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Publicity of Method - Exhibition of the Deed?

It is true that with the capitalist economy and the modern state the tendency to incorporate all questions of validity into the limited horizon of purposive rationality proper to subjects interested in self-preservation and to self-maintaining systems is strengthened.


...he’s the only writer we have, anywhere, that lets us into the workshop; lets us see the poem, the essay, the novel actually being made. Thus we’re admitted into a kind of improvisation, rather than a finished, polished work.


What occurs in arthood throughout the relations of distribution of its wares is a presumption of ineffability. Its output wholly consists of presumed ineffable objects. There is nothing in arthood’s output that cannot be described and understood with the use of a common language. An inability to express or glean clear information regarding an artwork is commonplace and familiar. But, so too is the presumption that the reason for the absence of clear explanation is due to some ineffable quality the work somehow harbours. Why, when faced with an artwork and an inability to consume clear meaning, are we less likely to say that there simply is no meaning? That an artwork can represent just one more example of capitalist excreted discharge?

The presumption of an ineffable quality in arthood’s wares and the maintenance of this position create conditions that render criticism as a pure aesthetic.

The propagation and proliferation of the ineffable status of objects for arthood coincides with greater visibility and distribution, and the obfuscation of its methods and practicalities that occur in actually bringing the work about. If a sense of publicity of method were engendered, then the presumption of the inherently ineffable nature of artworks would lessen. Our own domestic, inchoate public sphere turns out to be trudgingly slow.

How would a publicity of method practically function within art practice? For a practice to show its methods publically, assuming an audience, the relations of the practice’s production would need to be operative, which for arthood inevitably means the relations of the practice’s distribution, most commonly in the form of exhibition or publication. The problem with any move towards orchestrating the relations of production to being somehow consumed, inevitably renders them as elements of distribution contributing to the material subsumed as operating as constituting art work or gesamtkunstwerk. The only way we have figured on countering this problem is to make an instant distinction between work intended as artwork and work as extraneous, peripheral or preliminary. To make a distinction that there is some work that is an adjunct to the work considered as artwork. We are clear that this has not been a triumphant move but it seems to be the only area to work within, that at least begins to deal directly with the problem. The area in which to focus our attention being: to draw a distinction between work produced as artwork and work produced as a secondary consequence of the artwork, and to engage the secondary, peripheral material within the relations of distribution (publicity of method) and to deny access to the work produced as artwork, retaining it within the relations of production. The distinction of secondary or peripheral is not pejorative, just a recognition of its place within production. This has been our intention with producing and distributing a proposal for an exhibition, as opposed to producing an exhibition of work. Controlling, to some extent, our engagement with distribution.

In opposition to the production of presumed ineffable objects of increasing internal complexity, specifically activated in the consumption of objects as they circulate within the relations of arthood’s distribution, we have attempted to engage with the notion of an open form of practice. One that practically functions counterintuitively to the production and presumption of ineffability which by its nature obscures and conceals method, as it occurs in what we think of in conventionally established terms as production. What is required is a homespun focus on making method and intentions conspicuous, as active processes within the relations of production. We are equally aware that the process requires an audience. What a successful initiation of a publicity of method in the form of some homespun, domesticated public sphere would cultivate is criticism; the ability for practitioners to criticise and be criticised in a genuinely productive sense. That is, revision being brought about by criticism as opposed to distended complication through the criticism or theory of art school rhetoric. This rhetoric appears to consist of an absence of any substantive criticism and an aesthetic of theory to replace it.


A relativist position is so appallingly pessimistic and dogmatic and wholly opposed to enquiry. It is applied as a solution to a general state of not-knowing. To say that ‘I think this’ and that ‘you think something else’, and to accept that situation as the conclusion to a problem, amounts to a trenchant dismissal of any fallibility and an out and out dismissal of any tentative search for near truth or improvement. In contrast a methodology of maintaining a practice from a position of not-knowing accepts that this (‘you think this’ and ‘I think that’ &c.) might regularly be the case. But it allows for being puzzled (hence our unease) and does not assume to disregard any search contrary to being puzzled and for an alternative as acceptable.


How do we go about continuing a practice in conditions where anything can be done and justified by way of a widely celebrated relativism?


First dogma and then criticism.


If it is true to say that the best theories are the offspring of earlier dogma, plus criticism, then now is an opportune time for theory. Why is there none?


But although the theory of a dogmatic phase followed by a critical phase is too simple, it is true that there can be no critical phase without a preceding dogmatic phase, a phase in which something – an expectation, a regularity of behaviour – is formed, so that error elimination can begin to work on it. The dogma provides us with the frame of coordinates needed for exploring the order of this new unknown and possibly in itself even somewhat chaotic world, and also creating order where order is missing. The use of dogma or myth, as a man-made path along which we move into the unknown, exploring the world, both creating regularities or rules and probing for existing regularities, and once we have found or erected some landmarks, we proceed by trying new ways of ordering the world, new coordinates, new modes of exploration and creating new ways of building a new world.

Does the interaction of individuals in a closed operative system take place under conditions that are conducive to applying an objective criteria of judgment and an appropriate level of criticism? Currently criticism functions as nothing more than one of so many internal actions contributing towards the maintenance of the system. Arthood has successfully established itself as a closed operative system, devolving its connection with any criteria for judgement, or of skill as a means of facilitating judgement. But the dissolution of such a system as arthood is only going to be brought about through criticism. If criticism can be generated as a part of the relations of production, currently subsumed under its relations of distribution, through the implementation of the notion of a publicity of method then could the boundaries of arthood’s internal system be weakened? Are conditions of cultural production in the field of arthood attainable that make art practice capable of operating critically towards the system from beyond the system; for certain critical actions carried out in the necessary conditions to not constitute the system?

An open form of practice that renders its own relations of production open, stating what is intended conspicuously to the glare of the current conditions and relations of distribution of arthood would render the relations of production enacted in the relations of distribution unnecessary. The surfeit of presumed ineffable art objects would necessarily thin out because it is in the connection to its relations of production where its presumed ineffable status is artistically hatched. If what constitutes the content of arthood’s output – such as intentions and motives were pushed towards the relations of distribution alongside the output itself, then the gloss of ineffability would be hard fought in the circulating, completed art object, completed with its attendant explanations. Would an artwork presented in a public situation, as distinct from the material results of its own production, presented in its own vicinity or somehow available, result in a more circumspect object? All this as opposed to an artwork with all its preparatory workings carefully sequestered. These open conditions of production would be more conducive to an active form of criticism, one that could function constructively in the production of output in conditions where criticism is productive and is affecting decisions and motivating output, because where a work is accompanied by an explanation of why it was made as it is, it can be criticised accordingly. To quote F. R. Leavis: the artwork is the thing that should contain within itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise. The notion of criticism in current arthood is disingenuous and is not conducive to the formulation of a criteria for judging the validity of its output. The presumption of ineffability in artworks amounts to the same rank order as the relations of production of arthood’s output, taking place in the relations of distribution. Nothing that occurs in the production of the work such as what was, in a historic sense associated with decisions enacted in the studio, amounts to any relevance at all, with regard to the consumption of the work. In this sense, in a contemporary context work is produced within the instant of its consumption. What an attempt to enact the production of a work back into its relations of production would enact is the potential of criticism to play a part in the production of work. For decisions and adjustments to be made in the production of work in response to criticism. This offers the potential of a criteria for judging the validity of works to emerge, because decisions and adjustments are made in response to criticism that heavily depend on the interaction of individual actors. It could be said that what we might think of as objectivity could never be a product of an individual artist’s impartiality, but only ever the product of a social or public form of practice; and the individual artist’s impartiality or objectivity is, so far as it exists, only ever the result of a public or collective criticism. If criticism can be made to be useful in the production of work, as opposed to being merely a further layer of obfuscation then it would become constructive.

Would an operatively open form of practice be one that exposed its relations of production to public observation to such an extent that if everybody willing to take the trouble could reproduce any given work without its meaning diverging from the original work? The assumed ineffability in arthood’s wares would no longer hold, as a special status conjured up between artist and audience or between the relations of production and the relations of distribution of say a significant object, as a work, would falter. If anybody interested enough to take the trouble could reproduce ostensibly the same object that would be of the same status to any distributed object distinguished as an art object, then the significant moment of an art work’s coming about would be transferred from the relations of production and the relations of distribution to a potential reproducibility.

Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock

November 2017

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