Category Archives: Phenomenology

Deleuze and Guattari’s flesh-appeal…

Well, these thinkers are not for faint-hearted or narrow-minded; they not even for those rebellion-minded and lion-hearted…They are someone between and beyond, the very dismissal of any signification or categorization right in the core of their beliefs…

How did I fall for D&G’s double charm? Typically perhaps – via theirs passionate pupils and followers. Manuel Delanda’s lectures at the European Graduate School (below) have slapped me right across my safe, familiar thinking waking me up to a world of another possibility – that there are still highly inspirational thoughts and theories resonating from within the contemporary philosophy – those compelling enough to alter one’s perception of things… And I thought that after Sartre’s death few decades ago it was rather impossible to experience that thrill again…

Then I started to read their whimsical yet carefully crafted theories; seasoned generously with the idiosyncratic concepts, which I could not grasp intelligibly even the half of…It took me some time to get the very principle of the philosophy – that is meant to be on the opposite of the ‘proper’ and classical reasoning, that the fact that is seems to grow in all different directions at the same time, fluctuating with co-existent possible readings – that is – what is was designed to be… Not that easily accepted for anyone nurtured on the great, perfectly logical and systematic systems of thought – if you remove one part from them – they fall; if you get one concept – others add on like letters of an alphabet…

Not in D&G’s world though – here the system is anti-hierarchical, not ABC code but rather ASDFG… riddle (letters of your keyboard, second row)… Their called it the ‘rhizomatic’ reasoning – horizontal, open and multi-centered. Just like the chosen organic structure – the thought multiplies in a semi-random pattern of many possible threads springing from the one common source; yet no one can predict which, if any of the threads will survive, or will become the satellite-wombs for another ideas to be born…

Perhaps the easier way to introduce the thought of the two French thinkers is to contra pose the old, classical concept of the ‘body’ with the one of the ‘flesh’. The Greek ‘body’ is the self-contained, dignified object of an admiration – an epitome of beauty and epiphany of the transcendent divine order – just as their thought used to be. The ‘flesh’ is more primitive and Hebrew (‘Bible’ originated) – it’s shapeless, featureless and extremely vulnerable; it’s a place of suffering and weakness – it’s extremely human – it’s so human that it becomes… animal…

D&G’s philosophy is the one of the ‘flesh’ – of a formless lack and a painful transformation, of a celebrated dis-unity and perpetual ‘becoming’. It’s a difficult, yet strangely soothing proposition for someone trying to make sense of the contemporary times…

It’s an anti-philosophy after all, if one keeps up with the rigid standards; that’s why it’s been struggling to sink into the academic grounds – right now it gets more of the deserved attention, with the esoteric texts being translated from French and commentaries being published… Still it remains mostly inaccessible in Polish ( I guess in many other languages too), too bad – over two decades after the original publications…

It’s a remotely optimistic vision for the remotely optimistic times of ours… I hope to present some of its aspects in the posts, which will follow…

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Liminality in art (2)

The notions of boundaries, borders, limits, thresholds and so on may be as ancient as the human population itself. In Greek/Roman mythology they are expressed by names of different gods/goddesses, hybrids and monsters – Zeus cares for the Olympus, Poseidon is a guardian of waters, Hades rules in the Underground; forests, agriculture, arts and law – every human (divine and monstrous as well) activity and embodiment of the spirit has its own powerful protector/ rules maker and no interference is into each other territory is tolerated.

Religions exist due the numerous polarities, and the most popular story of creation (Book of Genesis) had started exactly from this – from a separation and making sharp divisions between elements and the mater. In order to survive the species would have to define and fight for the territories and the evolution of the human race is an ‘epoch’ of transcending the boundaries of nature, space and time…

The social, cultural and personal identity couldn’t be possible at all without the ongoing, often uncompromising process of the differentiation. And when philosophy tends to look for an unity and structure in the universe despite of all the intrinsic and imposed/created dichotomies, art in general would indulge in exploring the world as seen within the “frame” (think now about Derrida’s “The truth in painting” and his deconstruction attempt of all the ‘frames’ we tend to see the art through) and beyond it.

And so it goes – Christ would be a ‘worthy’ subject, but even some of his disciples not exactly; harmonious human body was only true representation – the ugly/mutilated one was worse than some of the animals; one ‘breed’ of art-view was ‘high’ (read: ‘true’), the others were ‘pseudo-‘; painting the landscape naturally excluded the sky-view and the figurative works were exorcised of all the abstract elements (and vice versa). The universe seen as in an atom of a very particular concept/meaning or a set of those (lets say: christian version of god, humanists’ vision of a man, romantic vision of a landscape, modernists’ subversion to the classical art) which had to be frozen, clearly and in a division to its possible and apparent opposites… This is basically what all the history of the Western Art is about. About Old Testament God’s job of making the world happen by creating borders between chaos and order, good and bad, light and dark, sky and earth, the animals and the human beings, the human beings and the Holy one.

Where the ‘liminal’ creeps into all of this? Well – right at the start, I guess and simply because the artistic activity in itself situates man on the existential threshold; a bit like a prayer or a sexual act – two different worlds meet and penetrate each other; the universe as it is (or appears to be) and the universe to be created… And the conscious artist is very likely to aim at or to be the ‘passeur’ -‘a boatman’, ‘smuggler’ – the man of passage, the guide who leads his audience beyond the status quo crossing social, cultural,  psychological, spiritual and sometimes very physical boundaries in order to show/explain/challenge…

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This article is a part of a series “Liminality in art” where I intend to define and explore the philosophical and aesthetic notion of the liminality. Please, refer to other articles from the series in order to get the fuller view.


Liminality in Art (1)

This is meant to be an attempt in coining a new term in the Art Theory field.

Curiously enough, the term Liminality continues not to be recognised by the modern dictionaries of English; even though numerous (stated below) researchers have been using it in academic papers. It doesn’t exist as an aesthetic concept or any distinguished phenomenon in the contemporary fine art. Yet, what I would like to claim and what is the reason of this article is my knowledge that this very notion has been persistently influencing the way of defining and interpreting art of the last decades at least. Though never or very rarely (in its adjective form of the liminal) applied as such by the art critics and scholars it has been circulating in the air each time the hybridity, borderline qualities, formlessness or intersemiotics of the Postmodernism has been loathed or admired.

From Latin limen meaning threshold ‘liminality’ is an existential (metaphysical) subjective, state and realm of hovering ‘between and betwixt’ of two (or more) different planes, spaces and/or existential qualities. First described in anthropology (Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner) as a social theory of the liminal states – spaces of a ‘temporary outcast’ when an individual or a group is being placed by the society on its margin in a ritual of purification and/or recognition. It has got also its usage in the contemporary psychology where the liminal means sub- or unconscious state with one’s sense identity being ‘hold’ or dissolved to some extent. In contemporary philosophy J. Derrida  has been called the ‘philosopher of the liminal’ due to his deconstruction attempts of the integral and solid tissue of materiality (more about it in the next parts of this series).

In visual art the ‘threshold’s ‘ aesthetics has been described on the theatre, cinema and performance field (notably S. Zizek, S. Broadhurst) and some curatorial and critical attempts has been made to embrace the liminality of the contemporary artistic expression done by more or less traditional media. Yet, it’s basically the ‘no man’s land’ when painting or sculpture is considered – those realms remain, for the today’s critique and theory (and not surprisingly, by any means) immune to any ‘revolutionary’ ‘new’ aesthetic refurbishment; it became a sort of an ideological cliche – that it’s more convenient to blame painting for its impotency (it’s ‘dead’ anyway, why bother then?…) than to inject any potent conceptual spirit into it by an affirmative reflection.

When J-F. Lyotard has called Postmodernity the nascent state, the state of a permanent ‘becoming’ (The Postmodern Condition, 1979) he basically admitted its innate liminal character; and those artworks that seek to address this condition (both deliberately or not) are probably best recognised for their aesthetics (or anti-aesthetics) of incompleteness – sculptures/installations look as if the artist ran out of the materials to finish them to a decent level; paintings seem to be painfully ‘hanged’ by their own guts with indescribable forms, unidentifiable colours and freaky techniques; videos cry out for any structure, even a hint of a narrative. Their ‘becomingness’ is the only existence they know and it comes invariably as disquieting or even disturbing for the audience. No without a reason the primitive societies considered the liminal states as dangerous, unclean (Turner); and those affected were isolated ‘pro publico bono’.

As hazardous and monstrous in moments as the liminality in art (and beyond it) seems to appear it is also probably the only truly creative state, which – if used wisely – can result in some profound discoveries and metamorphoses. This fructile chaos and the storehouse of possibilities (Turner) is a goldsmith’s workshop of the contemporary art; even though some purists rise an alarm that the state of the constant flux and indeterminacy (where ‘everything goes’) will annihilate all the miserable bits of art that left – let’s be positive… Art is best cared for if it’s accepted just as it appears and shapes itself through the mill of the human spirit; even if refuses to ‘become’ and fit any new uniform – so what?… As far as  minds and hearts are enflamed by it, even with a doubt, even with a turmoil – it fulfills its calling of the ‘fifth element’ – the force of life and death, possibility and danger, sanctus and profane

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In the further studies on Liminality in Art (being a part of my studies on the Contemporary Art) I would bring closer the views of the scholars, philosophers mentioned above, as well as I will try to illustrate the theory with some artworks.


Few words on communication and loneliness…(Whilt 15)

Don’t know why, yet I don’t feel like writing. Don’t feel like using words at all… Words are unnecessary stains on silence…That’s S. Beckett’s…

Out of sentiment probably, I’ve watched once again ‘Lost in Translation” by S. Coppola. An intelligent effort portraying deep loneliness among crowds and despite ‘having a relationship’. All because the most important gets ‘lost in translation’ – lost because of words which are not to be spoken out loud; lost because of time, space, fate. Found only in order to be ‘failed’ at the start… And all those witty understatements, subtle clues and games… Intense emotional bound ‘doomed’ to be lost in all that unexplainably, undeservedly cruel ‘logic’ of life… This movie makes me think more about my work in terms of the difficult art of using ‘low-key’ yet eloquently ‘charged’ messages…

And I’ve seen an interview with Noam Chomsky, the great old man, one of the greatest intellectuals alive  – he sounded so humbly ordinary that it touched the uncanny quality. He talked with tender care and respect as if the words, the language were special beings that he gave life to and took all the responsibility for it…Communication – it takes profound intelligence, good will and struck of luck to happen, to exist on its own and to develop inwardly loosing all the casual simplifications and gaining the meant depth… Do we think enough about the way we communicate (if at all)? The quality, quantity, sense, purpose?…

And the last random thought – fancy words used by some of the more initiated members of the Art World, critics and thinkers-on- art – they’ve been annoying me for years – now I’m becoming a sort of a collector of those – I actually keep a rapidly growing list of expressions, which affect me in a strange way – they just strike a certain string, resonating with elegance, creativity and literary potential. Here are some of them:

nascent (adj.) –‘being born’, just coming to an existence, yet – with a potential

redundant (adj.) – superfluous, unnecessary

portent (n.) – omen, auspice, prediction; with weight/future significance

subversion (n.) – undermining the power of authority, sabotage

resolution (n.) – determination, perseverance, dedication, bravery, purposefulness

intricate (adj.) – complex, baroque, confusing

It’s interesting how one expression can be enriched and illuminated by few others which are meant merely to ‘define’ it. It’s great to sense that interweaving of meanings and an economy of some of the words as they seem to contain the entire concepts in them… Fascinating… I feel a bit more like writing just now…

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The Face – a short story of existence and annihilation.

Human face. The Face. What is there what our conscience claims as ‘real’ that is more exposed and more impenetrable, more familiar and more uncanny, more loved and more despised?

At the beginning there was a Chaos and…

For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals
Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination
We learned to talk
(S.Hawkins quoted by Pink Floyd in “Keep Talking”)

When first cavemen put images of their world on the walls of their mind and space they occupied art had been born, yet something much more had came into existence – man set afire his own genius of distracting the act of being, the Existence from itself, of putting a symbolic Name, the Face on physical, actual Self.

Through ages and generations we have been inventing our humanity cutting through its surface to reach the depths just like a surgeon cuts a mother’s womb to reach the reluctant baby. We’ve created gods and mythologies, in wild yet far from being scare moments of a pure narcissism we gave our own, specifically Human Face to those deities and universes. Asserting and fighting our own being we’ve condemned them to our pitiful and formidable passions, to an imaginable suffering and cruel death, neither curses of perfectness nor blessings of daemons have been spared to those creations of human mind and imagination.

Modern times brought a challenge of extending the limits of our neurological systems and sensual perception through a development of electronics and virtual realities – the old dream of the Multiverse – multi-reality with parallel worlds and alternative time-lines, in which one could exist in multiple incarnations and at various points in his/hers lifespan seems to be closer than ever.

Our grand-grand parents gazed with a somehow stupefied expression on their photographic and/or painterly portrait both admiring and hating its power to capture the being by mocking it in never-accurate renditions. Our fathers made a ritual and a sexual-like act out of having a picture taken – probably more images of the human simulacrum, more Faces has been constructed in the last hundred years than in the whole history of the humankind put together and the technology has been perfected to serve that need – to multiply, duplicate, transplant, construct and deconstruct, perfect and finally – to destroy human Self in its appearance and essence.

Our humanity has been and is still our obsession, my humanity is my obsession.

It’s impossible to imagine a different scenario except that of a madness and other forms of escapism. The most surprising thing I consider to hear today (even though “to be surprised’ is even more surprising than to be alive) is when a creative person paints an abstract shapes or builds an esoteric looking structures and claims that they have nothing to do with her/him – that it’s only an ironic play with concepts, a homage to masters or an activity hanging somewhere between a void and a boredom. There is no art outside you being you, outside your guts and what is the most Sublime in you, outside the trauma and beauty of self-discovery. Art of today acts as an exorcism, a self-hypnosis, a self-therapy. Sartre’s, Freud’s, Baudrillard’s and other post-modern elements are mixed with our blood, no serious alternative has been attempted yet. To dismiss it is to be deluded.

But where to go from this bloody battlefield where dozens of conceptual corpses still seem to breathe (brrr, that sounds scary) and millions of images that have nothing to do with the real, actual being look completely legitimate, even necessary? Humanism seems to be put in fairy tales or at least it is in a serious identity crisis… Is our era is that of ‘post-human’ ? . We make our own avatars, humanoids, we attribute animals and objects with human-like qualities, we know very little about emotions and how to really communicate with each other, we attempt to cheat death – that only equal enemy still anchoring us to our fleshy, “bloody”, so called ‘human’ existence… But maybe I’m going too far after all… Maybe we only lost our Face being blinded by flashes of the contemporary challenge… Maybe…

P.s.

Images above feature Loretta Lux’s work (“Dorothea”), Rembrandt’s self-portrait, Martin Parr’s work (from the “Common Sense” series) and my own snapshot taken just a while ago to incorporate my own Face (or what can pass for it) in the ‘story’.


Diary (8): ‘Strawberry Fields’… Forever?

Fascinating, how the same (or very similar) ideas circulate in the air and through time/space passage ‘tapping on’ heads of different individuals.

Can’t tell exactly how my last concept has originated, it seemed just to sprout like a spring wild flower – out of nothing. Out of sudden I became quite preoccupied with strawberries: their smell, colour, flavour, their sweetness and delight, their dark Bosch’s meaning (still have before my eyes those angelic figures from his “Garden of Earthly Delights” devouring those enormous red fruits with those lascivious smiles).

Then a flow of associations came in a natural way: I. Bergman’s great Wild Strawberries with his concept of the Smultronstallet – a blissful patch of memory, a time/space and energy, a moment, that person – the Golden Age which we once possessed being incomparably happy… Then J. Milton’s Paradise Lost with some great analyses of how human mind deceives itself – having the power to change, ignore the reality (The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. Book I, 254-255)…

Starting from an almost literal view of a fruit (sweet, delicious and… forbidden) I’ve ended up with a mental-scape of glimmering, colourful (yet, not without the dark spots) ‘jungle’ – my own Strawberry Fields (see above and in ‘My Work’) What’s funny, I didn’t pay the slightest attention to J. Lennon’s the Strawberry Fields Forever vision – I was, in a fact, quite surprised when getting aware of that (yet another proof for the  ‘traveling’ ideas)… A series of paintings has followed all that brain-storm… I have never yet experienced such an easiness and such a satisfaction when painting… Seems like one has to think things through and through before attacking a patch of canvas with paint. But sometimes, one real conversation with someone (especially when love/admiration is in the air), one thought having been read somewhere can act as an attitude/life changing trigger.

I’ve learned awfully lot during the last three weeks of this year academic study. More than in the last ten months put together – or, should I say – just because of that apparently painfully chaotic period of a struggle, I could have performed my own little wonder of a true metamorphosis. Nothing is to be lost in nature and so in art, or – as it looks like for today…


Few not-modern notes on humanity…

Quite recently I’ve got an interesting, half-an-hour talk about nothing. It happened to be focused on modern art, modern human condition, place for beauty and ethics within it and, after making a heroic round in escaping its inbuilt vacuum it came to the point of an inception – to a rather corny remark that ‘nonsense’ seems to be a surname of today’s existence. How to make art in the modern chaos and to remain sane? Although Louis Bourgeois wrote in her painting that Art is the warranty of sanity she wrote also I’ve been in Hell and back, and let me tell you – it was wonderful. Going to Hell is the condition of the modern artist, whether s/he comes back and is ready to admit that it was wonderful is a quite another, usually very personal story.

Since my partner in the above-mentioned chat was far from being just an average, junior, intelligent guy who finds ‘fashionable’ to talk post-modern slogans (no matter how out of place they are), we’ve managed to make a way for some deeper observations. Yet everything seemed to slip through our fingers – any sense, any understanding of each other. Why is it so difficult to communicate on a level, where any social game must to disappear in the presence of truth? Why in the age of gutsy exhibitionism, omnipresent ‘display’ of human ‘values’ we are mute and/or extremely amateurish when it comes to formulate, understand and convey basic reflection on our existential condition? I wonder what was that ancient Greek spoke about, or people of 18th century France, or even contemporaries of Hemingway, Kafka, Dostojewski? Have they been taught the art of communicating oneself to others or maybe times they lived in encouraged it in the most natural fashion?

So we talked about beauty which became something terribly old-fashioned, neglected and misunderstood. After Picasso and the modern rest ridiculed classical rules of harmony and pleasure it seems to be quite trendy to make art that disturbs, wipes out smile and joy; art of dark colours, sad faces and deliberately nonchalant in appearance. Even if beauty occurs it’s very often accidental, has nothing in common with beliefs and aspirations of an artist. Majority of work in my college is like that, my own work oscillates between ‘blue’ and darkness of being alive here and now… What a waste of a pair of healthy hands. Why not to aspire to be the next Cezanne or Canova? Why not to aspire to make the happiest, the most beautiful paintings/sculptures ever? Why even these questions sound ridiculously?

It was the eternal beauty of art in Paris that grabbed my mind and heart. Who knows – maybe it’s the right time for a new Renaissanse, for rediscovering once again value and sense in our human condition? That could be even interesting…

Just for the classical taste, few shots of The Louvre’s treasures I took during my trip to Paris:


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