Benjamin Murphy – First question then: why are you an artist
Jean Nagai – When I was 2years old, I fell from an apt window and died for a few minutes. Somehow being an artist was the next logical step
I had some colorful visions while I was between the two worlds.
BM – Holy shit. So do you remember it?
JN – Yes, I remember it. Not specific shapes colors or shapes, details, memories get more vague over time.
BM – How old were you?
JN – I was 2 yrs old. I also remember there was a figure near me as I floated upwards
BM – Do you ever wonder what you would have become if this never happened?
JN – No, I have not had that thought. I was so young, I wouldn’t know if I would even consider myself conscious at that time.
BM – Or what your artwork would be like has it not happened.
JN – Maybe I would have not taken the path of art? Maybe I would have become a cook, like my parents
BM – If for some reason you couldn’t make art any more, do you think becoming a cook is something that you’d consider?
JN – The possibility of what i would do with my life without art seems quite depressing. I don’t know.
BM – Yeah it’s hard to imagine. So what else do you do besides making art?
JN – Hmmm, these days I’ve been traveling a bit. Just spent a couple months in Thailand, and made a large painting for a solo show. I saw the most incredible show in Tokyo where I saw my friends MSHR open for Incapacitants. Honestly it may have been the best show I’ve ever experienced! The sounds, the energy, I felt so proud to see these old Japanese men create a sense of ecstatic bliss out of what could be described as chaos. I also like going on long hikes.
BM – So what art movements or artists are you particularly interested in?
JN – Oh geez, too many to answer… i like art that is hopeful, I like art that is spiritual and I also like when an artist reveals some darkness within us, like Santiago Serra or Bruce Nauman. Georgia O’keeffe is someone I admire greatly.
BM – What do you do when you’re struggling for inspiration?
JN – Oh my. So many things I do to stay inspired. These days it’s running or experiencing art through galleries or talking with other artists. Nature is key for me, and not just mountains but also all the energy that’s just blasting around the city is also nature for me.
BM – What is it that you want your artworks to do?
JN – Maybe what I wanna say with my work is to project a kind of sensitivity to life. Not necessarily fragility although life can be. I think it’s important for people to show that feeling, in art and in the real world.
BM – So one last question: fantasy dinner party, which people living or dead would you invite, you have 6 seats.
JN – Oh geez…your questions fill me with more questions and with endless possibilities…someone from the Denisovan tribe, ghengis khan, nikola Tesla, someone who has worked at area51, Ana mendieta, Jean Michael Basquit
For more conversations
For more from Jean Nagai, here is his Instagram
On Leaving Art School
Before you leave art school, take advantage of being at art school. You’d be surprised at the number of students that register on a degree course but barely attend or do any work. This is plainly stupid. Art School is an opportunity to access experts that are paid to help you develop your art practice and help you build towards success. Don’t waste it.
Be social, but work hard.
There’s a lot of socializing in art. Get in the habit of getting up and getting into the studio early and working all day before you socialize at art events. Keep a diary of listings and how you spend your time. The best strategy at art school is to immerse yourself completely. After you graduate you’ll have other pressures, and will likely find it hard to commit the same amount of time ever again, so value it.
Some artists don’t have studios at all, they work best in temporary spaces and use their laptops. For others the physical studio is essential. When you leave art school you’ll realize that studios are expensive, so apply to all the graduate schemes. Failing that, share a space. Other strategies include getting a cheap storage unit to keep your work and art materials in, and then using temporary space anywhere you can get it.
Technicians and Tutors
A good art school has a wde range of facilties. The way into these is through technicians, the unsung heroes of the art school. Often they’re artists in their own right. Get to know them, ask them if they make their own work. Then talk to them about your work and ideas and they can be persuaded to help you get access. Tutors will be the ones giving you advice on how to progress your work and ideas. Don’t assume that they’re also artists. They might be, but they might also be career academics or researchers. Their job is to support your learning through academia. Above all be respectful, they have lots of knowledge and experience that you can benefit from.
Go to Talks.
Go to lectures, ask questions and speak to the presenter.
There will be guest speakers at your art school who are artists, gallerists, curators, theorists. Go to talks at galleries and museums. Take notes in the lecture and always think of a question to ask after the talk. When the talk is finished, try to speak to the presenter, even just say thank you. In my experience, this is the best way to get an internship.
Artists studio visits are the best opportunity that you’ll have to make a personal connection to an established artist. Everyone likes to know that people like their work, so take the opportunity to say something thoughtful and complementary. Don’t be a provacative smart-ass, this can be a useful strategy to get noticed in theory lectures, but its not appropriate when you’re visiting an artists studio. If you don’t appreciate the work, keep quiet.
Document your work
Start doing this from day one and keep doing it. Make it part of your regular practice. Keep visual notes of technical processes, color palettes, work in progress, your studio. Organize your documentation into folders on an online resource like Dropbox. Get into the habit of making an inventory of works that you make using a spreadsheet software like Google Sheets. Use the rows and columns to list the works, media, sizes, prices, available works, location of the works on loan, who bought it.
Document your finances.
When you sell your first work you’ll need to complete a tax return, and if you have records and receipts it’ll be easier. It’s likely that,at the beginning your outgoings will exceed your sales. Also, if you get a job that’s Pay As You Earn, this means your employer deducts tax from your pay before you get it. This is useful, because you can offset lots of tax deductible costs from your art business against your PAYE tax. This means you can apply for a tax rebate and get some of your PAYE tax back.
Start writing about your work. Keep a journal where you write about anything that interests you. There’s no wrong way to do this. In the future, you’ll be asked to present or talk about your work. If you’ve spent time writing to yourself about it, you’ll have reflected on your ideas and spent time editing and selecting the ones that are important to you. This is the best way to begin writing artists statements that don’t sound pompous.
Art is about ideas, so find out about as many as you can. There’s an infinite amount of resource online, but the library is a sanctuary for research. If you don’t read because you’re dyslexic, there are lots of podcasts and audio books. Put them on headphones and listen in the studio. Take notes.
The Degree Show
Curators and dealers only go to the prestige art school degree shows. So, use social media to develop your profile in advance of the degree show, show the work in development. People will be more likely to attend and see the work in real life if they have already committed to following you. Make sure you invite people in plenty of time.
An emerging artist needs to have a fully maintained social media presence. It’ll be the most demanding activity you’ll be involved in. Try to think about it as a relationship builder rather than a mere shop window for finished products. Establish meaningful relationships with other artists, talk to them about their work. Make intelligent comments and support each other.
These are less important than social media. I’d recommend using a simple service like WIX. There’s a learning curve, but once you’ve set it up, you can maintain it. Don’t put everything on it. It’s best to keep it to a selection of your best work, an artist statement and a short resume/biography with your best exhibitions.
There’s a lot of criticism of the artist statement. If you’ve been writing in your journal, you’ll have focused your thoughts. Try to write simply and clearly in your own words about your work. If in doubt keep to the subject, media and core idea. Use your own voice, don’t quote theory or other artists unless it’s absolutely essential to the concept of your practice.
Success and achievement
Think about what success looks like for you. Is it achieving a degree, or getting an exhibition in a gallery, or is making a living. There are many ways to be successful as an artist. The truth is that the art world is somewhat challenging to navigate. You might achieve this straight out of art school or you might have your first solo exhibition in your 60s. Along the way, you might have a myriad of different jobs, successes, disappointments. True success is continuing to make art when no galleries seem interested and there are no sales.
A recipe for success.
There a two pieces of good advice that i got early on in my career. The first was about getting into teaching. Someone told me “learn something that nobody else knows”. It was the 90s and I learnt to make printmaking from computers, which was new then. I got a teaching job straight immediately.
The second was about developing my practice. A visiting artist told me to experiment as much as possible as a student, then develop to be consistent in a way that is recognizable to curators, galleries and your audience.
Next Steps: Further Study
If you are considering a part-time or full time career as an artist-academic you will need to do an MA and probably a PhD as well, which will be expensive. If your aim is to be an artist, then my best advice is to get on with being an artist. However, if you work the sums, you might be better off applying to an affordable part-time MA that has a good studio space than paying the same for just a studio.
Next Steps: Residencies?
Residencies vary, there are prestige ones that are selective and funded and there are those that artists pay to attend. The latter are basically art holidays and should be avoided. A good residency will allow you time to undertake focused work in a new environment. This can be especially useful if you have to work in a job and need to set aside specific time for your art.
Next Steps: Collectives?
This is the best strategy that you can have. The sooner you begin to establish quality connections and networks with other artists that you can relate to, the better. You’ll recommend each other to galleries, curators, collectors, editors. The best collectives are fluid and without definition. Some will leave and new artists will join. You’ll share knowledge and inside information, you’ll promote each other. This is what social media is best used for.
For More by Hedley:
Paul Weiner (@POWeiner) – The book that I’m writing and releasing in about twenty years. Keep your eyes peeled, friends.
Charley Peters (@CharleyPeters) – ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf. It shows really well how artists need space and time to be creative – because only once we have that we can discover the truths in ourselves and what that means for our work.
Remi Rough (@RemiRough) – The Hagakure
Jonny Green (@JonnyGreenArt) – The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhem Reich. Written in 1933. Happening in a country near you right now. The politics of the sexually repressed.
Richard Stone (@Artist_Stone) – The Last Wave by Gillian Best, its a great book, a love story to the sea and ahem, it was inspired by a painting of mine of the same name.
Kevin Perkins (@Kevin_Perkins_) – In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan
Sally Bourke (@Justondark) – The god of small things.
Lee Johnson (@LeeJohnson.eu) – Knut Hamsun’s Hunger
Jenny Brosinski (@Jenny_Brosisnski) – Le petit prince
Andy Dixon (@Andy.Dxn) – Balzac’s Lost Illusions.
Klone Yourself (@KloneYourself) – 100 years of solitude.
Daisy Parris (@DaisyParris) – Nasty Women – a collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century
Jake Chapman (@JakeChapmaniac) – Accursed Share.
Tom Anholt (@TomAnholt) – The Hypnotist, Laurence Anholt
Spencer Shakespeare (@SpencerShakespeare) -The book of John.
Hayden Kays (@HaydenKays) – ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown. It’s witty, informative and hugely rewarding. I’d go so far as to say, a life changing read.
Andrew Salgado (@Andrew.Salgado.Art) – Susan Orlean’s ‘The Orchid Thief’ is about obsession, and its non-fiction, and its brilliant. thats my first pick. a much more obvious choice for artists would be Art/work by Heather Bhandari as its like, ‘everything you need to know yesterday about an art career’.
Benjamin Murphy (@BenjaminMurphy_) – In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. He understood the human condition better than anyone else, and most of what you could ever want to learn about life is contained within ISOLT.
Richie Culver (@RichieCulver) – Floyd Mayweather’s autobiography.
Jordy Kerwick (@JordyKerwick) – The Rum Diary – Hunter S Thompson
Danny Romeril (@D_Romeril) – JG Ballard; Cocaine Nights, Crash and Empire of the Sun
Florence Hutchings (@FlorenceBH) – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Soumya Netrabile (@Netrabile) – I think Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester is essential for every artist. Bacon deftly elucidates some of the important nuances of the art making process in response to Sylvester’s brilliant questions.
Luke Hannam (@LukeHannamPaintings) – Matisse -The Life of a Master by Hilary Spurling
Hedley Roberts (@HedleyRoberts) – One book? Phew. That’s tough. Either Brave New World by Huxley, or Narcissus and Goldmund by Hesse.
Matthew Allen (@Matthew__Allen) – I would recomend everyone to read the poetics of space, by Gaston Bachelard. Its a beautiful read and lead me to a deeper appreciation for the everyday spaces that I move through and dwell in.
Nick JS Thompson (@nickjsthompson) – The very hungry caterpillar.
Neva Hosking (@NevaHosking) – I reckon To kill a Mockingbird is always required reading.
Justin Long (@_JustinLong) – #wherethewildthingsare
Erin Lawlor (@TheErinLawlor) – Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut.
Justin Lee Williams (@ArtJLW) – To many to mention, but I would start with all the major religious books, I’m not religious but it does give a understanding to why humanity is so fantastic and fucked at the same time
Wingshan Smith (@wingshansmith) – Everyone should read what they want.
Fiona Grady (@Fiona_Grady) – “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I think the title is pretty self explanatory. The aim of the essay is to remove the negative associations of the word feminism and embrace the idea of believing in equal rights.
Obit (@LazyObit) – Mr Bump by Roger Hargreaves. No matter how many knocks you take and how shit you are at life in general you’ll eventually find something that is perfect for you if you stay positive.
Anthony Cudahy (@AnthonyCudahy) – Paradise – Toni Morrison
Johnny Thornton (@_JohnnyThornton) – Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard. It really opened me up to a lot of interesting ideas when I was a bit younger and some of those ideas still resonate with me today
Magnus Gjoen (@MagnusGjoen) – The Prince by Machiavelli.
Jesse Draxler (@JesseDraxler) – Freedom From Anger – a book I lend ppl, who then want to keep it. I’m on my sixth copy.
Martin Lukac (@Martin.Lukac) – Kamasutra
Mevlana Lipp (@Mevlana_Lipp) – “The color of magic“ by Terry Pratchett.
On Thursday we opened Rhiannon Salisbury’s solo show Habitual Submission. She was the overall winner of our annual Open Call, following Florence Hutchings’ Seating Arrangement in summer 2018.
Much of the work in the show is inspired by Guy Debord’s essay Society of the Spectacle, as well as Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
There are some prints still available, for more information please click THIS LINK
If you would like to enquire about original paintings please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the full set of installation photos, click HERE
Join us for the private view of the Delphian Gallery X Guts Gallery collaboration exhibition with the most exciting contemporary art around.
Private View Thursday 28th November 6-9pm
Exhibition continues until Wednesday 4th December
Socially, politically, and economically, we are living in trying times. These difficulties create division, and division breeds competition. We endeavour to support all art-world practitioners wherever possible, whether they reciprocate or otherwise, and to collaborate with what would (by some) be called our direct competitors. We believe that the art-world would be a much more open, supportive, and progressive place to work if we started working together, rather than pulling apart. For this reason, Delphian and Guts have decided to join forces.
Douglas Cantor, Florence Hutchings, Geoffrey Bohm, Igor Moritz, Jake Grewal, Lauren Roche, Morteza Khakshoor, Rachael McCully, Sebastian Eriksson, Sunyoung Hwang, Tania Alvarez, Valerie Savchits.
Generously supported by The Factory and Crate Brewery
Monday: 11am — 5pm
Tuesday — Friday: 11am — 7pm
Saturday: 8am — 7pm
Sunday: 10am — 6pm
For more about our past shows, click HERE
Embracing The Tempest – Bas Jan Ader.
Words and images by Benjamin Murphy
On the ninth of July 1975, the 33 year old Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader set off from Chatam Mass on Cape Cod, in a 12.5 foot sailing boat entitled Ocean Wave. His plan was to catch the Gulf Stream, and take this tiny vessel across the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Atlantic ocean, landing in Falmouth, UK, around ten weeks later. This arduous journey was planned and undertaken as part of an artwork entitled In Search OF The Miraculous, which has now become his most well-known, and arresting work. The reason for this notoriety is that Ader never returned from this journey that became his magnum opus, and is presumed dead.
Some think that the journey simply hit disaster and failed, but some believe that Ader never planned to return, setting into motion an elaborate and irreversible chain of events that would ultimately lead to his own death. Suicide in the name of art.
Ader’s artistic oeuvre is modest, and many of his photographic and video works were completed in a single weekend. Most of these feature Ader himself, in somewhat comical, often slapstick interactions with his environment. Aside from ISOTM, his most well-known works are theFall series of videos – all of which feature the artist himself in an everyday location, falling, or occasionally dropping, to the floor. InBroken Fall 1 (Los Angeles), he sits in a chair atop the roof of his house for a few moments, before he rolls off the chair and down the roof to the ground.
Unlike Yves Klein’s 1960 Leap Into The Void, Ader actually fell from great heights – often with nothing to arrest his fall other than the ground beneath him.
He never allows us the opportunity to see him emerge from where he falls to, as the artworks are over as soon as the fall is done. They are works from which we shall never see him return, and in this way they are the natural precursor to ISOTM.
The long and difficult journey of ISOTM was one that had never been attempted in a vessel so small, and the environment was one that was at best dangerous, and at worst, murderous. Many solo sailors are troubled by loneliness as well as the fatiguing need to never truly sleep, remaining in a waking state most of the time so as to man the sails. The weather must have been hellish, and the tiny cruiser would have allowed salt water into every corner. Some go mad attempting a feat such as this, and others, like Ader, never return.
After six months, a Spanish fishing vessel found Ocean Waveoff the coast of Ireland, floating listlessly with all but it’s hull submerged in the sea, six months after he had set sail. They recovered the boat and took it back to Spain, where it was examined and found to be Ader’s, due to three forms of ID being found on board. They estimated it had been floating partially-submerged for three months, due to the barnacles attached as they were. This means that Ader had been at sea for three months, before the boat hit disaster. The washboards to which his lifeline were attached had been pulled up, and his lifejacket was never found. Both of these suggest some catastrophe that resulted in Ader falling into the water. Many other mysterious circumstances surround the discovery of the boat. The Spanish authorities claimed that an explosion had caused the capsizing of the vessel, but when pressed admitted that there were no scorch marks anywhere within the boat. When Erik Ader asked to examine the boat for himself he was informed that it had been stolen. It has perhaps been refurbished, and is now serving some unknowing family as a pleasure cruiser.
This journey was the second part of an intended triptych entitled In Search Of The Miraculous, the first part of which was an exhibition of photographs in Los Angeles. The photographs were accompanied by a choir singing sea shanties, the lyrics of which spoke of an insatiable longing to be out at sea, despite the risks, embracing the tempest.
ISOTM is an exploration of this harsh environment, experienced only by one man – the artist. The artwork then, exists for us not in the physical, quantifiable world, but somewhere in the abstract. It exists for us only in our imagination, having no experience of the actual event taking place, save for a few photographs of the launch of Ocean Wave, and a few tragic relics that were salvaged unknowingly by a Spanish fishing vessel after the fact. We are left to imagine the conditions out at sea, and cannot fathom the complexity and extremity of such an experience, let alone try to relate to one in such a scenario. The loneliness must have been deafening. This solitary journey was by far Ader’s most profound and affecting work, and yet it is essentially unexperiencable by anyone other than Ader himself. We can only theorise, knowing only small details with which to attempt (futilely) to construct a larger picture of the work. It is a piece that we know little about, and it is these gaps in our knowledge of the work that makes it so powerful. It’s power lies in the negative space, in assumption and myth, rather than objective experience. His work is never strictly performance, for it is seen by the majority in retrospect, via photographs or video. ISOTM is one-step further removed from performance, (although it still has a performative quality), for it is more ethereal, and exists not in the real world, but within the minds of the ‘viewer’ only.
Like Seedbedby Vito Acconci or White Light, White Heat by Chris Burden, the public knows that what they are encountering is the private moments of a solitary individual, but although they know roughly what occurred, they don’t know the specifics of each experience. As these private moments are both private and on display, what happens is very interesting. There are ultimately two experiences, that experienced by the solitary artist, whilst they are being experienced by the viewer; and the viewer’s experience of being aware of, but unable to see, this hidden, solitary artist, experiencing his solitude. The physical presence of these artists is diminished in one way, but by this diminution, is enlarged greatly.
This Sisyphean struggle attempted by Ader in the name of art is arresting, for Ader has burdened himself with this almost-impossible task. It is as if Icarus flew too close to the sun on purpose, just to see what would happen once his wax wings melted away to nothing – not out of hubris, but more-excitingly, out of curiosity. It is these existential questions that give his work a large part of its power.
Ader explains his interaction with the environment as if gravity made itself master over him, but this assumes that Ader had no choice but to fall from the roof or branch, for gravity was in control. This ignores the fact that Ader himself decided to climb up to these places so as to allow gravity to do its job. Ader allowedgravity to make itself master over him, and through this subjugation, Ader displays his absolute mastery, and absolute control. Only through his relinquishing of power was the environment able to display its strength, and so through giving away of his power, he displays the true strength of that power. Gravity is not his master after all, for he only lets it out of its cage for a moment. Much of his work is seen as an abandonment of free will, an exercise in determinism that uses his body as its apparatus, but it is the strength of his resolve when making such bold and seemingly reckless choices, that displays his power, and his absolute control over fate.
It would be erroneous (and yet very common) to assume that any of Ader’s works are explorations of failure, as in all of the works he is enacting processes that have only one possible result. In the Fallvideos, it is the fall itself that is the salient component of the works, and these works couldn’t exist in the same way without this fall that is prognosticated in the title. The subject of these works is the falling, or occasionally dropping, of an object or body, due to: the finite strength of the human body, gravity, and most importantly, the artist’s intent.
Ader created these works knowing that his strength was finite, and thus would eventually give out, and it was this that he explored so expertly. The only possible effect of his hanging from a tree inBroken Fall (Organic)for example, is that his arms would give way, his grip would loosen, and he would fall into the water below. In fact, he climbed up into this tree to test his resolve, but ultimately, to fall into the water. This work had only two outcomes, either he falls, or he hoists himself back up and climbs down – the latter of which would have resulted in the actual failure of the work, for the Fall in the title would have been absent. The same could be said, albeit in a slightly reconfigured way, for anyof the Fall series of works. Even in works that didn’t test the strength of the human body in the same way as Broken Fall (Organic), such as Fall 1 (Los Angeles), and Fall 2 (Amsterdam), the fall was both the medium, and the subject matter. In these, it is a direct result of a seemingly-irrational movement made by Ader that initiates the fall, and it is an action that is made intentionally.
This work (and indeed much of his other work also) is often read as a failure, as if he failed to succeed. This lazy reading of course neglects a second option, that he succeededat failure. This failure is not a true failure though of course (for to succeed at failure is an oxymoron), but that the failure is not a frustration, but the natural, and intended outcome of the work. The work could not exist without this ‘failure’, and as such, the word failure is indeed a misleading misnomer. Failure is not at all present within his works, as events proceed exactly as he intends them.
ISOTM is similar, in that it is often read as an abandonment of oneself to nature, the wilful neglect of one’s responsibility towards themself to mitigate danger, removing themself from any scenario that could cause them harm. This work reads as if Ader is neglecting himself, allowing fate to take its course. This is a slightly remiss reading though however, as through his very decision to attempt this journey, knowing full well the hazards such a feat would present, Ader is taking control of his fate in a very direct way – similar to his acceptance of his fallibility in the Fall series. In fact, the sheer gravitas of his decision proves that it is one that requires much deliberation, and indeed Ader planned his trip for months ahead of time. By his ownership of his own destiny, however dangerous, he has wrest back control from the forces of nature and the environment.
The particular environment in which, and with which, he chose to create this work was more than just a setting for an event, it was in part at least, his collaborator. He allowed the environment in which he was journeying, a part of the creative power, and the sea enacted its will upon Ader. This creative act was performed by the sea, but allowed by Ader, as it was his vision that decided to relinquish some power to another force.
It is documented that before ISOTM Ader was concerned, if not worried, about the relevance and significance of his work. Friends and colleagues at UC Irvine reported how he seemed absent, and some spoke of their last conversations as if Ader was saying goodbye forever. Perhaps it was this that made him feel as if he had to make this bold statement in his work, and that the potential power of this work made it worth the risk. The show itself seemed like it was a lament, or a melancholic goodbye.
It is very tempting to romanticise this tragedy, ignoring the facts so as to paint a better legend. There are irresistible parallels between the cult of Ader and the cult of other, similar lost heroes who died tragically, much to young. It is tempting to claim ISOTM as a wilful act of suicide, but that is to slightly misrepresent the facts in order to write the better legend. In fact, Ader made plans for his life and work post-ISOTM, that would have been asinine if he never planned to return. There are a lot of conflicting elements that surround this story however, like the discovery of The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurstin his locker, which details the story of another solo sailor lost at sea in mysterious circumstances.
Ader did discuss (and dismiss) the possibility that this artwork was in fact an elaborate and extravagant suicide. If we take him at his word, then why did he bring it up ‘often’, and to multiple people including his wife Mary Sue, and Tony DeLap? Another artist represented by Claire Copley Gallery stated that the last time she spoke to Ader on the phone, it sounded like he was saying goodbye forever. All of these conflicting occurrences only serve to heighten the mystique surrounding the work, and perhaps, that was Ader’s intent.
It would be easy, and somewhat romantic, to ascribe destructive and tragic motives to his creation of this work, but it would be to intentionally disregard the other evidence that suggests he spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the journey was a success. He spent months having his boat modified for the journey by a shipyard, adding reinforced fiberglass in areas. He also wrote multiple times to his galleries to request that money he was owed was paid in time for his return, and he arranged for his classes at UC Irvine to be covered only until he was expected back. The dutch performers who were to sing the sea shanties at his exhibition in Amsterdam had already begun practicing. For all of these reasons, we must become content with never knowing the truth, which in its own beautiful ambiguity, seems fitting.
Despite all of this, he ultimately knew, and accepted the fact that he might never return, and he made his peace with it. It was a welcome risk for the sake of something bigger.
He left on a quest from which he may never return, but lost he is not.
The romance is not in the dying, but in the mastering of the elements by submitting to them, by relinquishing power and allowing one’s environment to take the reigns, come what may.
Originally published in AfterNyne Magazine
Collective Ending is a an artist-led and collaborative curatorial platform based in South London. Collective Ending aim to support emerging artists by providing them with projects to explore and develop their practices in ambitious and experimental settings. Collective Ending is also an archive.
To-date, they have presented two of their intended 4 Absinthe exhibitions at the Spit & Sawdust pub in South London, including Delphian favourites Rhiannon Salisbury, Ralph Hunter-Menzies, Mitch Vowels and more. They also regularly work with our frequent collaborator Hector Campbell, who is hosting their upcoming arts quiz (more details below).
For their inaugural project, Collective Ending present ABSINTHE: a yearlong public programme of exhibitions and live events held at the Spit & Sawdust pub in North Bermondsey.
Absinthe. Curious love of the sordid and the extravagant. Muse of the weird, twisted and eerie. Throughout its short history, absinthe has passed from antiseptic to vermicide, honorary salute to morphological being. It is ghostly and mutinous.
It is no surprise that absinthe has long persisted in the underground, from Joyce to Baudelaire, Rimbaud to van Gogh. It was prolific amongst artists and writers of the boulevards of modern Paris: mystic visions of the Moulin Rouge, images that bled from their canvas with an emerald sorcery: hypnotic, aberrant and erotic.
Comprising 4 major exhibitions of emerging artists over the course of 12 months, ABSINTHE is a hybrid, eclectic, and at points inexplicable presentation of the weirder side of London’s emerging art scene.
Located at the Spit & Sawdust pub, Bermondsey, each exhibition will present a mandala of artists that cut and splice between mediums and styles; a kaleidoscopic trip into the city’s current alternative art practices.
Free Art Pub Quiz on Tuesday the 13th of August > Please come join us for the activation of @jimwoodall concrete sculpture, @nataliajanula and @georgialaurenstephenson installing within The Parasite (@victor_seaward) and the chance to take home a bottle of absinthe! We will also be releasing a limited run of the show 2 publication, with interviews conducted by @campbell.hector with @lillynejat_@mariejacotey@thomaslangley86@toni_brutal@elizabethprentis@janehayesgr@jimwoodall and @juanmasalasv
Looking for more?
!Mediengruppe Bitnik is a two-person art collective comprised of Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo. Their Fluxus-inspired work is primarily concerned with digital technology and the way this is so prevalent in modern society – subverted in some way by their intervention. Their work is a reflection upon the world we find ourselves in, and the hierarchical distributions of power that we are powerless to alter.
The technology with which they create their works is often so ubiquitous that we become blind to it, from physical objects such as security cameras, to digital media like the Internet. They hijack control of these technologies, and manipulate them to critique the systems themselves, highlighting the removal of freewill that these things rely upon to exist.
In Surveillance Chess, they hijacked surveillance cameras in overly paranoid pre-Olympic London, and presented the unseen security guard with a chessboard upon the viewing screen. Text then appeared that informed the guard that the game was being offered by the person whom they could see on screen, sat on the floor with the yellow briefcase. The guard was then given the instructions over the loudspeaker that they were white (and thus had the first move), and that to make their move they must text the phone number provided.
In doing this, they turned the existing power dynamic on its head and took back control from the security guard, making them then the subject of the cameras gaze rather than the watcher of it. The dominance/ subjugation has switched polarity, and there is nothing that the security guard is able to do to regain control other than leave the digital system that has been hijacked and physically arrest the perpetrator. By way in which Bitnik identified themselves (placing themselves in front of the camera in question rather than in some hidden location), they presented the security guard with a way to stop the game. This is only possible however, by abandoning their post at the camera desk and the now corrupted digital system they inhabit.
This work is, at least in part, a critique upon the inferred permission we give to the owners of closed circuit video cameras when we enter a particular space. We are not consulted as to whether we give our consent to such an abuse of anonymity, and we must acquiesce to their infringements if we wish to lead normal lives. To avoid entirely the ever-present cameras we would have to burden ourselves with such a level of inconvenience that it would be completely devastating to our lives were we to forgo it. This is a reference to the way we are given a choice as to whether we are filmed or not; we can either go to a specific place and accept that we will be filmed, or avoid the camera by avoiding the place. We have physical ways to avoid being watched, but never digital ones. The only way we can avoid the intrusion of the faceless state and private landowners is to inconvenience ourselves, and never the despot. It is essentially an opt-out system that exists to favor the powerful.
In the current climate of Snowden, Manning, Wikileaks, and The Snoopers Charter, it is all the more poignant a topic for us to consider. Global governments are abusing the power afforded to them by the masses, via channels that they have convinced us are for our own protection. In this way, they succeed in removing much of the criticism that they could expect when violating such fundamental human rights. It is for our own good they claim, and therefore we must acquiesce. This sentiment is summed up perfectly by the following two quotes:
“I am disturbed by how states abuse laws on Internet access. I am concerned that surveillance programs are becoming too aggressive. I understand that national security and criminal activity may justify some exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance, but that is all the more reason to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms”– Ban Ki-moon.
“Surveillance technologies now available – including the monitoring of virtually all digital information – have advanced to the point where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place.”– Al Gore
What makes these two quotes all the more poignant is that they are both by incredibly high-ranking politicians who are very much a part of the ‘state’ that puts such systems in place. If they, with their advanced knowledge of such things, are critical of the governments snooping, as so should we be.
Not surprisingly, statistics on how helpful this level of interference with public privacy is are obscure, as brilliantly explained by Heather Brooke in the following quote about how CCTV is a tool for the powerful to control the weak. “CCTV is seen either as a symbol of Orwellian dystopia or a technology that will lead to crime-free streets and civil behaviour. While arguments continue, there is very little solid data in the public domain about the costs, quantity, and effectiveness of surveillance.”
In 2015 British public authorities made 1119 mistakes with communications data acquired by police, leading to 23 ‘serious’ errors (involving the arrests of innocent people). It is difficult to quantify how this intrusion is beneficial, but shocking statistics such as these cannot be ignored.
It would be hard to write an article of this kind without mentioning George Orwell, whose seminal work 1984 was incredibly prescient of the future we now find ourselves in. As well as the chilling similarities between his fictitious novel and the very real present, there is also something to be said for another post-war classic of modern literature, that of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
In 1984, an oppressive and totalitarian state controls its people by intrusive surveillance and repression of freedom. In Brave New World, the population is bombarded with stimuli in order to keep us captivated and therefore captive. Both of which seem to have come true.
As well as reluctantly acquiescing to the state-sanctioned intrusions into our privacy, we are also complicit in it. The use of convenient location-tracking apps, fingerprint scans, handy facial-recognition, and faster payment methods, we are providing those in power with metadata with which they can build up immensely detailed caches of information of our lives, and perhaps sell it to other, more malevolent parties.
As artist Richard Serra once suggested, if you are not paying for a service, you are the product being sold.
Although Bitnik may not offer us a way out of these systems of surveillance, their intelligent critique of it encourages us to not take this intrusion at face value. Surveillance is so ubiquitous that we often don’t notice it at all, and perhaps therein lays the greatest danger.
Benjamin Murphy – Do you consider yourselves to be activists as well as artists?
Bitnik – We consider ourselves to be artists. Not that we are opposed in any way against the term activist. We just think that artist more precisely describes what we do. Artists have the freedom to ask questions without having to know the answers, whereas the world tends to expect answers and solutions from activists.
We concern ourselves with the aesthetic of creating situations that we do not have under control; of unleashing the powers of the found, the random, and the discarded. We confront our every-day and the craziness of the world by tickling and sometimes beating an aesthetic experience out of it.
BM – Do you think that more traditional mediums such as painting and sculpture will ever be replaced by more technologically advanced artistic mediums, or will they both continue alongside one another?
B – We don’t think painting and sculpture will be replaced. But like all artistic mediums, they will be influenced and updated by contemporary aesthetics and approaches. Art is art, whatever the medium. We don’t believe that any one medium can be technologically more advanced. In the sense that there is always technical, conceptual, and aesthetic skill involved in any artistic process – be that process mediated by a pencil, a computer, or any other type of device. In this regard, the medium or technology you work in is not decisive.
BM – Do you think virtual reality will ever become so ubiquitous that it comes close to replacing reality?
B – Well, that’s hard to predict to be honest, especially if you’re thinking of the immersive VR headsets. We’re sure that VR headsets will get better and better becoming more and more attractive and engaging.
Just recently we came across the account of someone describing “Post Virtual Reality Sadness”. He describes it as a kind of “hangover”, a “strange feeling of sadness & disappointment when participating in the real world” which he thinks is due to objective reality not being able to live up to intense experience that virtual reality can provide. Where the colours are brighter, the sound is better, and where you can be a kind of God and change anything you want in an instant. We are not so much worried about people preferring VR to the objective reality we share now. At least for the moment, virtual reality can still be positively ascribed to fiction. Whereas we are seeing our contemporary disintegrating into post-factual shards of parallel realities, where it is becoming hard to agree on the existence of even the most basic facts. This retreat of whole parts of society into detached realities with their own histories and facts and hardly any exchange with other realities seems worrying to us.
BM – With your Surveillance Chess work, was that a critique of the Orwellian state we find ourselves in, or was it simply an artistic creation inspired by its situation?
B – We regard the contemporary as our artistic material. Surveillance Chess is an intervention into the surveillance camera systems you typically find in urban areas. Like many of the systems today, they are a closed circuit system. Large parts of our surroundings today are actually closed circuit systems, elite systems, and surveillance systems. From an artistic point of view, if you want to work with what’s around you, you are bound to work within these types of systems. So for us, the question becomes ‘Where can we find potential for interesting narratives within these systems even though they’re closed, or, how can we misuse them?’ If you think of technology, a lot of technological systems you buy in shops are also very closed. You don’t have access to them. You can use them in a certain way. You buy a television, you can watch TV if you plug it in the right way, full stop. But there’s not a lot else you’re allowed to do with the thing. That’s probably where our curiosity starts, with the question: ‘Can’t I do something else with this?’ Why can’t I use surveillance cameras to talk to the people who run these cameras?’ There’s no way of reaching them. I don’t know where they are. They may be in some remote place. But if I take over their video feed and they cannot do what they’re meant to do, which is surveil a certain space, they will probably come and complain.
With Surveillance Chess we use the system in a way it wasn’t intended to be used, and we do this in a way that takes the hierarchy out of the system. We, as the surveilled, position ourselves at eye-level with the person watching us. We do this by enforcing a game, by enforcing our rules and by misunderstanding the closed circuit system as a communications system.
It’s this type of misusing very deterministic systems and making them into communication systems and sort of using or abusing them for that. For us, I think the aesthetic lies in finding ways to use systems in ways they were not meant for but doing that in a very precise way. We think there’s a certain narrative that you can then uncover within these systems, and that’s what we try to do.
With Surveillance Chess we definitely did start out from a curiosity for the situation we all find ourselves living in. In our view the work does have an element of critique, but it stays ambiguous in its readings. Between 2008 and 2014, we invited people on Dérives through their surveilled cities. We built CCTV video signal receivers and video recording devices and have given them out to people at events. Using the devices, they could wander through the city in search of hidden – and usually invisible – surveillance camera signals in public space. Surveillance becomes sousvellance: The self-built tools provide access to surveillance from above“ by capturing and displaying CCTV signals, thus making them visible and recordable.
These walks provide access to these images that usually you never get to see. You got to see surveillance camera images when something really bad happened and it was released on the news. In these walks, you get to see yourself walking through the city. It gives you access to a very different experience because it’s also interesting to watch surveillance camera images. A lot of people have participated in these walks and they have told us that, for them, the most horrifying thing about the walks was that they began to enjoy looking at these cameras, looking at other people. So, Surveillance Chess and the Walks especially have this element of ambiguity: Many people, even if they view surveillance critically, are still drawn to the images.
BM – When do you think that an artwork that had its genesis in political didacticism loses its status as art and becomes propaganda?
B – When it loses its plurivalence, the ambiguity of meaning.
For more about Bitnik – see their WEBSITE
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Rosalind Davis top tips on Surviving after Art School and maintaining a practice long term!
If you are offered an exhibition or opportunity galleries and curators will notice your professionalism, or lack of it! Remember the success of the exhibition is not wholly down to them. It is a collaboration. Being professional, engaged, present and enthusiastic is much more likely to advance your career and networks. You need to be organised and meet deadlines and then nurture these relationships. It is really important to also say thank you and be appreciative to anyone who works on the exhibitions from the front of house to the Director.
Keep in touch with fellow artists and your tutors an anyone who has ever exhibited your work. Support others in the art world by attending their events and identify new mentors in your field of interest. Be proactive in creating a critical peer network. Nurture these relationships, be generous and it will reward you intellectually, creatively and inevitably create opportunities.
Build your confidence
You need to be articulate and engaging when promoting your work. This can take a bit of practice and confidence which can take time but spend time on this too. Take part in networking events. Make sure you get feedback into your work where you can and understand what others read from your work.
Build your profile and Network!
Online networks are also hugely important to connect with new networks; curators, galleries, press and most importantly other artists.
How you get opportunities:
- Networking (online & offline)
- Building Relationships
- Seizing / creating opportunities
- Word of mouth
- Being creative about space.
- Being organised and professional
- Being present and memorable
- Being kind and polite!
Create a mailing list from visitors books at your exhibitions/ online mailing list sign ups and then send out invitations to your subsequent exhibitions. People in the arts want to know you are active, progressing, dedicated and professional. You’re unlikely to get interest in your work if you don’t tell people about it! Also ensure you give people enough notice about your exhibitions, telling people about it on the day or night before is unprofessional.
Have all these things ready and use them for marketing:
- Business cards & postcards
- Social Media
- Do not spam anyone or cold call with your work. It does more damage than good and will build you the wrong kind of reputation.
- Spend time on marketing and your artists statement – both are more important than you might think. Marketing is not just for someone else to do for you, it should also be seen as a collaboration to promote the projects you are involved in. An artist’s statement can be a deal breaker on whether you might be selected for an opportunity. Spend time on these things!
When you get an opportunity consider all the possibilities that opportunity brings (and be proactive in making them happen!)
- Creating / realising new work
- Introducing new audiences to your work – who do you want to invite?
- Expand your networks, from the artists in the show as well as curator, gallerist etc
- Build your professional reputation
- To get other exhibition opportunities
- To learn
- To teach
- To inspire
Occasionally if you are lucky you might also sell work. This is really the one area you have no real control over so it is really important to focus on these other aspects in order to realise how much you can accomplish and can achieve. After every opportunity reflect on this.
Artist, Curator at Collyer Bristow Gallery, Teacher and Writer.
Twitter: @rosalinddavis | Instagram: @rosalindnldavis
What They Didnt Teach You in Art School.
‘Essential Reading for Artists’ The Observer.
Further info here.