately. (can’t quite face the country boys in the pub and am way too scared of potential sapphic encounters at the local indoor cricket centre). I still believe that this libidinous force, is one that impels delightful things like fucking, swimming, dancing, painting, singing. It’s a breathing animal force, or movement, structured movement outwards that takes us forwards towards surprises. If I swim – I make a rule – do this stroke, go here, don’t go there, do it this many times – and I see, feel, touch things on the way. If I did this every day for a few years I could probably call myself a swimmer – especially if I wasn’t just doing laps in the local pool – but say, swimming across the harbour – or along Pittwater, or some new place. Sex? – how many things can you do with another persons body while you’re naked? How many things can you touch? taste? Feel? It’s about moving, surprise, delight. Not static, not a morbid thing at all. And yet some people perform sex as some sort of one sided ritual. Some people it’s a drudge and other it’s a dirge. For many it’s a like an orgasm race – with minimal physical contact. And sometimes, when its flat and dull and hellish – it is like death. And what is death like – is the incredible feeling on aloneness – which happens after a sexual non-encounter. And it is hell.
This is probably a good point to bring in why Charles Billich is so bad. His works look like bad graphic designer life drawing sketches superimposed onto illustrated architectural sketches and then printed out onto canvas. The nymphs – are like bad soft porn – and look like whoever drew them spend 5 seconds looking at a woman -before executing a generic pneumatic nymph with varying hair styles or cropped views. The nymphs have no individuality, no age, nothing more than ‘this is a nymph’. Believe, while bored, I’ve tried to get a wide on for a Billich nymph. And I have failed. Porn – always needs to convey something outlandish and impossible. Good porn suggests an element of surprise, an explosion of tumescence (even though you know what will happen), some kind of eruption, shock, surprise, which pneumatic pseudo sabled smoothed surfaces just don’t. Good porn happens in good painting. Strange eruptive surfaces. Stepping towards a work and being surprised by something. A strange surface – a rupture revealing a colour you didn’t thing was there before. A blob that looks like something or reminds me of some bug I saw when I was a kid. Ok the juices running may be more likely to be coming out of my nose – but its still a damn delight. Surprise, nostalgia, delight. A very strange little link between intimate gesture of one person – ends up feeding the imagination of another. An it’s magic.
So even if the desire gets recuperated and channelled off into someone’s desire for a fucking new couch or new pair of shoes. Or it makes you feel all awkward and sets of latent aspirational tendencies to go climb that corporate ladder, or to be a better manager, a better mother, a good well fitting cog in the machine. If it smears and smooths down into a smug little sentiment of self satisfaction at a dalliance with some naughty little thing that you don’t have to share with your bedding companions, does the thing that produces it still deserve to exist? Is it ART? Is it worth it?
I’m going to argue that of course it is, because I’ve invested my life and most of my ego in art – so I’m destined to find some pat moral solution to resolve my own discomfort. I still hold that the thing that separates life from death is surprise and change, and I’m all in favour of piss bolting away form death and finding some sort of sustainable surprise wherever I can lay my hands or eyeballs on it. I’d call a surprise ‘sustainable’ - when the level of exchange, interchange, delight, familiarity, nostalgia, longing, desire, satiation – go much deeper and profoundly and affect my being. It’s why a cheesy novel by Tolstoy still moves me than a cheesy novel by err…. Ahhh….. (I’m looking around my bedroom) …. Enid Blyton? Gaston Bachelard very nicely conveyed how Great Literature – alters the very fibres of our psychic being by setting off associations with our material imaginary – and he did it way better than I could – so I’ll stop this line of argument right here. “Of water and dreams” is really good.
What I like in BAD ART ™ - is that if someone does something inept – they usually haven’t got as many competent cultural controls over their processes and so there is a space for surprise. What is usually called kitsch – (especially in ye olde clemente greenberger model) – is usually just displaying an excessive delight in colours and textures, and a strong affective indulgence in fetishized fragments of consumer culture. So someone might like shells, so they’ll buy some plasticky blue picture frame to with moulded shells, to stick a photo in. I’m not sure if people actually buy those things, but someone must somewhere. I once saw a woman who made about a hundred bears all of them in these weird elaborate 19th century dresses with parasols and fancy bonnets. And she had some BLACK FURRED BEARS – wearing the same freaky outfits – ONLY THE FABRIC HAD CENTRAL DESERT STYLE DOT PAINTINGS MOTIFS. And she’s spent HOURS on them! And had so much more investment that a $2 blue plastic shell frame at a $2 shop, or some ‘noice’ style scribbled post-post object art drawing at your local ARI. So for me – it was really interesting.
Actually I’ve used examples that are too easy to dismiss or recuperate. I should go back to the bad queer art at that nice dykey café in Newtown. 40 x 40cm square canvases. OK. Bright colours, OK. The subjects – are central core-ish ‘motifs’ – could be leaves – or twat bits. OK that’s laughable. And some bad 90’s cartoon style faces. Like keith looby without the texture. This officially and calculatedly conveys gender androgyneity in the same way that some brief for a council funded community art poster might. Take no risks. They look kind of smooth skinned – and they could be anyone – probably young. Probably – white – straight noses – and eyes can’t quite tell – and they look – everything is in bright cartoon colours – so they have no race do they? It’s not funky, it’s not inclusive and its not art. The painting is flat. Meticulously laid down in straight blocks of colour. I imagine the contained, controlled smoothing movements. Someone has thought about every single mark they’ve made. It;s about as queer as Charles Billich – and about as sexy.
Knowing my luck I’ll run into the artist next week, whose probably a lovely woman who’s had a really hard life and I’ll find myself cheering her on as I eat my hat. But I still demand the space to own my impressions and responses to this work and why it makes me depressed. And hopefully something might happen that does challenge my views. I like being proved wrong and I like surprises. My interest in Open Source Art School – is about creating spaces for discourses about art – where people can articulate surprise, delight, confusion – and own them outside of the existing structure of cultural competence or taste making. I’m unsure how this can challenge or overthrow capitalism, but I do know that any good exchange, any new experience can provide a movement away from isolation, boredom and death.
Blogging as Art: Life Writing Online
1 week ago