Monday, August 10, 2009

Passages - Part 2

Here is the 2nd part of JD Jarvis' thoughts on meaning in art, something that I have thought about as well. Much of the work I've done not only in the visual arts, but in the performing arts as well, has had a specific meaning for me, but was sometimes obscure for an audience. And he got to be at the same table with two other of my art heroes!

In 1975 I was sitting in a cafe in Berkeley, CA with Jerry Hunt a friend and electronic music composer from Dallas, Texas. We were there to attend a banquet marking the end of The National Center for Experiments in Television, which had played a formative and supportive role in my study of Video Art. Up to the table came John Cage and Merce Cunningham who turned out to be friends of Mr. Hunt. I was flabbergasted and spent most of the encounter just sitting and listening. I did not even marshal the gumption to mention to Mr. Cage that as a result of his writing and theories I had created a video composition (which I had dedicated to him) using chance operations and had set it to the music of one of his compositions "HPSCHRD" which had also been composed by chance. Perhaps my hesitance was due to my star-struck condition, but maybe I kept silent because of my own doubts concerning the piece.

To make a long story short, there was a section in that video that (even though it had been determined by chance) I felt did not work at all. It was a dead zone, not energetic, not restful, not in anyway poignant or interesting. When I showed the work I sat and cringed through this segment. I wanted to go in and change things... to make it "better"... but that would require breaking with the intention of the piece to be composed strictly by chance. So, I found myself in the predicament of having created a piece I did not like and could not change due to my own self imposed dogma. Where did my responsibility lie? To the process or the piece? Chance did not care about the outcome so why should I? But, then chance did not have to sit and watch the video or show it to others.

My way out of this dilemma was to admit that I am too much of a sensualist to let chance and randomness make all of my decisions for me. And, since the whole premise behind using chance was to free the work of meaning, chance itself was not the point but rather the effect that using chance had on the issue of meaning. Meaning was an important point for me in that I had noticed that even when I created an abstract video piece devoid of any intended narrative that people went ahead and created a narrative of their own. Further, that they then took this narrative, which they had created and used it to evaluate and discuss my work. For purposes of my thesis I called this a "quasi-narrative", because of a combination of effects having to do with motion and the fact that each piece had a beginning, a middle and an end and was being presented on a TV screen. People expected a story from the TV and when there wasn't one, they created their own like a kinetic Rorschach test. But we know that what people where seeking was meaning.

So, I decided in order to avoid creating what I saw as cold-hearted work which could get bogged down even by the lightest form of dogma that I would create compositions that in various degrees of coding held meaning for me. But in doing so I had to remove any shred of ego concerning the desire or expectation of that coded meaning actually registering within the viewer a meaning that was in any way similar to mine. In my mind this was the way to create work that held the ember of human warmth but retained its freedom from meaning. If the work is to convey or "communicate" anything it was just this presence of a human hand and nothing more... the rest being a reflection of the viewer's own quest for meaning and therefore their own mind.

Well, guess what... people are not at all comfortable with their own minds and still want to blame or award their creations on the artist. Thus, my own feelings about art as communication. There is none. This, remind you, comes from a student of so-called "Mass Communications." I have studied all the various models of communication... sender, message, receiver... message, sender, transmitter, receiver, message... all as arcane, incomplete and worthless as economics equations. Depending on one's intent and how direct you want to be in your presentation an artist may claim a degree of communication, but this is variable and spotty at best. This is why I say that art is a presentation with slim hope of communicating an intended message.

There is another definition of "communication" that being simply a "connection"; such as, this artery communicates with that vessel. In that respect there is communication in that the artist and viewer are connected in the experience of presenting and viewing a piece. This definition being devoid of any intended message, therefore, better describes my understanding of how I approach and what I expect from my artwork and those that view it.

Peace, Paint and Pixelate,


Post a Comment