Zhenya Chaika The limits of emotional involvement and the structure of the artistic process
1. Barriers and distance
I always studied at schools that I liked, and in my childhood I made friends with other adults, but still my childish communicative enthusiasm often came up against a mysterious phrase said by some teachers. Raising their voice slightly and glancing apprehensively at a child who, apparently, went a little too far, they would meaningfully say something like ‘You talk about this with your mom in the kitchen.’
I did not understand what the matter was then and, naturally, I don’t remember it now, but I remember this phrase as something that blocks the flow of speech, something that implicitly regulates the boundaries of what is permitted, which specifies: this can be said in a public context, and that is appropriate only at home, in an intimate environment.
I was discouraged by the fact that barriers grew in a situation of declared creative freedom and demonstratively confidential atmosphere. Misunderstanding and slight resentment were present somewhere on the periphery of my side vision, until they were erased by consistent results of observations, which showed: if they draw a line in front of you and you can’t cross it, it may be far from prohibition and may mean you are now ‘in a fort.’
2. Routine and regulations
A child’s home fortress is protected by various restrictions. They are expressed in countless routines: a routine of eating, sleeping, walking, treating and so on. Gradually, the rules of communication with strangers form: distance emerges in them through etiquette. In a healthy environment, this distance is cultivated as the basis of free dignity, as an impeccable border protecting the tranquility of a private area.
Fences of rules are formed around any territory, be that an area around a person or a patch of cut out forest. These rules specify ‘what is what,’ imposing prohibitions and distributing the roles of: guardians, violators, those who consent. The more varied the contexts of constraints, the more detailed and duller the lists of rules. Many of them are still intuitively clear and serve to protect safety and selfish interest. Some, on the contrary, lose their transparency and, going deep into the wilds of corporate and shop ethics, turn into stitched folders of regulations.
The professional artistic environment places itself in the comfortable corners of a lined grid of rules. Somewhere on the periphery, at a safe distance from the toughest codes and regulations, in the garden, where cosy hammocks and swings allow you to safely slide from austerity to frivolity, from categoricity to voluntarism, from adherence to your principles to their total disregard – and back. It is unlikely that fluctuations within the artistic process can be compared to the regularity of a pendulum’s motion, but something is true: firstly, polarity is always there, and secondly, the return point will never be the same as the starting point.
Nevertheless, any environment exists stably, as long as borders can be discerned in it. Even if they pretend to be invisible, unobtrusive and random, different-scale frames guarantee stability of the context. Regulations are a kind of guarantee that the border will not be crossed. What is this border? Between what and what does it run? Perhaps it is drawn between one person and another? Or otherwise: on the one side of it there is an inspired subject, on the other – an unlimited area of objectness, the raw ore of creative material eager to be embodied and find form.
3. Limitations and rules
There is a common stereotype that a professional is a person acting unemotionally. To sympathise with someone or to break deadlines means to show weakness and let emotions prevail. To work as a real professional means to follow the rules of a game, however passionate or impassionate it can be.
A manager in any area is a person who knows regulations perfectly well. A curator is also a manager to some extent and, as a manager, he or she must meet the regulations, but as a creator (that is, a person who explicitly or implicitly wishes novelty), he or she must break them. Only that person who knows regulations perfectly well has a chance to achieve a positive result by breaking them. Failing to know or ignoring the fact that rules exist does not free one from responsibility for keeping within borders.
In modern social practice, the concept and functions of a curator are extremely blurred. However, when attempting to define what is a curator and what are the specificities of their work in the field of contemporary art, the authors theorising about this (in particular, Victor Miziano, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Nicolas Bourriaud) consider the role of a curator through the latter’s relations with other subjects of the creative process, first of all, with artists. At the same time, these relations are characterised as fundamentally informal and based on friendship, love or – more broadly – the recognised value of these relations.
4. Instructions and recipes
Education in the field of modern art and curatorship of modern art is, perhaps, quite a paradoxical phenomenon. With the exception of a certain number of courses designed to train certain instrumental skills, this training is confined to mastering craft recipes. Instead of copying and quoting skills, there is now a universal instruction, the observance of which guarantees a position in the golden mean of the artistic process.
The curriculum of such disciplines is a kind of recipe book describing in detail dishes for each occasion: a romantic dinner, party for friends, dinner with parents, perfect breakfast; the number of stars indicates the level of difficulty: from the presentation of a young author in a friend’s gallery (*) to a major international project, biennale or something like that (***). Particularly popular in this book are sections on cooking with a limited number of ingredients. For example, if it is a hot dish, we should serve it in a juicy sauce of the feminist theory: the temperature must be strictly moderated and proportions carefully measured. But the main thing is the sauce: cook it so that even a vegetarian cannot notice they are eating meat, and the most fanatical meat eater can never find out they have exotic vegetables in front of them.
5. Fences and gates
The figure of a master, that is, the visible horizon of individual mastery, disappears from the sphere of art. To surpass your teacher – to push the horizon, the known world of art – is a task no longer possible. In the overpopulated world of contemporary art, one cannot see the line where the earth and the sky meet. This world is walled with a blind fence of instructions used in the world of art, which are written in the default and universal English language. The more you learn, the more boards appear in your fence; because any new piece of knowledge inside this world is just another instruction designed to recognise the format in any of your ideas. If you are eager to learn new things and careful about details – the boards add up so fast that you do not have time to arrange them at your own discretion – and one day, when you find a spare minute in an aeroplane carrying you above the ocean to the next project that has not yet been born, you will see: 1) no light is visible between the fence boards (the highest level of tightness); 2) the boards have already managed to form several rows (the most reliable way to protect against the outside world); 3) the fence has taken in the new boards but the interval between them has not changed – and so the circle has become huge, so huge that you could probably see the sky now, if you remembered this is important in any way.
Any time you want to see the sky, you have already found a gate in this fence, opened it and almost gone outside this fence.
6. Form and frames
Contemporary art likes to flaunt the emphasised rationality of an artistic gesture and method. There is no exclusiveness in this rationalisation, but there clearly is priority. There is the value of social responsibility and the relevance of the statement. There is a desire to define the ‘artistic statement’ through the frames of the provided. However, behind any work stands the aesthetic experience of its creation, followed by the aesthetic experience of its perception. This experience is based on emotions: on the side of the artist, emotions live the path of boiling, which results in the assumption of an artistic form. On the other side, where the work meets perception, emotions do not have to be transformed – they can hang in the air as unspoken delight, horror, surprise, disgust, bewilderment. However, the conventions of the art world often suggest the frames of precise words and definitions to these emotions.
The emotional nature of the aesthetic is a phenomenon that determines both the creation of a work and its perception. In artistic creativity emotions are a kind of life-giving air of freedom in which material lives its way to form. Form plays the role of a natural and necessary border, the final stage of processing the world in uttering an artistic saying. Emotions and form are components of the formula of the aesthetic on the side of creation. Emotions and the frame are the unknown and known of the formula of the aesthetic on the side of perception. An unpredictable (or relatively predictable) emotion in the perceiving mind is brought in order by one or another frame from a verified list provided by the considerate context.
7. Prohibitions and permissions
Context provides the frames of perception, bringing in order in its arsenal individual knowledge and preferences of the perceiver, as well as the values and rules of cultures and societies. Context may shrink and expand depending on the conditions in which art exists. Context as such goes beyond the frames of the aesthetic or shrinks to become purely political and even ethical. These extreme limits of its manifestation suggest certain prohibitions and permissions, which can act as a kind of meta-boundaries for both the creation and perception of the work. The transfiguration of the aesthetic into the ethical may be the least productive scenario. Such things lead to the generation or cultivation of additional restrictive structures: moral structures operating in the aesthetic field. Hence the conflict: the rules of morality dictate the suppression of emotional manifestations, the aesthetic cannot exist without the emotional action and assistance.
Creativity is essentially an emotional process which exists, perhaps, only for art. Here process is extremely important, while results are achieved at any cost. In this process, a common sense triumphant in regulations is suppressed by the laws of practical spontaneity and is appeased in emotional exhaustion.