Avoiding Mastery: Whitespace Contemporary Art 2014
Mastery, according to the Webster dictionary is knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well and a state of having attained complete control of something.
My conundrum as an artist is that, whilst ‘understanding something very well’ might seem an appealing and mature virtue, its close association with having ‘complete control of something’ raises a warning flag that the cul de sac of orthodoxy lies in wait.
In art, to understand something so well as to control it runs the risk of remaking and refining something that you already know, and that your audience also knows and recognises; a closed circuit of mastery and applause. Less prone to success, but arguably more interesting is the strategy of avoiding the possibility of control, deliberately pursuing unknowing, cultivating areas of non-skill and embracing unpopular and little understood vernaculars as a vehicle for art making.
To put it more simply, maybe I think of art as a half wild pony, rather than the dressage mount. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with dressage; I just prefer a little more excitement.
My local cafe makes excellent coffee. They also operate as an exhibition space with the pragmatic title Paper/Cupboard. the wall space is dedicated to ‘paper’, while ‘cupboard’ is a small glass-fronted cupboard in the art deco cabinet that serves as the cafe counter. I have a Cupboard installation opening TOMORROW!
Avoiding Mastery opens next Tuesday, 28 January at Whitespace Contemporary Art. If you are in Auckland come along and see it, for those of you not in Auckland I will post photos over the next week or so.
I have a show at Whitespace Contemporary Art early next year and have been mulling over what to call it. The show will involve some paintings, a few books of drawings and a number of yet to be finalised objects. There is always the straightforward option of SomeNew Paintings and Objects, and I also considered Horse, Pony, Donkey but I have decided on Avoiding Mastery. It has a decisive ring to it which clashes pleasingly with its directive to avoid getting too good at art making.
Ironically this interest in non-mastery has its genesis in my Master of Fine Arts study at the University of Auckland in the early 2000’s. At the time I couched it in terms of cheating and lying as strategies for art making, however now I am thinking more in terms of failure and resisting the status quo. Failure to do the right thing, failure to master the art of being normal (or more correctly normative), Failure to be polite and well behaved, failure of art to strive toward being more skilled and refined and conceptually erudite.
In general a failure to progress and a reluctance to endorse progression as (a) normal/natural and (b) desirable.
At its inception hope fills the body in the way that air fills a balloon.
From this point hope leaves the body. Slowly, imperceptibly at first.
Hope leaves the body slowly.
Long after the mind has made the cognition of failure the body still holds hope. The body reminds the mind to hope, the mind informs the body of failure.
Long after the mind has acknowledged disappointment the body still contains hope.
Hope and disappointment form a contracting loop between mind and body. slowly the cognitive gap between hope and disappointment shrinks to nothing. At this point hope can be said to have left the body.
All that remains is disappointment
Disappointment is carried in the body like a scar, or perhaps more like a souvenir. The place where hope once lived.
TOMORROW is the opening of Put Up Your Dukes! Part Two at Pearce Gallery. In anticipation here is part two of book 1. If you are in Auckland come along to the opening/ book launch at 5 – 7.30pm, Pearce Gallery 130 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell.
In art, the problem of both success and failure rests on judgement. A judgement of either success or failure is by definition based on an expected outcome, either achieved or missed. In either case the assumption behind the judgment is not challenged. However, if judgement is postponed, the possibility of a third option arises, a position that that wavers between the two: the shaky territory of the provisional. The provisional allows for a mitigated success; something that holds together, just, but contains its own failure within it. It holds the door open to uncertainly, to multiple attempts, to self-doubt. It acknowledges the very human possibility that this is one of many tries at solving the problem on hand, and that this attempt is not necessarily the best but merely the most recent.
page 17 & 18
Modernism and the entire project of modernisation of the developed world has tried to write itself as a success story, a series of improvements and developments in the direction of Betterment. However nowhere is the dubiousness of this claim more evident than in the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the Western individual and the so-called Natural World. The black and white barometer of success-or-failure is useless here, as our mandate to subdue the world has evidently not been an unmitigated success, but nor can it be said to have failed completely. We occupy an ad-hoc middle ground cobbled together from our inherited roles of protector, exploiter, owner and consumer. A provisional space that can be neither tolerated, nor addressed, by the dominant cultural model and subsequently exists as an ongoing state of crisis. If art, as we claim, sits alongside life as a testing ground for ideas and things, there is some possibility that the things tested and trialled could educate life in the subtle mid-ground of the mitigated success and the partial failure.