Thursday 13 June 2013

Parallax II: Juries and their delusions

Juries and committees still abound in the art industry. Pride and egoism are such important hooks for selling products on that the best marketers know that a jury of some kind, however used or abused, draws in the customers. And better still if you can qualify that jury with a quasi-expert who rubber stamps the process as genuine, real and believable. For artists this process is destructive. And I am not referring to those who get sifted out. No, I am talking about those that get "chosen" or "selected". I'm talking about the seeming winners. We love hierarchy, especially when we are close to the top. We like the idea that we are "in" and others are "out" of the club. The art industry fosters this sense of exclusivity, on the belief (for that is what it is) that there is a "reality" of special knowledge and only a few are "behind" the curtain. And those on the "outside" often share in this belief too. How often do you hear someone shying away from "explaining" an art object claiming that they do not know much about art? You see, they BELIEVE that there is something unbeknown to themselves that CAN be known, in most cases, by the specialist, whether that be the artist or some other expert in the arts. So, the artist that gets "selected" believes that this process is something quite real.

This is why there is often talk about such ideas (or myths) as "quality". The process of selection, in their thinking, MUST substantiate "quality". The converse is also true for the losers. This is a great delusion- a charade played out in the art industry where there is amnesia of having placed "quality" in the first place. It is not discovered like a piece of treasure, nor was it ever buried in the object like a piece of treasure either. In the eighteenth century there was huge debate over whether knowledge of art was gained through analysing numerous examples or whether it was innate. The idea of the jury and selection still plays on both these notions of knowledge acquisition. But we can say today that both ideas of knowledge acquisition are assumptions and that the assumption that we construct knowledge (we place it, forget we placed it, and then believe we have discovered it) is also a possibility. This latter enables us to at least reconsider the "reality" of the other two; to begin to question them. They cannot be taken for granted any more.

If you are "selected" it means nothing in any objective sense. In fact, it could point to an intellectual laziness on the part of the "specialists". (This is the sad irony of that seeming intellectual exclusivity played out by so many in the art industry.) For they put that "quality" into your object though they often know it not. They did not find it. And if they cannot find begs the question of the purpose of jurying artists and objects; of propping up and maintaining hierarchical notions of objects and makers under such a delusion. I would suggest that to do this is not to embrace the "new zeitgeist" (that strange "sound" that one sometimes hears and feels in these times and is yet to be named) but is to be planted in an age that has already passed. 

Thursday 25 April 2013

Parallax Art Fair I

I meet a lot of people all over the world in person and online through Parallax Art Fair. Sometimes these interactions are prosaic, but more often I end up having quite deep and thoughtful conversations about the problem of art and the industry from insightful artists. Although I have noticed a decrease, some artists still equate a lack of professional integrity with fee-based exhibitions. There are definitely myths surrounding commission-based selling, but the disconnection of money and creative integrity runs deeper and is possibly the influence of certain political and philosophical ideas absorbed through pedagogical systems, which, more often than not, are still quite marxisant, especially here in the UK, but I have detected it in the US as well. These systems have gradually lost, in my opinion, their core, perhaps even their purpose. What we get then is something quite superficial, something that functions more like a "tradition" even a "style" of thinking. I was always fascinated to trace the set of ideas inherited by recently employed academics in universities. It was like watching pigments slowly increasing in fluidity as water is added. What had once been real and active in previous decades had gradually morphed into little more than a position of style in the concatenation of pupils. There is also still confusion between "vanity galleries" and other forms of spatial rental in the artistic community. I have written elsewhere about "vanity galleries" and the politics of display, so I refer you to my essay Twelve and Proem 1812 Dialogue on the Parallax Art Fair archival section. These sets of ideas in the artistic community will have an origin of some kind that can possibly be described. Tracing and locating it is a way to demonstrate that it is one glass box resting amongst many, and not between or amongst the glass boxes; a circle within a circle. Educating ourselves of that possibility and our circumstances is possibly to start the challenging process of emancipation towards the ideological networks within ourselves.

Thursday 4 April 2013

The Art of Misrepresentation or The Fable of the Bees

A Facebook status caught my eye recently as one of my cyber friends had just had the rather unpleasant experience of witnessing what they called the "ugly side" of social media on Twitter. By this, it turned out, they meant abuse and misrepresentation. Unfortunately, the Internet is often Janus-faced. And we are often like those spectators in the ancient amphitheatre enjoying the spectacle, though we pretend otherwise to ourselves. But all this is nothing new, because people, essentially, are not new creatures by any means. The methods of communication may have altered, but the communicators very much remain in a similar state.

Bernard Mandeville, an early eighteenth-century Dutch physician and writer living in London, is an interesting historical case. The very misrepresentation and slandering of his works by the Church of England at the time was so highly sophisticated that the malice is often mistaken for his own political and ethical ideas by future historians today. In Mandeville's case, it certainly worked out okay in the long run as he is considered a pioneering liberal reformer. Not bad for a strict Calvinist who believed that most people were evil and destined ultimately for Hell.

I have myself been on the receiving end of the "ugly side" of social media and have watched with interest narratology worthy of the Brothers Grimm. It is like watching a badly-wigged puppet of yourself being dragged into the middle of the amphitheatre and made by someone who has actually never seen you in person. You consider informing the owner of the amphitheatre that you are indeed not quite that badly wigged, but, no doubt blinded by the spectacle and the roar of the animalistic crowds, they seem unable all of sudden to distinguish the difference between a puppet and the person actually sitting next to them (with or without the bad-hair day). Those who sew and weave the puppet together are certainly not contextualists. Social media, for those unaware and reading the texts, de-contextualises by its very mode of communication and allows different narratives to evolve that often take on a surprising, but quite blurry, authority. This may have something to do with the "reality" of the written word that so controls our animistic minds still. And those who are sucked into a new narrative are as interesting as those who generate them.

The fascinating aspect of this, and something perhaps the puppet masters are unaware of, is that it is art - a created object as much as Art History. It is worthy of exhibition in order to "fold in" the process of exhibition. The future of course never makes its mind up on these misrepresentations, because it is itself a continual misrepresentation. For it is the present creating its past that generates a future. Much like a Facebook status actually.                    

Thursday 7 March 2013


Parallax. The word has been used a lot; from the title of academic art-history journals and Buddhist publishers to rock bands and treatment plants in Manhattan...tap it into Google and you will see what I mean. I guess some would argue that it is phonetically "kool", hence the use by rock bands and possibly not so few dealers for all their "intellectual" cred. But what does it mean? Or, rather, how is it being used to mean something? As a metaphor it can represent the idea of differing viewpoints of a single "object", whether that be a physical or mental object. In the context of art history or critical writing, one could say that it could metaphorise a multi-disciplinary approach to a single set of facts. The facts remain "stable", "out there" in part or in full (this is yet to be explained how), their interpretation shifting upon each point of view. The use of the word then appears to be used poetically, in the sense that one takes a concept then substitutes it for another marking it, or part of it, which in turn is related to yet another- a symbolic concatenation; the deeper the concatenation the more opaque the poetry (or theory). Symbolically, it can often mark the concept relativism. But there is a blind spot. The symbol that it is, and the concept which it symbolises, are not exterior to their intended meaning. Like the concentric circles of Contextualism (where one needs a new explanatory context to elucidate a former), Parallax surely cannot symbolise "relativism" absolutely. Relatively absolute/Absolutely relative. For me, as a poetic metaphor, it can suggest this very problem. It is a way into opening out our conditioning, of helping us to wonder at the constructed frameworks at first invisible, yet everywhere present.           

Tuesday 26 February 2013


F  our  y Ea r  s. After a specified length of this notion called time (however you wish to explain it), I have, not so much returned to blogging (awful term), for no one actually missed me, more I have "arrived". And now multitudes shall miss me. From a Euphues-like structure to the Ciceronian: better a horse's mouth. For there is much to unsay, resay and naysay about the arts.