Joshua Mason is a painter, photographer and installation artist. He lives and works on the east coast Lake Michigan. Mason is also a curator and on occasion teaches on aesthetics. His artwork has been included in both national and international exhibits.
What is Fieldwork?
The wilderness does not locate itself – it does not name itself. Marking, naming, writing is constantly up against the expressive slipping of material. The wilderness, or what Thoreau called earth made out of ‘chaos and old night,’ is an outside serene or severe, comforting or foreboding. What I reference as the “field” is the outside, that which is beyond the subjectum, and what I reference as “work” is all of the rest – all of that which occurs on this side, on the side of a personally expressive possibility.
Fields, forests, shorelines stoke the embers of memory. Combinations of elements, mutability and motion from moment to moment is significant to the gradual growth of artwork before the eyes.
All artistic texts attempt to manage the space in which they appear, and in the case of painting, material is implicated directly in a space that also works inwardly.
Work teeters between associated marking/inscription/image and the tendencies of the wilderness, or the outside. The outside is the tumult of difference, and it may at first seem catastrophic but it always suggests supplement, analogy, additions that once the content is formulated stand in relationship to it. To put it simply, that is the task of art. Between mark-making and landscape there resonates associative affects, but the sequence in question is not a dialectic between signs and things, or between an effect of signification and a realm outside in which would be posited some kind of subjective energetics over against an ontological void. My work is theological not metaphysical, and there is a stark distinction between the two. Occidental metaphysics posits a subject as center, as a power, and buffers its edifice with either City or Exile, either order of chaos – it is an enterprise, even on the side of a “slippage” of difference, of totality. Whereas theology deals with infinity, not totality, meaning that it exceeds the limited framework of a buttressing of order or chaos – simply put, it exceeds the pagan gods – and it does so through an evermore plentitude of difference, and this means also that all otherness appears quite differently.
The relay of the signs mediate some measure of a plenitude of infinity. Matter matters because there exists a link between the matter and the spirit. After Nietzsche, which is to say, after Kant, which is to say, after the Reformation, which is to say, after Rome fell away from the Eastern Church, there has been concept in the West of simple determinist universe engaged through instrumentalist reason. The result has been a headlong descent into a universe of matter-of-factness, which is also a positivistic ideology – and the result is a denial of the spirit. If the Enlightenment produced the cold night, then vitalist tendencies did no better: it only ever erupted in a force for force’s sake, a vitalist will to power cloaked through a novel brand but peddling the same old metaphysics. Ultimately, this all stems from gnostic heresies that split the body and the spirit in two, whereas in the East (Orthodoxy) there has never been such a concept of a dialectics of this sort. In our postmodern era there is a total revival of the pagan tendency, the vitalist tendency to view the universe as a cauldron of chaos with only a thin veil of order, a fragile veneer of the polis – a compromised Apollo hovering over the exuberant, more expansive cannibalization of Dionysus. The result is an apologetics of force – a fascist ontology.
The wilderness is not just chaos, not a uniovcity of difference irradiated without category and cartography, which would make interpersonal communication impossible: difference is difference because of relation, because when “thingness” appears it is completed relatively through the configuration of a boundary (of art, for example). Objects emanate differences. In order for otherness to really be otherness the alterity must be capable of a multitude of expressions, and only infinity is capable of conveying this continuum. Postmodernism, on the other hand, only ever makes all difference different for the same reason.
The aesthetic requirement, at least at its most fundamental or justifiable point, is that of the infinity of the transcendental that positions space and time into finite experience such that the requirement of finite being “returns” to the same, i.e. to a stable distinction, yet is also immediately preserved in its stability by an openness of being.
Art is about relation. Relation may be seen as an event between the two consequences of identity and difference, between thingness (marking/inscription/image) and the wilderness (otherness), and if there is oscillation in this relation then it is because equivocity and univocity exist reigonally. In my artwork I have no need for a theory of ceaseless ambiance established through a sheer disruption – that would only ever be a nihilistic logic of abolition. Identity is not a continuing conflict to be temporary resolved: where dialectics fails, having only a simple strife, the “metaxological” ambiances a richer image. In other words, proper theological description, which deals with the infinity, displaces the Western – Hegelian – dribble of a revived agonism – revived paganism defining itself as a philosophy presupposing the condition of existence (continuous becoming) strictly in terms of the conflictual. Of course, this is not to deny the existence of the dialectical phenomena, of sublimated struggle; however, what is being said here is that it is regional – the process is regionalized and not a governing totality.
In any case, “determinate negation” ultimately denies contingency: the totality of nothingness of the pagan philosophers requires the completely implausible view that nothingness can do work on the basis that each thing only has one difference, only one opposite. The problem with the wilderness, however, is the existence of multiple opposites which may be related horizontally, vertically and diagonally, and every other possible way. It is in this sense of opposition in the plural that the structure of art does not apply to a strictly dialectical logic, any more than narrative would, since there is always a series of overlapping, multiple compositions beyond the limitations of the story itself. The plural is an intrusion of difference always renewing itself.
Otherness arrives not by an eternal return at the origin but in a reduplication of the origin through a contingent newness that connects allegorically and as such arrives at difference in a moment of free interpretation.
“Fieldwork,” a cartography of the author’s history up against the externality of the wilderness (of the tumult of the plural) advances from difference to mediating unity, but this advancement is not a process of closure. Between the unoriginate and the incarnate there is always the additional relation of the processual. That is the very formula of Trinity, of Christian Truth. Such is also the model of analogy that is always a poetry emerging and oscillating between openness and mediation, expressing the extra that is a paradoxically irreducible third.
Painting is an expression of materials augmenting the deposit of memories, myths, metaphors – a way of looking that discovers what is already given, but is also given over to expressions of what may not yet be found; that is to say, always the unfinished inflection.
There is a tendency to read the wilderness in nihilistic terms – it is a tendency to subscribe everything to a strict violence ontology that presumes difference an indeterminate violent instrument of the agonistic. This limits appearances of “craft” to an original negativity – lurking in the background of its operating system, ultimately, as a Hegelian difference, which is a formula and may not be indicative of how the wilderness gets itself done. Oppositions as conflict (strife and ‘being as war’) assumes the supremacy of an univocal identity. All difference becomes different for the same reason – for the agon, for a metaphysical will to power, etc., etc. In this scheme the X can never also be the Y. Dialectics is a tired vision that only conceives of single opposites, and strikes them in terms of sharp antagonism. This is a prejudice. It is a matter of aesthetic taste. It cannot site a genuine mediation, only a spectral restraint that commences the entire scene to an absolute nullity. Conversely, paradox, not dialectics, permeates the field. It is precisely because of the existence of the plurality of difference running horizontal, vertical and diagonal that X can be Y and a Y can be X, furthermore, without positing a priori strife.
Further, in the continuum of infinity where X can be Y and Y can be X, there is not much that prevents difference from being read as love, as agape, as a further enhancement of the plenitude of infinity expounding itself through forms of alterity in peace, rather than as a storm of the agon, of a nauseating war against war, as a totality of force.
If local distortion appears then it is because dialectic may have its part to play, of course, but neither the one nor the many transcendentally rules. The latter insight is the essence of the metaxu – the between – which lends to the wilderness the relation between the varying shapes themselves: neither a dominance of foreground or background but of an interweaving of things in and out metaxologically.
Why does something come from nothing? – That is the question of the artist, aged like a fine wine, which has no interest in how something comes about (mechanism has its place but often becomes a poor formula for denying the aesthetic dimension). No painter, at least when pertaining to their craft, has ever asked the question how, but has instead been enthralled by the aesthetic of the appearing as such.
“Fieldwork” is my naming of an eclectic existential option that expresses the giveness of the scene, experiencing both anomalies of marking/image/writing and the wilderness that neither circumscribes alterity to a universally stable terrain nor equalizes all difference through a negative, violent ontology. This is the proper domain of Beauty. Beauty is not a closed typology, a wholly-governable terrain. Painting seeks Beauty. The openness of Beauty is achieved paradoxically through all the differences beheld, and does so in a way that does not equalize all otherness through a sieve of arbitrating negation. What of the wilderness? It emerges as the drama of the in-between, the plenitudinous liminality that knows no settling into a rigid formula of dialectical mediation. There is, finally, within the Beautiful both identity and difference and a process between each and the other where Beauty is the true name for metaxu.