March 06, 2006

The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist

In their What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the artwork is a "monument". What does this mean? What is "monumental"? Why do all artworks have to be monumental? How can a painting be a monument? For this aesthetic theory to be meaningful, these questions must be addressed. But as will be demonstrated, an effective answer requires that we reconsider the relationship between artist, artwork and "viewer", adopting a position that sees them as much more intimately connected across space and time. This result in an approach to aesthetics that, unlike many, is concerned with the process of creation rather than consumption. The "viewer" is not excluded, but rather enters into that ongoing process which itself exists permanently in the artwork.

Firstly, put aside preconceptions about the nature of monumental art and monuments. We are not saying that the artwork has to be a massive stone edifice. It can be small or large, occupying any form shaped from any substance. Or more precisely, the monument is insubstantial in that its monumentalism acts as an open deterritorializing force, capable of forming a plane of consistency with all-comers. This is what Francis Bacon called the "matter of factness" of the painting, its materiality. Substances are materials locked into a determination that rejects connections and deterritorializations. The monument overflows substance in a hyper-connectivity with matter. The distinction is made more clearly in A Thousand Plateaus. I suggest that we read "abstract machine" as synonymous with "monument" (or perhaps the monument is a genus of abstract machine):

An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal ( Guattari - it is an incorporeal complexity enabling possibility or freedom of movement ), any more than it is semiotic; it is diagramatic (it knows nothing of the distinction between the artificial and natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. A Thousand Plateaus, On Several Regimes of Signs p.141

What does it mean for the abstract machine or monument to "function"? A function is an operation of conversion or transformation. As they say in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: "the machine only functions when it breaks down" – that is, the machine functions by breaking down matter locked into substances, de-substantializing, deterritorializing. The monument or abstract machine is therefore a deterritorializing agent.

Returning to the common understanding of "what is a monument?" – it's not size or form that matters, but rather it is the active memory contained in the monument. Monuments are intended to remind, to recall an event, or more usually a life. Monument-momento. An effective monument goes further, re-awakening some distant aspect of that which is remembered. It may well be some actual detail of the commemorated life that the monument is intended to stir, but in order for that actuality to have sense, we must accept and share in the virtuality (the real but inactual extension to potential infinity of the plane of immanence, "a slice of chaos that acts like a sieve") of the commemorated life that is a condition for the possibility of that life.

The monument is threfore a portal, allowing us to move into a different world, and for that world to move into ours. To view an artwork then is an active process of being deterritorialized. Deleuze (in Logic of Sensation, and with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus) seeks to show how the abstract machine may be inscribed with a diagram illustrating or coding the route through the portal, the lines of deterritorialization, of matter cossing transversally out of substance. They say that the diagram makes a suggestion pulling us out of a determination towards something otherwise impossible. So it is more than just a edifice, a block of percepts and affects. It is crafted so as to deterritorialize, to attract matter into it and carry it away to another plane. One enters an artwork through the path suggested by the diagram. The monument calls upon us to add to the active memory present in the artwork, we step into the artwork, rather than percieving it analytically from afar.

Could the momument then be some kind of time machine? This is a serious claim, or at least a claim made by serious philosophers. Perhaps its re-presentation of the past offers a logic of resolution to make sense of the present? Recall Hegel's monument, which forms the centrepoint to his Aesthetics – the Tower of Babel, universal translator of forms. The architect Daniel Libeskind is familiar with the consequences of this monumentalism. In his Chamberworks, Architectural Meditations on the Themes from Heraclitus, he talks of his work to overcome this error:

When time itself is rendered meaningless by reversing its irreversible presence, then the practice of architecture becomes the case of the false pleading the cause of reconcilliation. The Space of Encounter, p.49

This leads to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is certainly not a false reconcilliation. It is deliberately not a monument in which a single sense is made of a re-presented history. Rather, it draws in and abstracts further a vast collection of histories (matters of facts, names etc), it acts as a convertor between the planes, and becomes immanent to them, that is to say, is of the same material plane, adding further to the complexity of those virtualities. It remains a monument in the sense described above, a portal between disconnected planes.

What emerges in differentiated experience is architecture as an index of the relationship between what was and what will be. p50

…index :- diagram, graph, portal?

The Museum is a success in that it reaches out beyond its site, connecting two vast virtualities (Jewish Berlin, modern Germany and Europe).

Architecture as a practice of control has projected over itself an immanent frame sufficient to reveal something without. p.49

We have then discounted the notion of the monument as some kind of dialectical tardis. Lets not be sentimental about it. But we still need to understand its diagram, how it works to deterritorialize and connect differentiated substances, pulling us out of one virtuality and into another. Again Libeskind has a suggestion drawn from his practice:

If one thinks of music, what could be more immaterial, what could leave less of a trace in actual experience than music? On the other hand, of course, architecture has always been associated with weight, with matter, with public activity. p.51

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter. Libeskind seeks the musical within architecture, within his monuments. This seems to be a paradox, but is merely the task of a great artist.

(Note, a building is an abstract machine for living – a monument rich with music and incorporeal complexity.)

Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument ( more on Cezanne ):

This is what one must achieve. If I reach too high or too low, everything is a mess. There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape. I have all the parts of my canvas under control simultaneously. If things are tending to diverge, I use my instincts and beliefs to bring them back together again. Everything that we see disperses, fades away. Nature is always the same, even though its visible manifestations eventually cease to exist. Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination. What lies behind nature? Nothing perhaps. Perhaps everything. Everything, you understand. So I close the errant hand. I take the tones of colour I see to my right and my left, here, there, everywhere, and I fix these gradations, I bring them together. They form lines, and become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about it. They acquire volume, they have an effect. When these masses and weights on my canvas correspond to the planes and spots which I see in my mind and which we see with our eyes, then my canvas closes its fingers. It does not waver. It does not reach too high or too low. It is true, it is full. cited in Cezanne by Ulrike Becks-Malorny, Taschen 2001

The painting captures what the artist David Burrows has called "the time of the artist". It is a monument to that time. It draws us into that time and the rhythms and tones that constitute it's plane.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. As I reached this site in a rather rhizomatic way I thought you might be interested in this URL which is entitled The Incompossible Language of Natural Aristocracy: Deleuze’s Misreading of Visconti’s The Leopard. http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/05/37/leopard.html.

    I can’t claim any great knowledge about Delueze but I’m very familiar with the film and a quick scan of the comments which relate both to history and the tchonic embeddedness signified by the almost palpable dust make a lot of sense. Anyway it looks like an opportunity for your group to consider a Deluezian reading. The film is nearly 3 hours long by the way but worth it if you haven’t seen it before.

    Hope this is of interest and helpful.

    28 Sep 2006, 16:08


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