Over the years I have explored the relation between artistic expression and landscape, deploying self-consciously heightened versions of the “everyday” by contrasting the materiality of nature against the instances of the ruins and decay of modernity. The works have been fragile, not only in the literal sense but also in the sense of placing them within a certain context.
Three years ago I began to go through a crisis. It was a bodily, as well as an existential crisis – a crisis of life, of health, of sickness. Inevitably, it was a crisis of representation. In many ways, the work I had been doing presaged it, but as I went deeper I suddenly felt artistic inspiration vanish from me.
My kidney disease advanced rapidly. It took a toll on my health. I shifted my diet but the body was in a shock. I got tired easily. I lost muscle mass. Tasks I could do easily a few years ago I suddenly found to be difficult, exhaustive.
I produced an entire series of paintings out of that state. It was the most raw my work had ever been. I began to feel the material of the work at an entirely different level – nature became even more bodily, more carnal, more pressing. After a dozen or so paintings the need or sense that spurred me to create dried up.
Looking back, what had really occurred was that I no longer felt the desire or the interest to exhibit, to place some thing in a room or on a wall and say “look at me!” I could care less about the artworld. From my vantage it all looked so vain, bromidic, moth-eaten. Sickness will do that to you: one may advance quickly towards the things that really matter, and exhibiting or even attending art events wasn’t one of them. The crowds were just as vain as the artists. There were no life or death questions there, only a refusal to let oneself be caught entertaining something that retained principle. Everyone was obsessed with themselves. The self was the new god, after all: this was the post-Kantian, postmodern spectacle of self-as-product where everyone was involved in exhibiting themselves, selling themselves, or buying themselves. Fichte got the last laugh, long after his philosophy had eclipsed itself: nothing exists except for me!
The artworld also voided anything outside itself of any credibility: it has always been a reduction to anesthesia, to power’s advantage over signs and images. The scene simply regurgitated itself: the same old forms, same old Duchampian platitudes turning over themselves like a tapeworm. Cannibalization – that has been and shall be the word of the day. It says it all. It invests and dis-invests itself simultaneously. It ate its own flesh, ate its own vomit as it parroted “art.” All the crowds turned into the collective Judas, and artists too: they’d sell themselves for their cut of the 30 pieces. There were no big ideas, no ultimate questions, only the eternal return of wasteful fashion; the amnesia at the end of the age; the nihilism of the perpetual 3AM.
I was up against something real, something visceral, and all around me there seemed only the murder of real communication – a strategy of culture’s domination? – The abolition of meaning and metaphor with perverse effects. The Last Man everywhere saw himself as rubbish and threw himself into the heap of artistic rubbish. The artworld is like a fetish that no longer has a sign but is meaningless in itself – a mere banal accessory: this is precisely why any object whatsoever can become a fetish, a realization liken any artifice – its only limit being its own commodity, its money, its simulacrum that must keep itself from reality, like thought itself – that must keep itself from any real projection of the idea and its translation into action. For all of art’s strategies, for all of its supposed subversive character, its sham politics, its “diversity” is nothing but a false alternative to the operation of the system. It is a deterrence of all ultimate questions. I was so tired of “look at me!”
It seems today, looking back, it was not exactly a choice, but it was simply not a rejection – there was no more energy even for that. It was, simply, a behavior based on a negative preference: not negative in the sense of a complicity with the positive, likened to a bad accounting, but negative in the sense of the apophatic. Moving forward, I could only speak in terms of what was not being said.
You see, disease that threatens your life pushes you up against ultimate questions – these are questions the modernist mind, with its homogenized American god of money and culture, of consumption and surplus, avoids like the plague. Avoidance stems from fear. This culture, its art culture too, is possessed by fear, which is why it is doomed to shameful complicity. The three children of Nihilism – sex, drugs, violence – through images have become the leitmotif of culture, which is to also say, of most art, or, all advertising. Misery is its single condition. The violence of the medium is everywhere, and its spectacle of death is all readable: a single cruelty everywhere, if you can figure out a way of seeing it, is captured in all of the world’s immoral aesthetics, its commcerialist disavowal of what is human. The irony of this system, this operational ideology of death, is that the culture of death is scared, frightened, seized by the terror and fear of death.
That is why it solicits you to express yourself. The dictum of the modernist artist – “Look at me!” – is to expose your daily life, your misfortunes, your desires, with no more secret, and to never tire in so doing. Exhibitionism: express yourself. It is the same with the system: it never tires to speak, to be readable, to communicate, and to overexpose everything. And it sells itself as liberation, as a quality of desire where enslavement to a totalitarian visibility, complete with ready-made viewing, feigns itself as a precious site of “rights.” We artists express ourselves and solicit others in an alterity of exhibitionist control – of a making things visible, desirable – like in advertising – so that speech may drown out the ultimate questions. Pretty soon, seeped in this death culture, there is nothing that may escape – we have all transformed ourselves into images, to maximized speech campaigns, and all secrets are lost. This is Iconoclasm not by the praxis of destroying images but by producing them ad naseum, and consuming them in Dionysian frenzy. The culture, and its art, are the very definitions of obscenity.
I seemed to be venturing off deeper into the woods. My work had always been about landscape, but now the landscape took over and I was no longer being compelled to translate it by some intervening individualism, some privatized interpretation or heightened-sense of self. I was content with what was appearing. There was a more serious point here. It marks the distance between the analogue and the digital, between the disappearance and form of distance (negative) and the products of instruction, programmatic modernism’s aggravated spectacle, and the total assault of all automatic dissemination of mediums. Everything I had been taught about art was layered upon this Iconoclastic postmodernity: all desire was funneled into that universe, that haziness of total production. But this isn’t anywhere where true events reside. Nature, the body, the ultimate questions are all linked to true events, whereas art, the death culture, the spectacle of desire conceiving itself as the only medium, constitutes itself at that point where it wants to take accounts, to exude all models of representation as a soliciting “liberation,” to smash the event through images. It is the same with photography, with the digital photography: the photographic eye puts things to death by making them appear. Similar, then, also is that of the self in the combine of culture: you “express” yourself and therein put yourself to death by making yourself appear.
But all of this was supposed to set up a means of informing you of upcoming projects. Alas, this testimony of crisis I deemed necessary to convey first because without it there could be no informative sense of where I stand, and where I’ve been. I had said my painting dried up. That is true: I haven’t painted in 6 months. That does not mean I will never paint again. I am not sure what it means, frankly. The composer Arvo Pärt went through a period of silence, some eight years if I remember correctly. On the years of his silence, which convened in his conversion to Orthodoxy, he had said that he had to become silent in order to listen. Pärt’s biographer, Hillier, observed that “he had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and willpower to write even a single note.” I too feel something akin to this apprehension of futile gestures. I also sense a time of contemplative silence is upon me. – It has approached and is approaching. Incidentally, at this time I am also in a process of conversion. Where this will take “me” is something I am not too concerned with at the moment.
I’ve always felt like I was on the periphery. The arts are a place that feigns the adoption of the periphery as it claims to give the periphery a voice, but this is false: all art does is move into territory to make a new center. This is how postmodernist Iconoclasm functions. It plays off of seduction, play, a maximizing of speech-media conjuring away all true otherness in order to graft upon everything its dominating trajectory of the readymade. It makes everything totally operational from the purview of the center soliciting itself as periphery, and as that system stamps “other” onto its novel enclave, its new colony, it immediately redoubles itself and its apprehension of the world. This is, to be quite frank, what liberalism does. It functions as an annihilation of all true peripheries, all substance, and distance, in order to bring everything into the rubbish, into the waste that exchanges and circulates only for the sake of being exchanged and to circulate. Once one becomes lucid to this program, or at least to the play of its forms, there may result a quite tangible effect: one may simply no longer choose to take part in a process where the values are completely skewed from one’s sense of value, or really of any value whatsoever.
The only way to heal is to open the wound, lest the sickness spread.