Saturday, 6 March 2010

Nothing Lasts Forever

Sometime last year I was asked by a colleague to write a short piece to accompany an exhibition she was curating. The exhibition, Not Here Not Now, reflected perfectly everything that winds me up most about contemporary art. It was a vacuous concept that thought itself to be cleverer than it actually was, an empty idea based around the mistaken premise that the title was a double negative, and the exhibition itself contained the kind of work that makes audiences think 'well, I don't get it, so it must be clever', when in fact there is simply nothing to get. So I responded by writing the following piece, intentionally taking a psuedo-philosophical stance, gently mocking myself whilst heartlessly ripping to shreds my colleagues lazily thought through 'concept'. After writing it, and showing it to a couple of friends (who found it hugely entertaining), I decided against presenting it to my colleague for fear of upsetting her, and so it remained unpublished, lying forgotten on my laptop, until now. I do not publish it here to be cruel to my (now ex-) colleague, I publish it as I feel it adds something to the slowly gathering self portrait emerging from this blog.

To posit a proposition is to put forward an idea. To negate a proposition is to step backward, not merely to question but to deny. It is to remove oneself with absolute certainty from the idea being propounded. To negate, it is not enough to question; the idea must be destroyed in a regenerative act of annihilation. There must be a clear cry of No! In order to destroy there must be a thing to destroy. There can be no negative without its corresponding positive; something needs to be to be taken away from. There is no Nothingness without Being.

The double negative does something else. If we take one negation from another we are not, as we may expect, left with a bigger cry of No! Curiously, we find ourselves (as in the case of -2 minus -2) with a double dose of zero. The double negative has the power to create nothing from less than nothing.

With Not Here Not Now we are asked to consider the temporality of an event. The works on display exist only in the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition. The title thrusts us unswervingly to the obvious response of Where?and When? If a work does not exist Here and Now, in my present, how am I to witness it? I could be experiencing a memory, or I may be viewing a mediation, either way these are not the works themselves and are anyway confined to the past. I have to be Here and Now to see and to feel, but no thing can exist in an instant. To exist implies a History. There is no Being without Time. Not Here Not Now is not a double negative, it is but a paradox.

The natural state of all things is to move inexorably toward higher entropy. Things fall apart. All systems break down to smaller and smaller component parts. All is decay. Consciousness is temporary. Awareness is fleeting. The universe contains a finite amount of matter, but the universe itself is infinite. Divide any finite number by infinity and the result is as close to zero as to make little difference. The only thing that lasts forever is Nothing.

Piercing the Membrane – Freedom and How to Cope With It

The veneer of civility holding society together is of a very thin membrane, one that is all too easily pierced, as anyone who has driven a car will recognise. We all know there are rules of the road, and we acknowledge they are there for a reason, and mostly we willingly follow them. But there are times when the rules break down, and our true, ugly animalist nature is revealed.

Imagine driving along a motorway. You see a sign stating there has been an accident and two of the three lanes will close in eight hundred yards. That’s all it takes. That’s all we need for the civilised veneer to disappear. We are suddenly rivals jostling for position, competing for space, stating our individual claim. The ego surges to the surface. I am more important than you. I must go first. The rules don’t apply to me for I am above them. In fact the rules only exist so that by breaking them I will be ahead of the game. Like the legendary captain in William Burroughs’ short story who steals a dress and a wig when his ship starts to sink and marches to the lifeboats shouting ‘women and children first’, we bend the rules to our own unique advantage.

Somewhere else this is wonderfully apparent is the Dartford Crossing. The road widens to ten, maybe twelve lanes for the toll booths where we all diligently queue, taking our civilised turn to expend capital for the privilege of travelling from one side of the Thames to the other. It’s on the other side of the booths, after we have spent our money that the fun happens. The road has to go back from ten or twelve lanes to it’s normal three, and it does this in maybe two or three hundred yards, but, and this is the important bit, there are no road markings telling us which way to go. For a couple of hundred metres we see freedom, and we panic. Normally careful and considerate drivers suddenly forget everything they were taught and raw instinct kicks in. We push our right foot down and race dangerously for the limited space. Three hundred yards of anarchy - a rare opportunity to be responsible for our own actions - and we don’t know how to deal with it. If it wasn’t so funny…it’d be a tragedy. If it wasn’t so tragic…it’d be hilarious.