- HEART OF DARKNESS

yesterdays post led to some discussion on art and ethics. Working with ethical questions (I am following Deleuze’s distinction between ethics and moral), is to my mind a – or maybe the - central challenge for contemporary art. Maybe the new isn’t just about making new inventions, but just as much about showing us the old stuff – the old horrible suffering – in new ways, so that some of us can stand up and take action?

(Am I now supporting a therapeutic way of looking at art?)

Here I will show you an outstanding work by the Irish born artist Richard Mosse, an image from his series The Enclave, a multichannel video installation, originally commissioned for the Irish Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.

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Richard Mosse documents a haunting landscape touched by appalling human tragedy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million people have died of war related causes since 1998. Shot on discontinued military surveillance film, the resulting imagery registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, and renders the jungle warzone in disorienting psychedelic hues. At the project’s heart are the points of failure of documentary photography. It is an attempt to find an alternate strategy to adequately communicate this complex and horrific cycle of violence.

Mosse’s work is on show both in Amsterdam and in London this spring.


 

Richard Mosse was born in 1980 in Ireland and is based in New York. He earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London in 2005 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art in 2008.

 

generally speaking?

Is it at all possible to speak in general terms about the meaning of art in one’s own life?  I cannot imagine life without art, but maybe its just a personal matter?  I’m turning thoughts about the role of art in society around in my head, without coming to any satisfying answer. The only thing I’m pretty sure of, is that art is not a pretty add on, art is for real, art is about life and death.

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 Tierney Gearon: Daddy, where are you?

Tierney Gearon’s main focus as a photographer is her own  children, and her mentally ill mother. Above is the mother together with a young child. It’s a frightening scene, the grandmother totally incapable of understanding what kinds of feelings she arises in her grandson. But what worries me even more, is the mother – the photographer – and how she uses a situation like this to make art!?

But at the same time I have to admit; the picture is, artistically, a great image. A kind of image that rips your heart & soul to pieces.

This is Tierney Gearon – in her own words:

My mom is mentally ill, and a big part of it is how I celebrated my mom instead of being embarrassed or trying to hide from her. Instead, I celebrate the beauty in her …Not only does it rejuvenate my soul, but photography also helps me to process things, even though I might not be realizing it at the time. What did The Mother Project specifically help you work out? That I’m not mentally ill and that I can’t fix my mom. They were two really big battles I had to get through, and this work helped me with that.

I find Gearon’s own statement very interesting, because as one can see, she uses art, the art she herself produces, in a therapeutic or palliative way. An interesting question is if we, the public, can use her art the same way.


 

Tierney Gearon, American photographer (1963).

Every morning a new arrival

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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

- Rumi

Poem snatched from On Being – Krista Tippett

playing with style

Genre is a slippery thing – is there a set borderline between fiction and nonfiction? While nonfiction is often defined by fidelity to fact and logical cohesion, the genre has a companion history of texts that use the fragmentary, suggestive, and inconclusive. There are essays that destabilize unwavering narration, logical progression, and rhetorical coherence. Creative nonfiction is an elastic genre.

Like in really good photography, you start to wonder: is it true or is it fiction – ?

Todd Hido: Untitled #2621, 2000


 

Todd Hido (born 1968, Kent, Ohio) is an American contemporary artist and photographer. Currently based in San Francisco. Deeply interested in the topic of housing in the United States, Todd Hido’s large, colored photographs of American suburbia emphasize feelings of isolation and anonymity. Hido’s images have a very narrative, almost cinematic quality to them

she stuttered

confused thoughts on art as therapy

As already mentioned:
I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension in/of art, it looks very much like some strained kind of positive thinking …

What I forgot to tell you, is that I’m also rather skeptical regarding psychotherapy’s therapeutic ability …

I have been working for several yeas as a researcher within the field of psychiatry, I am in a long-lasting therapy situation, and I am – and have been – married for 25 years to a professor of psychiatry. Telling you this …

- it suddenly looks to me as if I am swimming around in a therapeutic

soup …

Anyways

I have no doubt there are great insights to be made through therapy, and I’m sure there are very much good will invested in the field – but nevertheless, I am unsure about the talking cure’s capacity to cure. Just as I am skeptical to any therapeutic dimensions in (put on) art. I’m not doubting art’s importance, but unfortunately I have seen no sign of artists or art lovers being more healthy than most people … on the contrary -

Still not confused? Read this:

Artists are like philosophers. What little health they possess is often too fragile, not because of their illnesses or neuroses but because they have seen something in life that is too much for anyone, too much for themselves, and that has put on them the quiet mark of death. But this something is also the source or breath that supports them through the illnesses of the lived (what Nietzsche called health). ‘Perhaps one day we will know that there wasn’t any art but only medicine’.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari: What is Philosophy

What is art for?

Clarifying

By now you all know about my grant (whether you are interested or not…). I was awarded this grant to make an outline for a book very much inspired by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. Actually my intention is to try to test some of their hypothesis in praxis – not as they do, on historical pictures, but on contemporary art.

This is what got me started last autumn:

… the art establishment proceeds under the assumption that art can have no purpose in any instrumental or utilitarian sense. It exists “for art’s sake,” and to ask anything more of it is to muddy pure and sacred waters. This refusal to name a purpose seems profoundly mistaken. If art is to deserve its privileges (and it does), we have to learn how to state more clearly what it is for and why it matters in a busy world. I would argue that art matters for therapeutic reasons. It is a medium uniquely well suited to helping us with some of the troubles of inner life: our desire for material things, our fear of the unknown, our longing for love, our need for hope.

Alain de Botton

According to Art as Therapy:

  • Art (a category that includes works of design, architecture and craft) is a therapeutic medium that can help guide, exhort and console its viewer, enabling them to become better versions of themselves.
  • If culture is to matter to us deeply, then it has to engage with our emotions and bring something to what one might call our souls. Art galleries should be apothecaries for our deeper selves.
  • Art is a tool, which has the power to extend our capacities beyond those the nature has originally endowed us with. While traditional tools often are extensions of the body, art is an extension of the mind. Art, says the authors, help us with psychological frailties.

Art as Therapy presents 7 areas, seven functions of art:

  1. Remembering
  2. Hope
  3. Sorrow
  4. Rebalancing
  5. Self-understanding
  6. Growth
  7. Appreciation

Alain de Botton & John Armstrong are criticized for being naive, for using art in an instrumental way, for positivistic thinking. Alain de Botton agrees on the instrumental objection, that is he advocates for an instrumental stance, he says:

It is a totally instrumentalist point of view. It’s very unfashionable but I’m totally into instrumentalism, 100%. And some people go, “Well, you’re using it this way but what if someone else wants to use it this way and another way?” And I think that’s great — there’s not just one instrumentalism. There are many paths, but the point is you want to go somewhere with it, and you should be able to say where.

There are lots of attacks on the art world, from all sorts of directions. People say the art world is pretentious, people say it’s a close-knit coterie driving up prices; you could criticize it from many different angles. Ultimately, the art world doesn’t make it easy for people to use art in the way it should be used, which is to negotiate the great challenges of life. I think that art has a great therapeutic dimension, and the art world doesn’t help you find your way to that.

Caravaggio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-02), Oil on canvas

I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension, it looks very much like some kind of positive thinking, and I’m much too melancholic & misanthropic for believing in such ideas. But at the same time I’m sure that art is alfa-omega in my own life, and I know I’m not alone in valuing art as an extremely important aspect of life. So I go to Alain de Botton & John Armstrong as a skeptic, a doubting Thomas - refusing to believe anything without trying out the ideas, testing the 7 functions, for myself.

 

lost in a field of near copies

                  individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies …

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Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies — it could have been a definition of us, mankind, but is in fact a description used about Ai Weiwei’s new Berlin exhibition.

Tabourets, 2014 - 6000 simples tabourets en bois, dans la Lichtof du Martin-Gropius-Bau

Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has filled a large atrium in Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, Berlin, with more than 6,000 antique stools gathered from villages across China’s north — of the type that have been used in the Chinese countryside for hundreds of years, since the Ming Dynasty, the gallery states that “the result is an aesthetically pleasing, pixel-like work”. These stools, according to Ai Weiwei, are an expression of the centuries-old aesthetic of rural China. And it is really no problem to discover the aesthetic beauty in these objects. They look the same but different, just like us, each one with its own personality, the more worn and used, the more beautiful …

 


Ai Weiwei has not himself guided the executed of the exhibition, since the Chinese government has yet to return his passport, it is still impossible for him to leave China. Ai Weiwei is an artist, architect and politician. Hardly any of his works are without hidden allusions to internal Chinese affairs or to the large subject of “China and the West”.