“A TEXTUAL PALIMPSEST”

21 Jan

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A recent press release (from repeat offenders Empty Cube in Lisbon) is too short to be worth bothering with for an Artbollocks Theatre reading but rest assured that is, nonetheless, total bollocks. Doing it would also make them the first art gallery featured twice. I guarantee that the long-promised third series of Artbollocks Theatre is coming very soon, by the way. I haven’t done it yet because either:

a) A powerful conspiracy of evil art world figures is doing everything they can to fight my message.

b) I’ve been too lazy and haven’t made the time to do it.

Decide for yourself which seems more likely, but if you’ll permit me to give you a clue I would tend towards a). Search your heart.

“The work consists of a mass of archive materials, specifically gathered by the artist himself for this ephemeral project…”

By the artist himself? Fuck me sideways with a plinth, what dedication. Nobody ever gathered their own materials before. The accompanying image (below) seems to confirm that, yeah… it’s just a bunch of papers in box files. Cross off (NORMAL THING) IS AMAZING BECAUSE ARTIST DID IT on your Artbollocks Bingo card! What a pity all the millions of office workers who’ve had to drudge away typing, printing or photocopying things, putting pieces of paper in folders and then taking them out again and then putting them in an envelope or back into another folder, ad nauseum, never realised they were actually making an ephemeral art project.

NNF_e-artnow

What most of us call “putting some papers in box files” is what they call

“…collecting and archiving a variety of elements that highlight and reconnect histories and stories, as well as the apparent affinities and relations of various references; in his work, the archive acts as a conceptual sub-structure that confronts us with our perennial and irreversible condition, in which memory is made to reconcile with the precise reconstruction of its fragmented legacy.”

Entendeu? Bom.

Nuno Nunes Ferreira explores this model exponentially by amassing a bibliographic archive that covers a whole year and is continuously dissected until the last second of that same year, whose reference in time is the exact day of the project’s presentation at EMPTY CUBE: January 23, 2015. The work’s metrics condenses temporality, juxtaposing it to a textual palimpsest that possesses a clockwork-like quality. Indeed, it is as if these texts were the face of a clock, on which we can constantly pinpoint time via the tangible possibility of recognizing the referential moment of a particular second in the sequence of the next movement.

There are so many questionable phrases in this paragraph that instead of repeating them I’ve just underlined them all with increasing despair, like a teacher or the Paperclip Man in old versions of MS Word.

1) Unless you mean that the paperwork is increasing proportionally to its current dimensions or extent, then you don’t mean exponentially. An example of an archive growing exponentially would be if every item of paperwork gave rise to two or more items of paperwork, each of which in turn gave rise to two or more items of paperwork, and so forth. I doubt this is happening. One also cannot amass something while simultaneously dissecting it, i.e. taking it apart to determine its internal structure. What amassed would be scattered and disassociated fragments of your archive, not necessarily the archive itself.

2) What are the work’s metrics? How does one condense temporality? Is it like condensed milk, sort of not really milk and not very nice? How does one juxtapose condensed temporality with a clockwork textual palimpsest? A palimpsest is something written or drawn over visible traces of previous material, so specifying that it’s textual is fine if we can stomach use of a word like palimpsest outside its sensible original context of medieval illuminated manuscripts. But how is it like clockwork? Is this all just a fancy way of saying that the artist is writing or doodling on old files?

3) As for “pinpointing”, “referential moment” and all that jazz… I genuinely don’t know how to process this as a meaningful sentence. It’s just aphasia or word salad; syntactically correct English but completely devoid of sense.

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12 Responses to ““A TEXTUAL PALIMPSEST””

  1. Nuno Nunes 22/01/2015 at 6:30 PM #

    how can you judge an art work that you’ve never seen just by reading the press release and look to the invitation image… thanks for stupidity, you made me laugh. (Nuno Nunes-Ferreira)

    • Alistair 22/01/2015 at 7:19 PM #

      You’re actually right and wrong at the same time. You are totally correct that I can’t judge the art work itself because I have not seen it. You are also wrong because, having not seen it, I can only judge it by the press release… and the press release was badly written and made the art work sound stupid, if you want to talk about stupidity. I think it will be obvious to most people that I was mainly judging the quality of the writing about the work. In reality the art may actually be stupid or it may not be stupid. I doubt that you are stupid, though, and this could theoretically be one of the most beautiful works of art enacted in the 21st century. It’s irrelevant if all the publicity and documentation of the art work makes it seem stupid.

      The main legitimate purpose of press releases, artist statements and critical writing about art is to provide context and illumination for people who probably will not see the art works with their own eyes. Even for the most successful and prolific contemporary artists, the majority of the public will never see the work of these artists in person. How many people visit this particular art space in a year? Hundreds? Thousands, if they’re doing very well? About 2 billion people use the internet now. Think about the fact that most people will be judging this exhibition by what is written about it, not by seeing it. More people probably read about your work via e-art-now (like I did) than will see it for themselves. This blog definitely has more visitors per day than any small-to-medium-sized contemporary art gallery.

      Stupid-sounding, pretentious writing about art does a huge disservice to artists and the art they make, and alienates the public.

      • Alistair 22/01/2015 at 7:22 PM #

        Thanks for admitting this post was funny, though.

  2. anitachowdry 22/01/2015 at 7:42 PM #

    I always enjoy Alistair’s “Grumpy Old Man” posts, and it is great to see this dialogue with the actual artist whose press release Alistair attacks! Images are always more compelling that words, however, and having had my curiousity aroused by this post, I decided to hit google-images to actually see Nuno Nunes’ art – which I think is pretty damn good! I also like Alistair’s Bingo-Card – I think you could sell quite a lot of those, Alistair!

    • Alistair 22/01/2015 at 10:57 PM #

      Well, QED, there’s my point about the damage done by bad art writing proved. The artist’s work is better (and deserves better) than this horribly misbegotten text. Although frankly that’s not a very high bar to hurdle, given what nonsense the text is.

  3. Eric Wayne 25/01/2015 at 11:18 AM #

    The article is about the grandiosely pretentious and impenetrable art speak, which should be fairly obvious to the astute reader, let alone an artist capable of work that condenses temporality itself. When your intellect can bend the laws of physics, or at least make sense of your own press release, it shouldn’t be too hard to decipher what Alistair is going on about, or to come up with a more sophisticated argument than merely asserting that he is stupid.

    I also looked up the work of the artist, and it’s really the kind of thing you need to see in person. The “Matriarch” elephant on the floor of the gallery looked pretty good to me, but, alas, the jpeg doesn’t do it justice. The work in question I couldn’t find anything more about other than the same B&W pic of a row of boxes of files, so, am also left with the press release to go by, which I could barely make it through without an aspirin.

    I like the Bingo board, and I’d like to add one more square which simply says, “radical”. I’ve notices just how often the term is thrown about to make anything that is intrinsically lackluster into something of crystalline brilliance in the intellect (which I ranted on about in this post: http://bit.ly/1wvA63Y)

    I think Alistair does all artists a service in showing just how convoluted and “stupid” press releases and artspeak have become. If he were truly successful artists might be freed of having to churn out such bullshit, or having it done in their name (to their ultimate embarrassment, as in the case at had).

    • Alistair 25/01/2015 at 12:38 PM #

      Thanks, Eric. Really good point about “radical” (and really good post in the link, worth everybody reading). I think it fits under the ARTIST IS UNIQUE square, but probably ARTIST IS RADICAL would be a better title. So overused and so destructive, making artists, curators and writers of critical texts fixate on the romanticised, sentimental and self-dramatising notion of constantly, mindlessly pioneering when for most artists it would be better if they settled down to farm some of the vast territory that’s already been discovered.

      Frequently “radical” is not even deployed at this level of sophistication, but instead as just another pompous euphemism for incomprehensible, pointless or inaccessible: like “subtle intervention” (i.e. you can’t tell what the artist did or if they did anything at all) or “performative residue/traces” (i.e. the pointless and uninteresting crap left behind by the artist after they did a performance, stuff which is a byproduct of art rather than art itself).

      How radical is an artist, really, when they’re being told either tacitly (by the art market, art world, critical consensus, etc) or directly (at art school) that they have to be radical on cue, and usually in the same way as previous “radical” artists? Nobody truly radical was ever radical because they were just doing what they were told.

  4. Nuno Nunes-Ferreira 02/02/2015 at 8:51 PM #

    “The work consists of a mass of archive materials, specifically gathered by the artist himself for this ephemeral project…” yes.
    “…collecting and archiving a variety of elements that highlight and reconnect histories and stories, as well as the apparent affinities and relations of various references; in his work, the archive acts as a conceptual sub-structure that confronts us with our perennial and irreversible condition, in which memory is made to reconcile with the precise reconstruction of its fragmented legacy.” yes.
    “explores this model exponentially” yes.
    “continuously dissected” yes.
    “The work’s metrics condenses temporality, juxtaposing it to a textual palimpsest that possesses a clockwork-like quality” yes.
    “we can constantly pinpoint time via the tangible possibility of recognizing the referential moment of a particular second in the sequence of the next movement.” yes.

    the project:
    http://www.emptycube.org/english/artista31/artista_ag.html

    • Alistair 02/02/2015 at 9:12 PM #

      Simply answering yes to every questionable statement is not helpful. The last time I had this kind of A: Reasonable, adult question or comment B: YES! or NO! exchange it was with a five year old.

      In either case you seem unwilling or unable to engage with the real issue, i.e. that this text is badly written throughout, in some parts total nonsense, and overall mostly unneccessary. You have completely avoided answering the points made in the original post, or in the comments. The phrases you have highlighted DO NOT MAKE SENSE even if they may, in your own mind at least, relate to the work you are doing. A phrase like “The work’s metrics condenses temporality, juxtaposing it to a textual palimpsest that possesses a clockwork-like quality” is (almost, but not quite) a syntactically correct English sentence but it’s very difficult to process into meaningful information. Using this sentence as a model I could write “The work’s measurements explode performativity, harmonising it to a filmic index that possesses a helicopter-like quality”. I realise that English is almost certainly not your first language, but does the previous sentence seem reasonable or enlightening to you as a description of anything, especially of something most people cannot see or experience for themselves?

      • Nuno Nunes-Ferreira 02/02/2015 at 9:30 PM #

        “text is badly” no
        “in some parts total nonsense” no
        (…)
        English is almost certainly not your first language” yes
        “does the previous sentence seem reasonable or enlightening to you as a description of anything” yes

        the problem is that I can not find a better word to describe this work then: “textual palimpsest”, but if you persist in this word I can explain it in other two simple words: bibliographic clock.

        (anyway, I give you the congratulations on the blog because what you write is not bad at all. hug.)

      • Alistair 02/02/2015 at 9:47 PM #

        OK, we’re getting somewhere. “Bibliographic clock” is not perfect, but more like clear, plain and meaningful English than “textual palimpsest.” I hope this doesn’t come across as too patronising because it really isn’t meant to be, and I have no idea of your age or level of education, but this is exactly how I’ve battled through with some students and (sometimes very experienced and professional) writers whose work I’ve edited:
        Me: This doesn’t make sense. (I explain why.)
        Them: Yes it does. I love that sentence. I worked really hard on it.
        Me: But it doesn’t make sense and what you’re trying to say is not clear.
        Them: Yes it is. Anyway, I can’t think of any way to make it clearer.
        Me: Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but your readers will be confused and turned off by it so you’ll have to do better.
        Them: Oh, wait… I just saw how I could make this clearer.

    • Alistair 02/02/2015 at 9:19 PM #

      In case you’re still confused, perhaps you could read about Noam Chomsky’s “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”, which is a very clear example of a sentence that is grammatically and technically correct, but semantically nonsense.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorless_green_ideas_sleep_furiously
      While you are at it, you could also follow the link to the explanation of category mistakes, of which the original text has many, as do the sentences to which you answered “yes”.

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