Preface: the Artist’s Words

Escape From Studio Voltaire

Preface: The Artist’s Words

This booklet offers nothing but words. It is conceived as half an unnamed project, the other half being an installation at Studio Voltaire, called Escape From Studio Voltaire. The installation is characterised by a kind of absence. It is an excessive and fanciful set of ideas as to how one might get out of Studio Voltaire: of how one might escape. The gallery, and the gallery space, are only present inasmuch as they are an obstacle to be transcended. Everything inside the gallery is directed towards everything outside of the gallery and the fact of the gallery qua boundary. Here there is plenty to look at but it is intended to direct attention, imaginatively, to everything except itself. This is a project that can only fail; an escape plan that is always doomed. However functional, mundane and descriptive the material of the installation is intended to be, it still presents a kind of sight. The desperate imaginings of means of escape confirm, through their pathos, the failure to escape.

I am unsure as to how the two halves of this project might fit together or fail to fit together. These words are neither a catalogue nor supplementary material. I take it as symptomatic of the problems of art that the division between objects and ideas is so easily made and maintained. I hope that the installation and the words gathered here will form an obvious relationship but that the nature of that relationship will be hard to place: that some kind of hiatus will be maintained between the two, which is not the mere reproduction of division.

It is as urgent now as it ever was, for artists to contest the words that surround their work: to be articulate about the contradictions and dilemmas that the artist faces. However, speaking as an artist is neither easy nor straightforward. The dominant, hegemonic, ideological practices of art assign a space for the artist not so much where he or she is made mute but rather where whatever he or she may have to say is rendered irrelevant – beside the point. The artist’s words are considered only as a kind of circumstantial evidence in the pursuit of meaning. For the normal functioning of the dominant institutions of art (art’s discourses, galleries, curators, critics, dealers and so on) the belief in what art is and what it is that artists do, goes more or less unquestioned. Talk of art is full of theoretical ideas and nuanced vocabulary borrowed from various other disciplines. Its problem is not a lack of ideas but the hegemonic, ideological structure it goes to support. It is an axiomatic commonplace that art embodies universal cultural values (whatever they happen to be). The words of the artist, however provocative, irreverent or oppositional are taken as confirmation of the power of art.

It seems, therefore, both necessary and impossible to talk about the predicament in which one finds oneself as an artist. Art and its interpretations are full of hiatuses, silences, exclusions, divisions and contradictions. These are suppressions in the service of the presentation of art as something unified, coherent and meaningful. Culture is not universal. Art is subject to the same contestation of meaning as everything else. The task of the artist who does not wish to accommodate the distortions of the hegemonic discourses of art is to take on the divisions of a divided culture: both to internalize and contest those divisions. Such an artist would have to manage with meagre resources: absences, contradictions and doubt. It might not be easy to know how to read the words of such an artist.