Currently, one of my weaknesses in art-making is a failure to articulate my own conceptual process. Feedback from the interim show suggested a lack of clarity in my thinking which was apparent in the final work. In the context of a show this translates into poor consideration for the viewer – I am effectively asking the viewer to read my mind.
Part of the problem relates to technicalities, such as terminology. What, for example, does “methodology” actually mean and how does it differ from method? Realising I first needed some definitions, I searched Youtube for tutorials. They suggested that methods are the techniques for approaching a question, the applied processes which might involve qualitative or quantitative data, analysis, evaluation and reflection. Methods are instruments or tools and are usually not difficult to make visible. Methodology, however, is more tricky and could be described as a framework to explain and justify the method and derived theories. It is the foundation, the under-pinning, the conceptual process which supports the method. Methodology can also, therefore, be described as a systematic analysis of the method.
This all sounds a lot like applied science, and I think this is partly where my problems lie. I am trying to understand art by a science-based approach. I attempt to investigate the issue as a surgeon might. I insert endoscopes trying to peer into the body of the art-making process and the wider Art World (capitalised – obviously) but the diagnosis eludes me. In frustration I make cuts hoping to rupture through into this unknown, alien world but still I am thwarted.
When I’m struggling to understand something, I often turn to metaphors. Understanding art is like trying to understand the human brain. Exposing its anatomy only goes a short way to explaining a dizzyingly complex functional system. Even if we could identify the millions of neurones and trillions of connections in the brain, along with all the neurotransmitters and how they work, it is no guarantee that this reductionist approach would expose the mysterious workings of the brain….and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe some things are meant to remain unknown and unknowable to science. In science the unknowable is equivalent to failure and therefore the unknown has a temporal aspect – it is only unknown for now. But in art, the unknown is rich territory for exploration, but then art is not required to explain, investigate, analyse, dissect, diagnose or remedy.
Returning to the interim show, a question was raised about my use of materials – traditional art-making materials, such as stretchers, clay, plaster of Paris etc. At the time it was an intuitive choice which felt right, but this isn’t enough if I’m going to make art that will stand up to critique – it reflects a sloppy methodology. But thinking about it now, I think there was some justification, at least at an autobiographical level, and it has something to do with the clash of cultures of science and art I’m currently experiencing.
The installation was presented, as some one described, an an exploded rabbit hutch. The individual pieces, which only just remain as one body, all suggest ruptures, or breaches in the body. I was always aware that the form and content of this piece appear poorly integrated. The content (or subject) is related to technological intervention on the body, from knowledge about the micro-anatomy of the body eg DNA, to the devastating effects of technologies such as weaponry, to the endoscopes that explore it and the surgical techniques that resect, rebuild and remodel it. The form (or instrument/ tool) is art itself. The creation of this work and the self-critique which has followed represent a turn around in my thinking. The disciplines of science and philosophy have always turned their diagnostic instruments on the subject of art, but maybe the reverse is also possible?
So, returning to the original question and transparency of the conceptual process. The viewer could not possibly have grasped what I’ve indicated above. The aesthetic is too out of kilter with the content. Even if the concept had been better presented it still lacks a context, which can only be gained by developing a practice that is consistent and intelligible. My plan now is to develop such a practice – one which lies at the elusive intersection between art, philosophy and science.