Inspired by my previous reading and experiments, especially the one with our cat, I remembered a chat with Catherine about the possible purpose of this course: ‘failure’.
So what is failure? How do I respond to it, and most of all what do I take away from failure as such. Failure would possibly be considered as the opposite to success. Nevertheless, while reading some articles in the splendid collection of artist’s writing and others Failure, part of the Whitechapel Gallery series, I learned new perspectives and also some repetitive insights, e.g that the artist’s ‘doubt and anxiety’ is a theme of continuity in literature with the examples of Nikolai Gogol The Portrait (1835), Emile Zola The Masterpiece (1886), Alberto Moravia The Empty Canvas (1961), , or Antonio Tabucchi Dreams of Dreams (1992). These are examples given by Paul Barolsky (1997) ‘The Fable of Failure in Modern Art’ (Le Feuvre, 2010:24-27). It resonates with the struggle Emma Talbot went through as I reflected on in a previous post. Is therefore failure all a mental crisis of the artist in not knowing anything eventually leading to stasis of human activity? Kind of hitting the rock bottom? Or is this just another myth of the artist in tradition of Modernism?
I found it interesting to read that one could differentiate between four types of failure, as described 2010 by Emma Cocker (Le Feuvre, 2010:162):
- by failing to accomplish a task or success (if intend was to succeed)
- by breaking the rules
- by succeeding (if failure was the task)
and the fourth as the most absurd way
- by failing (if intend was to fail) as the task has succeeded to fail
She explored in her essay the Classical Mythodology of Sisyphus, who after trying escape death and cheating the gods, was punished for his missing respect to ‘roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only for it then roll back again’ (p.154). The endless repetitive task reminds me of this part of the course, where I have to admit I only worked through a couple of repetitions (max. was 12 times of 12 days in my extended project for Ex1.0) or four times 15 min in my ‘washboard‘ experiment, not ‘endless’.
But the Sisyphean trope includes a ‘recipe’ for failure, as the rules, in that case gravity, would not allow to succeed and to finish, to accomplish. Kind of tragedy and purposeless endeavor.
But as by the four types of failure, what if failure means succeeding? And what if the rules are changing and what was one considered as an endless repetition turns into a sudden end?
There are some aspects in the trope explored by Cocker that keeps my attention: the subjective response between resignation or resistance, and the break the moment the ‘rock rolls back’. Cocker refers to Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) with the idea that the break is like ‘a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness’ , the break is the space for thinking. I can clearly relate this to my own repetitive works, the time in between for reflection, for taken a deep breath, and trying again. It seems as if in this break lies the energy for endurance. And it seems that this moment of thought is a crucial moment, in which I can again and again decide to continue or to stop, to protest, to resist, or to break the rules and following different tasks.
The rather absurb repetition of action with no results is shown e.g. in Vlatka Horvat’s This Here and That There, 2007, an 8 hour performance with chairs (see featured image) (Cocker, 2011:280):
“The event proper, for which this activity is preseumable but a preparation, is always absent or does not take place, so the act of getting ready, of ‘setting the stage’ becomes the event” – Vlatka Horvat
Cocker mentions some examples in art of this sisyphean paradigm, of wanting and not wanting:
- Bas Jan Ader Broken Fall, 1971 = hanging at a tree branch, until his body falls under the pull of gravity
- Vlatka Horvat At the Door, 2002 (video installation, 52 min) = trying to find articulations of declaring to open the door and to leave, never happens and with evolvement of her frustration – she stays, door not open, she not leaving
- Francis Alÿs Caracoles, 1999 = children game, kicking an empty bottle a steep road upwards
What these examples do demonstrate, explains Cocker in the sense of ‘I preferring not’ – a deviation from ‘I don’t want’ towards an alternative ‘preference’ of wanting. It seems rather theoretical, but I can see that failure is not any longer the negation of success, but an alternative affirmation. It is like not to oppose to be productive, but preferring not to follow rules, and doing something to show that one is not productive. Basically, one is productive in an alternative sense.
What can I conclude for painting? Repetition is not a question of trying once again to be successful, but rather a performative affirmation of doing something repetitive. Thus, to repeat one painterly gesture over and over again, can actually make a lot of sense.
Another article in this book by Coosje van Burgen discusses the work of the conceptual artist Bruce Nauman (b.1941) ‘Sounddance’ (1988)
One example is Nauman’s performance Bouncing Two Balls Between the Floor and Ceiling with Changing Rhythms, 1967-68. The artist throwing two balls hard against wall and ceiling that they bounce back and he had to catch them to throw again. Over time he lost control, a certain rhythm started to appear and he experiences a different sensation. Nauman explains that ‘experience you can’t anticipate – it hits you, you cam’t explain it intellectually’ (p.168) and what reminded him of his childhood memories of being hit hard into the face while playing baseball.
Conclusion / key elements:
- Failure not as opposition to success, but as an alternative affirmation.
- The importance of the break, the interruption, the silence the moment of thought, between repetitions of actions
- Apparently, childhood memories resurface through performative actions. Not only to Bruce Nauman in his Bouncing Two Balls, but it also happened to Janine Antoni in her Loving Care.
- Featured image: Horvat, V. (2007) This Here and That There [performance] in: Cocker, 2011:280