Configuring Principle

~

Part One~~~~~

Inside the Theater of More ~~~~

~

I

~~~

You enter the place called theater or playhouse to see the play; you find your place there; then the play takes place. You yourself also come here to play, at least in your own mind, knowing that the play also takes place inside you. What’s out there is also in here. Secretly, you are the theater, the playhouse, the place of the play, where your own life may seem to be staged right before your eyes; and here, under cover of private hiddenness, it gives up its secrets—if you have eyes to see. Your seeing eyes see both ways at once, the outer stage and the mirror stage within, the in/out threshold, the (double) ocular axis upon which your inner play plays out—the thea (Gk.), the view and the viewing that you, theates (Gk.), viewer, behold in the place of viewing: the theater. It’s all you—well, it’s also all the world.

~~~

And it’s all me, and all not. We double, we straddle the threshold, confuse identities, we arc in the viewing between viewer and viewed, we spectators co-configure—we make theater side-by-side, each with our own play running privately inside. What renders this spectacle so spectacularly possible? Somewhere in here there is a root principle difficult to define and resistant to names, and yet it has language. Is it knowable?—and, if it is, in what sense is it known? And can we tell each other about it?

~~~

The hinge here is language: the principle that has language and can speak itself also is language. That’s the starting point in this inquiry into principle; the realization that a principle shows itself in the language by which it is thought. It has what might be called a poetics.

~~~

Theater, to begin at the declared beginning of the Theater of More, is a word that carries a complex set of relationships, as indicated in its viewer/viewing/viewed etymology. A formulation like Giulio Camillo’s 16th century Theatro della Memoria (1530) inherits a complex of traditions that play out the possibilities of viewing. This confluence of traditions includes the external site and architecture of the physical theater; the ancient mnemonic systems (ars memorativa as mnemotechnics) that combine primarily rhetorical systems with architectural images and nomenclature; the variously developed abstracted ancient rhetorical uses of mnemonics (Cicero, Quintilian); and the Hermetic tradition (Lull, Ficino) and magical and cabalistic practices able to incorporate mnemonic systematics in an esoteric agenda. The idea of theater in this broad history involves a range of meanings from the most external viewing to the deepest internal visionary experience. The word itself comprises, as it were, a kind of continuum running between the “outer” and “inner” meanings, and as such it is a threshold (limen) and site of liminality between extremes; and here a Camillo can play out his drama of mind-theater, its staged levels of “intellect” and “intention,” ranging from the practical to the divine, with magical aspirations always ready to lift the next curtain.

~~~

Memory/Memoria too is such a logoic threshold.[1] I view memory, like theater, as what I call a limen, a liminal (non-)point of processual distinction within a continuum: on one hand, memory as rhetorical recall or as recollection (information retrieval) of facts, ideas, and rational formulations; and, on the other hand, memory as a site of restoration of powers, a return to fundamentals of one’s intrinsic nature, an initiation that is both a discovery and an uncovering. “Theater of Memory” in the latter sense would be a site of what gets called magical, initiatic, and transformative experience, as indeed we may understand Camillo to have intended: you go in as you and you come out as other.

~~~

And in that sense there may be many subtle inheritors of such a “theatrical” tradition, perhaps including, say, Alfred Jarry’s ’Pataphysics, Antonin Artaud

’s Theater of Cruelty (Le Théâtre et son Double), Jerzy Grotowski’s “Objective Drama” and “Art as Vehicle,” along with those connected to the latter (Peter Brook, Richard Schechner), and many more. Indeed, one could see certain performance artists here (e.g., Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Eiko and Koma, Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneemann), and the list grows long as we locate the performative art that shares an initiatic/transformative principle somehow akin to that behind the Theater of Memory—art that fundamentally alters the participant. This performative art, of course, is not only performance art, but any art that embodies in its very structure and mode of operation such a non-ordinary experience principle—an initiatic unfolding that takes place in the inner theater of the participant.[2] One might think of Marcel Proust in this context, his discovery/recovery of a “lost” paradisal time-world through “involuntary memory” (via the petite madeleine)—this is something powerful, stunning, even life-changing, yet ultimately it is ordinary memory flying high. And then subsequently there is his discovery, formulation, and practice of “voluntary memory”—something entirely different—a principle of intentional world-(re)creation that is anything but ordinary. It conducts its magical mystery tour, young Marcel’s “Magic Lantern” fully lit, and searches out lost time only to transport us far beyond the temporal, travelers in visionary syntax.

~~~

Yet “memory,” Proust notwithstanding, no longer carries well the esoterically performative end of that logoic continuum, and the literalized word memory is cut off from its excitable liminality (except in coded usage, e.g., G.I. Gurdjieff’s “self-remembering”). Such reasoning may have contributed to Heinrich Nicolaus’ name for his collaborative/participatory project, the Theater of More (ToM) [see NOTE at end], resonating as it does with Theater of Memory yet avoiding tendentious or otherwise limiting associations that might compromise free participation. Given that it sets itself apart in this way, using a word (More) so broad and common as to seem adrift amongst undelimited reference, what might be its operative principle? The question is partly rhetorical; that is, if thinking its emergence in this way is already to engage it. The principle is active right here.

~~~

~

II

Execution is the Chariot of Genius.~~~~~~~
William Blake

~~~~~

Thinking in this sense, as engagement and performativity of principle, is inseparable from the language that embodies it. We can hardly think about our thoughts or examine them without scrutinizing the thinking language itself. Language reflecting upon itself! Chastened as we are by Wittgenstein to not be fundamentalists of language—those who believe in words as fixed realities with consistent referents (except by strict consensus or assigned meaning, as in jargon or code, with delimited application)—we labor to participate our thinking language in processprocessual reflection. This special use of participate (not followed by “in”) extends the post-Durkheim/Lévy-Brühl term of Owen Barfield—for experiencing phenomena without separating subject and object—to include a willing liminality, a standing between apparent contraries in order to openly inquire. This is where the poetics comes in, the working principles of active coherence in any given discourse. And further, the thinking principles—the principles, that is, behind thinking, but also principles engaged in thinking—principles themselves seeming to think independently of us. Here we are moving toward what might well be called a poetics of thinking. and with

~~~

We can look at the words engaged in thinking language, for instance, as sites of energetic charge. They have historycontext, as noted above in the case of theatre and memory. Each of those words can be viewed as a continuum between extremes of meaning. Therefore they are sites of more or less continuous transition. And they are thresholds, what I have called limens, logoic zones of liminality. If we examine any given moment of thinking language, we may notice ourselves leaning to one side or another at the verge of distinction. In the example already discussed, theatre, I may be inside an actual theatre looking at the stage, seeing the play as objective performance before me and yet feeling the emotional impact in a connection with personal experience, and I may even see this as my reality show playing itself out, while never losing track of the play out there as somebody else’s work. There may be many levels of this back-and-forth focus, one level no more difficult than walking and chewing gum at the same time, another level many-tiered with wider and wider circles of referential engagement, and then a reflective level, much like the thinking we are doing here, and then: what? A certain leap, a non-ordinary giant step, a break in the frame, shadows with no projective light, figurings and unnamables—The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough. (including both etymology and known historical uses) and

~~~

I resorted to poetry there, Ezra Pound’s celebrated “In a Station of the Metro” with its visionary moment in the underground, catching the memorable light of certain faces in the flashing dark, calling back, in “an instant of time,” lost souls from the underworld, Homer’s Nekuia, The Odyssey, Book XI, happening again in the mind, the dark inner theater that at the far end crosses into death. It only takes one such experience, actually and powerfully realized, to transform a word for us—to make it a site again of a living continuum.  To make it the more that opens us to a further knowing of our own being—and that, as we then can think it, is an instance of real theater. Theater thinking, as it were.

~~~

~

III

~~~

For this moment in thinking language we can go so far as to say that the principle of the Theater of More is a certain theater thinking. It’s a space in which a lot of different kinds of things happen over time with no particular commonality of theme or point of view or artistic style or form or historical claim or political position or scientistic pretension or concept of archival completeness or universality or system of information retrieval… you name it, it’s not there, except as more. It lacks predictability. It makes for thinking. Thinking with a built-in viewing space in which many viewers focus on a certain view, here, now, in and of this moment. How? By way of an Art of More.

~~~

Reason, or the ratio of all we have already known, is not the same that it shall be when we know more.~~~~
William Blake~

~~~~

More is an interesting word. It’s practically the same in many languages—ma (Old English), mo (Middle English), mehr (German), mas (Spanish), mor (Old Irish) –moros (Greek), mazja (Avestan), and so on. No one can over-define it because all we can say is that what we have, so far, is less than it. Whatever we think about it is less than it already is by the time we say it, because it’s more. The mind rushes ahead toward it. Thought is dislodged by it. Yet in that respect it’s really like every word we use, because when we use it it’s now more than it was; it now means this, yet just as this is, just now!—and quite clearly an instant later what we have said is already less than it. This is a pretty knotty affair, but have patience, it’s telling us a lot about language.

~~~

Language is always being more as we use it, and it quickly leaves itself behind. It logo-degrades. Like thought. Like life. It hardly exists at all because, focused on now, it’s confined to the no-space between less and more. The very thought of it calls into question the nature—nay, the very existence—of time, the present, an instant, the thought itself, as though, at the very threshold of more, there’s hardly room for anything to be in time. Everything seems to be slipping out of time here, in this moment, in this theater of thinking more.

~~~

Perhaps this is the principle of the Theater of More: theater thinking at the threshold of time and no-time. After all, the language of thinking it keeps pulling the mind back to this spaceless space in which everything is potentially memorialized and nothing is retained—because it happens at the edge of being more. Memory must inevitably record what is not yet complete, what already knows it must be more. So, where is this theater and how do we remember where we are? You come in as yourself and you leave as other. As more.

~~~

It’s as though the promise of more attracts thinking language to an unknown and unsayable further nature.

~~~

~

IV

~~~

Let’s go back—well, that’s not quite the right formulation at this juncture—let’s go on with the way language itself is guiding us in configuring a principle of the present theatrical impulse. We are committed here in this joint enterprise to honor, to give priority to, the logoic entity (OK, the name) that has attracted us to this spot: Theater of More. We have been tracking its play. The transition from memory to more­—

~~~

memorye

~~~

—a turn upon an invisible axis in language and thinking. You could say that there’s a hidden space between memory and more. Turn the mind to the left and memory elucidates a world gone by—more now of what has been, remembered in a given moment. Turn the mind to the right and we’re in the domain of what is only now dawning—recalling, at long last, what, now and now alone, can be further. This is what I call the axis, and the axial moment[3]a moment, yes, but one with a curious zero point momentum, a force not quite, or not entirely, in time—or, rather, a force out of undertime. …the apparition of these faces…

~~~

Well, anything can happen at zero point (which, of course, is not a “point”). There’s zero predictability. There are zero limitations—there’s nothing there!—it’s between.

~~~

Perhaps only the Japanese have created a place in language for the thinking that wants to happen here in the between. In Kunio Komparu’s great work, The Noh Theater: Principles and Perspectives, a chapter is devoted to ma in which the range of meanings (from architecture to music) plays out as fundamental to the whole quite ancient phenomenon of Noh.

~~~

As an expression of space, ma can mean space itself, the dimension of a space, or the space between two things….

~~~

As an expression of time, ma can mean time itself, the interval between two events, rhythm, or timing….[4]

~~~

This variability, or what I prefer to call axiality, suggests that in the case of ma, a long-standing usage recognized that the polarity of space and time is “polar” in a very special sense. Space and time are at once separated and linked by a pole in the sense of axis, a common hinge on which they swivel into “normal” appearance, now as space, now as time, depending on the perspective—and, in a sudden anomalous moment, as space-time. Physics, broadly speaking, produces this anomaly in mainly cognitive/conceptual and abstract terms, whereas art (Noh, as Komparu’s analysis suggests) presents it sensorialy/intuitively and concretely. And this polarity, no doubt, has a hidden axis as well, a swing point within ma viewed as principle, suggested by Komparu’s architecturally focused distinction in the subtitle, “Ma: The Science of Time and Space.” The science in the art becomes indicator of an art dimension of science—a liminality function at the level of ma as principle, which shows up in the dynamic marriage of science (as theory or technology) and art, and, indeed, a certain indifference to the very distinction.[5]

~~~

So, perhaps this is the (or a) principle of the Theater of More: liminal theater, a theater of between, ma.

~~~

~~~~

V

~~~

The true original is always yet to come.~~~~~~
Ontononymous the Particular~~

~~~~~~

Theater, for all its seeing and being seen, is also a place with a memory of speaking—and being heard. From ancient times it created a sense of person by way of masks and “speaking through” (personando) and of moving bodies and patterning energy. Language holds the center as the very possibility of saying, not necessarily, of course, with words, but also with movement, gesture, sound—and, at least since Artaud, theater has remembered itself as a language of more than words. Gesture can speak as unambiguously or as ambiguously as words, and the meaning-continuum of sound and gesture is as intensive and extensive as words, semantics, syntax, rhetoric. Its memory theater resides now, and primordially, in all that embodied being says itself to be, and in all the ways it now knows how. Its Art of More is a threshold of possibility. It is inherently innovative, although a self-image as avant-garde is a cultural artifact and not a sign of essence or relevance; nor is its value at issue in whether or not it’s “been done before.” Self-true language that speaks for itself is best understood as intrinsically happening before, and as inherently unexampled. (No polemic or self-consciously crafted identity as “new” will lend it extra primordial thrust.) The artifactual mask is ever a site of speaking through. One could point to its poetic principle as

~~~

living language speaks for itself

~~~

And it hones itself not by technique or technology, but simply by remembering its singularity—by focusing, that is, inside its own axis. Its “craft” is a function of attention and intensity in the process of self-unveiling—a stripping bare (bride or not) of self that’s not particularly personal as such, yet stands true in the persona that is sounding. A happening in the space of an Art of More. A further theatricality that sees for itself.

~~~

Here we come upon the persona as impersona, a theater-entity whose very presence serves as a site of theater thinking—a sounded being, born in performance, a sort of play birth, a birth at play, and within the play. A projective entity. (Is there Golem poetics?) This species of performatively embodied thinking language is drawn out in the perspective of more—it’s called out, so to speak, at the threshold of possibility, the lure of being, the irrepressible Pygmalion force, the eros of what can’t bear not existing. And it allows us to focus on a sense of co-performativity and, paradoxical as it seems, a poetics of shared singularity.

~~~

~

~

Part Two~~~~~~

~~~~~

The Principle of Principle Art

~~

We’ve been saying a lot about principle, without ever having defined it. The reason is simple, so simple in fact that it eludes understanding for more than a moment or so at a time. A principle can never be defined definitively, because any given definition is itself only a manifestation of the principle itself, appearing to be outside it. But principle has no outside, and in this way it’s rather like a Klein Bottle, a continuous one-surface reality that morphs as it goes. Indeed we only see its morphs, just as you never see the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. It also invisibly drives Dylan Thomas’ poem, which is in part its message, so structured, yet you do see the poem, or rather the words. There will be another, similarly visible and invisible, even if it should disavow it, saying things like after the first death there is no other: we know it lies to say what cannot be said, but must. That’s how it works its principle of more.

~~~

There is obviously, in any given instance, a poetics of saying what we know to be there but can never point to directly. This is the whole problem of “higher” or “ultimate” or “fundamental” matters. It’s no good to try to avoid it, which at best is only a more palatable or perhaps sophisticated game of charades. Nothing is solved by avoidance. Principle is here to stay.

~~~

I have taken a stab or two at it where not to say something only adds to confusion:

~~~

Provisionally I would say principle is the basic or essential element determining the evident functioning of particular natural phenomena, mechanical processes, or art emergence.

~~~

Yet it’s as much a force as an “element,” depending on the context. And a view of it does depend on context, which gives it a skin, an outside. But scratch that surface and it disappears. For principle is not so much a one-surface as a no-surface reality—until it ­surfaces. Mostly it shows up looking like a concept. If it can’t be firmly identified, how can an artist use it and remain true to it? The answer: the artist’s art knows how.

~~~

The first opportunity to make some distinctions is to look at it art-historically, where in fact an understanding of principle-based art (which has apparently never called itself that, at least until now) can clear up some misunderstandings and reveal certain priorities that are rarely foregrounded. Once better understood, certain artists and their approaches may attract more accurate attention. However, this is unlikely to happen until we grasp better how principle (and, indeed, the principle of principle) works in the case of particular artists.[6]

~~~

There is an obstacle in the complexity of the phenomenon of conceptual art, which of course takes many paths and, at this late date, has so integrated into a wide range of art practices that, except in the much discussed “classic” instances, it can hardly be distinguished as a separate phenomenon in contemporary art. This is not the place to address this complexity except in the broadest terms, focusing on a common denominator of much conceptual art for the purpose of distinguishing it from what I call principle art.

\~~~

~~~~

Axial, liminal, configurative [7]

~~~~~~

These three terms comprise both a complex principle, as we see it in its tripartite appearance, and a possible (but not necessary) sequence in the interrelated way that the principle unfolds in experience. They also embody three ultimately inseparable aspects of a commitment to principle in art. Principle in this particular usage differs from “concept” and “conceptual” but is in no way opposed to them. An artist working from principle in this sense may also be working with concept, but they are not interchangeable terms. Of course, as the history of art particularly since the 1960s has shown, there is a range of possible ways of defining and using “concept” and “conceptual.” Yet we can notice in a number of cases that a concept is definitively represented by the work that it produces; indeed, one kind of conceptual “ideal” might be: one concept, one work.

~~~

A principle, in contrast, cannot be fully defined by the work it produces or inspires or operates within. A principle can be endlessly renewed through well-defined yet non-definitive manifestations, and an endless variety of works can be produced out of it. Paradoxically a principle is not often well served by apparent repetition (unless the principle calls for it); a true manifestation of principle, the way I mean it here, is a singularity.[8]

~~~

The principle of a principle-based work is not necessarily prior to, as “leading up to,” the practice. Though a given principle in some sense had to already be there before the practice began, the decisive point is the artist’s discovery or direct awareness of it, which may or may not function as motivation for making the work. This would be a key distinction between principle-based art and conceptual art: the latter would seem by definition to be substantially in place prior to execution of the work. Work grounded in principle, by contrast, is neutral on this issue. A given work may have a strong conceptual focus at the beginning or not; but this basic fact––that it can be subject to processual evolution through open composition––alters the status of even its conceptual strategies. The root principle is open. In this regard, for instance, media/installation/performance artist Gary Hill has said of early, foundational work: “…the space that I often attempt to work in…[has made it possible for] many of the single-channel works [to be] structured in such a way as to allow… unpremeditated activity on my part in producing them.” And, discussing installation work like Tall Ships (1992):

~~~

My working methodology is not one of theorizing and then applying that to making art. In each work I find myself committed to a process that of course may involve material where… philosophical issues may seem to be relevant. But I’m committed to the idea that the art event takes place within the process. One has to be open to that event and be able to kind of wander in it and feel it open up; to see it through until some kind of release feels inevitable.[9]

~~~

This basic attitude may be seen as comparable to the approach of certain older artists who were working during his early development, say, Stan Brakhage in film; John Cage, La Monte Young, or Terry Riley in music; Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Jackson Mac Low, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Kelly, or David Antin in poetry; or, of course, the “action painting” of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a good deal of body and performance art (Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci) from the 1960s on. Yet in matters of art principle it is not of primary interest to think by way of comparison or the idea of influence or the claim of priority, except incidentally, or as a way of being in touch with historically resonant event fields. An artist working from a matrix of free action and according to an emerging vision certainly feeds on art and thought, but that means many kinds of art and thinking, beyond all anticipation.

~~~~

The work itself as limen

~~~

The challenge of developing a practical criticism that reveals principle at work in certain artists is no simple matter, especially since consistency and repetition are not particularly virtuous in principle-based work. Yet we can take a small step in that direction here by way of an installation work by Gary Hill.

~~~

~~~

Coming to terms with terms

~~~

The noun limen, threshold, has the meaning of smallest detectable sensation, the unit of what crosses the line. In physiology, psychology, or psychophysics, a limen or liminal (non-)point is a threshold of a physiological or psychological response. In this technical context, liminal means situated at a sensory threshold, hence barely perceptible. A limen is therefore close to vanishing point. This helps us understand the academic and social domains in which the concept of liminality has played a significant role, such as psychology, as noted, but also more loosely in the description “liminal personality” for someone “near the edge (or breaking point).” And in the social sciences, notably in anthropology, there is the work of Victor Turner, who has written influentially of its implications for social status, saying, for instance: “Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial.”[10] In a sense, a liminal person is “barely perceptible” and living at the social “vanishing point.”

~~~

In the 1996 installation Viewer, Gary Hill projects the life-size images of seventeen marginalized men (mostly Latino, Native American, and Black dayworkers) who obviously live near the social vanishing point. The men, somewhat as if in a police lineup, stand a bit uncomfortably facing out at viewers. When we view them seemingly viewing us, their sad and vacant eyes gazing into our art-inquiring eyes, we enter into their liminality—and perhaps discover some portion of our own. The art space, itself a liminal zone (the outer banks of society at large), is further liminalized by virtue of our reflective empathy. We might say that we engage marginal viewing: There’s our viewing their marginal status and their viewing back from the margin. At another level, perhaps there’s our awakened self-view as belonging to the social class (gallery, museum, art market) that unfortunately contributes, however unintentionally, to their marginalization; and, quite possibly, the momentary reversal of that in our opening our eyes to them. Maybe also there’s our honest awareness that, only here in this liminal (but safe) space of art (as opposed to actually standing in front of them on a street corner), do we get to be this kind of viewer, in all its resonance. In this very moment, standing as we are at the threshold of self-awareness.

~~~

In general, as well as in most of the specific ways that we have referred to it, liminality is a concept, a cognitive frame within which we understand, or apperceive, various relationships of center (self/entity) and periphery (other/world). It also stands for, indeed signals, the act of framing that allows us to mentally stand back and reflect upon an open state of objectifying—to grasp, for instance, that some objects are non-ordinary and demand special attention, perhaps even new orders of attention—singular acts of attending. We can recognize liminal objects without really knowing what they are. We grant them, at least provisionally, an honored status. And we find ourselves in dialogue with othernesses, states of oscillatory engagement with unnamables—and maybe it makes us want to speak out, even out loud, and talk with unknown things, alien objects. At a certain point in this process, such as when we realize that the object before us, the work or opus, is itself a liminality, a limen, a unitary agent of some kind of energetic exchange at an edge, or transformative or transportive event, or indeed synergy. At that point liminality as concept has become liminality as principle. The merely thinkable has become a unique kind of doable, an event at large, something happening with perhaps unclear agency. And once we see this we can give up trying to know what it is in advance of experiencing its actual instance. Singularity is possible.

~~~

The point of laying out this notion of the work itself as limen, its embodiment of liminality at the level of principle, is to signal a shift in view. In a sense, a work that functions as limen—as vehicle of liminalizing our very state of participation—is already a further threshold, a crossing point to a unique state that cannot have been before its (this) very moment. We may be even be arriving here at a threshold of “social sculpture.” This would be an aspect of the shifted, and shifting, view. The work is always a further instance of itself—which is why it is open, completely incomplete, able, that is, to be incomplete through the fact of interminable completeness. The work is “living” in the sense that it is self-regenerating and non-repeating.

~~~

We may see our role here, not as “art criticism/history,” but functional within the historical stream of art. In that sense it is what I (along with Charles Stein) have often called the further life of the work. The object we are discussing is changing as we speak, even in what we are saying. And how do we convey that status but by taking responsibility for it? Further life comes through co-performance, for which there is a critical discipline: it arises from within the work itself, peculiar to responsibility understood as precise responsiveness. Or as the poet Robert Duncan put it: “Responsibility is keeping the ability to respond.”

~~~

The resonance of principle art is felt in the thinking it inspires—thinking that furthers its realization. This excursion into a resonant field tracks the inauguration of a project—Theater of More—to explore its alignment with a practice of principle thinking. That thinking, in search of a possible poetics therein, is always turning and situating itself within its axis, always playing itself out at the edge, and always configuring itself and the reality before it. This brings us to the beginning of the inquiry.


_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

~~~

NOTE on Heinrich Nicolaus’ Theater of More (ToM)

~~~

Curated by Juan Puntes in collaboration with Wolf Guenter Thiel~~~~~

WHITE BOX (Bowery, NYC) June 17–September 13, 2009~~

~~~~~~

PROGRAM NOTE FOR THE WHITE BOX EXHIBITION:  Heinrich Nicolaus is a painter, publisher, and multimedia artist based in Chianti, Italy. The “21” project takes as subject the communal process of art-making through extended dialogues with the art historian and scientist Wolf Guenter Thiel and curator Juan Puntes, as well as through the collaboration of a variety of contemporary local and international artists, architects, musicians, film and video makers, new media artists, writers, actors, fashionistas, magicians, etc. Nicolaus also highlights the ideas of experts on Renaissance Art and Theory, including Max Seidel, Silvana Seidel Menchi and Gabrielle Perretta, and incorporates historical information furnished by archaeologist, Lucia Donnini, and architect Francis Levine who reference and postulate a time when art provided for and explored undifferentiated notions of science, spirituality and magic. 
Inspired by Giulio Camillo’s Il Teatro della Memoria created in 1530, the multidisciplinary collaborative theater piece (“21”) depicts processes and events of the present world crisis related to the imbalance between the soul and the world (anima mundis) as a backdrop for a multitude of new and inspiring actions, and endeavors. Nicolaus reflects to some extent upon the influential, communal attitude found in Paul Thek’s collaborative artworks produced in the Low Countries during his exiled European years following completion of his critical work “The Tomb-Death of a Hippie”.

~~~

(“21″) opened in Venice in early June as a matrix to Detournement ’09, a multifarious, roundabout collateral 53rd Biennale Project. For its 2009 run at White Box (Bowery), a selective New York and international group of artists and collaborators from other disciplines cooperate throughout the entire Summer. 
Locations participating outside the two main gallery spaces in Venice and New York are libraries, social networks, academia and Websites where the public can join in and have their voice and opinion count, as in Act II, Selectio, a selection process of artworks and ideas for the theater.

The attachment provided serves as a script and ultimate guide to the three acts of the piece: Adcumulum (accumulation/collecting), Selectio (selective criteria), Propagus (propaganda/messenger of image-agents), and also comprises a Postcriptum consisting of hundreds of drawings, objects, sculptures, and architecto-pictorial works organized in three singular segments in multiples of seven, hence, (“21”). Each act serves as a vehicle to guide the search for magic and spirituality through art.

~~~

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

~~~~~~

NOTES TO THE TEXT

~~~

[1] This quasi-coinage aims to neutralize a root term for “word” and “language,” not to further valorize it, but to render it performative as a site of transitioning awareness/awareness transitioning, a certain thinking process.

~~~

[2] Practically the archetype of the mind-changing performative structure is William Blake’s Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1802). And then there’s Finnegans Wake…. If one expanded the focus in the contemporary, one could think of the music too of Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros, Franz Kamin, etc.; or the poetry of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Jackson Mac Low, Gerrit Lansing, Kenneth Irby, Robert Kelly, Charles Stein, etc. (But one would want to start not only with Blake but Goethe! Or James Joyce and Gertrude Stein!) Or the film art of Stan Brakhage and Harry Smith…. Yet the impulse here is not curatorial or anthological, but performative in the elucidation of a possibility in principle.

~~~

[3] Axis can be thought of on many levels, from the intimate scale of the body and its spine, to the way physical things line up or pile up vertically, to the grand scale of the earth turning on its axis and its physical and magnetic polarities: how bodies are in space over time. Issues come up immediately––of balance, alignment, gravity, stability, precariousness, danger…. The axis, in most instances, is not primarily a thing, if at all, but a way of understanding physical events (earth turning, upright body walking), a concept, and indeed a principle of dynamic orientation of a body amidst physical forces. We use the word “axial” at times to engage the sense of personal relationship to the presumed or observed existence of an axis, and the potential for relative “freedom” in movement.

~~~

The axial (and axiality) stands for the opportunity of optimal (but not necessarily “maximal” and certainly not “ideal”) free movement, and for the aligned “surrender” to gravity that also “releases”––polarizes––into levity; bipeds rise into uprightness. So, taking the notion further, the axial means the conscious, radical self-alignment that liberates identity/work into its unknown further possibility. As art principle, it’s the freedom of an art action to discover possibility through a medium––to work optimally through its own physicality, focused on releasing singular awarenesses peculiar to the artist in a given medium at a given time and place. The axial principle does not suggest a style or aesthetic preference.

~~~

[4] Kunio Komparu, The Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspectives (New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983), pp. 70-95.

~~~

[5] Komparu himself was first a Noh actor in a long family lineage, who unexpectedly turned to writing as architectural critic, and just as unexpectedly returned in time to the Noh theater as actor. As one who crossed and recrossed a threshold between apparently incompatible disciplines, he was well-positioned to expose an infamous liminality within architecture itself in its science/art polarity—often, indeed, a struggle. He does this in part by focusing on the profoundly architectural aspects of Noh.

~~~

[6] In collaboration with Charles Stein, I have taken steps in this direction in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings, Foreword by Lynne Cooke (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009). I have also written about it reflectively in relation to my own art practice: Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance, Foreword by Carter Ratcliff (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009).

~~~

[7] This section is adapted from the Prologue to An Art of Limina (previous note). I have not attempted here a full exposition of the tripartite principle.

~~~

[8] Fluxus artist Dick Higgins once created a neat conceptual work in a button with the words, “If you can’t do it twice you haven’t done it.” A reverse concept would better represent principle: “If you can do it twice you still haven’t done it.”

~~~

[9] Regina Cornwell, “Gary Hill: An Interview,” Art Monthly (October 1993); reprinted in Gary Hill, edited by Robert C. Morgan (Baltimore: A PAJ Book, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 224ff.

~~~

[10] Our sense of “liminality” was worked out independently of its usage in anthropology, which, while different in focus, is not incompatible with ours. Victor Turner took the term from Arnold van Gennep’s threefold structure of ritual in The Rites of Passage (1909, 1960), and developed it in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure (1969) and subsequent works. In the essay “Liminality and Communitas,” Turner notes: “Prophets and artists tend to be liminal and marginal people, ‘edgemen,’ who strive with a passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role-playing and enter into vital relations with other men in fact or imagination. In their productions we may catch glimpses of that unused evolutionary potential in mankind which has not yet been externalized or fixed in structure.”

~~~

~~~

~~~

`

`

Share