Thoughts on Producing Work in 2016

History remembers little of what man produces on a regular basis. History books are essentially filled with details of major conflicts, summaries of important social movements and scientific achievement and examples of works of art representing new conceptual perspectives. Of these, only the latter would appear to represent an unequivocally positive force.

Given the relatively conservative times in which we live, it seems therefore appropriate and important to insist that artists everywhere dedicate themselves to combatting the status quo in the cultural arena and being faithful to the tradition of seeking new uncharted regions to explore, new perspectives to develop and share and new challenges to take up - compromise and comfort being enemies to be avoided at all costs.

The incessant repetition of what others have done serves little social purpose. It is ego gratification at best, making us feel relevant when, in fact, we are little more than socially redundant pawns producing tired propaganda for a cause whose time has probably come and gone. Even in the service of nobler causes, it offers rapidly diminishing marginal returns. Sound harsh? I hope so. The situation is becoming dramatically depressing in some regions and calls for harsh words. 

As artists, let’s dedicate ourselves to exploration in 2016, to leaving a mark on a page, however small and apparently insignificant, that will testify to our attempts to discover new ways of expressing ourselves about the world around us and the human condition that defines our progress. Let’s dedicate ourselves to evolving new ways of involving others in this process, leaving far behind the notion of art as a product to be consumed and replacing it with new forms of interactivity that stimulate debate and participation in ways that are in phase with the rapidly developing technological age in which we live. 

It is time to move to the frontlines and to stop paying the slightest attention to the “batailles d'arrière-garde” that choke innovation and discovery. The photographic field and those who claim to defend its traditional interests are among the most active polluters. The motives of those who defend such battles are as irrelevant as the predictable results their outdated methods procure. These are watershed times that require decisive action. 
There is still so much to be discovered.

THOUGHTS ON INERTIA

The pursuit of programmes of discovery and the potential for actively promoting the necessity of innovative and critical thinking in scientific, social and cultural fields are, by definition, severely hindered when those responsible for framing and guiding such manoeuvres are the very people who seek to maintain the status quo.

Thoughts on the Notion of Quality

Quality is a measure of the depth of development in all spheres of human endeavour - conceptual, artistic, technological, economic, political and of course, scientific. It is always a grave error to mistake the appearance of development as represented by symbolic, sporadic examples of important work with the existence of quality in any relevant social sense. Not only does such misunderstanding lead to false impressions concerning the real state of affairs, but it also generates often disastrous conclusions concerning optimal strategies to adopt and the choice of persons to whom we entrust the task of overseeing and guiding potentially productive evolutions. 

THOUGHTS ON CONFORMITY

Conformity is the behavioural refuge of unadventurous spirits seeking comfort zones in which to perpetuate the predictable. It is tragedy disguised as a well-meaning friend. It stifles genuine exploration of all types in all areas and guarantees the complacency required by conservatism to effectively bar any meaningful and lasting change in social, political and cultural agendas. It is the true enemy of progress in the daily battle to broaden perspectives, develop understanding and improve the human condition.

Thoughts on Moving Forward

I have always considered art as a form of process-based research in the service of expressing personal perspectives on the human condition. It’s inevitable liaison with technology is to be found in the innovative collaborative role technology can play in helping to define new horizons in process, not in some standardized, rule-based search for technical perfection in the service of redundant notions of beauty.

THOUGHTS ON THE TRAGEDY OF MEDIOCRITY

Of all the psychologically detrimental environmental conditions we must endure, mediocrity is certainly among the most damaging. It offers little hope, small dreams and satisfaction with the lowest common denominator. It promotes the status quo, inhibits risk-taking and denigrates informed audacity. 
When it is elevated to a standing it doesn’t merit, it does even more harm, stifling free thought and experimentation, infiltrating everything we experience. In art, it is a subversive regressive factor, reflecting a lack of critical sense and a celebration of banality. As serious as this most certainly is, the damage inflicted in political and economic spheres is far more immediately devastating, reaching deep into society’s most needy echelons and promising what it can never deliver in a sustainable manner. It is cruel and toxic requiring decades of dedicated informed effort to eradicate. It results in the devaluation of excellence in every sphere of activity. It is particularly devastating when disguised as solidarity accompanied by cynical declarations of camaraderie and understanding. 
Those who aspire to excellence have an obligation to fight the proliferation of mediocrity wherever it appears, denouncing its impact on our ability to rise to the challenges that ultimately define our destiny. 

THOUGHTS ON EXPLORATION

I confess that I really don’t always understand the precise nature of what I am doing, nor is it necessarily productive to learn more. What counts is that the journey continue in a manner that surprises us, that challenges and enlightens us, allowing us to grow in new ways without inflicting unnecessary suffering on ourselves or others. Certainly success and setbacks related to positive and negative conceptual experiences must be acknowledged, but we must be attentive and not dwell on them. They must take second place to the adventure of discovery. What is owed is known and can never be as rich in potential as that vast wellspring of experiences as yet unexplored. The inevitability of this journey is a given with which we learn to live.

THOUGHTS ON TRANSITIONAL TIMES

We are currently in the midst of massive social transformations as we move from the end of the industrial age to the beginning of the digital age. As the virtual world slowly overtakes what we once mistakenly thought of as the real world, new references emerge to reflect new languages and new forms of interference will begin to work their subversive magic on the old “ordre établi”, whose only recent awareness of their deteriorating position inevitably results in their becoming more virulent in their defense of lost causes.

The transformations of which I speak are everywhere around us. They are omnipresent in the political arena, the economic, business and financial sectors and of course in the cultural domain as well. As such they affect artists, their work and how they interact with society. Turbulent times are accompanied by a desire (a need?) for reflection and commentary on the emerging social environment. In the current confusion and criteria-free world of contemporary art, this brings with it the inevitable confusion between socially relevant art and political art, an oxymoron if there ever was one. While the former remains an all-important factor in the evolution of any new form of expression desirous of dialoguing with its times from new perspectives, the former remains no more than the propaganda it has always been, pursuing its masquerade as something more noble in the service of those perpetually out of phase with the world around them.

Transitional periods are unique. They are simultaneously exciting, dangerous, volatile, innovative, subversive, confrontational and highly interactive for all members of society (unlike “normal” times that tend to be more selective in their confusion). It is a privilege to participate in their evolution. Socially relevant participation implies assuming serious responsibilities that include the need to stimulate the most productive elements of change while limiting the damage done by the naturally oppressive tendencies of reactionary thought. “Us and them” mentalities develop rapidly in transitional times and polarization is rarely synonymous with progress. The challenge is identifying the relevant positive and negative forces in the confusion and in doing so, to avoid mistaking understandable fear for dedicated opposition.

THOUGHTS ON OUR DIGITAL FUTURE

New media work in the digital domain is the future of what was once referred to as photography. It is not a question of opinion, nor is it a question of taste. It is a fact. Some may lament this fact, while others may wallow in joy. Both attitudes are irrelevant.

As always most work will be poor, some will be mediocre and a small percentage will be innovative and will redefine our era in terms yet unknown to its public. What counts, as always is how we approach what we think, feel and see and this is completely independent of the ridiculous analogue-digital debate. Why? Because there is no debate. The future is digital, it is interactive and it is dynamic in a way that analogue work can't even imagine. Is this change necessary? No, certainly not ! it is simply inevitable, like all revolutionary technological change. Why? Because we cannot stop such change, we must appropriate it or live in the past.

There is a fabulous adventure to be lived or ignored. Genuine talent doesn't ignore new opportunities, it seizes them and makes them its own, redefining our references and provoking our natural conservative tendencies. Long live disruption and its capacity to awaken the necessity of evolution and changes in perspective, of innovation and discovery, of interactivity and new forms of transmediatic relationships.

These are fabulous times indeed.

THOUGHTS ON THE NATURE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

What is it about the photographic medium that attracts conservative spirits?

It seems more concerned with where we’ve been than where we might go, more concerned with recording what has happened than exploring what might occur, more concerned with what we think we know than what we know we don’t.

Perhaps it is in its very nature to be preoccupied with the concrete side of existence, only flirting with other conceptual dimensions sporadically; perhaps it is related to why it was born – a purely technical challenge relating to rendering permanent a visual perspective that was already centuries old as opposed to a search for an alternative approach to existential exploration.

Still, the remarkable persistence of its most reactionary qualities continues to fascinate me, particularly in the face of a potential that extends far beyond the narrow perspective it has traced for itself.

THOUGHTS ON COHERENCE

In today’s society, “talkin’ the talk” is relatively easy. On the other hand, “walkin’ the walk” is considerably more challenging and therefore unfortunately rare. The former is little more than passive marketing; the latter requires a genuine moral commitment backed by concrete action.

THOUGHTS ON POSTURING

I am very tired of political games in the cultural arena. Wheeling and dealing is the last thing we require in the arts. What we need are devoted organisers, agents and gallery owners who understand that serving their personal interests and those of the artists with whom they collaborate are one in the same and that the artists must always come first. The art market is a unique one.  

The people who simply play political games, jockeying for personal position in the name of cultural development are not concerned with the advancement of the field or the works that define it; they are concerned with their own rank in the field and other people's appreciation of their persona. Their actions, similar in appearance to those of persons making genuine contributions, are well disguised and in fact, bear absolutely no resemblance to the real thing. More insidious still is the fact that they have often managed to convince themselves of their inherent relevance in advancing the cause of cultural development.

When personal posturing becomes the objective, there is simply nothing left to support...and it simply makes no sense at all to support a void.

THOUGHTS ON THE PAST

The past is often a heavy weight - inertia in the comfort zone…but the best of the past wants us to move forward, with its qualities, its dynamic baggage giving us strength, seeking adventure in the unknown, moving forward into uncharted waters, undaunted.

Only the worst of the past wants us to remain in the past, blind and sentimental, refusing the unexplored.

THOUGHTS ON CONTEMPORARY ART

In contemporary art, social relevance (like the notion of beauty) could be thought of as a by-product of process and not its objective.

Otherwise, the resulting work is little more than predictable propaganda for often-outdated dogma whose power of seduction is almost always inversely related to its relevance and ultimate utility. Contemporary art generates questions and not answers or solutions. It promotes (and sometimes provokes) dialogue with those it will never meet. It does not preach. It is not a recruitment tool for a recognizable cause. It is one with its framework and as such knows no bounds. 

This is a rare quality as well as a potential source of inherent narcissism. 

THOUGHTS ON TIME

The “present” is that ephemeral conjuncture conjugating experiences of the “past” with the perceived potential of the “future”. In constant evolution, it is never still, although the minute incremental aspect of this evolution may suggest otherwise. When you think about it, the subjectivity of past experiences combined with the inherent vagueness of the future, both seen in the light of an ever-exchanging “present” renders the very notion of “status quo” absurd, not to mention counter-productive. I suppose it is the ability (necessity ?) to step back and perceive the “big picture” that gives these micro-moments semblance of lucidity and stability, thereby rendering them tolerable.

THOUGHTS ON THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

There is a natural conservatism in photography that prevents it from breaking free of that special form of bondage consciously and/or unconsciously imposed by the noble traditions of reportage and documentary work. Such work is important both aesthetically and socially but represents only a small part of photography’s potential and most certainly has no monopoly in the area of social commentary. In fact what the unconscious defenders of this bondage consider social is sometimes little more than banal and obvious political posturing. 

Why are its practitioners so obsessed with power and control over the medium? There is room for everyone. Their position is a form of conceptual poverty which I have fought all my life and will continue to fight until my last breath. It is sad, it is regressive, it is counter-productive and is most certainly impotent in the face of the inevitable changes that will prevail.

THOUGHTS ON PROCESS

Life is so much more stimulating, challenging and just plain fun when we don’t know exactly where we are going, but in spite of this uncertainty, we depart with a sense of adventure. 

It used to be called a voyage of discovery. Today such behavior is often characterized as signifying that “we are not focused” or” we just don’t know exactly what we’re doing”. In the event that these latter interpretations are considered correct, 

I am proud to announce that I have no real idea of what I am doing and that I am almost permanently out of focus.