Sunday, 7 March 2010

Wild Signals

Wild Signals

Artistic Positions between Symptom and Analysis
September 13 – November 9, 2008

Kevin Schmidt, Wild Signals

Corinne May Botz

Sorel Cohen

Martin Dammann

Charles Gaines

Jana Gunstheimer

Susan Hiller

Joachim Koester

Joshua Mosley

Pablo Pijnappel

Tim Roda

Kevin Schmidt


Iris Dressler, Hans D. Christ


From September 13 to November 9, 2008, the Württembergischer Kunstverein is presenting the exhibition “Wild Signals. Artistic Positions between Symptom and Analysis.” The exhibition comprises around 100 works by eleven international artists who have appropriated scientific methods in different ways. Historical documents are subjected to a shifted reading. The instruments and discourses of criminology, psychoanalysis, ethnology, natural and parasciences are borrowed as much as questioned. With an attitude that is as critical as it is ironical, the artists confront that production of truth that seeks to master the unknown and the incomprehensible and that rests on the denial of its own fallacies.

Speculation and staging, as techniques intrinsic to scientific thought, its experiments and reasonings, receive special attention – not least because this is the point at which aesthetic and scientific practices intersect. For example, stage, photography and film have long been described as instruments of knowledge, that serve not to prove but rather to actually produce and stage knowledge.

“Wild Signals” presents artistic mis-en-scènes of knowledge – and non-knowledge – in which the performative aspect is manifest. Here, knowledge appears in an open resonant space in which fact and possibility, what may be interpreted and what may not, are mutually conditional. In this context, the exhibition deploys two artistic strategies (and their overlapping): The analysis and simulation of findings, evidence and symptoms.

The exhibition’s title refers to Kevin Schmidt’s video installation of the same name.

Tate - Evaluating the Effects of Cleaning Acrylic Paintings

Tate AXA Art Modern Paints Project (TAAMPP)

Evaluating the Effects of Cleaning Acrylic Paintings

The Tate AXA Art Modern Paints Project (TAAMPP) is a three year project funded by AXA Art Insurance, which enables a research team based at Tate to continue its evaluation of the effects of cleaning acrylic paintings.

Acrylic paints and primers have been widely used by artists since the early 1960s. They account for approximately 50% of paint sales over the last thirty years and they are the most common priming medium for modern canvases. It is estimated that acrylic materials are present in 30% of the Tate's collection of modern and contemporary paintings.

Although there is no sign that acrylic paints are any less stable than oil paints - in fact, they seem to be less likely to yellow and crack with age - they will require different conservation treatments from oils because their different composition.

Fig 1. Detail of fingerprints on an acrylic paint film.
© Tate 2006
Fig 2. Use of scanning electron microscope to show dirt particles embedded in an acrylic paint film.
© Tate 2006

The team at Tate is one of several research groups from museums or collaborating universities currently involved with assessing ways in which modern paint artworks can best be conserved in the future, in many cases before the signs of ageing become apparent. To date, appropriate conservation techniques have been limited and this research will lead the way in redressing this conservation concern.

More information on Tate's involvement in this larger network of researchers >

The project was launched on 1st April 2006 - full press release >

What are the main conservation issues about cleaning acrylic emulsion paints?

Acrylic paints tend to be:

■flexible and soft (at room temperature). This is excellent for preventing crack formation, but does mean that airborne dirt (and fingerprints) can slowly work their way into the paint film and end up being more difficult to remove.
■extremely vulnerable to many of the organic solvents commonly used in the conservation of oil paints. Acrylics would rapidly swell and start to dissolve if solvents such as alcohols or acetone were used. A new range of cleaning methods therefore needs to be established and tested.
■easily swollen by water and other aqueous cleaning systems, although this is not accompanied by the paint dissolving. However, the ramifications of this swelling need to be properly assessed.
■prone to surface changes on cleaning, in terms of burnishing and the development of uneven gloss and tide lines, which is particularly problematic in paintings that have large monochrome areas that can be difficult to clean evenly.
What do we know so far?

The principal findings from previous research are that acrylic paints appear to be:

■very stable (i.e. they do not change with age) compared to other paint types, such as oils and alkyds.
■responsive to changes in temperature and relative humidity (RH): they become brittle at low temperatures and soft and tacky at high temperatures; and they can swell considerably at high RH values.
■resistant to aqueous (i.e. water-based) cleaning solutions, apart from the removal of one of their minor components (a surfactant), which occurs readily from the paint's surface even if gently rubbed with a cotton wool swab. However, the removal of this component seems to have little effect on the paint's physical properties.
■totally resistant to cleaning with non-polar organic solvents, which do not remove surfactant from the paint surface or bulk film, and also have a negligible effect on physical properties.
■reasonably resistant to visual changes caused by surface cleaning, with some potential for minor changes in gloss, but this needs further investigation.
Specific aims of TAAMPP

These are to:

■assess the efficiency of surface cleaning treatment systems that are currently in use, using model paint samples covered in artificial dirt
■explore new / improved cleaning methods, with the aim of providing choice for conservators concerned about the extraction of material(s) from the paint film
■monitor case studies. Five acrylic emulsion paintings in the Tate collection will be surface cleaned and the effects of the treatments evaluated. This will help bridge the gap between evaluating model paints and actual works of art
■investigate the soiling (i.e. dirt deposition) of acrylic paint films, with a focus on the relationship between surface surfactant layers and soiling
■continue the investigation into the various physical, chemical and optical properties of acrylic paints that might be affected by cleaning and ageing.

Fig 3. Selection of yellow acrylic paint films after immersion in cleaning solutions and ready for testing.
Photograph Bronwyn Ormsby © Tate 2006
Fig 4. A paint film being tested in a Dynamic Mechanical Analyser, which can measure mechanical properties during immersion in liquids.
Photograph Bronwyn Ormsby © Tate 2006

The TAAMPP poster outlines much of this information. It was first presented at Modern Paints Uncovered (MPU) symposium, held at Tate Modern on 16-19 May 2006. This event, with more than 250 participants from over thirty-five countries in attendance, provided a unique forum for discussing the latest analytical, scientific, practical, and historical research in this area.
More information on the MPU symposium.

Case Studies

As part of TAAMPP, up to five acrylic paintings that are cleaned will be monitored closely. This aims to demonstrate the benefits to scientific research of constantly assessing the practical considerations that are faced by conservators. Case-studies will take research directly to practicing conservators.

The first painting to be assessed in this way will be Untitled 2/72 by the British artist Jeremy Moon (1934 -1973), which is being cleaned in preparation for a new display at Tate Britain in 2007, alongside other newly acquired works by Moon (Hoop-La and Untitled [72])


During the course of the Project, newsletters will be produced at six monthly intervals, outlining research progress and results.

Caring for Acrylics: Modern and Contemporary Paintings Tate and AXA Art [PDF format, 2.45MB]
Newsletter 1, October 2006 [PDF format, 40K]
Newsletter 2, May 2007 [PDF format, 60K]
Newsletter 3, January 2008 [PDF format, 226K]
Newsletter 4, September 2008 [PDF format, 1.2MB]
Newsletter 5, May 2009 [PDF format, 1.4MB]
Newsletter 6, November 2009 [PDF format, 1.5MB]
To view the newsletters you will need Adobe Reader

Research Summary

Tate AXA Art Modern Paints Project (TAAMPP): 2006-2009 Research summary [PDF format, 563KB]
Events / talks

■17 May 2006: Bronwyn Ormsby's presentation at Modern Paints Uncovered (MPU) symposium, Tate Modern, London
■19 May 2006: Poster presentation at MPU symposium, Tate Modern, London,
■14 June 2006: Public roundtable discussion at Art Basel Art fair, Basel
■16 June 2006: Reception at the American Institute for Conservation annual conference, Providence, USA
■19 October 2006 Roundtable discussion at Reina Sofia, Madrid
■26 October 2006: Roundtable discussion at Christie's, Paris
■16 January 2007: Presentation to the Decorative and Fine Art Society, The Hague
■17 January 2007: Presentations to Instituut Collectie Nederland, Amsterdam
■1 June 2007: Presentation to ICOM-CC Paintings Working Group Interim Meeting, British Museum, London
■28 June 2007: Presentation to BAPCR, London
■5 October 2007: Presentation to ICON, London
■18 October 2007: Presentation to AICCM National Conference, Brisbane
■23 November 2007: Presentation to University of Applied Arts, Vienna
■27 March 2008: Presentation to the Infra-red and Raman User's Group (IRUG), Vienna
■5 June 2008: Presentation to Instituut Collectie Nederland, Amsterdam
■25 July 2008: Presentation to Royal Institution, London
■24 September 2008: Presentation to ICOM-CC triennial conference, New Delhi
■21 October 2008: Presentations to University of Torino, Turin
■22 November 2008: Presentation to University of Perugia, Perugia
■6 February 2009: Presentation to Courtauld Institute of Art, London
■6 March 2009: Workshop at Courtauld Institute of Art, London
■13 March 2009: Presentation to Science and Engineering Week, London
■23 March 2009: Presentation to The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
■24 March 2009: Presentation to The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece (E. Kampasakali)
■8 April 2009: Presentation to the Istituto Superiore per la conservazione ed il Restauro, Rome, Italy
■21 May 2009: Presentation to the AIC Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, USA (M. Keefe and A. Phenix DOW/GCI)
■25 June 2009: Presentation to the SF-IIC Paris (T. Learner (GCI)
■7-11 July 2009: Cleaning Acrylic Painted Surfaces (CAPS) workshop, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles

Elina Kampasakali, AXA Art Research Fellow
Bronwyn Ormsby, Senior Conservation Scientist
Patricia Smithen, Lead Conservator, Paintings Conservation
Nicky White, Sponsorship Manager

Getty Conservation Institute
Tom Learner, Head of Contemporary Art Research

Benedetta Brandi, Marketing Co-Ordinator, AXA Art Italy, Milano
Frances Fogel, Communication and Liaison Co-ordinator, AXA Art UK, London
Thomas Wessel, Director of Art Expertise Management, AXA Art Group, Cologne (Head office)

Related Publications


■The Impact of Modern Paints (2000), by Jo Crook and Tom Learner
■Analysis of Modern Paints (2004), by Tom Learner
Online articles:

■Elizabeth Jablonski et al, 'Conservation Concerns for Acrylic Emulsion Paints: A Literature Review', Tate Papers (2004).
■Tom Learner, 'Modern Paints', Sackler NAS Colloquium, Scientific Examination of Art: Modern Techniques in Conservation and Analysis (2005).
■Mark Golden, 'Just Paint: Special Conservation Issue' (2006).
■Ormsby, B. et al. 'The Effects of Surface Cleaning on Acrylic Emulsion Paintings: A Preliminary Investigation' Tate Papers (2006).
Other articles:

■Ormsby, B., Smithen, P., and Learner, T. (2007). ‘Translating research into practice – evaluating the surface cleaning treatment of an acrylic emulsion painting by Jeremy Moon’. Contemporary Collections. Preprints of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) National Conference, Brisbane, Australia, 2007, 97-109.
■Ormsby, B., Learner, T., Foster, G, Druzik, J., and Schilling, M. (2007) ‘Wet-cleaning Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films: An Evaluation of Physical, Chemical and Optical Changes.’ Modern Paints Uncovered, Tate Modern. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 187-198.
■Ormsby, B., Foster, G., Learner, T., Ritchie, S., and Schilling, M. (2007). ‘Improved Controlled Temperature and Relative Humidity Dynamic Mechanical Analysis of Artists’ Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films: Part 1’ Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry, Vol. 90. 249-253.
■Ormsby, B., Foster, G., Learner, T., Ritchie, S., and Schilling, M. (2007). ‘Improved Controlled Relative Humidity Dynamic Mechanical Analysis of Artists’ Acrylic Emulsion Paints: Part 2. General Properties and Accelerated Ageing.’ Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry, Online First, February 2007.
■Ormsby, B., Learner, T., Schilling, M., Druzik, J., Khanjian, H., Carson, D., Foster, G., and Sloan, M. (2006). ‘The Effects of Surface Cleaning on Acrylic Emulsion Paintings – A Preliminary Investigation’. Oberflächenreinigung; Materialien und Methoden. VDR Schriftenreihe 2, Ed. Cornelia Weyer, Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, 135-149.

< Return to The Conservation of Modern Paints

Dominique Mazeaud

The Great Cleansing of The River Grande

7 year performance going down to the river with garbage bags and cleaning up.

Suzi Gablik - The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art

The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art

by Suzi Gablik

A new paradigm of an engaged, participatory and socially relevant art is emerging.
If you’re out, you’re out - you simply don’t count," the artist Sandro Chia once declared in an interview in Art in America. Referring to the art world, he said, "Anything that happens must happen within this system," which he went on to describe: "I work for a few months, then I go to a gallery and show the dealer my work. The work is accepted, the dealer makes a selection, then an installation. People come and say you’re good or not so good, then they pay for these paintings and hang them on other walls. They give cocktail parties and we all go to restaurants and meet girls. I think this is the weirdest scene in the world."

Sandro Chia’s description of the art world as a suburb of hell is all too familiar; it is a world in which artists are defined through showing or not showing, selling or not selling, and through the goals of money, prestige, and power that are so crucial to our whole society’s notion of success. Within the modernist paradigm under which I grew up, art has been typically understood as a collection of prestigious objects, existing in museums and galleries, disconnected from ordinary life and action. Defined entirely in individualistic terms, the modern artist’s quest was enacted within the inner sanctum of a studio, behind closed doors. This mythology of the lone genius, isolated from society, and relieved of social responsibility, is summed up for me in these comments by the painter Georg Baselitz: "The artist is not responsible to anyone. His social role is asocial; his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does. There is no communication with any public whatsoever... It is the end product which counts, in my case, the picture."

Recently, when he was asked on the occasion of his Guggenheim retrospective what role he believes art plays in society, Baselitz replied, "The same role as a good shoe, nothing more." And he has stated elsewhere: "The idea of changing or improving the world is alien to me and seems ludicrous. Society functions, and always has, without the artist. No artist has ever changed anything for better or worse."

Many of the beliefs about art that our culture subscribes to, that the problems of art are purely aesthetic and that art will never change the world, are beliefs that have diminished the capacity of artists for constructive thought and action. The critic Arthur C. Danto has referred to this state of affairs as "the disenfranchisement of art", because the hidden constraints of a morally neutral, art-for-art’s sake philosophy is that it has led artists to their marginalized condition in society. I first began to question this mythology myself when I wrote Has Modernism Failed?, and since then, many things have happened to change the situation. The environment is disintegrating, time is running out, and not much is being done.

Artistic Responsibility
Many artists now see their role as sounding the alarm, and have felt the need to alter the direction of their art so that it is more socially and environmentally defined. Such artists incarnate different ideals and a different philosophy of life. Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña states, for example, "Most of the work I’m doing currently comes, I think, from the realization that we’re living in a state of emergency. I feel that more than ever we must step outside the strictly art arena. It is not enough to make art." In a similar vein, Chicago artist Othello Anderson states: "Carbon and other pollutants are emitted into the air in such massive quantities that large areas of forest landscapes are dying from the effects of acid rain. Recognizing this crisis, as an artist I can no longer consider making art that is void of moral consciousness, art that carries no responsibility, art without spiritual content, art that places form above content, or art that denies the state of the very world in which it exists."
As many artists shift their work arena from the studio to the more public contexts of political, social, and environmental life, we are all being called, in our understanding of what art is, to move beyond the mode of disinterested contemplation to something that is more participatory and engaged. Such art may not hang on walls; it may not even be found in museums or beautiful objects, but rather in some visible manifestation of what psychologist James Hillman refers to as "the soul’s desperate concerns." For such artists, vision is not defined by the disembodied eye, as we have been trained to believe. Vision is a social practice that is rooted in the whole of being.

Breaking with the Paradigm of Vision
Writing The Reenchantment of Art represented my own philosophical "break" with the paradigm of vision and the disembodied eye as the axiomatic basis for artistic practice.
For instance, I wrote at some length about an art project initiated by a friend of mine in Santa Fe, Dominique Mazeaud, which she calls "The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande River". For several years, armed with garbage bags donated by the city, Mazeaud and a few friends who sometimes accompanied her, would meet once a month and ritually clean garbage out of the river. Part of the work involves keeping a diary, entitled Riveries, in which she writes about her experiences. Briefly, here are some extracts:

November 19 My friend Margret drops me off at Delgado promptly at 9:00 am. Because of the snow I was not sure of the conditions I would find but did not doubt a second that I would put in my day. I find a stone warmed by the morning sun which makes a perfect site for my beginning prayer. Yes, I see what I am doing as a way of praying: Picking up a can/From the river/And then another/on and on/It’s like a devotee/Doing countless rosaries.
December 2 Why in all religions is water such a sacred symbol? How much longer is it going to take us to see the trouble of our waters? How many more dead fish floating on the Rhine River? How many kinds of toxic waste dumpings? When are we going to turn our malady of separateness around?

March 19 1 can’t get away from you river/In the middle of the night/I feel you on my back/In my throat, in my heart.

July 20 Two more huge bags I could hardly carry to the cans. I don’t count any more. I don’t announce my "art for the earth" in the papers either. All alone in the river, I pray and pick up, pick up and pray. Who can I really talk to about what I see?... I have also noticed that I stopped collecting the so-called treasures of the river. It was OK at the beginning, but today I feel it was buying into the present system of art that’s so much object-oriented. Is it because I am saying that what I am doing is art that I need to produce something?

Eventually, as the artist’s connection with the river deepens into that of friend and confidante, and even that of teacher, she reaches a point where her relationship with the river becomes even more important than her original ecological incentive to clean it. "For the first time last month," she comments, my meditation directed me to go and be with the river and not do anything. The instructions were clear: "Don’t even take one garbage bag." Her activity had subtly shifted, until it was no longer a systematic retrieving of everything in sight, but has become her own personal dialogue with the river. The river as a living being has something to say. "I have landed in a new landscape," Mazeaud states, "where I discover the river is as true an artist as I am."
The hegemony of the eye is very strong in our culture, and to challenge the commitment to its ocular-centric, or vision-centered aesthetic, replacing it with a paradigm shift that displaces vision with the very different influence of listening, is to open oneself up to the complaint that what is being described here is not art at all, but environmental activism, or social work. Many individuals who saw their own ideas reflected in my book’s agenda were enthusiastic and friendly, whereas those who thought that art should be unencumbered by any moral or social purpose were resistant and unfriendly, because it seemed to undermine the way they see their task.

When I lectured together with the critic Hilton Kramer a few years ago in Madison, Wisconsin, he proclaimed, with the force of a typhoon, on the podium after my talk, that things with no relation to art were now being legitimized and accepted as art, when, he claimed, art is incapable of solving any problems except aesthetic ones. Kramer is in the forefront of those who believe that when art is actively engaged with the world, its aesthetic quality is necessarily compromised. I, on the other hand, consider that such art is often intensely aesthetic, because in responding compassionately to whatever it touches, it is helping to create a more beautiful world. Artists whose work helps to heal our soulless attitudes toward the physical world have my full respect and attention because, for me, beauty is an activity rather than an entity, a consciousness of, and reverence for, the beauty of the world.

Art and the Return of Soul
I’d like to conclude with some pertinent comments between myself and Thomas Moore taken from my new book Conversations Before the End of Time.
Suzi: As I understand your sense of the soulful life, it would mean bringing art back into a more vernacular, everyday world, and taking it out of the more rarefied sphere of professionalism. You mentioned in the letter you wrote to me that you are very interested in the role of the arts in the world today. Do you see art as being an important vehicle for the return of soul?

Moore: Probably its most important vehicle.

Suzi: Do you want to elaborate on this?

Moore: Yes, there’s so much to say here. First, though, I’d like to pick up on this point of yours about everyday life. There are a number of ways in which we could bring the artist back into everyday life, so that we don’t just have this fringe art world that doesn’t really touch on the values of the way we live, essentially. One way would be for the artist truly to feel a sense of conviviality in the society, in being part of that community, so that there’s a responsibility, and a pleasure, in going into the world and being part of, say, actually designing the city... We can’t suddenly begin living a more artful life, which is the avenue to soul, if in the public life around us, and in everything we see and inhabit, art is invisible.

Suzi: And so, in your thinking, that could be a whole new paradigm for a socially relevant kind of art—not precisely in the sense that’s being talked about in the art world now of "political correctness" and social critique, but rather a kind of art that celebrates and participates robustly in the life-world.

Moore: Exactly. And here’s another point about soul.., soul enters life through pleasure. It’s an erotic activity: psyche and eros going together, rather than principle and responsibility. Responsibility suggests a kind of outward superego coming in and saying, "You know, this is what you should be doing." That is not a new paradigm; we’re not moving out of the modernistic world then. We’re just feeling we should do something different and more responsible.

Suzi: "If we are going to care for the soul," you say in your book, "and if we know that the soul is nurtured by beauty, then we will have to understand beauty more deeply and give it a more relevant place in life. It’s not only pleasure and conviviality, but also beauty that is necessary for the return of soul..." It’s interesting, don’t you think, that archetypal psychologists are the ones who seem to be taking the lead for a renaissance of beauty in our lives, even more than artists or aestheticians?


Art in service of humanity
In my new book, Conversations Before the End of Time, James Hillman and I discuss the river project of Dominique Mazeaud in a way that is relevant, I think, to the issues being addressed in my paper.
Suzi: The point is, James, that within the traditionally accepted model of the artist, based on isolated individualism, it’s very difficult to perceive any strong connection or direct influence that art could have on the world. That’s why in my writing I have been drawn to artists who are using their creativity in ways that can have a more direct effect.

Hillman: We’ve talked about this before, and I think there’s a problem, about, first of all, why that’s art, and second of all, what’s the difference between that artist cleaning the river and l’art pour l’art? Because in the end, her art has no worldly effect. You say yourself that it’s not really even meant to clean the river; it becomes a devotional ritual. (But for me the real problem is) what gets metaphorized in her work? Doesn’t she remain in the literal world? And, as such, it’s not art? She’s literally cleaning the river!

Suzi: But that’s a problem only if you want to define art as a separate aesthetic realm, divorced from life and quarantined to the museum or art gallery. And only if you want to insist on the Cartesian split between art and life, self and world.

Hillman: I certainly don’t define art that way, but I do believe it transforms the literal to the metaphorical and mythical. Otherwise, the social comment, politics, advocacy, protest exist on one level only... For me, art is dedicated to beauty; it’s a way to let beauty into our world by means of the artist’s gifts and sensibilities... I think beauty needs to come into it somehow. Ideas of beauty and metaphor are necessary to what I call art.

Suzi: In another of these conversations, Satish Kumar says that in India, art was never meant to hang on walls—it’s part of life. He thinks that the desert of ugliness all around us is connected with concentrating our notion of beauty in a great body of works of art to be found only in the oases of museums. In India, art is not separated from the normal flow of life. A lot of discussion is being instigated by people now who feel that until—or unless—art can reconnect with life, it’s going to stay marginal, without any part to play in the larger picture.

Hillman: That’s a very good point, because it shows something crucial to this civilization: that the work in the river can be put in a different context altogether, which is art in the service of... life. Like the way dance was originally in the service of the tribal community; it wasn’t dance for an audience on a stage. It was a dance that helped the crops to grow.

Suzi: In our culture, the notion of art being in service to anything is anathema. Aesthetics doesn’t serve anything but itself and its own ends. I would like that to change. When Hilton Kramer says that the minute you try to make art serve anything, you’re in a fascistic mode—well, I don’t believe that.

Hillman: I’d like to defend the cleaning of the river, for a moment. I’m going back to what you said a little earlier: it’s the attempt to put art in the service of something.

Suzi: Yes, that’s where the issue is.

Hillman: Art in the service of something. If we say that it’s life, and if we think, for instance, of the Balinese village where everything is made to be functional and useful, for celebrations or ceremonies... you’re still in service to the gods, somehow. Now we don’t have that—we’ve wiped the gods out... So the god that art now serves is the god that dominates the culture, which is the god of commodity, of money. So it is in service, it’s in service to gods we don’t approve of... Now suppose the question doesn’t become what art should do, but rather how do we find that which art should serve? Art is already in service, so we could perhaps change that to which it is in service?

Suzi: So the question is what could art better serve than the things it has been serving, like bourgeois capitalism, throughout our lifetimes?

Hillman: Right! And I think the artist in the river is serving a different god.


Suzi Gablik is an artist, writer and teacher whose books include Has Modernism Failed?, The Re-enchantment of Art and Conversations Before the End of Time. This article is from a symposium on The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art sponsored by the New York Open Center and the International Society for Consciousness in the Arts in October 1995.

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 8, No. 1 Copyright © 1998 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.

Michael Heizer Double Negative

There is something deeply attractive about it and something totally abhorent

From Archaeology to Art and Back Again

From Archaeology to Art and Back Again

Archaeological remains from palaeolithic cave paintings to Bronze Age rock art to megaliths, stone circles and stone rows to earthworks such as Silbury Hill and the Mississipi snake mound have provided inspiration for a great many environmental artists. In the 1930s in Britain the sculptural qualities of megaliths were explicitly recognised by Nash, Moore and others. In the case of Michael Heizer whose work was formative in the development of American 'land art' (see the discussion below) the connection is even clearer. Heizer's father was the famous American archaeologist, Robert Heizer. Some of Heizer's forms are clearly inspired by Aztec architecture, some of De Maria's by ancient Peruvian Nazca lines in the landscape. In contemporary British environmental art Long, Fulton, Goldsworthy and others have expressed interest and inspiration in prehistoric monuments, in particular stone circles. Lippard (1983) has reviewed these connections in a lengthy study. She describes the process as one of 'weaving together ideas and images of very different cultures by making one a metaphor for the other and vice versa' (Lippard 1983: 2). But there are evident dangers here: that of a pure aestheticization of the past in which an interest in form becomes substituted for meaning. While what may be labelled prehistoric 'art' or 'sculpture' had socially embedded meaning in the day-to-day structures of life and in relation to myth and cosmology in the past such a general perspective can only result in an irrational and reactionary nostalgic mysticism if it is used to inspire and inform the production and understanding of contemporary environmental art. Lippard, an important art critic, considers many archaeological statements about the past as being 'boring' and 'limited'. She places equal stress and relevance in her book on empirically constrained attempts to understand prehistoric monuments by archaeologists and statements of mystical belief by 'popular' writers evoking 'earth powers', ley-lines and other generalized notions such as ideas about 'femaleness' and mother godesses being embedded in the contours of the British countryside. The social and meaningful messages of contemporary environmental art work best, and are most powerful, in our opinion, when they are expressing ecological and political concerns about the environment today as opposed to claiming any mythical or religious content or connection with the past. While most environmental artists acknowledge inspiration from prehistoric forms none are particularly archaeologically informed or interested. The past is simply being raided as a source of ideas to produce work in the present. An exhibition at the South Bank Centre in London brought together work inspired by prehistoric forms and some interested archaeologists (Ackling 1991). Noble comments in the introduction to the catalogue: "There is always a danger when bringing together ten artists under a title From Art to Archaeology that they might be seen as a group of 'artist-archaeologists' whose work is directly influenced by ancient source material. Nothing could be further from the truth. Artists are by nature visual magpies collecting bits of information from diverse sources. What is at issue in this exhibition is the transformation of the past through artists' eyes. By crossing disciplines, from art to archaeology and back again with the artist as guide, we are given a door through which we enter the artists' extraordinary vocabulary of experience' (Noble 1991: 4). We can link this statement to some critical comments by Tiberghien: 'these references to primitive civilizations simply allow the artists to create their art within an atemporal realm, between humanity's most distant past and the sophisticated scientific world...Their objective is to return to perception and the search for a 'naive realism'...The aesthetic linked to it, which stresses daily perceptive experience, does not have recourse to any conceptual or theoretical instrument other than ordinary reasoning' (Tiberghien 1995: 226). Clearly the concern in Noble's introduction to the art to archaeology exhibition is to do with preserving the disciplinary autonomy of art and the status and role of the artist. We might ask precisely why an artist-archaeologist is conceived as a dangerous threat. Being a 'visual magpie' may be fine for contemporary art but it is bad for archaeological artistic practice. In relation to Tiberghien's comments about the lack of any significant theoretically informed position behind land art we might ask: what if this practice was informed by a more considered understanding of space and place? Furthermore, what if an archaeologically and theoretically informed understanding of place resulted in the production of art in the environment, a practice linking past and present, place and landscape? Might this produce something more profound? Or is the mere attempt automatically to be invalidated because the person producing the art has a training in archaeology rather than the art academy? The closest that archaeology has come to art is experimentation with various modes of visual representation: models and three-dimensional depictions of the past as opposed to the flattened spaces of distribution maps and site plans. A standard way to put flesh on archaeological bones has been the museum exhibit or the picture in a book of a Bronze Age chief dressed in ceremonial regalia, or the reconstruction of the interior of a house or tomb, or people wandering around in a 'prehistoric view' of Stonehenge or Avebury. And most of these supposed windows into the past have been produced by graphic designers or artists who inevitably know considerably less about the past they are supposed to be depicting than the archaeologists. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the majority of these 'realist' images have a somewhat bizarre and unreal character, half-way between art and cartoon, seriousness and farce. In a different manner Shanks has recently expressed a desire to explore the visual as a means of addressing the 'dismissal of feeling' in a contemporary archaeology whose recent past of scientism has put an embargo on the subjective (Shanks 1992: 2-3). His book, Experiencing the Past, plays with different forms of images: picturesque views of castles and megalithic tombs, photomontages of monuments inspired by Hockney, still-life juxtapositions of brocolli and classical Greek pottery etc. They illustrate his text, reiterate the important point about the subjective dimension to any experience of the past, but do little more. Sometimes deliberately ambigous and bizarre and remaining virtually undiscussed their (sometimes verging on the narcissitic) presence is essentially to evoke a sense of the past in the present rather than to provide any meaningful attempt to understand or interpret that past. What we have here is a conflation of the personal and the subjective. They are not the same thing. No doubt contrary to Shanks' intentions, the visual images remain stranded in the present and reproduce a gulf between past and present, subjectivity and objectivity which any 'artistic' approach must attempt to come to terms with in an informed dialectic.

While artists in general, and environmental artists in particular, have distanced themselves, either by design or default, from archaeology, there has been no attempt to date by archaeologists to use the production of art in the landscape as part of the process of interpreting the past. Going beyond this, while many prehistoric artefacts and monuments are widely acknowledged to be aesthetically beautiful, this is usually by artists rather than archaeologists. The aesthetic qualities of things are sometimes acknowledged in the archaeological literature. They are never discussed. Might an emphasis on aesthetic qualities also be an important element in the interpretation of the past? The most significant point about contemporary environmental art for our work in the Leskernick project is its relationship to landscape and aesthetics: work being created in the landscape and 'artfully' being related to space and place. Whether or not we want to consider a prehistoric stone circle an aesthetically pleasing sculpture, the specific relationship of the monument to place and the relationship of place to the surrounding landscape remains fundamental.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bas Jan Ader

Where i want to be/where i am

Radical Nature

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

John Cage

John Cage talking about silence

'I have no need for them to be anything than they are, i dont want them to be anything psychological, i dont want it to be a bucket, i dont want it to be president, i dont want it to be in love with another sound, i just want it to be a sound'

John Cage - In a Landscape

27 sounds manufactured in a kitchen

4"33 BBC for piano

Monday, 1 March 2010

International Association for Environmental Philosophy

IAEP embraces a broad understanding of environmental philosophy, including not only environmental ethics, but also environmental aesthetics, ontology, and theology, the philosophy of science, ecofeminism, and the philosophy of technology.

For IAEP, environmental philosophy is both rigorous and engaged. It encourages joint meetings with other academic disciplines and supports interdisciplinary student internships.

IAEP welcomes a diversity of approaches to environmental issues, including the many schools of Continental Philosophy, the history of philosophy, and the tradition of American Philosophy.