Artwork and gaze
Things are exhibited in order to guide the view of the beholder.*
– Peter Friedl
Works of art inhabit a world that has no fixed field of action or ground of play – it is a virtual topography without a predetermined boundary. If art is produced in such shifting, shuffling plane, its interpretation too may be problematized due to this indeterminacy vis-à-vis the processing zone. But the context – the variables of the social-political-economic background and the psychography of the individual creator which are its building blocks – are the reference points through which we may recognize the birthplace as well as determine the nature of the artwork. Via the built and the brio of a given piece of art one is able to examine – to varied degree (depending on the tools one is equipped with) – the governing principles that have brought it into existence; and also by throwing light on its current status one is able to make visible how it adds value to the existing stream of knowledge and where it is now stationed as a significant object or existence.
From the originary field of play a work of art enters the social-psychogeography, during which the public perception of it starts to change as every act of interpretation connects it to a new web of significance or meanings. Also, as the work starts its life amidst myriad other art forms and even anti- or non-art expressions and mundane every-day objects, it begins to accumulate layers of significations which even its creator did not envisage.
There are tools through which these tangible and intangible attributes of an artwork are made expressive. Charting of the psychodynamics that created the work helps us to place it against the historical time and economic matrix with which it shares its ecology – expressly inscribed as they are in the form and content and also in the mythical/mystical dimension that it achieves in the public perception. These are codes that demand continuous decoding.
When we see art as a mere object of contemplation, its reading is retarded, and, on top of that, what gets sacrificed is the avenues through which one is to enter the erogenous cores (of which there are many) of the work to feel ecstatic, to be in its presence or midst.
Viewers given to iconographic interpretation, those who are apparently operating under the gaze that obstinately sticks to a fixed notion about the relationship between the object (work of art) and the subject (the beholder), simply choose to stay out of the very routes through which all sorts of unpacking are made possible. Thus, the very acts of reading or re-reading and extracting meaning or providing interpretation in relation to the anthropodynamics of which the work is a part is kept shrouded in mystery. Anthropodynamics is the sum total of actions and attributes created by a community from within and without their lived experiences; and through this, human aspirations are shaped and reshaped and the collaborative nature of art-making usually occurs.
The societal plain of immanence – to borrow a concept thrown into the discursive domain by Gilles Deleuze and to utilize it in an altogether different context – is a field without closure. In the social domain, art resides in the multiplicity of meanings in relation to the world of matters and ideas as well as the nature of art itself and its ever-changing faces.
When art forgets its own nature, it clings to the make-believe worlds, draws on 'false consciousness' of its creators, giving rise to rigidification of all acts and concepts. The fear of motion or flux in such a well-defined playing field – where binaries set the thumb rules – is the predominant force which diverts us from exploring all other possibilities, derailing the very project of meaning generation. All avid realists and abstractionists are the ones who erroneously operate from within a fixed frame of binarism – clinging to the false belief that there are no other alternative.
This modernist tactic of looking through binarism is part and parcel of the imperial power politics as is evident in the recent spate of event in the Middle East, where a large portion of the reading from the international media is that of the 'civilizing' force battling it out with the 'brute' force. The relay of interpretative reports only lends weight to the inexcusable monolithic views of the unfolding events, sidestepping the rhizomes of various implications, and it should be our resolve to make known the fact that examining them apparently is the only way for us to get a clearer picture. As the Middle East plunges further into chaos, the West-East canonical divide seems to play havoc with our reading of reality as well as the represented reality.
In our effort to defuse such binarism saturated views, one must rely on the horizontal flow of the traffic of ideas – so that through promiscuous commingling of nations, notions, ideas, narratives and imaginings there emerge resisting/dissenting voices that stand apart from the white noises emanating from the ambit of false consciousness. By trashing iconographic reading of both reality and art, we must place our bet squarely on semiotic reading – a process that may be the only way of making sense of both the worlds – the monolithic order of imperial desire and the seemingly disordered, nondescript stretch of area that lies beyond it, from where new orders are issued forth.
* The Impossible Museum, e-flux, journal 23, 03, 2011.