Prem Chandavarkar on Thu, 22 Apr 2004 05:40:56 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

RE: <nettime> Help!

Dear Doug,
I am not familiar with the specific topic of your dissertation.  But the
wider question that you raise regarding the nature of art connects with
certain recent thoughts.

I note below an excerpt from a paper I wrote some time ago:

"What the work of art primarily offers is itself, its own formal condition,
its exactitude.   Within the turmoil of our daily existence it is impossible
to locate any site of exactitude.   Everything is continuously shifting and
changing,  Boundaries of definition seem to disappear on their own, and then
reappear elsewhere.  We can never find absolutely fixed points of reference,
or even guideposts that remain stable long enough for us to seek a proper
understanding of who we are, what we do, and why we exist.  Art offers a
resistance to this sense of decay.   Art offers us sites of exactitude.
When we step into art with our body and soul, we know where the points of
reference are, and subsequently where we are.  It is not so much a question
of whether we know what it means; it is more an issue of the measure we can
take of ourselves.   It is not so much a question of the intention of the
artist, or the links of the work with culture.  It is rather the skill with
which the work prescribes a space in which one can wander - a site to be
inhabited, a site for the reposition of memories, a site for making
discoveries, a site where one can get to know oneself, a site where time
stands still and the imagination runs free."

Or an excerpt from the writing of Jeanette Winterson:
"The question ‘What is your book about?’ has always puzzled me.  It is about
itself and if I could condense it into other words I should not have taken
such care to choose the words I did...the language of literature is not an
approximate language.  It is the most precise language that human beings
have yet developed.  The spaces it allows are not formless vistas of
subjectivity, they are new territories of imagination... Whereas science
outdates the past art keeps it present.  Whereas the language of science
tries to eliminate error, chiefly by the use of agreed symbols carrying an
agreed value, the language of literature seems to be able to contain error
by being greater than it.  For instance, Shakespeare has not been sunk by
the weight of four hundred years of scholarly and popular interpretations."

Technologically networked media can produce works that may be artistic, but
do not necessarily deal with this notion of exactitude.  I do not argue that
they cannot inherently do so, I just say that not all forms of network art
do so.

As an architect who belongs to a generation that started careers before
technology invaded artistic practice to the extent it does today, I see a
distinct change brought about by technology.  When I could only work with
paper and pencil, my daily scribblings had two qualities.  Firstly, I sought
to work largely within forms of notation that were publicly accepted within
the profession - plans, sections, elevations, perspectives.  As Alan
Colquhoun has pointed out in his essay on the Beaux Arts Plan, having a
refined publicly accepted system of notation allows a distancing that
promotes reflection within the profession as a whole.  So the system of
drawing notation developed during the Beaux Arts allowed architecture as a
discipline to reflect upon issues of symbolism, typology, composition and
character with a rigour that was not possible earlier.  Musical notation
that was developed at around the same time led to the development of the
symphony as a musical form.  Public systems of notation allow production of
art that is complex yet reflective.

This brings me to the second quality - the imagery produced by daily
practice.  While systems of notation were public, the imagery of daily
practice was comparatively private.  My doodles made sense only to me -
often one doodle was overlaid on the other and it required an intimate
knowledge of their production to be able to differentiate the layers.  This
required a private form of reflection which then sought to connect with the
more public reflection that notation allowed.

Recent developments in technology have allowed an inversion of the
private-public axis's intersection with artistic practice.  Now, notation
can be private and imagery of daily practice can be public.  With a computer
I am freed from the compulsions of standard orthographic projection - I can
take a wide angle view, a fish-eye view.  I can use animation to introduce
the dimension of time into what I do.  My notation need not even be
complete - with hyperlinks my work can exist as part of a continuously
evolving network.   My notation can set up a world of its own.  At the same
time my imagery of daily practice can be public, for the computer allows me
to project colour, form, depth, shadow in a manner that is so compelling the
raw imagery is worthy as an object of public consumption.  Each image is not
worthy by itself, it is the compelling narrative of their production process
that is compelling - the fast shift from one image to another.  This shift
is far removed from the private tacit processes that evaluated the pencilled
doodles of an earlier generation; a process that relied on a gradual
increase in focus where the first set of doodles had to be seen in soft
focus and as the work developed the sharpness of focus gradually increased.
Now sharp focus is achieved in the first moment, in the first image.  The
change from one image to another is explicitly revealed in the
quasi-algorithmic patterns of mutation that become apparent as one traces
the development of the work's production.

This allows the work to present (as one commentator whose name I cannot
recall put it) a "continuous high-adrenalin surge of visual shorthand".
This is quite different from an earlier compulsion of art which works on the
notion of exactitude I cited in the beginning.

The inversion that has come about is described rather well in this excerpt
from an essay by Cristina Diaz Moreno and Efferen Garcia Grinda: "Redefining
the Tools of Radicalism" on the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV:
"In most cultural practices, the need for a personal theoretical structure
that a work must refer to, and which each exploration ultimately
exemplifies, now seems to have been replaced by an interest in working
models, and the procedures and tools used to implement this work.......What
could be called techniques of intersubjectivity, in other words, a set of
practices that enables hitherto private environments to be shared, seems to
have taken hold of the public domain.  What seemed to be kept as a trade
secret, something that could not be revealed, is now overexposed, on show,
made explicit and turned into the subject of texts and public debate.  It
used to be restricted, its very occlusion being a guarantee of the
continuity of a practice, whereas now it is displayed brazenly and its
criticism and renewal are what enable us to trace the difficult panorama of
modern cultural practice beyond the diversity of manners and divergent
results.  Neither the works as such nor the arguments that generate them
seem to stir the same interest as in past generations.  Only the fashions,
tools and protocols of work arouse sufficient critical mass to trigger any
debate in the public sphere."

Let me at this stage posit two possible models of artistic practice.  I
shall use metaphors to describe them, and for the purpose of argument will
be simplistic enough to place them in two segregated spaces that do not

The first model is the traditional one and rests on the metaphor of the
'Contemplator'.  This model works on the principle of exactitude.  It
assumes that the work of art proscribes a precise space whose very precision
allows it to have a tangible presence that is independent of the presence of
the artist.  The contemplator seeks spaces for thought, spaces that step
away from the world.  She uses art to connect with levels of reality removed
from the mundane levels of daily existence.

The second model is one that has recently been enabled by technology, and
rests on the metaphor of the 'Surfer'.  The surfer does not seek exactitude
or quiet reflection.  She seeks flow and excitement - the perfect wave.  She
does not seek to step away, she seeks total immersion.

I can empathise with the sheer joy of the surfer.  I can understand how she
emodies a vigorous form of aesthetic practice.  So I cannot deny that the
surfer also represents art.  But I have lately been troubled by two

1. Does the methodology of the surfer allow for the possibility of ethical
resistance?  Doesn't ethics require a stepping away so that one is not
seduced by the flow?

2. Does the methodology of the surfer allow for the possibility of
contemplation?  Would a world without contemplation lead to Baudrillard's
scenario of the schizo: "The schizo (he who possesses).....too great a
proximity of everything, the unclean promiscuity of everything which
touches, invests and penetrates without resistance, with no halo of private
protection, not even his own body, to protect him anymore.  The schizo is
berefit of every scene, open to everything in spite of himself, living in
the greatest confusion. He is himself obscene, the obscene prey of the
world's obscenity.  What characterises him is less the loss of the real, the
light years of estrangement from the real, the pathos of distance and
radical separation, as is commonly said, but very much to the contrary, the
absolute proximity, the total instantaneity of things, the feeling of no
defence, no retreat.  It is the end of interiority and intimacy, the
overexposure and transparency of the world which traverses him without
obstacle.  He can no longer produce the limits of his own being, can no
longer play or stage himself, can no longer produce himself as mirror.  He
is now only pure screen, a switching centre for the networks of influence."

To me the question is not so much whether it is art or not - I will
willingly admit that it is art.  But I am inherently troubled by any form of
artistic practice that does not consciously admit space for ethics and
contemplation.  Perhaps the instinctive resistance of your profs springs
from such a concern.

Prem Chandavarkar

>-----Original Message-----
>Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 4:23 PM
>Subject: <nettime> Help!
>   hi,
>   I have been a great fan of nettime for a number of years but never
>   contributed. I am currently writing a Masters dissertation on Bob

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: