Part 1, Project 2, exercise 1:1 painting without a brush

There is quite a lot of overlap in this exercise between the research and the reading points, all pertinent to the task, and so I’ve addressed both here. The question placed in my mind by the contextual materials and the reading is how separable the artist can be from the art. The shift made by some away from the tradition of surrendering a completed piece to a gallery or a shop and moving onto another is on the one hand revolutionary and risky and on the other a statement about uniqueness – outside of theatres and cinemas performances only happen once [but see my comments about Marina Abramovic’s perpetual presence elsewhere in this post] and so not only did you have to be there, you couldn’t take it home on a poster.

Kirstie Bevan Performance art 101: painting and performance, Tate blog Performance Art: The Happening – Essay | Tate

I remember happenings, I remember expecting them round every corner in 1960s Brighton and how we tried to make our own. A friend and I would sometimes point randomly at the top of a building then scarper when a small crowd had gathered, or crawl around with the college Pentax taking photos of feet for no reason at all, and sometimes sitting on one of the benches on the sea front miming the removal of a very large snake from a (non existent) portmanteau on one side, to another portmanteau on the other. Apart from that, happenings seemed largely to be what would otherwise have been described as substance-influenced students variously rolling about on the floor while one person hummed and another almost played a guitar. Licking jam off cars didn’t come into it [the first image in Beaven’s essay] and I’m struck now by how often women are employed as tools in art such as this. In another student response to this task there’s a description of women crawling about in paint on the floor, something I have a vague memory of but which I’m not going to follow up.

The term was evidently coined by Allan Kaprow in the late 1950s, a time of some considerable social upheaval following the end of WWII where there was a great deal of poverty, dislocation of both men (returning to a changed world) and women (forced back into the home to free up jobs for the men). And as so much art is a reaction to the social and political context, I wonder how far this was a rejection of the previous generation’s ways of being an artist: look at us, we’re young and fearless and we behave oddly. His trip – which may have been literal – in search of mushrooms with the Fluxus crowd (including the enigmatic John Cage of 4’33” fame) must have been influential. This was also the time of Pollock with his abstract expressionism, a short-lived phase that may have been drug, alcohol, and nicotine fuelled [see Ninth Street Women].

These were serious, intense, and driven men who could not have been best pleased by the takeover by hippies of the term, and especially by Diana Ross making a song (and dance) of it for the rest of us to trip out to.

Hans Namuth’s video of Jackson Pollock

I think this video, even without the frenetic and insular activity of Pollock himself, exemplifies the prevailing ethos of the time: serious, intense, and somewhat male. The monotonic voice over, the monochromic visuals, the monophonic music composed by Morton Feldman, described in his Wikipedia entry as “a pioneer of indeterminate music, a development associated with the experimental New York School of composers also including John CageChristian Wolff, and Earle Brown“, which, to me, has a strong flavour of musique concrete. Everything about this is designed to ensure there is no doubt at all about the intellectual weight of the enterprise and as such it is both a work of visual and sound design in itself and also the communicated message [Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 The Medium is the Message, found in his book Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man, was thrown out as a challenge – or may even have been a typo – but taken very seriously indeed by subsequent generations of marketing philosophers].

What do I think about Pollock’s style? I suspect it was alcohol, medication, and nicotine driven, which is not to devalue it but to put it in context. As he also used industrial paint in quantities and got quite close to it, he must also have been inhaling toxic fumes and the impact this combination of influences must have on someone’s physical and cognitive state doesn’t bear thinking about. It/he was heavily supported by his wife, Lee Krasner, who kept him on the rails and working.

I’ve discussed Pollock elsewhere Would I say this was good if I didn’t know it was a Pollock?” – Conboyhillpaintingmedia (wordpress.com), much of my understanding of him coming from Gabriel’s book Ninth Street Women, and I continue to wonder if, had circumstances been different, had he not been a part of this ‘New York School’ that hit a zeit geist of change and crested a wave with it, had he been working alone in a shed in Dewsbury, would his work ever have been viewed as important? As part of a movement, undeniably because it arose out of a world war and conflict and new thinking involving music and philosophy (more very intense young men!), but as work in its own right? I’m really not so sure.

Janine Antoni – Loving Care

This is also intense and appears to be deeply personal; a whole body re-enactment of her mother’s actions of mopping the floor. Her website describes the performance:

“In Loving Care, Antoni mopped the floor of the gallery with her hair soaked in Loving Care hair dye “Natural Black.” The artist’s actions conjured up the expressive marks of Abstract Expressionist painting, linking them to the chore of mopping. As she claimed the space, the audience was slowly backed out of the gallery.”

This uncredited blog post talks about the dynamics of the performance and how, while crouching is demeaning, claiming the space (by driving out the audience) was seen by Antoni as empowering. (Janine Antoni’s “Loving Care” 1993 – Art of Body Motion (wordpress.com)). I’m reminded always of Yoko Ono’s disturbing ‘Cut Piece’; the deliberate positioning of herself as both vulnerable and powerful as she invited her audience to come up and cut off a piece of her clothing. Who invites that and who answers the call? Both men and women responded and, like Abramovic much later, she is silent and unreactive.

Behaviour is driven by emotional, social, and psychological processes such that making sense as a viewer of a performance such as this is fraught with the difficulties of assumption, pre-judging, projection of one’s own psychological constructs onto the artist’s performative canvas, and occasionally subjecting them to amateur analysis. I’m not an amateur but neither am I an analyst, no one in NHS practice is, and my wish with regard to so many artists would be to sit down with them and just ask questions that probe their motivations, their insights, their aims and thoughts about what the work would achieve. Were they aware of how it might be perceived? Was shock part of the intent and if so, what was it designed to achieve? How far did they think the work met their own needs for expression, beyond that of making a piece of art? And how aware are they of the professions whose job it is to form views about behaviour, forming – or trying not to form – views about them?

I’ll never get that chance and so for the most part I’ll have to shut up and put up, but the questions will still be there, the curiosity about the drivers and the consequences, the empowerments and the vulnerabilities.

Shozo Shimamotos

Shozo Shimamotos’ theory of the curse of the brush from Petra Lange-Berndt 2015 Materiality documents of contemporary art 65-66 “Gutai” Exhibition (nyartbeat.com).

My browser is not happy with the recommended link and so I’ve resorted to Wikipedia for an overview. Critically, he seems to have been another post-war revolutionary through association with the Gutai Group which rejected traditional Japanese artistic practice and “combin[ed] performance, painting, and interactive environments, and realized an “international common ground” of experimental art through the worldwide reach of their exhibition and publication activities.”

Tony Orrico

Spirograph Man. Another artist I’d like to spend some time with. What drives someone to make such mathematically precise drawings by physical means? The rhythmicity of it (in this video) has the same aural impact as the sound of marching feet or a ticking clock and I wonder if that functions as a calming mechanism the way rocking does for most of us. There’s something of the ASMR about it too; repetitive, non-invasive, no surprises; the kind of sound that is thought to access deep brain functions and alter their own rhythms. In another video on the same home page, Orrico performs ‘wrist walking’ in which he mirror-draws with both hands simultaneously, appearing also to be in a kind of trance while viewers mill about noisily around him. As much as anything, this reminds me of séance behaviour – that complete sense of detachment from surrounding activity and an inward focus that permits behaviour that is something other than ordinary.

I would like to be able to compare the work of the two hands – is it wholly identical, which would be extraordinary, or just gesturally similar at the macro level? Clearly, performance is a significant part of the eventual product and so if you were to buy a piece, you would be using memory of the event to underpin your appreciation of it, wouldn’t you? And if you hadn’t seen the performance, what would it mean then?

So many questions.

Julie Mehretu

Looking at her Notes on Painting (2016), I was not at all surprised to find that she has close contact with a poet – her mother-in-law Lily Brett. The structure of her short essay in the book edited by Graw and Lajer-Burcharth makes use of a writer’s placing of words and punctuation, and of the white space around those textual elements. Her commas in the first line let individual words breathe, but in the next paragraph they bustle them along in fits, starts, and ripples; and later she uses a forward slash to join words and their different meanings together.

The list is another poetic device, one that emphasises its components and in this case gives them almost a cliff edge of space over there on the right while they lean securely on the left margin of the page. No one could shove past them on that path without falling off.

There are twenty lines on this first page; exactly half the maximum for most poetry submissions. And at the end, trailing us off into our own thoughts, there’s an ellipsis …

I wish she had left it there but there are six more pages (two a double spread of one of her pieces of work) which look to me increasingly like hurried notes, the sort you scribble on a page so they don’t escape, then tidy up later in a Word doc.

Essentially, Mehretu’s message seems to one of disruption by ‘undoing and pulling apart — open force of unravelling potentiality’ (p 274), ‘splicing [to make a] mutant’ (p 275), and a note about ‘opacity=radical potential … =possible clarity’ that ends with the idea that ‘everything falls apart’ (p 276). Rather nihilistic and we had not even hit the pandemic at this point although, depending when she wrote it, America may have been a less politically accommodating place to live. As a concept though, deconstruction is a valid process for freeing oneself from habitual patterns. Psychology does it with awareness when training clinical practitioners and so do many others; including writing courses and here in the OCA modules. It’s a painful process but ultimately, if the recipient is effectively supported [chin up, this is the worst it’s going to get], like the caterpillar entering its chrysalis phase, something previously unthought of may emerge.

The task

I’m not sure my butterfly is anywhere near cooked yet. In fact my caterpillar is regarding the whole process with deep suspicion at this point, but here we go.

This task requires a series of experiments at large scale that use paint and expand the idea of gesture. Suggestions include using the floor or a wall and tools such as a pendulum, piping bag, bag of paint, bat and ball to allow swinging, spinning, wiping, rolling, extruding, dropping, throwing, hitting, dragging, movements.

I am ill-equipped for this so the key question is one of purpose and whether or not I can meet the spirit of the requirements if not the letter of them. It will need to be more contained so that the cats don’t become involved, thereby involving the rest of the house as they trail paint through it, and non-toxic in case they do and then lick it off.

The basic principle, it seems to me, is one of allowing for random effects by applying a medium of some sort in an uncontrolled way. From that, may come new ideas as to how to build on those effects.

At this point I should make clear that I have reservations about performance art. I don’t see myself as part of the work beyond being the maker of it and I have no ambition to be ‘present’ in the Abramovic sense, although in the ultimate irony, the performance having been filmed and seen by millions, she was exactly the same as the paintings hung on the walls – a token, the artist being elsewhere.

Solution – coffee/tea dregs, a tennis ball, and probably (unharmed) cats.

Used, cold, and squeezed. The fate of a tea bag. The paper is very thin and beginning to crumple. Tomorrow maybe coffee dregs.
Scattered grains of crushed soft pastel, sprayed with water and left to dry over night.

We’re asked to consider some quite complex concepts in the execution of this exercise. Inertia and gravity ain’t for sissies even though we experience the effects of them all our lives, astronauts excepted. Chance though is very much subject to probabilistic bias in circumstances such as these – my arms are only so long, the fluid is only so heavy, droplets can only be propelled so far [and don’t we all know a lot about that just now], and my range of arm movements is limited by their anatomical levers and joints. There will be a great deal of predictability in the way these blots are distributed.

Associations? I had absolutely none of either the Janine Antoni or any other kind. I’d add that as an activity it’s also physically quite uncomfortable and not one I could sustain for any length of time. With the best will in the world, I can’t consider this a painting and I struggle to see much mileage in giving it more attention.

30th April and here I am giving it more attention. I enjoy making something that tells a story, and animation adds a foothold of engagement for people less than interested in a relatively nondescript piece. As with the earlier quark piece, there’s also an actual story, found in the sense of its employment of selected words from an existing text. WordPress, unfortunately, is not good at flexible formatting!

Ophiuchus the serpent maker of

            Witch doctors

            Doctor doctors

            Good doctors

Good.

Scorpio’s loss. NASA better watch its ass

            Sting tail

            Poison tail

            Lost grail tale 

Bad           

SCH 2021. Words drawn from the Ophiuchus Daily Horoscope at Ophiuchus Daily Horoscope | Psychic Sofa. See also Ophiuchus – Wikipedia. [Note: I had not read Mehretu’s piece at this point, nor the notes further in the module about text in art so I’m delighted to be slightly ahead of this game! In fact my whole final assignment for UPM featured text so I am smiling.]

Sketch/notebook entry.

Ophuichit, it’s Ophiuchus [cough]

I think, if we’re going to regard a whole enterprise as having an artistic merit, and why would we not when that’s the prime objective? – I want to go beyond the physical work here. That’s partly because it doesn’t suit me as a way of working but also because I’m committed to inclusivity and communication by demystifying areas of life that seem excluding to so many. I work towards this ideal with informal writing and storytelling.

References

Catherine Wood A bigger splash exhibition Tate Modern 2012-2013 A Bigger Splash: Interview with Catherine Wood | Tate

Amelia Jones 1998 the Pollockian Performative. This pdf wasn’t available but this discussion of Jones’s critique is on Acadmia.edu. (6) (PDF) The Critic’s Performance: Body art and embodied knowledge | Marsha Meskimmon – Academia.edu

Abramovic, M. The Artist is Present. MoMA 2010. MoMA | Marina Abramović. The Artist Is Present. 2010

John Cage, 4’33” as described in wikipedia 4′33″ – Wikipedia Accessed 30 April 2021.

Diana Ross and the Supremes – The Happening. The Happening (song) – Wikipedia Accessed 30 April 2021.

McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. McGraw Hill Education.

Gabriel, M. 2019. Ninth Street Women. Little Brown.

Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. Video. (1) Yoko Ono – Cut Piece (1965) – YouTube

The Gutai Group. Gutai group – Wikipedia. There is a little more about Shozo Shimamoto via The Tate. ‘Holes’, Shozo Shimamoto, 1954 | Tate

Mehretu, Julia. 2016. Notes on Painting. In Graw, I. and Lajer-Burcharth, E. [eds] The Medium in the Post-Medium Condition. Sternberg Press. Pp 271-277.

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