Art and New Knowledge

In order to obtain university patronage, art must position itself as research that produces new knowledge.

Art as new knowledge?

I suppose you could just about argue this when the notion of art is retroactively fitted to various societies that traditionally don’t have a conception of art as such. Even then there are problems. Take Australian Indigenous art – a complex, multi-layered, differentiated phenomenon if ever there was one, but if we just focus on traditional art practices, we can see that art (whatever that means in this context) was intimately linked to systems of knowledge – all manner of ceremonial events were linked to the production of objects and performances that to our eyes represent forms of art. Dreamtime stories, representations of identity, culture and place were all integral to these forms of production. However there was clearly no major concern with new knowledge – it was about maintaining and communicating existing knowledge.

Leaving aside the problem of the ‘new’, we can nonetheless acknowledge that in traditional Indigenous society there is no pronounced clash between regimes of knowledge and regimes of aesthetic production. This is not the case in modern Western societies since at least the Enlightenment. Within the context of the latter knowledge is linked to scientific understanding and is carefully distinguished from the realm of aesthetics. Kant’s critical philosophy is representative. He distinguishes three broad spheres: rational understanding; ethics; and taste (aesthetic judgement). Reason produces knowledge. Ethics produces enlightened political society. Aesthetics provides a vital bridge between general regimes of reason and ethics and the particular sphere of lived experience. It represents a space of reconciliation. It does not produce knowledge as such. Nor does it produce ethical practices. Instead it serves as a non-conceptual and non-ethical basis for the other elements in the system. It is particular value is in its difference – its resistance to appetite, the instrumental, the abstractly conceptual, the practically good.

Now Kant’s categorical, differentiated system may be problematic. It certainly positions aesthetics as at once both consequential (a ground to reason and ethics) and inconsequential (cut off from knowledge, ordinary life and practical values), but at the same time this conception remain vital to contemporary art. Consider, for instance, traditions of Conceptual Art, which constantly play at the limits of rational systematization, that undermine broader regimes of the conceptual as much as distilling dimensions of order and system within art. Yet now we seem prepared to forsake this ambivalence in order to secure scholarships and academic careers. Artist-researchers are now conveniently and cravenly prepared to abandon the awkward, contradictory, productive and unproductive position of art, insisting that it simply and unproblematically produces new knowledge. Wouldn’t it be better, even in practical terms, to insist that art be valued in terms of its own difficult merits, rather than in terms that compromise whatever vitally defines it?

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Quick Thoughts


In his Discourse on Inequality (1753), Rousseau describes a history of the degeneration of humanity via increasingly corrupting social forms. Instead of providing a means of improvement and emancipation, society emasculates our natural capacities and leaves us in thrall to unjust laws and despotic regimes. Paradoxically, Rousseau argues, this gradual shift from the state of nature to destructive social artifice occurs precisely via means of our species’ most vaulted attributes: conscious reflection, reason and free will. Humanity changes and evolves at an historical level, rather than remaining stuck within the frame of instinct. Instead of blindly repeating unconscious predetermined patterns, we have the capacity to learn and consciously modify our modes of existence. Language, property, the rule of law all emerge as systems of artifice, separating us from nature and leading us further and further away from happiness and any genuinely equitable relation between people.

While we can certainly distinguish between learning and instinct and while we can certainly recognise the tremendous acceleration of human capacity and influence on the planet, this need not necessarily entail that nature is entirely left behind. On the contrary, if we regard nature as a complex play of permutations then human reflection, reason and free will are simply adaptive, evolutionary features. If we invent it is because nature has provided us with the capacity to invent. Our reflective capacities are in a sense our instinct. And just like instinct they embody a dimension of blindness. We can think, but does that always mean that we can think for the best? Does it mean that we can solve all the problems that confront ourselves and the wider environmental system? The tragedy of reason is that it cannot shake off its relation to the profoundly unreasonable. Reason is an epiphenomenon and an hallucination. It does not represent any absolute break with nature.

Society and Aesthetics:

From at least Schiller (The Aesthetic Education of Man, 1794) onwards we can recognise a faith in the capacity of aesthetics to serve as a moral ground for society. Through beauty people come to recognise the good and the true – to experience it intimately. So this fragile space of experience pushed to the margins of ordinary affairs comes to prove vital and formative. It can only do this in its separateness – in its resistance to function and end.

Plato has such a different view. An iconoclast, he regards poetry and the arts as inimical to truth. They are far from the ideal. They are copies of copies. He does not speak of the aesthetic as such, because the notion does not exist in his time. Sensible experience was positioned differently – not as a basis for truth (empiricism), not in relation to dumb, extensive matter (Descartes) or the unknowable thing in itself (Kant).

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Strands of an argument:

There is no horizon to the social.

The social does not have its basis in individual experience.

There is never any sense of a contract being signed.

If there are effects of individuation and rational agreement then they emerge from the social itself.

The social is not a rationally established entity and it is not dependent on rational legitimation.

The basis of the social is elusive because it is always already there. Even to consider the social depends upon socialisation.

Experience itself is social, however solitary its forms.

Solitariness cannot escape a social basis and inevitably engages in dialogue with the social.

Experience is mechanically decomposed into individualised features – the senses, inner emotional life, etc., but does this adequately capture how much of individual life is given in the relation between people? Think of the sense of touch. It is not only as a single body that I touch. I have been touched before I had any sense of individual identity. I am touched even when unconscious.

Enlightenment aesthetics places the emphasis on the individual sense of the beautiful (and the sublime), which then serves as a means of reconciliation between the universal and the particular, understanding and experience, etc. This demonstrates a wider commitment to the notion of society as an amalgam of discrete individual atoms – as a supplementary phenomenon, rather than as a constitutive state and force. But so much of aesthetic experience (broadly conceived) occurs in groups (ritual events, etc.)

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My understanding – although I must read him properly – is that Hobbes broadly distinguishes between the state of nature and the social contract.

The state of nature is radically asocial. Individuals appear as Cartesian material bodies, confronting each other as separate and non-aligned extensive forces – as a set of differentiated and distinctly antithetical interests. There is nothing good that properly links people together. The state of nature renders us all wild and ravenous beasts. The only good is the particular good – that we survive and continue to eat. The only bad is that we perish and are eaten. The latter is at least general. It is a shared interest and this is what ultimately provides the basis for individuals to forsake their individual interests and enter into social relations. They accept the social contract and monarchical power in order to not constantly risk dying at the hands of others.

The social contract then emerges from fear and from a repression of ravenous impulses (at least at the level of the individual; there remains of course tremendous scope for collective violence). The social contract is an imposition that suspends the conditions of nature.

Yet how valid is this distinction?

Is collectivity really alien to ‘the state of nature’? Don’t all kinds of non-human animals collaborate in all kinds of ways? And even as a human, is it ever possible to clearly delineate absolute individual autonomy? If we encounter separateness and distinct, interested identity it is more as an epiphenomenon that has its basis in layer upon layer of social being (starting with the relation to parents, etc.). If there is any such thing as ‘the state of nature’ then it would have to be characterised by non-identity and constant relations of intimate exchange rather than any sense of radical individuation.

Equally, where is there any sense of a social contract? Whoever had an opportunity to reflect carefully on their best interests and sign or not sign up to the society in which they are born? We find ourselves within the social contract from the outset, just as a child finds themselves caught up in parental bonds before they have any opportunity to realise any potential for independence.

The historically and culturally variable rules that characterise any specific social system are not a guarantee of human exceptionalism. They stem from and are related to all kinds of systems of interaction that need not be specifically human – that align with the never purely determined ‘state of nature’. If nature is understood as the potential implicit within any given material-existential context then nothing we as humans can do can escape from nature. The social contract is as natural as the state of nature is riven through with artifice and invention.

Quite simply, our position is complex. It is neither given nor entirely freely determined. It is neither natural nor entirely artificial. There is no state of nature. There is no social contract. There is something else.

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The Event 014





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The Event 013


As you know, I’m currently interested in ‘the event’, which is less a
reference to Deleuze and Badiou than a nod to Parkrun and all kinds of
local sporting festivals that are focused less on competition than on
framing scenarios of communal individual endeavour. Although, it must be
confessed, I am unconcerned with the communal and even less interested in
individual triumph or despair. Nonethless I imagine a thoroughly private
and invisible event, perhaps beginning at 3am in a carpark in Pt Kembla
and then zigzagging north via roads, tracks and scarcely legible forest
paths towards some blank ending in the Royal National Park. This event is
dark, unheralded and offers nothing especially redeeming.

To be honest, however, I am thinking of something even more unformed.
While he notion of ‘the event’ suggests an objectified, inherently
structured amalgam of time, direction and effort – something rule-governed
and determinable – the event that actually concerns me is the one that
begins without warning, that lacks all definite shape, that opens up
unpredictably. This other event (at the limit of the formal event) is
less wrought than determinedly and waywardly followed. I find myself
within it without any means of defining its contours or any scope for
lucid conclusion. In this sense the event only takes shape when it
discovers its dissolution.

At one level the event is an artifice, a resource, a necessity. At
another level it is indescribable. It is nothing like an event at all.

It within the sense of the event’s evident impossibility that the
commitment to the event begins.

There is an intimate relation between the event and the non-event. They
are drawn to one another. They lend one another meaning and can never be
simply opposed.

So, more practically, what am, I suggesting? A set of minor experimental
actions in which form and the risk of formlessness coincide.

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The Event 012

I am right handed. My left hand is untrained, crude and imprecise. Only very occasionally does it act on its own. Its ordinary role is to follow.

Just now, however, and for the next few weeks, I have a cast on my right hand (more about this in a moment). So I’m having to do everything with my left hand. Simple tasks have become complex. Some things I scarcely attempt at all. I was called upon to sign my name when I left the hospital. I offered only an unrecognisable scrawl.

So here I have decided to practice writing with my left hand. Each night I will write all the little letters of the alphabet and all the capitals, plus all the numbers from 1 through to 29. This will create a 9 by 9 grid of 81 elements. Skipping a line I will then write the date. I wonder if I can improve much before my cast is removed?

Here is my first day’s effort:

Day 1

Why is my right hand incapacitated? I have Dupuytren’s contracture. This is a thickening of the fascia tissue beneath the skin, a condition that commonly affects the hand and leads the fingers to close in on the palm, rendering the hand a pathetic and inept claw. After a finger curls in about 30 degrees surgery is needed to correct the problem. A long zigzag incision is made from the base of the palm up to near the tip of the finger and the offending fascia tissue is removed, taking care not to damage nerves.

Not so long ago there was a view that Dupuytren’s contracture was caused by alcoholism. It is now recognised that it is linked to Viking or Celtic heritage. It affects mainly older people. I was unlucky to initially get it in my mid-thirties.

This is only my second surgical intervention. The rule is to delay surgery for as long as possible. There is a strong likelihood of recurrence and the risk of nerve damage increases with each surgical episode.

I am trying to conceive this surgery and my recovery as an event – to lend it some coherent shape, to draw something from it, to discover something within it. It is in many ways – most ways – just an inconvenience, something that I’m obliged to put myself through – to endure. My aim here is to turn necessity back on itself, to lend it a sense of artifice and freedom.

I entered the hospital at 7am. My 87 year old father had walked me there from his apartment in Darlinghurst. He complained that I was walking too quickly. He squinted in the early sun as we headed down Roslyn St to St Luke’s private hospital. They took his details as next of kin and then checked me in. I had to change in to the weird backwards smock that you always have to wear at hospital and put on little baggy slippers with no soles, then shuffled off to my pre-surgical bed (berth 109). Cartoons were playing on the television. After a while it shifted to the news. I don’t remember pressing anything to change the channel. I’d been enjoying the cartoons, which were composed of static figures with large faces and blinking eyes.

The anaesthetist dropped in, asked me some basic medical questions and then inserted a canula in the top of my left hand. He had a strange way of prepping me for this. He asked me to close my eyes, take several deep breaths and not to worry about the ‘slight scratch’ on my hand. Once I opened my eyes the canula was in.

Shortly afterwards two hospital orderlies, one thin and the other covered in tattoos, rolled my bed deftly through the corridors to the surgical ante-chamber. I was left there for a little while. I watched the operation of the automatically closing door. I had a warm blanket put over me. The started some liquid flowing down a tube into my left hand. I could see air bubbles passing down the tube and wondered vaguely if they knew what they were doing. Nobody spoke to me, but somebody said something about getting started. Then I was gone. Absolutely no recollection of drowsiness – just absolutely absent time until I woke up a bit after midday back in my pre (now post) surgical bed.

The television was on, but no longer cartoons or the dull cycle of morning news stories. There was some kind of siege happening in Martin Place. Man Haron Monis had walked into the Lindt cafe and taken some uncertain number of hostages. Two female hostages were holding up an Islamic banner at the window. It had started just about the same time that my operation had started and was happening only a kilometre or so away. Of course there is no genuine point of correspondence between my surgery and this major newsworthy event. They were occurring at the same time, that is all.

I was eager to recover from the general anaesthetic and get out of hospital as soon as possible. I had to get a framed photograph to Articulate Gallery before 4pm. The doctor visited me and the nurse checked that I could walk a straight line to the toilet and then I stumbled off back to my father’s place, grabbed my stuff and caught a taxi to the gallery. The taxi driver was listening to live talk back radio on the siege but he asked about my hand. I said I’d just had surgery. He asked me if it was for cancer. I explained that it wasn’t. Then he told me about the melanoma that he’d had removed on his arm and how the cancer had returned to his lymph nodes. He’d recently had radio therapy, which burnt horribly and had destroyed the nerves in his armpit. The traffic was bad so I had time to hear the story in detail. He eventually dropped me at the top of Palace St, Petersham. I crossed Parramatta road and deposited my picture at Articulate. I spoke briefly with the curator, Bill Seeto, then I walked to Petersham station and caught the train back to Woonona.

I went to bed early. I was unconscious when the siege started and unconscious when it ended (at 2am).

Here is my bandaged right hand:

Right Hand

Here is my intact left hand (although you may notice the incipient Dupuytren’s contracture):

Left Hand

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Put up an album of recent acoustic guitar tunes on Bandcamp:

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The Event 011

The last week has been very humid. There have been late storms every day. There is some slight cooling when it rains.

On Tuesday night I attended a lecture/seminar by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi. Have heard their names mentioned for some years, but know very little of their work. I was aware that Massumi had translated Deleuze and written influentially on the notion of ‘affect’. I knew that Manning was an artist-theorist. But that was about it. I went along then to get a sense of their work – perhaps even an introduction. I guess I got that, but not quite in the terms I expected.

It was more a performance than a formal scholarly lecture. A bit like Marina Abramovic and Ulay forcing gallery visitors to squeeze between their naked bodies (Imponderabilia, 1977), Brian and Erin stood at the door and offered short written quotes from a hat as attendees entered the seminar room. Additionally these quotes were arranged in patterns on the seminar floor. The quotes seemed to be from a recent theoretical work. They were all about engaging with the concrete materiality of the present moment – yet they were also very abstract.

The seminar began with Manning and Massumi standing about 10 metres apart from one another in the midst of a scattered sea of perhaps one hundred attendees. There was no sense of a neat, spatially delineated gap between speaker and audience. They took turns reading brief sections from their work, leaving pauses between one finishing and the other starting up. After a short while one of the audience members, who was sitting on a stool just near me, seized the pause and read the quote that she had been supplied. Others took the hint and did the same. People read out their quotes in turn (and sometimes in tandem) for close to 45 minutes. People generally stayed true to the words that had been supplied them, but one person (Malcolm Whittaker) declaimed, “Phillip Hughes, 63 not out” (a reference to Australian test cricketer, Philip Hughes who had died from a blow to the head from a cricket ball less than a week before).

I looked at my quote. It said, “Disseminate seeds of process.” I must confess that I had no intention of reading it out. Quite a number of people had the same quote and did read it out. Solemnly intoned, it sounded like a cultish mantra. I couldn’t help thinking of Reverend Jim Jones’ and the poisoned Koolaid.

I should note that both Manning and Massumi have very impressive hair. They have long, curly manes. Hers is red. His is grey-black. At one level their hair suggests an allegiance to the hippie 60s. At another level it celebrates distance from that era – it suggests that they are reinventing long-hair and the hippie counterculture rather than remaining scrupulous to whatever those things represented in the past.

Once 45 minutes or so was up, Manning an Massumi brought the reading to halt. They sat together on stools and suggested a conversation with the audience.

They listened to people’s perspectives on the reading event and talked about creativity in terms of notions of emergence, the senses, abstraction and the like. I was very uncomfortable sitting on the floor during this time, hoping uncharitably that the whole thing would end soon. It seemed to me that all this talk of the specificity of ‘the event’ said nothing at all specific about any specific event whatsoever. Somebody (Sarah Miller actually) had the temerity to mention the long traditions of artistic practice that seemed to inform Manning and Massumi’s approach (from at least Cage onwards), but while they acknowledged all kinds sources of inspiration from Whitehead to Dewey and Nietzsche, they were determined not to refer to actual historical movements within art. Although they were apparently concerned to re-situate philosophy within the contours of the lived event, they seemed to do precisely the opposite – to say nothing at all about anything historically or even experientially concrete. Instead they focused on describing what they regarded as the general contours and generative character of creative practice. This unfortunately ended up sounding like a bad hallucinogenic painting, full of bright colours and spurious circles.

The event ended with the two being introduced or not introduced. It was hard to tell.

In summary, my misgivings with the event:

  • Manning and Massumi pretended to create an opening for the audience, but they supplied the words and the audience largely adhered to the script (however apparently scriptless)
  • Everything centred on Manning and Massumi – even the conversation
  • Gimmicky; no genuine respect for the audience (who, believe it or not, might not be experts in their work)
  • Feigned respect for the event; actually plain that every event would be conceived in the same philosophical terms

No fucking storm tonight, just when I really need one.

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The Event 010

How is the event characterised?

  • Difficult but easy: an ordeal (typically physical), but straightforward
  • Necessary and unnecessary: engaging with the real (discovering experience), but imaginary (artificial)
  • Structured, but never obtaining adequate form (elusive)
  • Commitment and withdrawal
  • Hope and hopelessness
  • Manifestation and loss
  • Work ethic, but deeply lazy
  • Obsession framed
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The Event 009

My original aim was to complete 13 sets of the 13 exercises that make up the 7 Minute Workout. This neatly square result appealed to me. I imagined a grid with ticks in all 169 boxes (I was determined to place a tick each time I completed an exercise). However, after the fifth set I realised that I had little chance of maintaining a consistent standard for the 8 notionally remaining sets. So I decided to complete just 7. That figure is square in the sense of being 7 sets of 7 minute workouts. Altogether I completed 91 x 30 second exercise intervals. Allowing for a 10 second rest between each exercise and a one minute rest between each session of 3 sets, the overall time was 61 minutes and 30 seconds – or roughly an hour. My performance deteriorated markedly in the pushups over the final two sets, so I think that an hour was enough. Despite its gruelling nature the experience produced no sense of illumination. It provided a sense of structure and purpose to a largely wasted day, but offered no broad prospect of redemption.

7 Minute Workout

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The Event 008

I have not abandoned the event.

I am still in the event, even when unaware.

In referring to ‘the event’ I am not referencing relevant currents of philosophy – Badiou, Derrida or Heidegger, etc. – or not referencing them strongly.

I have some sense, for instance, that Badiou discusses the event in terms of novelty. The event is the eruption of the unknown and the unknowable. It forces things in new directions.

But this is not my concern.

I am thinking of the event in more literal terms – as, for example, a sporting event. The event calls for endurance and commitment, but always with an overall sense of artifice. I could just as well be lying in bed on Saturday morning, but instead I’m at Parkrun trying to beat my best 5k time.

The event is pointless, but prompts dedicated effort. The event represents a structuring of space and time to lend life an arbitrary sense of purpose and meaning.

The event is superstitious. I cannot help but commit to it. In committing to it I cannot help but think that this will somehow make a difference, that will earn me some kind of credit, that it will make me a better person, that the suffering it entails is worthwhile. But none of this actually follows. The event is ultimately empty and it redeems and fails to redeem precisely through its emptiness.

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The Event 007

I am still conceiving the route I will follow up and down the escarpment.

In the meantime another event takes shape within the larger event.

It seems that walking from my house to Luna Park would take exactly 15 hours and 59 minutes – the same amount of time it would take to walk from Halfeti to Kobane.

Halfeti was never my home. Only a sick irony relates Kobane to Luna Park. No kind of adequate correspondence can be opened up between currents events on the Turkish-Syrian border and the contrived event of walking from Wollongong to Sydney, but the latter is oddly tempting.

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The Event 006

There is the known event and the inexplicable event.
There is the inexplicable character of the known event.
There is the known character of the inexplicable event.
There is the genuine event.
There is the experience of the genuine event.
There is the dream of the genuine event.
There is the artificial event.
There is the event that I am determined to pursue despite its unreality.
There is the determination to make the artificial event.
There is the visible and the imperceptible event.
There is the silent event.
There is the event that does not register.
There is the non-event that suddenly becomes eventful.
There is the event that dissolves into nothingness.
There are events.

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The Event 005

I read today that the leader of the secular Kurdish People’s Protection Units, who are struggling to defend Kobane from well armed ISIS forces, is a woman, Mayassa Abdo. Her nom de guerre is Narin Afrin. She is 40 years old and described as ‘cultivated, intelligent and phlegmatic’ (Mustafa Ebdi). Knowing nothing of her as a person, I imagine her sitting up late and night, tired and dealing with all manner of pressing matters.

I hope she and all the others manage to somehow escape.

Fifteen years ago (1999) I spent several weeks in the small Turkish town of Halfeti, which is only 78km from Kobane. Halfeti is an Armenian-Kurdish town on the banks of the Euphrates. Abdullah Öcalan, founding member of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) was born nearby in the village of Ömerli. I visited Halfeti just as it was about to substantially disappear beneath the waters of a new hydro-electrical project, the Birejic dam. I produced an extensive, navigable portrait of the town, in the style of the computer game, Myst, but composed of photographs, video interviews and real ambient sounds. After I had returned home it took me over a year to put the whole thing together. In the end I felt I knew my way around Halfeti better than almost any place in the world.

Looking at Google Maps I realise I could have almost walked from Halfeti to Kobane.

Google provides a full description of the route:

Walk 78.0km, 15 hours 59 minutes (use caution – may involve errors or sections not suited for walking)

  • Halfeti, Turkey
  • Head south-east on Orta Cd (92 m)
  • Turn left towards Söğütlü Sk (39 m)
  • Turn right onto Söğütlü Sk (50 m)
  • Turn left onto Çakıllı Sk (18.0 km)
  • Turn right towards Haydarahmet Köyü Yolu (22.3 km)
  • Continue onto Haydarahmet Köyü Yolu (4.1 km)
  • Turn left (850 m)
  • Turn right towards Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D400/E90 (5.7 km)
  • Turn right onto Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D400/E90 (1.6 km)
  • Turn left onto Kayıcak Yolu (2.7 km)
  • Kayıcak Yolu turns slightly right and becomes Yağışlı Köyü Yolu (4.6 km)
  • Turn left at Harmanalan Köyü Yolu (2.7 km)
  • Turn right onto Yaylatepe Köyü Yolu (67 m)
  • Turn left (2.0 km)
  • Turn left (40 m)
  • Turn right at Küçükova Köyü Yolu (1.6 km)
  • Turn left onto Balaban Köyü Yolu (76 m)
  • Turn right (2.5 km)
  • Turn left at Yumurtalık Köyü Yolu (5.3 km)
  • Turn right onto Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D883
  • Entering Syria (1.5 km) * Continue straight (31 m)
  • Turn right (94 m)
  • Turn right (20 m)
  • Turn left (96 m)
  • Turn right (69 m)
  • Turn left (500 m)
  • Turn right (69 m)
  • Turn left (450 m)
  • Turn right (450 m)
  • Turn left (10 m)
  • Turn right (9 m)
  • Turn left (350 m)
  • Kobanê, Syria

These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, weather, or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results, and you should plan your route accordingly. You must obey all signs or notices regarding your route.

I expect other events have indeed made conditions differ. What kind of event would it be now to walk from Halfeti to Kobane, particularly to walk the across the border between Turkey and Syria? The Kurdish defenders of Kobane will need to escape along this route if they have any chance of survival. ISIS is focused entirely on taking this road and preventing any escape.

I can see precisely the ground that needs to be covered – such a small, straighforward distance. If only it could be carelessly traversed. If only the walk was completely uneventful.

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The Event 004

Vaguely thought of attempting the first stage of the event early this morning (3-4am) but lacked sufficient resolve.

Spent far too much of the day doing nothing. Another way of saying that I spent far too much of the day immersed in the terrible spectre of the event – which awaits me, which demands my participation, which is already here.

Late in the afternoon, far too late in the afternoon, I found the energy to get moving. Getting moving is much easier that laying still. This paradox lies at the heart of the event, which is never so palpably present and demanding until it is deliberately avoided. I am most embroiled in the event when I struggle to withdraw from it.

So actually starting out the door – all in navy blue – to run up a rough track to Broker’s Nose is very easy. It occurs to me that I find the resources to explicitly prepare for the event and the event – inasmuch as it is defined my unpreparedness – is lost.

Nonetheless I do indeed run up to Broker’s Nose and back. I drive to the back of Woonona, park my car and set out up the steep track to the Lower Escarpment road.

I wear a GPS sports watch that measures aspects of my performance.

It shows the terrain that I covered:

The details of my pace and elevation:

As well as a range of interesting statistics:

I cover just under 10km at fairly slow pace, climbing just over 450 metres.

There is a tree across the steep track at the bottom that slows my progress. There is a couple in a car that questions me just as I am approaching the end of the walk/run. They prevent me from going under an hour and fifteen minutes. At least now I have an easy target to aim for next time – under 75 minutes.

I am blindly beginning to feel my way into the event.

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The Event 003

For some reason – most likely because the Kurds have consistently resisted Turkish authority – the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is unwilling to intervene in the ISIS assault on the northern Kurdish-Syrian town of Kobane. The Turkish troops are stationed right there at the Syrian border, but all they do is fire tear gas at their own citizens – large groups of protesting Kurds who are compelled to simply stand by and watch a major Kurdish town fall to well-armed ISIS forces.

What does this have to do with the event? What can this possibly have to do with the event that concerns me? The attack on Kobane is not after all an event that I participate in. However, it is an event that I follow. Arguably it is a very distinct event. Yet inasmuch as my doubly distant vantage (watching Turkish Kurds watch an assault that is absolutely close and distant from them) occurs within the contours of my own event then the two event spaces are unavoidably drawn into limited correspondence.

But can I really refer to an event space in the case of my own event? Nothing much has happened. Nothing seems even very likely to happen.

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The Event 002

What is the event? How did I come to it? What does it involve?

I conceived an event which began at the park at the end of Foreshore Rd, Pt Kembla. Very early in the morning – 3 or 4am. A cool breeze blowing from the ocean, gulls hovering in the lights of the car park below. I envisaged a single participant, myself, who would set out slowly in the direction of the steelworks and then over to Figtree and up into the escarpment. One or two major roads would have to be crossed, hence the early start. The event would then snake northwards back and forth between the escarpment and the sea. It would skirt the summit of Mt Keira and ascend Broker’s Nose and Sublime Point. It would pass through industrial areas and suburbs. It would follow sections of beach – North Wollongong to Towradgi, Woonona to Austinmer, Burning Palms to Garie. It would be intolerably long and hard. It would conclude in the Royal National Park at Wattamolla.

The notional start at the end of Foreshore Road, Pt Kembla

But the event is elusive. The route I describe above is unclear when I reflect upon it closely. It changes. It is not yet susceptible to being traced on a map.

Furthermore, this is only a portion of the event. The limits of the event are undefined. I must be prepared for whatever eventuates, but this also demands that I be unprepared.

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The Event 001

It would seem preferable to begin training prior to the event, but I only entered the event at the last second, so I will have to incorporate my training within the context of actual participation. Somebody recommended the Scientific 7 Minute Workout, so I downloaded the relevant app and gave it a try this morning. Seemed to work quite well. All the timekeeping and exercise order was handled by my phone so I just had to scurry from one position to another doing 30 second bouts of intense exercise.

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The Event 000

The event begins here with this image of the full moon (or nearly full moon) seen from my bathroom window. I meant to take the image a bit earlier when the sky was still pink and red, but a friend phoned me just as I got out of the shower. Hardly in a position to prioritise the image, especially as I had no idea whether or not I would persist with my commitment to the event. By the time I took the photograph, night had fallen and the event had begun.

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It seems I have not written anything for close to 6 months. What is it to slip in to silence? Or to recline into silence? Or to find oneself all at once silent? It is to find myself here – considering the need to speak, but also the inevitability of silence (I am bound eventually to fall permanently silent).

My aim here is to try to convey some doubts about the necessity to say something – to produce something to be heard (or seen).

I think of the old philosophical conundrum, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it fall, does it make a sound?”. Similarly, if an artist (for want of a better word) produces something and it is never exhibited, does it exist as a piece of art?

The suggestion now is that it does not exist as art until it enters into social exchange. This is very much linked to the effort – at least within universities – to conceive artistic practice as a mode of research. Just as the researcher is obliged to publish the results of his or her research so the artist must produce work to be publicly exhibited. This is something like a moral duty. Thou shalt go forth and exhibit and only in exhibiting and in the assurance of public and peer reception shall your work properly exist as art and you yourself properly exist as an artist.

Of course this makes pragmatic sense. There has to be some means of assessing our productivity and our cultural standing. We cannot simply say we are artists – and we certainly can’t say nothing and be artists.

So we are compelled to be as productive as any other sector of the economy, to keep churning stuff out and offering it up for public consumption. No possibility of being intensely productive but, due to shyness or a complete lack of business acumen, choosing to leave our work in private journals or cupboards, completely out of the public eye. No matter that we may enjoy producing the work and even occasionally poring over it and sharing it with friends – none of that is in anyway sufficient. The rule is quite explicit – exhibit in a peer-reviewed public venue or cease to exist.

Yet does exhibiting guarantee that anything is indeed seen or heard? Does it actually ensure some moment of adequate public communication? Does it necessarily summon and reach an audience? No doubt in many instances, but none of this is assured. How often have I sat minding one of my own exhibitions in a 3rd class public venue to experience only the odd street person and drug addict wandering in to get out of the cold or use the toilet. No problem with street people or drug addicts, but they are scarcely dropping in to see my work.

So it seems to me that a great deal of exhibition is fairly empty. One runs through the formalities of having one’s work publicly acknowledged as art, but it is more for the benefit of establishing the pathetic bona fides of one’s own marginal artistic career than of genuinely obtaining a public.

My cynicism and romanticism run deeper. Why must art engage with wider social agendas of productivity? If it has any scope at all to project a space of freedom, however compromised, shouldn’t this be in terms of not being subject to any specific ontological, epistemological and ethical imperatives? Why can’t I produce art for whatever goddamn reason I like and without any sense of it producing a profit? Why can’t producing work be an inexplicable, mishapen imperative out of phase with the rest of the world? Not that it has to be out of phase – not that it has to adopt the shape of alienated loss – but why can’t it be this way? What if you are sick of the struggle to build professional peer esteem and just want to spend your time in a particular way – perhaps making some things?

What is wrong with the amateurism that doesn’t call for onlookers or acclamation, that is justifiable in and of itself as an activity that has meaning for the artist but possibly to nobody else (or just a few others)?

My father is 87 and has mild dementia. He has recently started producing small collages. He makes a few each day. He keeps them in a stack in his wardrobe. He took some of them out and showed them to me the other day. They are actually very good, but he has no wish to do anything more with them. He is happy making them and happy that I like them, but that’s it. Here is one (in the hope that this will reach friends (or strangers who become friends)).

In some ways wouldn’t this provide a model for a mode of art-making that is not about fashioning publics (and artistic careers), but instead about fostering a more general culture of practice, with only the most humble endeavours at showing? In this small, unrecognised manner, showing may actually project new social relations and genuine possibilities of reciprocal exchange.

There is perhaps a politics of silent, unexhibited art.

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I started with the following rules:

  • Must be written at my kitchen table.
  • Must begin with the specific things that lie before me.
  • Must regard nothing as unworthy of consideration.
  • Must take shape as a single prose paragraph.
  • Must write 100 altogether (although I have now written 101 because of the full moon which appeared on day 50).

This quickly led to more rules:

  • Must begin with no sense of what will be written.
  • Must each be eleven lines long when displayed on my blog (this means in practice that they must be between 145 and 190 words long). [The 101st is an exception. It is twelve lines long.]
  • Must be completed in a single sitting. No false starts permitted.
  • Must not stray from the table unless the table permits me to stray.
  • Must write an average of at least two per day.

[I must confess that there were a few, additional, privately determined rules. I will make no effort to describe them here. Very briefly, they indicated the ultimate failure of all my perverse efforts at communication and silence.]

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Full Moon

Tonight, the fiftieth night, the night I had no need to write, the night beyond the limit of what was required, I cannot help but notice that I have not hung out my washing. It is there on the chair, wet inside a white laundry basket. Earlier this evening, I looked across the IGA car park towards a wooden fence and some trees. The moon was already above them. I wondered where it was heading. Last night, before the moon was quite full, I imagined an endless series of Christians being thrown to the lions. No matter their terror, no matter their sad composure, their little heads exploded inside the jaws of the lions. They were gone like grapes. And those left were mercilessly slaughtered with barbaric weapons thrown from the crowd. Only when all the Christians were dead – every doomed group of adults and children, every lone individual – did the audience come to recognize the terrible wrong that had occurred. At that point the dead were offered a legal reprieve and the moon rose above the stadium like the fantasy of real estate.

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The nights are not innumerable. It is just that I cannot count them. Streams of molten tar pour down the road. I am stripped of all illusions. I would like to describe the table again. I would like to find adequate words to register this experience – which is also the negation of experience – but I can only make false starts. I have a heavy heart. My heart is laden with things. Each thing is itself laden with memories of neglect. I have received another letter for the former owner of this house, Geraldine Harrison. It is a superannuation statement. Seems about time that I received a superannuation statement myself. A friend sends me a photograph of another place. I am relieved not to have to go there. Apart from anything else, my car needs a service. I am hoping to get some sleep. I welcome the darkness that approaches on all sides. I welcome the new moon that I cannot see. I lean forward and then sit back in my chair.

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The sky is blue. I am definite about that. A strong morning blue. Huge orbs of soft, white water in the tree tops. The slow flight of a lone bird. I am trying to find my way through a forest, but it constantly disappears. This is not a forest of shade. This is not a forest of trails. This is not a forest to emerge from. I seem to be ascending a smallish, sun-drenched hill. The trees are scarcely trees. They have no branches or leaves, just towering, spear-like stems. I speak of spears, but cannot see the sharp tips. There is just the confusion of variously angled stems, the high glare from the hanging sacks of water and the relentless sound of birds. I cannot get to the top of the hill. I look up at the pendulous spheres. I try to make sense of them. I try to continue walking through the forest. I try to make each step count. Yet I am stuck within the motion of each step. If only the day were less bright. If only I had prepared properly for this.

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