17 Sep 2012

Post-dOCUMENTA ramblings

Ramblings (via Herzog, Heisenberg, Beuys and Joyce)

Notes written in the immediate aftermath of a visit to dOCUMENTA 13.
"dOCUMENTA (13) is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary." (C. Christov-Bakargiev, Documenta Curator)

One of the benefits of undertaking a pilgrimage to such an 'event', is that it serves as a fresh lens through which to view one's own work - adding of course to the many existing lenses. 'Artistic research' and 'location' were some of the thematic platforms of this Documenta, which, for me, raises the topic of a discourse between scientific and creative research. A significant difference between the two fields is perhaps the attitude, or degree of openness, to accident. Whereas a scientific investigator may dismiss an event as a meaningless or disruptive accident, a creative researcher may embrace the same 'accident' as meaningful, thus positioning the whole process as much more porous and 'messier'. (This despite the fact that many major scientific leaps are known to have been prompted by accidental events, dreams and 'intuitions'). Also relevant are the related issues of detachment, bias and relationships. Whilst mulling over all of this, I was handed a copy of Doing Ethnographies (thanks Iain !), which explores - especially in relation to fieldwork -  some of the same ground, located at the overlap between the humanities and the sciences:

"In contrast to this masculinist scientific stance which has spuriously claimed a cool, calm and collected detachment for the heroic fieldworker, other approaches have emerged which critique this for concealing the fact that both researcher and researched are equally positioned, interconnected and involved in the changing social and cultural relations under study." (Doing Ethnographies)

"If our research tools cannot recognise ambivalence and inconsistency as real and important, they will not help us…" (Alan Hedges, 1985; In Walker, R. (ed) Applied Qualitative Research)

In other words there are 'the facts' and 'the truth, and they are not necessarily the same thing (to misquote Werner Herzog). Much of my work draws on ecology, environmental science, landscape study, archives etc, (and perhaps newly leans towards visual anthropology), but the outcomes may be seen as 'theatrical' sets, experimental mise-en-scene - as indeed was the case for much of the more impressive work I encountered at dOCUMENTA. The assembly of a complex mixed-media installation is a form of set-design. The audience enters the stage - the frame - and the 'performance' (insofar as there is one) consists of all the connections being made - in the moment - plus the ripples, echoes and reflections remaining in the aftermath. It is therefore time-based. And - appropriate to the realm of Documenta - such works may also be linked to the idea of 'social sculpture', in the Beuysian sense. It is not detached, neutral; there is an agenda (for transformation); there is an aim to reveal…and for the revelations to be catalysts. There is a sense of purpose.

"all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players"

"I think if you look at the best performing arts, they actually do jolt people, quite severely sometimes, into places they never thought they'd get. And they may well recoil from those places, but at least they've been there. that's a great and wonderful moment in some cases. in some cases it produces moments of epiphany; in some it still produces apathy. But at least you've had a go. And it's that ability to try and concentrate energies in various ways in order to produce those situations that I'm interested in." Nigel Thrift, 2010

Operating amongst these 'expanded fields', place-based creative research seeks to make new connections, to counter-map and deep-map relationships, to embrace the geopoetics of possibility. By this I mean the possibilities (the 'becomings') of the project or the investigation; and also the possibilities for the particular setting - encompassing the full 'ecology of place' (after Thrift). Also in operation is a resistance or friction; a quiet questioning. ('Why should this be allowed to happen'; 'Is it a lack of imagination?; a lack of knowledge?; a lack of will-power?; a lack of freedom? (economic, political, social); a lack of empathy?; a lack of a sense of the biosphere? (or even the noosphere, of being enmeshed?).

Some of the connective tissue - which is endless, mycelial, rhyzomic - can be presented in ways that are apparent, but much can only be suggested, alluded to. In its complexity the mesh cannot be (re)presented. There is however a Joycean attempt. What can be presented are some of the nodes - concrete, visual, sculptural and textual. The nodes may be simple or complex (but far from simplistic). For example, a node may be a video-work, with layers and interweavings of sound, or a complex data-activated kinetic light/sonic installation. These are still nodes (albeit a spaghetti-junction type). A node may also be a single object, a sound, a photograph, a drawing. The mesh-work needs to be co-created by the visitor. Seeds are thereby sown, and may lie dormant for a long time, before there are new imaginings, new branches and rhizomes. This is the nature of ecological geopoetic activity.

"As early as 1991, the geographer Doreen Massey argued that places must be conceptualised as dynamic and open nodes that are in process, being cross-cut by a diverse array of productive movements which embody a complex geography of power relations" Peter Merriman, 2012, Mobility, Space and Culture.

The mesh, or texture, is revealed when a light is shone (into the shadows and undercurrents), but the mesh too is changed in the course of examination and encounter. This indeterminacy is maybe akin to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. And just as the neuron pathways of the brain rearrange themselves in response to experience, so too does the connective tissue of a creative place-investigation, of a geopoetic 'essay'.

(A surveyor surveys, a cartographer maps, and engineer/architect designs and builds; a geopoetic practitioner does what?…ignites?, illuminates? mediates? nudges?)

Now some dOCUMENTA photos (more comment to follow shortly):

Tacita Dean - Fatigues
Joseph Beuys - permanent exhibition in Kassel
Joan Jonas - Reanimation (In a Meadow)
William Kentridge - The Refusal of Time
(above and below)

Hannah Ryggen - tapestries

Wael Shawkey - Caberet Crusades

The Park