Originally uploaded by escdotdot.
Pump House Gallery
Consider how the Soane’s Museum, conceived as an “archive”, could inform your own practice of writing with art (rather than about art)?
What does that even mean?
And here lies the crux of my difficulties, I think. I am unable to understand this method of working, this very philosophical practice.
In the other courses we are dealing a lot with Jacques Derrida who seems to epitomizes this way of thinking. For instance, in the course ‘Philosophy and…’ we are reading the English translation of Che Cos’è la Poesia? (1988) published in A Derrida Reader1, and in the introduction to the piece the editor says:
As always, Derrida works to abolish the distance between what he is writing about . . . and what his writing is doing.
In this case he’s writing about “poetry, the poem, or as he will finally call it: the poematic”, and so his writing is being positioned as closing in on poetry itself.
It seems odd to me to describe writing as “doing” anything. Does writing “do” poetry or literature? It seems to be taking the activity away from the writer, the writing that the writer does becomes self-generating or generative of further writing.
The introduction carries on:
Reference without referent, this poem defines or describes itself even as it points beyond itself to the poetic in general.
These texts (inevitably?) make a lot of assumptions on the readers knowledge, or they make spectacular leaps of metaphor which leave you wondering just how much you were oblivious to in that little sentence.
As an example, here Derrida is referring to his response to the initial query—“ ‘Che cos’è la poesia?’ (What is poetry? or more literally, What thing is poetry?)”—he claims:
. . . the answer sees itself (as) dictated (dictation). I am a dictation, pronounces poetry, learn me by heart, copy me down, guard and keep me, look out for me, look at me, dictated dictation, right before your eyes: soundtrack, wake, trail of light, photograph of the feast in mourning.
. . . la réponse se voit dictée. Je suis une dictée, prononce la poésie, apprends-moi par coeur, recopie, veille et garde-moi, regarde-moi, dictée, sous les yeux: bande-son, wake, sillage de lumière, photographie de la fête en deuil.
Why those particular words stressed? What significance do the references to death have – “wake”, “photograph of the feast of mourning”? Why specifically a photograph of the feast of mourning? How do these relate to “soundtrack” or “trail of light”? Are they very personal things, or, if I was to read more Derrida, would they re-occur at significant points. Why do I need to know this?
For me, there is a touch of meaning, a fleeting glimpse in the corner of your eye of another world of content slipping by without your having the dexterity to turn and comprehend it in time. On the one hand it’s frustrating to be left straining at thin air in the wake of meaning, on the other there is such a nearness to it that you hope against hope for the leap of the electrical spark of comprehension, the short-circuit to take place.
It occurred to me, driving home from Sainsbury’s with the weekly shop, that it could be said we’re not interested in art per se. All we’re dealing with is Art History, and talking about it as the Art of Art History1. Which strikes me as a paradoxical: we’re learning about these historians and how they viewed the progress of art but not looking at the art itself. Hegel theories get illustrated as an aside with examples of Art, when shouldn’t we look at the art to show how they generate Hegel’s theories? Perhaps the latter is easier, as—although the theories usually originate from artworks—they often become tenuous when applied back onto them. The theories by necessity deal with an ideal that rarely finds adequate expression in the world.
It’s tacitly understood, I think, that they (the tutors) are expecting us to take it to a next stage and apply what we’ve learned to art works and also to recognise these theories in other contexts, see how they’ve progressed and informed other theorists or artists. We are being taught Art History as a strictly historical sequence. Every theorist has their place in the sequence. With writings it’s perhaps much easier to deal with moves towards or away from previous writers. The matter of influence.
However, in the same way that Art History has found it hard to get away from the impression of a progression in art works (à la Hegel, Winckelmann) is it mistaken/distracting to judge Art History itself as progressing? If we are to talk of an “Art of Art History”, if it’s an Art then the same principles and developments that it theorizes can equally be applied back onto it. Indeed, if Art History is to be seen as another branch of Art then will the study of it take Art into new areas which will then become fodder for Art Historians.
Maybe Art History will be the revitalization of Art.
Of course, artists themselves have already started questioning art historical institutions. Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, anyone who has been invited to curate an exhibition of works from an art institution’s collection have all rewritten the histories of these works in relation to each other. Is this different from if an Art Historian were to do something similar? Or would an Art Historian do something else with a similar effect/intention in mind? I think these days it’s an artificial distinction to make between Artists and Art Historians, the roles are interchangeable. This probably has some effect on the argument itself.
As part of this week’s seminar for the Framing Art course, we were asked to put together a short 5 minute presentation on “a significant visit to a museum” following on from a reading of texts by Zola1 and Déotte2. In the event the presentations didn’t take place, but rather than waste the work I’ll post the outline of my presentation here.