Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 96: Productive Slippage

© Photograph: Pierre Huyghe/courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris
from "A Journey that Was"

The article (El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo) ran in ArtForum in the summer of 2005. It literally changed the genre of art that I wanted to make from that point forward. What was most interesting to me in the article was the line that it played between fact | fiction. After reading it, I had no idea if what I had read was real or not, and I realized that it was a more creative (productive?) experience because of this uncertainty.

The article starts with the words,
"The extraordinary events and unlikely phenomena to which sailors bear solitary witness are not easy to record. The narrative must be precise, or it runs the risk of being taken for a fabrication. For the maritime storyteller this would be unthinkable, as he and his story are inseparable. The truth, therefore, must be made believable. One way is to understand the story by weeding out exceptional details, however factual. Another option is to dress the truth in the costume of fiction by using those same details to elaborate the story. But on certain occasions, such as this one, none of these narrative mechanisms are sought."

I was hooked, the writing was an aesthetic work. Not knowing if a small group of artists had been bold enough to set sail to the Antarctic was inspiring. The words flowed through a hybrid of voices. Had they really seen a white mysterious animal on the frozen shore? Did they make it out alive? The authors continued to play with this line throughout the article, and in the description of their lives onboard,

"As with the hibernation of space travel, the rhythm of life - and time itself - was suspended. Taken to prevent seasickness, the scopolamine pills they consumed contained a molecule that produced permanent twilight sleep. Equilibrium became a thing of the past - a time when movement, sense, light, sounds, and gravity all understood each other. There was no use in moving, no dialogue between brain and body. The only harmony was in the heads of those who slept, and even then, their minds were lost to obscure dreams."

For me, the sense of unknowability felt fundamentally creative. It wasn't until over a year later when the second part of the project appeared in the Whitney biennial that I found out the truth- they had indeed gone, they had seen the animal (an albino penguin) and they did make it back. The piece as a whole became increasingly less interesting once I found all of this out. But the article still serves as a compelling example of productive slipping away, or between, fact and fiction. What is "productive" about this slippage, for me, is that it offers up a present-tense that is familiar, but fuzzy enough that we just can't quite get our minds around it- allowing us to suspend our knowledge and invent something in relation to this not-knowing. To me, this is perhaps the "creative act" that might be most urgently needed right now- perhaps a form of "fictional forecasting" (Day 94) that is rooted in continually creating a present (elsewhere).

In a recent article ("Pierre Huyghe’s Double Spectacle") in Grey Room, about the primary artist who orchestrated the piece, Pierre Huyghe, Mark Godfrey writes about why this fictive experience was so stirring,

"...this intertwining of fact and fiction as a kind of precedent Huyghe later explained the motivations for A Journey that wasn’t in more detail, complicating these categories further. The factual effects of global warming, he indicated, encouraged him to invent a fictional hypothesis... we can consider Huyghe’s desire to invent a fiction (the hypothesis that a mutated species might exist) and to investigate it with real means (the full-blown trip to Antarctica)...The reality also included the experience of what Huyghe calls “a no-knowledge zone”—by which he means an entity (in this case, Antarctica) that has not previously been subject to excessive mediation or representation and that thus serves as a new terrain for thought and activity. Whereas for Debord the spectacle produces alienation and separation, Huyghe’s fiction results in cooperation and new experience. Huyghe is not so naïve as to suggest that he has created a totally utopian community (the account of life on the ship includes a description of a time when all passengers were locked inside their own reveries); nor does he claim to have invented a permanent community. But a temporary bond nonetheless exists between these subjects that is the outcome of a fictional hypothesis...The reality that is achieved by his fiction is the coming together of a temporary community on board the Antarctic voyage—the creation of a group experience of a completely unusual kind... he wanted the Central Park event to be topologically “equivalent” to the Antarctic voyage. The crucial point was to have an experience involving some contact with an elsewhere and an Other and then communicate the experience without representing it."

So, coming out of the last few posts this week and getting ready to embark on what I am sensing will be a mythic trip of my own making next week (which I will write about tomorrow), I see A Journey that Wasn't as a necessary and inspiring freeing up of reality. This is a liberty that art can, and should take, in order to make something else possible in the minds of the "real" world. As I learn more about our own national atomic history it is quite obvious that artists have not been the only ones playing with this line, though often less dangerously...

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