Without talking, Conversations towards collaborative research
Date: Thursday 10 May, 2018
Location: Top Flat, 20 Mortimer Avenue, Mount Stuart, Hobart.
Present: Pat Brassington, Amanda Davies aka. AJ, Kylie Johnson - host, Sarah Jones.
The aim of this conversation is to start to develop a collaborative space from which we can build up exhibition research. The AIRspace show of AJ’s work in Sydney is the first edition of us all working together through Without talking,.
Pat you have worked with AJ a number of times now. The forms have been varied and included showing work alongside each other, being a subject within several of AJ’s portrait paintings and you have even curated her work. You often use little nuggets of ideas as tactics, catalysts for AJ to start working from.
K: I really like that that each of your work - AJ, Pat has a strong sense of the unseen orhidden. It is like the elusive sideways glance or the words that are on the tip of one’s tongue, those unseen but known intangibles that are hinted at, made almost visible.
Amanda Davies, AJ:
Yes, it is not quite the unsayable but there is a quote I have that articulates it. I will find it and send it to you.
“I think that the effort is to reach a realm of meaning that is not quite sayable. You stay away from what can be said and you try to reach what can’t quite be said. Yet it is nevertheless meaningful. And there is such a realm and it is very difficult to talk about. Its not quite nonverbal, but that comes fairly close”
Donald Barthelme, “Interview with Charles Ruas and Judith Sherman” in Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews ed Kim Herzinger (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 1997) 214. Referenced in The Uncertainty Principle, Martin Herbert, Sternberg Press, 2011, p7.
“Like great works, deep feelings always mean more than they are conscious of saying” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus 194
That’s what I find in Pat’s work it is not mute but there is something that, um I can’t think of it now but yeah it has to be language because of Nietzsche doesn’t it. I’ll have a look and dig it out.
K: And then there is the actual tongue the actual stuff. So, AJ, as Sarah and I have been having meetings your paintings have been around my house and I’ve kept going on about them, look at the way she paints the feet or the stain on the boards. So, it is the figure but also the things outside the figures that I find myself looking at. It’s the subtleties or incidentals as well
A: And it is the mouth, which is about that boundary between the internal and external.
So, it is still this thing with psychoanalyses, um psychotherapy that we share but I think yours Pat would be Surreal and mine would perhaps be more a sensorial thing.
A: But there is this thing about the felt experience and this is articulated in the work. I think we both are interested in that.
K: Well they are bitter, these works. Pat even with your bloody pinks and your muted tones.
A: But there is this thing about the felt experience and this is articulated in the work. I think we both are interested in that.
P: I know that. For sure.
A: Yeah, yeah, they are acid.
K: And I really want to have a look at the rug work of yours AJ. It’s a blanket or rug, pink fabric. I think it was printed in Island (magazine) recently.
A: Oh that, it was a piece of shot silk. It is under my bed somewhere.
P: I quite like that.
A: That was my first portrait of Pat in 2010.
A: I was looking at portraiture and Cubism and I was really beyond representing the figure by way of the photographic image and I thought what is Pat? I though you (Pat) have so much silk around and there is that sensual slipperiness in your work.
P: It is a good work.
K: Well I’m drawn to that but the printing in that magazine must really knock the painting around because I thought perhaps it was a blanket. I want to see it in the flesh.
A: I have that in storage somewhere.
P: I still want to go through your draws AJ, get in your library.
A: I do like that work (Portrait of Pat). And what is also in it and what I use a lot, the power point. In that work I did of you Pat for the Portia Geach award. It is just the two top holes. I’m interested in the hole, the plug.
K: And the fabric implies the hidden.
P: The cover up. I’ve always liked the cover up.
K: So you have to be covering something up.
A: It is that presence and absence, always alluding to something else.
K: Both of your work has the human covered up, other bodies and your own. Back to the power point though, and the fabric, so it’s sometimes a slight relief for me. A break from
A: I think you need the relief. I like the fabric ones but sometimes you can’t always get to do them because you get caught up trying to finish other work and then all the other ideas for work. It is about having time.
K: So Pat often when you do the big works, the installation wall work, like you had at the Adelaide Biennial a couple of years ago. You installed individual works together to make a large work. It is an onslaught but I think with points of relief. And AJ if I imagine a suite of your work presented like that – geeze that would be
K: Yah insane but
P: I mean, I think AJ even though you do probably work sequentially. No, that is not the right word. You use the same modus operandi and then in sequence but each is a different take.
A: Yes. A serial.
P: Whereas when I put things together I don’t do that. That is not my raisin d’etre at all.
The shifting focus between the works would have to be the biggest thing —how much or how many you can look at. For me, the first thing that I see as different between your works is the focus. Pat your work has a really soft focus whereas AJ your focus is hard, and it does influence how many images you can be confronted with at any one time.
P: It is getting the whole but then honing in on the parts that make the whole. I get, um, it is really annoying. One of the hardest things to do is diptychs.
K: I was thinking about the focus thing in an exhibition that we may do in the future. I was thinking of skewing the focus. I’m not referring to focus in the image like Sarah was just talking about. Perhaps it is how the show is weighted – so one work of yours Pat and then several works by AJ. I don’t think you need too much work in a show sometimes. The work is dense as it is.
S: Unless that seriality is really important because I have seen a show of your work AJ, I think at CAT, with many smaller images in a row.
K: Agh yes, that was AJ’s Shotgun show (Purge, 2011. Presented at CAT). A series of smaller works and a couple of large ones.
A: The ones I’m doing now are 40 x 30 (centimetres) but, um yeah it is a process I go through. I’ve gone through an act and they all relate to that action.
P: It is like movie takes.
S: And it becomes very photographic when it is multiples because it is no longer the painted sitter portrait. This very slight tilt of the neck happens across the works, it becomes a very photographic process.
A: I suppose it is.
K: Is it then also performative?
A: For the ones I’ve just finished I had toothpaste and I rubbed it into my face. It was very astringent.
P: You could have used shaving cream.
A: Nooooo I couldn’t.
A: This series is about decay and remedy. I’ve done the teeth ones about decay and then the toothpaste is the remedy. Putting it on my face and then washing it off and coming back again and putting it on. I did that a number of times. The end was a relief because it was so stringent that I was in a bit of an altered state. It is the end of the series.
That is the other thing I have done, I fall on the ground and photograph on the ground. I’ve done that for a while. Then I turn the painting around and it becomes vertical through the hang.
K: Increasingly there is more and more, an onslaught of images of you (AJ) with less and less of the periphery stuff. Let me put it another way
A: Agh, yes, I use myself because it gives me freedom. I am really interested in these experiments, in eliciting some sensory experience that invokes more engagement in the work. It is important that I have undergone something
A: for it to be worthwhile pursuing, worthwhile painting. To elicit a different response and to get to know myself and to engage with myself as an artist.
P: It’s the process.
A: The PROCESS. It is the process that is so important, mmm
S: I think that comes across when the architecture is lost, because I would say in the beginning, in the videos (AIRspace presentation) and in the older works the architecture is a really big part of them. Like you say the stain on the
A: on the board and then, yeah, yeah, yeah.
S: The spatial aspect, the shed that you filmed Cluster Pop in and those rough walls that have been a backdrop to your paintings —but with these new works there really is no architecture that you paint against.
S: And even you lying down horizontally and then hanging the paintings vertically, this shifts the perspective of the space pretty dramatically for the viewer.
A: Yes, to elicit a different tension because it doesn’t seem right. The way that I reposition myself with the fall. Yes, I am conscious of that, but that is for this body of work. I might not do that with the next one – I don’t know but it is a purposeful tactic in the process. It is to elicit a difference, a felt change.
S: Yeah there is something much more internalized about it, not being able to pick the space around the figure.
A: Yeah, yeah it is very compressed.
K: That is quite a scary place this non-architecture space. Mmmm
P: Well it is meant to be.
S: So for me, just for background and I don’t know if this is something that you guys are a bit sick of talking about, but when you say psychoanalysis you just say it as a general term but does it relate to what we were talking about at the beginning in terms of what cannot be articulated or what is unsayable? I mean, what is it specifically?
P: It would have to be in a way. It would. I mean people lumber me with this interest in psychoanalysis as if I am a bloody expert. (laugh)
K: Yes, it is mentioned a lot but it isn’t really talked about or talked ‘around’ much.
P: I know and its one of those things and it’s because it can’t be anyway. It is just too fraught, it really is. My interest in psychoanalysis was I guess from, look I wouldn’t touch a psychoanalyst with a bloody barge pole. I’d be too bloody scared.
A: But I am interested in the conscious and the unconscious, the affect.
A: And how it drives our impulses for life and our impulses for the absurd.
P: Yes, I am totally with you. I suppose psychoanalytic theory was one way of trying to give some scientific basis to this, so that then there would be something to access this change of behaviour, for better or worse.
S: So then in terms of using a psychoanalytic frame that then allows you to talk about the conscious, the unconscious and desire, is it, how then
S: So how then does it hit against Feminism or? That frame, like you say is a really fraught frame in terms of how you talk about the conscious, the unconscious and desire, mouths, tongues, pink.
A: But you could look at Karen Honey, you could look at a lot of female or feminist ‘takes’ but that doesn’t drive the work.
P: Freud was probably the person who interested me the most.
A: But Lacan?
S: I just wonder how you guys feel, how attached you feel to that term (psychoanalysis) when talking about your work?
A: I’m not.
P: I’m not ashamed of it but it just doesn’t shift. Look that’s fine but maybe it scares people off. I don’t know. It probably does these days.
S: Maybe in a boring fashion way but I think a lot of people would still be working with psychoanalysis. It has been politically reassigned, maybe, in a funny way.
A: What would people refer to now? Would it be psychology that they refer to or neurosciences?
K: It’s rarely talked about.
S: I think it’s probably lost some of its gravity and people would probably tend to prefer to talk about affect.
All: Yeah, yeah.
S: Because I think the problem with psychoanalysis versus affect now, is that affect stops you from being able to talk about the conscious and the unconscious because those things don’t exist discretely anymore when we talk about affect. So, the problem is that when you fall into this contemporary Deleuzian space everything kind of loses its hard boundary. Whilst psychoanalysis has been heavily criticised for its binary take on everything, and while this was often done in a very heavy-handed way it was sometimes very useful as a way of being able to talk about things that crossed between two poles.
S: Whereas with affect theories everything is a series of relations.
P: That gives me the shits.
A: Which I totally understand (laugh).
All: (laugh a lot)
S: I can see how it (affect theory) is really interesting but it is also really frustrating and easy to not say anything at all. It is kind of muddy, but I am really interested in the transition.
A: And in the last ten years there has been so many developments in the neurosciences and so much emphasis (in art) on the medical model and everything is coming down to genetics and everything has been imaged down to that tiny little and
A: it has become so devoid of the soul and of all those,
K: The sense of the sideways glance or what’s on the tip of the tongue
A: all those nuances that makes us who we are.
K: Thank God, really.
A: Even though they (scientists) have sliced down and you have the CTI scan, ultrascan and all of this stuff the phycology is not there. In a way it is coming back, there is an importance on that.
P: Well its sort of inevitable, its evolution
A: But I will have to think about that again.
I just stared reading that Susan Best book, Visualising Feeling. She is an Australian Academic and she wrote it in 2009. She talks about affect and about feeling emotion and the different theorists that are writing about it. She talks about Kristeva and Feminism and how her position is different to Kristeva because she talks about men being Feminists but
P: Hmmm she always tried to but she was very fluid.
A: I find Kristeva so difficult to read.
P: Very difficult.
A: So I am reading Susan Best at the moment. Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde. Best is looking at an exhibition from 1997 and she has a different take on the artist’s work from the curator at the time. Best thinks that the artists have a non-categorised affect and the affect that they are displaying is not one of shock or trauma. It is not an affect that is easily recognisable. It is this non-categorised, I haven’t read enough to be able to talk to you about it. (laugh)
P: OK so she is trying to come to grips with the non-verbalisation.
A: It is what Kylie said at the beginning, this thing that we can’t explain.
K: You can expend a lot of words talking around the non-verbal or unsayable. (laugh)
A: (laugh) It is just things I am reading.
P: You’re still an avid reader.
A: It’s just grazing. I’m trying to work out. I’m just trying to work it out. (laugh)
P: But you will drive yourself crazy.
A: In the end, you have just got to go and do your work. The reading sits in the background. You might have a bite here and there that you take away but you can’t read or do it all and then have that time in the studio.
K: I’ve always thought that there are two different sides of the brain at least. The theory reading, the administration side of practice are on this side of the brain and then the making over here.
P: We are always on the search. I think I would’ve tried to find a, um, not an explanation, but some thoughts that others have had about what I may have been trying to grapple with —but in the end you just grapple.
A: Sometimes I buy Sky, the astronomy magazine. I use it for language that doesn’t make sense to me. The writers in the magazine are talking about space and things I don’t know anything about and sometimes the language in there suits a kind of unknowing that I’m dealing with. So, they might talk about intensity and deep space. They talk about gravity and black holes, voids. Then I will go through and highlight the bits that I might use for titles.
S: My PhD is about Process Philosophy and it’s written through the perspective of the space telescope, so it’s a very similar strategy. I think it is a really good way of freeing the language.
A: So what is your PhD on?
S: It’s on Alfred North Whitehead who is a process philosopher that Deleuze drew much of his philosophy from, and who drew very heavily from Kant and Spinoza. He developed the philosophy of organism which is a total philosophy. It’s now in fashion but he wrote it in the 50s. So it’s (the PhD) on his philosophy, and text based artistic practices. The feminist essays by Joan Retallack which talk about articulating those things that haven’t been able to be articulated through language, but I’m doing it through these space telescopes because it gives you a language that is totally alien and really fabulous.
A: Isn’t it. Wow that is so bizarre. (laugh)
S: And it also gives you a scale, like everything about space gives you a scale. It is always about sky, a horizon, but there is limitlessness, so you get this awesome vocabulary in terms of a shifting scale which I think is what is SO good about it.
A: Is it the 7 Sisters? The Pleiades, you know the cluster of stars.
A: They (in Sky, magazine) talk about it as D627 or something but you are reading things that you kind of know and can see but they talk about it in this crazy language.
S: Which is what those philosophers do. It’s a really nice connection. The repurposing of terminology is such a huge art form in many of those texts.
A: Sometimes it’s just one little word in there that just resonates.
P: I just fantasise and think, well how are we solid.
S: I think of us as membrane
K: Was it you (AJ) that just said we are bags of blood?
A: (laugh) No (laugh) I didn’t say (laugh)
K: I think we are a little bit more than just a bag of blood but, um. So is this format a good way to progress?
P: We are having quite an interesting conversation but we are off track.
K: We wouldn’t get to the meat of the conversation without the other things to hang it on.
P: Yeah, yeah.
K: It is all good and well to FEEL that there are these synergies. I definitely feel it in my waters, have for a long time but I didn’t know absolutely what they are. I’m getting a better idea of the synergies between us. There is freedom here to just talk and see where we go - to prick the conversation with a pin and see where we go.
I will transcribe the text, you guys can chew it over and we pull the bits out that we perhaps want to talk on more
A: I loved that show that Philip (Watkins) and you (Sarah) curated
A: and that work by the French artist with the paint.
S: Paul Emmanuel, with the paint in the mouth.
K: I loved that work too.
A: It was fantastic.
S: A really interesting artist. Really simple work. He has a mouth full of paint and was speaking, trying to speak to his psychoanalyst.
Email musing after the conversation:
Yep the conversational space is working - I think. Sarah and I reflected on this the other day and both feel very good about it.
Just an immediate thought - Casey and binaries ie subject/object conundrum. Is it a rabbit's hole back to Plato's Cave!
Must say I enjoyed being in the company of three pretty erudite people
Thank you. X
Very Impressive K - to write down our conversation.
It is weird because I am in that space before launching into new work where I am grappling again with ideas and with excitement to launch new work.
I am in that place where everything is being questioned and discarded.
Yet here in the conversation we seem 'knowing'.
Have a good week
Concepts to the forefront in my opinion include:
- spatial orientation
- confinement/boundaries including architectural interventions and the perennial dilemma of binary oppositions
- desire (in small doses)
OK off my soapbox and on with the motley.
Hey, yeah thanks all.
So great to have a transcript and Pat this list is a pretty intriguing constellation. Looking forward to meeting again.
I was wondering AJ if it would be a good idea and/or possible to meet around some of your works? A kind of studio visit / conversation…