Re-enacting the Liminal – Keith K. Hopewell
“The element of play in art signifies performative enactment through movement. Movement is the key to play – but only secondarily the movement of the player. When we play, in submitting to the rules of the game we subordinate our own goals and purposes to those of the game itself”.
David E. Klemm
A threshold is a place of transition; a possible mental space attained when the direction in which you are aiming becomes the aim itself through a level of concentration, where in an anthropological sense we can reach a ritualistic state, also referred to as ‘being in the zone’ or ‘in the moment’. D. T. Suzuki states in the book Zen in the art of Archery; “If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes ‘an artless art’ growing out of the unconscious. A threshold in another context could just simply relate to working in-between spaces, with any or every medium across the board and between media. Existing in such a state of liminality, of being neither ‘here nor there’, what we are faced with is a resistance to classification, demanding an entirely new category. Obviously this can relate to the many disciplines involved in the practice of art, for instance; painting, sculpture, print, performance, new media, installation, all of which many artists today may work with, if not all of them. However, there are instances where artist’s simply do not fit a particular category, and are unlikely to be appropriated into any such narrow niche markets. For some, ‘crossing the borders’ can be the ultimate goal or perhaps a hindrance. We become what the German intermedia artist Hans Bredar describes as an intermedial being.
In the discipline of painting, I discovered that in the repetition of mark making, connections initially scattered eventually begin to fuse together to create one dominant form. Painting is a medium, which allows us to become immersed within the process, and continuous activity often results in an absence of thought and place. Great work really tends to happen when we are not calculating or thinking and become temporally unaware of the (I) self. Thinking without thinking occurs, where we can operate as naturally and effortlessly as we exist and breathe every day. On the one hand we have the aesthetics of the final work, and on the other hand we have an elevated ritual state created in the enactment of the work. So the question is, at what point does a painting become a performance? I suppose the answer lies in the artist’s own decision to reject the separation of the arts into discrete categories according to medium and market. In other words the painting is the true commodity, and the performative element is limited to being only supporting context. In his 1958 essay ‘The Legacy of Jackson Pollock’, Allan Kaprow explains how Pollock’s approach to the act of painting perhaps borders on ritual. In the dance of dripping, slashing and daubing, Pollock was truthfully “in his work”, since it was difficult to view the whole of the huge canvas that was placed on the floor. However, Pollock still had a carefully considered understanding of such an automatic approach, and knew the difference between a good gesture and a bad gesture. We could also look at John Cage’s relationship to Zen Buddhism or Kandinsky’s theories ‘concerning spirituality in art’ as lines of inquiry into the primacy of self-consciousness as a spiritual reality. However, it seems painting and performance, are key practices in artistic activities that involve participation with the depth of life force. As David E. Klemm states; “Spiritual reality is an on-going activity of mediating between opposite powers of consciousness, such as matter and spirit, time and eternity, the organic and the intellectual. Working for many decades on site-specific work in the public sphere, direct experience with ‘real’ environments has allowed a painting practice to flow smoothly and undiluted, due to the autonomous nature of aerosol related practice. Developing a reductive process over those years, slowly breaking down my work to a ‘least-ness’ of minimal vector and point application.
The use of aerosol in my practice involves dealing with both compression and velocity, and successful application results from experienced control, combined with the dynamism and fluidity of body movement. In each stroke, all of these elements must happen instantaneously to achieve a perfect line, as I continue to cut into an ever changing ‘absolute’ of geometric fields entirely of my own making. I cannot merely rely on technical ability alone, because a strong sense of balance and orientation is also mandatory. My choice of ‘aerosol’ as a medium could be considered by many in the world of contemporary art as a polemical and controversial selection. In researching the works of some established artist’s where the ‘aerosol’ is heavily present, such as; Christopher Wool and John Latham, I have found that the depictions of exactly what media was used in their works, appear to exclude spray paint from their list’s of materials. Working with this medium can feel like a bit of a battlefield, with regards to being marginalized for simply not fitting some persons ‘crude’ idea of what is considered contemporary art or even what is considered by some today as even ‘urban’ contemporary. Displacement aside, I continue to include the aerosol in my practice, because of it’s unique and direct qualities as an unorthodox yet contemporary medium.
Referring back to my reading of D. T. Suzuki and his idea of Zen as the ‘everyday mind’, I was able to reflect more elaborately on the performance elements of my paintings. His notions that man is a thinking reed who only produces his greatest works when he is not thinking and calculating, brought me back into contact with my long forgotten childlike state of mind. To arrive at a point of truth in our work, we must be prepared to embrace unknown territories. When we approach our work in a fluid state, we exist in a space where alchemical transformation is not only possible, but becomes intrinsically part of our being, rolling with us like waves in the great ocean. When I elaborate on Hans Breder’s title ‘Enacting the Liminal’, replacing the first word with Re-enacting, I am referring to the concept of removing the paint and the surface, and instead focussing on only the act/action itself. When spiritual development is reached according to the philosophy of ‘Zen’ as an artist of life, man does not require like the painter, a canvas or paint or like the archer, a bow, an arrow and a target. The dance, which happens in the act of painting, is not visible to the viewer when solely looking at a finished work on the canvas, but the action is a hugely important piece of the process, not mentioning any sound created. There is poetry to be found in both the painting and its process, so why not emphasise the enactment, the lived ritual experience, and make the gestures visible to the audience. Our work can represent numerous types of meaning, each containing a multitude of possibilities to communicate on so many different levels.
“This concrete language addressed to the senses and independent of the word, must satisfy the senses first, that there is a poetry for the senses just as there is one for language, and this physical and concrete language I am referring to is truly theatrical only to the extent that the thoughts it expresses are beyond articulate language”.