Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tacita Dean and the Death of Analogue, the Death of our World

'Analogue, it seems, is a description,' the artist writes in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, 'a description, in fact, of all things I hold dear.'

So begins James Quandt's ArtForum review of Tacita Dean's recent Schaulager retrospective, and so begins my first entry in quite some time. The review reminds those of us in the know and introduces the rest of us to Dean's near religious devotion to the texturally "real," her

adherence to analogue--a precise and palpable "thisness" in a world increasingly dematerializing in a blizzard of pixels.

Dean is not one to be easily fooled by the ease, ready availability, and lowered costs of digital production. She is well aware that these glossy fruits mask a core of deeper superficiality, detexturalization, and even, perhaps, inhumanity. Quandt adeptly sums up the raison d'etre of Dean's defiantly analogue work:

the materiality of the medium seems a bulwark against a fast-advancing future where imagery is insubstantial, endlessly transmutable, there but not there. Dean is no loon or Luddite in her lost-cause allegiance to celluloid. As the poet of imperiled sites, abandoned dwellings, defunct technology, and architectural relics, she is at once an English romantic, an aesthetic descendant of Turner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Michael Powell, and a recalcitrant materialist. She adheres to the concrete and quantifiable even as her artworks often proceed from found objects, chance events, and coincidences, and her films rely on evanescent, unpredictable nature for their mysterious beauty.

Tacita Dean, as you have surely noted, is an artist with integrity. And I would suggest that what undergirds her fascination with "analogue" has everything to do with integrity. The integrity of the real. The integrity of immediate sensation. The integrity of the kind of image that, so long as it is there, it would surely be false to suggest that it is not there.

I have heard arguments put forward in defense of the digital media. These futurists, blissfully unaware of the immediate visceral power of the tactile, have suggested with straight faces that the advent of digital media is a boon for the arts, that it is the first step toward a society in which wealth and status are not the primary indicators of one's success in the arts. They go on, and without so much as cracking a smile, to suggest that the ready availability of digital technologies will translate into a situation in which every young person can explore aesthetic creation and continue to do so unhindered by the overwhelming costs of traditional materials.

I do not deny that this rhetoric has threatened to sway me from time to time. But the work of Tacita Dean has managed to open my eyes to its thinly disguised implications. For, I ask you, would you give up integrity, sensual beauty, and aesthetic depth for the mere "ability" to produce works of far lesser worth? Why, these futurists have already contradicted themselves before they left the gate. But alas, the futurists are correct on one count: their struggle will end in victory. And Tacita Dean more than any living artist has faced this dark truth unflinchingly, with integrity.

I would like to close with Quandt's apt description of the last scenes of Dean's 2006 film Kodak:

Dean’s elegiac intent appears in the film’s finale, in which ruination displaces celebration. Unpeopled, drained of color, shot in steely or matte tones, Kodak’s closing images focus on the abandoned and broken—smashed spools, hanging wires, tangles of crumpled film—as if the factory, now bereft of its true function, had turned into Tarkovsky’s entropic Zone. Dean’s shorthand may seem a bit literal, but the finality of the last blackout is moving: It represents for her not merely the end of her film, but of all film, the end of analogue.


Blogger M. Woods said...

Very interesting article. I have only been able to work in digital and 35 mm stills as of now. This summer I am beginning to venture into the world of super 8, but it is extremely difficult to obtain a camera, b&w film, and a processing/transfer lab. Please read the Disassociative Manifesto. The end of analogue gives rise to the mechanization of humanity.

1:59 PM  
Blogger M. Woods said...

Disassociative Manifesto
As of this juncture in history, in the year 2007, artistry is dying. The idea of originality is being obscured by counter-cultures catering to the mainstream, the complacency and apathy of the masses, and the mechanization of the human being. In order to salvage what is left of the shards of humanity, a unique, introspective, and visceral art movement is imperative. It is for this purpose that I have ushered in a new form of art, and in effect a new counter-culture, the Disassociative Movement.
Dissociation is the act of exiting the body; whether the physical body of the newly forged iron of the evolved human machine or the senseless body of societal values. Instead we are the Dis-Associates, a group of minds coalescing for the sake of our common conceptual objective of utter dissociation from detrimental outside influence on the human mind. Obviously the term “detriment” is relative; the movement defines detrimental influence as any force that impedes on the individual psyche’s ability to function free from censorship that forges a falsified persona and dramatically affects the personality of said individual.
In order to fully dis-associate one must utilize art to its full advantage; not only as a means of reasserting individuality and exclusion from the malevolent society, but also as the correspondence between Dis-Associate and purveyor of the defunct mainstream ideology. Through visceral imagery, the study and expression of the human psyche, the usage of emotion or lack of emotion, the usage of abstract symbolism akin to the Surrealists, and an aesthetic focusing on the “ugly”, the Dis-Associate’s art forces the “layperson” into a state of self-conscious realization, expediting the evolution of human thought, so that instead of relying on typical, instinctual, brain stem-based action, the “layperson” develops the ability to thoughtfully analyze the world and contemplate introspectively. Once the “layperson” is able to think in shades of the vulgar and the grotesque, the melancholy and the disturbing, he or she will develop his or her revolutionary sentiments, attempting to reform the apathy with which he or she has lacquered his or her numb existence – actively engaging in the relinquishment of the ‘mechanized persona’ in favor of his or her original persona, unaffected by the over-stimulation of detrimental influences.
The Dis-Associate has a responsibility to create, express, and publicize renegade philosophies in order to salvage what is left of the quivering edifice of the human psyche. The only means by which to achieve this goal are the exploration of the beautiful in the ugly, the melancholy, and the visceral. Dissociation from falsified personas through “true thought” shall always remain the immediate goal from which greater achievements can be accomplished.

In our times, society – a corrupt dictatorial body – has become digital, mechanomorphic, devoid of emotion, and sterile (despite the saturation of filth.) The “humans” within the society have followed suit, becoming satisfied with immediate gratification and euphoria in place of genuine happiness (“Happiness” is defined as the feeling of contentment one achieves through love, artistic endeavors, and selflessness. Disassociative Art often portrays scenes of hedonistic activities in order to contrast between “Pleasure” and “Happiness”.) Falsified ideals and morality have become the computer chips for this evolved human – using Nationalism and religious doctrines for the sake of rationalizing one’s apathy. This need for euphoria has contributed to several downfalls: the material destruction of the human mind, the acceptance of physical violence and torture, ignorance to society’s civil rights abuses, and our adoption of rigorous social constraints. In effect, the Artist/Revolutionary is harshly oppressed for his or her outcast sentiments, ridding society of social criticism necessary to halt the terrific atrocities doled out by the collective body of the “Mechanomorphic Man.”
In opposition to the theory that society is comprised and dictated by Man, the society is actually that which dictates Man in today’s time. The majority of citizens under the rule of the mechanical aristocracy (formed by the government and major media outlet under which rule the mechanical bourgeoisie, formed by businessmen, white clergymen, conservative politicians, and artistic prostitutes) take the shape of the advertised “norms,” conforming to a variety of stereotypes on display for the public. It is the mechanical aristocracy/bourgeoisie that has been responsible for the popularization of counter-culture movements in the hopes that they might be able to control the natural tendency for a being to rebel. They control rebellion by advertising shallow, marketable images that feign nonconformity while eradicating the philosophy necessary for the foundation of revolution. These personas are displayed less frequently in the mainstream media than the normal stereotypes but are still readily available for any person in search of attention, ignorance, and shallow rebellion. This practice of selling personas eradicates thought and is therefore an enemy of the Disassociative Movement. To a certain extent the fake counter-culture personage is more submissive and mechanical than the mainstream personage, because the counter-culture’s apathy is far more pronounced – especially because of the resurgence of conservative ideology hiding behind the marketed images.
Therefore the mechanized human being, or Mechanomorphic Man, is present in all socio-economic subdivisions of society. In fact, every living organism has the potential to reach the pinnacle of machination – self-sufficient satisfaction, a state of mind subconsciously governed by fear and laziness. The ideal machine operates on a primal level, ignorant of the plight of others, searching for a new and improved pre-packaged utopia rush. However, because no ideal can ever materialize, the human race is fortunate that complete and utter machination is impossible; however, the collective partial mechanization of the majority is still a formidable detrimental force capable of nothing short of liquidation.
Because no ideal can ever materialize, it is also impossible to achieve full dis-association. This is the source of the self-destructive hypocrisy within each Dis-Associate. All Dis-Associates, more fully aware of machination than the average cog in society, must somehow fight off their inherent drive towards machination. If it were not for this perpetual struggle, however, the act of dis-association would be as sterile as the rest of society because it would eradicate important human traits – inner turmoil and self-deprecation.

Art is the only religion – the only phenomena regularly experienced and beheld. Art is wrongly defined many times, though. Art is not just that which is on display in a museum; art is any form of expression which exposes one’s soul, one’s core identity, and one’s ectoplasm to the harsh outside atmosphere. Philosophy can be art; conversation can be art; even the act of living can be art, with the condition that the artist releases raw humanity for an audience’s discovery; the artist must undergo catharsis with every work, regurgitating him or herself into whatever medium with which he or she is working. If any work is buried underneath layers of lacquer and gloss, it is no longer art; it has become masturbation.
Another mark of art is that once it has been released into the world, it can never be categorized, classified, or completely comprehended. For instance, even though the haunting theme melody from a symphony may be categorized as Post-Post-Modernist or Neo-Romantic-Classicism or whatever meaningless term is in vogue, the melody will continue to transcend labels. Man, whose mind works in categories, is stupified by art. Man, especially he or she who has become mechanized, has a natural tendency to control everything. In the event that he or she can not explain, comprehend, or subject something to his or her dominion completely, he or she reacts violently – either physically or by forging false arguments contesting the validity of said art. But, if Man continues to battle with his or her “need” to fully comprehend everything, he or she will come to the realization that art is divine. It is simple, fleeting, nothing short of beautiful, and Man’s inability to shackle art with the chains of His existence renders it even more powerful. It is saturated with humanity, but at the same time is as alien as an expansive dreamscape. Art is the one thing that comes close to full dis-association. The one thing that keeps art from achieving perfection is the creator (the artist) for the artist can and never will be satisfied with his or her work. From every other perspective, the art is an enigma, but to the creator, it is a failure. This is art’s one constraint, keeping it from complete dis-association and dehumanization. One could argue that if art was perfect it would cease to exist.
If art is the closest thing to divinity, religion is but a system of slavery formed by mythology and fear. The ultimate purpose of religion is to destroy humanity and usher in the pious mechanized being. While music may unlock hidden emotions and dissatisfaction buried within, religion further buries said dissatisfaction and reality by diminishing the meaning of life to the pursuit of eternal bliss and reward. When one puts his or her faith and ambition in a construct of fear, known more commonly as god, he or she has murdered all artistry within his or her soul; the theologian is the proud enemy of the mind – thus the direct enemy of artistry.
Religion refers to Western religion – Judeo/Islamic/Christian – doctrines. These religions directly contradict the fundamentals of our supposed Capitalist society. (The Disassociative Art Movement does not necessarily support Capitalism; it, however, is in opposition with Communism, a conceptual theory of government relying on ideals – figments of, ironically enough, the theologian’s imagination.) Religion in the West is the water with which Pilate washed his hands – absolving sins and sullied consciences. Therefore an ongoing theme in Disassociative Art is the death or desecration of religion shown through the use of venerated religious symbols. Iconoclastic use of said images especially works to draw mixed, abrasive reactions from the viewer like dark beads of exsanguinous sweat. The artistic reasoning behind religious icon usage is that the majority of the mainstream have these icons imbedded so deep into their subconscious via steel-scrubbing, subliminal messages, that exposure to iconoclasm will result in a worthwhile catharsis. This catharsis provokes thought, which is the main objective of the Disassociative Art Movement.

While it would seem fit for all Disassociative Art to be devoid of human emotions – in response to the nature of the mechanized human being – the complete sterility would act as a deterrent to potential viewers and participators. This was a barrier for previous art collectives such as the Surrealists, the Futurists, the Dadaists, and the Beatniks. The principal artists from these collectives created art that managed to be revolutionary, visionary, and influential; however, their greatest work lacked the emotion to connect with the majority of their necessary audience – the entire international community. If anything, these artists managed to attract and influence other artists and intellectuals – their aesthetic even attracted drug-addled purveyors of the mainstream – but they could not effectively usher in a large-scale social revolution.
That is why it is important to experiment with the use of human emotion in Disassociative Art – not to be more accessible necessarily, but to engage the beholder’s ability to empathize and sympathize. The act of empathizing/sympathizing directly attacks the beholder’s general apathy – the most harmful of mind states in this disastrous time in history.
While a piece of art’s bleak atmosphere/mood will take the audience into a state of fear and discomfort, it is important that those who experience the piece are able to form a conscious as well as subconscious connection to the work. These earlier collectives had a limited cognitive audience – which is to say that a limited number of those experiencing their work were actually intertwined/interacting with its various elements. The majority of their audiences acted as objective witnesses to the art. They could not actually form their own philosophies as derived from said works. In order to achieve the goal of mass recognition without sacrificing the subtle nuances of a masterwork, the experimentation of human emotion is a necessary tool. This is not to say that all Disassociative Art should use a full palette of human emotions, or any at all. Instead, a piece of work could consciously eradicate emotion altogether, but that artist’s other work with which he or she would utilize emotion would serve as a stark contrast – the experimentation with the extremes therefore more openly expressing, without blatantly revealing, another layer of the artist’s vision.

The first written treatises specifically discussing the subconscious were authored and presented by Sigmund Freud, who in turn invented the process of psycho-analysis as a way to reveal the forces of the human psyche – the ego, the super ego, and the id. All art acts as a form of psycho analysis, therefore it is only natural for the artist to borrow or share ideas with Freud and other movements influenced by his work regarding the subconscious - especially sexuality and dreams. It is important to note, however, that art can never fully express the subconscious, because the artist is consciously creating. This was the major flaw of the Surrealist movement, as pointed out by Sigmund Freud himself. That being said, the Disassociative Art movement does not take the work of Freud to be genuine fact as in the case of a purely scientific theory, but instead Freud’s treatises are definitive works in modern philosophy. Even in the event that there is little to no physical evidence to legitimize his theories, the ideas present are, just as they were at the time of their conception, abrasively vanguard and influential – especially those in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, The Ego and the Id, and The Interpretation of Dreams.
A common element in Disassociative Art is the usage of a dreamscape – a hallucinatory state of existence – not conscious or subconscious but a fictional middle ground akin to Burroughs’s Interzone. The aesthetic qualities of this alternate, semi-surreal dreamscape dis-associate the beholders from their perceived realities. However, the usage of Freudian imagery – violent and obscene use of sex, deviations of the human form representing orifices and phallic objects, and primal hedonistic acts – slowly reveals to those who experience the art that they have not completely shed their perceived reality, but instead are juxtaposed into an alternate realm to examine the harsh truths of their hedonistic, fickle existences. (This is not meant in judgment. We all live fickle and hedonistic lifestyles; our instinctual wants and desires are basic tools of survival. However, for those at a heightened state of mechanization, the extremity of their wants and the limits of their sympathy/empathy have hindered their ability to operate in a way so as to benefit the global community. It is then the Dis-Associate’s responsibility to spread his or her ideology through art to support humanity’s progress; not to add injury to mechanized individuals, but to free them of their digitization.)
This is not meant to harm those who experience Disassociative art; it is meant to push them into a heightened state of contemplation that allows them to feel the extremity of our chaotic and rapidly degrading society.

Nobody shall ever be forcefully subjected to Disassociative Art. Instead, the artist must use his or her artistic talent and integrity to garner positive reviews from a demographic, no matter how small, of the general population. Once this demographic notices said art, word of mouth and appropriate marketing will serve to spread Disassociative Art in a non-intrusive way. Even though Disassociative Art is bound by a similar aesthetic and common theme, the originality present in each artist’s individual work will intrigue, yet often disturb, the general population that is currently either consciously or subconsciously starving for an alternative to the droning monotony of contemporary subculture and mainstream art.

What is obscenity? Some describe obscenity as rampant use of sex, violence, and foul language. This definition of obscenity is nothing but a construct of the mechanical aristocracy/bourgeoisie. Freud states in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality that obscenity/disgust is a defense mechanism used to shield the subconscious from self-actualization. Therefore, the societal norms regarding obscenity are meant to shield the masses from recognizing their actual state of mind. It is meant to keep the masses plugged in to a mindless digital pulse emitted by the mechanical aristocracy/bourgeoisie – doled out like multi-colored pills in paper cups to the delirious so as to tranquilize and render useless their true opinions.
Obscenity is as false as a set of morals. It is a religion – it is meant to propagate a stealth force of thought police within each and every individual. They are rendered sterile, unable to fight for their beliefs or instincts or necessities because everything will soon be labeled obscene if in the slightest bit disagreeable.
Even those who do not completely object the use of violence and foul language will ask the artist, “Why is it necessary to use such ‘gratuitous’ obscenity?” If the artist were to deny him or herself the right to fully express his message in terms of the obscene and the ugly, he or she would have to relinquish his or her position in the intellectual/artistic world. He or she, in essence, would not be an artist, but a prostitute. This is not to say that an artist must always use the obscene; if an artist is compelled to express his or her ideas he or she should be able to despite social norms. In order to speak eloquently, one must not only use the “beautiful” and “intricate” words of his or her language; simple and even caustic words are integral to the creation of a formidable vocabulary. Artistic eloquence is not the denial of the “ugly” and “crude”; it is an acceptance of all things and actions, no matter how grotesque.
In addition, the use of profanity adds to the aesthetic of a piece. If one wants to create a work that communicates pain – disturbing and real – one must use all resources at hand. In a work of literature, the word selection conveys the meaning behind a piece; the sounds – whether guttural, or smooth or sharp – invoke a specific mood. Many profane words have a thudding emptiness to them that has a place in the talented author/artist’s palette. The word “cunt” for example, even free from its definition, is a painful word. It suggests a primordial, pained outcry silenced by its inferiority. With the addition of its profane meaning, it is an artist’s weapon. It is a valuable addition to the arsenal that should not be ignored based on its popular connotation.
And what is actually obscene: the masses that are unable to dissent, the constant and blatant use of torture by our government, the purging of civil rights, and the death of artistry. The obscenity lies in the way that all of these crimes go unnoticed and unresolved – blind hedonism, discriminatory skepticism fueled by those who feel they must rebel by criticizing radical philosophies, the breeding of a Spartan-like race, and the development of a generation of people ignorant to both their potential and the gravity of their actions. If obscenity is able to awaken the masses to their socially counteractive lifestyles, in the very least obscenity is a necessary evil – although I personally feel that an artist gains far more artistic integrity by baring his or her unadulterated persona rather than revealing a persona plagued by self-censorship. So, despite the general disposition to “obscenity”, it is a method by which we can further dis-associate.

While the initial goal of the Disassociative Art Movement is to expose the ugliness of the current state of society in both its physical and mental manifestation, within every artist lies the desire to create something breathtakingly beautiful and insightful. To deny the artist his or her dream would be to negate artistry entirely, therefore, effectually, the final objective of the Disassociative Art Movement is to create art reflective of natural beauty. However, natural beauty is not to be defined as bland, aesthetic pleasantry. Beauty can be characterized by a bittersweet strain like the melodic lines of an ethereally perfect work of music. Beauty can be a tugging sensation that drags one’s sentiments into a visceral, melancholy state. And while the aesthetic of this naturally beautiful art is by definition not “ugly”, it is never blissful.
Within every artist is the need to express life – the day to day emotional rush of the very act of being. And while the initial effect of Disassociative art produces a cathartic transformation, the long-lasting and long-gestating goal for the Dis-Associate is to produce a work that will fill its beholder with a passionate urgency rather than a guttural shock; a work that will bring its beholder to tears of realization rather than an uneasy fear. The last goal of the Dis-Associate is to incite hope, to return the beholder to a reality not governed by floods of draining, “detrimental”, outside influences, to return the beholder to his or her fundamental persona – the personage behind the layers of make up and static applied gratuitously by years of the psyche’s natural defense mechanisms against imminent digitization.
The Dis-Associate will find solace within him or herself, his or her body of work, and his or her contributions to society once he or she has given this last word to the beholder – the message of hope, perseverance, and raw humanity. It is with this dedication that all Disassociative art is forged; however, in contrast to the body of the Dis-Associate’s work, these final pieces of natural beauty are those that will most effectively expedite the process of dis-association.

The most important objective of art, as has been mentioned exhaustingly, is to expose the artist’s persona by way of an interactive confessional in which the artist pours his or her complete self into a work that is in turn beheld by an initially objective audience. The act of beholding entails the necessity of an audience; like an ironically coincidental cycle, the only way to capture and retain an audience is for the artist to continue to pour him or herself completely into his or her art. Therefore, an artist must never relinquish his or her identity.
We are left in solitude – especially those driven to dis-associate. We are so pained by the descent of society caused by the Mechanomorphic Man that we would rather exist in a medium of art – not because we haven’t the strength to survive, but because we feel as though we must establish a connection with the masses in order to right the wrongs, to end the isolation, to fully articulate our points, and to allow ourselves to be destroyed without physically ceasing to exist. If the evolution of Man continues, the mediums on which we project our most concealed ideas and emotions will be completely erased except for in our memories. This evolution has the ability to manipulate our collective knowledge, to murder artistry, and effectively end humanity – at least humanity in the conscious mental state.
As of this point in history, we have never faced a threat as formidable as the one with which we are now posed. The Dis-Associate is the last progressive thinker to possess the power to further the divinity of art so that it may overcome and remove the shackles placed upon Man by the society that we have unintentionally created. We must dissent, we must mobilize, and we must dis-associate now, for soon, if we remain apathetic, we will be denied all of our rights. We will be denied freedom. We will be denied happiness. We will be denied rage and dissatisfaction; and, if the call is not heeded, if ignorance prevails, if the shackles of our destructive, totalitarian society prove too tight, we will be denied the last of our essential, natural rights: the right to think.

Dis-Associate No. 1
M. Woods

© Disassociative Productions, 2007

2:03 PM  

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