Soft Underbelly Recognition
Some suggested guidelines for recognizing signs of artistic agency in our contemporary culture of high performance:
1) Refuse false binaries, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Opt instead to linger between opposed absolutes in gray areas, shadows, interstices, and soft underbellies. Mysterious and volatile, vagueness and abstraction can be provocatively uncooperative, resistant, and reticent. Abstraction’s simultaneous address and non-address of its subject, the latency and seeming illegibility of its meaning make it a model of agency and autonomy. One need not be readily understood nor immediately useful. Don’t expect to get anything right away. Easy answers are no fun. Understanding takes time, developing in quiet and often unrecognizable ways.
2) Claim and occupy time according to your own terms. Open it up. Question regimented notions of time that perpetuate social expectations of increased speed, productivity, efficiency, consumption, and cyclical obsolescence. The ineffable, often invisible and intangible, process of conceiving and making art alone in the studio can be a way to reconfigure one’s experience of time. Re-commit to abstraction that testifies to an interrogated logic of decision-making. Maximize time given to looking and thinking, minimize gratuitous spectacle and budgets. Art promises continual questioning, mutability, and delayed fulfillment.
3) As with time, so with space. Look for relationships to locality, particularity, and difference, as well as absence. Generate heterogeneity as a form of defiance.
4) Beyond announcing a political platform through slogans, physically embody a politic in posture and attitude. Find political agency in unlikely places and gestures. Consider softness, sponginess, resilience, limpness, looseness, exhaustion, collapse, wear, and being-used-up as rich political conditions. Prolong the recuperation and convalescence that follows exhaustion as a period of fascination and potential when so much is still possible. Represent the possibility of latent possibilities.
5) Dispense with the antiquated notion of ‘political art’ as separate from art. All art either advances or betrays a political climate and position. The question of politics is one of perception and recognition. Will you know it when you see it?
Compelled by vague convictions, I articulate these guidelines to myself. In doing so, I draw heavily on the ideas and words of Jan Verwoert and Bruce Hainley. I don’t presume to know their relevance to you, though I hope and trust you can identify that for yourself.
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