Art & Language Paints a Picture – Baldwin, Ramsden & Harrison
1: ‘A fresh canvas. What it is to start the day with a fresh canvas of almost the best quality.’ 2: I want to say, but it is by no means going far enough . . . , I want to enjoin,
‘Do paintings addressed to the expression of emotion and do it reconstructably – in the pattern of causality.’ This might be the route to nothing. You might say the paradigmatic route. 1: What would a Studio said to express, e.g. anger be like? And how would this question be affected by our ‘presence’ or ‘absence’ as figures in the picture? 2: If we were excluded, how? That we are in the dark does not mean we are not there. There are other questions of lighting, of representational order and so forth.
1: The possibility of spiritual penitence doesn’t seem to be a possibility of expression. Is this why we want to make expression claims? We can only hang our heads in silence by not seeming to do that at all.
2: The Studio genre is hardly penitent. It goes to platitudes of autonomy.
1: We make a hiatus of these.
2: ‘But it is our hiatus.’
1: Does that mean it was made for us?
2: We talk of penitence or perhaps of revenge. We used to speak of ‘subversion’. Revenge implies upholding the cause but also exacting retribution. It’s hot and nasty – you can have a career in superstructural subversion. We are taking the work out of that virtuoso debate and into . . . what?
We adopt various personae. We are artists acting ‘artist’. The works, paintings we produce are like masks which are invitations to look behind them, where meaning and signification is perpetually fugitive. If you talk of fugitive significance . . .
2: … you could perhaps talk of a kind of criminality. A criminal goes in for various kinds of fugitive activities – robs, murders, embezzles, etc. A criminal doesn’t usually make a display of his criminal activities. Unless you go in for a kind of fashionable terrorism, which is a kind of revenge I suppose, flaunting criminality rather than concealing it.
(1) and (2) unfold the canvas and attach one short edge to the paper roll with white tape. They then roll the canvas around the paper until what remains unrolled lays flat and covers most of the floor.
1: ‘The freshness of fresh cotton duck.’
2: ‘Such prospects of our own incompetence.’
1: To keep one’s ‘head hung’ is the problem.
2: What is ‘hanging one’s head’ in what Christian Schlatter calls ‘occidental culture’? 1: It can hardly amount to ‘being depressed’. 2: It might be ‘seeming depressed’. 1: Is it perhaps making your work in a circumstance of some more or less adequate ‘genetic’ knowledge? And to make nothing, nothing ‘aesthetic’, of this? 2: This seems just like ‘refusing’. 1: What I’m trying to grope for is the idea that our work is made of antecedent aesthetic materials and other genetic conditions. It presents these materials, these genres, these finesses, these symbols ‘without resolution’ in a rather special way: as hiatus. This is a penitence in our emotivist aesthetic culture.
You cannot be penitent sub specie aeterni. 2: So there is some sort of contingency. 1: The work must be open to investigation. Reconstructable, adequately retrodictable. And this goes to a morality of moral strenuousness.
(1) and (2) tack strips of wood to the long edges of the canvas with the aid of a hardboard straight edge. The hardboard is then used as a square and strips are tacked across the canvas so as to form a rectangle approximately 3.5m x 4m.
2: ‘Perfection: the absorbent surface. I can hardly contain my desire, my need, to mark it.’ 1: The world of modern art has become a world of hysterical malingering. 2; We are producers of representations, not only in the sense that we are involved genetically, with retrodiction to various cultural conditions, but we also seem to be involved paranoically. 1: Demolition of the emotivist instrumentalities of the manager’s culture entails systematic demolition of the agent of demolition. 2: Our culture is not so much a ruin as a few trivial remnants. 1: Our high culture, however, is a fraud. 2: But it is mostly out of this, out of art, Kant and emotivism that we make our work. 1: There’s more to it than that. 2: That’s not important: its decadent fraudulence is not much in doubt. What is required of us is that our desire to reproduce (in whatever apparently emergent form) the form of life which gives us our materials . . . 1: First-order materials . . . 2: … be matched by our desire to refrain and hang our heads in shame. These conditions of culture are not coercive. 1: We need a critique of the Baudelairian flaneur.
(1) and (2) begin to coat the canvas with a buff-coloured acrylic emulsion using a roller. The paint is in a shallow grill pan.
1: ‘The canvas will now have a skin. We are committed now r to ‘painting’, rather than to drawing: committed to being anally expulsive.’
2: Modern art is hysterical. Yet there are no masks. Only managerial instrumentalities. We sit among the products of an almost entirely transparent hysteria. Transparent, yet powerful enough to be instrumental, to produce and sustain ‘aesthetics’ and art.
1: It may be that our concern with undisclosed causal conditions (and undisclosed causal assumptions), our concern with (hysterical (etc.)) closures, goes to a sort of imprisonment. What we may need to know is not how to find better explanations, but how to get out of (by requiring, making a necessity of) the ‘language’ of causes altogether. How to get ourselves and others to make do with nothing (or less) built upon an obsession with genealogy. By this I am suggesting that to have nothing is better than to have cheek pouches. I mean that a nothing necessitated by adequate genealogical inquiry is a sort of penitent liberty. Liberation from ‘the pale Konigsbergian light’ may seem to be its extinction.
2: But its extinction materially implying its use?
1: Perhaps it is true that liberation from the misuse of Kant’s illuminations is tantamount to their extinction. It is our emotivist culture and our Weberian sociology that has ‘liberated’ us from Kant. But that liberation has been an inadmissible enslavement to aesthetics – to unreflective management – wearing clean Kantian clothes. The main aesthetic categories are the vestiges of a dead language whose meanings have been transformed into instrumentalities.
(1) and (2) now draw the nails and remove the strips of wood. The paint dries. Fresh canvas is pulled from the large roll as the painted stuff is rolled onto a smaller paper tube. The canvas now has the appearance of a scroll. The fresh canvas is tacked down and painted with primer.
1: ‘Another ocean of beauty.’
2: But when it’s painted it looks more expensive. Our last two paintings are a conscious production of the appearance of sickness. They are not mistakes.
They are in the margin of lies. They are that margin of lies which goes to half-realised acts of spiritual penitence, to images (or self-images) of silence and head hanging. 1: The ‘Studio’ series began in one world and it will end, if it ends, in another.
Indeed, it is already in another. 2: Isn’t it rather that it began at the margins of one world and it is now at the margins of another? The series began in a world discursively connected with contemporary art (or with various identifiable models of contemporary art). 1: Out of this world we selected symbols. These numbered among our explicit materials. 2: The discursive connection was mediated by a sense of grotesque fraudulence, of genealogical absurdity. 1: We are now in a world dislocated from this. Yet we must presuppose, continue to make a necessary condition of, our genealogical critique which goes in part to contemporary art. 2: And then make nothing of what emerges. 1: Recognize that what emerges will be next to nothing. The ‘new’ world is pretty frail. 2: ‘My talent is waiting to explode on the canvas.’
1: The Managerial barbarism of contemporary aesthetic discourse is no indication that things will always be like this. 2: No. But a possible future aesthetics will not necessarily be not to get nothing out of the exposure of the rottenness of the previous position. This is possible even if that exposure is intrinsic to the later one. 1: Our ‘discursive’ connection with contemporary art soi disant in its various worlds and manifestations frequently acted to limit our didactic aims.
2: Misrepresented them. 1: And worse. Independently perhaps of this discursive relation, we were tending to imagine some emergence, some constructive significance in the generation of ‘second-order discourses’, causal critique and so forth. And this notwithstanding a dressing of ‘hiatus’ and ‘hiatus for us\ 2: We haven’t examined the significance of or the mechanism of our hiatus very fully. The possibility that we do ‘mean’ that which has had its meaning cancelled by us, that which is genetically dependent upon a second-order (or n-order) demolition of the mechanism of its meaning, is a very delicate thing indeed. 1: However, we must not be satisfied with an emotivist aesthetic of hiatus. 2: ‘The scherzos, the veritable fugues on themes of resurrection in our last two paintings are undeniable.’ 1: ‘Could it be argued that their failure to signify is redeemed by their hapticity?’ 2: We do want to be popular with the bourgeoisie don’t we? A kiss is a kiss.
The sensitive are sensitive. But reflect on a kiss that has been identified antecedently as a contraction of herpes. 1: A Studio in the dark seems to deny the possibility of detail. And this is the possibility of vividness perhaps. 2: This lack of vividness in respect of first-order representational detail” will have to be recouped in some way. 1: In some other index of detail. 2: We are not painting by mouth.
1: And we are not claiming that this painting is painted by mouth. 2: We are not denying it though. 1: Its graphical form or, rather, our basic chart or drawing is produced by mouth. 2: When we were painting Index . . . I and II we pondered the question, ‘What are the consequences of an asserted “painted by mouth” claim’s not being in fact true?’ 1: The falsehood of such a claim goes to a gentlemanly (or arty) distance from hiatus. The claim would be the claim of genealogical puppeteers. 2: We would have made masks never to wear them. 1: There are some Dali paintings that show visages in clouds. There are other paintings of clouds without physiognomies. People ‘saw’ faces in them. 2: Of Index: The Studio at 3 Wesley Place III (in the Dark) we make no ‘painted by mouth’ claim. There is the possibility that some onlooker will suffer the Dali effect, viz., ‘reading’ the painting as painted by mouth. 1: And that would be projecting the (slight or large) hiatus experienced in respect of those Studio pictures of which painted by mouth is a significant retrodiction. 2: ‘Reading-in’ and ‘seeing-in’: are these real hermeneutical mistakes? Is ‘reading-in’ or ‘seeing-in’, in the sense of ‘projection onto’ or ‘transference’, the ‘not yet’ of a hermeneutical ‘no longer’ or the ‘no longer’ of a hermeneutical ‘not vet’?
The priming continues.
1: This will be a tedious week.
2: ‘Yet having primed this canvas we have signalled our intention to engage with material.’ 1: ‘With a material tradition.’ 2: ‘Though less materialist than sculpture.’ CHILD: Hello Fatty and Skinny.
The priming is complete. The last section to be pinned (the left-hand quarter of the painting) is divided into 10cm squares in pencil. The line-drawing (by mouth) is taken from the wall and two strips, corresponding to the left-hand quarter of the painting, are cut off.
2: Some of our ‘materials’ are to be found in the possible world (or worlds) or fragments or remainders hiding in or between the relations of hiatus. This world (etc.) is very likely to be, among other things, a world of foolishness and moral disquiet. 1: A very nothing-like possible world. 2: It may be indeed that our aims (even our quotidian aesthetic in some guise) goes to what to do ‘in’ the nothing left behind by hiatus. The motes hovering above the gap. 1: And the gap is made of real possibilities. The conditions of hiatus are, in some sense, demonstrable. Clement Greenberg’s voice off: Braque’s tack suggests deep space in a token way and destroys the surface in a token way. 1: If we ‘add’ this possibility of hiatus to the other possibilities we get a different sense of hiatus. A different cardinality. But a cardinality which does not reflect the ordinality of ‘one more hiatus’. 2: Imagine Index: The Studio at 3 Wesley Place IV (Illuminated by an Exploding Car). 1: ‘I wish we did drawings the same size as the painting. A cartoon is a German professor’s map.’ 2: T wonder what James Lee Byars is doing now. I wonder what Cindy Sherman, Jorg Immendorff, Terry Atkinson, Mrs. Braggins and the Green Party are doing now.’ 1: ‘Tim Clark is constantly on the look-out for people wondering what other people are doing.’ 2: Someone might say that we have ‘lost’ the art world because today’s fatuities are worse than yesterday’s. But that isn’t the reason. Neither do I think the real reason is that ‘contemporary art’ suddenly overburdened us with anger and humiliation.
1: Or by using various masks or simulacra we generate hiatus. In spite of second (etc.)-order discourse, tiny shards of ‘real 1 anger, real expression seemed to remain. Catless grins?
2: Are you sure ‘in spite of is correct? You could say that these ‘fragments’ exist in virtue of second-order-ish critique; that they are a philosophically possible population only after such a critique is accomplished.
1: Perhaps these shards are left behind by the masks and not by the hiatus.
2: The masks are connected to hiatus by necessity.
1: I do not think that these next-to-nothings emerged as a consequence of the necessity that our causal critique remain incomplete. The fact that our investigation of the mechanism of closure – of misrepresentation – merely serves to dramatise the power of the aesthetic management is no indication that that investigation is indecisive.
2: At the same time, I think that the next-to-nothings emerge from a redoubling of the sense of hiatus. This redoubling is born of an inkling that the ground of ‘our’ second-order (etc.) discourse is vain.
1: ‘Penitence’ is a very technical term.
(1) and (2) transcribe the drawing by mouth onto the canvas in pencil. One of them works faster than the other. So as to have some work to do, he/she keeps cutting strips off the section being transcribed by his/her colleague.
1: ‘A blunt pencil is truly alienated. A short one is not.’
2: ‘What’s it like to have the sureness of touch of a Picasso in his sexual prime?’
1: ‘What’s it like to have the intensity of several Goyas?’
2: A critique of causal-type analysis or, rather, a sense of its vanity does not, however, lead us to blather about sensitive alternatives to the modern world. These alternatives are the fullest dramatisations and the dullest reflections of emotivism.
1: Operatic brutalism is one of the most powerful instruments of this managerial co-option of aesthetics.
2: The confusion of taste with mechanism – or rather the inflation of taste to the status of mechanism – is symptomatic of emotivism.
1: The shards remain possible as products of this mess.
The transcription is complete. (1) and (2) are now looking at the right-hand quarter of the canvas.
1: ‘We should roll back. It is methodologically important, even a transcendental necessity, even a Reich des Sollens to start in the top left-hand corner.’
They roll back in a manner reconstructable from descriptions above. Paint is mixed; dry powder is mixed in a food processor with acrylic emulsion. The pigments are lamp black, heavy french black, mars black, graphite powder, oriental blue, oriental green, mars violet. There are other colours in tubes. The food processor explodes. They continue to mix the paint by hand. (1) decants some paint into baby-food jars (lamp black, mars black and a graphite lamp black mixture). He starts painting at the far top left. (2) takes the larger container and starts to work on his right. There is a reproduction of a Goya on the wall. The half-tone drawing has been taken down and lies propped up in front and between the two artists.
1: We make causal, genetic-type enquiries. We also try to make necessities of these. But these enquiries are not some kind of ‘no longer’.
2: The ‘formula’ is made too little of by Nietzsche’s literary interpreters. It is just a consumer’s insight that art resides somewhere between the ‘rationalistic’ ‘no longer’ and the (what?) ‘irrationalistic’ ‘not yet’. The contents of a ‘not yet’ will always include a maximally closed form of a ‘no longer’, and the contents of a ‘no longer’ will always be, in part, a ‘not yet’.
1: Indeed, it could be argued that a ‘no longer’ is always a ‘not yet’ from some point of view.
2: But that isn’t interesting. What is interesting is the idea that they are functionally connected, isomorphous. More interesting than that is the idea that they are genetically and logically interdependent.
1: Anger in the mask of ‘rationality’; ‘rationality’ in the mask of anger . . .
2: Marxism’s failure to include itself in its ‘no longer’ is one of the conditions of its emptiness.
1: We are not prepared to consider a work of art as independent ‘of the character of its creator’. And in this sense we are not prepared to consider the aesthetic as independent of the moral.
2: To this extent we are little different from the shrill disimbricators of power-sex ideology and other polytechnic-lecturer’s themes.
1: Where we differ is the mechanism of our penitence.
2: They are ‘not yetting’ with their ‘no longer’, and yet misrepresenting this as ‘no longer’ tout court.
1: They assume a managerial mode.
3: I’ve written a bit more lecture. Can you stand to hear it?
1, 2, 3: . . . The expressive range of Pollock’s art rests on very limited resources. In that sense it is both classical and pessimistic. As painting goes it is also very easy to reconstruct technically. The substantial lesson of Pollock’s art lies not in its ‘optical qualities’, its ‘reduction of pictorial depth’, its ‘freeing of line from the functions of description and definition’, its invocation of the ‘cosmos of hope’, or in any of the other available forms of valediction. It lies rather in the requirement of assiduousness: in the demand that one recognise how little is left to work with . . .
1: We can make only the minimum assumption that we will succeed in reproducing this drawing.
2: Let’s hope it is a minimum. Enlarged as a painting, this thing goes to the canons of clever and slightly paradoxical modernist painting.
1: The sort of stuff that only operates if you accept the Theoretical strictures on its production. Bureaucratic modernism with iterated complexity … one idea and a lot of intra-canonical variations.
2: ‘By contrast, I view the section of the painting upon which I’m working as uncoerced, as a paysage of passion. 1
1: Unfortunately, I’ve just made an incompetent Augustus John.
3: Can you stand a bit more?
1, 2, 3: . . . The point I wish to make is that all those whose work I have been discussing can be seen as attempting to cope – albeit in different ways – with the consequences and implications of Abstract Expressionism. They were determined by nothing so much as its negative implications, by the closing off of possibilities and by the difficulty of confronting that requirement of assiduousness for which Pollock’s work stands as an example. The line of development through the fifties and sixties is branching and incoherent, and there are a plethora of dead ends and little failures. There are no clear lines of succession. For example, Johns does not initiate Minimal Art. Rather Johns, Stella, Judd and Morris each articulate in different ways – often unconsciously – an intuition of the historical and cultural conditions which determined the production of art from the mid-fifties until the 1970s. An identifying characteristic of these conditions was that claims for psychological or metaphysical content in art seemed not to be sustainable without bathos . . .
(1) and (2) continue. They complete an apparent stage in the representation of Burial at Ornans, Donnez Voire Travail, etc. About one quarter of the painting has been covered in lamp black, graphite black and oriental blue.
2: The blue is hideous but necessary. We have to be able to navigate.’
1: ‘It’s vital we avoid volunteering. We must be committed to the possibility
that we make decisions and not to the illusion that our smouldering talent will out.’ 2: I think this depends on our working in describable stages. We are left to do what we can almost not bear. We can’t stop and make emotivistic choices.
It is these we must avoid systematically. 1: We are bound to make them anyway. 2: It seems partly to be a problem of keeping the sense of the describability of a given stage or process. 1: It is no doubt true that the concepts of aesthetics may be understood as a ragbag of fragmented survivals from an older past than our own. This can be a dangerous insight: a chance for those deepest entrenched in emotivist
culture to (mis)represent themselves as having transcended it. The identification of deep-laid ‘residues’ and so forth in certain favoured art works is no more than the echo of the critic’s own (emotivist) voice.
(1) and (2) survey what they have done.
This is so demoralizing, so incompetent.
This is a bad case of Robespierre.
Worse. This is materially incompetent, witless and humiliating.
What is it like? Is it worse than Lenin at the Rostrum?
‘Courage is not required.’
It’s got to come off. This is a month’s work. ‘What crystalline rigour!’
Starting from the top left-hand corner, (1) and (2) spread Nttromors, an ethylene-chloride-based paint stripper, on the painting. They scrape it off, exposing bare canvas,
1: An erased, incompetent Augustus John. Somehow it doesn’t have the frisson of Erased de Kooning.
(1) and (2) redraw large areas of this section of the painting. The paint is mixed to a watery consistency and the image is filled in in the manner of ‘painting by numbers’. The lightest areas are painted oriental blue. This colour is applied casually so as to overlap contiguous grey and black areas. The black so covered looks cooler and darker as a consequence; the greys approach black.
1: The paradigm is Guernica.
2: It was necessary to generate some arbitrary pattern. Otherwise we will return to floundering with the ‘geometric’ boundaries of things. The sense in which the thing is modern must not depend entirely on the obscurity of things. It must ‘mention’ modernity not solely in virtue of a kind of optical exhaustion in shadow. This must remain a possibility though.
1: ‘I think the fundamental sense in which my enjoyment of the breast is to be matched in my enjoyment of the painting, creating the painting, will depend on this.’
(1) and (2) scrape and strip a section for a second time.
1: ‘It is outrageous that I’ve had to scrape off the witches’-sabbath-of-dooms-day-aspect to replace it with the paltriness of consistency. Removing the traces of my passion.’
1, 2, 3: What grounds contemporary aesthetics is catastrophically empty. Our emotivist culture is the final occidental act. It is the ground of a groundless aesthetics. The aesthete’s grounds are instrumental and managerial. The power of the aesthetic manager hides his emptiness. Misrepresentation of the mechanism of his aesthetics imposes necessity on that mechanism; the mechanism makes necessity of the misrepresentation.
Those who long for a non-decadent aesthetics, a non-decadent art, do their longing in images of their arbitrary power. The longings are themselves decadent. This gives us something to do. But we are bound to use these resources as their products and to make nothing of them. Those resources of which we do not, perhaps, make nothing are little better than nothing themselves. There is no angst in this remark. Only a sense of necessity and scarcity.