MA Fine Art - Digital Portfolio
Starting point - Ideas
Following on from my BA study, I continued to examine the concept of time. Initially, my focus was primarily on how time can be represented via the photographic image while somewhat ignoring the many other avenues that could be explored.
My very first piece during my MA was this (pictured left), examining the existence of time and trying to assess if it was merely perception.
Final Masters Proposal
The dominant topic involvedin my work is temporal perception in conjunction with socio-economic theory,which adds to the conversation around how we use our time and why we use it inthat way. Also, is there such a thing as ‘wasting time’? Due to time having amonetary value placed upon it, precludes large parts of societies’ focus onindividual and societal betterment, although the definition of societalbetterment can be interpreted subjectively.
The concept for this body ofwork originated during my third year studying a BA in Photography. I wasquestioning the existence of time itself and how this was included within thestill and moving image. My fixation during this period wasn’t so much about theperception and experience of time,but more the representation of it. Myfinal piece “Time: Visualised” was well received, but didn’t delve deep enoughinto the issues at hand. By doing this, I had missed out a large proportion ofpotential research and analysis.
I have been building upon myknowledge in this field by broadening my research on the topic at hand (theconcept of time), whilst also looking at (theoretically) extraneous subjectssuch as Capitalism and technology. This has, in turn, led to me examining ourcurrent society and how it functions within the constraints of the hegemony ofCapitalism, and how this social structure bleeds into and consumes all thatwish to consume.
Time has been given theillusion of physicality via clocks, since their inception they have been usedto control the productivity and activity of societies. Some theorists haveargued that this works against what they call a ‘natural’ human work rhythm. Asnoted by E.P Thompson:
“The work pattern was one ofalternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in controlof their own working lives. (The pattern persists among some self-employed -artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students - today, andprovokes the question whether it is not a "natural" human work-rhythm).”E. P. Thompson, Past & Present, No. 38 (Dec., 1967), pp. 56-97
This extract opens up thedialectic of my questioning ‘What is a waste of time’. Quite often, it is onlylaborious activities that result in the making of money that are seen as‘productive’. The term ‘idleness’ could mean a number of things. In the eyes ofThompson it seems idleness is merely not labouring. For many, while notlabouring they could be partaking in activities that are enriching in otherways, such as reading or just spending time with family or friends (thesethings fulfil human needs but could be seen as a waste of time from acapitalist perspective)
As I had mentioned earlier,my research has taken a number of routes. I must tie up all the separatecategories I have looked at. I had started by looking primarily at physicspapers on Time and Space, to try and get a real understanding in regards to theunderpinning scientific concepts, essentially even the scientific papers ontime are philosophical as time can’t be truly measured or examined. This led toreading more into the philosophy of time, J.M.E McTaggart’s writings ‘TheUnreality of Time’ where he introduced the concepts of A-theory and B-theory,essentially metaphysical. Descartes’s theories on time and duration, which is acombination of scientific and philosophical deductions. Heidegger’s “Being andTime” which is a philosophical examination of the internal, temporal, humanexperience. Other philosophers that have and continue to inspire my work on theconcept of time and capitalism are: Hegel, Althusser, Slavoj Zizek, Le Poidevinand Spinoza.
In regards to Capitalism, myresearch will be informed by the writings of Marx, Foucault and Nietzsche (whocould be considered more pro-capitalism, although his views are mixed). I amcurrently at the stage of compiling research, comparing and contrastingtheoretical standpoints via key texts written by the aforementionedphilosophers.
After consolidating this information, I will be aiming toaddress a number of questions on the concept of time perception, time waste andthe bearing capitalism has had on these things:
What is time used well? Learning? Helping others? Doing as you please? Does something have to be done for time tomatter?
Has Capitalism redefined ourtemporal experience? Can it be remedied?
Is a waste of time whennothing is being produced? Was Capitalism a catalyst for this?
Is time wasted when anindividual is avoiding doing something else (procrastination)? Nothing is beinggained mentally, physically or materially?
Is it purely subjective? Oneperson’s waste of time could be enriching for another.
Are actions considered asfutile viewed as wasting time?
As much as I would hope toresolve a number of these questions, some are paradoxical or unanswerablewithout bringing in personal opinion as opposed to fact. The main aim is tohave the viewer ask themselves and others these questions. A piece of art witha definite question and answer makes it complete, and therefore no longerrelevant or useful, unless used in a research context.
The final outcome will be a combination of film and/or installation, the scalewill be dependant on the price of resources to effectively represent myconcept. Ideally, a set up similar to Dan Grahams “Present Continuous Past”,1974, is what I would like to achieve. Alongside this I am in the process ofcreating a video piece “Mono-repetitive repetitions” this will be anexamination into the ‘non-time’ we spend during a typical day, I’m aiming tofind aesthetic within the banal whilst also creating an uncomfortableexperience for the viewer. So watching it can be seen as a waste of time whilewatching me wasting time. There are aconsiderable number of artists that look at Time as a concept, as well asCapitalism, but these have been portrayed as separate issues. Takahiro Ueda (aninterdisciplinary, contemporary conceptual artist) has been looking at Time ina scientific manner, whilst also making reference to our different perceptionsof time by constructing clocks made with different kinds of quartz, as torepresent how we all have an individual temporal experience. Another artist ofinterest is Amy Stacey Curtis, specialising in interactive installation art ona broad array of issues ranging from ‘Movement’ (2002) to ‘Memory’ (2016), shehas had her own solo biennale nine times. Her most poignant exhibition, to me,was ‘Time’ (2010). It included a number of activities for viewers, includingunravelling a large crocheted sheet and placing it into a tub, undoing hours ofwork Curtis had spent creating it.
Update to final outcome:
I have decided to refine myfirst outcome and use just one screen, in one room, with one camera and a 30second delay. There will be a wall on one side with 3 clocks lined up, oneclock will be a standard, untampered with clock, the second clock will be blankwith nothing but the red second hand and the third will be a clock that hasbeen disassembled to its most simple form.
Ideas to add would be:
A screen of glass betweenthe screen/camera and the viewer.
A view of yourself doingsomething you wouldn’t normally see yourself doing.
Past in the Present. Neverto be the Future.
Technology has been a formof “distracted reception” – apperception.
Film and cinema have beenthe dominant distractions for the past 60-80 years. The rise of the internetand the smart phone has led to distractions being constantly accessible.
We follow ‘industrial time’.The glow from a smartphone or a television screen has become our new dictator,in control of what we do and when we do it (or even when we sleep and wake)
Capitalism is a thief oftime. Only feeds our want for material things while making us believe we needthem. Smartphones and technology have aided capitalist agendas; by making sureall of the lower level workers are on-call all the time, by a manager thathears of a problem and then delegates. But, the technology used for this is nowutilised for work and pleasure, not only do we ‘waste time’, socialise with,purchase items with and keep track of day to day responsibilities with smartphones, we’re essentially commanded by them too.
The purpose of the video “Mono-repetitive repetitions” is an exploration into the amount of ‘wasted’ non-timeI and many others experience. While trying to create work to represent an arrayof common experiences, regarding time, moments that would be described aschrono-stasis and chrono-celeris, I discovered a lot of these experiences wereduring what I would describe as non-moments, moments of little productivity orprocrastination. This also leads to the question “Are these moments ‘wastes’ oftime? If so, what is an effective use of time?
Is a productive use of time working 9-5? In a capitalistsociety, yes, but from a humanistic, socialist point of view, no. Advancementsin technology have led to a higher need/want for things, these things allowpeople to procrastinate far more frequently, due to all things being accessibleat all times. Capitalism wants the individual to be accessible and on duty 24hours of the day while feeding them with unnecessary temptations. To work, produceand consume, the time spent doing ‘nothing’ has been subsumed by consumption.Capitalism makes the individual question what they should be doing with theirown time. Time not spent making money would be considered non-time (value ofnon work labor production time).
What is time used well? Learning? Helping others? Doing asyou please? Does something have to be done for time to matter?
Is a waste of time when nothing is being produced? Whenavoiding doing something else? Nothing is being gained mentally, physically ormaterially? Is it purely subjective? One person’s waste of time could beenriching for another.
Is there a common feeling of guilt in regards to wastingtime?
Futile actions are essentially the only ‘non-time’
The intent of the action is also a contributing factor as towhether it is a non-time or a time of productivity or self gratification.
This concept is somewhat paradoxical. If someoneis using their time in a non productive manner but enjoy it, it’s not a wasteof time. Wasting time isn’t wasting time if the purpose was to waste time.
“The Symbiotic Relationship betweenthe Avant-Garde and Conceptual Art”
“Conceptual art, more than allprevious types of art, questions the fundamental nature of art. Unhappily, thequestion is strictly limited to the exclusive domain of fine art. There isstill potential of it enabling an examination of all that surrounds art, but inreality, conceptual artists are dedicated onlyto exploring avant-garde aesthetic problems.” (Seth Siegelaub, L’art conceptual, 1973)
In this essay,I will be exploring the reciprocally productive relationship of conceptual artand the Avant-Garde. I will be doing this through the lens of various artistssuch as Joseph Kosuth, Sol Lewitt and John Baldessari, and theorists such asPeter Bürger, Nicholas Bourriaud and John Roberts. Also, this text will bedialectically examining how the bond between conceptual art and the Avant-Gardewas both evolutionary and detrimental to classical Avant-Gardiste values,succeeding in some instances to bring art into the praxis of life but failingin others. So, how did conceptual art contribute to the Avant-Garde and did itmaintain Avant-Gardiste values?
ByAvant-Gardiste values I refer to a combination of Bürgerian and generaldefinitions of avant-garde, through an attempted negation of autonomous,bourgeois dominated, aesthetically driven artworks that fall in line the idealsof the ‘institution’ of art, consequently bringing art into the ‘praxis oflife’. While also endeavouring to push the boundaries of the definition of artitself, through self-criticism and experimental practice.
My feeling whenreading Peter Burger’s ‘Theory of the Avant-Garde’ in regards to Burgersopinion on conceptual art and the Avant Garde, is that there appears to be asense of ‘quiet dismissiveness’. Making it difficult to truly consolidate thetwo things through the lens of Burger.
Conceptual art,the idea of ‘idea as art’, is one of the later developments in regards to‘styles’ or ‘formats’ within the Avant-Garde movement, before the emergence ofthe Neo-Avant-Garde and Post-Modernism (highly inclusive of Conceptual Art)which in theory, albeit unintentionally, led to overall institutionalisation ofAvant-Garde works as Bürger addresses “the neo-avant-garde institutionalizesthe avant-garde as art thus negatesgenuinely avant-gardiste intentions” (pg.58). Although the term ‘ConceptualArt’ wasn’t officially coined until the 1960s, there would be no (or verylittle) discourse in relation to it without Duchamp’s ready-made artworks suchas ‘Bottle Rack’ (1914) and the infamous ‘Fountain’(1917), as much as Duchamp wasn’t referred to as a conceptual artist, certainsimilarities can definitely be drawn between his ready-mades and conceptualart. In analogical terms, Duchamp was to Conceptual art what Einstein was tothe atomic bomb. His innovative action of pulling away from paint and sculpturebased practice and introducing an object not made by his own hand, wasconducive to how art itself and ideas on authorship and production haveprogressed up until the modern day.
Chapter One – The Concept as Art
Conceptual artarose through what could be defined as ‘artistic relational dialectics’ more sothan ‘dialectic materialism’ (Marxist terminology) which was progressionthrough economic and materialistic reasoning, by the time artists such asJoseph Kosuth and Sol Lewitt had addressed conceptual art as conceptual art,the issues Marx had addressed with his theory were somewhat outdated, as wasHegel’s theory of ‘dialectical idealism’. I believe the latter to have morecorrespondence to conceptual art due to its foundations regarding the humanmind, idea over the material or laborious practice.
Arts focusmoving away from form, technical ability and what would be classically regardedas artistic materials (paint and sculpture), does relate to ‘dialecticmaterialism’ but due to the removal and absence of these things as opposed tothe presence, art evolved from ‘matter over mind’ to ‘mind over matter’. Roberts(2007) valorizes this point “By not painting (and also by not modelling orcarving) the artist’s hand is able to act on intellectual decisions in aqualitatively different kind of way. The hand moves not in response to sensuousrepresentation of an external (or internal) object, but in response to theexecution and elaboration of a conceptual schema” (pg.24), importance had been,in a sense, transferred from artistic beauty to artisticintelligence, cognition over the kinaesthetic.
Due to theseadvancements in thinking over doing, movements such as Neo-dada and Nouveau réalismecame to fruition, adopting these modes of thought most drastically were the artgroup ‘Fluxus’. This group of artistsembraced the rise of new, unorthodox artistic practices, while also workingwithin the realms of Burger’s theory of the avant-garde, this is documented inGeorge Maciunas’s ‘Fluxus Manifesto’(1963), where he proclaims their aims are to “Purge the world of bourgeoissickness” and also “Promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promoteliving art, anti-art, promote non art reality to be grasped by all peoples, notonly critics, dilettantes and professionals” which makes it surprising to methat Burger made no mention of them in his book, considering their theoreticalsynonymy with his analysis of the avant-garde. The works of Fluxus wereprimarily to, in a sense ‘break the system’ of the institution. It differedfrom all previous types of institutional arts such as the sacral, courtly andbourgeois due to the function, production and reception being collective acrossthe board. Bringing in elements of Productivist and Duchampian theory ofeveryday objects, whilst also creating performance art or ‘Happenings’ that hada level of audience participation, they truly brought art and the praxis oflife together.
Chapter Two – Dematerialisation, ‘Un-aesthetics’ and Language
"During the 1960's, theanti-intellectual, emotional/intuitive processes of art-making characteristicof the last two decades have begun to give way to an ultra-conceptual art thatemphasizes the thinking process almost exclusively. As more and more work isdesigned in the studio but executed elsewhere by professional craftsmen, as theobject becomes merely the end product, a number of artists are losing interestin the physical evolution of the work of art. The studio is again becoming astudy. Such a trend appears to be provoking a profound dematerialization ofart, especially of art as object, and if it continues to prevail, it may resultin the objects becoming wholly obsolete.” Lucy Lippard, 1968
Even before ‘Fluxus’, artists such as Yves Klein were already championing thedematerialisation of artwork with pieces such as “The Void” (1958) where he went so far as to say his paintings wereinvisible (some would believe this was taking art itself to the zero degree),this could be seen as a direct attack on the institution’s need for materialobjects and their modes of displaying them. This kind of art was inconsumable,removing (at least temporarily) the bourgeois’ seemingly limitless power of attainabilityof physical artworks. He had done this even before the post-aesthetic movement,a kind of pre-post-aesthetic, before post-aestheticism. However, Klein had alsocreated many physical artworks, most famously his blue monochromatic paintings,not a dematerialisation but more of a de-aestheticisation, as much as they werea pastiche of earlier 20th century monochromes by Malevich or evenReinhardt, they were well received, but in turn, taken in by the institution.
“Some oldmodels of art appear to return independently, as with the various reinventionsof monochrome painting in the 1950s and 1960s (Robert Rauschenberg, EllsworthKelly, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman andso on). Other old models are combined in apparent contradiction, as when in theearly 1960s artists like Dan Flavin and Carl Andre draw on such diverseprecedents as Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Rodchenko andKurt Schwitters, or when Donald Judd contrives an almost Borgesian array ofprecursors in his 1965 manifesto “Specific Objects”. Paradoxically, at thiscrux of the postwar period, ambitious art is marked by an expansion ofhistorical allusion as well as by a reduction of actual content” (Hal Foster,2001)
Another artistto take on the un-aesthetic, anti-mimetic approach, attempting to breakpainting down to its most organic form was Frank Stella, with his dichromatic, linedpaintings, minimalist in essence, modernist in theory. But for Greenberg,Stella’s paintings may have taken his theory and prediction of Modernistpainting to its’ utmost reduction, asserting that: “Painting…has a relatively long way to go before beingreduced to its viable essence” (Greenberg, 1955), rendering his definition mootvery quickly. Stella then pushed the boundaries of painting, most notably withhow they were displayed, instead of using the orthodox rectangular or squarecanvas, which restricted form; he adopted ‘polygonical’ shaped canvasses. Although,by doing this he fell back into the ‘aesthetic’, ‘post painterly abstract’,consumable realm of art, something conceptual artists were criticising andwanted to move away from, due to the encompassing autonomy carried over fromminimalism.
The canoniccollaboration of artists forming ‘Art & Language’ wanted to truly bringconceptual art to the forefront of artistic progress, and did so, in a veryclassically avant-garde style. Their work was based on conversation, socialpractice and text and the ever increasing importance of language, challengingthe aesthetic modes of art that were dominant in the 60s, notably a polemic onthe writings of Greenberg and Fried. They were the first to attempt to trulyseparate the visual from the cognitive, possibly the most avant-garde of theavant-garde. It was in the first issue of ‘Art-Language’ that Sol Lewittpublished his ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’, albeit after his ‘Paragraphs onConceptual Art’ (1967), which was one of the first succinct, semi-descriptivemanifesto-esque writings on conceptual art as a distinct movement (excludinghis own previous article), a kind of bullet pointed, referential guide toconceptual art and his thinking behind it. In this writing he postulates theimportance of concept over physicality, the unimportance of medium “Since noform is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from anexpression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.” (SolLewitt, 1967) and also differentiates idea and concept, he defines the idea asthe conduit of the concept. The first four sentences of this piece also, in asense, condemn the ability of formal art to allow progression, due to themfollowing stringent, rational formalistic techniques that would only lead to arepetition of judgements, and not experimenting as a conceptual artist might.
“1.Conceptualartists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions thatlogic cannot reach.
2. Rationaljudgements repeat rational judgements.
3. Irrationaljudgements lead to new experience.
4. Formal artis essentially rational.” (Sol Lewitt, 1967)
Joseph Kosuth,also involved in Art & Language’s discourse, created artworks that combinedtext and physicality such as ‘One and Three Chairs’ (1965) introducing anequalisation in regards to the image, text and physical object by combining thesign, signifier and signified into one body of work. Not to mention usingready-made, text and photography inthe same piece, the latter two being contentious mediums at the time. Thispiece strongly reified conceptual art’s contribution to the avant-garde, usingnew methods, asking new questions whilst disregarding the autonomous influenceof the institution.
Like Kosuth,John Baldessari embraced the use of text in place of painterly mimeticism, mostnotably in ‘What Is Painting’ (1968) he went one step further by removing hisown physical labour and hiring a professional sign painter to write a quote hehad found in a book. This would have lead to the speculation over the topic ofauthorship, along with the Marxist argument of material and immaterial labour,this being the latter of the two.
Chapter Three – Institutional Critique
“Themethodological significance of the category 'self-criticism' is that for socialsubsystems also, it indicates the condition of the possibility of 'objectiveunderstanding' of past stages of development. Applied to art, this means thatonly when art enters the stage of self-criticism does the 'objectiveunderstanding' of past periods of the development of art become possible.”(Peter Burger, 1984) pg.22
Burger’s view onself-criticism was that for art to fully understand itself, it had to criticiseitself, a somewhat self-reflexive notion. His assertion seems to limit thisunderstanding to that of past periods, understanding artistic movementssomewhat posthumously.
“The bureaucracywill subsume even the most persistent iconoclasm unless we begin to act on therealization that its real source of control lies in our very concept of our own‘private’ individual selves.” (Mel Ramsden, 1975)
Mel Ramsden wasthe first to use the term ‘institutional critique’ in “On Practice” (1975)published by ‘The Fox’ which was the American counterpart of Art &Language. In this, he insists that the relentless commodification of all kindsof art, including conceptual art, which had initially been seen asinconsumable, how can an art dealer or gallery ‘own an idea’? It turned outthat the institution had in fact, managed to consume and commodify it. DanielBuren is a perfect example of the conceptual artist, originally critiquing theinstitution with his art to then ‘sell out’ and merge with the institutionwhile also claiming to simultaneously critique and co-operate.
It was theprogression and synthesis of conceptual art and avant-gardiste thinking thatled to institutional critique as an art form. Artists lost their power in theart market as it was controlled by the people buying the art, not the peopleappreciating it. This in turn would lead to stagnation in artistic progression,because art should be inspired by artists, not financial incentives offered bythe ruling class of the bourgeois. Removing the impact of intentionallysocially activist, political art through the institutions dilution, control andcommodification of artistic practice.
So, inconclusion, how did conceptual art contribute to the avant-garde? And did itmaintain avant-gardiste values? The notion of conceptual art in the late 1960sthrough to the late 1970s, went hand in hand with fundamental avant-gardistethinking, avant-garde conceptual art was an attempt to break free from theconstraints of the bourgeois dominant gallery setting as well as theinstitutional dictatorial practice of formalist, painterly aestheticism.
In terms ofaesthetic modes of practice and acceptance of new mediums being used as art, overallconceptual art was successful, bringing text, object and photography into thepublic eye as a fine art practice.
However, itcould be argued that this was not the outcome achieved; the power of theinstitution subsumed all that opposed it, and incorporated the works into itsown systems of display and commodification.
Conceptual arthas, in turn, evolved to become exactly what it set out to eradicate. In orderto gain true admiration and attention (needed for any kind of social change),it had to appeal to people outside of the artistic realm as well as theartists, dilettantes and critics withinit. Consequently, and moreover tragically, these confines of accessibility havemade this a sad impossibility.
Bourriaud, Nicolas – ‘The Radicant’ – ISBN 978-1-933128-42-9,Lukas & Sternberg, New York (2009)
Buchloh, Benjamin - Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From theAesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions - October, Vol. 55(Winter, 1990), pp. 105-143
Burger, Peter – ‘Theory of the Avant-Garde’ – ISBN978-0-8166-1068-6 (pbk), University of Minnesota Press (1984)
Foster, Hal – ‘The Return of the Real:The Avant-Garde at theEnd of the Century’ – ISBN 0-262-56107-7 (pb), MIT( 2001)
Greenberg, Clement – ‘Art and Culture: Critical Essays’ -ISBN 0-8070-6681-8 (pbk), (1961)
Greenberg, Clement, “’American-Type’Painting” (1955,1958) in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: BeaconPress, 1961), 208-229.Leger, Marc – ‘The Idea of the Avant Garde andWhat it means today’ – ISBN 978-07190-96914, Manchester University Press (2014)
Lewitt, Sol – ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ – Art- Language,1969
Lippard, Lucy - Art International, 12:2 (February 1968), pp.31-36. (1967)
Lippard, Lucy R. Six Years: the Dematerialization of the ArtObject from 1966 to 1972; A Cross-Reference Book of Information on SomeEsthetic Boundaries. New York: Praeger, 1973.
Ramsden, Mel, “On Practice,” The Fox, vol. 1 (1975), 66, 83.
Roberts, John – ‘Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde’ –ISBN 978-1-78168-913-4 (paperback), Verso (2015)
Roberts, John – ‘The Intangibilities of Form: Skill andDeskilling in Art After the Readymade’ –– ISBN 978-1-84467-163-2, Verso (2007)
Wood, Paul – ‘Conceptual Art’ – ISBN1-85437-385-4, Tate Publishing (2002)