December 2, 2020

Songs Between Works


[A edited version of this text appears in the exhibition catalogue for La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux.]

I am reminded of something I wrote many years ago, that “maybe all works of art are some kind of polyamorous love songs, offerings sent out into the world in order to get everyone to love you. Works of art and literature are not directed towards one person but towards many. Songs in the sense of birdsong, messages thrown out into the world.” I’m not sure I still agree with this sentiment.

There’s that lyric in the old Jane’s Addiction song that I misremember as:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / I only knows if someone wants me

Except in my version I think I might change it to:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / don’t even know if someone wants me

And I wonder if this is also something about making art. To make something you don’t know if anyone will want. And even after you’ve made it you might still not know. But these things, these makings, can sing to each other. Since artworks are in dialog with the viewer, and they may or may not be in dialog with history, but they are definitely also in dialog with each other. Such conversations are both seen and unseen, forming and reforming in space, over time, and in memory.

I once read that solo exhibitions hewed too closely to the logic of the market and therefore only in a group exhibition does art have the potential to think against capital. I don’t know if I agree with this argument but, at the time, it certainly provoked me. Can one framework really be said to be more commercial or subversive than another regardless of the works within it?

I have not yet seen La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux and therefore I am definitely not writing about it. Perhaps I am writing parallel to it. Or perhaps only parallel to my own thoughts and assumptions about art and the world. I know there is still something I love about art but often don’t know exactly what it is. It is something about love, about song, about sending something out into the unknown where it may or may not connect with a viewer or with other works. Where it may or may not become political or be seen as such. Where something might happen, but you have to have faith because there are no guarantees and it is not even completely clear just exactly what you must have faith in.

It is of course anthropomorphic to speak of birdsong as I first did. The birds clearly know what they are doing when they sing their songs: who the songs are for, who they are trying to attract. But even though the songs are not for us (unless you are a bird of the same species currently reading this), we have listened to them, and given them meaning, since the beginning of time. So I do sometimes like to think of art in the same way, beyond the artists intentions, artworks speaking to each other, singing to each other, clear across so many rooms. They don’t even know when someone wants them. But also they do.


No comments: