Joshua Mason is a painter, photographer and installation artist. He lives and works on the east coast Lake Michigan. Mason is a curator and on occasion teaches on aesthetics. His artwork has been included in both national and international exhibits.

On “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, what Thoreau called earth made out of ‘chaos and old night,’ is an outside serene or severe, comforting or foreboding. 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 text attempts to manage the space in which it appears, 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, the tumult of difference, may at first seem catastrophic but it always suggests supplement, analogy, additions that once the content is formulated stand in relationship to it: 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 material realm in which would be posited some kind of energetics over an ontological void. 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. 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). 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.

Relationality 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 negative, nihilistic logic of abolition. Identity is not a continuing conflict to be temporary resolved: where dialectics fails, having only a simple strife, the “metaxological” takes root, which displaces any Hegealian (ultimately, Lutheran) dribble of agonism defining 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, it is regional – the process is regionalized and not a governing totality of the nihil.

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, one opposite. The problem with the wilderness, however, is the existence of multiple opposites  which may be related horizontally, vertically and diagonally. 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 sheer 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. Working through a work of art takes on the archetype of its condition of possibility, the Trinity – the formula of Christian Truth – which posits that between the unoriginate and the incarnated there is always the additional relation of the processual. Such is the model of analogy that is always between two poles: the extra that is a paradoxically irreducible third.

Painting, artwork in general, is an expression of materials augmenting the deposit of memories, myths, metaphors – a way of looking that discovered what is already given, but is also given over to expressions of what may not yet be found, which is to say, always the unfinished inflection of desire.

Of course, the wilderness can always be read nihilistically (which is what the postmoderns do, who subscribe everything to a strict violence ontology that presumes difference an indeterminate violent instrument of the agonistic). The postmodern not only limits the appearances of “craft” to a nihilistic original negativity, since lurking in the background of its operating system is ultimately Hegelian difference, which is a formula and may not be indicative of how the wilderness actually operates: oppositions as conflict (strife and ‘being as war’) assume the supremacy of univocal identity where X can never also be Y. This is a prejudice and only a matter of taste and 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.

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. 

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. This betweenness is irreducible: it is precisely anaology that is not reduced to a metaphysics of conflict between equivocity and univocity.

Art, the original providence of God’s Word, is a paradoxical dimension. As an artist, but also as a theist, I recognize paradox because the existence of the logic of infinity and the finite relation insinuates a violation of “non-contradiction.” (It is an irony that the modern mind obsessed with Enlightenment scientism would wish to keep “laws” – like the “law of non-contradiction” – as an absolute, having already neutralized the ground of the condition of the absolute, since the more radical attribution would be to posit that if everything is becoming all laws are also subject to radical contingency).  

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. Painting seeks Beauty. The unity 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, or of a mere univocal/equivocal logic. 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.


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