bilateral kellerberrin

July 3, 2005

Flow and The Artists Way (a question from Jasmin, & Lucas’ response.)

Filed under: analysis? — Lucas @ 12:45 pm

This question came thru from Jasmin, who I work with at the MCA. As far as I know, she read this blog in its paper format rather than online.
I presented a talk at the MCA as part of a forum Jasmin organised for the Situation exhibition. In this talk I showed the blog on a data projector and talked briefly about the idea of durational (but non-exhausting) daily exercise as a method of art making.
Here’s her question…


I was fascinated by the similarities that you and Bianca observed when presenting your respective workshops. Following on from your residency, are you able to reflect further on your remarks concerning the closed nature of methodologies taught in art schools?

Two books which I have recently read which I found thought provoking about the relationship between writing, systems and creativity are Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Since the residency have you reflected further on the relationship between writing and epistemological systems? If so, how?

I was struck by your fluency in “residency relationships” – the ebb and flow of disclosure, indiscretion and translation. For someone such as yourself who is seasoned in relational aesthetics (lower case not upper case) your Kellerberrin relationships all read as falling within your zones of competence. Was this part of your strategy to do a “non-exhausting” residency? Or, were you consciously making choices about how revelatory to be in the blog? If so, could you describe this process?

Thank for the opportunity to reflect on my reading.

PS Let me know if you would like to borrow either book.

Hi Jasmin. I’ve been struggling with your question about the limitations of art school methodology. It seems to me that the more successful a project is in “blurring art and life,” the more “work” needs to be done to “recuperate” it for the purpose of analysis/exhibition/assessment. This is a paradox – if the work’s ambition is simply to become a part of life, why then must that activity be “framed” in order to be “recognised” in a particular way by the human mind? And what sort of recognition are we talking about anyway?

Allan Kaprow, in recent years, has written about small, everyday activities like brushing his teeth, and walking on his own shadow, and has emphasised the importance of “Just Doing” these things (and not transforming them into artworks). I suppose the beauty of his strategy is that all life can potentially become interesting, simply by dint of “paying close attention” in a playful way.

I’m really attracted to Kaprow’s way of writing, and find myself “infected” by his attention-play: even now, as I tap out these words, I see the ring on my finger dance and glint in the light from the lamp. Yet in order to make meaning in this sentence, I need to consciously ignore the light bouncing off the ring, and concentrate on the flow of thoughts. This is fun, it slows me down, and brings me into the present. It makes the activities of daily life strange again, and not simply instruments of utility.

Obviously, however, even in the above paragraph, a kind of “framing” has occurred: my attention to the detail of my activity was brought into focus by the writing about it. So too with Kaprow, who seems to have transferred his artmaking energy to education: he runs workshops in experimental art, creating a framework for art students to recognise the possibility of play. Hopefully, this spark of attention-play will stay alive in the student regardless of where their career takes them in the future.

This seems to me to be an important pedagogical activity, especially with university art schools heading, as they seem to be, towards outcomes which might attract funding to simply keep themselves alive in an increasingly moribund sector. Part-time teaching hours and guest lectures are on the decline, lecturers are called upon to take over administration roles, etc etc.

Some artists in Melbourne have recently started a non-assessed collaboration workshop at the Victorian College of Arts, on Friday arvos. It’s called Operation Morning Air. They’ve been bringing in folks to talk about their experiences in collaboration and in the production of DIY systems of distribution beyond existing galleries and museums etc. I found it refreshing to be in an environment that floated off to the side of the “quantifiable” – students came because they were interested, and there was no danger of anyone asking “will this be in the exam?” One student felt that the perception that you were free-to-leave at any time was an improvement on the “compulsory” nature of the Co-Lab class that Bianca Hester had been invited to co-ordinate earlier in the year. I’ll be interested to see how the workshop pans out.

* * * * *

I’ve had a look at what “Flow” is about, and I think I like it. It seems remarkably similar to Kaprow’s play activity, what he calls “lifelike art” or “un-art”. Both writers emphasise that anyone can do it, and that it’s often fun, and absorbing, without needing to have an alterior motive or “outcome”. From browsing around, I can’t see where Csikszentmihalyi’s interests intersect with writing practice particularly: perhaps you can say more about this?

I flipped through The Artist’s Way several years ago, and found it a bit preachy and “self-help”ish. But I do remember that it heavily promoted the disciplined writing of daily journals, so I’d be interested to have another look at it – to see intersections between this journalling process and my own daily writing on the blog. Cameron had something to say about “creative blocks,” and how to get through them. Is that right?

* * * * *

With regard to your question about my zones of competence: the “non-exhaustive” process of writing a little each day was about seeing what I could do without physical fatigue or deadline stress. This is a personal experiment, and one which I think was well tailored for the Kellerberrin project, since it allowed me to be “out and about” for much of the day, and not hiding away in the studio.

Also, I wanted to try out some strategies I had learned from UK performance duo Lone Twin – particularly the idea that it shouldn’t be necessary to coax people into being a participant in the art project. Lone Twin tend to undertake very silly tasks – like dragging a telegraph pole through the middle of town while wearing cowboy outfits – which attract the curiosity of passers-by. It’s not necessary to get people to enter a gallery or read a sign which says “please take one” etc, because the activity happens right there in the street.

Bilateral Kellerberrin was a “progression” of sorts from an earlier project at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, where I lived in the gallery for a month. In that residency, I wanted to re-inject sociability into the art space, while simultaneously showing artworks developed from previous residencies. I made coffee for visitors, we chatted on comfy couches, the space became architecturally softened and there was a blurring at the edges of what constituted the “art.” And yet, it was still necessary for visitors to come to see me in the gallery. At the same time, I was trapped in the interior space, rather than being free to roam the city and see what was going on. So the Kellerberrin residency tried to address those limitations. (Some pix here of the Adelaide residency.)

* * * * *

Re your question about “consciously making choices about how revelatory to be in the blog” – I may have answered this already, in response to Donna’s question

* * * * *

Reply from Jasmin:

15 September


Despite our daydreaming about a ‘frame-free’ existence if we want to hold our own in the world, we have to attach ourselves to frames from time to time. Students in art schools have to be taught these skills. In fact, sometimes we have to commit to a frame and see where it leads as well as being prepared to acknowledge that if it wasn’t for certain framing experiences our lives wouldn’t have taken the course they have. I suppose I try to stay ahead of the totalising effect of frames in my life by toying with the particularities of objects and ideas longer than my time permits.

I first read Csikszentmihalyi a long time ago when I was researching ‘what happens to us when we look at paintings’ as a museum educator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. More recently Csikszentmihalyi is being cited in trashy business magazines. After reading Flow I appreciate that I experience the deep absorption and sense of fulfillment in the present that he describes when engaging in activities such as reading, writing, looking at art, having sex, swimming and bushwalking. I suppose when writing I experience ‘flow’. Csikszentmihalyi suggests to me that this state of feeling unified is more linked to the task of learning about the world, hence my passing reference to epistemology, than the feeling of the moment. I am interested in how his ideas could be applied to the parts of my life crowded with more tiresome tasks such as attending meetings, writing reports and drafting correspondence.

The Artist’s Way is a classic self-help text with the author gradually revealing her trauma credentials – culminating in a broken engagement to Martin Scorcese. While I regard novels as the greatest self-help texts, I am glad I read this highly ‘framed’ manual. It has only increased my commitment to writing and my curiosity about its generative aspect.

I will have a look at Lone Twin and I have read the postings in reply to your other correspondents. How would you suggest I most easily follow up Kaprow’s notion of what you call ‘attention-play’?

Best wishes. Jasmin

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