You’re home is a garbage processing center where new things are purchased and slowly demoted through various stages of trashification until you’re done.
Starts out: you bring it home. Put it on the kitchen table. You read the instructions, you tell everyone in the house about it. And then some time goes by and you realize you’re not going to be so keen on drying out fruit and storing it in your basement (as you thought you were going to be.) So therefore the object is demoted to the closet where it lands on the floor. You start stepping on it to reach newer things that are just beginning on their journey to junk.
We’re going to be able to dump our ideas directly to digital. Could you imagine if we could leapfrog language and communicate directly with human thought?
What’s the robbing of a bank compared with the founding of a bank?
It is difficult to not bluntly mash the East up against the West when examining the notion of an “appropriate consumption culture” in Phrakhruphaowanasamathikhun’s et. al (2011) essay The Appropriate Consumption Culture of Buddhists in Current Thai Society According to Buddhadasa Bhikku’s Wishes. It is distasteful to pass judgement on the consumption habits of a nation. It goes against the very foundation of independence and freedom on which the West prides itself. The essay argues, from a perspective of Buddhist Economics, that an obsession with objects indicates an addiction to materialism. Rising out of the sensorial pleasure offered by consumer goods, this inescapable relationship with the manufactured world has come to replace much of our connection with nature. Buddhasa Bhikku (1994, 190) describes the modern consumer as suffering from a spiritual disease which effects all his sensory organs. Inappropriate consumption, or a life lived amidst and in the throws of material excess, is a type of semiotic illness. Jean Baudrillard, in his theories on the order of simulacra, points to the recent replacement of the signified by an emancipated sign. As a result, civilization has entered the realm of total simulation.
It is possible that excessive consumption is a reaction against hypereality, a sort of false hope in grasping something real. It is a sick attempt to consume enough to overcome the simulation, to locate and unite with the real. Phrakhruphaowanasamathikhun et. al suggest that this disease can be killed through intellectual understanding of the sign, and by following Buddhist principles of moderation and prudence. They point to the philosophy of Sufficiency Economics developed by the King of Thailand in the 1970’s, as a possible mode of recovery. This leaves room for further research.
An entirely disposable reality points to a type of prosthetic ideology, a false limb of beliefs which have come to feel so real that we no longer distinguish between it and the loss of that real limb. The semiotics of a disposable culture become a sort of phantom limb syndrome, where we believe that we are walking on a real limb, but we keep tripping. As the consumption of signs temporarily satiates our loss, like the junky, we move from fix to fix, never pausing long enough to examine our own sutured limbs. There is room here to explore the Deleuzean type of empty body without organs. To ask how a semiotic illness functions, and what recovery from this might look like. We can ask how this speaks to a loss of tradition (Benjamin, Agamben), and the absence of ritual in modern times (Sontag, Douglas).
The merchant has cut the corner off our bag of sugar, and as he pours our purchase it escapes through the bottom, back into the barrel.
Phrakhruphaowanasamathikhun, Uthai Eksaphang, and Suchitra Onkom. “The Appropriate Consumption Culture of Buddhists in Current Thai Society According to Buddhadasa Bhikku’s Wishes.” International Business & Economics Research Journal 10, no. 9 (2011): 1-8.
The accolades of criticism and interpretation have become a desirable product for any successful creative practice. History has proven that it is the important artworks that are interpreted and written about, and what self-congratulatory (ambitious) artists would not want the badge of honour that is interpretation. Criticism is a trophy. Attention is success. “You won’t get a grant if your work hasn’t been reviewed”.
Now, somewhere far off in another region of the art world, Art School simultaneously teaches the meaning-making interpretation-of-art, and the care-free, discursive making-of-art. This instructional duality of knowing knowing and knowing doing is at the basis of nearly all arts education, and yet it creates a situation that poses serious danger to the young artist. That is, making work for interpretation, by producing conceptually derivative and enigmatically dull works with the hope of garnering some publication-worthy attention.
A student in an art history or english literature classroom learns of a work’s deeper meaning through lecture, its intertextual references through close reading, and biographical anchors emerge in research. The artwork’s position, within a clear and finite sense of historical movement, is made clear. There is no confusion about where and under what ism to place the art, otherwise it would not be a subject of presentation. The student is asked to take apart the work, to dismantle, perform autopsy, dig out the deeper meaning, and to interpret through citation of political philosophy and psychoanalysis (Marx for the social. Freud for the individual. If not either of them, at least one of their friends or enemies). It is not until the PhD that a student will suffer any true or original insight. Doctoral students make real contributions to knowledge. ”A student will have no unique discoveries on their own”. So the student learns to see what the work says, and not what it is. Talks about it through training exercises, in which the student awkwardly wields the language of the their defeated and weary mentors. So it goes.
A student in a studio classroom or a workshop manipulates and develops their chosen material through instruction, exercise, and self-reflexive observation, thinking to themselves that what they see before them, the fruit of their very hands, is not dissimilar to the fine canonical art which earlier that same day was held in very high regard. A revelatory realization: “Why, my work could be in an exhibit now, couldn’t it?”. And then: “Maybe one day critics will interpret the things I’ve made!”. So it goes.
In Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag makes the argument that interpretation is a systemic tool used to bludgeon the sensual experience out of art and silence its ritual purpose. Yet, it is that very same act of interpretation that generates dialogue, and leverages art as a conduit for collective conversation. So, Sontag is correct in saying that interpretation forces art to become something more than itself, but that something more is what constitutes the foundations of culture, the shared understanding of a narrative of expression. Sontag says ”[interpretation] makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories” (10). These categories of meaning, she argues, often better serve the voice of the critic, in whose hands the artist’s work suffers a haphazard excavation of meaning, than the artist, from whose hands the work was born.
It is concerning that the interpretation and creation of art be taught alongside one another. It offers the naive a false hope of being interpreted, of generating a belief that one could create for interpretation. I even did it for a short while, until my mother scolded me for being convoluted. These days I watch artists clump materials with each other, bend things, rub them against one another, and glue them together. They cover the art in spray paint, prop it in the corner, or make it blend seamlessly with the gallery wall. They post-rationalize their intentions through artist statements, citing the great philosophers, theorists, and artists vetted by history, believing that some mention of an intelligent thinker will drape bonafide thought upon the armature of their empty gesture. They concern themselves little with producing sensual experience, likely out of a fear that a beautiful thing will be mistaken for a shallow thing, when really what they are doing is saying nothing, while believing that everything is deserving of interpretation.
This creating-for-interpretation is a dense, self-absorbent terminal point of intention. It is a reaction to the claim that everything has been done. If young artist believes that a once thriving conceptual scene will support them, then they’ve volunteered themselves for injury so that they may walk with the twin crutches of artist-run centres and grant funding. But then they may claim, in their cool and detached way, the words of Sontag, who suggests “… it is possible to elude the interpreters in another way, by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clean, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be… just what it is”. Nicely put. But, what if the work just isn’t very good to begin with.