Blurting In A & L

Answer 7/8

Author: Thomas Dreher  
Posted: 24.09.2002; 00:51:38
Topic: Question 7
Msg #: 586 (in response to 430)
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[Michael Baldwin´s reaction to Michael Corris´ answer 7/4:]

I know that the net is, well, tolerant of informality, but I’m surprised to read Michael Corris’ list of non sequiturs. Were they meant to be constructive – well meant – or somehow to shed a good light on him? Somehow. As his observations are in danger of being hollow, meagre and, for all I know, crisp, let’s take some of them in order.

Digging. I suppose that’s one way to describe what we do. There are others. What can be said for digging is that it has been known to cause certain edifices to collapse. But anyway, here’s what I think we do, or rather have raised questions about in Homes from Homes. In general terms, we’ve travestied, redescribed, emblematised, re-done, copied, allegorised, otherwise displaced, replaced, joked about, thematised – and so on, to various degrees and in many different ways some items of cultural furniture of which Art & Language is seen as the author or origin, or been closely associated with, is responsible for (etc.).

A persistent charge is that this sort of reflexive stuff is disengaged, somehow lacking in social or cultural purpose. Teleologically weak. I’d admit to its teleological weakness. As to the other thing, one has to ask at least two questions. 1) What are we being reflexive about? 2) How do we do the reflecting, redescribing or etc. If it turns out that the original material has some outward regard, then it may well turn out that this and certain contingencies of the present will have a certain bearing on the (later) reflection. It will tell us a certain amount concerning the ideological, social – or short practical serviceability of our redescription, and vice versa. While art is not simply a bunch of objects under some description, it is definitely not a mere mode of attention. It may be better to say that is a bunch of things in a wide sense under a set of descriptions. These descriptions are often conflicted. The first thing, perhaps, is that such stuff must have or imply a self-description. Unless this is available, its outward regard and its consequent capacity to describe the world will be a matter of arbitrary choice or need. What follows from this is that a certain autonomy cannot be avoided. The sweating and overcooking that’s been associated with this not particularly difficult notion has rarely been of cultural interest and is certainly to very little social purpose.

It should now be no surprise if I suggest that it is with a set of reflexive and reciprocal, indeed dialectical, descriptions that we can try to describe the world. It will be no surprise if I suggest that all apparent exceptions to this practical formula are in fact either client to it or vacuous.

Now, as to power. I simply do not know what it would be like to think that power is a predicate except in the sense that we could say John [turned on the power]. I can’t think of a circumstance in which I’d say John [is power]. We could, of course, say that John [has power], but this would not be like saying that John is green. Is Michael Corris saying that power is not a strange metaphysical substance that things and institutions possess in certain measures, but a real potential and a real effect? If he is, then I agree with him, or rather with his anti-Foucauldianism, even if he puts it oddly.

The rest of Michael’s contribution is opaque to me. Does he end by alluding to – bringing up – the chestnut: nature or nurture? I’m not sure where it fits into the conversation. Tant pis.

There is no doubt a social aspect to the Art & Language indexing project. We imagined, in our syndicalistic way, that in our collaboration, our inexpert learning from each other and from others, a ‘conversational’ artistic culture might replace the crude dialectics of career and its ideological appurtenances. More particularly, we thought that through our conversational strivings the mediate material substrate of the art world might be transformed as the small business practice of the small businessman-cum-entrepreneur artist was herself/himself transformed into a collaborative and sociable describer and self-corrector. Artistic culture would become something we could learn from one another. Co-option to the academy would have been systematically resisted insofar as negation or refutation was fundamental to the conversation. The indexing project was conceived as self-replicating and self-describing, secure in its distinctiveness, but simultaneously self-transforming – insecure not simply at its margins. Distinctive, but systematically ordinal and unwelcoming with regard to questions of identity. This does not, of course, mean that Mel, Charlie and I do not do what we do.
Michael Baldwin/Mel Ramsden (ARTLANGUAGE@aol.com)