Curator Forum | Text for Speaking on 20 October, 2016, at PICA

Robert Cook, 2016

Performance notes to self:

Read it really, really fast like a tidal wave of words so that the discomfiting segues feel like semi-painful mashing(s?) of gears.

Don’t worry if Gemma’s and Andrew’s talks are better than yours; try and be confident anyway; we all have different subjectivities (?/voices?/tones?) to offer.

Remember, your goal is to one day be Spalding Gray, but not Hudson-ised, not yet.

(Plus, ask Andrew if you can speak last.)

 

ThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThis

ThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThis

ThisThisT: Its Over

 

I first saw this show last year in Artspace, Sydney. It was, more or less the morning, maybe 11am to 12 noon-ish, and we – though I only remember myself (I checked and she was with me, but apparently we were in different rooms “we were on our own in there”…weird) – were doing a gallery loop on foot, towards the MCA (bookshop!!!) for duty and a thought I had about Stephen Shore. I didn’t know what I/we was/were going to see necessarily just that it was “a Justene Williams show” and that I should see it (interest, diligence).I remember opening the doors of Artspace and them being hard to open, and finding myself in the middle of some kind of sculptural-art-work-I-assumed-situation. I/we (I, I guess) had to walk up and between and then distinctly around some part of the sculptural-art-work-I-assumed-situation. And though it was no doubt the same for all viewers, it was very much like coming across something happening that I personally was explicitly and singly not invited to and had made an awful blunder by turning up nonetheless (an event maybe like a wedding reception – something, this is, that actually involves real transgression of etiquette). As I moved around, the sense was (increasingly) of arriving at a pagan ritual as slithers of video acted like the flicker of flames, and a video-community spoke to and of itself in circular tongues, shaping and acting out a ceremony of rebellion, celebration and exultation.The amplification of the intruder motif saw me spiral further downwards, and, in hindsight, it was probably a counter to the stupid rush of a high I was still on from the night before, a night of being majestic, irresistible, someone for whom Twin Shadow songs were written, especially “you’re the golden light, you’re the golden light…” …which we all know was sarcastic yet not all at the same time, as I was charismatically (huh!) in the middle of something, a Samuel Hodges opening at Alaska Projects and after at some bar, upstairs, downstairs, with friends deeply, intimately, drunkenly in the world, and so the pay-back, day-after face-plant moment of being in the way, of being too much, my awesome visibility squealing-sour spitting me out of Artspace and into the street…standing there looking at the pie and pea stand over the road and thinking does anyone actually eat that stuff apart from people right there eating that stuff, which says a lot about my idea of the category “people”, as I realised I was embodying Lacan’s quip about the sardine can, the one that goes something like “you see that sardine can, well it doesn’t see you!”My emo-ness is not the correct interpretation of the parable (?), but there is a truth-to-me about shame there anyways, and, yes, still, as we chatted about the show after, walking up the stairs at the back of the AGNSW, I think I said “oh yes, it was very good, very good”. Which is what I wrote to Alexie…very good, very good…when I got back, because I did love the show and because also I wanted her to remember that I was still alive. And maybe also in defiance of that blanking I walked myself into…so, here, hey, I am a professional, see me do this thing where I have the job and the work email account, the one with the dot.gov.dot.au thank you very much…Surely I was welcome is what I was saying without saying, and so when Andrew asked me to be a part of this thing, a small thing in his words, as I was about to step in to do a studio visit and therefore feeling a kind of curatorial agency/power, I was able to say, in addition to, “oh, of course”, “oh, yes I’ve seen it”. And I cannot tell you how much happiness those words give us curators, “oh yes I’ve seen it, here, there”. Yes, the pre-seen event! But, as you’ll imagine, my saying it was bound up with that feeling of that crash I had, that come down that was torqued by another, ever-growing shame, for not having seen all the other things while I was seeing that thing, and, so with the Gaze of the sardine can on my back, my thrill was transient, tainted, as always.The disappointment of which I naturally thought I could put on hold for a while and be totally cool and happy and so agreed with Andrew that in order to start this lecture thing that was quickly being called a “project” – the connotations of which I liked very much – we (Gemma, Andrew and I) had a single drink, one each I mean, not one shared. And after the single beer I get/got up from the table first and ride/rode (figure out tenses later) home, cold always, always in this winter of endless, endless, endless 100mg depression, and at home, I writre/wrote this here, and I quote myself, a better self, I think: The thing with art writing, and art writing as talking, is this: we are paid, or not, less for the words we make so much as for agreeing to thinking and dreaming towards the name of an artist, for agreeing, this is, to take their fantasies into our fantasy life for the dedicated period of time we call before-the-deadline. This is why all art writing is actually not literary but performative, as an incorporation that both gives form to us and that we give form to. This makes us actors in life, and it ensures we carry all the awful baggage of that form of being-between-being, and I find myself unexpectedly (because I am tired and bored of all my responses in life) bound to an idea in the work, or in the writing about it, in an interview maybe, where the writer or Justene says, implies, that her work is in some way unconsciousand I have just found myself saying, maybe eight times, that I do not believe in sublimation anymoreand that I dont because I think I just want to make my life better not to channel it through a thing, and so when I ride home, rehearsing this writing right now, now speaking, I say to myself, the final sentence of this paragraph: maybe I actually do not believe in sublimation because I am wholly unconscious, and that is my struggle. And in this passage of time and activity of moving and sitting and talking and having a single beer only, her thought-name, text-fragment as promise of her work in the other room that I imagine now, becomes my analyst, and my way to begin writing as Adam Phillips says he does, with immediacy, and circuitousness. And in this economy I act within, this is my payment. And this is why I owe her (not her, her name, her role) my words. This is, what I owe her is the subjective form of explanation that is the performance of a beyond-to the curators social responsibility to offer reasons, interpretation, context, clean facts as if they are not fabrications, as if they are not simply ways of being held accountable to another human as a peripheral other, sitting in another room talking at imaginary people whilst the mechanism of an unconscious loops.   And so too, of course, her name becomes sublimation. One thing for another thing. Which is complicated because being wholly unconscious my relationship to repression is very, very different from all of yours. And the fact that I said the word desire, if indeed I said it, but who doesnt, means I am simultaneously too conscious to understand anything that is hitting me from the side. And so when I walked around her work in Sydney at the moment when it was sculpture, when I had not discovered it to be video, I am an impediment, a gross physical thing, in the way of an idea of my clarity, my beamingness. I am too present and aware and therefore too unaware, but I believe her when she says images come, the body reveals itself”, it is unconscious” or words like that, that I recall, maybe wrongly, because every statement we might make and action we might enact is our final act of blindness. And that’s mostly, I think, what I sent the next day to Andrew and Gemma, very happy with myself, I must say, for turning something around so fast.And it’s also what I sent to an editor I was writing for to say that maybe I should re-jig what I’d previously sent him, to make it more zappy like that, to which he responded that too many parentheses sound like maths to him.Still, the point here is that all along, in “this project”, and because it is simultaneously “all projects”, I am needing, apparently, to restate, reinstate, reworm my subjectivity, and identity as a thing (one thing for another thing) that has some kind of ground in relation to this artwork as all pavilion-all-biennale-history-of-exhibition-making-world-machine, a machine that operates according to a logic where psychedelic experiences turn out not to be so but instead invisible-puppetted Kafka-type tales about embedded art historical normo-anti-normativities that pivot on an enacted theory of the fence (provisionality itself) in relation to an agit-prop theory (muster forces) of the ex-pat outdoor cinema experience as a de-coupling of context and ambition in a sunset period of pre-fab muscularity, and it is therefore against this veritable tidal wave of haptic nomenclature that I am forcing myself into being at the exact point where Justene’s name is just sound (a theory about bleed – light, sound – being proposed here of course), where, this is, her name becomes a frantic repeated trope that spills across all space, and therefore becomes the very mirror thing of her work thing (one thing for another thing, for another thing).Yet I should also add, and this being a curatorial lecture not a lecture by a writer (despite my previous allegiance where I was playing out an earlier, again, better self), that the melody of the artist’s name is the other life of all shows. See, a proposal will be either generated or be received and at this stage it will be the Justene Williams show, and then the Williams show. At some point there will then be a discussion about whether it is Williams’ show or Williams’s show and then someone will say, “I was talking to Justene Williams about the projectors we have and if they’ll be good enough”, and then someone else who has had two conversations will drop the surname, and go with Justene, as in “Justene says they’re fine” until the whole gallery is Justeneing and this name swirls and opens up and gives life to and is given life to, as a thing in mouths and walls, and minds, that the gallery people sleep in and from and that has no end point with the work, and no end point with the start of the show. And it is, oddly yet conveniently enough, what this work as sprawl work in fact “does”. It is a giving of voice to a space that both renders you deeply within a series of fractured resonances, an echo chamber of a kind, that displaces you and places you within the idea of another’s unconscious (maybe, who knows, I make no real claims on this point).And I for one am happy it’s over there in the other room because, obviously, I do not how to have power within it…this is, I have seen the Woody Allen film, Another Woman, where a woman hears, through an air vent, Mia Farrow’s analysis and we get the understanding (I’m making this up, I cannot remember the actual plot) that ultimately there are no such things as secrets, there is nothing to decode, that the only power there is is the power of having a secret not the secret itself, and so there is no revelation other than that “it is”, over there, but still unconscious which of course is the very essence of the secret, which brings up, on account of the curatorial vibe in this room, the bigger question: what is our responsibility for someone else’s unconscious, the one we are inside, that we are speaking and speaking for and that we cannot either see or contract but can only write contracts for?Perhaps we are responsible for this dis-formation by way of our theatrical attendance to intention…paradoxically, so that their unconscious might manifest itself in the decoys of this is, this is, this is. And it is our job as curators who do not write but lecture to be careful and mindful of this balance of the said and the unsayable, and now more than ever to hold off, to turn slowly, and edge along the wall, because that’s the only way out of a maze, and to allow ourselves to act out a structural role with more diligence than ever before: to not explain but to sign post, to use the words modernism and modernisms and the pluralities they stand for in other ways, to act as decoys for the ways we are never in one place even when we are in this place, for the slippages and erosions that I grew up with, the tracking of the unfathomably singular in the confidence of the general made into a question. Which means also, happily, and in basic Wittgenstein, we never see the same show, and I am filled not with all the wrong thoughts here: the idea of the ute floated in Craig McLachlan’s song Mona where he was riding around in the back of the white ute singing with hay bales and his acoustic guitar, which led to (but followed in fact, by a year) Tucker’s Daughter by the guitar player in Cold Chisel, Ian someone (I cannot be bothered googling it, it’s Moss), and throughout the happiness of Eames, their lovely room divider seen everywhere here merging with the airy shell of their house, and so an idea of California’s paradoxical hard work ethos, and the marketing of the Made in California thing from the 1940s through the 1960s, this being a start of a different menswear revolution, and, in this, seen too, layered, and at the exact same time, the first video by Hunters & Collectors, for Talking to a Stranger by Richard Lowenstein, and seeing this at the age of 12 which is much younger then that it is now, which is why I am much younger, still, than many of you 24 year olds, and being struck and shocked by the gloom of it, and the 6 and nearly a half long minutes of it on Countdown, you have no idea, and if this is for me the essence of this show, these slices of memory traces mixed with the sense of non-belonging, how then to take responsibility for this, when it is not just my unconscious I have to be responsible for, because I am somehow in charge of all the unconsciouses, which is all seriously and deeply felt because I am no longer a writer, like I said, am saying, again, because the thing with writers is they can be outside, whereas the curator even when they write, when they lecture, is in a different space, a space where we could have done that thing, or should have, the same, differently, where we cannot just say “they”, so we mustn’t talk but act, must make those changes and so suffer and fail and be unforgiven at all times, because there is no end to our potentiality, our responsibility, we who make the world, even, especially when, we are not making the world, when we are in its way…all the other ways, these are our other way/s, other ways we might have been more properly in between, more rational, more prepared, more conscious, less trapped by our egos and our willingness steering our exchanges, both verbal and written in strange directions, our forgetfulness too, especially that, and all of this played out in the arena of the curated-curatorial being the dominant cultural form, and as such the one where our stepping out of the way is more and more important, where our peripheral nature might become a subtle diminution, where we might neglect to say the words modernism and modernisms in our own mouths, and instead let the name swirl and wave the ship, the air craft in for its landing, which makes of our labour a sensible, blank poetics, where our body that is so in the way, so nauseatingly visible and grotesquely apparent, becomes a decoy too, that allows our poems to be written just before lunch and where, our debt to the higher minds entirely forgotten (but entopically “in play”), and so, (and I quote), now…a Langdon Hammer review of John LeSueur’s super great book (I have it on Kindle) on his friend/lover/flat-mate Frank O‘Hara, Digressions on some Poems of Frank O’Hara’s, so, yes, to quote Le Sueuer quoting: “with approval Helen Vedler’s comment on “At the Old place”, a poem in which O’Hara describes dancing with LeSueur, John Ashbery and other friends in a gay bar in 1955: “The wish not to impute significance has rarely been stronger in lyric poetry”. It happened, it went like this, it’s over”. To understand O’Hara’s motives for that novel way of writing, we need to set it against the pipe smoking manners of the university, the high seriousness of the Partisan Review, the prophetic cries of the Beats. In deliberate contrasts to those styles, O’Hara insisted on the self-justifying satisfaction of his own perceptions, the charm of his friends’ jokes, the rush of the street. Remember, if Middle America caught sight of the slight, effeminate man bobbing on the balls of his feet, it would despise him”[note]. End of quote and this to me, right now, seems like the perfect non-sublimative way to live in fact, if we might get back to that. O’Hara, a curator, but hardly responsible, yet surely so, deftly Rauschenbergingly so, and whose art form fits in around his work, and his drinking and his socialising, his continuous socialising, his art thereby a reaction and sensibility deposit and withdrawal account, catching this and this and this, placing it down, letting it be, and letting life be life be life be life, which is on my mind, having recently found myself, like with this show, maybe too much within exhibitions, and catching myself calling it “my show”, and then, well, we all know this, the artist/s come and suddenly it is not “your” show and it never was and you are the butt of the Seinfeld joke about the baseball fans saying that “they won”: “no, they won, you watched”. Always this bind(!!!), too much, too little, when it really would be much more fun, much cooler even, for, with, every show to say “it happened, it went like this, it’s over”, even when it is still on, though why those words, that don’t quite register, but do, so very perfectly, so that this, the this is, this is, this is-ness of our headline ideas, might, with some torsion of argument, succeed in passing our duty on to the incident, where it doesn’t matter if we come in the front door or the back, or even if we enter at all, and all that matters is that we throb somehow with some degree of public visibility, and given our surely grotesque responsibility, what we might decide to be responsible for is the bringing of our boundary sodden poetics back to the workplace after our being F.Scott-lost in our lunchbreaks in order to continue Frank’s split-work through our short afternoons to our associatively-drunken twilights, one thing being the one thing. Goodnight. Robert Cook

Note: Langdon Hammer, Village People, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/13/books/village-people.html?_r=0

Image: Justene Williams, The Curtain Breathed Deeply, installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2016; Photo: Alessandro Bianchetti

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