(forms of life)
when looking at an artwork, i often ask myself what form of life is behind it. in other words, i wonder what form of life the author has implemented to make the production of such an artwork possible. i also ask myself the opposite question: what form of life flows out of the work i am looking at? for example, if it seems like a big production, i imagine it required money and assistants; it may have even been necessary to outsource some of the work. in this case, i imagine the artist at the head of a small business with all of the related costs, financial constraints, working conditions and scheduling issues. does the artist work daily, i wonder, or only on commission, on pieces that have already been financed and which are created with prior knowledge of the exhibition space. when i see a drawing on the other hand, i ask myself if the artist draws every day. he or she only needs a pencil and paper to draw. these are efficient, light technological devices, but ones which also imply a specific way of working, with its own economic model and type of exhibition space. obviously, one practice is not better than another, nor are these two examples mutually exclusive: the same artist can have several practices and work on several scales.
i can recall artists who closely related their practices to the forms of life they had chosen: one artist liked to buy books, read them, give them away as presents, spend time with his friends, make plays on words, etc. his artistic practice reflected all of that. another liked mushroom hunting more than anything in the world and he wanted to compose music that was full of chance encounters, like a walk through the forest. another felt that his friends should act idealistically, since that was the way he envisioned poetry—as fundamentally ethical—many of those who observed his life called him mad and his poetry incomprehensible. another artist, eventually, saw street vendors as the symbol of the society he lived in: walking into the city by day and out of the city by night, dragging around their little carts, never staying put. as a result, his sculptures, though monumental in size, could be folded up into little boxes that he carried away under his arm once the exhibition was over.
i imagine this is the case for each of us: our forms of life and practices are closely related.
“form of life” is a somewhat vague term. i would describe it as a set of practices, gestures, and ethical, political and economic positions. but when i try to imagine each of your diverse forms of life and practices, the mental picture i get is admittedly pretty fuzzy. i have to confess i have no idea. yet i think it is important to see an artwork as more than a trinket for the mantle or a decoration for the living room or museum wall, but as a process, a reckoning of that process, a step in fact, a way of recording the state of things at a given moment, a way that would build itself through “bricolage”. i tell myself that an artwork is, above all, an indication of the form of life of its author, who, refusing those forms he has inherited, has tried to invent his own.
the practices that interest me do not require technical prowess, and moreover can be totally non-artistic in nature, but they are decisive parts of our work. the novelist haruki murakami says that he wouldn’t be able to write if he didn’t go running every day. how does he articulate marathon through his writing? i have no idea, but i do understand that a form of life works a little like a toolbox: there are many different elements that work together (a hammer with a nail) without one necessarily being the direct result of another (running has never, in and of itself, engendered the production of a novel). another artist, who works on the lebanese civil war, collects, day after day in beirut, flashlight lighters made by hezbollah—according to him, they say a great deal about an unstable geopolitical situation, and about the powers politics at play in the region. we are far from jogging—or are we?
in order to describe or portray these practices, gestures, and forms of life, your submission may take the form of collections you have assembled, and which support your work, or which result from gestures you repeat on a day-to-day basis (but we’ll try to avoid collections of an autobiographical or reliquary nature, for they fall outside our subject). your submission may also be a drawing in which you try to portray these practices. in fact, anything that might elicit the following remark from the viewer: “oh! this also is x’s work!”
i think our practices and gestures sometimes produce our work or, at least, make it possible, give it meaning, etc. it depends.
in order to help me clarify these mental images, this letter is meant to open an inquiry. like a trusted vehicle, this letter is making its rounds, seeking you out in your studios, in your daily lives, tracing your gestures, your mental positions. if you agree to reply, whether with a short text (a few lines or a page), or with pictures, videos, sound files, or whatever else, it might give us a better, and more importantly more accurate, idea of what producing an artwork actually entails—an idea which the market may overlook.
the results of the survey will be presented in a form that has yet to be decided (publication, performance, conference, exhibit?). above all, the survey will take the form that you decide to give it. i know that this is not an easy exercise (avoiding formulaic slogans, succeeding in making knowledge haptic using techniques that have yet to be invented, most of all succeeding in transforming something that has never been represented into a representation). some of us may have never attempted such an endeavor. nonetheless, i predict that the outcome will be, at the least, very helpful.