presentation to ARX (Artists Regional Exchange), Perth, Western Australia), April, 1992.
In retrospect, I'd like to dedicate this text to the memory of Andrew Charker, who remains so alive, urbane and witty in my (and many others') memory of ARX , and in particluar, make reference to his unexpectedly funny performance, during which he lassoed the audience in to play games with language and meaning. I imagine that Andrew's generosity and friendship to many of the overseas artists is cherished.
As to the following text, I have cut about a thousand words from it, but it remains fairly much the text I delivered one ARX day in Perth. It prefers a spoken delivery.
under GROWTH articulated
Recently, at Adelaide Artists' Week I asked "in what new language will I meet with you", a question posed in response to Australia's reorientation to the Asian region, and what I'd now like to do is elaborate a rather idiosyncratic conceptual framework for a way of looking at the related issues of 1) Australian identity;
2) art, technology, and science; and 3) the construction of consciousness itself.
I would also like to refer to some of the convergences of thought, harmonic or otherwise, amongst some of the artists and speakers here. To this end I would like to articulate two useful conceptual devices/metaphors.
This is how the first one begins. Recently I finished re-reading a book by the Irish writer James Joyce called Ulysses - a classic of western literature this century - Joyce took the english language and rendered it plastic and fabulous. The incident I will draw upon occurs when the two main characters Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in conversation in a pub and some one says: Here I stand on this OBLATE ORANGE
The word OBLATE has two meanings:
the first is ascetic, monastic (derives from the catholic church), and the second, a sphere flattened at both poles.
Here I stand on this oblate orange - we have the world hanging suspended in space, a fruit, alive, organic, growing. This globe has volume - a three dimensional space, and in the language of geometry we can describe it by the co-ordinate system x, y, z. And of course this globe, being ascetic, has a spiritual consciousness as well, and with that a sense of spiritual growth and direction - the fourth dimension t.
The second conceptual device / metaphor is around the word "Story". The first, as in the verb to store, and its related nouns, store and storehouse; derive from the root word (OF) estorer to build and (L) instaurare to renew, restore, make.
The second 'story' - to pass on information, narrative, true or fictitious derives from the Af estorie f. OF estoire f. Latin as History. And then there is another use of the term 'story', as in 'storey' - the levels in a building on a horizontal plane, deriving from Anglo L hystoria. History, as in a continuous methodical recording of public events emerged from the late ME, out of the L historia.
I'm doing this complex linguistic dance in order to:
1) re-spatialise the narrative, and 2) temporalise the space, to demonstrate that this conceptual framework is one that those of the English language have lived with for a long time.
We fill our lives, our storage space, our bodies in space with many stories. Exactly where they exist in space, ours and the general space, is contentious and mysterious.
I'd like to refer here to Pam Crofts' story yesterday - as in place and places having their stories, rendered palpable if you are in the right body to receive the information, and to Jill Barker who spoke before about stories sticking to the body, and to extend this idea by suggesting that stories actually reside in our bodies at a sub- atomic, molecular level, and that their external/internal simultaneity of narrative, ie what happens outside and what grows inside, is constantly shifting, you don't know which one is dominant, whether the external manifests the internal, and or, the internal manifests the external.
This is of course about collective identity, individual identity, and the shifts in between.
"Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred" (Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Chronicle , pg 26)
The next factor to build into this story is t, movement over time. (Time, in reference to death is the only constant in this process, though using death to signify the closure of the life process is contentious, esp in different spiritual constructs). We can then begin to get some idea of formulating not only our social history, but an indication of our molecular and neurological evolution, at a consciousness level.
What has this got to do with art you may ask - well the Ars Electronica Festival which is held in Linz, Austria, every year , is this year looking at NANOTECHNOLOGY, the science of the very small - the subatomic, and where the organising blueprint resides and other organising factors like imagination etc. Andrew Charker's ARX work at Lawrence Wilson is to do with stories and memory and where these may live in the space of the mind.
This is an ancient idea.
This is the logic of Buddha - in particular, the buddhism practiced in Burma, the Vipassana Meditation technique, which draws on this as a fundamental logic. It was a full body mediation technique lost to India but kept alive in the closed monasteries of Burma. The same Burma of today, or is it ? The Burmese military last week shot dead 12 praying muslims, which was one of the many stories of the week in the ether in the time we are living impacting on our growth, which will at some level construct our future, both individually and collectively.
Last week, a particular course of events took place here at ARX. Last week also we saw the Labor party defeated in England (we think in the west that we have a free press, which is a situation directly contradicted by the extraordinarily vindictive campaign by the British tabloids against the Labour party in the final stages of this election).
Last week was the same week that Yassar Arafat emerged relatively unscathed from a plane gone down in a dust storm. It was the same week that Eurodisney opened outside Paris, to howls of derision - the cultural chernobyl. Last week the Tokyo stock market plummeted, and the Thai military installed General Suchinda Kraprayoon as leader.
In this same week China urged Japan not to send troops abroad to assist in UN peace keeping forces (in particular in Cambodia) - the same China which has traditionally supplied arms to the Khmer Rouge.
It was last week that The Australian Newspaper ran a 4 page advertising supplement on Malaysia, though it didn't tell a remotely similar story to the one Wong Hoy Chong told us the other day about contemporary Malaysia. (Singapore gets it turn next week in The Australian).
Last week Paul Keating urged greater economic links, in the form of summit meetings, with Asia via APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation group), and John Hewson, the leader of the Opposition, agreed which does seem a significant shift within the Liberal party - it appears that John Howard and his pro-monarchy stance has been effectively gagged, probably following in the Wake (!) of the non-event of the royal visit.
In the same week we had the Australian Minister for Defence Robert Ray say in Darwin that even though the 1987 White paper on defence did conclude that there was nothing to justify speculation that this country faced an imminent risk of serious incursion into sovereign territory (from the north), he apparently pledged greater support for the military in building infrastructure and increasing the status associated with northern operations. Judy Keane, here from Darwin, said that the australian military are always on the manoeuvre around Darwin. The American alliance is the cornerstone of Australian Defense Policy.
And of course last week was the week in Perth all the artists worked together to present works for ARX. Each one of us was in the same place at the same time, and yet each one of us will have an utterly different version of events - we all have our different sense doors and cpu's (central processing units).
One thing that has become profoundly clear to me during the course of events is the fragile and subtle nature of communication, not only cross-culturally, but generally.
Australian 'identity' is currently undergoing what I could term a state change, retilting from a longing for Europe to a recognition of its geographic reality - to reach a state of equilibrium, from which to re-tilt to Asia (if is in fact that is then necessary or desirable).
As a way of thinking about this identity change it is useful to paraphrase Nietzsche's question If truth be a Woman, then what? and pose the question If Australia be a Woman, then what? for it seems that Australia is currently very much like the classically constructed Western idea of Woman - that is, lacking in a unified subject and without a voice.
As modern women and men have discovered through various new age yuppie thirty-something soap-operas, the desire for unification of the selves into something resembling coherence is strong, and will usually out, despite internal resistance (ie in this case, the longing for Europe).
Many of the issues facing australia also face various of the countries in the region - many are newly emerging democracies, developing their own sense of national identity .
I'd like to extend the proposition If Australia be a woman then what , by spatialising, by embodiment - that is, Australia as the body of (a woman) - which is an old idea within australian cultural critique, especially film criticism. I'd ask you to consider the way consciousness and memory may reside in this body, (remember our initial frame of x y z plus t - stories as residing in space), with consideration of the ideas of evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake, from an interview he recorded with ABC radio:
"The idea of eternal laws of nature in the West is an attempt to think of a cosmic order but it leaves out entirely our account of the psychic and the spiritual dimension of things and has nothing at all to say about consciousness. The Hindu conceptions of the cosmic order see the cosmos as alive and therefore take into account its psychic, its soul aspect. The ancient Greek conceptions were closer to that, because they, like most ancient peoples, thought the world was alive..
He goes on to say...
I'm suggesting that memory, our ordinary memory of what we did yesterday depends on morphic resonance. We resonate with ourselves in the past as well as with other people, and our brains are more like TV receivers or wireless sets tuning in, rather than storing everything inside them like a tape recorder."
This is fundamentally a new idea of storage and space - stories are information, and are often carried on the wind.
As individuals become recievers or the field of the past, so too does the body of the land. Telecommunications infrastructure therefore forms something of a new nervous system, over which the body communicates with itself. Imagination may reside in many places across the continent, but it is via this nervous system that it will, at some time or another, manifest. Recently I visited CSIRO's Compact Array - 6 radio-telescopes at Narrabri in Northern NSW - over 2km of rail - they stand listening like elegant new sense organs - perhaps they will become the dreaming sites of a technologically mediated australia.
(Train lines, highways, are like arteries - ie the more mechanical functions of a body, and military installations like tumours.)
So if we begin to think of Australia as a construction with a discreet consciousness, then it is possible to think of the many snags or genetic malfunctions in this body of memory which Australia at present has to move through before reaching its equilibrium. Possibly as it moves towards its state change, ie towards independence, these old memories, for example the longing to "go home" to England will grow in strength and resistance as they realise that their time in cosy complacency living in australian body memory is almost over. However, the desire for an independent australian consciousness demands that these little beads of fear not be repressed but rather addressed, and by that acknowledgment they will diminish and dissolve.
To borrow a phrase form Peter Callas, speaking at Adelaide Artists Week, there is maximum nostalgia for something at the moment it is about to pass.
The other issue is of course the position of white australians here - why stay - and I feel compelled to discuss this here in this forum, because I can't look to a long history to make sense of my life here. My family came here from across the sea. My grandfather, who being restless, first took to the oceans, and then took to Sydney Harbour. Other branches of the family straggled in, before or after, with wars at their backs and looking forward to a better life.
It is too late to think that we, white Australians can go back to where we came from - it is too late for that. Too much has changed. Even though, when I go to Europe, it is strangely familiar, I find that I can't breathe there.
history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake (Satre) and the nightmare and delirium of Europe is too vivid and claustrophobic for me.
There is no going back, there is only now and we must construct something from what we have, we are constructing our evolution - all of us.
I think that the text accompanying aboriginal artist Gordon Bennet's history paintings, currently in an exhibition at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art
why I will never be a white man may offer something towards this idea:
".... If identity is seen as an individual /collective self-image which has been defined, to a certain extent by a succession of images that mirror a culture's sense of itself - as painting does - then I am naive enough to believe that by interrupting a complacent sense of history, and therefore of identity, I can influence a change towards a more open, tolerant and just society. Perhaps a society that is able to encompass multiple perspectives and right the wrongs of the present that are based on the great misunderstandings of the past....
...I don't have all the answers... I can't present specific alternatives but merely offer possibilities, in hope of the ultimate triumph of the positive creative potential of humankind."
Possibly the most repressed in this nascent Australian identity is aboriginal culture, in particular, the aboriginal relation to the land and to time. In time as consciousness, white Australians are a short story in this body of the land, and aboriginal culture is the epic.
Anthropologist Fred R. Myers writes of the Pintupi people: "What is critical about the concept of The Dreaming is that it denies creative significance to history and human action, just as it denies the erosions of time. It represents all that exists as deriving from a single, unchanging, timeless source. All things have always been the same, forever deriving from the same basic pattern. (Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, 1986, pg 52)
Now I think that what is at issue here is as Australia shifts from closed notions of time, life in a fixed universe, a known world - ie the christian - to a time more fluid and open, there will be many traumas.
Recently I was in intensive care ward in St Vincents hospital in Sydney (as a visitor), and it seems that there is a chaplain in there most of the time, as in christianity, in particular, catholicism, needs one to confess and surrender before one carks it (in the ultimate closure - death), in order to guarantee a safe passage to the other side, heaven. A Buddhist / hindu / animism idea is so fundamentally different - death is more like a state/energy change.
I think that this is reflected in the work of many of the asian artists, in particular in Philippine artists Alan Revere and Alvin XXXXX 's work, in the way they can relate, without any notion of a historic construction to the idea of 'nature' and the natural world, in a way that western theoretically informed artists cannot do. Access to 'the natural' is too mediated and over coded by culture to be genuine in our (western) milleu.
Now what I am saying is that the new codes which Australian culture will evolve, are not yet equipped with adequite philosophic ground to deal with the incorporation of notions of deep time, and CHANGE. It will also be interesting to see what changes will occur in an 'Asia' which changes according to the western idea of time (the all pervasive money -markets etc).
All we have at the base of this construction, is the supplement of the land - our breathing body. And I do like to use the metaphor of cells forming bodies forming societies when considering these developments. We have much to learn.
Delivered from the disquietude of hope, and sure of thus gradually losing that of desire, seeing that the past was no longer anything to me, I undertook to put myself completely in the situation of a man who begins to live. I told myself that in fact we were always beginning, and that there was no other link in our existence but a succession of present moments of which the first is always that which is in action. We are born and die every moment of our life.
I don't think that the english language deals very well with the idea of being alive in a shifting universe - it is more geared to representing a world which is fixed and rational.
But of course the language blows out all the time - people make it their own over and over.
The same goes for the language of science, as it is co-opted by ART and borrows more and more from the language of science (vector, accelerate etc), often changing the meaning of the words in the process. How this will work as asian artists begin the use western scienitific terms to describe art work - is an interesting question which I hope we can take up in the panel discussion.
Now I want to discuss a bit about language and mathematics, and in particular to the TISEA (the Third International Symposium of Electronic Art) to be held in Sydney in November this year.
One of the themes is ART and the ALGORITHM, a notion which is contentious because it posits an idea of closure onto art, of knowing art practice, but this is of course dependant on how you define the term.
Derrida's "Of Grammatology", speaks about the way our philosophic culture has defined the spoken language as natural and alive, as being closer to the presence of God - God speaks through the subject. Writing represents a move away from innocence, a defilement, as its no longer a living thing - it is the beginning of history - though it maintains a connection to speech by its phoneticism. However, mathematics is the code of a true evil in as much as it is the language of abstract symbols which are quite arbitrary in nature.
The algorithm is a term which is defined as
· process or rules (esp for machine) calculation
· a special series of instructions that are carried out in a particular order, and
· an effective procedure for solving a particular mathematical problem in a finite number of steps
[ The term itself is derived from Persian - it is the name of the 9th Century mathematician al-Kuwarizmi ]
What I imagined this was about, and I thought that this is what the TISEA organisers were getting at by the phrase was:
An algorithm is a meaningless term without a machine or a means to its end, and it relies fundamentally on someone or something for its construction.
So art and the algorithm doesn't mean closure, or reduction, as there is still an imagination at work determining the algorithmic procedure
But I subsequently got the idea that it was in fact about closure and that my reading of it as a questioning algorithm as closure was unexpected.
Now this is an example of how one can set the debate, change the terms. Since art is co-opting terms from science, it can basically co-opt them on its own terms, and in the process bring the desired changes to the old world view.
Asian cultures, as they gear up to deal with technologically based art, which will inevitably spring from these techno-hungry cultures which will be interesting to listen to. I imagine the emergence of a new techno-junk culture, given the manufacturing zest, the telecommunications appetite, and the rapid and ever increasing militarisation. (Our body of the region could become littered with shrapnel and old waste memory).
Given that the development of machines parallels the development of knowledge about and understanding of the human body and mind, then imagine what kinds of machines might be made across the asian region. How do the different people from different countries in the region live in their bodies? Where to locate consciousness, and how to articulate it cross culturally - you tell me.
I think that this hybrid regional body will get really interesting as we start to develop a high level conceptual language (via mathematics, graphics, electronic, the matrix) which can articulate our subjective evolution in this region, our region of this OBLATE ORANGE and beyond.
the dreams of a bad night are given to us as philosophy. You too will say I too am a dreamer: I admit it, but I do what others fail to do, I give my dreams as dreams, and leave the reader to discover whether there is anything in them which may prove useful to those who are awake
c LINDA WALLACE
presentation to ARX, April, 1992.
Which again asks the question - what time is it. Your time isn't mine, it never was and never will be. This term which Meaghan Morris inserted into the Artists Week mind at the beginning of the week - alachronism - where a status quo time frame condemms or attempts to annhilate the other by accusing the other of not being in true time, ie their time. This could be used as a handy strategy by artists in whatever future they find themselves - declare oneself an alachronism - be an alachronist and jump out of the plane - the X, y, z plane.
I'd like to speak briefly of Neil Roberts' work TRANSMISSION TOWER which seems to play with these ideas - one stands in the centre of the tower, within the field of C.U.T. which is Co-ordinated Universal Time - an information signal on the short wave radio bandwidth, phasing in and out of reception live from hawaii - telling navigators around the globe what point they are at in co-ordinated universal time - you are standing there in the centre of the frame of the tower, hovering somewhere in your own frame, crowned by ancient words from Apostle John -
tribute to whom tribute
custom to whom custom
honour to whom honour
fear to whom fear
and you look out from that tower across the road to the church and there is a big sign that says
the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
(in a southern american accent)
and I'd say to you confront your fear
confront the presence of the Lord - a presence which could turn into absence at any point