from Gilda Williams: How to Write About Contemporary Art
See also Slow Muse for a short note on Williams’ book
Some people say:
For me On Kawara is disturbing and also extremely beautiful – not because he shows me the insignificance of my life, but rather because he underlines the preciousness of of it all
because his work is documenting the unbearable lightness of being, reminding me to show up, be here – now …! On Kawara’s art invites us, just like mindfulness training, to be continuously present with experience.
Regarding the I GOT UP series, the Met says:
Considered the most personal and intimate of his works, I GOT UPis part of a continuous piece produced by On Kawara between 1968 and 1979 in which each day the artist sent two different friends or colleagues a picture postcard, each stamped with the exact time he arose that day and the addresses of both sender and recipient. The length of each correspondence ranged from a single card to hundreds sent consecutively over a period of months; the gesture’s repetitive nature is counterbalanced by the artist’s peripatetic global wanderings and exceedingly irregular hours (in 1973 alone he sent postcards from twenty-eight cities). Moreover, Kawara’s postcards do not record his waking up but his “getting up,” with its ambiguous conflation of carnal and existential (as opposed to not getting up) implications.
With incomparable simplicity and elegance Kawara creates, with this series, a complex meditation on time, existence, and the relationship between art and life.
In a certain sense the phrase “I am still alive” can never be sent as it cannot be received by the addressee instantaneously…It is only valid at the very instant that it is being written, and in the very next second it no longer is a certainty. If the addressee receives the telegram a few hours or days later and reads it, he merely knows that the sender was alive at the very instant the telegram was sent. But when he is reading the telegram, he is totally uncertain if the content of the text is still relevant or if it is still valid. The difference, the small displacement between sending and receiving, is that particular unseizable glimpse of the presence of the artist. Likewise, it is a sentence of self-reassurance…”I am still alive.” The activity of telling oneself and the world “I am still alive.”
– On Kawara on his “I am still alive” correspondence
In the beginning of December I started reading Damasio. It’s a challenging task, VERY CHALLENGING! But at times also a very rewarding project. I read him to understand a bit more about the brain (my own – and brains in general). And I also read him because I’m interested in looking at art from a biological (natural? innate?) perspective.
Coming from a post-structural and rather relativistic tradition, I am worried that I have overlooked some basic facts of the human condition. I’m trusting Damasio to fill me in.
From a bold perspective; would it be possible to claim an affinity between the ideas of the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and the poet Lyn Hejinian? Comparing how they both present making art as a way of making subjectivity makes me think they might approach a similar conclusion from different points of view.
Here is Lyn Hejinian:
The desire that is stirred by language is located most interestingly within language itself—as a desire to say, a desire to create the subject by saying, and as a pervasive doubt very like jealousy that springs from the impossibility of satisfying these yearnings.
In the gap between what one wants to say (or what one perceives there is to say) and what one can say (what is sayable), words provide for a collaboration and a desertion. We delight in our sensuous involvement with the materials of language, we long to join words to the world—to close the gap between ourselves and things—and we suffer from doubt and anxiety because of our inability to do so.
Yet the incapacity of language to match the world permits us to distinguish our ideas and ourselves from the world and things in it from each other. The undifferentiated is one mass, the differentiated is multiple. The (unimaginable) complete text, the text that contains everything, would in fact be a closed text. It would be insufferable.
A great post by Ann Michael made me curious about the work of Antonio Damasio: Here is Damasio in a recent interview:
Q: What made you so interested in emotions as an area of study?
A: There was something that appealed to me because of my interest in literature and music. It was a way of combining what was important to me with what I thought was going to be important scientifically.
For me, it’s very important to separate emotion from feeling. We must separate the component that comes out of actions from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling. Curiously, it’s also where the self emerges, and consciousness itself. Mind begins at the level of feeling. It’s when you have a feeling (even if you’re a very little creature (animal)) that you begin to have a mind and a self.
We wouldn’t have music, art, religion, science, technology, economics, politics, justice, or moral philosophy without the impelling force of feelings.
Q: Do people emote in predictable ways regardless of their culture? For instance, does everyone hear the Western minor mode in music as sad?
A: We now know enough to say yes to that question.
At the Brain and Creativity Institute [which Damasio directs], we have been doing cross-cultural studies of emotion. At first we thought we would find very different patterns, especially with social emotions. In fact, we don’t. Whether you are studying Chinese, Americans, or Iranians, you get very similar responses. There are lots of subtleties and lots of ways in which certain stimuli elicit different patterns of emotional response with different intensities, but the presence of sadness or joy is there with a uniformity that is strongly and beautifully human.
I really do believe it could be very interesting to study art from Damasio’s perspective. It might help us to see why art is of general importance to the well being of individuals and society at large.
If you are at all interested in the art of Ai Weiwei, I will recommend a visit to the Brooklyn Museum’s webpage. This summer the museum hosted an exhibition called; Ai Weiwei: According to What? During the exhibition the public were given a possibility to ask Ai questions via the web. The answers can be found online.
One of the questions Ai gets is: “What do you miss most about NYC? Or what DON’T you miss?”
His reply is worth considering:
I have much less to act upon in NY. It seems NY doesn’t really need me. … When I come back to China I feel my life serves some purpose. And I have so much to do. Also, I can feel there is a need for me to act.
You find the full reply here:
None of us shares Ai’s experience of deprivation of liberty, it is a cruel and inhuman restriction! But some of us might recognize his feeling of not being needed, of not having anything to contribute, or a feeling of meaninglessness about our own work – how is it that we, in more liberal societies, come to feel this paralyzing hopelessness?