Art interpreted as value
If geography is considered to be 'Earth Writing', as its Greek etymology suggests, how then would we perceive artistic productions where the map of the cultural past, present and future manifest itself (or at times remains in check) as we examine it through the mediation of art writing?
Does art writing work like merely a means for one to indicate the location or the origin/antecedent of a particular form of art? Likewise, is it also a method of charting the corresponding psychodynamics and/or social-historical realities against which art is usually conceived? Or, is it about tracing the cultural geography – a cartographic rendition of the collective sparks in myriad forms of art made noticeable through contextualization?
If these propositions are the most definitive of the vocation of an art writer, then it is also about reading a gamut of sensibilities, which go to constructing the creative lore, in relation to the existing categories of knowledge. And what exists as categories may not always be adequate for the ever-changing landscape of cultural productions. It would be an understatement to say that there has not been much progress in 'discoursing' in this country, as thinking itself seems to have entered a fog zone. As far as the haute bourgeoisie is concerned, its rhythm and dynamics has been lost to indifference, and uninformed reactions brought on by complicity.
Whereas our European counterpart has long been suffering from over-theorizing, over-intellectualizing, we are, without a doubt, left with a textual legacy mainly concerned with cultural celebration from a national, or to be more specific, 'statist' point of view. Apart from the few who have had a decisive position vis-à-vis the politics of aesthetics, most efforts fall into a rut where lore is lost in fashion, tradition in a predetermined, and at times, hardnosed interpretation of the past.
In this clime, writers are often self-assigned mentors, and at times some are so bent on promoting a name or two that they would prefer things shrouded in mysticism. Thus, close reading is replaced by an assurance of closeness to the artist as elbow is proximal to the head.
Writers, like scientists, usually interpret patterns to bring into focus the value of an artist's oeuvre in relation to the social-spiritual functions they serve by examining both content and form through the aesthetico-historical excitements they generate and the psychosocial episodes they institute.
But, value judgment can easily be perceived as a form of interpretation. As we readily accept scientific judgment as truth, we are ferociously uncommitted to accept the judgments and evaluations put forth by art writers. The inversions and interference inaugurated by thinking itself has long been an area of darkness in the collective consciousness of the educated class. And preposterous as it may seem, interpretation is perceived to be the prerogative of the artists themselves in this poverty-orientated, development-goals-driven region. That is exactly why the word 'criticism' often occasions only head-scratching on the part of many.
While the culture industry exploits the cosmetic qualities or the seismic effects of every event or phenomenon, without ever taking into account the actual phenomenon itself, not to mention always skirting round the noumenon, writers too operate from within the bracket of 'allegiance' as if their task as critics has long since been rendered obsolete and their efforts have no practical bearing on the level of praxis.
As the 14th Asian Art Biennale closes, we are left with the feeling that the rift between the world of thought and practice is becoming more and more pronounced. How to bridge the gap is not the only question facing our generation, we surely have done little to add to the culture of thinking the essential ingredients that stem from close and contextual reading. A lot remains to be done to ensure that the textual and artistic practices eclipse to prepare for a new departure.