Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, but, as ever, the present comes to our rescue, reining in that negative, judicial mind that quickly begins to think of this way or that way, a better or worse way, to begin, when, in fact the ‘best’ way to begin is to begin, to simply allow our actions to match pace with our thoughts, becoming one.
Thus, we have already begun, and while we feared for a moment that we had nothing to say, nothing to write ‘about’ we soon realise that we are already writing ‘about’ something, even if it is something we have written about before, the writing of writing, and ‘about about’.
I think I’ve written here before too that one fo the first lectures I ever gave to undergraduates fine art students was titled ‘ABOUT ABOUT’. It sounds playful and provocative but it was also earnest and sincere. I wanted the students to no-longer see this ‘about’-ness of their work as an adjunct or obstacle to the work itself, to be able to also go beyond the works ‘about’-ness – a word which perhaps refers to its meaning and explication – to find somewhere or something else, some other form of evaluation, articulation or explication. It seemed to me that ‘about’ness creates a hurdle between us and what we have made or are making.
It’s true that it does provide an interface between our work and the same work’s experience by others. The most notorious deployment, or apotheosis of ‘about’ness is perhaps those large wall texts and small information cards that we find next to art on gallery walls.
All very useful it’s true, and often helpful in creating a more ‘accessible’ experience, a more enjoyable visit for many. And yet somehow, we all also know that this additional information is other than and disruptive to the work, diverting us into a certain kind of response, a certain kind of historiography, a certain kind of language, framing and evaluating, that comes, as it were, ‘ready-to-wear’ for us, closing off other, perhaps more personal ways of responding to art that we might have otherwise discovered in and by ourselves.
Of course, for undergrads too, ‘about-‘ness has become a standardised form of explication of value, so that students may come to know all-too-well the ritual of the ‘crit’ in which, having made some work perhaps quite intuitively and following a kind of ‘hunch’, students are then required to bring another language – which can in fact be honed as another ‘art’ – to bear upon it.
This language, this discussion, can, it is true, often expand the context and seemingly increase the value of the work. It might even be said to be the lifeblood of the art-teaching profession. And yet it will always remain other to the work, as well as being an arbitrary and particular adjunct to it. e.g. other words might be said ‘about’ the same work it by others, or by the same people at other times and in other places. So, none of these explications can ever be unequivocal, confident or correct.
The important thing is perhaps just to be aware of this and, while perhaps striving to make work that avoids getting hung-up on ‘about’ness, i.e. that anticipates ‘about’ness and finds ways to go beyond, over, under or around it – also being aware or wary of the kinds of readings we might expect to receive.
This line of thought makes me recall the introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus’ where they write:
“There is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made. Therefore a book has no object. As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs. … A book exists only through the outside and on the outside.”
I guess books have become my medium of choice now. After decades of searching and stumbling around, ‘climbing the greasy pole’ as the English say, I have come, and come ‘back’ to the rather obvious idea that, for someone whose work has always favoured mechanical reproduction over the production of unique objects or images; and someone who has used photographs, printing, simple drawings and various forms of writing; books are, and always were the ideal medium.
To be honest, I wish I could find the time, energy and economy to make a lot more books, as all those decades of searching have bequeathed me a rich archive (see recent posts) of unpublished, unseen, unread and unresolved writings, drawings and photographs that I would dearly love to compose and to assemble now that I know just how to make a book (with the help of others) into something really resolved valuable, useful and desirable.
I think I can only hope now that I keep my health into my retirement years, and that I can still develop some kind of economy in later life to keep me afloat once I am too old to teach and to earn, and that then and there I might still find the time to make at least some of the many books I feel are here, now, all around me, in bits and pieces in my archive waiting to be assembled and composed into editions.