Filed under: French Jungle Stories | Tags: Art and Architecture, Phenomenology
Anyone who makes art knows creativity comes to life from limitations. The limit is an artist’s point of departure. So what should one expect when 13 architects and 15 artists are given three days and a large empty room at the École Nationale Supérieure D’Architecture (ENSAPVS) in Paris to express themselves creatively? I was not quite sure myself when I entered ENSAPVS one Saturday morning in June. In fact I am still not.
Part of an ambitious art project – A Winter Story in the Wild Jungle – the ENSAPVS exhibition resulting from a three day long marathon of collaboration between architects and artists in an empty room in a school of architecture in Paris, proved that even the most annoying of imposed limits may actually turn out be good for creativity. Even though the pile of the cheap materials obtained from a diverse source of home improvement stores around Paris looked more like a pile of debris shored up after nasty weather on some distant and surely forgotten beach, to me seemed quite discouraging when I walked into the ENSAPVS this morning in June, the rest of the creative ensemble was not put off as easily. Making art from poor materials seemed to be a lesser problem to this ensemble. The American writer Richard Bach is supposed to have said “The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t.” I suppose that is where I went wrong , in limiting the Is.
Pulling the treads during this workshop weekend, the aspiring architect and artist Benjamin Herr, had asked his motley crew of artistic souls to contemplate the relations between art and architecture and to bring samples of low cost materials to the pile of creativity we were now looking at. The goal set for this weekend, Mr.Herr announced, was to see art and architecture united in site-specific installations that would transform the now empty room into something less empty and definite, and preferably of a more utopian character. Herr’s crew gathered around the heap of old newspapers, bags of tile spacers, plastic forks, cardboard, lead, poker chips and playing cards, plastic film, match sticks and other inexpensive acquirements, started brainstorming. There was talk of body prostheses, the phantasmatic buildings of Francois Roche, performance, body movement, robots and otherworldly structures. As the day passed by, ideas seemed to pop out form nowhere. By the end of the day, it was clear to this writer that one of her original sins was certainly one of limiting the Is – for her there was no way of seeing the pile of rubbish as anything but a limit to creativity.
For the crew of Mr. Herr, however, the difference between what Is and what Is not, seemed less absolute. The crew would have made the perfect team for Extreme Makeover – although their makeover would probably have been a little too experimental for the customary Extreme Makeover house owner. By Day Two the empty room had started transforming, and by the time of the reopening of the room to the public the day after, the four walls seemed less definite, and the space less limited. Cardboard pyramids had started to grow organically at one of the walls extending into the room and grabbing hold of a supporting pillar. A giant black mushroom was growing with speed in one of the corners. A cluster of black garbage bags had been filled with air and were now protruding into the room, looking as if they were about to multiply at any second providing some form of heavy duty fungus extinguisher was not applied immediately.
In one of the other corners yet another highly artificial material had taken an organic shape. A cobweb of plastic Zip Ties had developed into a fragile cage-like structure with the opening faced into the corner. I imagine a child of normal curiosity would have felt the absolute need to climb into the cobweb cage only to discover getting back out would prove a lot more difficult than getting in. As most cobwebs, this one looked alluring. So too did another cobweb, this one made of white plastic tile spacers, growing on a wall close by. And if the cobweb in the corner revealed no explicit history of catching humans in its net, this one did. A fossil of a full grown human could clearly be detected. Supposedly documentary photos from the story of the cobwebs becoming actually testifies to this highly unusual event of a human tapped in a cobweb. According to the photos a girl was actually stuck in the tile spacers for quite some time and was only able to get out at the last minute due to help form two friends. Whether the story behind this cobweb is true or not, is hard to say. Let us not limit the Is in trying to find out.
The most interesting with the art works I have mentioned, and the other art works present in the exhibition too, is the attention the architects and artists seemed to share for the partly unconscious physical impact that a work of art produces on its audience. As with the minimalist Robert Morris, there seemed to be a strong phenomenological concern for the perceptual conditions of experiencing art and architecture in the team. The talk of architectural structures and body prostheses at beginning of the weekend had evidently had an impact when the team went to work. My immediate reaction to the exhibition resulting from the short weekend workshop was that the works of art and the methods used when making them was not so much about intellectual research and conscious conceptualization as it was a reaction to the surroundings, i.e. time and space. On the whole the exhibition seemed to develop with less attention to a deeper meaning, than a wish to challenge the audience’s perceptual experience of the previously austere and clearly defined room.
For an art historian in desperate need to put everything into an art historical context, an interconnection to the minimalism and gestalt-theory of Robert Morris seems identifiable in the exhibition practice of the ENSAPVS team. Robert Morris took a special interest in the philosopher Merleau Ponty and his Phenomenology of Perception (1945) where Ponty went to great lengths to show that spatial, temporal and sensory stimuli influences our perception of what is true and what isn’t, as much as any predetermined truth expressed through scientific laws. In effect Ponty questioned the Kantian cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am – by asking if it is at all possible to separate mind and body. Morris responded to Ponty’s rhetorical question by exhibiting his now famous untitled cubes in various formations, claiming that minimalist artists should aim to make art objects a function of space, light, and the viewer’s field of vision as much as anything else. Morris wanted his audience to contemplate the physical and psychological effect his sculptural objects generated merely by being present – how, for example, did the sculptural shapes and their placement, interfere with the visitors’ movement around the exhibition room?
Walking around the in the exhibition room at the ENSAPVS, Morris’ exercises in phenomenological gymnastics came to mind. Was not my reaction to the art works around me exactly of a phenomenological kind? I admit having problems restricting my desires to touch, pull and even climb artworks that look particularly inviting and my instant thought of how it would be to climb into one of the cobwebs at the ENSAPVS should thus have come as no surprise. My instinct was to “test” the spatiality of the artworks, would it be possible climb the cardboard pyramids or would it not? In my mind I knew it wouldn’t have worked, the laws of nature would most surely not have allowed for it, but my body was still tempted to try, it didn’t look all that impossible. My initial impulse to climb the cardboard pyramids and then rejecting this impulse on the grounds of earlier experiences serves as illustrating of Merleau Ponty’s most basic phenomenology. Ponty argued for the impossible separation of body and mind on the grounds that the body’s experience of the world a lot of the time is what provides knowledge. It is in other words not enough to think, if you have no bodily experience of living.
So in the end it was my earlier experiences of climbing unsafe structures and falling down that prevented me from physically challenging what I saw. I found it best to desist from temptation and limit the Is. I suppose Richard Bach was right, we should be careful of limiting the Is. However, breaking the limit with success requires the right time and the right place. The team under guidance of Mr. Herr was successful, whereas I have decided to save some limits for later breaking.
Jungle Stories is the newborn kid sister of A Winter Story in the Wild Jungle, Hotpot Milk Between Shallow Apples – an art project born in London, UK, in 2007. Like her sister, Jungle Stories is into arts, but she is not a performer herself. She is the kind of girl that enjoys spending time in theatres and art galleries in order to let herself be inspired to write – short texts or long texts, fiction or prose. Should you be interested in watching her grow up, all you have to do is check in on her from time to time.
With a brave heart and a courteous tongue she shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.
Rudyard Kipling (paraphrased)
Filed under: Norwegian Jungle Stories | Tags: Elitist, funded art, Norwegian Jungle Stories, Ulf Erik Knudsen
A representative of the Norwegian Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) by the name of Ulf Erik Knudsen proudly revealed he had picked up a rhetoric trick or two from U.S election campaigns last week; Knudsen set out to counter attack the elitism of the Norwegian art scene. Knudsen had had enough of those elitist people in the Norwegian art world who thought they could serve as guardians of good art. If the Progress Party gets enough seats in the Parliament after the general election next year to form a government – either alone or through a coalition – there will be no more funds for elitist art projects, Knudsen stated. He further commented that in general, the Progeress Party does not support the funding any art. “Artists should not count on funds from the government; they should adjust to market demands. If they refuse to produce art popular with the art market, then they should get a real daytime job”, Knudsen said in an interview with a journalist from a national newspaper. When Knudsen was asked by the journalist what he meant by an elitist art scene, his answer was “It’s hard to define. But I know it when I see it”.
At Jungle Stories we suppose everything goes as long as it’s not elitist…. We hereby dedicate Jungle Stories to Ulf Erik Knudsen. God forbid any elitist postings in this blog!
Welcome to the Jungle!