Speedbumps

The trial and error, DIY, experience-it-yourself, go-out-and-actually-have-a-look method of doing things is a naturally occurring speedbump that has been vastly eroded in recent years by the widespread availability of both written and visual information about everything and anything imaginable.

Those annoyingly ingenious features of the urban landscape designed to consistently infuriate us by impeding our flow are actually there for the benefit of everyone.

I’ve come to view rituals and other “time-consuming” activities as both breaks and brakes, intended to force us to slow down and alert us to our over eagerness to rush through life physically and mentally.  The perceived inconvenience of any particular activity becomes its strength; an opportunity to take back what an efficiency addicted culture has robbed us of.

Nowadays even our rituals can be easily purchased, in an ironic twist of fate characteristic of a sick society (dis-ease = uneasy with itself and the rest of the world).

We no longer engage in anything of substance because it’s quicker and easier to buy and display symbols.  If I burn enough incense and place enough statues of Buddha around the house it’ll be easier to achieve enlightenment.  If I buy all the equipment and invest enough in accessories, then I won’t have to do all the hard work.  We are essentially trying to bribe our way around the speedbumps in order to get to our next destination as quickly as possible.  If we try to drive at 100mph over the speedbumps the journey becomes uncomfortable, reinforcing the idea that they’re something to be removed.  But if we slow down, it not only gives us a chance to take things in that we normally miss, but the very experience of passing smoothly over the bump provides an insightful contrast to the rest of the journey.

This is why I believe that we need to bring back and promote the creation of rituals around the ideas and events that are most important to us as human beings and as individuals.

Despite growing up in an industrialised age, in the late 80’s and 90’s at school we celebrated harvest festival every year, where everyone brought food along to donate to charity.  Our parents weren’t peasant farmers subject to the whim of the seasons, yet we had a ritual celebrating abundance which included giving to those who were less fortunate.

In a society that is ruled by the metaphor “time is money”, any activity or act that is not obviously and immediately related to productivity is considered a waste of time, and is often frowned upon.  I think this is one subtle reason people end up trying to convert what they are passionate about into a money-making endeavour, because based on the rules of the system anything that turns a profit becomes legitimised, whereas doing things for fun is seen as childish and inconsequential.  Meditation is only valid if it can be packaged and sold, and art is only worthwhile if it can be displayed in a gallery.  In this way we can begin to understand how a single metaphor can shape our experience and in turn, our actions.

In this new age there is no art, only “content” ; an amorphous, easily consumable by-product of our industrial metaphors.  There is no artist or human even, just a biological machine programmed to do its job and fulfil the needs of the hungry masses.  But just as food is consumed mindlessly and without chewing or appreciation, so too is the steady feed of content, never wholesome or nourishing enough to satiate us. (Funnily enough, Soylent, the liquid food alternative for busy people doesn’t require chewing either.)

So now we are at a crossroads, where either we put up a stop sign and some traffic lights, or we keep our foot down on the accelerator and hope that it doesn’t take its toll.

While the speedbump imposes practical limitations on how quickly something can be achieved, the benefit doesn’t come from making life increasingly inconvenient, but slowly arises from the realisation that by habitually rushing through every activity, including those that are supposed to be enjoyable, we fail to appreciate life because we are trying to make it happen sooner.  Furthermore, when we live at peace with the present moment we dissolve the idea of “wasting time”, because even if we spend effort attempting to reach a goal and we fail, by remaining present throughout the process we experience life to the fullest, which we gradually come to realise is more important than the results.  This could be summed up as:

“the journey is more important than the destination”.

If we think of the current status and trajectory of modern civilisation and its technology we could describe it as being efficiency and outcome-oriented i.e. “the results are more important than the process”, and “the ends justify the means”.

From this perspective, a mindful existence and lifestyle is not just at odds with the civilised environment, but is contrary to its guiding values and its core philosophy.

When you live by the metaphor “time is money”, the abstract concept of time is conceived in terms of the tangible object, money.  But money however, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but is symbolic of the power of self-sustenance, based on all of the necessities and things that help form our self-image that we could purchase with it.  This connection between the three concepts, time, money and self, helps explain the sense of deeply-felt urgency that accompanies life under the influence of such metaphors.  Wasting time i.e doing nothing to sustain your self-image is equivalent to both actual and metaphorical suicide, as if the ticking of the clock indicated our life force draining as in a computer game.

As long as we identify with our jobs, careers, hobbies and appearance and so on, we will always be uneasy with stillness, with non-striving, and with minimalist lifestyles that require less doing and more being.

Notes on Ways of Seeing

14.02.18

This a response to the video Ways of Seeing by John Berger, which is itself inspired by the essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by philosopher Walter Benjamin.

 

Artwork – images and objects tied to place and general context.  As a familiar smell, feeling or sound might signal and signify a particular context, (original) works are the signifiers of the context out of which they are born.  Copies are also signifiers of their own context, but this is mostly hidden from view, as copies are often presented in the same light as originals – when an artwork is set up to be copied the context is omitted; we don’t want to see the oil painting under bright lights in a studio, we just want to see the painting, or as much of it as possible, which means as little as possible evidence of context, as little as possible evidence that it is in fact a copy, and not an original itself.

This veiling of original context is aided by technology while simultaneously leaving its own footprint – typewriters, printing presses and computers all remove evidence of the hand of the creator.  On the face of it, such copies could come from anywhere and from any time, because the word (or image) in its homogenised form bears no resemblance to the mark of the author, and instead displays evidence of the machine or technique that produced it.  Instead of strictly referencing the author, any text published in the Times New Roman font also becomes a reference to Stanley Morison and Victor Lardent; the creators of that typeface.

As an artwork passes from original to copy status, the shift in context leaves its mark.

Graffiti on canvas, although it may be original, is really just an example of transplanting an idea into an alien context.  The form has remained the same – it is still spray-painted letters in a particular style, but it is no longer tied to the immobile and illegal world of the outdoor, on-the-run artist.  By severing the link between the context and the artwork, or as in this case, by attempting to graft the whole genre onto a new context, the origins and meaning are lost in translation.

Everything becomes bastardised in some way by experiencing it in your own preferred and habitual context, which is often at home and on your computer.  This is domestication in brief: rounding up untamed elements and bringing them into the home for the pleasure of convenient experiences. The desire to make art that fits inside gallery walls, music studios and television channels, only serves to benefit those particular structures and the people hiding behind their favourite and most profitable contexts.  Instead of a bio-diverse art community, we have work that is invested in and created simply to fit into the moulds that may accommodate them with open wallets.  Instead of artists that produce work that is true to its own, and to their own specific context, we have work whose origins are hidden, whose would-be destiny is the featureless and naked gallery wall, the tv, cinema or computer screen.  Artists are willingly giving up identity and context to the demands of technology and consumerism.

Each musical style is embedded not just in time but place as well, despite music being a non-physical medium.  There is something uniquely bizarre about listening to hip hop at home in your bedroom when you live in Finland.  This couldn’t have happened without the physical act of mechanically copying music onto disks, and without the removal of a whole culture from its context.  The role of technology in creating convenience in its many forms is at the heart of the worldwide spread of ideas, art and imagery.  If everything had to be experienced in its rightful place; in its birthplace, then it would severely limit what would be shared, and by whom.  In a sense, experience itself is the unshareable artwork: we can only gaze upon the aftermath through art-produce and its reproductions.

If you believe that everything can, and should be shared for reasons of equality, then you consequently endorse the continuation and spread of domestication, because to make everything equally available ultimately means to make it effortless and contextless, and thus meaningless.  By turning Mount Everest into a guided tour, it stops becoming the feat it once was; it is de-feated.  Accessibility for all, while on the surface appears like a noble ideal, is actually counterproductive, and seems to spring from the philosophy that all hard work should be replaced by convenience at our earliest convenience.

I experience other people’s art as if I don’t understand it, i.e. as alien and as incomprehensible as it really is.  My reactions are mostly gut reactions and a projection of my own ideas: I cannot ultimately see the world without my own biases or perspective, and so instead of understanding we must satisfy ourselves with the feeling of having understood, or at the very least, the idea that we tried.  The work exists as it is, but there is no perspective-less perspective from which to view it.  Restoring context goes some way to remedying this problem, but cannot overcome it completely.

Misunderstanding is the basis for many a creation, and could be seen as a form of memetic mutation.  By failing to re-create the original meaning or context we veer off in a new direction, using religious icons as placemats, and wartime propaganda as wall hangings.

Just as objects signify contexts, images themselves become symbols of particular ideas and associated, inferred contexts and characteristics.  It is these implicit associations that advertising uses to hijack our experiences.  Products themselves come to signify desirable contexts and experiences as they are consistently shown to us in unison, and certain colours, shapes or fonts come to signify brand markings.

If reproduction destroys original meaning and gives rise to multiple interpretations, then we could say that copying processes delete objectivity and replace it with infinite subjectivity.  But if context is also time-specific, then by virtue of them being old, we can never experience the true meaning of an artwork, even if it hangs in its right place.  It’s not that reproduction in the mechanical sense destroys meaning, but it is reproduction from one mind to another where meaning is lost, irrespective of spacial and temporal context.  Mechanical reproduction simply aided this realisation.  This becomes immediately evident when you publicly display your work.  No amount of showing it in the context of your studio, or wherever else you created it will help change the fact that the meaning people derive from the work is a product of the work itself and their own minds.  Since there cannot be an experience without one or the other it becomes the destiny of any idea or artwork to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and remixed, both purposefully and accidentally.

Meaning, if any is present in an artwork, is only ever loosely attached, in the experiential sense – there is no universal, transmittable meaning (no universally convincing arguments).