On the surface, Ecstasy is a corporeal situation that seemingly falls outside the sphere of the ‘norm’. The most common attribute for this somewhat mystical experience is a sense of upliftment. Typically, mystics have used metaphorical phrases describing so-called ‘up-feelings’; sensations that somehow transcend the interiority of the Body, accompanied by a burst of light, a revelation resulting in a radiant vision of the cosmic mystery. Understandably, these experiences are commonly labeled as ‘Ecstatic’, relaying the experience of being outside One’s Self. Concomitant with this ‘loss-of-Self’ is a necessary loss of awareness about Time and Space, accompanied by a gaining of experience about One’s unity with infinity.
Such experiences are dramatically ulterior to the day-to-day resolution we perceive in our waking lives. The mystic being, the one whom perceives this ‘ulteriority’, will undoubtedly imbue the Ecstatic Experience with some manner of status and significance, whilst the uninitiated find it to be part of some strange or higher power, seeing the Ecstatic Experience as magical or supernatural. Early human beings understood this ‘transcendental realm’ to enshrine the notion of substance in the universe, forming the nucleus of animistic proto-religious systems. Dualism being the foundation of the Universe, splits everything that exists into either physical or non-physical spiritual forces, constructing the distinction between the metaphysical and the physical, the corporeal and the incorporeal.
But if the spiritual, transcendental realm is ‘Unreal’, as suggested by Modern Science, then all mystical practices involving worldly circumvention are essentially life negating and paradoxically nihilistic. To lose all cognizance of Self and One’s worldly standing is to live Outside the context in which Human societies are commonly founded. Exclusively to follow such compulsions is to reach a point where:
“The normal is evil: only the supremely abnormal is divine. Religion is the reverse of all that is natural.”
Kenneth E. Kirk, 1932
Death & Danger:
Human Beings, like all living things, are born, reproduce and die. The Fear of Death is a principal anxiety and prime motivator in the Life of a self-conscious, sentient being. Taboos stem from the Universalist attributes of Human Nature to Prohibit actions commonly perceived to be Dangerous. As opposed to today’s dominant morals, early Human Beings did not have distinctions between something sacred and something unclean; awe and fear went hand-in-hand. Reverence had no compulsion towards the binary systemization, such as ‘good and evil’. All Taboos are simply systems that hold a special potency; they are regulated constructs that are distinguished by their special relevance to the Fear of Death.
The repeated attempts by Human Beings to distinguish between appearance and reality in Philosophy, Science, and Religion derive from the experience of Change, loss, and Death, willed by the construction of absolutes and constants that somehow explain the inconsistency of life. The Human need to control life’s inconsistencies only reveals the ceaseless and uncontrollable processes of Change governed by a constant, churning flux, intrinsically connected to the instinctual Fear of Death disguised as the desire to live. The Ecstatic Experience delivers a dubious promise that transcends the physical and the mutable, tolerating the idea that Beauty exists beyond the surface appearance of things.
“It is the search for something not subject to change, that leads the soul up to God”
Dom Cuthbert Butler, 1922
The pleasure of sexual orgasm is an experience so potent that it obliterates all common sense; a swooning destruction that in some way enacts death, poetically described by the popular French phrase “la petite mort” (the little death). Moreover, descriptions of Ecstatic Experiences induced by sexual orgasm bear remarkable resemblance to accounts of religious sanctity and mystical transcendentalism; Reverence and Revelation. The way Human Beings commonly describe the act as a sexual “union”, in which we ‘lose our-Selves’, says enough to connect it to a philosophical reading of the Ecstatic Experience.
Within this philosophical context, reflection upon notions of Sex that suggest such experiences pre-empt the ‘deresolution’ of the flesh after Death. Just as Death instigates the dissolution of the Body, so too individual boundaries are dissolved by ‘One-Another’ during Sex.
“I want to hide the throbbing of my head / In your perfume, under those petticoats, and breathe the musky scent of our old love, The fading fragrance of the dying rose.
I want to sleep! To sleep and not to live! And in a sleep as sweet as death, to dream / Of spreading out my kisses without shame / On your smooth body, bright with copper sheen.
If I would swallow down my softened sobs / It must be in your beds profound abyss- Forgetfulness is moistening your breathe, Lethe itself runs smoothly in your kiss.”
Eroticism & Perversion:
The most powerful and tenacious Taboos are those linked to Sex. The act of Sex has either been prolifically denounced as Unclean, or profusely exalted as Sacred, based upon its corporeal potency, allowing it to be perceived as possessing a Special Danger. The mysterious power of Sex contributed to the development of Taboos amongst early Civilizations. Two prominent reactions towards a Prohibition are avoidance and transgression, primarily connected to instinctive relations with Danger: flight or fight. In addition, the Human dread of anything Taboo is often accompanied by a feeling of fascination. Eroticism is not impeded by prohibition but created by it.
It is important to note that the perceived Danger from which Taboos originate may not be entirely ‘real’, perhaps stemming from fabricated, irrational or over-rationalized accounts. Whilst the ‘Unreal’ Danger is just as effective as the ‘real’ Danger when it comes to the construction of Taboos, and therefore the perception of Eroticism, reliable systems of morality cannot be founded on them. The ‘real’ Danger lies in actions that run counter to the proliferation of Life. Such actions do so by denying the inter-personal Nature of the Sex-act, finding release in a manner that avoids or abolishes the Other. Important cases of the Taboo in this sense are incest, rape, necrophilia, pedophilia and extreme forms of sadomasochism, which can assertively be labeled as perverse. On account of the transgression of Prohibition, true Perversion is technically always Erotic. But, if we can speak of a line dividing moral action from immoral deviance, based on assessments of human and animal flourishing, Eroticism is not always Perverse. Perversion is then extreme Eroticism.
The Modern age is built upon an aesthetic of Prohibition – the beauty of caution, in colour and shape. Ironically, Human Beings continually seek to transgress the ‘hopeful’ Prohibitions established as protective measures, which rise up against the inevitable forces of Nature.
Sacred Boundaries & Transgression:
“As soon as human beings give rein to animal nature in some way we enter the world of transgression forming the synthesis between animal nature and humanity through the persistence of the taboo, we enter a sacred world.”
In taking pleasure a certain amount of encroachment interferes with the Other from One’s own sense of ‘Boundary’. The perception of One’s Self is simultaneously set Inside the Body and Outside the Other. The most obvious and seductive Boundary between One’s Self and the Other is the skin coating the flesh. When this threshold is transgressed through sexual penetration, the Self is surrounded by the Other. The purity of the Self is put at ‘risk’ by the foreign Nature of the Other, merging Outside and Inside archetypes. From this basis, it seems ‘Natural’ that early Human Beings viewed the ubiquity and seeming iniquity of transgression and penetration as a powerful magical form of contamination.
Furthermore, every Sacred site has its Boundaries. Mountains are amongst the most prevalent Sacred sites owing to the symbolic aspect of the ‘peak’. It is believed that the higher a mountain is, the closer it is to Heaven or any other celestial body, an attitude assisting the awe and fear in the aesthetic of the Sublime. Without boundaries, without Prohibition, there can be no transgression and thus no Eroticism.
“Where are we exactly - are we near the island?
The island - is that what you call it?”
JG Ballard - Concrete Island, 1974.
From 11 August to 25 August 2011, the Outlet Project Room will become an occasion for the collective processes of Robyn Nesbitt and Nina Barnett, a collaborative duo from South Africa. The artists began working in a shared studio in Johannesburg six years ago, based on their shared necessity for a competitive and empathetic ‘co-existence’. This existential bond is born from dependence and affirmation, culminating in connections based on a history of dialogues, questioning the relationship’s facets and boundaries. Such parallelisms and dualisms have generated into a shared global identity, outside the boundaries of space and time, documenting the remnants of their intuitive and residual process through dialogue on their blog: www.coexistent.net, where they have combined ideas, communicated events, recalled dreams and memories, and created networked islands.
Since its inception, and continued evolution, the artists have changed their history as well as geography, with Barnett first relocating to New York and currently Chicago, where she is in the process of completing her Masters Degree, and Nesbitt relocating from Cape Town to Johannesburg, after completing her Masters Degree at The Michaelis School of Art. The distances between the duo create a tension based on re-measuring these ‘spaces’, a psychic, performative dialogue inspiring and validating each other’s existence through a subliminal umbilical cord of friendship, security and support, synchronized in moments of significance and permeated by each artists ambitious aspirations.
The blog consists of a virtual performance of thoughts and memories sent in pieces that are mailed back and forth, along with ideas that evolve during residencies where they meet periodically. Loosely based on the exploitation of the now traditional virtual realm, where corporeal concerns fall into secondary critical roles, the artists live out an ‘ideal’ existence, or rather practice, that corresponds to the mundane state of day-to-day life. In a sense, this ensemble of sporadic information is akin to a curiosity box, in which one attempts to somehow open Ali Baba’s cave of treasures by looking at the world from an alternate perspective, much like Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, in its attempt to speed-up the process of self-reflection, albeit slightly schizophrenic in this context.
And so, Barnett and Nesbitt live and relate to each other at a metaphorical ‘scale’, until they meet once a year to share ideas, establishing connections and pushing projects forward. During the duo’s residency at the Sober and Lonely Institute the artistic pair described their exploration in Johannesburg’s suburbia as:
“A place of collective residential isolation, where the living environment becomes a site for production. The work that has come from this time deals with the act of conversation in an intimate environment and the physical realization of our online relationship on our website. As collaborators, we are interested in the dialogue that occurs between two artists and how this connection manifests – both as a competitive and a supportive force. We find that our work illustrates both of these qualities, and shows the bond that can come from knowing another’s work as well as your own. We approach our individual work in distinctive ways - one subjective and intimate, another cerebral and pragmatic. Together, these traits play off each other, forming a new space in which to create.”
The project will consist of two parts. Firstly, “The First Glimpse” in which a beam of light shines out through the window of Outlet and onto the street below, making a circular island of brightness for passers-by to ponder. This defined form in the midst of the public area relates to their collaborative process, which exists in an isolated field, distinct from other environments. As cars and pedestrians pass by, the light draws attention to the surface of the pavement, which in turn will indicate the window it emanates from. The First Glimpse is a disclosure of the somewhat concealed existence of the duo’s collaboration. Secondly, “Keep in Mind” is an extraction taken from the diverged approach to their collaborative project via the exchange and interpretation of one another’s memories; real and imagined. In combining the stories into one book, they create a single author - a common memory recalled by both artists. This merging of selves resembles their experience at the Sober and Lonely Residency - the joining of daily routines, the sharing of space, the intensity of making work together in a limited time frame - their lives momentarily synced.
The residue of this engagement, and the act of separation, will be distilled in two photocopies of the common book. Each artist will travel back to their home with one photocopy version, and will edit the story from their individual setting. These basic units of assembly and the process of their re-construction are similar to those inherent in Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merz’, in how they are taken apart and rebuilt, in this instance, under the influence of each artist’s counterpoint in one another. The two versions will be marked, scuffed from travel, underlined to signify importance, corrected in their handwriting to show the artists viewpoint, these will then be posted by the artists back to the residency location in Johannesburg, with the final display of the two versions, including their respective envelopes and travel wear, placed on a table in the Outlet space. Visitors will be invited to read and compare notes from the two worn versions, existing in the same place; an imagined time-share of space, ideas and practice, where another fills the void.
Words by Bronwen Shelwell.
Outlet, in collaboration with the Sober and Lonely Institute (SLICA), and in association with artSPACE in Durban, presents Springville, a fifty-minute visual performance by Belgian artist Miet Warlop. The production takes the form of a video projection displaying the original performance which premiered in Buda Kortrijk, toured from Amsterdam to Zurich and shown at the Kaai Theatre in Belgium.
In Springville we are the witnesses of constant transformation in a miniature universe, where organic objects attempt to function around each other as organisms in a spontaneous world. These animated inanimates play a moving game of pandemonium, expectation and surprise. Through this process they progressively lose their familiar natures and the surroundings change into a wild landscape that unfolds into infinity. Springville is a performance where the emerging image prevails and the costumes, props and characters become interwoven and merge together.
In the metamorphosis of the Springville universe, Warlop does away with the craving for sensation, escapism, and the romanticizing of the spectacle. Through a systematic detachment from anxiety and ecstasy, the artist is able to treat catastrophe as an aesthetic in itself, turning it into a gleeful impasse that anticipates the dead end of civilization. Warlop utilizes the absurd to depict this impasse, offering viewers a respite from the spectacle through a surplus of it, precisely because it engages in issues—both in terms of content and form—with the desire for spectacles.
Warlop does not want her performance to represent the real world; hers is made apparent as fiction, detached from our everyday life. Humour is all-important in this form of representation, allowing Warlop to confront her fiction without a sense of chastisement. Nonsense is the norm, serving as a way to be politically incorrect, disarming the seriousness of bureaucratic burdens.
Exaggerated performance and a sense of engagement in recreation keeps the audience attentive of this bureaucratic-style nonsense play, where uncontrollable happenings are pivotal to the overall performance. The tension in Springville is in part created by the involvement of the audience who are ‘confined to their seats’; whilst fumbles happen, there are no curtains to hide behind and recover from. This discomfiture makes the performance raw in a naked theatre, where the risk of enticing the unplanned and wanting something to go wrong, is not disguised as improvisation but becomes part of the overall experience between the audience and the performer. Springville was also a transition for Warlop, from dealing not only with the performance, but to incorporating the entire show, as director, writer and performer.
The artist created the generic name of Springville to be synonymous with the utopian ideals of the modern urban, ‘nuclear family’ neighborhood, or the (un)comfortably familiar. In turning this ideal inside out, Warlop poeticizes the deceptiveness of catastrophe and spectacle, and how it can happen everywhere and anywhere, even without making sound. That is to say, any distinction between ethnicity, nationality, sexuality is not discriminated upon by Oblivion. So too, this manner of dead end talk does not have to result in the end of the world; it can be as subtle and perverse as one’s self pity, a breakdown, or anything maddening enough to turn ones world upside-down. By rendering the principles of silent film into the medium of theatre, Warlop is continuing the tradition of this silence and fantasy by suggesting a place that is everywhere and nowhere.
In Springville, the normally inanimate Mise-en-scène becomes animated. A cardboard house, in this case, belonging to an ‘everyman-slash-nothingman’ is the focal point of the production. As the spectacle unfolds, a series of odd characters increasingly populate the stage, interacting with each other: a set table with women’s legs in high heels, a faulty electricity box, and a two and a half meter tall set of jogging legs in Adidas tights. Progressively, each eccentric character meets its end, culminating in the cardboard house imploding.
Once all of the characters have been subjected to their own personal catastrophe, the global catastrophe is looming from all sides simultaneously. Springville brings the spectator face-to-face with total catastrophe, reminiscent of silent movies in recalling the experiments of early cinema with slapstick effects and trickery where the props, objects, movements and quiet spaces were as important as the telling of the story. Springville has these cinematic, slapstick qualities; antagonizing action against reaction in search of collision, resulting in an entertaining chase.
Warlop finds inspiration in the catastrophic, often sourcing media on natural disasters and channeling it into her work. Warlop treats her productions as cyclones, fragmenting traditional notions of theatre, disturbing the orthodox structure of a play, embracing chaos, and accommodating noise as if it were silence (the silence before the storm). The rearrangement of formal structure allows Warlop to achieve an uneasy lyricism, experimenting with a plethora of materials, objects and effects, still maintaining an almost naïve sense of simplicity, finding the baroque in the toppling of a stack of buckets and doing away with the day-today functionality of things. The characters act as automata captivating the audience with comedic frivolity as everyday mundane events are made impossible.
Springville forms a quasi-politic, not only because it cannot be sold and financially recuperated by the market, but also because it reminds the audience of the uncertainty of our lives and is capable of estranging the spectator via an aesthetic game of internal tensions. Springville is an inverted utopia, a blind multiplicity of disasters, stemming from everywhere and nowhere as a pseudo-schizophrenic representation of catastrophe, emphasizing how vulnerable, artificial and constructed society is, and undermining the self-satisfaction of the consumer who lives under the illusion that everything is endlessly renewable.
The screening of Springville will take place from 6pm to 8pm on Thursday 14 April at the Outlet Project Room in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and simultaneously at artSPACE in Durban.
Written by Bronwen Shelwell.
Postdated Solvency is an exhibition, or rather a semblance of an exhibition, by Johannesburg-based artist Nare Mokgotho, whose work often endeavors to deconstruct and interrogate the established reasons for making, exhibiting, and purchasing art. Mokgotho’s art negates traditional understandings of space and meaning, playing with the allocation of value within the institution of the gallery and the art market. In Postdated Solvency Mokgotho points towards the fetishization of object-based art processes, manufacturing, and the hedonistic economy that surrounds it, by amalgamating the contemporary market in South Africa with the notion of an I.O.U. From this perspective, Mokgotho exposes the often-ambiguous relationship between the artist’s studio, the gallery, and the patron-collector. He goes further to question the underlying motivations of art sellers and art buyers, thus establishing a dualism between the patron and the collector, suggesting the meaninglessness of the meaningful in a hemorrhaging, post-capitalist society.
Mokgotho makes this statement by creating commodities from non-existent artworks, before they have been created. He does so by using postdated cheques, usually used to purchase commodities, transformed into objects for sale. By itself, the artistic process, or moment of realization, where making begins, can be regarded as a ‘meaningful’ object in itself, and therefore a valuable commodity. Mokgotho’s approach thus makes the relationship between value and meaning ambiguous. That is to say, the act of ‘making’ is something that can be objectified allowing it to be purchased and owned, tantamount to selling one’s soul. Thus, the desire within the artist to make and produce meaningful things becomes meaningless, enticed by a counter-desire within the collector, which is fueled by the virulent materialism that normally dominates consumer-society, to buy artwork as real estate, making it inaccessible and unaffordable, subverting the exact reasons for art to exist in the first place.
Appropriation has been a common mechanism in the production of art for over a century, specifically hailing back to the efforts of Marcel Duchamp. In somewhat of a homage to Duchamp’s “Fountain”, Mokgotho’s appropriation of the I.O.U. exposes the paradigm of the art market, where he finds himself at a point of departure, or rather non-point, alluding to the fact that he can’t make art at present due to writers block, and cheques can bounce. The question also arises; will the I.O.U. cheque be cashed? In trying to find a creative route, Mokgotho arrives at Duchamp’s Fountain and stops to take a figurative piss, reminding one of Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’Artiste (canned artist shit), which recently sold for R650,000. Maurizio Cattelan’s valuable signature also sold on auction for R100,000 for a cheque to the amount of $1 signed with his own mark, implementing parody in order to erode the tired notion of the artist as genius whose signature is all encompassing no matter if she/he produces work or not.
Postdated Solvency further contextualizes this view of commoditization and consumerism in the form of an ongoing virtual auction, where the signed I.O.U. stamped cheques, will be placed for sale to the highest bidder over a period of two weeks. Prospective bidders are allowed to place their offers online at the Outlet Project Room’s website where a bidding form is available. After two weeks the top three bids will be tallied and the relevant individuals will be contacted. Appointments for viewing, and an opportunity to make formal offers on printed bidding-cards will also be available at Outlet’s migrating physical space, which is currently housed on the 2nd floor of the Milner Park Hotel, situated on the corner of Juta and De Beer in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
The debut exhibition by Maja Marx at the Outlet Project Room, titled Crease, is a study of the relation between text, surface and depth and the properties of the straight line in the drawing process. Using for the most part thread to construct taut lattices on simple painted fields, the works refer to the minimal grids of standard stationary paper, and serve to position the object of paper as terrain or space onto paper as surface.
The depicted pages are furrowed and creased as if they have been discarded after use. In this, crumpling an inscribed page or a note initiates a collapse of legibility and a simple interference in which distant points are suddenly positioned close to another – the grid is disrupted and can now be read as a cartographic index of a topological terrain. Crease compels a conversation between geometry and topology. With the painting Heap (above), the warped and crumpled text evokes an imagined flatness in one’s desire to read what is now an impossible text. In this manner the painting plays between looking and reading, the painterly mark and the mark of writing, between the flat surface of the canvas and the mimetic depth of the painting. In its bundling, the illegible text and crumpled page becomes a mountainous landscape in which the authority of text and the distanced position of the Cartesian reader is challenged by a now embodied participant-viewer that can walk the terrain of the topological with his eyes.
Opening Saturday 20 March at 14:00, ongoing until 10 April 2010.