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With Everything But the Monkey Head 5

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

On the other hand, isn’t it just the case that out of such concentrations as this new intensity in the arts (Kind of reminds me of that real estate bubble. You know which one.): art as investment, art as profession, art as achievement, art as academic qualification – out of all that sometimes come these great Chardinian-like im/explosions, these upheavals, that leave us, for just a moment, with the immense relief and gratification of knowing that we really weren’t all wrong; that there was, after all, something more important.

I am not one to spout Malthusian scenarios. Perhaps it is premature, or maybe I am just too reluctant to place my foot too solidly into such a disagreeable position. I would certainly not, given the array of daunting, if not just incomprehensible, fissures that are in real time erupting around us (pick one of any number), denounce anyone else for moving in that direction. Still, for the moment anyway, I am going attempt to stick with the wink/nod/glimmer/grimace kind of positivism that looks forward to something green sprouting in the freight yard.

The question for me and my kind is whether we will be able to recognize and/or accept that sprout. Since the beginning of the industrial age, just to start somewhere, these sprouts have generally been duplicitous. Technology has almost always been a double-edged sword; making our lives simultaneously easier and more difficult to navigate. No wonder there are those now finding solace in material(isms); perhaps in the vain hope that something outside of ourselves will come to our rescue and solve all of our profound dilemmas.

We will continue to maintain the hope of a better existence because we are able, as futurists articulate science fiction, to envision a more enviable condition; but we also know that we are required to cope with the infinite, sometimes absurd, variety of human behaviors, the ones that not only create rich experience, but also those, such as greed, anger, and distrust, that lead us to wars and prevent us from being able to distribute resources equitably.

I was once told, when I asked someone on what basis a particular decision was made, that it was made on “the rule of sense.” I always appreciated that determination, and have actually tried to confide in it. But it only takes an election season, or a session of congress to make me question it as a life rationale. The opposite of utopia is what? Cynicism?  And, like it or not, there seems to be no general agreement on sense.

This is it, reality: human, post-human, anthropocene, material (And yes I acknowledge that the earth will go on without us, but what does it matter?). Personally, I want to be on record that, at least for me, we cannot ignore the damage that continually rains on our psyches due to the supremacy, and the covert and incestuous nature, of capitalist consumerism. We can accept it and participate in it all we want, but I contend that such passive immersion reduces us. It is soma.

(Sigh.) Forget Chardin. Forget Malthus. Things will continue as they have for centuries and longer. It is the way of things. We careen from moments of joy, reside in staleness, slide into sadness, if fortunate into momentary despair. In that vein, the art world will continue on its several paths: including the capitalist/acacemic/beaureaucratic path we have discussed previously – and it should. This evolving establishment incarnation provides a vehicle for those who find joy and relish in such intrinsic energy and endeavors. Out of this might come ground-breaking, mind-opening research that aids us in seeing a clearer world. If “non-academic” artists are given equal opportunity to focus on studio research applications, as we also mentioned earlier, equally brilliant work might also prevail.

For others, alternatives will arise and/or be created. Some, those that provide promise of profit (in a general sense) will be capitalized. Others will be marginalized. That is not all bad. There are not only creative, but also radical, possibilities within marginalization. Not that one necessarily enjoys residing within that state of exclusion (and silence), but there is a certain freedom available in not having expectations written one-to-ten on a stone tablet.

With Everything But the Monkey Head 4

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Think about it!  “”Bauer countered with her own question. ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t artists want to pursue research and have the opportunity to expand their investigations in an academic setting?” (from Notes on the Panel “The Reluctant Doctorate: PhD Programs for Artists?” CAA  2011). Think about it.

My friend, Gina, works in a gallery that specializes in exhibiting outsider art. Her own painting is about as far as painting can be from outsider, yet she loves the stuff.

Personally I haven’t yet found a way to turn the tide on outdoor advertising. I think that our perpetual immersion in this commercial environment provides not only a constant pressure toward spending, but is also an automatic indoctrination into capitalist culture, allowing little space for any alternative. That’s my personal rant. But I also know that outdoor advertising is part of a larger system. The way I see it, so is the art PhD.

Yes, I really like my Y3s. Still like my iPhone, though I rue much of what it hath wrought. Could I do without them? Don’t tell anyone, I once lived three years in Santa Cruz with only Birkenstocks. Which reminds me, I walked up to some people from Santa Cruz who were sitting in a panel at CAA about research in art. I told them that I was an alum from UCSC and was co-chairing a panel about Investigatory Art at that very same CAA Conference. They said, “Oh.”

So you have people creating an art PhD, and you have people studying to get an art PhD. And then you have people promoting the art PhD. This last part is the slightly sticky one for me, for, as we all know, promotion is most often carried out on the side of self-interest. And I get concerned that, just like the iPhone, people who are self-interested also try to define, or to misuse, or to restrict, or to otherwise dictate the system. In this case the system happens to go by the classification/description art, and, just like those advertisers who use the “eminence” of the capitalist system to dignify their practice, we certainly don’t need more folk in the art world spending resources attempting to put “art” in a place where it just possibility doesn’t comfortably fit, or where many may not want it to fit. At the very least this movement towards the art PhD is just another rung in the telescoping extension ladder of professionalism in the arts, a way to fit into a system that expansively commercializes art education and art product.

First, let’s be clear. This is primarily an artist-philosopher degree or a philosopher-artist degree. I don’t see it being described as simply an art degree. This degree is obtained through the language of words, not the language of medium.

For example, I know a dancer who went through a program to obtain a doctorate in dance. She thought that she should be able to obtain this degree by becoming superlative through dance, by expressing new thoughts and creations through movement. Of course the committee felt they had no way of judging the adequacy of this practice in terms of awarding it a doctorate. What if, as another example, Jackson Pollack was in grad school working on his PhD in 1946 to 48, and said, “This work is my dissertation.”? In other words, are we saying that a certain artist establishment is determining that advanced artistic recognition must be determined by a language that is not inherently artistic; or that artists must become something other to be recognized: that is, is it necessary for artists to speak linguistically as well as in their artistic language in order to be taken seriously? Do we split the field so that there are so-called academic artists and professional artists? Or do we rename it all so that art product itself becomes known by another name?

Though it may be beginning to sound like it, I want to make clear that I am in no way opposed to research in the arts, or having a branch of the arts that takes a philosophical approach to understanding or investigating culture and other things. However, it appears to me that this entire discussion is beginning to turn on just one thing, capitalistic and egocentric endeavors aside for the moment, and that thing is linguistics. What is the language that we are talking about: the language of art, the language about art, the language of dance, or about dance, etc?

The concern that many people obviously have is that a class is being set up within the arts, and that class has to do with linguistics. It has nothing directly to do with artistic brilliance or performance. But it has very much to do with rewarding a certain kind of participation in the arts that is not being made available to artists who may not be participating in this particular way, but may be participating, with equal intellect, in a very different way.

I think it is important that as this process of extending the academic credentials of artists is being developed, we include programs of doctorates in actual studio arts. Not doctorates in studio arts that require immense linguistic dissertations in languages not the first language of artists, but the language in which that artist actually works. In order to accomplish this, we also have to develop an academy of teachers who are able to determine and jury in that language under which a true studio doctorate must be accomplished. What would be the creative, perceptual, and skill levels that must be attained to qualify on the same level as a linguistic dissertation? In this way, then, I think we can raise equally the accomplishment of all artists who wish to continue in the academy, and to avoid the class differences that will certainly occur if the status quo continues.

For myself, at another time, I might have seen myself sitting, wiling away the thousands of hours with the thoughts and the words in pursuit of some perhaps very gratifying grail. I’m not certain that some of my painter, or sculptor, or performance friends, who are amazing artists of change, as the phrase goes, might feel the same if not given a similar opportunity.

With Everything But the Monkey Head 3

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

It appears that in ancient Egypt the onion was a primary source of divination. This worship seems to have arisen from the belief that its spherical shape and concentric structure might symbolize eternal life. Traces of onions were found in burial sites, as in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.

The onion itself, known as the common onion (genus allium), along with its brethren, the Japanese bunching onion, the tree onion, and the Canada onion, as well as the Egyptian onion; are typically fleshy, hollow, and cylindrical with one flattened side. They are at their widest about a quarter of the way up beyond which they taper toward a blunt tip.

The onion leaf grows out of a basal disk. As the onion matures food reserves begin to accumulate in the leaf bases and the bulb of the onion swells. In the autumn, the onion is basically a biennial but is grown as an annual, the leaves die back and the outer scales of the bulb become dry and brittle.

Onions, somewhat uniquely, have particularly large cells that are readily observed under low magnification. As a result, their cells are easily separated for educational, experimental, and breeding purposes.

Additional uses for the onion include:

Teaching the use of the microscope

As a moth repellent

To prevent insect bites

To promote hair growth

To reduce freckling

To polish glass and copperware

To prevent iron rust

To increase resistance to plant pests

To repel moles and insects from plants

As a yellow-brown dye

Ancient Greek athletes ate large quantities of onions, as they believed the onion helped to lighten the balance of blood flow. Roman gladiators rubbed onion on their bodies to firm their muscles, and, in the middle ages, onions were proscribed to facilitate bowel movement and erections, and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebites, and hair loss.

Aside from its uses in cooking, one of the most common associations we have to the onion is its ability to cause tearing in our eyes, much as an artwork that may strike us very personally. This eye stinging induced by the onion is brought on by the release of a volatile gas: syn-propanethial-S-oxide. The gas is produced by a chain reaction that occurs as follows:

Chopping or cutting the onion damages the onion’s cells.

Enzymes (alliinoses) are released.

There is a breakdown of amino acid sulfoxides.

Sulfenic acids are generated.

1-propenesulfenic acid is acted on by lacrimatory factor synthase (LFS).

Syn-propanethial-S-oxide is produced.

Gas diffuses through the air and reaches the eyes.

The diffused gas activates sensory neurons.

Tears are produced.

Which in an obtuse, but also synchronic way, brings us full circle to the subject of cromniancy, divination by onion.

Again, there appears to be evidence that its sphere-within-a-sphere structure caused the ancient Egyptians to observe the onion as a much-revered symbol of spirituality and eternity. They would take sacred oaths while placing their right hands on the onion. They divined the weather, sought romantic advice, and answers to important questions by inscribing names or words on onions, placing them on sacred altars, and waiting to see which ones would sprout first.

One of the things that interests me most about this veneration of the onion is that such reverence seems to be based, as previously stated, on the spherical concentricity of the onion’s structure; yet this is a structure that, at least in those times, could never be completely observed.

In order to perceive the onion’s systematic yet harmonious structure, and its unique rhythms, even perhaps through our tears, it is necessary to abuse the object, perhaps to destroy it. Even then, as we divine ourselves into its secrets, we never see the entirety of each sphere, the inner and outer sides, as a whole.

I am personally struck by the qualities of a single horizontal slice, about 1/8” to 3/16” thick. I try to punch out each ring, wholly, in order to observe each ring’s singular dynamism. Yet I still imagine how wonderful it would be to hold, in the palm of one hand, the “unbearable lightness” of a single whole interior onion sphere, and in the other, equally comfortably, the nucleus of art.