I have been lost for much of the past few months, and it is only in the recent few weeks that I’ve started to coordinate my thoughts and start thinking more deeply about the direction I want to go in as a writer and as an artist. Looking back on the past few years of work that I’ve done, I realise that it was necessary for me to get lost in order to return to the same point with much more conviction. As an assignment for a class, I had to write an artist statement in response to fairly recent critical texts. It is simultaneously vague and specific, but I honestly feel much more secure with what I want to do than ever before. I’m optimistic, and I rarely ever say that about any situation.
“We have the Idea of the world (the totality of what is), but we do not have the capacity to show an example of it. We have the Idea of the simple (that which cannot be broken down, decomposed), but we cannot illustrate it with a sensible object which would be a ‘case’ of it. We can conceive the infinitely great, the infinitely powerful, but every presentation of an object destined to ‘make visible’ this absolute greatness of power appears to us painfully inadequate. Those are Ideas of which no presentation is possible. Therefore, they impart no knowledge about reality (experience); they also prevent the free union of the faculties which gives rise to the sentiment of the beautiful; and they prevent the formation and stabilization of taste. They can be said to be unpresentable.”
— Jean-François Lyotard, ‘What is Postmodernism?’ (1982)
This is an artist statement, but I cannot tell you what kind of art I make.
I haven’t made anything in a long time, not organically, instinctively, obsessively, or however it is artists are supposed to feel about making art. It is not because I haven’t felt compelled to act on an idea. It is only because I feel compelled but I don’t know how best to act.
I know what I want to achieve via making, but I don’t know what the object looks like, or how to get there. There is no way to attempt to express what I want to express in my preferred medium, because I have no preferred medium. I have no medium. I only have thought. I don’t mean it necessarily in the way that a conceptual artist means it; it is not purely cerebral, it is not ‘that which makes the object into art object.’ I mean that it is the manner in which I am able to process my emotional and intellectual states – I mold them, tear them apart with my brain.
I feel the gravitational pull toward a physical form. Nevertheless, my work will be insistently textual. I am adamant. I must hold onto the text because I am a writer and I write to clarify my thoughts, I write because my thoughts and my feelings exist in my mind as words, even if my words are “I don’t know how I feel, how can I explain how I am feeling?”
(At the same time, I am certain that at some point I will have to make sacrifices, and the text may have to be sacrificed. I am not afraid to say that I am afraid of this, I am not afraid to say that I don’t want to let go even though I know I may have to let go.)
I am insistent that the form and the way of manifesting the form should be introspective and not retrospective. That is, the process of making must not simply be the fact of giving form to an idea (in which the method of giving form has already been determined). Perhaps the final product cannot escape this model of creation, but at the crux of creation the process itself must be somehow therapeutic and cathartic. If the creation is inadequate, it will not merely be critiqued as being inadequate. It will acknowledge its inadequacies within itself. It will be contained but at the same time it will be completely open to interpretation.
I am lost. I want to give form to what is otherwise shapeless, which lacks definition, which exists as a weight. Every attempt to describe it emphasizes its vagueness but affirms its necessity. I want to manifest, but I am unable to manifest. I fear it will never happen.
I want to be made real.
“I am caught in this contradiction: on the one hand, I believe I know the other better than anyone and triumphantly assert my knowledge to the other (“I know you—I’m the only one who really knows you!”); and on the other hand, I am often struck by the obvious fact that the other is impenetrable, intractable, not to be found; I cannot open up the other, trace back the other’s origins, solve the riddle. Where does the other come from? Who is the other? I wear myself out, I shall never know.”
— Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse (1977)
Oftentimes, I feel like the self is an ‘other’ from which one has to detach – disembody oneself in order to analyze, understand, and gain control. The work will be anchored to the self but be allowed to fly far away from the conception of the self, but only in order to return.
I want to systematize the mechanics of the self. I want to represent my thought transitions and my emotional transitions; I am trying to rationalize these processes and by doing so intuit the self. I want to be able to chart the myriad paths of my mind. I believe in systems even though I am completely and utterly without a system. I want to make a system that isn’t a system, a system that is a system but which collapses on itself and that does not mean that it negates itself, but rather, the collapse becomes a part of the system I have created. I want my paranoia to be allowed complete and utter freedom but by cataloguing said paranoia I will regain control. I want to be able to integrate the disintegration.
I no longer have anything to hold onto but myself, I have nothing on which to project my feelings and thoughts but myself. So the only natural progression is to project the self. It cannot be judged according to any standard because the only standard against which it is meant to be judged is its authenticity and adherence to my sense of self.
No one can know what I am. Therefore everyone shall know what I am. I must dig so deep, I must dig down to my core, I must expose this core. I must accept that I will idealize the core but I must also acknowledge within the work that I have idealized the core – an unflinching, self- critical self-awareness.
(I understand that in some ways this will be futile. It will not bring anything to anybody, maybe not even to myself. But I need to know that this self-portrait will exist for a brief moment. I have a distinct feeling that it will resolve everything. I am merely trying to affirm myself despite the fact that I can feel my feet on the ground and the air entering my nose as I breathe.)
“We find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion… there is a sense of disorientation… These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood… that initiate new signs of identity…”
— Homi K. Bhabha on ‘hybridity’ and ‘moving beyond’ (1998)
I am operating in the “interstices.” I feel dyads interacting in limitless paradox and therefore collapsing within my sense of self. I am at once rational and emotional, thinker and feeler, writer and maker, traditional and contemporary, Eastern and Western, conservative and liberal, organized but disorganized, logical but illogical, without conviction and yet full of conviction, together and yet in pieces… I divide my life between two homes… I bifurcate the self, not to explore the halves, but to explore the area between the halves and process of bifurcation itself. I am without direction, but I am intent on mapping.
One looks at the self as a set of “in-between spaces”. How does one represent the specificity and vagueness of these ellipses? How do they interact to constitute the self? How does it make me different from my neighbor? Why does it make me feel so different from my neighbor? I cannot explain it and therefore I must find a way to explain. If I cannot express it clearly then I must express it in all its mangled form. Multiple narratives exist at any one time, but to me they are a single narrative; they form a web but they are also linear.
My work will have nothing to do with the outside world and everything to do with the outside world. Nothing because I am not concerned with responding to the socio-political issues that unfold around me, everything because these are the very events that have in some way contributed to the state of my existence. Nothing because the work will be specific to the self, but everything because it – it must be true that everyone has something of these crises within them. The whole thing is dependent on this. It must be as accessible as it is insular.
I am everywhere but nowhere. I am everything but nothing.
I am nowhere because I am everywhere. I am nothing because I am everything.
I exist in a permanent state of liminality.
The attached diagram should be understood as the beginning stages of my exploration of in- between spaces within the self, and methods of charting them. A possible model for the understanding and analysis of the self is as an entity engaging in a potentially endless number of tripartite relationships with numerous dyads. The self maintains an eternal conversation (I hesitate to use the more sophisticated but colder term ‘dialectic’) with these dyads in order to navigate the paradoxes that occur or have occurred. At the same time, the dyads eventually begin to interact with other dyads. Some of them might not even be dyads at all, in the sense that the two concepts are not in opposition to one another, but simply happen to conveniently come in a pair, and which need to be integrated…