Harry Marandi and Timothy Hall - 1 on French Institute Project
The more art disavows its relation to politics the more political it becomes. After politics failed to fulfill its promise to change the world, the possibility of a recovery of praxis has fallen to modern art. Unlike political praxis that sought to overcome the diremption between theory and practice, reason and history, form and life, in concrete practical proposals, art holds out the possibility of freedom without offering a basis for realising it. However, rather than this being a flaw in the practice of modern art, this, its singular and peculiar fate has come to represent societies fate in general. Modern art-works as the ghostly reminders of the possibility of a transformation now lost to us.
Ever since Kant attempted to resolve the contradictions of modern life, in an ethics based on freedom rather than happiness, various projects have arisen with differing ' takes' on what the realisation of freedom might mean. Romanticism saw the role of art as the production of a modern mythology to reconcile the antinomies of modern life. Marxism sought to overcome social antagonisms in a concrete political praxis. In the wake of these failed attempts at providing a foothold for freedom in the modern world, the modern art-work emerges to stand on this site of former battles -this "field of skulls". Modern art offers s site for thinking freedom in the world. But this is an alienated praxis and hence an appearance of freedom only. The chasm between freedom as the unity of form and content in the modern art-work and real substantive freedom -some vestige of meaning returning to our lives-remains unbridgeable.
The present project provides ample basis for thinking this fragile and alienated freedom. For one, the ongoing questioning for both artists, of what form a collaborative astistic project can take today. Both artists (rightly) aschew any facile "platforms" from which to undertake their joint work. The collaboration does not begin with a declaration of a common standpoint or experience. Such a tactic would end up precludinng the very encounter that it seeks to announce. Both artists contributes three works -two objects in styrofoam, one drawing or drauht directly on to the gallery wall. All works are constructed in situ. The works seek to subvert the neutrality of the space in which they are exhibited. Why do this? Because despite appearances exhibition spaces are never neutral. The art-work is indifferent to the space at its own peril, for just as surely as the work can negate the space, so can the space "turn the tables" on the work and negate it in turn. The works therefore invite us to view them as mediations or responses to their environment; as separate but interrelated attempts to open perspectives on this environment. The condition of the emancipation of the work from the circuits of exchange in which they are imprisoned is the emancipation from the modern exhibition site from the works indifference. This reciprocal releasement of work and site, mediated by the work of the other, is what the work attempts. The fact that the artists have chosen to pursue this aporia of the works relation to its site through a work of collaboration, along with all the difficulty that this entails, makes the outcome all the more intriguing and exigent.
A word on the material. It is characteristic of modern materials that they are completely unresponsive to the sculptors hand. This is not however because they exceed human capacity for control; rather they are the outcome of control taken to its "nth" degree. The resistence and recalcitrance that used to characterised the material insofar as it was shaped by human activity, has been completely annulled in the modern technological procces, leaving a material completely compliant to human needs. the result is a material -like styrofoam- whose "principle" is pure utility but which is, to all extents and purposes, practically useless. (The packaging is useful up to the point that the product is removed from the box, thereafter it sits in the street of "glogs up" the bin). What happens to the fragile freedom that the art-work evinces if the material to be worked by the artist and from which the unity of form and content is to emerge, already contains its complete capitulation to human utility at the level of its molecular structure? For us the contemporary artist is confronted with the completely new problematic of how to liberate the material from its reified form insofar as it is used to make works of art. Why would an artist opt for modern materials rather than traditional? For us this is like asking why a poet would begin with language as it is spoken -ie, as it is formalised in scientific and technical discourses, as it is utilised in legal-rather than one of the classical idioms. This is not to say that the various classical idioms are no longer relevant to a poetic practice -just that their only viable retrieval would be through language as it is spoken. This is how we would be inclined to read the selection of material in this project -as an immanent attempt to recover certain classical themes -transcince, monumentality, memory -for a contemporary artistic praxis.
Harry Marandi and Timothy Hall
London, April 1998
Published in the booklet of the exhibition Evanthia Tsantila - Richard Whitlock
French Institute Thessaloniki, 1998