On void beneath the shell of effect as product
by Kutlu Gürelli
- View Kutlu Gürelli's Biography
Kutlu Gürelli is an artist and academic based in Mardin, Turkey.
On void beneath the shell of effect as product
Absent works at the Cancelled exhibition1
The relation between works I have chosen to exhibit -that which I consequently failed to- and the essay is both apparent and blurry as a consequence of their subject matter. This supposedly paradoxical duality triggers the idea of -or my wonder about- the pragmatic uses of ambiguity and absoluteness in a series of contexts and situations which I will try to relate below. To begin with, the strategy of camouflage -dominantly a military or hunting practice and quite common in nature and also in other contexts- conceptually provides a kind of passive-aggressive positioning. The relation and continuous shift between the modes of defense and offense seem to form a symmetrical mechanism. The intentional blurring or concealment that is evident in most of everyday communications and in also art/education contexts may posit an example for this. In this regard, and in broadest terms this essay can be said to be an attempt to question and associate various forms of obscurantism and come up with a critique of it in relation to art/education from a subjective point of view.
From the images of my works that can be seen above, the ghillie suit piece, titled Impression (Landscape) stems from the idea of a camouflage suit to be worn by an artist/educator. Where almost anything goes on a realm of infinite possibilities, -be it in an art/educational context or nature- assessment keeps a decisive sensitivity of 0.1 degrees. This inverse proportion between the level of ambiguity to the level of absoluteness and sharpness fascinates me and so bears a significant importance throughout the essay. Another piece, titled A Mold Study for the Bust of a Middle Eastern involves the idea of the mold -both as an idea (of reproduction) and practice (by covering)- as an end product, that is to say; where means erases/replaces and ultimately becomes the aim itself. As another central issue of the essay, I will try to develop this concept over the example of fanaticism. The third piece, titled Interior consists of cropped out bullet holes from what seem to be walls of a house under fire attack, as seen from inside. Bullets both physically and conceptually pierce and eviscerate the interior private space and the time/memory it encapsulates -through the layers of chipped wall paint- and transform it into a shell-like interface of shooting and shielding, -receiving and giving, offense and defense. All pieces share a similar idea of cancellation and concealment by a pragmatic use of self-erasing, blurring and coverage.
The following is my -rather broad and abstract- take on the issues of cancellation, the relation between ambiguity and absoluteness, space and time that art/education would ideally provide and the potential pitfalls that are either already evident or yet to be. Questions that are stemming from the broader one mentioned above are; what is valuable -not important- in art/education? What do the duration and form(s) of knowledge it brings mean and provide? Can it be faked -or posed as an effect- and if so, how would it be possible to recognize this? How far and decisively would it be possible to define these forms of knowledge especially in the setting of the academy? And what do the dominant, scientific methodologies and the cult of expertise at the academy adds/removes to/from the knowledge (production) of the artistic practice? In my experience; the friction between intellectual and intuitional modes of "knowing" causes a major (de)forming force to prevail. At the core of the issue; I aim to question and, possibly map how this (de)formation works on individual and institutional levels. The issue of cancellation becomes relevant during these shifts and transformations of conceptual focus. In this regard, also sincerity, value, truth, agency and concealment gains greater importance, so does the instrumentalization of ambiguity and absoluteness -or to be more clear; their strategical uses as effects.
Starting from the preconceived idea that art, in comparison to science, may contain a broader, idiosyncratic and vague knowledge base that welcomes suspension and ambiguity, I've attempt to build my argument by making a series of distinctions between types of ambiguities (to be discussed as an ideal state of suspension that is neither "nonsense" nor "senseless"). This brings up the necessity to look closely to the mode(s) and quality of the ambiguity itself. I've tried to delineate a difference between a valuable -and not necessarily voluntarily conceived- kind of ambiguity versus a strategically chosen, obscurantist one. This brings up the practice and notion of trolling and hence, fanaticism -and to some extent professionalization- in relation to the latter. Both in art/educational and in broader contexts, I find it extremely critical to be able to detect and define the mechanisms of trolling. In essence and structure, it can be said that the essay, on more than one occasion and level, failed to gain its distance from the so-called (de)formation(s) that it aims to subject. There is a significant difference between telling and selling2 something, which is also valid for sensing and knowing or knowing and proving. Yet the difference and distance between these concepts can be easily collapsed and transformed in the disadvantage of the sensual and the narrative side. This difference is of vital importance in art/education both in general and academic contexts. When the apparatus of validity favor any of these modes in isolation, -and in the context of academy this tends to be the selling side- it inescapably ends up producing the procedures first rather than trite results.
Not to say in an overly romanticized and longing mood, but there is something valuable about art/education that has been gutted and canceled by the instrumentalization of an essential characteristics of itself. This may be understood better by asking how the meaning, value and mode(s) of dispersion of thoughts, feelings and expressions of the individual take place in our time?3 It can be said that the consequence is twofold. In a defensive manner, art/education eventually shifts to become a more calculated, monitored and research-driven practice, which prioritize to "engage" its subject primarily in intellectual terms. The social, curatorial or educational turns/trends in art at the last decade signals such an "engagement" becoming centralized. The other side can be said to be found where finance and entertainment meet. Historically, the big emphasis on the Modern -split between (gestural) expression and (thoughtful) formalism- that is replaced by "anything goes" is long been substituted by art either as a subset of social sciences or entertainment. It is not to say that this is an inescapable -or a valid- dichotomy but nevertheless, it remains a dominating one. I aim to imagine -or keep open- another, possible mode of practice, contemplation and sharing in a realm dominated by these clashing, mutually dismissive engagist4 and escapist approaches.
As a consequence of my reluctance to withdraw from the realm of "telling" and not to choose to follow a knowing, proving and selling approach, the gaps and holes between the assumptions, references and subjects below asks for the reader to bridge and fill, as according to how s/he may choose to. In my experience, as an artist in the academy, it has always been very hard to come up with a kind of a translation that feels right and fair between my practice and prose. More than often, my approach to overcome this difficulty results in texts that read like loosely connected anecdotes that eventually transform, lost their point of departure or initial function and become floating areas of some kind of abstract sensual input. In fact, I pretty much aim to provide a kind of text and a reading experience that performs its content and subject matter(s). Therefore, the vision and format of the journal provide me an invaluable opportunity to experiment outside a rather stricter scholarly writing and follow up a more experimental, subjective and essayistic tone. This issue is not peripheral to the debate of relation of arts' mode(s) of knowledge production to the academy in general and I'd like the reader to keep this in mind. That is to say, I deliberately chose to bring things just close enough to spark in a transient manner and leave some distance in-between while trying to avoid being overly escapist or engagist in my approach. I hope the whole and the process will mean more than its parts and the results for the reader.
A clogged opening
Cancellation does not erase and delete, it covers, occupies and transforms. This is particularly relevant as a means of describing and focusing the matter in a series of relations characterized by dislocating, blurring and concealment. Thus, in this perspective, cancellation becomes a broad term referring primarily to a state of suspension with the concept of fantasy5 as modus operandi at its core. The modalities of cancellation, as diverse and dispersed in equal proportion to the multitude of the production and dissemination of information and communication need to be taken into account in specific terms and scales. Those areas where my interest and practice take shape are art and education. Together and apart.
The fault line between "art" and "education" both enables life with natural sources and nutrition but also life with death and destruction. The notion of "research" gradually becomes central as a tool bridging these two sides of the line, especially in the context of fine arts in higher education, yet again, it carries a similar two-faced ambiguity in itself. I'd like to try to take a distance from my professional practice and examine the series of multi-layered -self and mutual- cancellations taking place through the processes of higher art education in the academy. It can be said that the creation and the experience of both relational, introspective, artistic and educational "suspension" is a central theme to the issue. The eerie relation and proximity of a positive and productive states of wonder to a devastating vacuum of getting lost mark the possible opposing energies/modes of the suspension itself. Both of these modes -and nuances swinging in-between - could be instrumentalized and capitalized or deliberately erased out and canceled during the artistic/educational practice. Through my experience in higher education in fine arts, I've witnessed numerous artist/educators -and also degrees, programs, contents and assignments- either torn apart and scatter both in focus and form because of an indecisiveness accompany with idealistic -if not romantic- inclusiveness or become obsolete and lifeless as a result of a self-defensive, ossifying conservative reflex.
In this context, I'd like to delineate a distance between two modes of suspension that hopefully relate to both art/education practice and beyond. In order to attribute a positive and fertile meaning to the kind of suspension that I'd like to refer to in art/education, one has to look closely at its source, maintenance and sustainability. There is a fine line between the modes of such ambiguities that is ideally provided by/in art/education that makes sense, is senseless, or nonsense. In the face of hyper-production, the multitude of forms of information and communication regimes and excessive instrumentalization of our lives, how does art education in the academy possibly keep on making sense -and not just any sense? This is an extensively broad and complex issue well beyond the focus of this essay and I believe there can be no single answer that covers the question in its entirety. Therefore, I'd like to limit and keep my focus on, in a more conceptual manner, the condition where the possibility of a fertile ambiguity exists and how it is vulnerable to exploitation.
An eternal instant
By taking a few steps back, one can claim that every tiny instant of our lives become a grammatical unit that has to be captured and dispersed to be valid and exist -the fact that these two become inseparable and interchangeable is one of the central issues of the problem. Our binary existence forms a kind of a decentralized social block-chain with an unavoidable emotional scaling problem, yet to be solved. With nuances monumentalized, margins centralized, and every instant eternalized, it acceleratingly becomes difficult to have or keep a sense of proportion, relevance and value. It is a state of immense occupation. Furthermore, a particular kind of distortion follows a parallel pattern throughout in political, economic, individual or social contexts. In most broad and generalized terms, this can be described as "a thing being occluded/occupied by itself following its de/re-contextualization, atomization and diffusion to a state of complete white noise". We can call this act of obscurantism by a rather new word, which is trolling.
Besides its various connotations and implications, trolling as being a passive-aggressive act of emotional and intellectual survival, becomes increasingly evident to be functional in social and political discourse. It is a fantastical concept -that is not in accordance with any entity other than itself. The troll shields itself by what it decides its subject appears to be. By an abusive and excessive distorted reflection that floods the subject, which is flattening and eviscerating it, canceling out by filling out.
According to Jeff Giesea, in his article discussing the strategies of mimetic warfare; trolling is one of the tools of competition over narrative, ideas, and social control in the social-media battlefield. As becoming ever central and relevant to our daily lives on and offline, it can be said that the mode and strategies that instrumentalized by trolling -Giesea refers to as weaponization- do not restrict to social-media sphere alone (Giesea 2017). It is already disturbingly a dominant aspect of inter/national political and social narration to the extent that it would not be irrelevant to claim, after the famous quote by George Orwell, that s/he who trolls the past trolls the future and s/he who trolls the present trolls the past. In his book, The Life of Reason, George Santayana defines fanaticism as that consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim (Santayana 1980 p.13). I find these two definitions describe similar phenomena. For both the troll and the fanatic, recognizing the act of "forgetting" as a strategic, conscious point of departure, -and not a coincidence or a by-product- may provide a better understanding of the strategic function of the concealment.
From this axis, a particular assumption can be made that the focal shift of priority from aim to effort -or means- is critical in defining the driving force behind the troll and the fanatic. When the effort/means cancels and replaces the aim it becomes symmetrical to itself, without any form of outside and limitation. Whereas there is a correlation between the effort and the aim, which provides a scalability and possibly rationality, effort in an isolated state is as boundless and irrational as possible. It may be comparable to an ultimate ascetic, in a state where self-denial devoid of aim becomes a mode -or a construct- of self itself. The world of professional athleticism, which bears direct connections to asceticism and Greek Olympians with its ever-increasing relations with pharmaceutical and marketing industries today would provide another example. By being as/off of itself, un/irresponsible and unrelated to any other, expansion and acceleration become the only kind of motion possible. A kind movement devoid of direction that is replaced by momentum, it feeds off of itself, hence the motto; "faster, higher, stronger".
If it is possible to follow this example and try to translate it to art/educational contexts, it would be similar to say; results have to be presentable, verifiable, re-assessable and repeatable, and only valid as long as they are apparently productive. That is to say; "it is better to have an answer than to have questions" and the more strict and absolute the answer, the better. Yet, the higher and sharper the resolution, in this sense, most commonly the lesser and blurrier the meaning.6 That is, for the fanatic/troll, already tolerable -if not just the suitable condition to thrive- since there is hardly any promise of a proliferation of meaning and a fertile ambiguity of suspension to take into account but instead only the momentum, which cancels and replaces the necessity of a directional movement. No direction means no aim. To move certainly dominates today and it doesn\'t mean in a "the journey matters more" way, rather it is analogous to swim in "sink or swim".
Today, more than ever, trends, as indicators of strong momentum are the central, decisive force that leads, not the idea of movement, directionality or process. Those seem to be the characteristics of an organism in a crisis that is in a critical situation struggling for its life. In a socio-political perspective, the lowest common denominator corresponds to such a critical self-protective, energy-saving mode, which the organism shuts down (in)to itself and contracts to its root/base without sacrificing any strength from its momentum. However, it would be naive to assume that such a contraction happens as an exceptional measure of urgency. On the contrary, it becomes the main strategy, almost quotidian and casual. Pragmatism prevails in a crisis that is also a consequence of itself. How can we define a line of resistance to prevent the equation between effort and aim from collapse, or set a line of defense between directionality and momentum? Also, how would it be possible to maintain a sustainable and relevant ambiguity -or a kind of suspension-in practice, time and space that avoided the pitfalls of senselessness and nonsense?
Full of bosh, devoid of empty
The word bosh, stemming from Turkish, which has been made its way into the English language around 19th century7 may be useful to define a type of void that I would like to question in relation to the quality of the aforementioned modes of suspension in art/education. While in Turkish, the word boş literally means empty, its derivative bosh in English corresponds to nonsense and rubbish. The initial context in which the word bosh appears can be illustrative to define its difference from the empty as blank.
From James Morier's novel Ayesha, The Maid of Kars, in a dialogue between Omar Reis, the Turkish commander of the ship, which the English Lord Osmond travels to Constantinople, we see Osmond surprised by the fact that Omar Reis doesn't use any kind of chart for navigation. Osmond asks worriedly;
'But have you no chart?'
'We have no chart,' said the old man.
'Then what is the use of a compass?' replied Osmond.
'Of what use is it!' said Omar. 'I have always done very well without a chart: my father did very well before me; and my grandfather before him. After that, what can you want more. Give me only wind --I want nothing more; after all, that is the father and mother of sailors; charts are bosh --nothing!' (Morier 1834 p.296)
Apparently, as long as there is momentum (the wind), there is no need to calculate and chart the navigation for Omar Reis. In a similar maritime context that involves a hunting journey of a fantastical creature, depicted in The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, we can find a comparable "crisis" put into words in the face of another kind of void in the Bellman's Speech;
"What's the good of Mercator\s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
"They are merely conventional signs!"
"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best-
A perfect and absolute blank!" (Carroll 2004 p.10)
Artist and cartographer Denis Wood argues that "maps give us a reality that exceeds our vision, the span of our days, a reality we achieve in no other way. We are always mapping the invisible or the unattainable or the erasable, the future or the past, the whatever-is-not-here-present-to-our-senses-now. (Wood 2012 p.15) Maps, as Peter Turchi defines; are intellectual constructs, that aim to make apparent the unimaginable and ambiguous of our lives, yet he asserts, "the most profound questions of our existence cannot be answered through a mere collection of concrete evidence; at some point, whether we are theologians or automobile mechanics, (...) each of us reaches a border of the verifiable world [emphasis mine]" (Turchi 2004 p.92).
Ironically, in the face of ambiguity, the split as referred to by Turchi between theology and mechanics meets in a curiously similar point. In another instance of art/education history, this can be discussed over the comparable situation of the shift of educational paradigm between the first and second halves of the Bauhaus's programme -briefly, before and after Johannes Itten. In the 2011 documentary film about the band U2, From the Sky Down, band member Edge defines the machine age music as; "(Machine music) is really what it is. It's about the use of repetition and taking the humanity out of things, to a degree, so that the humanity that you put in there means more". On the surface, the economy and the mutual relation between abundance and scarcity or excess and absence can only provide a cursory understanding. The mechanics that is inherent to theology and theology that is inherent to mechanics also have to be taken into account.8 Only after that, would it be possible to start to ponder upon the kinds of absence, types of blank and variations of suspension that are in question. The decisive point seems to be what we lean towards when we reach the aforementioned border of the verifiable and what we make use of it. As there is a split between the ambiguous and the absolute, there is also a divide between kinds of ambiguities that, more than usual, can be bosh or blank, senseless or nonsense. Each of which is impenetrable thus actually carry the potentiality of being absolutes in themselves. This is when the ambiguity of absoluteness becomes indifferent from the absoluteness of ambiguity.
In this context of borders, mapping, directionality and navigation both in physical and conceptual terms, the tenth labor of the Hercules from the Greek mythology, which involves a famous voyage to the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar, narrates an antique version of the story of our relationship with the un/verifiable. Hercules famously marked the western end of the -known- world with the motto "Non Plus Ultra (nothing further beyond)". The inscription on the pillars flattening -the concept or the idea of the world- by defining/giving an edge to it. Following the discovery of the New World by Columbus, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, transforms the phrase into a personal motto as; "Plus Ultra (further beyond)" and later it becomes the national motto of the Spain. The edge, established by the claim that there is nothing further to be known, defines the world as a two-dimensional flat disc, a clean-cut, knowable object. Whereas, three-dimensional globe promises new realms and opportunities waiting to be discovered and exploited. Both claims share -and in retrospect prove to involve- a similar sense of capitalization and the rest is his-story.
Recently the term post-truth9 became one of the central keywords for the daily followers of mass media politics. At the same time, the rise of racism and right-wing politics thrive on the populist ideas feeding of inequalities; be it ethnic, (inter)national, religious or economical, start to be increasingly highlighted along the daily doom and gloom from the other side(s) of the globe. Those ideas contain the high potential to consolidate and mobilize masses with fast and binary mechanisms that are rewarding with an instant effect of belonging and collective high. Although a much debated and a fairly complex issue that exceeds the scope and focus of this essay, some of the most apparent reasons for these shifts are generally related to various -mostly financial- crises that are, ironically called bubbles. These exist in varying shape and scale, and more than often burst spectacularly and globally. Such bubbles are empty as long as they burst and when they do, they become -or reveal to be- bosh. Bosh is full and heavy. It fills out, expands, spreads and crushes. The aftermath typically contributes to the dominance of various types of self-protective populisms and consequently conservatism. Hence the worldly cycle continues between the globe and the flat.
While taking the risk of excessively generalizing a broad array of different and possibly hard-to-relate topics, it would be of some use to make a connection between those cycles of crises -of financial, emotional, dietary or intellectual- stemming from or accelerated by the state of "being of and about itself". In such an introverted and exclusionist process, in which the distinction and distance -and therefore relation- between the object and subject or means and aim disappear, expansion -or contraction- to morbid proportions is an inescapably repeating pattern.
It can be said that more than anything else art/education is about the suspension that should work in both ways in-between dis/belief. In cases of which either of those tends to be less suspended than the other and centralized, it starts to become condensed and dominating thus deteriorating the other half. Just as the -not so insurmountable, yet still evident- opposition between the intuitional versus the intellectual in art at the academy. The contradiction between the focus on the process and the product -or be it theory/practice, traditional/nontraditional- prevails in art/education. The engagist/escapist contradiction can be said to be an update, an additional layer to the issue. Following the definition from Edge above, maybe taking the intuitional/intellectual out of art/education to the same degree that you do towards the intuitional/intellectual would be more meaningful. That is to say, going from the other way around; at the point of total saturation and oversupply that results in a numb, lifeless (or reversely, overly sensitive and vibrant) state, the contrasting effect of introducing what is to be absent or scarce will be significantly greater. Would that suffice to define the momentum and formation of trends in art/education, art criticism and history? Instead of a single, all-encompassing definition, I think we can at least count on this as being an apparent, repeating symptom. As opposed to thinking of these components as isolated and autonomous modules, finance (both private and public) and art market has to be taken into account with their massive effect on supply and demand, that which also shapes the content and circulation -also- of/for art/education.
Art/educational practice can ideally provide a kind of environment and a type of suspension that is resistant to be overrun neither by the condition of bosh (nonsense), nor blank (senseless) in means of content, practice and time. A possibly fertile kind of time and space must primarily avoid being full of nonsense or devoid of any sense. This should be where we stop worrying and love the limbo under the performance and production pressure or saturating nature of trends. In these perspectives, I have started to critically consider my status and position in the academy as an artist/educator. As an area of knowledge that is highly and increasingly saturated and involved with itself, infamously lacking or resistant to any form of direct outer influence in the context of the academy, the art/education that I have been experiencing is a kind of immovable state of continuous implosion. The populist tripartite reflex of the common spectator to art, which can be caricatured by reactions as; a) (even) I can do that/I cannot do that b) I don't get it and c) but is it art? This hints at the fault lines and vanishing points -in and out of art/education contexts-extensively mined/abused and providing an illusion of depth. For example, the odds are fairly low for us to see an academic hoax in art -i.e. in MFA and Ph.D. theses and other scholarly research- that is similar to the Sokal Affair10 or the most recent case of the article The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct published in the high quality peer-reviewed Cogent Social Sciences journal.11By the accelerating number of vaguely defined -not as a cause but a result- research degree programs in higher art education, the academic trolling is/will be a smooth criminal and almost impossible to detect. As is the case evident throughout the higher art education programs, curriculums and scholarly publishing and Ph.D. studies that I've been familiar with. This causes the dominance of a pseudo-authority established either by technical virtuosity or demagogy (of practice and/or theory), which is not far from the dichotomy between the theologian and the mechanic mentioned by Turchi and to some extent share an inter-relational, mutual modus operandi.
The price of fullness
Paths exist only temporarily. They become, briefly sustain and fade away. From home to X and back. That's it. Histories exist, as an effect of an idea of a past, as artifacts of a continuum, in minor and nano-scales, specific situations, and con-temporaneities that do not necessarily relate to each other, if not more than often by clashing and mutually canceling. Can we define atomization in qualitative terms? This crumbling makes it extremely hard to relate to anything other than itself. The senses of wholeness and belonging have been falling to pieces and require increasingly higher sensual and intellectual stimuli to keep intact. As a consequence, the most effortless and easiest way to re-establish the sense/idea of wholeness gets the upper hand. Most commonly, it is the fullness that replaces it. In terms of expansive lightness, it must be hard to beat something full of bosh, like a persistent white noise or a skillful demagogy. By being full of bosh, nonsense acquires an aura of content, sense and purposefulness. When fullness substitutes for wholeness, one may have the eerie feeling of canceling out -the world in sensual or intellectual terms- by filling out. That would be the conceptual equivalent of the readymade.
Today more than ever, our relation with the world requires -and depends on- a stronger resistance to our presuming hasty wit, a shield that blocks both ways that become increasingly necessary for personal intellectual and emotional economy. Everything has value. Everything and everyone in every instance reflects the beautiful, wonderful, fascinating and curious life around us, as long as we care to spare our time, attention and listen. That, we are increasingly not able to. We are full and being continuously filled out. And not only because there is an impenetrable noise, but also for caring itself is increasingly insufficient and irrelevant -reason for the inflation of social volunteering work? On the one hand, it is actually an issue about the impossibility to care that much, wide, variedly, constant or deep and on the other, that caring being not a relational but becomingly an introverted, self-fulfilling act. Even so, the asymmetrical relation between the world and the one who perceives it requires an economical filtering and an affordable reflection -be it intellectual and/or emotional- in order to regulate and navigate this external and possibly destructively overloading excessiveness. In this context of perceptual and intellectual economy, meanings of fake, original, similar or copy differ from the "real-life" situations and gain new kinds of importance. As a short hand for the real, its effect -or a ready-made, anonymous notion of sense- can be said to become more useful and affordable than what is to be genuinely experienced, earned and deduced. Trying to give -and receive-art education, which is more than the transfer of technical skills, be it practical or theoretical, highly involves these issues, economies and limits.
The comparison between the professional and the amateur implies a similar condition. The amateur, for instance, takes refuge in an ultimate shelter, since s/he doesn't owe anyone a thing, so there is no stage fright and performance pressure or responsibility to be crushed under. That is a survivalist strategy placing oneself on the threshold between the realms of the known -i.e. the code, the academy, the corpus, etc.- and the unknown. No need to fake to fulfill a level of genuineness. In this sense, amateurism that is by definition conceptually and practically under existential stress in the academy is in contrast to the fanaticism/trolling and possibly present a non-abusive, non-exploitive and sustainable mode of ambiguity. But to what extent amateurism can be sustainable at the academy -without being reduced to its effect and transformed into an area of expertise- is another critical issue.
In our highly professionalized and managerial lives, would it be possible to be an amateur human? Can we act like humans if/that we'd love to or desire so? Since the famous fake it 'till make it catchphrase becomes quite meaningless, for the gap between faking and making cease to exist. There are no more facts and lies but facts and alternative facts. Likewise, there are humans and alternative humans. It is an affirmative world now. Now is "post-", it is beyond and after itself before it knows.
An unblocked closure
The romantic idea of wholeness, being one with the world requires disrupting the contrast between the figure (self) and the ground (context), aiming a total and most importantly a flawless immersion. It is a form of extinction or better, a desire towards it. This parasitical strategy relies on the notion of indifference that which becomes the prerequisite of control over the subject. "Difference creates dimension", said the instructor of my drawing class when I was an undergraduate at the fine arts faculty trying to wrap my head around the issue of convincing and impressing the viewer with my mediocre drawing abilities. The idea of dimension or the illusion of depth and thus the believability of a drawing achieved by an accurate rendering of light and shadow and overlapping layers implies hierarchies of space as critical for a "successful" drawing in these terms. The difference, contrasting forces, the idea of there versus here, then versus now...drama unfolds through these layers in order to achieve the effect of reality and hence the truth has been at the root of the art in the modern academy.
A thing without a past should be new, like a newborn. If it has no longer a future, it must be dead. History repeats itself because of time -and now-is a zombie. So a drawing lacking dimension is actually lacking reality. A field lacking depth is a wall, a soldier hiding behind the bush is a coward. A person lacking individuality -or expression that at least has the effect of it- is no-one. An artist lacking originality -or relevance- is worthless or deserves a lawsuit -according to the scale and importance of the lacking12. Movement lacking momentum, study devoid of research, time that is not instrumentalized, programs without apparent outcomes and schedules are canceled and replaced by what it seems to -most economically and effectively- provide a controllable, predictable and repeatable functionality.
An archaic pattern indicates that the truth has to be the result of a process that is full of contradiction, drama and often contains traumatic struggle, which has to be manifest through solid, apparent evidence. It must be hard-earned in order to claim an intrinsic value. The truth is relational and proportional to the process that it is to be found as a result. Lies are plural, proliferate easy and cheap, not the truth. The point of trauma quite symmetrically exists on both ends of its creation, thus turning itself into a cycle of gloom. Grim and harshness are features of reality. Well, sad but true. So, does this equation work both ways? Is real as effect achieved by not anything directly related to the reality itself -for what-so-ever that might be- but to the qualities of doom and gloom and the traces of the past or experience? Such as presuming; true because sad, real because hard, valuable because costly, believable because articulate/repeating. This ascetic idea seems to be similar to paying in advance a personal, minimum amount to get rid of any future communal and relationally higher amount of debt, well before any apparent trade taking place. It is the construction of debt for the primary reason of escaping it. This, oddly enough, also sounds a bit like trolling. The truth is one of the most useful instruments to troll humanity for ages, we should be happy that at last, we are well away and beyond it. It establishes itself on the promise of a genuine and wholesome result -or be it a kinesis, such as a right track. On the contrary, what-so-ever it is to be placed against this notion of truth -since it is shifting and transforming its opposing notions accordingly- we have been hardly promised anything. Therefore, we are able to choose, if we like, to get along and suspend our dis/belief. It can be said that trueness as a quality, requires a bitter, sad aura to be real, valid and acceptable. On the other hand, if the truth is to be accepted from/at the point of departure, it is called a dogma, same valid for the point of arrival. Both are dead-ends and only to be experienced through narration that has to be "unfolding" in various forms-i.e. news, trending topics, mythology and/or history. This may be where poetry, philosophy and politics share a surface area.
To think of dogma as a flat, monolithic, unquestionable and enclosed entity would be misleading. Just as thinking that plurality, articulation or being openly referencing would sufficiently eliminate the blind faith and essential nonsense. If there exists a dogmatic, self-proclaimed, unquestionable truth as an effect, there also exists the truth as a result of a questioning, re-searching, referencing, proved fact; in other words, there also exists (re)search as an effect. Occasionally, in forms of study -as opposed to research-, that is resisting direct practical correlation to a use value and instrumentalization, thus being "for its own sake" shares a similar destiny in the production of academical knowledge, art and trolling. At times, becoming slightly more distinguishable than usual, being self-confined and self-proclaimed produces an enclosed system of -or the effect of- integrity and wholeness. When this system becomes impossible to leave and lack any exterior element to be in contact with, it becomes the container of a sociopathic imprisonment. The charismatic aura it produces -ironically- owes to the impression of being able to afford a self-destructive isolation for all costs. Most commonly, just as all those glitter is not gold, all those cracks of paint are not time/past/event but instant-antique-patina gel reproducing these as effects. The bold, distinctive, sharp and sure are more than often the most fragile and defensive. That also marks the difference between telling and selling that which I find pretty hard to keep when translating a study into research.
A research can fool you, a study hardly so. Just as momentum can deceive easily but movement not. A professional -the expert- able to lie better and faster than the amateur. How to escape fullness and achieve a sense of wholeness? There still is a kind of "sense" free from non- prefix and -less suffix that doesn't dictate itself in a single direction and meaning. I'd like to be able to answer at least one -seemingly not so simple- question in my art/education experience that is in direct relation to the contradictions, opinions and questions above; how would it be possible to distinguish the difference between an artistic/educational practice that may become stuck and ambiguous or cause an impenetrable suspension/void during the course of a wholeheartedly carried out improvisation or study, and one that is a result of a researched, calculated and strategic act that is exploiting the ambiguousness by making it primarily a material useful for itself to achieve the desired effect of an illusion of depth -substance and content? What to do with the former and moreover, how to detect the latter? That is to say; how not to troll and be trolled?
As conveyors of expertly acquired results and appearances instead of processes and content, effects conceal and block the things they originate from/act like. In my opinion, the instrumentalization takes place as a consequence of reproducing these concepts as effects of themselves prevails in art/education, thus essentially render such dichotomies like ambiguous and absolute, expressional and formal, engagist and escapist, practical and theoretical, etc. meaningless. The state of immovable implosion about art/education that has been mentioned above, in fact, caused by this vast undifferentiation and mediocrity under the guise of an artificial proliferation and propagation of ideas, concepts, choices and voices.
I argue that ambiguity that which supposedly cultivates a sense of valuable suspension has been replaced by its effect thus becomes obsolete and indifferent from a rather stricter, instructional or technical form/field of knowledge. In art/education, knowledge acquired and communicated, not only but primarily, through a shared sense of intuition, subjectivity and individual experience. The aura of expertise gained by rhetorical, skillful competence conceals the vital essence inherent in these concepts. That is the accentual, personal fault lines and traces, which can only be communicated unauthoritatively and emphatically. One can argue that this is inescapably a consequence of the translation and (de/re)formation of artistic knowledge in/to academical one, yet I find it to be also valid in more extensive and general terms.
To claim that it would be possible to escape the rhetorical, authoritative aura simply by our choices of subject matter or how we gather/share them in art/education would be naive. Rather, I aim to emphasize a particular condition where the "accentual/personal" cannot escape from being (re)produced as an artifact of a kind of introspective expertise, an act of a "professional I" and the impossibility to return back. Think of the most distanced, cold, rhetoric or intentionally exclusionist art(work) you have ever experienced or know of, then imagine what would be the ultimate opposite of it in approach, form and content. I speculate what if both share a common genesis as being mere effects deliberately chosen and managed according to the desired sensual/intellectual results? More or less, and by excluding minor exceptions, this is how I see art/education at the academy and outside of it doesn't provide a better picture.
By carving the interior/structure and smearing the bulk of content on the surface, effects are (being and) producing shell-like, hollow objects of fantasies (out) of their subjects. I assert that the conceptual and physical contexts of art/education acceleratingly become such hollow spaces. How would it be possible to inhabit such cavities that are by-products of a world as an effect? This can be said to be the conceptual departure and also seemingly the arrival point of this essay. I've attempted to find routes and connections between subjects, situations and cases that bear a similarity in this regard. The question; if there still possible and even exists a kind of void and mode of suspension for art/education -and also in a more general sense-that enables a kind of ambiguity that is not strategically instrumentalized and not a by-product of such an act of evisceration remains intact. So does the dissonance between practice and theory or the gap between study and research in art education, which essentially an issue of translation and brings us to these fundamental questions; what does an artist know, what is valuable and genuine about this knowledge, how does this valuation take place (especially for artist/educators at the academy and how/if can it be transferred or shared in this context)? Would it be possible to detect fakery and/or keep trolling at bay about such a subjective and slippery issue? How to prevent, either practical or theoretical experts and the idea of the expertise to saturate and increasingly professionalize the art/education field?
Elena, Buja. Ethnic Humour in Intercultural Encounters: An Analysis of James Morier's Ayesha, The Maid of Kars. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braşov Series IV: Philology and Cultural Studies. Vol. 6 (55) No.2 - 2013
Giesea, Jeff. Jeff Giesea's Remarks At NATO's StratCom Dialogue. Web. 11 August 2017.
Lewis, Carroll. The Hunting of the Snark. Sovereign Sanctuary Press. Web. 2004
Morier, James Justinian. Ayesha, The Maid of Kars. Collection of Ancient and Modern British Novels and Romances. Vol. LVIII, J. Smith. 1934.
Santayana, George. The life of reason:[or the phases of human progress]. Vol. 1, Reason in common sense. Dover, 1980.
Sokal, Alan D. Transgressing the boundaries: Toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity. Social text 46/47 (1996): 217-252.
Turchi, Peter. Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. Trinity UP, 2011.
Wood, Denis. Rethinking the Power of Maps. New York: Guilford, 2012.
- By the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, these works couldn't make it on time for the exhibition held at the Eastern Bloc in Montreal, Canada, titled Cancelled. That became a pure irony itself. I would like to extend my gratitude and appreciation to Maia Nichols, for against all odds, she find a way to make present this cancellation and nevertheless show my work. ↩
- I've borrowed this expression from the title of the book by Ryan McGinness; "EGO: The Difference Between Telling and Selling". Gingko Press. 2003. ↩
- Just as this anonymous tweet that which glides away from my timeline, leaving no trace of its source and writer but just a sense of it saying: "(Now our) world is such a place that if you go offline for a day you miss everything, and if for a month, nothing". ↩
- I choose to use the neologism engagist to counterpart "escapist" in the text both phonetically and conceptually. ↩
- Fantasy, in means of or relating to "illusory appearances". Reducing the subject to its appearances that is limited - if not devoid of- depth, structure and dimension as a result of refusing/suspending or concealing the necessity to relate and comprehend the subject according to its disposition. Which means, without recognizing a priori a content and a structure that is native to the subject that may be strange and unknown to the observer. ↩
- The recent situation and (de)formations occur in local contexts of art/education after The Bologna Accord can provide various examples about this. ↩
- The entry at the online etymology dictionary refers to the word bosh as introduced in Ayesha: The Maid of Kars, a 1834 popular novel by James Justinian Morier. In her article, Elena Buja describes the novel as "an intercultural romantic relationship between a Christian English lord and a Muslim Turkish maiden, in which the author satirizes the stereotypes attributed by Christians to Turkish Muslims and vice-versa."(Buja, 2013: 55) ↩
- For reference, I would like to mention the beautiful book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. He provides one of the best and richest texts on the subject that I am barely touching here. ↩
- As Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016, post-truth has been defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief". The debate on the issue of hoaxes, false rumors and how we interact with them is subject to increasing number of studies. Two recent studies can be addressed for further information: 1) Shao, Chengcheng, et al. "Hoaxy: A platform for tracking online misinformation." Proceedings of the 25th International Conference Companion on World Wide Web. International World Wide Web Conferences Steering Committee, 2016. 2) Zubiaga, Arkaitz, et al. "Analysing how people orient to and spread rumours in social media by looking at conversational threads." PloS one 11.3 (2016): e0150989. ↩
- In 1996, Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University, submits an article to the cultural studies journal Social Text which was a hoax. The article has been accepted and published. The same day of publishing, Sokal revealed the hoax. Known as the Sokal Affair, the incident has been since widely referred in debates around scholarly publishing, the role of ideological preconceptions in sciences and postmodern social sciences. ↩
- The article titled The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct by Jamie Lindsay and Peter Boyle (actually Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay) revealed by the authors to be a hoax by the following publishing at the Skeptic Magazine. See: Lindsay, Jamie, and Peter Boyle. "The conceptual penis as a social construct." Cogent Social Sciences 3.1 (2017): 1330439. ↩
- That can also be overturned and domesticated thanks to the strategies of appropriation, which can be thought as camouflage in art at its best. ↩<