Relations often invite
comparison, an idea
I learned from Agnes
Martin, who could
decline showing for
this reason. For me,
comparison, in this
case, is outweighed
by an augmentation,
where the access to
each artist’s work is
enhanced, by the
other’s, so many of
the issues, present
for each artist, shown
in a necessary com-
left open and blank.
The erosion of cultures – and of “culture” as a whole – is the theme that runs through the last 25 years of my artistic practice. Cultures arise, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones. With the vanishing of cultures, some people are displaced and destroyed. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die. The library, as a place, is finished. One might say: so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge? What is it in ourselves that insists on grabbing, on casting the flow of experience into concepts ?
When I was younger, I was very upset with the ideologies of progress. I wanted to destroy them by showing that we are still primitives. I had the profound intuition that as a species, we had not evolved that much. Now I see that our belief in progress stems from our fascination with the content of consciousness. Despite appearances, our current obsession for changing the forms in which we access culture is but a manifestation of this fascination.
My work, in 3D as well as in painting, originates from the very idea that ultimate knowledge could very well be an erosion instead of an accumulation. The title of one of my pieces is “ All Ideas Look Alike”. Contemporary art seems to have forgotten that there is an exterior to the intellect. I want to examine thinking, not only “What” we think, but “That” we think.
So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint Romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.
After 30 years of practice, the only thing I still wish my art to do is this: To project us into this thick Cloud of Unknowing.
How is art less than a thing? A thing, like a table, helps us belong in the world by taking on the essential properties of what we want in a table. It does not matter whether it is made of wood or steel, or whether it has one leg or four. As long as it is endowed with purpose, so that a table inhabits its “table-ness” wholly, to not only give us a surface on which to eat, or write, or have sex, but also to substantiate that purpose as the external embodiment of our will. In a sense, a thing is not itself until it contains what we want. Once it becomes whole, a thing helps us differentiate it from all that it is not. A chair may act like a table, enabling us in a pinch to do all the things a table can. But it is only acting. A thing’s use is external to its nature. And what is essential to a table’s nature is that all the parts that make up a table become wholly a table, and not a chair, or a rose, or a book, or anything else.
In art, the parts do not make a whole, and this is how a work of art is less than a thing. Like the perfect crime or a bad dream, it is not apparent at all how the elements come together. Yet they nevertheless do, through composition, sometimes by chance, so that it appears as if it were a thing. But we know better, since it never feels solid or purposeful enough to bear the weight of a real thing. This is not to say that art does not really exist or that it is just an illusion. Art can be touched and held (although people usually prefer you not to). It can be turned on or off. It can be broken. It can be bought and sold. It can feel like any other thing. Yet in experiencing art, it always feels like there is a grave misunderstanding at the heart of what it is, as if it were made with the wrong use in mind, or the wrong tools, or simply the wrong set of assumptions about what it means to exist fully in the world.
This is how art becomes art. For what it expresses most, beyond the intention of the maker, the essence of an idea, an experience, or an existence, is the irreconcilability of what it is and what it wants to be. Art is the expression of an embodiment that never fully expresses itself. It is not for lack of trying. Art, like things, must exist in a material reality to be fully realized. But unlike things, art shapes matter—which gives substance to material reality—without ever dominating it. All matter absorbs the manifold forces that have influenced how it came to be, and the uses and values it has accrued—and emanates the presence of this history and its many meanings from within. In a sense, form is just another word for the sedimented content that smolders in all matter. Art is made with sensitivity to and awareness of this content. And the more the making becomes attenuated, the more art binds itself to the way this content already determines the reality of how matter exists in the world. This reality, or nature, is the ground art stands on to actualize its own reality: a second nature. But it is never real enough, since the first nature will never wholly coincide with the second.
What art ends up expressing is the irreconcilable tension that results from making something, while intentionally allowing the materials and things that make up that something to change the making in mind. This dialectical process compels art to a greater and greater degree of specificity, until it becomes something radically singular, something neither wholly of the mind that made it, nor fully the matter from which it was made. It is here that art incompletes itself, and appears.
The irony is that because it cannot express what it truly wants to be, art becomes something greater and more profound. Its full measure reaches beyond its own composition, touching but never embracing the family of things that art ought to belong to, but does not, because it refuses (or is unable) to become a thing-in-itself. Instead, art takes on a ghostly presence that hovers between appearance and reality. This is what makes art more than a thing. By formalizing the ways in which objective conditions and subject demands inform and change each other over the course of its own making, a work of art expresses both process and instant at once, and illuminates their interdependence precisely in their irreconcilability. And it is as a consequence of this inner development that art becomes what it truly is: a tense and dynamic representation of what it takes to determine the course of one’s own realization and shape the material reality from which this self-realization emerges. In other words, whatever the content in whatever the form, art is only ever interested in appearing as one thing: freedom.
(excerpt read full statement)
The installation: Le mot traduit le bruit des contingences passées [“The Word Reflects the Noise of Past Contingencies”] is based mostly on sonic concerns. Although its form and the elements used in it all point toward what should be a video installation, the work actually highlights the main feature of sound: its evanescence. Sound exists only in an instantaneous temporality. Through an attempt at playfully piecing back together a vanished sound event, the installation sets a series of ambiguous relationships between sounds and pictures, past time and present time, unique perspective and mobile perspective. Surveillance cameras and monitors – the guards of our relationship to the present time and our fantasies of omniscience and ubiquity – spy the inanimate shards of one of their own, heavily fallen from the ceiling, taking with it the sound of a past event. Inescapably, time dissipates the clamour of the noisiest events… Lacerated matter – the sole clue of the event’s violence – contains in itself the trace of a noisy transformation of matter. Through multiple perspectives on the remains of this incident, the work makes sound reappear. The sound is not reproduced; it is suggested, implied; it is written. So the installation transforms sound into picture, pictures into word, and word into sound. Therefore, the work addresses a number of issues in relation to temporality and mobility, through a series of cognitive games and back-and-forths between moving images, real time, sound, multiple perspectives, and a single perspective. Are we in the presence of a sound work, despite the physical absence of sound?
Bill Viola (b.1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. For over 35 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. They are shown in museums and galleries worldwide and are found in many distinguished collections. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published, and translated for international readers. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.
A train ride away from Koo Jeong-a’s family home in Seoul, Korea, an eight-hundred-year-old frog lives in the side of a mountain. Over a number of years Koo traveled four times to its mythic home, but the golden creature would not appear. Despite not having lain eyes on it, she knew it was there: Koo defended its existence to friends who came but did not see and protected its ancient status from scientific naysayers. Her constant belief was finally rewarded: on a fifth trip the wrinkled being emerged.
Koo’s ephemeral installations suggest rewards for the constant believers—for those with unwavering confidence in the existence of alternate realities. She breathes life into the usually inert, creating miniature worlds through ordered scatterings of such everyday material as aspirin, sugar cubes, cigarettes, and light.
In A Reality Upgrade & End Alone (2003), Koo’s piece for the 50th Venice Biennale, she carved out a space for subtlety in the midst of insistent politics. The artist brought the upper regions of two walls alive by embedding prismatic buttons into their cracks and crevices. These constellations sparkled with hope and made visible the state of in-betweenness: the realms that could be—and for Koo are—layered all around us.
from Artspace San Antonio
The wonder of it all is that what looked for all the world like a diminishing horizon – the art-object’s becoming so ephemeral as to threaten to disappear altogether – has, like some marvelous philosophical riddle, turned itself inside out to reveal its opposite. What appeared to be a question of object/non-object has turned out to be a question of seeing and not seeing, of how it is we actually perceive or fail to perceive “things” in their real contexts. Now we are presented and challenged with the infinite, everyday richness of “phenomenal” perception (and the potential for a corresponding “phenomenal art,” with none of the customary abstract limitations as to form, place, materials and so forth) – one which seeks to discover and value the potential for experiencing beauty in everything.