Wednesday, October 10, 2007

American Primitive[1]

The project on which I have been working is called American Primitive. What I propose to do here is give a very brief description and introduction to the sculptures and videos under this title. For some time now I have been interested in what I call a “pragmatist aesthetic,” one which brings to attention the concrete interaction in the landscape between living and nonliving forms. My work moves away from linguistic-inspired theories and, instead, pours into the concrete sympathies of the living organism. In other words, as a way of generating sculpture and video I have turned away from methods of representation and toward an exploration of the ontological conditions of artworks in their embodied state, as existent not in the environment only, but in the environment as organism. I am interested in how and why sculptures exist over what they represent.

The sculptures embody forms conveying a sense of expression beyond human analogy or fixed representation. Does sculpture start with the animal who carves out a home? Isn’t there a larger aesthetic growth which all living things express and, if so, is art a “morbid overgrowth of functions which lie deep in nature”? In other words, art is nature’s way of educating itself (a whole “zoology of form”). The subject in sculpture now centers on the interaction between not only the human but nonhuman subjects including animal and plant creations, while they connect together through a dynamic materialism, by which I mean that a nonliving form is equally present in these constructions. The landscape is pitted with the anonymous indwelling of living and nonliving entities. There is a deep isomorphism between forms created by humans and forms not created by humans: from ant colonies, animal shelters, plant and geological formations including weather patterns with those human made forms like so called “comfort stations” and “bat towers.” I propose an interior to sculpture exploring the “remote geologic epochs” of open evolutionary processes! Again, I encourage the creation of a wilderness of form, a bend in the direction of process but one which engages those deep epochs spanning from the situational to the concrete.

The metaphysician’s tools par excellence are the jigsaw and video camera. For example, living images share their durational qualities through the direct presentation of an immanent material approach. The organismic embodies not just the human but a whole organization of forces living and not living. Time is in matter. The various states each artwork creates, as narrative or series of sensational attributes (between humor and habitat), implies the creation of thinking-images and the creation of sculpture-minds. A range of vivid experience is created between the sculptures “Landscape Vision Shelter,” “Mind Sweep One” and “Texan Spiritual” with the video “American Primate!” This not only appears in the creation of various physical structures (e.g. bat towers) but is also generated through the fact that we live in a creaturely world. As living creatures we literally inhabit the things we create! On a still deeper level art animates the inanimate. I mean this not as mere metaphor, but in reference to the fact that an “inorganic life of things” is constantly taking shape. As I work I keep in mind that such constructions, whether in the landscape or in the gallery, are “attractors” for all kinds of idiosyncratic modes of behavior. Finally, the fact that each sculpture is "testable" to the conditions of our actual existence radically suggests that our thoughts are both practical and creative at the same time.

Despite heavy cultural emphasis on the “analytic aesthetic” and a rigid belief in a rather narrow form of human communication (articulate “symbolic” language) I now find in art a requirement to explore the non-linguistic expressions belonging to all kinds of living creatures. Thus beyond mere symbols we live in a world full of signs. Signs are experienced through my action in the world. The action of such signs is called semiosis which embodies a more wild form of communication across plant and animal species. Indeed art is situated in what some now call the semiosphere! Thus the semiosphere is composed of all kinds of qualities: sounds, textures, movements, smells, shapes, signals of all kinds and waves. There is “natural meaning,” like the event of a plume of smoke, but also expressions between animals through physical action, sound or smell. In other words, meaning is contingent on our action in the world before “symbolic recognition.” For example, I do not need the “symbol” of smoke to understand it is real: the sign and its meaning are directly connected by their action! Signs refer to their action and not to their symbolic re-presentation. Examples include “natural signs” like footprints, smoke and thunder but also “medical signs” like pain, rashes, pulse-rate, and even “signals” from living or nonliving things like gestures or a knock at the door. Finally, signals include all kinds of “recordings,” from film and video to sound, but also mark making in general. Such Signs of Life are real because they exist in time as a unique quality or expression. There is nothing arbitrary about signs in this embodied form. Again I am interested in this more descriptive semiotic approach, especially when exploring the organism in greater nuance and complexity. Semiosis supplies the raw matter-energy for both the sculptures and videos as each embody natural and cultural phenomena equally.

In my work I aim to, rather than speak with mere symbols, demonstrate a concrete interaction between the thing and its creation, including the organism’s own tacit response. Creation over representation implies a world that artists are not always willing to acknowledge, especially as it regards their institutional allegiances. But culture is the way nature evolved in humans, and so there are now aesthetic qualities to explore including those which are physical, biological and social. My interest in abstraction is an expression of this kind of morphogenesis of form. I realize, however, that for artists to be concerned with the ethological dimensions of human and nonhuman behavior I may be in a shadowy place. The phrase which comes to mind and where I will leave this is my desire to explore a whole ecology of practice rather than “indexes and references” to a canon of art across centuries of hard-headed rational thought. Leaving then for the work of others - I include myself here - more aberrant forms murky and lacking proper representation. In many ways, each sculpture makes real a person, thing or quality that I regard as important features of a living semiosis: the sculptures are not reducible to works of art responding to other works of art.

Mason Cooley

[1] The title’s history is as follows. The phrase not only references John Fahey’s cosmology of “finger picking” but it also suggests two other connections, one which outlines an interest in action before comprehension, otherwise known as prehension, the second explores the ontogenesis of artistic expression. I am interested in the American landscape and how all kinds of entities create novel “arrangements of form” in the environment as a whole. A pluralistic universe of artistic expression comes to “mind and matter” in the artworks themselves. In part perception exists outside the body, among the wilds of organic and inorganic form.

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