June 17, 2014

Vision, anyone?


As I read Ned Beauman's article By Brute Force in Aeon Magazine, I relived my first visit to DIA Beacon when the realization finally dawned that the artists presented (Flavin, Irwin, Judd, On Karawa, Sol Lewitt, and more) had anticipated the Information Age decades before it happened. They had dialed down materiality and distilled art into a set of instructions.

Beauman spins a delightful essay linking art, mathematics, hacking, encryption, and digital currency into a loop that lassos the difference between a meaningless universe wrought by chance and a meaningful universe born of love.

I snip from an article that should rather be read in full:

A 'brute-force attack' means guessing a password or encryption key by methodically trying out every possible combination of letters and numbers until you find one that works.

Then Beauman identifies artists who identify with combinatorial exhaustion, who want to be a cog in something turning; and artists who cheated or shorted the system, who placed a thumb on the scale, who subtly subverted the zeitgeist, who chanced the arbitrary in favor of caprice, imagination and subjectivity.

I snip:

In his own essay on Watt in 1992, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote:
The combinatorial is the art or science of exhausting the possible, through inclusive disjunctions. But only the exhausted can exhaust the possible, because he has renounced all need, preference, goal or signification. Only the exhausted is sufficiently disinterested, sufficiently scrupulous. Indeed, he is obliged to replace projects with tables and programs denuded of sense.

Disinterested. Scrupulous. Deleuze seems to be imagining the creator as a sort of ideal bureaucrat or scrivener. This is just right for Boetti, who voluntarily turned himself into a mailroom clerk. In his essay 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' (1967), the American artist Sol LeWitt describes a similar demotion:

When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art... [T]he fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible.

There are many references to bureaucracy in the article. The world as bureaucratic, artists as
"angelic bureaucrats". I personally think that bureaucracy is a natural enemy of art, but that's just me. I turned my back to this in grad school at the end of the 80's because I felt that art had a right to turn another page of art history.

Here is a key issue lurking in this article: that the limit function to the brute force approach is nearly limitless time... human beings don't have that luxury. The infinite monkey theorem is well known: chance operations could generate something as unique as Shakespeare given enough time, a near infinity of time. We who are comfortable and snug in our Western Democracies are almost completely certain that we are the product of aeons of combinatorial chance, the bump and grind of the elements since creation happenstance to result in our precious third rock from our sun. But to my my eye the author seems to fly against the popular opinion that atheism had triumphed over the existence of a deity and the faith required to light that tinder. Beauman advances two possibilities, two different kinds of faith: 1. That given enough time, we could find G-d in an infinite brute force permutation. 2. That G-d is manifest when we exercise our freedom (to reiterate: caprice, imagination and subjectivity).

Without this faith, we exist in a meaningless universe (the link is to salute Vi Hart's parody of existential angst). Atheism is corroded by the cynicism that we are meaningless because the universe is meaningless, this road leads quickly to nihilism, the renunciation of freedom and the proscription of originality.

We live within the context of aeons, but we don't experience an aeon since our lives are but a blink of an eye. So it seems that we all have to jump the gap between mortality and (immortality?) the infinite as personal, arbitrary as our will allows, capricious, and subjective.

Vision, anyone?


Posted by Dennis at June 17, 2014 12:55 AM

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