March 29, 2009

Of Durational Context

The creation of art encompasses procedural, perceptual and contextual stages. The procedural stage is the move from conception to action, through both intellectual and physical processes, to “make” art. An object may not materialize, however, and immateriality returns focus to the concept. Yet even the most conceptual of art often includes instructions, supplements and wall text that are a result of the thought process.

Whether one begins with a concept or not, thoughts occur that move one to action. One’s initial stage of procedure and process may also include improvisation as a working method. Beginning with no idea is an idea in and of itself; improvisation can also be conceptual. In improvisational methodology the artist is cognizant of his actions, as the work at hand changes rapidly through chance, accident and randomness. Improvisational work thus engages in a hybridization of perceptual aspects within its procedures.

It is arguable whether “art” occurs during its making. Some hold that art is only truly experienced in the later perceptual stage. Duchamp said that perception of the art work by the spectator was most significant, as “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

Recent work in participatory art conflates the procedural and perceptual stages as the “art” occurs literally through processes involving spectators’ participation and perception. The art “site” – the locus as installation – becomes another stage whereby access to the “art” is mediated through context; the contextual stage of negotiation with both intellectual and physical properties of the site.

In the contextual stage, the “work” may become evaporative and ephemeral as the site is relieved of its importance as an “art object” and instead allows for the experience of the “art.” The site may be further modified conceptually to allow for a spatio-temporal enhancement of its immateriality. Installations or “works” that are temporary with time-based duration become truly immaterial as they come to an end. As the installation is dismantled – or consumed – or destroyed – the contextual stage is also “erased” as the physical site evolves to the immaterial. Perceptual experience of this immateriality is relevant to art’s transcendence from objects and further evidence of the dominance of concept.

Video: A Contextual Stage (2009); installation at Hamiltonian Gallery, Washington, D.C; © Copyright 2009 by Mark Cameron Boyd.


Arntoni Wells said...

I'm afraid I must disagree with the "contextual stage" you mention. How is one to get context when apperception is not removable from the creative act? When I see a new piece of art, I was not there at the creation, so how am I to conceptually grasp anything other than my own participation.

Even Chomsky acknowledges that in creating an account of an experience, we have to synthesize many disparate parts. I'm not sure how it's possible that we can determine which to include and which must be omitted.

Many thanks for the wonderful blog.

~Artoni Wells
Harvard '11

Mark Cameron Boyd said...

Certainly understand your point about apperception & its presence during all stages, both pre- & post-making. However, my point is that physicality of the contextual site, i.e. museum, gallery, etc. holds sway over the viewer's perception. How one is "to conceptually grasp anything" is the proverbial "crux of the biscuit." Conceptual art requires the supplement of text, statement, criticism to be more fully "grasped."
By the way, who's teaching art theory /criticism at Harvard these days?

Artoni Wells said...

Understanding can be easily confused in matters such as these, but I think we may be more in agreement than we think. This in itself, ironically, is the schematic medium for the sort of interpretation I think you're concerned with.

To understand the link between the pre-making stages and the post making stages, I think you have to look closely at what is linking them and how they vary from person to person. In the objective world, of course, we have various random mundane events (funding, inspiration, coffee etc.) leading from the first idea to the "final" product. But in your discourse, we have to use something semeiotic device.

The semeiotic device in general will be a word or a symbol, but either can be hermeneutically complex. In your response here you used the "&" symbol, which is thought to derive from a shorthand version of the Latin word "et." Therefore, the device you are using to connect the creation and the perception of art is a fundamentally male symbol. I don't criticize this --I'm not really an academic feminist though I have some sympathies-- but the fact more or less stands.

I chose a longer string of words "How is one to get context when apperception is not removable from the creative act?" whose conjunctive nature might not even be apparent at first glance. This ties in with my nature as a woman.

Consider the Greek play Medea: "And those who live quietly as I do get a bad reputation" [217-220]. As a result of Medea's declaration there has been a tendency towards such discourse ever sense. Though this point is arguable I admit, my long-windedness is really a female symptom, as a reaction to such accusations in antiquity. Such people develop and grow apart from what might have been their "other" in any case.

Hence our implicit agreement-- if you are using an ampersand as your "semeiotic device" you are not going to have the same connective as I do. Still, if a similar set of concepts live on either side of the conjunction, we can still be said to be roughly in agreement.

Finally, to top it off, I think this very point is your point-- the before moving to the after is a less significant piece of the art than what is there when we reach our destination.

Artoni Wells
Harvard '11

PS: I haven't actually taken any art theory courses at Harvard. I was pre-med, but I took some literature and philosophy courses which have dragged me in this direction.

Erram A. Neyi said...

Artoni, I feel your mention of the reductionist-minimalist agenda of Chomsky and his believers subjugates the thrust of your argument apropos the contextual stages of participatory art. Conceptual minimalism can serve as an ironic quisling against reductionism, but I'm not sure this is what you had in mind. Could you clarify?

Anonymous said...

hi Artoni,
some great points there.... but but, like he said, I think Mark is mostly dealing with how the physicality of a setting effects the interpretation of art there. I've done some work on outsider art, and the question of whether intention is the distinguishing mark of art vs. artifact... is anything in a museum to be interpreted by us as art because the museum says it should be? this would suggest art is an authoritarian concept, but yet, is it offensive to suggest an object is not art, just because the maker (especially a member of a different group, culture, or an outsider), did not posses the concept or have that intention? some cultures I've worked with make very little distinction, lending toward an authoritarian interpretation in our culture. it is so interesting to me that the word "authoritarian" contains the word "author" --- what is you guys's interpretation of the semiotics here?? we might have hit on something! (I do mostly curatorial work on outsider art)

Artoni Wells said...

Erram- I see your point about Chomsky though I think you're missing my point. Although the theses of cognitive relativism are self-evident to me, it should also be clear that there is always some overlap. Reductionists represent not a wrong point of view, but another one in addition to ours, and before the bifurcation of our interpretations we mustn't throw everything overboard simply because it's associated with something that seems abhorrent. This is what makes art possible.

Sarah- If you read my posting more carefully, you will see that I am really agreeing with Mark though through a female if not feminist lense. Your comments about authoritarian nature of art are, however, very astute. But isn't the point of outsider art that it's outside any authoritarian paradigm? For the semeiotics, I think you could write a whole book (anyone wanna collaborate?), but I'll say this: check out the etymology of the word authoritarian. It comes from Latin (again, a male symbol) where it meant "founder" though it later came through French meaning "father". It's hermentutically loaded!

Artoni Wells
Harvard '11

Erram A. Neyi said...

Artoni, if you accept the reductionist-minimalist standpoint as a parallel agenda, how can the ontological indeterminism of minimalist process art be maintained? If you are either unwilling to acknowledge the abhorrent facets of the so-called "Church of Chomsky," or unwilling to entirely repudiate it on these grounds, is it still possible to disregard the sway these positions may exert over a viewer's relativistic perception/ interpretation of an art work?

Also, with regard to Sarah's question, it's indeed clear to me that an inherent authoritarianism exists within the concept of "the author," and by extension, within any creative or performative act claimed by an individual or group as "their own." This, I believe, is an example of the hermeneutic circle (a la Jab├Ęs or Schleiermacher, whose own name, I must add, contains the word "maker" in German). Thus we conclude that any work of art is self-referential at an infinite number of levels, so a definitive interpretation is futile. I suggest this is a possible way to disassociate art from artifact, although the particular nature of this disassociation remains elusive, short of invoking a degree of Kantian anarchy, upon which we would find ourselves on a very slippery ground.

Artoni Wells said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Artoni Wells said...

(Mark- Please post this comment and not the previous version as it had an embarrassing vagary. I'm sure that can be the subject of a future post if you spot it. :P )

Erram- You are apparently not listening to me. Your criticism certainly would hold if I were saying that Chomsky is engaging in a different activity than theorists such as me or Mark, but my point is much subtler than that. A post-structuralist has no limits; a Chomsky worshipper does. Therefore, a post-structuralist's viewpoint can include the Chomskian one!

For example, a person who worships at the "Church of Chomsky" and embraces its reductionist schema would be bound by its very finite limits. They would be forced to be cognitively homogeneous, etc. and would appreciate the art as if it were something plain. A person from a post-structuralist point of view would have no limits as their point of view carries no such limits. Hence they could interpret the art with its ontological determinism intact. This is what I meant in my previous post where I say, "This is what makes art possible."

Nice comments on Sarah's post though.

Please make sure you read and digest what I am saying before posting.

Mark Cameron Boyd said...

Ms. Wells asked that I delete her 10:14 pm comment & post the corrected version instead. I will try to read through all comments in future so I can catch such requests.