Wolfendale, Peter, The Reformatting of Homo Sapiens
This text, delivered from a position of rational inhumanism, is a critique of humanism while at the same time, preserving some features of it. Wolfendale links the language of the ‘we’ to our capacity for cultural self-consciousness and the conceptions of agency, selfhood and value that are bound up with it. He addresses his critique from an entirely western position because his criticism is precisely a response to this conception.
In the first half of this paper, Wolfendale traces the history of the tradition of rational humanism leading up to the post-human nexus. He compares different readings of humanism philosophy so that in the second part of the paper he can articulate his own position in response to this while retaining elements from it which he considers worth saving and repurposing for inhumanism. Wolfendale concludes this history with Nietzsche and Foucault because both see ‘transitions in evolution’ as offering opportunities for increased self-consciousness and the possibilities of experimentation with ‘technologies of selfhood’ pointing beyond the human.
In the second half of this text, Wolfendale outlines the genealogy of reason and its eventual liberation from the animal that is homo sapiens. He views this as unavoidable, in part as a consequence of the co-evolution of language and technology which resulted in our capacity to transform our solutions to a, more or less, integrated cultural infrastructure through which we are able to increasingly: “simulate and modify our environment”…“provide new modes of evolution driving changes in biological evolution”…and…“reformat the biology of the human species in order that it can better reformat the neurology of human individuals”. He states that rationality is not tied irrevocably to these morphological and computational forms but that this inhuman system of our bodies transforms us into “subjects responsible for our thoughts, agents responsible for our actions and selves responsible for our own cultivation”.
I chose to analyse this text because I was looking for answers to questions emerging out of my studio practice such as, what is a rational and responsible response to the slow and durational inevitability of climate change? What is human? And, do we have collective potential?
This text is an academic response to these and similar questions surrounding the future of homo sapiens. It has helped me to see more clearly the context of my questioning while at the same time affirming for me the idea that the mutation of our species is of monumental importance and an open secret. My appreciation of the extent of the impact of technology on our lives too, has been transformed.
With regard to my own studio practice, I will continue to explore our human condition as the subject in the landscape of climate transformation and the algorithmically driven post-anthropocene. I wish to explore more explicitly the potential of the liminal to evoke the notion of emergency or crisis and to use this as an implicit mnemonic for emerging agency and cultural self-consciousness. Ongoing research will also look at how artists and philosophers are responding to new modes of biological and technological transformations such as The Human Cell Project, artificial intelligence and biotechnology?
Bryan-Wilson, J. 2003. Remembering Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece
Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2003), pp. 101-123. Published by: Oxford University Press.
In this text Julia Bryan-Wilson describes the event of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, first performed in 1964. She analyses the work from its historical and theoretical contexts and explores its many diverse interpretations. She also considers Ono’s own comments about the piece, Ono’s biography and her ‘fluid and flexible’ identity in her reading of the work.
Bryan-Wilson’s own interpretation places Cut Piece squarely in Ono’s personal history as a Japanese woman who faced starvation and danger after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. These experiences, she argues, make the piece relevant as an exploration of the widely experienced deprivations and atrocities of war. She maintains that Ono’s gender and nudity are vital to this argument in that it acknowledges the impact of war on women and personalises war’s brutality.
Three interlinking gestures involved in the performance are identified by Bryan-Wilson: invitation, sacrifice and gift. Although this work is often seen through the lens of violence against the female body, Bryan-Wilson reminds us that Ono invites the audience to collude with her in cutting her clothing. As the piece develops, she says, the sacrifice begins - a ‘metaphoric giving’ in which Ono takes personal risks. The gifts, or mementoes, are the small scraps of cloth cut from Ono’s clothing which, argues Bryan-Wilson, serve as a memory of the performance and as reminders of the radioactive aftereffects of the war and of the future. In this way, Bryan-Wilson illustrates that the actual physical cutting is not the goal, only its subtext. She also asserts that the specific register of meaning, with its implication of nudity and shredded ruined clothes, would have been beyond the appeal of the male gaze in 1960s Japan.
The knowingness with which Ono uses the camera as integral to the work is seen by Bryan-Wilson as a reassuring presence and witness authorising the actions on stage. This almost excessive documentation, she suggests, is by necessity fragmented: “an incomplete archive of a live event which speaks of a worry about preservation of, and eventual degradation of memory.”
From this text, I have gained a deeper understanding of the genealogy of mid-20th century performance art, post-war art and feminist art as well as a greater appreciation of how an artwork can be interpreted in diverse ways given different historical, theoretical and contextual viewpoints.
Bryan-Wilson’s essay sets out very clearly how thoughtfully and effectively Ono creates a space in which something can happen. Of particular interest to me, is that this work is an entirely immersive experience, carefully engineered to draw the audience into active physical participation and a complicit situation. Audience engagement is designed to be personal and palpable: sensations of discomfort and intimacy to be mutually shared by artist and participant. As a consequence, images, objects and experiences of the work are memorable. They are loud and vivid with meaning. With regard to my own study and studio practice, this text strengthens my intention to explore the coalitions and connectedness between all elements of the work, viewer and space. Also, to test the notion that meaning emerges from an encounter and is the precondition for an artwork to exist.
COCKER, E., 2009. Pay attention to the footnotes
Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 2 (2), pp. 139-150
Emma Cocker draws on her experience of working in collaboration with the investigation-led performance project ‘Open City’ to reflect on a critical shift in her own practice from a mode of writing about to one of writing with or alongside performance. Later in her article, she describes this activity as a writing encounter between writing and performance.
Cocker suggests that the activity of Open City’s project could be located within the tradition of publicly-sited performance practice of resistance and wandering or understood in relation to medieval sauntering or even to the tactics and propositions witnessed in works by 20/21st century conceptual artists. She situates her own turn towards a dialogic or performative model of art-writing however to the development of Site Writing and the shifting demarcations between art, writing and criticism.
In this article, Cocker reflects on the long established connection between city and text and explores how her own strategies used in this work function in spacial and temporal terms. She describes this work as “six postcards that included an instruction written by Open City on one side, and my serialised text on the other”. Footnotes within the text are used as, “a creative and critical device for producing points of slowness and blockage”. Cocker embodies rather than comments on the ideas explored within the Open City project and shifts her writing from the critical or contextual towards the invitational and performative. The postcards encourage participation and the questioning of conventional patterns of behaviour through the exploration of the dissident potential of wandering. Making reference to Yoko Ono’s early conceptual practice, she explains how her work attempts to explore the gap between between telling someone to physically act and asking them to conceptually imagine.
To conclude, Cocker describes how the texts produced in collaboration with ‘Open City’ were later translated into spoken word for an aural interaction as part of a live collective event. This extended work attempted to synchronise the movement and speed of individual bodies in the public realm to produce the possibility of a new collective rhythm culminating in a collective moment of stillness. Cocker reflects on the outcomes of this new direction, sharing her observations about what happens when a text becomes spoken in contrast to when it is read.
One of the key focus areas of investigation in this project was “how movement and mobility affect the way in which place and locality are encountered or understood”. A criticism of this work would be that the experiences of the disabled community had not been considered. I also wonder whether the use of instructions as a device within the text might be at odds with the inherent contingency of the intention that participants deviate from normative patterns of behaviour.
This article has helped me to see that text can bridge time zones as well as generate the capacity to create the impetus for as yet unimagined events. With regard to my intention to explore our human condition as the subject in the landscape of climate transformation and the post-Anthropocene, I would like to investigate the notion of ‘an experience of a collective moment of stillness’ and Cocker’s use of this to orchestrate a public spectacle as well as a space of private reflection. In particular, I would like to explore the potential of stillness to conjure up a sense of hidden energies, unexpected power or limitless action or, to be used as a tactic for preparing for the not-yet-known.
October - November 2020
General Practice, 25 Clasketgate, Lincoln, UK
General Practice [gP] is an artist-led, experimental project space in Lincoln. Driven by collaborative activity it seeks to promote exchange with wider artist-led initiatives, stimulate critical discourse and through its programme of exhibitions, events and workshops sustain an engaged visual arts culture in the city.
In this show, three of the collective’s artists, Andrew Bracey, Kate Buckley and Nick Simpson exhibit work (and ongoing work in their studios) that has evolved as a consequence of their need to adapt to new priorities, unfamiliar routines and the limitations of space and resources resulting from lockdown.
Entering General Practice is always a rich experience. A visitor is rewarded with snatched glimpses of hectic studio spaces either side of the short corridor. Today, the viewer is also greeted with the surprise aroma of fresh plaster. This welcome inadvertently performs the role of ‘threshold’. Senses are alerted and curiosity and anticipation generated.
Almost instantly, I find myself inside the project space itself and in contrast to the city outside and the visceral overload of the adjacent studios, its gentle, diffused light and seductive palette produces a strong sense of having entered an inner sanctum.
Andrew Bracey, ‘Qui Vive (The Mocking of Christ)’ (detail), Watercolour on plaster, 2020
Consisting of three works in total, my eyes are drawn first to Bracey’s floor to ceiling plaster and watercolour work. This fills the end wall of the gallery space completely. Its larger-than-life scale and grand sweeping gestural marks (necessary to plaster a wall) together with the mesmerising gestalt effect of its incidental surface, radiates an aura of otherworldliness. Adding to this, and as if laying on top of the shimmering surface, brightly coloured painted lines begin to describe an image. Although fragmented and with only the sketchiest of references included, my brain skilfully strives to complete this painting – archway, steps, one-point perspective, draped fabric, a hand, a halo…this work unquestionably points to Florence and the 15th century. Fra Angelico’s expressions of devotion are embedded in this image and process. This encounter is both familiar and mysterious.
On either side of Bracey’s work and counterpoint to it and each other, are the composite works of Buckley and Simpson.
Simpson’s work consists of four horizontal shelves each with 17 polaroid photographs meticulously propped-up to form a regimented grid-like pattern. Overall, the piece gives the impression of a lyrical study of nature: a closely observed appreciation of its beauty. With closer attention however, other forces and processes become apparent. Wilfully enigmatic images sit alongside familiar shots. Given equal significance, these quietly disrupt the well-ordered calm of the familiar park motifs and gently acknowledge the connection between the contingencies inherent in the polaroid process and in our everyday lives.
Simpson has displayed an ongoing and changing record of his time during lockdown. The familiar is viewed through his sustained watchful attention and we are reminded of lockdown’s silence and drawn-out uncertainty. Despite the absence of the figure in these photographs, the sense of human presence is palpable.
Kate Buckley, ‘Ongoing Nowhere’ (detail), Giclee print on Hahnemühle German Etching paper, oak chair slat, wool felt, 2020
Consisting of three wall-mounted assemblages using found imagery, objects and materials as well as two suspended, spherical-shaped, soft intestine-like sculptures, Buckley’s work is also very much about what is unrevealed.
The three 2-dimensional images depicting a male nude bent fully forward from the waist draw me in first. Confined by the space that they exist in, their uncomfortable and concentrated position appears enduring. Control and resistance are required for this to be maintained. Looking at these figures, I find myself holding my breath and speculating on the nature of the unknown force responsible for their conditions. I wonder if the figure is complicit in their submission or whether they have been compelled, defenceless or oblivious, by forces beyond their power.
Buckley’s images are held uneasily in place, displayed on sloping lines of shelving which are themselves insecurely propped on strips of soft material. Able to partially resist the pull of gravity the soft material lines curve and dip towards the gallery floor creating the impression that the work is slowly slipping. Implied movement and the invisible lines extending from this display mechanism bind all elements of Buckley’s piece together and connect them to the building and to the other work on show.
As with Simpson’s shelving, Buckley’s display mechanisms perform as objects operating to influence attention levels and psychophysiological responses. I am aware that the act of looking has become a process of seeing.
Each piece, independent in its uniqueness, works in synchronicity with the others. They are interconnected by the very structure and fabric of the building and unified through their softly spoken ephemerality and a reverential tenderness toward the materials, time and the processes involved in their making.
The repetitive act of paying attention, crucial to our understanding of this show and embodied in each work is also expressed in my own repeated actions of moving back and forth, looking and re-looking, in the gallery. I am connected too. What is revealed has been shaped by a shared experience which manifests as a profound sense of time and place and inextricable connections in the broadest sense.
Tension Fine Art, 135 Maple Rd, London SE20 8LP
First impressions on entering the gallery is of a body of work teetering on the edge of chaos. I am reminded of the far-too-familiar confusion of war-torn landscapes.
I am initially pulled into and around the gallery by the rhythm of the arrangement of work on the walls: canvas overlaps paper, paper overlaps printed media, printed media effortlessly signals a strong beat around periphery of the space…viewing the work in this way seems almost processional.
There is a range of media and processes on show, each connected through the use of intuitive mark-making. Primary colours and expressive gestural marks generate a vivid sense of an intense and energetic performance. While contingent on the materials used, human agency is conspicuous: deliberation and surrendered impulse in equal measure. Characteristic of these works too is a desire to disregard the typical expectations of framing. Each work appears to be escaping its own form or framing-device in some way: fragments of found and discarded ephemera seep from the edges of their box-frames and multiples of 3D dogs appear to be digging their way of the gallery space. I enjoy the way in which these tactics remind me of the skin and fabric of the building and how quickly this points to the outside world beyond the gallery. This defiance is a joy to encounter.
The title of this show, ’Soliloquy’ leans into the viewer to invite understanding. Together with the unravelling and revealing nature of the artist talk (Ken Turner interviewed by John Bunker 9 Jul.22) it seems clear that this work might be better understood as an internal landscape. The work in Soliloquy presents as controlled defiance. It seeks to defy the frame in which it is presented but holds itself carefully within the familiarity of the language of art as we understand it.