On occasion in my wanderings through the shelves of second-hand bookstores I have come across a worn, dusty book that was bound in an old-fashioned manner and mused about the optimistic and self-confident use of the word 'new' in the title. Some times it was 'New Methods in Education'; other times it was 'The New Medicine' or 'The New Book of Knowledge'. Surely the publishers must have recognized that their 'new' books would be replaced by newer books and those by yet newer books and so on, ad infinitum. Men have apparently been thinking that they were modern men living in a new age for many hundreds of years. This makes it all the more curious that we no longer think of ourselves as modern men and women. We have decided that we are post-modern.
Is this simply another conceit or is there a real crisis marked by a "decay in the confidence placed by the last two centuries in the idea of progress"decay as Jean-Francois Lyotard suggests? Postmodernism is marked by an incredulity to metanarratives.incredulity This amounts to a recognition that what we thought was historical truth is in fact a story told from a single majority viewpoint. Within Postmodernism the voice of any minority group and of any individual must be considered with equal weight. Questions of universality and legitimation are of little concern.universality The whole idea of objectivity vanishes in a welter of subjectivities. There is no cold scientific light of reason, because science too has its own metanarrative. The egoism left is that having understood this we think we now know what is really going on. Linda Hutcheon points out the vacuousness of this self-satisfaction. "There is no position outside these metanarratives from which to launch a critique that is not itself compromised".outside
But neither can we live completely within the metanarrative. Our reality is a "multiplicity of images, interpretations and reconstructions circulated by the media in competition with one another and without any 'central' coordination".multiplicity Often we are forced by this chaos to retreat into the security of cosy half-truth. Thus to live in our world is to "experience freedom as a continual oscillation between belonging and disorientation".oscillation The understanding of this truth is an aid to living within this confusion. It even becomes possible to take up the tools of Postmodernist deconstruction and join the forces of chaos and darkness.chaos
This is just what I have done - although at first I did not see what I was doing within that framework. Inside the enforced disciplines of art courses I have been guided along certain prescribed pathsguided. I was told for instance to avoid appropriation outside my cultureappropriation and to explore my personal identityidentity. So it is my personal and inherited history that I have started to explore. One of the advantages of reaching the middle age of my life is that I seem to have advanced to a higher ground where I can look back and survey the whole terrain of my past life. While I can no longer see all of it with the great clarity of temporal immediacy it is the pathspaths which thread their way across this map of experience that have become the focus of my hindsight.sight And it is the connectionsconnections that I seek to understand. The most heavily worn routes in my past connect centres and opportunities of learninglearning and of creation.creation Little surprise then that I find myself here at an art college taking a BFA degree seemingly unrelated to my previous university career in the sciences. The part I still have not completely figured out is that I am majoring in Ceramics. But I will; for reflexive analysis is my stock-in-trade.analysis
The classical view of the artist is as a draughtsman or painter so I started by taking drawing and painting courses. Initially I thought 'this is all very different - very creative - it's nothing like what I am used to' and all the self-confidence I had in myself as a designer of software seemed to be useless. Then an instructor told us students about the blind contour exerciseblind and how it relates to left and right brain functions and I began to feel more comfortable. But I think it was these roots that nurtured several of the biggest dichotomiestwo I now face.
After two decades of creating computer programs I am used to and happy creating ephemeral objects for which my appreciation is mostly intellectual - though many of the programs which I have designed have enough user interface for consideration of experiential aspectsexperience as well. On the other hand (or perhaps in the other hand), I have held a coin that I owncoin which was minted in Egypt in the reign of Ptolemy III, i.e., about 230BC. It would take me hours to describe all the sensations and meanings across several spectra that the coin generates in me when I hold itsensation. I think it is the same physical sensuality, historical depthhistory and intimate connection with human lives which ceramic objects use to stir me. They speak a discourse of archaeologyarchaeology and of sensual intimacy. But I came to the field of art not just to listen but also to speak through what I create. Part of what this means for me is that, overall in my work, content must be as important as form. Once I decided this in a conscious fashion I felt I had to choose some concepts I felt strongly about to work on. At that time I was studying Postmodernism in Canadian Art History and Egypt for a Ceramics History presentation and designing pages for an Internet website. Four topics were covered by this Internet project - fractals, a personal mask, a collage novelette and a set of images and haiku on the subject of Postmodernism. Somehowhow out of all this came the idea to explore museums and their metanarratives.
I have been aided in my interest by the work of Fred Wilson and Richard Ross. In the exhibition Mining the Museum Wilson has chosen a set of objects from the collection of the Maryland Historical Society. He juxtaposes them carefully to make comments on the treatment of blacks in America. In his book Museology Richard Ross shows photographs taken in museums around the world. He concentrates on the juxtaposition of the artifacts within their museum surroundings. Because many of his photographs come from workshops and storage areas and from museums that have been temporarily or permanently closed we learn much about the museums and their own history. This sort of romantic but yet analytical view of museums is precisely my own. In this we find ourselves on the somewhat indefensible ground shared by most postmodern artists. Each of our works "both inscribes and subverts its target".inscribe However, this is precisely what I wish to do.wish I love museums and think very nostalgically of some I have visited in the past.museums Many of the new ones I visit are now tied very closely to ideals of education. Modern mass media techniques have obscured the romance and intellectual curiosity that showed in the old displays and new metanarratives seem to have replaced the old. Mine is a rather equivocal stance; but that is no longer indefensible in this epoch. In an age where one hears that "there are no new ideas"no new it seems highly appropriate to comment on the old ones.
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