Control of artistic production by institutional bureaucracy, no matter how benevolent its intention, does not create the conditions under which production manual or intellectual, can become the highest want in life. It then, must be challenged.
The problem of arthood is tied up with what we would think of as exhibitionism within the sphere of arthood; that exhibiting becomes a pervasive causal factor in the relations of the production of art. That in arthood production occurs within the relations of distribution. Is the production of artworks wholly contingent on the relations of distribution? Can only a work that precedes the early modules of a Foundation course be considered a laudable work, one that is clean of the model of distribution that apes the excessive market driven institutional model of distribution introduced later in the Undergraduate Professional Practice module and the subsequent post-degree desperation to exhibit and bind oneself to the institution at any cost?
Is it inevitable that all works of art fit the shape of some predestined potential opportunity to exhibit?
But, this is in response to the current conditions of art. Is it possible for a work to engage in some form of distribution and for it to remain art? Is it possible for a work to engage in some form of distribution and it not be subsumed/assimilated into the relations of distribution?
An object constitutes an artwork if it has been untouched by exhibitionism and the relations of its distribution in its formulation. Increasingly, objects pertaining to art works are formulated within the relations of distribution; production no longer being a prerequisite of the art work. How is the object that is untouched by exhibitionism to be comprehended by an audience in a public situation if the situation instantly excludes it as an artwork? What is the audience to do with the exhibition in these mean times?
The work we are now producing will take a protracted amount of time to produce due to its time consuming nature. This over-simplistic statement oddly seems worth stating. Arthood obliterates temporality associated with production in favour of immediacy. Its objects tend towards being apprehended beyond a protracted duration of production but occurring in distribution.
Two things have emerged from the situation we inhabit that are significant for our practice. First, being in a position to focus entirely on producing a body of work, and, secondly, as a result of the first, having no work to exhibit. Our previous clause of ‘Do not exhibit’ should now be amended to ‘We can’t exhibit.’ It is rare for artists to get into situations where they are able to focus on the production of a body of work without being hamstrung by their relations towards distribution or institutions. Practice is usually carried out in far too close a proximity to some form of exhibitionism. Our lack of success has proved beneficial in putting some space between the relations of our production and their inevitable consumption but unfortunately we cannot lay claim to much more.
Hitherto in the absence of any work to exhibit we co-opted unfinished work or the residue that constitutes practice: objects that are peripheral to what we consider actual artwork. The difference now is that whereas before we made no significant effort to produce a body of work, that intention is now what preoccupies us. The decision to exhibit, should the opportunity arise, now has a moral impact on our practice. We are aware that by stating this, we are already producing peripheral material to the work. Should we have promoted the exhibition opportunities we have dismissed?
We suppose all this helps confirm the distinction between the production of a long-term body of work cosseted deliberately, and producing a body of work flexible enough to fit the shape of some predestined opportunity to exhibit.
We have resolved previously (sometimes unknowingly) that the way to tackle problems is by consciously making and forcing distinctions. Such as between a sequestered artwork and one proactively engaged in distribution. Looking back, it seems possible that all these distinctions are more or less reducible to one distinction that can be marked by two sentences.
(1) ‘a body of work’ and (2) ‘the exhibition of a body of work’.
With the distinction between these two sentences we intended to suggest that ‘a body of work’ refers to art in some historically established sense, whereas the sentence ‘the exhibition of a body of work’ refers to arthood and therefore does not constitute art. Or at least the unlikelihood of a supposed radical work or avant-garde movement in the sense of a classical Avant-Garde, is possible. If this means that what is cosseted in the studio remains art, an important question for us follows: Is it possible to engage the body of work in some form of distribution such as a public exhibition and for it to remain art? Is it possible to engage ‘a body of work’ in exhibition without the body of work becoming ‘the exhibition of a body of work’?
If the distinction between art and arthood is valid then the work sequestered in the studio when inevitably entering relations of distribution becomes a wholly distinct object. The work is assimilated by these relations. All work entering the relations of distribution become equivalent. Distribution constitutes the system and becomes the principal meaning of the work.
Is the sentence ‘the exhibition of a body of work’ actually an inevitable consequence or natural fulfilment of the sentence ‘a body of work’? Does the distinction between these two sentences render discussion of the subject matter of the work meaningless? Is the distinction itself the place of meaning not the individual work? Can the distinction between these two sentences formulate the purpose of practice? If the content of the work is subsumed into equivalence, is there any point in making work? A consequence of the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘exhibited work’ is that an audience cannot engage with the ‘work’ but only with the ’exhibited work’. Is this necessarily problematic if the meaning of the work, or potential for criticism rests outside of any content of the work?
Maintaining an infrastructure that constitutes the point of the practice’s engagement with production - that the physical, work-like side of the practice is intended to stand for an engagement with the distribution of whatever the practice has to offer - fixes the practice on a more stable footing within the relations of production. By dealing actively with errors and problems caused by the potential relations of its distribution, the practice can be productive. It allows the practice to be primarily geared towards problem solving that would be less likely if the practice was geared round the production of the drawings.
Where tests and conjecture intended to solve problems of being wholly subsumed into relations of distribution turn out to be subsumed by distribution, they wholly fail. This offers some criteria for measuring the success or failure of the practice: its output. Anything else constitutes a celebrative response to arthood. This proposal represents the latest production of a bunch of trial solutions aimed at testing potential responses to the problem of distribution. Its realisation does not need to be achieved in order to try to refute its claims. The task for practices is to concentrate on sawing through the branch on which they’re sat.
For a practice like ours, that wants to nudge closer to a search for objective knowledge by way of a criterion for judging validity, by producing arguments or theories in response to problems and producing more problems by trying to falsify previous theories, completing a steady output of artworks lacks validity itself.
A productive approach to practice seems to be to remain indifferent to output, in particular with its appearance and with building it up as a body of work. This is the bough on which JCHP is sat. What matters is sustaining a practice focused on pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Although any form of cultural production suggests some sense of improvement, or bildung, dissatisfaction with what has been produced before and progress. In current arthood this has been relegated, and what counts is supply and compliance with the institution. Arthood consists of affirmative career when it could consist of critical practice.
Hitherto we have offered several excuses. Our only remaining excuse is that art has the potential to become productive and restate its connection to reality. That this triviality actually needs stating makes it necessary to try to improve our practice through criticism. This is the only apology for a continued commitment to maintaining an art practice that we can offer at the present time.
In late 2015 we had an opportunity to use a public space at East Street Arts in Leeds. We experimented with dividing the space and presenting a completed, conventionally realised exhibition of another artist’s work [James Boswell 1906-71] concurrently with a half-formed presentation of our own output [JCHP 2008-17]. Our intention was to produce a display that drew a distinction between an inchoate exhibition of an ongoing practice [incomplete works, unfinished texts, undistributed publications] and an example of those more obviously determinate norms of distribution. To have a control mechanism both within sight and at hand as production is carried out.
The question of what constitutes an art object seems central to the problem of where our practice currently stands. It is in failing to answer this question that explains the use of the word ‘theory’ just as a synonym for hypothesis or conjecture.