One problem for a practice such as JCHP’s, that positions itself as carrying out its interests in opposition to the institution, is: what is the form their opposition takes? What are they in opposition to exactly and how do they go about formulating what it is they are in opposition to? How do they go about opposing it? In short, what way is their practice oppositional? It is quite possible that in responding to these questions it will turn out that they’re in fact not operating in opposition at all but are actually operating wholly compatibly with the institution’s bidding and are functioning at best as a mere defensive enclave within capitalism and at worst assisting rather than disrupting the relations that any presumed dogmatism sought to oppose. JCHP merely represent an insignificant microcosm of the history of so-called radical art and its sublimation by the institution.
Finding a way of situating practice within the relations of production and only engaging with the relations of distribution when the time is right; when production has run its course on its own terms and in its own time.
Our intention, in general terms, is to pursue a practice that is geared towards improvement. Improvement in the sense of being a by-product of the process of finding enough valid reasons to continue with a practice. New problems emerge out of attempts to deal with previous ones. Does this justify continuing with the practice? Current relations of distribution of arthood subjugate the possibility of improvement. Arthood’s focus on individual originality and novelty, the production of artworks without memory, so to speak, is affecting the possibility of fixing an objective criteria for evaluating or judging artistic accomplishment; of formulating a means of holding something good against something bad. Criticism is rendered toothless, and it fails to function at any recognisably substantive level. It functions only as part of the public relations department of the institution. The fact that pseudo-criticism is evidently prevalent suggests a problem has not been registered or is being actively evaded.
The problem is for practices wanting to be critical, that think of art as one aspect of a wider attempt to foster and develop the fullest possible life, that considers art as a by-product of human self-reflectivity in that we might still have the ability to objectify ourselves and to consider the kind of being we are and what kind of being we want to become, not just in the here and now but indefinitely into a proposed future. The problem for this kind of critical practice is that knowledge in the purely subjective sense cannot be critical and therefore cannot function in any way critically. At this point the question of exactly what is art’s purpose beyond being a commercial or academic object, arises.
In defining the art system in terms of subjective knowledge - a distinction between knowledge in the subjective sense of dispositions and opinions, and knowledge in the objective sense; such as associated with scientific knowledge or the logical content of theories or conjectures - is immediately suggested.
But, in actual fact, we should acknowledge the oversimplification of stating that subjective knowledge constitutes only mere beliefs or mere opinions and that objective knowledge consists of substantive, demonstrable or certain knowledge that should be taken as absolute truth. If something classifiable as objective knowledge does exist it does not follow that it consists exclusively of truth. In fact, knowledge in the objective sense, and that would include scientific knowledge, is itself by nature only ever conjectural or hypothetical and cannot be confirmed any more than knowledge associated with opinions in the subjective sense of preference.
The question of whether there exists such a thing as subjective or objective knowledge is not the primary question here.
For critical practices wanting to operate within the vicinity of the art system what matters is: can whatever knowledge that does constitute the art system be tested or falsified in a truly critical sense above and beyond mere subjective opinion? Can a criterion for judging artistic knowledge be used that treats all knowledge as conjectural as if it is itself accumulating as a result of trying to resolve difficulties and problems?
A general question that these difficulties boil down to is: What constitutes a work of art?
The answer we are tentatively trying to work out through our work currently is: One that has come about by overcoming actual problems.
But the critical disposition can establish a sufficient claim at present for offering the best working theory (of a greater certainty) in light of the current conditions. We can never rationally or critically justify a theory – that is, a claim to know a true criterion for establishing a definitive art object, but we can potentially critically justify a preferable theory over another with respect to the present state of the situation.
How do we act externally to the system and remain external?
Our practice operates from the position of a contention that the meaning of art objects is imposed blithely and internally. The system of art cannot touch or interact with the external environment through the use of its own operations. Operations are possible only within the system. The system cannot reach the wider environment. There persists an assumption that there is something going on in an art object that is not going on in an ordinary object. This is true only in the sense that what is going on in an art object is the system itself. There is no distinction between any given art object and any given ordinary object other than the distinction initiated by the specific indication of the art object. The declaration of the art object by the system constitutes the system. The distinction produced by an art object is what harbours its ineffable status. The indication of an art object draws a distinction between the indicated art object and the rest of the world. The notion of the art object as inherently distinct is connected with and causes a mode of production that offers freedom in production followed by inevitable attempts to contrive meaning retrospectively. The production of art is autotelic. Artists can intentionally or unintentionally engage with, or conversely disavow exchanges that their own inability exposes, to explain the meanings of their objects, or why in these terms they produce them in the first place. Current arthood’s wares are produced from a position of celebrating the art object’s sequestered ineffable qualities, while simultaneously not knowing the reason for their existence. These states coalesce to conceal a problem. We intend that our practice operates from a position of attempting to accept that the nature of practice is ultimately one of not knowing the purpose of engaging with an art practice. The nature of the conditions of current art practice makes sustaining practice from a position of continuing with a practice, of not knowing and practicing in order to know, the only morally viable means of producing art. Paraphrasing D H Lawrence, we are not expert in what we want to do.
It is by producing this way that we feel we can bring our art practice somewhere closer to something resembling objective knowledge or some applicable version, something closer to the kind of search for knowledge associated with science. It is in its not knowing that scientific experimentation is initiated. Science proceeds from a position of not understanding and going about trying to understand. Arthood proceeds by producing ever more internally varied configurations without a meaningfully critical attempt to understand them, and seeking to contrive and impose a set of meanings (or excuses) retrospectively. The attendant art school terminology of ‘critical’, ‘context’ or ‘theory’ has inadvertently, but conveniently from the institution’s perspective, promoted a culture of cultural output distributed and accompanied by excuses after the fact of production. We intend initiating our practice from a point of view of not knowing, a form of practice aimed at, in the face of not knowing, proposing possible solutions, testing their application and trialling new solutions upon discarded attempts, and so on and so forth.
Arthood in its current form is only capable of producing what amounts to ineffable objects of increasingly internal complexity. This is a consequence of arthood functioning as an operationally closed system. How can an art practice oppose the status of ineffable objects and sustain a practice that attempts to offer an alternative mode of practice? Could the negative criticism of Courbet’s work being described as “encanaille” be of some positive use here? A factor towards the ineffable status of objects and a by-product of operating within closed boundaries is that, method in production is sequestered in the studio and only revealed in the glare of the institution. Operational closure is a result of arthood itself devolving maintenance of the criteria for the judgement of its wares to greater regulative authorities of distribution, of commercially and institutionally led precedents as opposed to practice concerned with its own progression in an atmosphere of not knowing what to do and being interested in knowing what to do. What is problematic is that attempts to expose method in practice is to be instantly subsumed as some kind of meaningful action.
Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock