Substance/Absence: a talk
New England Art Museum , Armidale, April 2006
Artists talking about their artwork seem to have become almost more important than the artwork itself. I find it a questionable custom. It is difficult for me to talk about the art I make. I can describe the process, or how it feels to make a specific work. But that is very different from telling what the work is about after completing it. The artwork is the testimony of what I am about as an artist. The intentions that underscore the work are irrelevant.
Also I feel that anything I say or write about the work is an over-simplification, and might limit the experience of the viewer. At the same time, I am aware that the words I use might have more weight than the images they are about. On top of this there is always the effort to talk about the artwork and at the same time retain its ambiguity.
Substance – Absence:
I Have been exploring different aspect of opposites, such as the concept concave/convex. What intrigues me is that the very same line that creates concave automatically creates convex; two opposites, each existing by virtue of the other.
If you are to ask me why I am intrigued by the concept, I don’t have a straight forward answer. I can talk about the sad fact that one person’s pain is another’s happiness; that every moment has at least two historical turning points. I think back to the Warsaw ghetto. An old man in wheel chair was thrown from a third floor window to the cheers of the German soldiers and the screams of the Jews in the streets.
Picasso once said, “an artist does not paste ideas onto a canvas”. I can only agree with him. The artwork might be a result of certain pattern of thought or concerns, but when in the process of making my artworks, i follow an urge, and don’t try to find out why, or what does it mean.
I do have underling objectives when painting. Among them is to unsettle the belief that human share a common perspective.
Yet, I don’t set out to be controversial, or to create an aura of fear.
I use ordinary situations and ordinary elements. The character of the artwork is defined upon viewing. For some viewers the art works resonate with familiarity and is comfortable, while others feel alienated and frightened. There might be correct and incorrect interpretations of an artwork, but I am more concerned with getting the viewer to engage with the work rather than articulate meaning.
How we engage with an image is an interesting question. Some will read an artwork as biographical while other will look for the universal symbol.
The meaning a symbol carries goes beyond it actual (physical/real) existence, and it is understood according to its status in a given culture (culture dependent). To decipher a symbol we need to consider all the forms and conceptual elements of the artwork. The symbol does not have only one dimension, and can be interpreted in various ways, and will always retain a part of itself that is not completely decoded.
The most important principal is that the viewer can relate to the interpretation, to its cultural base. Otherwise there is always a danger of adopting an alien cultural interpretation which does not resonate with the viewer.
When i make my art, i don’t consider the various symbolic implications of an object, a form or a colour i use. For example – the use of a rope emerged as a result of exploring children games. It came from my experience as a child – skipping rope. However i did not use it literary to depict children game, but turn it into a tool to explore other aesthetic interests and conceptual concerns. Such as creating an impossible situation of a rope, which is looped inside the ground. While painting, the rope was stripped of any associations or meanings. In my imagination, it became an assembly of colours, forms and texture.
I chose the example of the rope because of the various symbolic interpretations i have encountered. As i already said, for me it represented a skipping rope. Feedback i received ranged from “a life line”, “committing suicide” the doll and rope together – war (what is left after). – the absence of its owner – the child. Also - “umbilical cord”
To my surprise in the Penguin dictionary of symbols, there are many cultural interpretations of a “rope”. in the broad sense, they represent a desire to ascend. When knotted - they symbolize a bond of sort and possess magical properties. In ancient Egypt – a knotted rope denotes an individual being. The Greeks saw it as a symbol of punishment whereas the African witch doctors use ropes as instruments of magic. Central American civilizations regarded it as a symbol of divinity. In Mayan and Mexican art ropes hanging from the sky represent divine semen falling from heaven. Some textile designers continue the mayan tradition and symbolize rain as ropes.
Other bury their dead with ropes to be used to fight off wild animals.
In Japan a rope is set in Shinto temples to keep out evil spirits and stop misfortune affecting the place. In the Koran ropes a symbols of ascent which grace alone can make.
Well, for me the rope now means a childhood relic. Tomorrow, who knows, it might become a cloth line.
Water. In my current work i explore the way of water. i know that water symbolizes life and regeneration, and i am also familiar with its cabalistic interpretation. The Penguin dictionary of symbols dedicates 8 pages to the symbolism of water. Nations go to war over water. however, my concerns are purely aesthetic. I paint the traces it leaves over sand. i like the different between wet and dry stones and am intrigued by reflections - I think of water not only as the surface which mirrors a world, but also a layer separating worlds.
As the artwork evolves, it takes a life of its own, and the objects become a symbolic vocabulary, which in turn becomes a symbolic language. I try not to engage with the symbolic interpretation of my artwork, mainly because i don’t like to lock in meaning. The symbolic meaning is only one aspect of the total experience. we don’t always have the vocabulary to read this language. therefore to have a genuine meaningful experience, initially, we need to have a personal engagement with it.
Moment – Wislawa Szymborska
It’s nine-thirty local time.
Everything’s in its place and in polite agreement.
In the valley a little brook cast as a little brook.
A path in the role of a path from always to ever.
Woods disguised as woods alive without end,
and above them birds in flight play birds in flight.
This moment reigns as far as the eye can reach.
One of those earthly moments
invited to linger.
Talking about the work is a process in progress – a continuum of thinking and articulating where the art work is always the focal point.
As a maker, I cannot view the work from the outside. But I can enter a dialogue with an audience, thus hoping to understand the nature of the relationship between the viewer and the art work. Also, such a dialogue allows me to bring together images and ideas, establishing some kind of a discourse between the two.