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the thought of stuff

Making-Do in Dyson’s Graveyard
by Chris Mazeika

The unfolding of work in the open region of the world is the realm of performativity where the logic of practice, not rationality, operates.
Barbara Bolt Art Beyond Representation

In a modern technocratic society, few people know how to build a shelter for themselves, least of all possess the know-how to build a house. In affluence, we have embraced the poverty of forgetting how to grow our own food, even how to cook it, and the clothes we wear, we could not make. This is not an attempt at forging an apocalyptic vision, nor a plea for a return to the craft of heimat werk (1), but a call to pause for consideration that even from the very point of our coming into the world, the moment of our first drawn breath is now a process that teeters precariously between the polarities of a technological Caesarian incision or the labours of a drug-free birth. The process of natural or assisted birth is fetishised by one party or another and not entirely without resonance to the question of whether an artist materializes their own work, with their handling beyond manifesting the concept, so that it is an interaction of artist’s body and artist’s material that informs and transforms the artistic process.

With birth, death and disease becoming increasingly technologically medical, and with our most basic needs of shelter, food and clothing now invisibly met, we are placed further out of this body as more and more of our most basic needs are manufactured by distant, absent hands, out of sight and out of this mind, beyond our reach. This is our habitus. To make has become extraordinary.

We are distinguished by a distinct absence of making, a dearth of familiarity with technique and yet surrounded by a surfeit of technology. Manufacture or material practice, a making with hands, has been pulled beyond our grasp, so that our collective hands have been free from making for more than a generation.

With more knowing about and less knowing how, tacit knowledge diminishes. Where intimacies were once forged by knowledge of proximate tools and materiality, intimacies and appearances now presence in an instant. The body, becoming less tacitly articulate, becomes yet more removed from social spatial presence. Social networking sites, now increasingly engaged within public and therefore social spheres, further reduce actual presence in space and constrain relational life.

To learn through practice is no longer ordinary. When Susan Schwartz states that those who learn through the body experience knowledge differently, the difference she is referring to is primarily one of a sensed, felt response. For those who learn through the body, through physical practice, the corporeal, kinetic, sensory engagement with the world emerges paramount to the conceptual or thought response.

Hands-free technologies leave our hands free and keen to reach out for things. When this reach-out turns to throw-out, the distance oblivions the objects and our relationship to the objects and each other even further. Objects return to the unknown distance of their origin. As exposure to the means of making and of production in general disappear so the bodily construct of production disappears also. Redundant processes lead to redundant places, within and beyond the body.

Wave after wave of unwanted objects without provenance become land-fill; profaned beyond their first site of holding, placing, they lie buried as a curatorial act of future archaeology. Buried with these objects is the practical knowledge of our intimacy with know-how. Perhaps this is apocalyptic after all?

As we daily submit to becoming homo technologicus, what becomes of homo faber, homo ludens and homo aestheticus? Participation in the act of making, techne (know-how), once wrenched, cast, thrown, to a distant site far beyond episteme (way of knowing) that an intimacy, a rejoinder between techne and episteme seems increasingly unlikely. Making and the knowledge that is found and transmitted through practice remains marginal to the central concerns of education and the economy.

Where nothing lasts, familiarities, intimacies and the immaterial world they participate in are jeopardized. This promiscuity of relationship to things (events, people, places) versus an intimacy of tacit knowledge of the process of making risks a moral critique. But I do not want to focus on art as object. For the artist what matters may be the making and not at all what is made, the process and not the product. What is made, completed or finished may be of no interest to the artist. If, outside of the consecration of the moment of making, when material is transformed (elevated?) by the artist’s attention, effort and deliberation and then delivered into the consecrated realm of the gallery, a work should be touched, violated or vandalized, the artist’s participation in the work is reawakened. Where such making is perceived as a flow, communing through time, space, materiality, attention, effort, deliberation, such an intensification achieves a quality close to devotion, absorption at least, immersion in a thoroughly mindful forgetfulness. These are the dynamics of relational aesthetics felt through the immaterial culture, focusing on the immateriality of the work (as verb) of art. A state of consecration, one of noli me tangere, don’t touch me, must hold fast for the perpetual intimacies offered and demanded of the work to achieve their consummation.

In Madurai, South India, making is seen, heard, smelt, felt, and tasted to the extent that moments of saturation, immersion in the sounds, smells, rhythms achieve near ecstatic proportions. The approach to Sri Menakshi temple is a cacophony of the sounds of all things imaginable being made. Around the temple compound, sewing machines whir, hammers strike on metal, wood is being sawn and carved, all manner of materials are undergoing transformation. These rhythmic strains resound off the stone walls, the sound defining space as aural, echoic as much as visual. Inside the temple compound women throw ghee and light lamps for the goddess, uttering mantric verses. There appears to be little rupture here between the world of making outside the temple and the world of making, of devotion, that takes place within. A correspondence of gestures is manifest. The generative and regenerative principle in art as in ritual is one that belongs to actuality, to the sensory episteme. Art appeals to a system dependent on the senses and not primarily on thinking, thought.

The sensory episteme, the ways in which our senses lead us to knowing, is a knowing that is outside of and marginal to meaning’ achieved via a summation of signals, or signs. (2)

“...not bodies employed to make sense, but a sense that gives and divides bodies. No longer the semiological, symptomatological, mythological and phenomenological pillaging of bodies, but thought and writing delivered, devoted to bodies. The writing of a corpus as a dividing of bodies, sharing their being-bodies, but not signifying it...But a sense open, as ‘sensory’ senses are – or rather, opened by their opening, exposing their being – extended – a significance, itself spacing, of spacing.” (Nancy/Rand 2008b:83)

Beyond the visual field of art, we feel space and what occupies space with the whole body. For instance, shape may be perceived as sound. Does a square sound different to a circle? Through interval, repetition, we sense harmony and dissonance. The visual, aural, olfactory, tacit and gustatory are supported by a visceral response and constitute emotional responses. These performative dynamics depend on engagement with, and immaterial exchange through, the five senses – a bodily response free from the ideational, and without recourse whatsoever to the tyranny of semiotics that has determined so much aesthetic theory.

Chris Mazeika

1 Heimat werk literally home-work, found its most notorious expression during the Third Reich as a response to the perceived Bolshevik Bauhaus and inaugurated a return to traditional Germanic craft values in all areas of design and art.

2 See Bolt 2004:117 on the problem with semiotics

Bolt, Barbara. 2004. Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image
Lecoq, Jacques. 2002. The Moving Body, Le corps Poetique. Performance Books, A& C Black 2002.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2003a. The Ground of the Image. Trans. Jeff Fort. Perspectives in Continental Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2008a. ‘The being-with of being-there’. Continental Philosophy Review (2008) 41:1-15
Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2008b. Corpus. Trans. Richard. A. Rand. Perspectives In Continental Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2008d. Noli me tangere: On the Raising of the Body. Trans. Sarah Clift, Pascale-Anne Brault, Michael Naas. Perspectives In Continental Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.
Schwartz, Susan L. 2004. Rasa, Performing The Divine In India. New York: Columbia University Press.
Laskewicz, Zachar. 2003. ‘From the Hideous to the Sublime: Olfactory processes, performance texts and the sensory episteme’ Performance Research 8(3), pp.55-65 Taylor Francis.

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