michael rees

Talking Art

Added on by michael rees.

A long time friend visited me in the studio to talk and mess around with ideas for a project with multiple vents. It was interesting and made me wonder under what conditions are we at our best talking about the work? Regardless if our lovely conversation today, sometimes you’re just not feeling it, your reaching for words rather than speaking a river.  Speaking a river is that way that expands the accordion of the ideas that help you make work. Making work is in the end an action, neither a thought nor a text, and it’s reception is also an action. We talked about taking things in sympathetically. It feels like mature art lookers are ready to pounce into the critical. It’s so important to be with work instead of judging work. I’m  a bit taken aback at how fast people move through shows, myself included. (Including the Nauman show). Regardless of our presumption of the short hand familiarity experienced lookers have about art, with every artist, we can see worlds within worlds. Some better than others. This might be the visual art version of the suspension of disbelief, perhaps another term should be invented. It’s an act of faith though, that the time invested might yield some insight or another.

We talked about how good the Nauman show was and compared it to the Chris Burden at the new museum sometime back. I’ve yet to see the PS1 leg of Nauman. 


Blog as blob (a binary large object), an act of form finding.

Added on by michael rees.

I’ve been dribbling words out of my mouth to anyone that would listen, that I would like to take a crack at writing, that is, writing as a transformative experience that might take me to new opportunities. There are a couple of intrinsic problems here— about what?— being primary among them. There are several ill defined topics lurking in the shadows that on closer inspection are all sufficiently vague enough to feel worthless. And yet the feeling persists, about what?

So with almost no anticipation, I initiate my blog.

One of my favorite texts about working with ideas is from Heinrich Von Kleist “On the Gradual Completion of Thoughts During Speech” (Über Die Allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden) which came to me through a small pamphlet designed by Eric Spiekerman and published by United Designers Network, Berlin, London, San Francisco. My wife brought this back to me from a trip in something like 2006 and I took it to my bosom as if I had written it myself! (and over the years I have rewritten it in my own image, spurred by von kleist and reimagined as my own.) My takeaway is that you may find inventive, insightful language about what concerns you by engaging conversation with strangers.  This process can be called the midwifery of thoughts.

When you want to grasp something and cannot come to it by dwelling on the matter, my advice to you, my dear, wise friend is to talk over the subject with the first acquaintance who happens to cross your path.  On the Gradual Completion of Thoughts During Speech -Heinrich Von Kleist

Although a blog is hardly the first acquaintance who happens across my path, that person is addressed in my mind (self consciously I suppose) as I’m writing here. I have taken this into my own lexicon so deeply I am regularly engaged in speaking to others as a process of form finding, the midwifery of thoughts. Everytime I give a talk about my work, I try not to prepare too specifically what I would say but to use the audience as the prompt for me to educate myself, and perhaps them, to what is at hand.

On the contrary you yourself must explain to him what it is you want to know. I see you reply, in some astonishment, that in your youth you were advised to speak of nothing but the things you already understood. But then, I presume, you spoke on the premise of informing others, whilst I want you to speak with the conscious intention of  educating yourself and so perhaps both rules of thumb can be valid, a different rule applying to each case. -ibid.

This kind of finding exercise is  intrinsic to my own processes. In that practice, I am not really interested in learning something, knowing it and then executing it in some appropriate context, or even in just having it at the ready for the right moment. Rather I am dedicated to what might emerge within a moment, an act, an audience, an utterance amongst fellows (and so on). In short, an epiphany. (I think I am a whore for epiphany.)

I conduct my work like this. I find myself in the middle of something, prodded at first by an invitation to participate and then mostly by site and conversations and by feeling out the parameters of what is allowed, the limiting factors, and then I proceed. This finding process might occupy the entire project causing me anxiety when up to the bitter end I haven’t quite figured out, or allowed the primary themes of that work. And yet I insist on doing this in public. I have the conviction that it will come together on the spot (and if it doesn’t then I just wasn’t up to the task). There’s something about the risk of embarrassment, or just the daring to be so abjectly naked, that appeals to me above being well prepared with carefully structured ideas. Its more comic than lecture. Its more buffoonery than ambassadorial. It’s improvisation with the conviction that the import of the moment can mostly be found through this process. Its not to say thats the end of it. Themes might emerge that I will turn over and over again (phrases too), until it begins to cohere. I keep imagining a vast superstructure of the social/cultural, of which I am but a tiny part, cohering together to make me the lighting rod of some distinct utterance.

I was taken back when an intimate said to me “you admitted that you didn’t have a purpose, but used the exhibition to find your content.” I see their point but reject it. For me, art is a way of knowing, a way of finding. I am aware that deeply literate people would find this taxing. It may try their patience as there are so many other more worthy things to read that are much more carefully presented to them. But those flashes of just in time brilliance is where its at for me. I’d risk wading through the garbage at a chance at that.

I cannot also quite get past another question, for whom? I’ve heard many artists long hold forth about satisfying themselves only and first, but I just can’t quite invest in that. We live in so many overlapping layers of community that there is always someone with me, actually, virtually, or by projection. I think its useful to play out in traffic. The studio is just too lonely. So for whom? Anyone who cares, which would start with me.