Friday, February 20, 2009

Cage Piece - a somewhat different take on art & time

I landed in the States late last night - seemed to take an inordinately long time to get here, but apparently a slow, circuitous route was exactly what I needed. Now that I'm here, I feel as though I've just woken from a deeply rejuvenating sleep. For some reason, I spent almost as many hours on the ground in transit at the various airports en-route as I did in the air - and the weirdest thing was that despite the many - and I mean many - hours between take off and final landing, I arrived on the same date I left. Talk about time playing tricks... 

I think I've mentioned before that I don't wear a watch (nope, not even whilst traveling). This is doubly liberating when you're needing to unhook and are simultaneously zig-zagging across time zones and lines of latitude and longitude. It didn't matter a jot whether it was light or dark, early or late... I could lol about in my suspended, time-defying 'hammock' and (rare for me) do nothing but read, sleep, nibble on the odd snack, and - surprise - anchor the ideas that found startling clarity as I moved away from the busyness of the past few weeks and into this refreshing transition space. 

The image above shows one corner of an exhibition that's currently on at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. (I've been searching and bookmarking shows I'd like to get to whilst over here).  Provocatively titled 'A Year in a Cage: A Life Shrunk to Expand Art.'  I was drawn to a review article written by Roberta Smith in today's New York Times (the on-line version).

An admirer of John Cage's work (when his composition 4' 33" was first performed in 1952, it was considered one of the most controversial works of the century), I will visit anything that looks as though it might have something to do with him. (Jumping sideways for a moment, if you go to his website you will find the following, wonderfully-worded invitation 'Subscribe to silence by filling out the following form...' Filling out said form allows list members access to discussions on Cage's music.) 

To get back to where I was... in the case of the New York Times article, the title statement seemed too 'confining' to have anything to do with Cage, the composer. Indeed, what I found was a fascinating account of a piece of performance art (one of five conducted over a year) by Taiwanese-born artist, Tehching Hsiesh (pronounced dur-ching shay). The concepts behind his work are compelling and they raise a raft of questions for me: the same, recurrent ones that I find myself engaged with in regard to my own creative practice (and yes, even - nay, often - re; this environment - that of the blog-o-sphere) - questions to do with integrity & indulgence, communication with others & internal monologue, content & decoration, universal-/community-oriented vs solo, ego-driven work, private voyage & communal conversation... and so on, and so on...    

Referring again to the title of the article, A Year in a Cage: A life shrunk to Expand Art, I found myself feeling immediately indignant. How can anyone advocate that life should be - or indeed infer that it can beshrunk down to expand or accommodate anything, especially life or art? It's a contradiction in terms, surely? The article's worth reading, that's for sure. Anything that stimulates discussion, raises eyebrows, provokes ire (or subtlest discomfort) has to have something to tell us. Part of me admires this kind of performance and part of me shakes my head. (That's an odd sentence, but I'm not sure how else to put it.) It wears the clothes of 'private, meaningful process for the purpose of personal discovery', and yet at the same time is so obviously hollering out for public attention and reaction (hollering for attention is not the same thing as testing the waters for affirmation? Neither is reaction the same - by a long stretch - as response. Or is it?).

I don't propose to have the answers - far from it: my own creative journey is characterized so much more by questions, than it is by answers. I'd say I regard 'not knowing' as one of the prompts that keeps me working, that it is 'not knowing' that hints at the elusive 'other' that's everything to do with mystery? I'd welcome your thoughts on this subject - the oddly private-public nature of blog-writing suggests we might have some thoughts in common? 


In my next post, I will be writing about Sculpture in Central Otago.


  1. Thank Q! for the link Claire, I found Tehching Hsieh's work most interesting - in light of my own enthusiastic pursuit of atomisation an' all!

    His minimalist living arrangements certainly correspond to my own, and I also found that other aspects of his work also have a startling resonance to my own endeavours.

    It's interesting for me to note too, that Tehching has explored some areas of subjective experience more zealously than myself, but on the other hand, I have similarly pursued other areas of his work far far beyond his own initiatives - mind you, I should add - not always out of choice!

    I agree with your intuition about the contradiction in presenting what is supposedly a private endeavour as a public performance. In my view, that is a flaw - Tehching's work is more an 'act' of atomisation, rather than a 'fact' of his Reality. As such, it is not entirely Truthful is it.

    I'm inclined to suppose that your indignation at the proposal that Life could be shrunk down to expand Art in this way is more a reflection of your natural inclination towards a holistic view! As I mentioned elsewhere, the dalek view is that the masculine pole is linear - it is a specialist, it knows a great deal about very little. Perhaps it's the "knowing a great deal' that is the key to creating Art, more than whether that knowledge is holistic (generalist) or linear (specialist) in character ...?

    Anyway, your post suggests to me that whilst your trip may've imposed a rejuvenating rest, your BBS was nevertheless generating a massive logjam of ideas!

  2. Hey Claire! Thanks for your reflections on time - it has been food for thought for me this past week. (I haven't taken off my watch yet tho'!) I have long been fascinated by time - the fact that the past and the future are bundled up in the present, sums up my fascination ... Have fun over there! BTW I met up with Jane today re the collaboration art project - thanks for giving her my name.