Inbetweeness

Posted on December 20, 2009 by

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lala asked Melbourne based (via New Zealand) artist Jason Maling to explain just what he meant by Inbetweeness in terms of his practice.

In-betweeness
I was talking about love the other day. It was with a stranger. We had veered into the territory via a discussion about cutting the fat.
We spoke about defrauding someone, about not giving over. Do we demand a sign of love before we surrender? Without a sign, do we remain calculated and reserved? She wanted to be carried beyond all calculation, to arrive somewhere having never considered the journey.
I thought about this conversation a lot afterwards and I believe it has something to do with art.
The conversation took place in a small office on the second floor of a convent. She was there because a friend had told her to come. She did not know who I was or what I did, but she was there anyway. I was there because she had asked me.
It sounds contrived and from my point of view it was. What isn’t contrived is why I needed it to be that way.
It has occurred to me lately that I am no longer prepared to give myself away. I want a little of the big C(ommitment) before I subject myself to the big A (rt).
At what point did I become so demanding?
As an undergraduate painting student in New Zealand I was indoctrinated with modernist mythology. The artist functioned on the periphery of society, sending cryptic dispatches from frontier towns of the imagination. The act of presentation was sacred and a resolute nonchalance to audience dialogue was the preferred pose.
I tried very hard to be a believer. We joked about taking our vows with a prideful zeal and submitting to a life of impoverished isolation. I did my time in the studio and began developing a finely distorted vision of my own self-importance. I had gallery shows with things that people looked at but increasingly I found myself hanging around watching how people engaged with the work.
I made notes but kept my distance.
Frustration at a lack of direct feedback was too articulate a description for my naiveté at the time but I can remember feeling severely contained by a model that others found endlessly liberating.
I flirted with performance, and I did feel a little bit closer. The thrill of the live moment made me feel special but my audience was still over there somewhere, boxed up, and named.
Back in the studio I began nullifying my self-importance with banal repetitive tasks and arbitrary reasoning. My days became exercises in accidental aesthetics and punitive process. Why couldn’t just ‘doing’ be enough?
My rules weren’t playful they were belligerent. I demanded meaning, as if by sheer persistence I could elevate private action to social commentary. It made complete sense to me that if people were going to ‘get’ what I was doing they had to do it too.
A lack of willing ‘players’ as I so benignly called them simply reinforced my perception of a culturally ingrained passivity. A privilege of presentation over process.
I rationalised the conceptual sadism of my ‘games’ through my own subjugation – “look I’m going through it just like you”. I wanted people to give over completely. Sure, I was functioning in the same system but there was mostly just using and not much listening.
A particular schizophrenia had begun to set in. On the one hand I wanted an elegance of composition born of sensitivity to the potential nuances and infinitely variable elements within a system. On the other I longed for complete immersive disregard.
The notion that a meaningful live exchange might be something a lot more subtle and complex took a while to filter through.
Attempting to position the work somewhere between theatre and the visual arts began to feel like an excruciating family function.
On one side were the visual artists, all post-situationist ideologues and 70s conceptualists. They were a sulky lot, totally prepared to get naked and dirty. They put on records nobody liked and stared down any objections. On the other side of the family were the theatre makers. This crew were charming but I was never sure what was for real especially when they were telling me stories about really real reality.
Gallery audiences frowned at humour, thought far to hard about everything and kept their distance. Theatre audiences expected a show, obsessed about the text and always needed to be told what to do.
I was trying too hard to please disinterested parents. So I moved out, indignant about replacing a viewing box with some sort of magic circle of free play.
Of course nothing smells more like art than the anonymous public anomaly, especially if it has matching uniforms.
The idea that we can have unmediated artistic encounters maybe a pretension but it is often our most incidental interactions that relate us directly to our world.
Finding oneself within a set of conditions that become artistically meaningful without a set of prior expectations or contextual associations can be disorientating. The sensation of having fallen into something can leave us feeling foolish and a little manipulated. But it is precisely this mental state that becomes the platform of exchange. The tricky thing is that the artist needs to fall in there too.
I was looking for a mutual space that was fluid, dynamic and responsive with a shared sense of vulnerability. It needed to be both presentation and process at the same time and it wasn’t necessary to be aware of ‘the work” or even consider it art.
It’s messy and complicated. It’s not you it’s me. Didn’t Saul Bellow say any artist should be grateful for a naive grace which puts him beyond the need to reason elaborately?
It’s an in-between space. Somewhere we are happy to be lost.
Having spent years making claims for my practice in the margins of visual art and theatre funding categories. I now find myself in the curious position of arguing its Inter, Hybrid, Community, or New Media worthiness. In-betweeness has become a category and categories require definition, hence the evolution of terms like participation, agency, and interactivity. These words outline an interdependent relationship between the artist, the work and for want of a better term, the audience. But what if by trying desperately to acknowledge and define in-betweeness we are making it harder for it to exist? Like too much personal information on a dating website.
The nature of being in-between requires us to step away from the edges that define it as one thing or another. The fear is that we no longer know where we are yet that fear is vital for the development of new forms of artistic exchange.
I believe many of my contemporaries would argue that their work is determined by the conceptual necessities of generating this mysterious in-between space. They are tired of audience relationships that feel like one night stands. Forgive us if we have evolved some convoluted strategies for falling in love.
Gifts, games, tricks on trains, everybody hates audience participation yet we still love to play. Does creating an in-between space have something to do with how we enter it and negotiate a relationship rather than predetermining it with roles?
In the Japanese martial art of Aikido there is the notion of blending. The energy of an attack is not countered it is utilized. For an Aikido practitioner to successfully execute a technique they must receive a committed attack. An attack is the willing gift of energy that allows both practitioner and attacker to gain an understanding through mutual movement. If there is no energy given there can be no blending. If that energy is hesitant or doubtful the practitioner has nothing from which to generate the movement and the art becomes meaningless.
So yes I am demanding. Perhaps I need to be.
If I’m going to be in this space I need you here with me and if it’s going to matter it’s got to be true love.


Jason Maling is a Melbourne based artist currently engaged in a three year process as The Vorticist.
www.thevorticist.com

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