Oblique & Otherwise: An overview of the usefulness of doubt (Part 9)


Scratching in the dirt and yet we have only scratched the surface, conscious that throughout I’ve had to make decisions about the path we have taken to get here, mindful of the brief time we had to play which kept us from examining doubt and uncertainty in other work. I’m thinking of Bas Jan Ader and where his art might stand in relation to risk and failure or how in fighting the moment you succumb to gravity – accepting it might have its tactics of uncertainty. And how the texture of doubt in Ader’s work like Fall II where he rides a bicycle into an Amsterdam canal might be a good lens for looking at Simon Starling’s Autoxylopyrocycloboros. Or Cady Noland’s act of disavowing her artworks or refusing to work with galleries, and what that might bring into question.69 I’m also thinking particularly of Deller’s tactics in not wanting We’re Here Because We’re Here to be seen as a work of art at its performance, but not being worried about it being identified with him or as an artwork later, or indeed his bombed-out car not being viewed as a work of art in the Imperial War Museum.70

Does Walt Whitman’s constant revision of poems in his Leaves of Grass collection lead to a lack of real authority and perhaps create an open system of possibility, a living document? Is this related to The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, a work created by Douglas Davis? Could this be another possibility in creating uncertainty? Where does Andy Warhol’s Blue Door stand when he says “I like the door, because you go in and out and you never get anywhere.”71 We just walked around that free-standing door as well as many others. We can say we got somewhere. We started with a roll of the dice as if in a board game and normally you don’t land on every square when you play. We have just finished the first play of the game. I’m not sure if we have won but we know there are other possibilities out there, and it’s worth playing again. It is just the beginning of a dialogue.

Can we converse about the relationship of uncertainty in play, and in particular meaningful play, and games? We have examined artworks as an open system. But we still need to discuss whether all artworks are open systems and, if so, to what extent. Is Eco’s ‘unhinging’ a way of creating an open system for collaborators to create platforms of engagement? Is the duckrabbit enough of a paradox and visual ambiguity that we can use it as a shorthand to explain how doubt and uncertainty might work in less temporal works?

We might find some answer in what David Cross emailed to me about his use of a similar situation.

‘As an artist I have collaborated to make context-specific installations that critically engaged with particular situations and social moments. Starting from a position that ‘knowledge’ can be produced through the encounter of different subject positions and social groups (with class interests that can be in tension or conflict), I have focused on public places and conventional interactions which structure the relationship between them. What we are able to ‘know’ is a question of agency and power. Through art projects, I have tried to draw out the tensions underlying a situation by presenting paradox in aesthetic form, aiming to engage people beyond passive spectatorship, towards more active social agency. Hopefully, the aesthetic form might attract people’s attention, and maybe offer them some reward for the work of engaging with the paradox. Borrowing from the practice of ‘Socratic questioning’, if a paradox is well poised, then engaging with it should somehow mobilize rather than stabilize one’s thought processes.’72 Could we talk about that tactic as creating a duckrabbit desire?

My coffee is quickly growing cold. Maybe when I leave the cottage and get back to Rhenigidale clachan I’ll draw a hot bath, light some candles and incense to warm up and think about it? It’s not like I’m under deadline anytime soon.

Strong work, original work, doesn’t come through a menu or other set of established rules. Did I find myself agreeing with Lyotard? Lyotard asserts ‘Art is not a genre defined in terms of an end (the pleasure of the addressee), and still less is it a game whose rules have to be discovered; it accomplishes an ontological task, that is, a ‘chronological task.’73 That could be extended to have Lyotard asking, ‘Should art have rules? If there are rules one could follow does following them create art or once the rules are known is that something else?’ If I seem to contradict myself it is because of the subtleties between the definitions of rules, frameworks, recipes, and matrixes. The fact is, there are tools and whether it’s a platitude, truism, or cliché it is a poor craftsman who blames the tools. Besides, we also happen to be the ones who make those tools. We make new tools precisely because you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created them.74


69 Cady Noland has gained a reputation for the difficulty in exhibiting her works or working with curators, auctioneers, and interviewer’s. One exhibit in 2014 came with a disclaimer: “Because Ms. Noland have [has] not been involved with the chain of provenance with many of my [her] pieces there are more situations like this show which place demands on her time and the artist’s attention to ensure proper presentation of her artwork (including its representation in photographs), than she has time or capacity to be involved with. She reserves her attention for projects of her own choosing and declined to be involved in this exhibition. The artist, or C.N., hasn’t given her approval or blessing to this show.” (Is Cady Noland More Difficult to Work With Than Richard Prince?) And though it was the only interview Noland had given in 24 years, Noland refused to approve the chapter in 33 Artists in 3 Acts, requesting the author Sarah Thornton note, “would like it to be known that she has not approved.” (Is Cady Noland More Difficult to Work With Than Richard Prince?)

70 (Deller, Jeremy; ‘Situations Bristol’) and Deller, Jeremy 2017, pers. comm., 10 Jan.

71 Andy Warhol’s Circa 1780 Door from His Personal Collection

72 Cross, David 2017, pers. comm., 19 Jan.

73 The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (pg 88)

74 ‘Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.’ is attributed to Albert Einstein but it has become unhinged from its origin and brought into the public domain by the proliferation of image-based memes on the internet.

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