31. ROME

Well, here you are in Rome. Thanks to some colleagues at Central St Martins UAL you have been invited to contribute to a symposium/workshop at the wonderful ‘The British School at Rome’ (check it out here: http://www.bsr.ac.uk/) In this symposium/workshop ideas from history, archaeology, technology, fine art and philosophy will search for common ground and exchange ideas in an interdisciplinary way.

You have had a long, tiring but wonderful day already, yesterday, and this morning you will give what academics call a ‘paper’ to contribute to a day-long symposium.

A couple of weeks ago you blogged in such a way that you ‘killed two birds with one stone’ and you think you are going to do that again today. The reason is that you are again again a bit nervous about the ‘paper’ you are going to give and you can use the blog as a kind of rehearsal, to see how it feels to an imagined audience.

It’s strange perhaps how, after teaching successfully for 17 years, having published numerous articles, completed a PhD etc. you always seem to come back to this state of near-ignorance and little confidence before such an event. But perhaps, if you are doing it properly, that is how it should be. i.e. if you take thought seriously then you are, in a way, always starting again and cultivating a kind of innocence and ignorance as much as parading knowledge.

Parading knowledge would NOT be art nor philosophy, it would NOT be thought. Thought needs to lay itself bare, make itself vulnerable in order to make any kind of contribution to itself.

Today, you are going to talk about ‘Waste’ and the concept of Spolia, the theme of the day (the event is part of a series called ‘From Headstone to Hard Drive’ (http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/headstone-to-hard-drive-iii-spolia-relic-data-tickets-17273224680 ) organised by artists/researchers Martin Westwood and Mick Finch.) Spolia refers to the way in which e.g. materials from a demolished and redundant building might be reused in making a new construction. This is one of the themes of the symposium and you want to make a kind of meditation on this theme. It has led you to consider one of your own photographic works, made, coincidentally, in one of the flea markets (Porta Portese) of Rome several years ago.

There you used an old, redundant camera, itself found in a flea market (a Kodak ‘Brownie’) and forced through it a new film that didn’t really fit the spool. The result was quite crude, pre-historicised images that were already destroyed in their moment of manufacture. A kind of simultaneous construction and destruction had taken place in which ideas of value and waste were already confused and yet in which the image was somehow compelling.

You are going to link this image and idea of ‘waste’ to the concept of ‘Downtime’ (that you used as the title of a show you curated in Birmingham a couple of years ago and which became the title of the piece you recently published on Robert Smithson in art Monthly magazine.) Downtime is a kind of time that has a magical and very full quality even though it appears in odd, often unexpected moments, gifted by chance as kind of time which is beyond ordinary, utilitarian, instrumental or economic value. It is in fact often the special time of the artist or poet, a time in which something extraordinary can occur which is not connected to the ordinary humdrum of survival (perhaps capitalist time.)


Paul O’Kane, c. 2007 Roma, Porto Portese

In the photograph you have chosen to show and to talk about, flowers can be seen with prices on them, and this juxtaposition of natural beauty and commodification will lead your paper into a discussion of the ways in which flowers might, despite being variously commodified – famously in Dutch 17th century paintings and trade-  nevertheless demonstrate an alternative approach to economy.

The dissident Surrealist Georges Bataille was also a radical economist and may have something to offer us today as we watch a world dominated and directed by capitalist economics tie itself into a frightening series of ugly knots. Bataille wrote on ‘potlach’, and sacrifice, mechanisms by means of which native American and traditional Central American cultures organized themselves ‘economically’ but not according to a capitalist economy. He wrote of the Gift economy and ‘The Accursed Share’ as well as a short essay on ‘The Language of Flowers.’


Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573 – 1621)

Hopefully you can convince the audience of the value of these connections and encourage some discussion about the many ways in which supposed ‘waste’ is always in itself also economic. Our society is now focused upon both recycling of ‘waste’ (which renders it valuable and constructive) and, simultaneously, a kind of recycling of the past, in terms of our obsession with the archive, the retro etc.

Everything, today, is permitted, it seems and this means everything is re-evaluated, including all that appears to be dead, past or wasted.


Camelia Blossoms

Another thing you would like to discuss is your fascination with the profligacy of one flower in particular (though many would suffice) and that is the Camelia, which every year astounds you with the thousands of blossoms that they throw down and down. These are the ideas you are hoping to bring together and make productive today in Rome. there is more, more to your paper, the other papers, discussions, and Rome too of course, but, as we began, it’s an exhausting trip, and you are nearly late with your blog (you promised to always post it by midnight on Friday. So here goes, maybe you can reflect a little more next time.

Incidentally, readers might be interested in this earlier paper on Rome, written some years ago by yours truly and published in Routledge referee journal ‘Third Text’ (see link : http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09528822.2011.573309


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