B is for…. Body.
I might suggest that since there are no proven aesthetic canons in the various arts media, it seems worthwhile to see if a new insight into aesthetic responses can be attained in terms of the perceptual processes of the brain.
Is there a biological basis to aesthetic experience? Are we programmed to understand what is HIGH Art or what is LOW Art.
Are we even in a position to understand what ART is at all?
I might suggest all of this within an academic structure of: Abstract, Chapters and Conclusion but I’m not going to - instead I offer you this:
OFF WE GO THEN - Cabin Doors To Manual
Diary entry 7th April 1988: Leila induced last night @ 54cm
11.45pm – A baby girl was born - emergency cesarean section - delivered by Doctor Fish - 8lbs 10ozs - food pumped directly into her stomach – doctors concerned that baby is not behaving normally.
A church step somewhere in the French Pyrenees. Medieval. Archival. On a day so hot I was worried that the top of her head might burn off. Eden, a daughter.
Eden, a catalyst for my new beginning.
Life before Eden and life after Eden.
What was to become of me? Us?
Her Joubert Syndrome meant that she was missing a bit of her cerebellum. Her vermis. Some brains.
I’d finished at the University and the thing that is the wholeoflife was in front of me. Us.
And this remembering like the urge to tongue a wobbly milk tooth. Consuming. It takes me right back to when things are never that clear. Not then. Not now. They never were.
There it is. There you have it. In the picture. In the frame. Fairly full to overflowing with the pain, of then, notknowing.
The philosophical, physiological, biological and historical pain of notknowing.
Those elements, those autobiographical components that inform the whole. The corpus.
The remembrances leap out at me again. Comes the pain, come to remind me of the heaviness of my step upon realising that the diagnosis for her condition meant that her life expectancy was not good. Was not long. She might soon be gone.
Dead and buried.
There she is. Was. Perched on the church steps. Barely two years old. Top girl on the top step, about to topple over. She leans into me and I kiss her. My kisses prevent her from falling. Falling back into the ambition and naïve determination to keep going.
Me, thus combatting the notknowing.
This photograph, mysterious and potent, rendered into the very fabric of my existence. The pebble-dash of life.
What do I do?
I keep looking at my own life from different angles, keep trying to find new metaphors for the self and family.
Poetry from documentary.
Home movie from mundanity.
The keeptrying, the keeplooking, the keepremembering.
Memory, around which the self orbits.
B is for …. the beginning
B is for… Body. Both vessel and votive, subjective and objective. B is for… Being and the layered reading of territories, urban or otherwise, via signs of all kinds and without prejudice. C is for care and caring, consumer and consumption. D is for… Difference and the ‘work’ as a different engine. A vehicle into ‘otherness’ and revelation - aesthetically, bodily, mentally. D is for a discourse on self-preservation. E is for…
Experimental and an attempt to excavate oneself. E is for the Garden of Eden. A is also for autobiographical representations and memories.
What does it mean to make work about oneself?
What does it mean to talk about oneself?
To what degree is this, a solipsistic act?
To what degree are we all solipsists?
And to what degree has solipsism allowed us access to the world?
The articulation of coherent intention when dealing with Eden can sometimes feel gratuitous and forced.
She is unfathomable and frustrating, irritating and tiring, she is overwhelming and inspiring, life-stopping and life-enhancing.
She is an enigma and antidote to the dogma of religion and superstition.
She is real and not invented. She is needful every day of her life, from the minute she can’t get herself up until the last thing at night when she can’t put herself to bed.
Nothing is EVER taken for granted with her. Nothing is ever assumed. Nothing is ever easy.
Her mother, my lover and partner Leila and myself grab at moments in time - all the TIME we are with her. They are slippery and non-linear.
AND as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the repetition, the looping, the saying the same thing again and again and again - the saying of the same thing again and again and again
What am I doing today daddy?
What’s for breakfast daddy?
What are we going to do now daddy?
Can you tighten my bra please daddy?
Can you put on my trousers please daddy?
Undo my dress please daddy?
Can you pull my pants up please daddy?
What are we going to do now daddy?
Can I have some music please daddy?
What music is it daddy?
I’m hot I only want a tee shirt on today please daddy.
(Even if it’s snowing)
What am I doing today daddy?
What’s for breakfast daddy?
My bra’s too tight daddy.
Can you help undo my trousers please daddy?
What are we going to do now daddy?
Followed by I’m happy happy happy
We are stuck in some Beckettian NIGHTMARE.
Repetition is a demonstration of the many becoming the one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many that continue to impinge upon it.
It is also very dangerous because it can drive you round the bend.
Resolution and conclusion are inherent in a plot driven narrative. However in real-life there is no PLOT, we are hanging on by the seat of our pants, waiting to see what might happen next.
Thus since there was Eden there is no longer a history just autobiography. I draw heavily upon the nostalgia and fog of our own saga. I make work about it.
The whole content of my being shrieks with contradiction when trying to discuss HER. I love it. It makes me feel real. It makes me feel alone. Sometimes I have no idea what there is to say.
Nevertheless I MUST work with her in an attempt to placate my insanity. I need her but not as much as she needs me. She is oblivious to the woes of the world, politics, economics and blight. I am the malcontent not her.
Nonetheless - She is sensitive to mood swings and has ears like a bats, she picks things up, she feels things and she is canny in her manipulation of US.
When I was younger I was full of hope that one day I might be able to glean what goes on in her head. I made a short film, which explored this, I pictured the cacophony as a hoi polloi.
Her head and the remote Pyrenean landscape in which the film was set became metaphor for both inscape and landscape …. And with the hindsight of time’s arrow a latent Freudian desire to be rid of the difficulty that was her.
We were young – we had no idea what we were doing!
Consciously or unconsciously we manipulate our memories to include or omit certain aspects of our lives.
Every documentary film, even the least self-referential, demonstrates in every frame that an artist’s chief material is himself. It is an excavation of oneself.
It’s always difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. Memory is the past rewritten in the direction of feeling and anything processed by memory is fiction. Therefore our memories are fictions. Memory loves to go hunting – especially in the dark.
And this, my outburst consists of a double translation; memory translates experience and my outburst translates memory.
I’m interested in the generic edge – the thin membrane between what might be called fiction and non-fiction – but I draw from the real to make an ‘unreal’ or ‘ethereal’.
MY head used to be full of questions;
What does it mean to set another person in front of the camera?
Am I not trying to extract something from their soul?
When am I exploiting?
When am I exploring?
When am I adoring?
Is it one and the same?
Is it not impossible to do both?
Is it not the truth of human relationships?
Will Eden live through puberty?
How will I deal with her menstruation?
Will she ever be able to form words that relate to her inner world, her inscape?
Today I return to the same question, again and again
Will I ever truly know her?
My work doesn’t resolve any of these questions it just breeds more, many of which I ignore. There are implied narratives a foot, but they are not complete. They are in flux despite having been worked on for years. They are shoddy and incomplete; they are the work of a second-hand thinker
I believe in the arts as a type of knowledge. I believe in science as knowledge. I believe in religion as superstition and myth – but more on that later.
Artistic truth has laid its foundations on dodgy ground whereas Scientific truth has something definitive to say. It is true for example that the earth moves around the sun, or that black holes are very black. Whereas to say that Eden is a better painter than Jackson Pollock or vica-versa is not a verifiable proposition but an OPINION, and this remains so even if the overwhelming majority of the population don’t share it. Even if it’s just ME.
The progress of science is at the expense of its past mistakes, which might cease to have any relevance and become defunct or a footnote to the history of science. Whereas there are no wrong answers in Artistic Truth because there are no right questions, and past mistakes don’t matter because the present does not displace them. It incorporates them and celebrates them. It can even revere them.
The discourse around the arts is huge. It is as large as humanity and as extensive as the imagination. With art anything is possible, and sometimes despite it’s inferior status it might even help as much as science can help. Besides anyone can do it. Not so with science.
Believing that the ARTS can HELP to make people ‘better’ goes way back to classical times. Aristotle mooted that music was character-forming and that it should be introduced into the education of the young.
When one listens to music our souls undergo a change, he said, a transformation, it arouses moral qualities, but he also went on to say that it must be the ‘right sort of music’.
The wrong sort of music, particularly that of the flute might prove too exciting or too tempting for both children and slaves, which was just too ‘vulgarizing’.
Plato of course thought that the Arts just made people worse, unlike Reason and Science. The Arts were way off the mark when it came to the TRUTH. At best they were only a form of sport or mucking about and besides their encouragement of the passions flew in the face of the principles of the SOUL.
When arranging human SOULS into nine grades, Plato put philosophers at the top, tyrants at the bottom and artists at number six, just above artisans and farmers. He does however make an exception for musicians (provided that the music they make is virtuous and not intended for children and slaves), in which case they came in at number five.
Meantime Shelley claimed that poets were the founders of civilised society, because ‘they nurture the imagination which is the great instrument of moral good.’
BUT according to John Carey and his insightful What Good Are The Arts? Analysing a work of art using ‘rules’ is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle using a forklift truck. Better to just leave it all alone?
SO – go tell the story of your life - it might prove difficult but probably emotionally cathartic – and surely by covering the story that you can remember, it is the same as covering the ‘real story’?
And if one’s life is so entwined with THE CARE of somebody else and there is no obvious separation then it is probably easier to pull on THE WHOLE rather than attempting to demarcate the two. Maybe it is even a device for holding THE WHOLE thing together.
Conventional narrative teaches the reader that life is a coherent, fathomable whole that concludes in a neatly wrapped-up REVELATION or climax. But it is not real-life. Life is full of the stuff that flies at us in bright splinters. It is full of cut-ups, blip-verts and misunderstandings. It is a mosaic, deprived of wholes but FULL of parts.
Everything I have ever made with Eden is a form of collage, it is just a matter of adjacent ideas and conflicting voices. The trained and the un-trained, the coherent and the incoherent.
It is this very presentation as a pasting of ideas, an approximation of things that I’d like to say but don’t have the wherewithal or plot to hang it on.
The altar of plot. Perhaps plots are for dead people.
Collage is pieces of ‘other’ things. Collage demands fragmented materials, often mis-aligned and even out of context. Collage is, in a way, an accentuated act of editing, picking through options and presenting a new configuration, albeit one that is never smooth and complete within the ‘traditional’ sense.
The act of collaging might even prove the key to the post-modern predicament, it might even be the present-day non-binary norm!
AND the gaps between the paragraphs, the silence between the NOISE are equally as important.
It is about the attempting-to-make rather than the finished product. The getting-lost-en-route rather than the arrival.
I’m now mindful of Project Art Works who are based in Hastings and operate out of a converted railway arch.
Eden and I have worked with them for almost ten years. Kate Adams founded the organisation with Jon Cole many moons back. She is a remarkable human being. (Jon sadly died a few years ago, his love of dub reggae still infects a lot of the atmospheres of my work.)
They had a naïve vision: to set up an artist-led organisation that provides a safe haven for adults with special needs - a sanctuary for ambitious creativity - a place that’s inspiring and inspired - a place that takes itself and its users seriously and asks questions of them.
It was a massive undertaking - if you’d listened to the financiers, bureaucrats and naysayers you’d think it was destined to fail.
In fact you’d never have bothered - but they pulled it off. They chucked all of their energies and wisdom at it and something magical has emerged that has affected the lives of thousands of people.
Kate’s ability to articulate the complex issues around creativity and disability is key - it comes from her autobiographical experience and not from abstract theory. It was Kate’s experience as the mother of a man with complex needs that honed her knowledge and sensitivity to the ethical issues arising from the inclusion of people, who cannot knowingly consent to their involvement in art and culture.
Many of the participants do not use language to communicate, and yet the interaction is expansive rather than reductive, utilising gesture, sound, signing and empathy.
To have noticed.
To have been touched.
As I write this Eden careers in from the studio in France to declare that she is happy happy happy - AGAIN but that her bra is too tight. She wants me to take it off. It is hot hot hot in the mountains this time of year.
She is busy on a new BODY of paintings based on the arrow that was shot into King Harold’s eye – her Motown Greatest Hits CD is playing very loudly – this IS biography – it is very hard to concentrate.
Art is NOT truth – Art is a lie that enables us to recognise truth. My art is a haphazard assemblage of some of these parts – the parts that seem to fit – maybe it ALL fits – which is why I leave this BIT in. But unlike Kate Adams I am too selfish and my sanity too precarious to dedicate as much time to so many others.
We need to evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention. In much the same way that what actually happened is only the raw material; what a writer makes of what happened is all that matters.
Eden’s SYNTAX is a tree-like structure, spreading out from a combination of limited root words and ideas that she tries to express.
It grows very slowly. It’s a shadow that hangs over me.
With her all is contingent. All is up for grabs and I’m left with a wonderful acceptance of all things being an approximation, things are never black and white, always axial, and this succour’s me, it satisfies me. It’s a feeling that I have Eden to thank for.
If Eden wasn’t interested in drawing and painting and collaging then I think I would have killed myself by now.
She is my therapy and I am her therapist. We help each other.
We spend time together. We make work together.
We blunder onwards together. We care for each other.
What else is art but the public sharing of intensely personal experiences or ideas?
Monotheistic belief systems and their potential for fanatical mis-interpretation at the hands of MEN frightens me. It obsesses me and depresses me. It impacts on this my discourse of care. If only women were allowed more of a look-in.
But am I not just hiding behind Eden’s innocence and lack-of-understanding? Am I not just too ill-equipped or under-committed to the task of addressing the subject head on, politically, philosophically and intellectually? Like too many of my kind I leave the elephant alone in the room. I’m just too frightened of … IT … THEM – and I don’t know how to confront it.
I seek solace in the lame excuse that the purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers. Don’t talk unless you can undermine the cacophony.
However no human being can exist for long without some sense of his own significance. Worth is worthwhile and without it we are lost. So we grab at what’s to hand. Eden is always to hand.
I’ve been corrupted by the not-knowing – it continues to feed my way of being – the unfathomability of it all – it is hard to march behind a flag of confusion and vagueness but behind it I march …. immersed in the little stuff – We let THE BIG STUFF take care of itself ….
A film-maker friend came round for lunch last summer and was fascinated by Eden’s drawings, he asked whether he might try animating some of them. He did and they worked brilliantly. Over a dozen in a week. I posted them on Eden’s website. People emailed to say how much they enjoyed them. Out of this experience a new relationship grew for Eden.
She loved Glenn’s attentions. She loved the fact that her drawings MOVED. And as a result we were commissioned to make a 3 minute film for Channel 4.
Eden liked the process. The meetings in which I had to translate for her. The technicians involved with the grading and mixing of the film. The runners that presented her with whatever food she wanted.
Glenn was proud with the end result. Eden was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY and as high as a kite on coca cola. I was over-the-moon.
And yet at no point, on her part, were any aesthetic or conceptual choices made. Her drawings had somehow been brought to life. She recognized her own voice and the liveliness of her drawings, but beyond that, it was of no importance to her. It was just something creative and different going on in her life. She’s outside of any system of self-worth. And yet she feels when something she has done is GOOD.
Eden has often been described as an Outsider Artist, a label created by French painter Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside of the boundaries of official culture.
He focused on the art produced by those away from the established art scene, such as psychiatric hospital patients and children.
Perhaps Eden is outside of herself and living in the moment, but as an Insider Artist I have corrupted her.
I’d like to show the film that she made with Glenn: IT’S ALL IN THE MIND
I’ll conclude now with a back drop slide-show of some of the things that we have be working on together for the last five years.
As well as looking-after Eden as a child my intention as she has grown older has always been to help her create. I’ve become the arbitrator of what is good or bad, a role that I used to feel very uncomfortable about.
I felt as if I was taking control, but this is a role that she depends upon, something that she was born into and something that comforts and reassures her - so now I don’t question it.
The marks that she makes I see as ready-mades, things that when re-positioned or ‘arranged’ begin to take on a new meaning or importance.
A shapely swirl of energy holding shattered fragments together, but only just.
And in particular over the last five years we’ve started to introduce maxims or texts, which imply BIGGER significance or existential relevance. They are the ideas that I’m pondering at the time and they relate directly to projects that I might be working on - and in this way the two become entwined and I have the patience to continue.
Eden likes to write on her drawings and paintings, they might appear as titles but invariably they provoke a reaction, it’s as if an INSIDER artist has subverted the innocence of the OUTSIDER artist. He has.
He’s looking for a new meaning, he’s reverse engineering in an attempt to create PUNCTUM. If we’re lucky it works and something pricks.
Is there anything intrepid in the artists’ gesture of striking out towards the unknown, not only without a map but without certainty?
Is there anything of worth to be found?
Probably not BUT we keep doing it …
When we are not sure we are truly alive – Eden reminds me that I’m not sure most of the time – and yet she makes me go on – I blunder on – I wouldn’t be here today if there wasn’t some grandiose idea within all the confusion that I had any notion at all of what I might be saying – she made me do it and through the act of doing it – intermittently - I feel as if I might be getting somewhere …..
THIS OUR STILL LIFE – which some of you might have seen last night – was a portrait and love poem to people and place – an essay on existentialism and isolation – a manifesto under the guise of a home-movie to the voices-in-the-head - but more importantly, having presented and talked about the film on numerous occasions, it made me realise that:
The motor of fiction is narrative.
The motor of essay is thought.
The default of fiction is story telling.
The default of essay is memoir.
Fiction = no ideas but in the things themselves
Essay = NOT the thing itself but ideas ABOUT things.
And we are not alone.
On returning just a few days ago from our summer sojourn I’m always reminded of how VITAL our care mechanism for Eden is.
We have a team of support workers that we employ five days a week.
They each have skills that they bring to Eden’s life as they too encourage and cajole her into drumming - dancing - horse riding – swimming - painting - practising yoga, shopping and dressing.
Without them and the Direct Payments scheme that the local authority provides to fund us we would be lost. Eden would flounder around within the institutions and day centres that manage their charges across the country.
They have their own agenda and discourse of care, but it is more about containing, more about fire fighting and whiling-away-the time. They are incredibly committed and hard working but with no particular objective outcomes.
It’s notoriously and universally difficult to understand what good CARE is all about. You either measure activity, which is easy, or you measure impact, which is harder.
As one of the principle carers for my own daughter I’m only really concerned about her quality of life and her well-being, the art was secondary and probably more a result of my own ego and its’ need for recognition. But Art has installed in Eden a sense of worth and achievement far greater than I could ever have imagined.
I’ve made numerous films that involved Eden – she was one of the central characters in my first feature-length documentary GALLIVANT, she was the catalyst for MAPPING PERCEPTION - a multi media art project funded by the Welcome Trust and made in collaboration with a neuroscientist Dr Mark Lythgoe. And most recently she starred alongside Iain Sinclair, Toby Jones and a Straw Bear in the feature-film BY OUR SELVES.
Over the last ten years we have presented work together in Galleries in Belgium, France and Germany and at Dilston Grove and The Café Gallery in London as well as at Brighton University and The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. We have given performances at The Hayward Gallery, The Barbican, The NFT, Port Elliot Literature Festival and The Latitude Music Festival.
Her drawings and collages have been published in various books and magazines. We continue to share a studio together in Hastings and the French Pyrenees. She is also an integral part of the Wednesday group at Project Art Works who have shown work at Tate Modern, The Camden Arts Centre, MK2 in Milton Keynes and The Jerwood Gallery.
I’m reminded of what I said at the beginning of this presentation but I can’t help thinking that in neurological terms there is a special link between the hypothalamus and the temporal cortex with its stored schema of visual representation. I therefore feel that it reasonable to conclude that some of these connections are specific to certain synaptic alignments thus encoding a particular visual memory - but I won’t.
E is for… Experimental moving image ideas – i.e. technological, expanded, performative, theatrical, sculptural, structural, formal, participatory – and the opening up of possibilities.
E is for… Eden. From the garden and back again … and the fact of Eden and the unique insights she has brought to my life and the work that we have made that has led me to explore very different AREAS.
Eden, as daughter, agent, collaborator and catalyst. Eden as moral compass offering thresholds for ventures into the very core of consciousness and perception. Journeys into the unknown.
Without her I am lost.
Call me naïve, call the hereabove a tautology but ART can give you a flavour, a trace element, an atmosphere or even an insight into what being alive with somebody like Eden means.
And that was my outburst on the Discourse of Care.
The hereabove was presented as a key-note speech for a conference titled; Discourses of Care: Care in Media, Medicine and Society at The University of Glasgow in September 2016.
Andrew Kötting – Louyre – Fougax-et-Barrineuf - Aout 2016