Monday, May 01, 2006

The Drip

Self haunting alert.

I was searching through my computer looking for this one interview that I need for my current master's thesis and came across the short piece of art theory writing I'm posting below. What a shock it was to come across this. I wrote it as part of a class I took with Professor Jose Babauta when I was an undergraduate in art at the University of Guam. We met once a week and discussed art from a theoretical and philosophical standpoint. Since I left Guam I haven't been able to keep up the discussion, and since I graduated from UOG in 2001, I haven't really maintained my cache of art theory language and concepts. (Clement Greenberg is either a type of colonge of an art theorist having something to do with abstract expressionism)

I do eagerly await the day though, when I will return to Guam and start up that conversation again. As I try to articulate in a somewhat scattered and naive manner in the piece below, there is something about the experience of Guam that does come out in its artists. And the articulation of this experience, its expression will require people to discuss it, to mark it in certain ways, to name it certain things. The work of Babauta and another of my old professors Ric Castro will be instrumental in this aesthetic movement (I've included a painting by Joe Babauta below, although not the type that I'm referring to in my discussion). Will this experience be unique to Guam? No, of course not, but the task of the artistic is always to articulate that linikidu that unique quality within a sea of commonality, to try to find the put whereby that contraditiction between binary sets, whether it be the particular/universal, local/global, holds for a moment and the ability to stand across the division, to think through the traversing of that split happens.

Wow, I haven't really talked or thought about the art of Guam in a while. This is kinda cool.

Just to warn everyone, before they dive into the post below. I wrote this at the beginning of my engagement with postmodern, poststructural and postcolonial theories. At this point I had read only a handful of books and the majority of them dealt with the issue from an aesthetic perspective (such as Has Modernism Failed? or After the Divide or After Nihilism). Therefore I am slightly embarassed about what I used to believe (and partially excited), and would like to apologize for any lameness that you encounter below. Despensa yu', going back and reading it I get an image of Winnie the Pooh meandering through a library full of theoretical art and postmodern texts, reading aloud random quotes, merely because he found some honey on that page.

The drip. A mark which has been in existence since the creation of gravity and fluid form. A mark which in reality belongs to man, but somehow has been relegated to the domain of a single man, Mr. Jackson Pollock. Why is it everything since 1945 bearing the signifier “drip” is not only compared to, but attached to, and seen as inferior to, the great Modernist Position held by Jackson.

This narrow frame of reference has a small comparision to the Mimetic Theories of Plato. A single train of thought has funneled all of Western Thought pretty much into a central belief. Our art is a mere copy of life, a inferior replica, simulacrum.

But if anything, we know that the current Post Indicative world is one of de-centralization, and full of attempts at re-using I tiningo’ malastima siha or as Foucault referred to them as “buried knowledges,” or “genealogies.” Post Structuralism is all about the breakdown of language, the uncertainty of it, the sliding of the signifiers for example. Post Colonialism is about paying back, or increasing the scope of the Centre, by forcing the institutionalization of more and more non-first world texts and ideas to be accepted into it. And Post Modernism, is the bastard of everything, the catch-all used for describing nearly everything, a dichotomous entity, which is so tainted in its use, yet purely plural.

The point of the previous paragraph is to lead into the ideas of Lyotard, and his death of meta-narratives. The ideas of Plato while still strong and still the most pervasive of thoughts in the art world do not necessarily need to be adhered to, nor believed in, nor even regarded in art making. For Lyotard, Modernism was an attempt at creating the sublime. Mondrian, Pollock, Stella, all were attempting to form images and works which communicated with something beyond what we knew, or had ever been discussed before. Yet the failure of Modernism is derived from its reliance on the avant garde, and its destructive and spiraling legitimization. The cry of Ezra Pound to “Make it New!” at the beginning of the 20th century, led to a sloping hill which peaked with the Abstract Expressionists and slid neatly downhill from there. The avant garde, the drive for newness and originality, soon became perverted into a drive for shock and empty social statements based more on the idea of pissing people off then changing the world. With the boom of art as economy, which can almost cleanly be traced to starting at Schnabel’s Boone show in 1979, art was perverted further, the idea of responsibility and integrity which was integral to the early and high Modernists, disappeared. Thus, even as Jencks heralded the death of the Modern and the birth of the Post Modern, the Modernist tradition continued, albeit in a different and less desirable form, but nonetheless persistent and still there, pulling the strings of most Centralized art today.

The lure of Modernism is as strong as the lure of Plato. Central ideas have that effect on people. Modernism allows for an almost god-like position for the artist. The progression of art up from the Renaissance culminates in the Abstract Expressionists and others being proclaimed as demi-gods by critics such as Greenberg, and allowed to create without responsibilities, and without hindrances such as audience and content. Plato’s ideas as well, have the lure of “what else can it be?” The simplicity and Socratic attitude of his point is so well taken, it seems impossible to argue against.

But fortunately for us, it must be argued against.

Linangitan, the Chamorro word for sublime, however it entails just a little more. It is inclusive of heavenly, from the heavens. I humbly submit that my work is linangitan, and I respectfully define such a categorization by fitting into four premises. First, adandonment of the Lure of the Centre (avant garde, elitism, etc.), Second, a lack of historical, traditional grounding (in terms of legitimization). Third, a communication with the sublime, or an almost indigenous functionalism, Fourth, a community responsibility.

I propose that the idea of linangitan, is in fact what the West is looking for when they mean Post Modern. Often times what is said, is not proven by what exists or what said discourse discusses. Post Modern objects continue on proudly the Modernist tradition, in that often times no one understands them, they still strive for originality, they still attack traditional ideas and beliefs, and still rely on history and tradition for their legitimization. Post Modernity, which in essence shouldn’t be merely another form of Modernism, as the name itself implies (however this can be disputed to so damn much, I wonder if I should even make the statement).

Linangitan, is an idea almost completely outside the Centre, and untouched, if not adversely affected by Modernism.

Allow me now to explain my work in terms of linangitan. First, I am attempting to abandon the Centre for a syntax and aesthetic vocabulary almost all my own, or rather or this region. The English language, and the European/Western/ Central thought process is one which can never fully describe nor give justice to the world as a whole. The idea of universality in art, only goes so far. My thinking for this is based on your paintings from your MFA program, in that there was an inherent aura in your work, which was regional, which was something someone from Iowa could not comprehend, nor duplicate. There are some things which English can’t touch, which it is inadequate to comment on. This is where a new syntax is required. I resist the Centre and Modernism, because it tells me I am not avant garde, or I am failing the avant garde, it tells me that I am copying Jackson Pollock, that I am not dealing with the figure background relationship, that I am ignoring conventions, standards, that I am required to do things in order for my painting to work.

But what I know, ignores most of Western conventions, because I know, I don’t need a degree to be an artist, any more then a need to follow rules to paint. It is the purpose of an institution to set up an epistemological net which allows some forms to pass through and others to be rejected. I am allowed to be linangitan, I am allowed a freedom most artists don’t, because I belong or subscribe and derive my livelihood from a culture which has no tradition, a culture with no history of art, and no traditions of conventions I must follow. Guam never developed an institution of art in the Modernist sense.


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