Cosey Fanni Tutti and more

In a recent interview with founding COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle founding member Cosey Fanni Tutti retrospectively describes her art practice as “Just working with what presented itself, you know, going to jumble sales and finding these fantastic hoards, bringing [them] home and creating a small art work in the house, or costumes that would suggest something we could do, all ad hoc, based on chance, the way I still like it.” This touches on a couple of ideas that came up in the mid point review discussions yesterday.

The first, the idea of unknowing collection, of accumulating materials with no intention as a means of sparking action research by presenting a starting point that already has a process in place – that of collection. The other is the idea of acting on accident, or working with an input out of our control. One relevant example of this is the use of found footage – found in the traditional sense, whereby the results are entirely dependent on what is developed from a particular batch of film/tape/files, rather than selective sourcing from online. I have, in the past, had rolls of film developed that I’ve found in second hand cameras that have had fascinating and surprisingly relevant material on them – one in particular had two shots from a civil rights march that took place in the late 1960s (below, something that could be unearthed and used now?). Mini DV tapes bought second hand on eBay also occationally still have footage on. Something to actively search for? I had considered the possibility of using found footage to interweave into my final project’s documentary narrative, much like the narrative constructed from YouTube found footage in Leo Gabin’s A Crackup At The Race Riots.

On accumulation I actually have a fairly substantial and meaningful practice underway. Since the day I first went to a gig around age 13  I have been collecting tickets for everything that seemed significant in my life – every ticketed gig, theatre show, exhibition, aeroplane ride – knowing I would one day have a use for them. The initial idea was, once I had accumulated what felt like a lifetime’s worth of experiences, to record by scanning or photocopying and ceremoniously burn the originals. Though I certainly do not feel like I have a life’s worth of experiences to set ablaze, the process of documenting is an attractive one given the memories it will no doubt stir. The idea would simply be to arrange face down onto an A4 or A5 space and scan in no particular order, possibly binding together an a kind of first volume of experiences. As this would be fairly time consuming and I would want to give the appropriate attention to each ticket and associated experience, possibly noting down said experience in some way, this would have to be done over the course of numerous weeks/months/however long such a job takes.

Inspiration Session: Barbara Kruger

This week’s studio session involved selecting and sharing the work of an artist that inspires my own practice. In even approaching this process, a whole series of questions came to mind. My first instinct was to reach for the bookcase, which perhaps not surprisingly led me time and time again to select books by photographers – almost exclusively of the social documentary variety: Diane Arbus, Daido Moriyama, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Nobuyoshi Araki and Slava Mogutin, among many, many others.

Each time I selected a photographer or particular series, convinced of its importance to me, and therefore presumably my work, I realised it was pleasure and not inspiration I was drawing from it. Though interested in the seemingly no-holds-barred approach of the likes of Mogutin, Golin and Araki, or the eye of Diane Arbus that seems to pick out the most peculiar of subjects and simultaneously humanise and dehumanise them, I couldn’t define how their actual practice informs my own, though I obviously do take away much from each of them, if only in the sense that I see myself as a detached perspective, an outsider in the literal sense trying to make sense of, and in some cases manipulate, a world that I don’t fully fit into and that seems to not fit me.

Essentially, this is a rather long way of explaining my choice to share the work of Barbara Kruger, someone who seemed obvious to me, but perhaps that’s the point. Beginning her ‘creative career’ in advertising and magazine publishing – not a far cry from how I’ve found myself paying the bills – I’ve taken much inspiration from her approach, both literally and as a vague kind of sense of encouragement.

Utilising the language – both actual linguistic and visual – of the world in which she cut her professional teeth, and subverting that language, Kruger places her works into the context of the everyday, allowing its message to land feet first into the world of mere muggles and raise questions, make comment and point the finger. She is unapologetic not only of her love for so-called “low” art, the art of popular culture, but of her understanding of its power to influence – and her will to use it to do just that. She always had an agenda – be it political or social – and she approached it head on and in the most-direct way she could, speaking to the viewer instead of at him.

This direct approach extended beyond her visual works into a series of essays and articles written by the artist throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, which provide a scathing of modern life, executed with a sharp conversational tone, and often with a sense of humour, touching on subjects from sex and gender to power and death, all of which could be transported almost word-for-word to describe contemporary life.

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Styles of Radical Will: Art, Film and Theatre

“Every interesting tendency now is a species of radicalism. The question each artist must ask is: What is my radicalism, the one dedicated by my gifts and temperament?” (Theatre and Film, 1966).

Upon reading a collection of essays by writer Susan Sontag I came across a number of interesting ideas and references related to a number of aspects of my project and the views I have around the wider themes that surround it: from accessibility and a general approach to the arts, to the consensus view on extreme topics (here, pornography) and on film and it’s relation to theatre, including references to both artistic forms as syntheses of a wider range of artistic media (re: Gesamtkunstwerk), and from this how these media also speak of the state of wider society’s relationship to the arts.

Firstly Sontag references a passage written by theorist and Furturist movement founder Marinetti between 1910 and 1914, where he proposes that film may be used as one element in the theatre experience: “He envisaged the theatre as a final synthesis of all the arts, and as such it had to draw on the newest art form, movies,” (Theatre and Film, 1966). In this Marinetti is presumably considering all of the media known to contruibute to film at the time: sound (i.e. music), narrative structure (the written word or script), mise-en-scene, and photography – in the conventional sense, i.e. cinematography, but also in the relationship between images (a kind of rapid-fire mise en page).

Approaching the discussion of the the connection between the two media she also references the later use – in fact the insistence of use – of film in theatre by Russian and Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold, where he “[described] his program as fulfilling Wagner’s once ‘wholly utopian’ proposals to ‘use all means available from the other arts’” (Theatre and Film, 1966), referring to the German composer’s theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk in theatre, and his assuming of the poisitin that this synthesis should involve new and therefore ever-evolving artforms, here the then-new medium of film.

In reference to Meyerhold’s practice, Sontag points out how “Wagner’s ideology of a total theatre played its role in confirming the philistinism of German culture,” (Theatre and Film, 1966), a position on the unwillingness of wider society to fully embrace the arts – whether out of inability or apathy. A year later, when discussing the concern of the increasing availability of pornography and the underlying idea that this supposed concern for the upkeep moral standards is really about the availability of a certain kind of knowledge, she proposes that:

“There’s a sense in which all knowledge is dangerous, the reason being that not everyone is in the same condition as knowers or potential knowers. Perhaps most people don’t need a ‘wider scale of experience.’ It may be that, without the subtle and extensive psychic preparation, any widening of experience and consciousness is destructive for most people,” (The Pornographic Imagination, 1967).

Here, Sontag is referring literally to a kind of psycological destruction that comes as the result of being shocked by disturbing images, or at least images that do disturb, if only for the fact that one is not prepared to see them. But she is also referring to the wider idea that certain kinds of information, as with certain kinds of images, cannot be appropriately appreciated or even witnessed without some sense of context, of understanding, and therefore of a kind of preparation for receiving them – whether actively or passively undertaken.

It may be fair, then, to apply such thinking to all art; with certain forms of extreme music – industrial, noise, techno, freeform jazz – is an appreciation of a piece of such music reliant on a greater understanding of the landscape of the field that surrounds it? I’d argue yes and no. If approaching any one of these without prior knowledge of their structure or style, why wouldn’t one recoil and declare “it’s too loud”, or repetitive, or lacking in beat or melody? The only possible answer would be that despite having no prior knowledge to the piece’s provenence, that it speaks to the listener in an innate or primal way.

However, this phenomenon is by no means common or consistent enough to be more than the exception to the rule. Sontag is perhaps right in both the idea that people may be neither prepared nor willing to receive this kind of information, these kinds of images or any extreme form of media that is inaccessible, uncomfortable, unfamiliar or even simply boring to them.

The obvious, if perhaps slightly overwhelming and maybe useless, question here is: why is this the case? Or, maybe more usefully, how has this become the case? A brief skim over the history of Western civilisation would suggest the answer is access and privilege; the rich are and have been privileged to information where the poor have not, and when and where the poor have gained access, compared to the difficulties of the daily grind, the pursuit of academic and artistic enlightenment understandably falls down the list of priorities.

But with the information revolution democratising that system, whereby said information is arguably accessible to all, has this changed anything? I’m reminded of a 2012 Vanity Fair article by Kurt Andersen, in which he argues the exact opposite: that as history has progressed, at least recent history, the development of the cultural landscape has slowed dramatically, especially in regards to the art of popular culture. Referencing the differences in music, fashion, literature, etc. each decade throughout the 20th Century, something so universally understood it shapes the way we reference history, the last two decades show the smallest change:

“[If we] try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992, movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion’s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.”