In the Absence of Grace

Artist’s statement, September 1994

We are working at the end of a century subsumed by relative values, relative knowledge; relative truths. The Church and the State no longer dominate our consciousness, no longer determine what we (as a culture) know, or accept, or do. (It is possible they have never really possessed this power. The difference would then be that we no longer believe they do). We are no longer circumscribed by the paradigm of absolute values, nor haunted by the spectre of absolute (and hence ultimate) truth. We live a life relative to our experiences of it. We grow up, socialised into our culture’s common-sense, yet stranded at the cutting edge of its reconstruction and redefinition. We appear to be without a culture to account for and explain ourselves back to ourselves. We remain ‘the problem of being’.

We are modernist by definition even though we have possibly (culturally) determined the theoretical limits of modernist discourse. Maybe we do now understand the problems of knowing, and comprehend its limits and strictures; that interpretation really only interprets; that knowledge is merely the theory of itself and so on. No longer crowded in by our own determinism, many artists think they are struggling with our culture’s own absence of stable identity. Many are wondering if the post modernist practices of denial, or the ego centred practices of high modernism, or the supposedly selfless eco-consciousness of a new age is all that we have left to choose from.

But what does this enable us to do? How does it enable us to be? The self-reflexivity of this position is too easy, too neat a solution. It begs too many questions (and doubts).I agree one of the problematic outcomes of post modernism is that meaning has no greater truth (status) than the truth (status) of fiction. Knowledge and what it means remains essentially relative. (The truths that I know, are essentially only my own. We are nothing but an amalgam of our sources, etc.). For the difficulty of post modern discourse is that it exclusively ceases to be a discourse.

Though we are largely determined by what we know; what we know also assumes many disguises. It provides us with many things irrespective of whether or not we recognize them as gifts or folly. Modernism may have coerced us into not believing, without the proof of evidence and verification. It may have camouflaged our feelings and faiths as if they weren’t facts. We may have become who we find ourselves to be without really understanding why.

However, and this awareness is always with me, even in spite of this I never doubt the sincerity of my thoughts about it. I speak of them as if they assume a significant status in my life. I sometimes speak of these things as if I could not doubt them; my utterances possess for me something of the ‘quality’ of truth. I recognize this so I also know something of it.

I also know of my own passion; the love of my son; the desire of my partner.

These things I hold in my life to have meaning more meaningful than assertion or ‘fact’. This is knowledge that I could never possess simply through a dialectic of (pure) reason and doubt (though I understand it and its significance). For truth remains a generic, contested concept. We dream the dreams of our culture.

Though science and art may begin from similar impulses (even a stolid scientific hypothesis begins from a wild hunch; a dream of how the world may really be), science and art continue apart in the late 20th century. Art has become an inclusive activity. Science by definition remains an exclusive activity. Art preserves the nature of experience. It privileges aesthetics over other ways of encountering and knowing the world. Science can say very little about what it knows very little about. It must by necessity define itself in  opposition to other possibilities. Art thrives on diversity, on difference. Interpretation is the blood of artistic being. Many artists describe their methodology as a journey. Art has been less concerned with fixed (predicted) outcomes than with the possibility of outcomes (even numerous outcomes). The artists’ relationship to audience is based on its performance. Meaning is circumscribed by my performance of it. It resists closure. Relativity remains the original creator in a work of art.
Hence the robustness of scientific reason has very little to say about things that are emotionally difficult or emotionally fragile. Exclusion is not really possible. Therefore except in the hands of the misguided, reason can be misleading. You have to do your homework and be as educated as you can, but in the moment of apprehension or creation you also have to trust yourself enough to mistrust all that. Otherwise the only content you bring home is what you consciously carried with you. There is nothing wrong with this, but that is all it is. But I also make art for these other reasons. The great thing about artistic practice is that it recognizes that you can never really take sides. It doesn’t have to privilege proof over chance or prejudice over desire. In the end I do it for what hides in these margins. I also make art because I need to, so I also don’t mind where these revelations take place.

My artistic insurgence must in part remind me of these things. To evidence the insistence of being. I am attempting to find another way of knowing (and speaking about) and valuing these experiences. A poetics of experience. Not poetics as a study of (literary) discourse, but poetics ‘as’. Identity experienced, understood and utilized ‘as known’. Poetics without cultural amnesia. It is about the art of getting lost in already familiar territory.

As always this work is dedicated to Anna and Andrey.

Copyright Les Walkling 1994