art sinks into paralysis, artists multiply.
anomoly ceases to be one if we realise
art, on its way to exhaustion, has become
impossible and easy."
Emil Cioran - The Trouble With Being Born - 1973
Damn it, I wish I'd written that. Yet, for me, art still has the opportunity to counter the farcical claims that our politico-societal theatre makes.
The use of negation in all of its possible connotations is one thing that we have at our disposal...for example the notion of failure.
Meaning, failure as failure - not as a way to lead to success by learning from our mistakes, but an actual and thorough appreciation of failure as an ethos, integrating it into a methodology to eventually look beyond and possibly negate the very idea of both failure and success. But how would one work with the idea or materiality of failure? We will, regrettably, have to succeed first.
Instructions to make an artwork utilising the notion of failure
Make a body of works in what ever feels close to your abilities and sensibility. These works could be sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings, paintings etc. It should be whatever you can do without thinking too much.
The artworks should be sketch-like, both in approach and form.
1 - example of sketchy approach
The body needs to be sufficiently large enough to include a range of things such that some are 'better' than others.
To arrive at this, one needs to allow a looseness and freedom to enter into one's actions, to allow mistakes and accidents to occur while not actively pursuing them. At this stage you are wanting to make 'successful' works.
This dual activity requires a dexterity of thought and action that exemplifies the difference between the practice of art and other cultural activities. This ability is available to anyone who is open enough.
"The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way up in the sky, but rather only just above the ground. It seems more like a tripwire than a tightrope."
Kafka - Zürau Aphorisms - 1917
If, like me, you are basically challenged by any action, the mistakes will come easily, they will simply flow out of you. Occasionally you will produce something that works and we might refer to these works as 'successes'. If, on the other hand, you are skilled and articulate with your chosen materials then the accidents may well be more difficult to come by, you may need to adjust your approach.
2 - example of failed work
At a certain point you'll have some works to look at and compare. What we are looking for here are the works that don't, so to speak, work. These may just stand out straight away, however, you may want to consider some criteria to determine whch ones you think of as failures:
Over-worked / childish / messy / un-impressive / dis-tasteful / too big / too small / incorrect exposure / inappropriate / weak / unintentional / disturbing / awkward / poor graphic structure / narrow tonal construction...
Spread the works out on a table top, wall or the floor. Look for the ones that work or the the ones you hate or atleast dislike.
3 - a group of works, both success and failures
Take the successes and discard (best to destroy them, but this is optional). You will be left with a pile of works you don't want; this is the desired residual material with which you will make an artwork.
4 - the selected failures
This is where we actually start, towards the end.
Suggested actions would be:
to cut into / tear / collage / montage / re-work / pulp / work over / enlarge / reduce / extend...
You need, somehow, to transform this stuff, to make it into something else, a thing that is engaging, intriguing, an object that might make someone say "what is that over there?" We want the thing to produce a movement towards, rather than instigating a feeling of 'like' or 'dislike'. We need to go beyond the binary.
It is not now possible to make a failed work since that is what you already have; so we've written failure out of the narrative. But neither do you need to concern yourself with attempting to succeed. Let it go and you'll see that the work will, so to speak, make itself.
Do not think about meaning or trying to 'say' something. Just allow the thing to emerge such that you have an item that you have a relationship to on some sort of phenomenological level.
Eventually, probably quite quickly, you will arrive at something that is a synthesis of decisions outside of the binary framework that broad cultural doxa works with. You will have an art object, not just simply something that looks like art.
5 - an example of a hybrid, neither successful nor failed artwork
"If at first you don't succeed, well, maybe failure is your thing."
Quentin Crisp - 1968