There is something of being unhinged, or dislodged, in what David Greig mentioned in one of our exchanges about how he uses fragmentation: ‘I use fragmentation a lot. So I create a very secure logical story and then I fragment it. I tell it in the wrong order, for example. This gives the audience the sense that there is a story – so they feel secure – but they can’t quite piece it together – and so it creates a tension. They have to work.’75 This is purposeful unhinging to create doubt. How short or how expansive does the sense of time need to be in his work or the digestion of a duckrabbit?
Where the relationship between security and insecurity where uncertainty is concerned, creatives are divided. Boris Achour replied to my question about that relationship saying: ‘Not feeling secure, as an artist or as a viewer, means to me that I want and need to be surprised by the art I do or see. That is something very simple but quite rare to achieve as an artist (to me, at least) and quite rare to meet as a spectator.’76 But that might be different than what David Greig said later in conversation: ‘I don’t like people to feel doubt or uncertainly when they watch my work. I like them to feel secure. I am telling them a story. The story will have a logic and an inner consistency. They will be able to feel like they are in ‘good hands’ of a story teller. Once people feel secure you can then take them into very dark, uncertain places. You can offer ideas and images that are ‘beyond the pale’ in normal life.’77 Both those ideas have similarities but different textures that rub against each other a little. Since both creatives are storytellers, there isn’t a difference in medium that justifies that discrepancy. Those statements are similar enough that they look like they just boil down to timing. Where does all the temporality live with the public?
Even though it was hinted at within the concepts of affective labor, the question format itself, and in the prevalence of upspeak users, where does this doubt, uncertainty, and general unknowing fit within the tradition of feminist critique? We didn’t land on those squares doing our play, but that isn’t to say they weren’t on the board.78 The Interrobang might also be on this board sitting with its emphatic ambiguity.79 Choices and decisions had to be made during this play. And is Heidegger one of our players, or involved in this dialogue? Perhaps something like his thoughts on choice and decision are worth mentioning here. What is decision at all? In my eyes it certainly isn’t choice. Choosing always involves only what is pre-given and can be taken or rejected. Decision here means grounding and creating, disposing in advance and beyond oneself.’80 That idea could very well sit within this discussion. All those squares left unplayed this time, because of time. And like many artists in a social engagement project, we are without the benefit of this being a repeatable event.
Let’s take a final look at a section of the abstract for the Pleasure of Doubt conference.
Irritation, uncertainty, disbelief; distrust, skepticism, wariness – the spectrum of doubt is rich and diverse. But traditionally, philosophy and humanistic scholars tend to turn their back on it… To capture this transformative power, one has to look beyond purely intellectual changes – which is what our conference wants to do. Doubt can only exert its force because it engages the doubting subject as a whole: not just on the level of concepts and beliefs, but also on the aesthetic level of feeling and perception. The starting point of doubt is emotional, taking hold not only of the mind but also of the feeling and perceiving body. Doubt, in short, is not just a state of mind: it is a complex experience with irreducible aesthetic dimensions.81
The phrase ‘irreducible aesthetic dimensions’ has an elemental sound to it, as if doubt and uncertainty are atoms on the periodic chart of creative elements alongside beauty, sublime, dumpy or dainty; as if doubt truly has a primal nature that exists within human experience. Whether creatives use or reduce it in the production of work, or induce it in others, or experience it along with the public, it is a quality that is part of their toolbox. And like the bombed-out car, doubt has as many stories as those who experience it.
Should we conclude that what has transpired is unteachable and unlearnable? Or is it worth the time to start giving these tactics a try within contemporary art practice? Now that we know how these works could be constructed and the rules involved, is there any longer a reason to create work like these within contemporary art? Can we be certain of ways to produce uncertainty? Knowing that we can use tactics and rules like Eco’s ‘unhinging,’ pulling a card from the Oblique Strategies deck, or issuing surprise through more covert approach like Deller’s, might result in a paradox, but one that we can live with and use as a tool in the toolbox. Or is this analysis its own undoing, like asking: are you firing me? Is this a date? Are you breaking up with me? And beyond the undoing question, what is the value of not knowing? In the end, is it worth just not knowing?
75 Greig, David 2017, pers. comm., 25 Jan.
76 Achour, Boris 2017, pers. comm., 16 Jan.
77 Greig, David 2017, pers. comm., 25 Jan.
78 ‘Rachel Jones also considers what might constitute an ethics of not knowing, and calls on us to recognise its wider social and political resonance. Her essay [On the Value of Not Knowing: Wonder, Beginning Again and Letting Be] celebrates the transformative potential of not knowing, but hints at a darker side, citing examples where it has been deployed within “epistemologies of ignorance” to support and perpetuate unjust social structures such as those based on sexism or racism. Historically, even the knowing subject has traditionally been gendered as male, thus aligning not knowing and its negative connotations with the other, female.’ On Not Knowing (pg 12-13)
79 The interrobang (‽) conceived as punctuation in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter (often represented by ?! or !?), is a punctuation mark that functions as both the question mark and the exclamation point.
80 Heidegger, Martin, Contributions to Philosophy (pg 69)