Crawford College of Art and Design Degree Show 2011
To Call to Attention
‘The marvellous stands in opposition to that which exists mechanically, to that which exists in such a way as to pass unnoticed… [The marvellous] will no longer be the attribute of a distant, enchanted world; it enlivens our surroundings, it sits beside us in a café, it asks us politely to pass the sugar.’
‘The daily papers talk of everything except the daily… What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?’
To see forward: into the future, possible futures, a future worth having. The occasion of a degree show presents an opportunity to reflect upon some of the ways in which art can aid us in looking out in that direction. What are the platforms from which we might survey what stretches before us; or, perhaps better, what cracks in the surfaces of the present offer the best glimpses of ways ahead?
Gazing forward does not imply an abandonment of the present or the past. To see forward, and not just look that way, would require some reflection upon the tensions and potentials of the present, as well as a registration of the aspirations, successes and failures of past efforts. Without a sense of these things, which provide a kind of conceptual structure, a framework of understanding, looking forward will be both a confused and confusing business.
There is a kind of exhilaration and imaginative buoyancy in conceiving of a future which cleanly and decisively breaks with the banality, sensory anaesthesia and ethical crassness of the present. But we look into the future from a given situation – with the various lenses (periscopes? microscopes? telescopes?) and viewing platforms afforded us by an unresolved present. But the present situation is surely not made up only of things we would want to negate and recoil from. There are other forces and momentums (perhaps residual, perhaps emergent) that we might instead want to group behind, affirm and augment.
The issue of attentiveness seems to me crucial for thinking about art’s role here. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard conceived of attention as a kind of magnifying glass: that which claims our attention looms up, swelling and expanding in the imagination. We can think firstly of the quality of attention which artists bring to the materials, objects, ideas, spaces, forms of language, aesthetic effects and historical conditions of their work. As Mel Bochner once remarked, some art ‘looks back at you with the time the artist had spent looking at it.’ There is also the question of the attentiveness which the viewer brings to the encounter with the artwork: we slow down (or speed up) to consider relationships and meanings that the work sets in train; we register effects which might not otherwise rise above the threshold of our awareness; we perceive objects and signs that at first might seem very familiar and prosaic in a new light: art can make the familiar world strange again, and bring things into language which would otherwise remain mute.
Seeing an artwork in a gallery or in this degree show, for example, is a starting point and not an end point. Some works will lodge themselves within our mental fabric, to be woven into those structures of significance which make the world meaningful for us. ‘The art you carry around in your head’, as Briony Fer has written, ‘is even more important than the art you see as you are see it.’ An everyday experience might trigger, or perhaps better, reactivate, our experience of the artwork (and vice versa): art can rebound into our everyday lives, enlivening and enriching it.
And it might be that from such a ground of enjoying, questioning and reimagining the world and its objects, new ideas emerge for how that world could be organized and experienced differently. Countering the insane structure of built-in obsolescence and the impoverishing privilege of owning over experiencing the world, the by-turns playful and critical work of the artist might serve to sow seeds of discontent and an enthusiasm of change.
Ed Krčma, April 2011
Louis Aragon: ‘The Challenge to Painting’ (1930) in Pontus Hultén (ed.), The Surrealists Look at Art
. Venice: Lapis Press, 1990, 50.
Georges Perec: ‘Approaches to What?’ (1973) in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, London: Penguin, 209-10.
Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space (1958), Boston: Beacon 1994, 110.
Mel Bochner: ‘About Eva Hesse: Bochner interviewed by Joan Simon’ in Mignon Nixon (ed.), Eva Hesse, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002, 43.
Briony Fer: ‘Eva Hesse and Colour’, October 119, Winter 2007, 26.