Figure 1. Cup
Figure 2. Felt-tips
Figure 3. Hole punch
Figure 4. Miscellaneous
Figure 5. Pot plants
Figure 6. Tubes
Figures 1–6 are excerpted from What The Matter Is (2009) by Tamarin Norwood, first broadcast March 2009 on Resonance 104.4FM.
A utensil, once it has been damaged, becomes its own image (and sometimes an esthetic object: ‘those outmoded, fragmented, unusable, almost incomprehensible, perverse objects’ that Andre Breton loved). In this case, the utensil, no longer disappearing in its use, appears. This appearance of the object is that of resemblance and reflection: one might say it is its double. The category of art is linked to this possibility objects have of ‘appearing,’ that is, of abandoning themselves to pure and simple resemblance behind which there is nothing – except being. Only what has surrendered itself to the image appears, and everything that appears is, in this sense, imaginary.
Maurice Blanchot, “Two Versions of the Imaginary,” in The Gaze of Orpheus, ed. P. Adams Sitney, trans. Lydia Davis. New York: Station Hill Press, 1981 (original French 1943), pp.79-89: p.84
My life day to day was lived through ordinary actions and powerful emotions. But the more ordinary a day I lived, the more I lifted a child, conscious of nothing but the sweetness of a child’s skin, or the light behind an apple tree, or rain on slates, the more language and poetry came to my assistance. The words that had felt stilted, dutiful and decorative while I was a young and anxious poet, now sang and flew. Finally, I had joined together my life as a woman and a poet. And on the best days I lived as a poet. The language at the end of my day, when the children were asleep and the curtains drawn, was the language all through my day. It had waited for me. What that meant was crucial. For the first time as a poet I could believe in my life as the source of the language I used, and not the other way round. At last, I had the means to challenge what I believed had distorted the idea of the poet. The belief that poetry had the power to dignify and select a life, instead of the reverse. That a life, in other words, became important only because it was the subject matter for a poem.
Eavan Boland, A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. New York: WW Norton & Co, 2011
As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture – above all, what they disclose about us), but we only catch a glimpse of the things. We look through objects because they are codes by which our interpretative attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.
Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No.1, special issue: Things. Autumn 2001, pp.1-22: p.4
What Twain helps us to recognize is how the accumulation of objects (and not the desire for the object) might be considered the (futile) effort to materialize that abstraction – to fill up that abstraction, as it were, with particular contents. ‘The House Beautiful’ chapter of Life on the Mississippi registers that effort with a five-page catalogue of objects: ‘ingrain carpet; mahogany centre-table; lamp on it, with green-paper shade. […] Other bric-a-brac […] quartz, with gold ward adhering; old Guinea-gold locket, with circlet of ancestral hair in it; Indian arrow-heads, of flint.’ Despite the hyperspecificity of the catalogue, these are simply the generic contents of the generic ‘residence of the principal citizen, all the way from the suburbs of New Orleans to the edge of St. Louis.’ However passionate the particularity, it has no particularizing point.
Bill Brown, “The Tyranny of Things,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2. Winter 2002, pp.442-469
It is rare that a being who is not totally engrossed in his action is not mannered. Every personage who seems to tell you: ‘Look how well I cry, how well I become angry, how well I implore,’ is false and mannered. […] If you lose your feeling for the difference between the man who presents himself in society and the man engaged in action, between the man who is alone and the man who is looked at, throw your brushes into the fire. […] Whether you compose or act, think no more of the beholder than if he did not exist. Imagine, at the edge of the stage, a high wall that separates you from the orchestra. Act as if the curtain never rose.
Denis Diderot cited in Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp.82-132
I’m put off by museums in general; they reek of a holy death which offends my sense of reality. […] Moreover […] most advanced art of the last half-dozen years is, in my view, inappropriate for Museum display. […] Museums do more than isolate such work from life, they subtly sanctify it and thus kill it.
Allan Kaprow 1967, cited in Allan Kaprow: Art as Life, eds Eva Meyer-Hermann et al. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008, p.70
[…] here is the ball park I perceive: an artist can
work within recognizable art modes and present the work in recognizable art contexts (e.g., paintings in galleries; poetry in poetry books; music in concert halls, etc.)
work in unrecognizable, i.e., nonart, modes but present the work in recognizable art contexts (e.g., pizza parlour in a gallery; a telephone book sold as poetry, etc.)
work in recognizable art modes but present the work in nonart contexts (eg., a “Rembrandt as an ironing board”; a fugue in an air-conditioning duct; a sonnet as a want ad, etc.)
work in nonart modes but present the work as art in nonart contexts (e.g., perception tests in a psychology lab; anti-erosion terracing in the hills; typewriter repairing; garbage collecting, etc. (with the proviso that the art world knows about it))
work in nonart modes and nonart contexts but cease to call the work art, retaining instead the private consciousness that sometimes it may be art, too (e.g., systems analysis; social work in a ghetto’ hitchhiking; thinking, etc.)
Allan Kaprow, “Nontheatrical Performance” (1976), in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2003, pp.175-176
Masahiro Mori, “The Uncanny Valley,” trans. K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato (original Japanese “Bukimi No Tani.”) Energy, Vol. 7, No. 4. 1970, pp.33-35
Oscar Wilde’s unsettling epigram that being natural is a post isn’t too far away. Consciousness makes artifacts of us all. And so does the gallery, the transforming powers of which increase as modernism declines. The spectators in the late-modernist gallery are somehow artificial, aware of being aware – consciousness quoting itself. Though time in the white cube is always changing, the space gives the illusion that time is standing still, as if on a pedestal.
Brian O’Doherty, Studio and Cube: On the Relationship between where Art is Made and where Art is Displayed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, p.5
The idea of working in a ‘studio’ makes me uncomfortable, always has, as has thinking of myself as an ‘artist.’ Both terms presume that my motive is ‘to make art’ […] I don’t like to know where I’m going to end up before I begin. […] I tried having a studio only once, in 1985, when a sculptor friend and I rented an additional apartment in the Hell’s Kitchen building where we lived. For me, the experiment lasted just two weeks. I didn’t understand maintaining a separate room to which I was to ‘go and make my art.’ I hadn’t gone to art school and never got into the studio habit. Having a studio made my mind feel boxed-in.
David Robbins in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, eds. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p.261
Lucas Samaras,‘Room #1’ (1964)
This is what I have been thinking: for the most commonplace event to become an adventure, you must – and this is all that is necessary – start recounting it. This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as though he were recounting it.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Robert Baldick. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965 (original French 1938), p.61
He began, very cautiously, to open his eyes, to see whether a gramophone was really there. But real things – real things were too exciting. He must be cautious. He would not go mad. First he looked at the fashion papers on the lower shelf, then gradually at the gramophone with the green trumpet. Nothing could be more exact. And so, gathering courage, he looked at the sideboard; the plate of bananas; the engraving of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, at the mantelpiece, with the jar of roses. None of these things moved. All were still; all were real.
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 (first published 1925)
More about about Tamarin’s work can be found here. Her VSK Chapook TEXT AS TOOLKIT: A Practical Handbook is here. Her exhibition THESE ARE NOT POEMS will be at the Totalkunst Gallery, Edinburgh August 17-19 2011 as part of I AM NOT A POET.