letter from china possible 2

Gloss and acrylic paint on galvanometer, 16 x 12 cm

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A therapeutic conversation


So you’ve been doing it a lot recently.

 
I suppose so, yes – more than I’ve done before, in the past. Do you think that’s a problem?

 
Do you think it is?

 
Too much of a good thing? Though I’m not sure I think it is a good thing.

 
Well, that sounds problematic perhaps then?

 
It’s not a bad thing though – it’s harmless really.

 
And yet I get the sense from you that you don’t entirely convince yourself when you say that – that it’s harmless.

 
It’s near the harmless end of the harmful-harmless continuum. I’m not obsessive about it. It’s not like I do it all the time. It’s about limits, cofining … er … confining.

 
Confining?

 
It is a limited – or limiting – activity, isn’t it; that’s one of the rules isn’t it, staying inside … inside the boundaries, not crossing the line. Perhaps that’s why I feel ambivalent about doing it – that in doing it I’m conforming, following patterns that have been … er … laid down, or given, and I’m simply meant to go along with them.

 
And you don’t like that? You don’t feel it’s right to do what you’re meant to do?

 
It depends – of course – on what you’re doing, and on context … it’s just that it feels … it’s a symptomatic activity I think, or synecdochic perhaps. A sign of the times either way … it’s very popular these days, from what I read.

 
Symptomatic of what?

 
Well … I suppose … and maybe this is too obvious … all this pressure is applied from above isn’t it, and you’re forced to work harder, or work is more precarious … in this condition or regime of Austerity, and building up debts … and it feels like what I’m doing is something that a lot of other people are doing – and they’re doing it because of something about the way things are – as a relief from stress it seems – and I’m not sure it’s an adequate or valid response to that state of things … that is, that it seems to be an … er … an accommodational activity, a private coping mechanism, a being occupied … keeping occupied.

 
You’d prefer more Occupy and less being occupied. When did you start to do it – more I mean?

 
Well, I quit my job of course, as you know –

 
And so you had more time on your hands –

 
It’s not about filling the time – I’ve always got loads of things to do –

 
Of a similar nature – from what you tell me?

 
True. And then my dad died.

 
And do you think that had something to do with it?

 
It could be – it’s bound to have an effect isn’t it. Perhaps such an event leads into wanting something comforting – something child-like – a regression of sorts.

 
Is that how you see it – a comforting regression?

 
I think it is, yes. I said before that I felt it was limiting, and it might be that self-limiting can be a response to trauma – a withdrawal into something private and defined, something that’s given and that only needs to be completed … and can be repeated – as with a habit – and it serves to concentrate … perhaps exclusionary is a better idea than limiting … though it’s both … exclusionary and limiting … keeping something out, but at the cost of keeping yourself in.

 
Exclusionary … and the idea of withdrawal, they both sound like they’re rather negative – or you see it that way – when someone else might think of something like protection or security?

 
You can be over-protected I believe? No, I think it’s to do with context – is something that’s essentially private, that generally doesn’t take place – or function – in a social context, because its function is personal – or at least its function is social only in a kind of secondary sense, of having wider ramifications that are to do with … er … forestalling something …

 
I think I’m following you – you’re saying that it’s the privateness of it that you object to? And that that constitutes some sort of retreat?

 
Yes – perhaps a retreat from forms of social engagement, or of dealing socially with the consequences of social structures – strictures – though I wouldn’t want to condemn anyone for doing that.

 
Of course.

 
But I think there’s something abject about doing something that just fills the time … space-filling as time-filling … but, I suppose, if it’s a way of sort of legitimizing a retreat – in the absence of any other reason – and that that constitutes something that is somehow helpful for someone … then I suppose, in that case, that’s not so bad … but it seems like a way of dealing with things as they are, in the manner of being stoical, and accepting things, and being a good boy or girl and containing whatever difficulties you have with the way things are.

 
Ok. Anyway, I see you’ve brought something along to show me?

 
Yeah … well … I thought you might want to see what I’ve been doing … an example …

 

 
I’m not trying to justify myself … or wanting you to justify it either.

 

 

 
A pile of …

 
Bricks, yes … you know, you can build things with them, or chuck them.

 
I don’t think I’d have it on my wall.

 
I know it’s not traditional in terms of the imagery, for this form – at least it’s not fantasy –

 
Yes , where are the three little pigs?

 
– or some quasi-organic pattern, some puzzle-labyrinth to be involved or lost in for a while.

 
Did you find this involving?

 
More wearing than involving.

 
It’s more the idea of it than the doing then?

 
Yes, though there was some satisfaction in the methodical build-up, in plodding on and getting it over with.

 
So you endured the consequences of your idea. You’ve got some perseverance then at least, seeing it through to completion … You’re father wasn’t a brick-layer was he.

 
No. I don’t think bricks – as such – are to do with him … at least, not directly … but I don’t think I had him in mind … though I remember reading somewhere … I think it was in Walter Benjamin somewhere … him comparing a child’s bricks to a coffin … I dunno.

 
Not directly you said.

 
No, I can see that there’s something about bricks maybe – as in, he’s a brick … and he was quite practical. No, the idea of the solidity of it, something definite, firm, reliable … some kind of image of the father as embodying those qualities …

 
Solid? Or stolid? Unresponsive … as a pile of bricks?

 
He was quite quiet, but it wasn’t like talking to a brick wall … yeah and, I mean, I know that in reality that those – perhaps – ideal qualities aren’t always the case – or not necessarily. No, he wasn’t consciously in mind when I did it – decided to do this … I think it was more to do with the things I mentioned before, about my ambivalence … I mean, doing something that I’m not sure is valid … or not worthwhile … and wanting to subvert it, to do it and subvert it at the same time. Anyway, I don’t think these bricks are that solid – or heavy – because the coloured pencil … er… etherealizes them somewhat.

 
Something that doesn’t have an authoritative validation … why would you do something only to negate it?

 
It’s not authoritative is it, in the sense of being important – an important form – ‘Art’ – but I’m putting it in a context where it might be seen that way – or at least where you expect Art … and I’m wanting to retain its triviality … or refer to it … and what I said before about the symptomatic regressiveness of it … the sense that in lieu of doing anything significant about the way things are … because we have no power … that you just do this … this … mindlessness … mindfulness … so in one direction, all that … but in the opposite direction, bringing all that into an art context … ok it’s not bodily fluids or whatever, so it’s maybe only tangentially ‘abject’ … maybe a nice polite finger of bricks up to Art.

 
So there’s some weight of aggression in there.

 
Yeah, and at the same time it’s light. I suppose in a different medium it’d be called sarcasm. I read some studies – sociolinguistic ones – of sarcasm a while back … I was thinking of doing some work on it … and groups were asked to rank whether sarcasm was better or worse than direct criticism … sarcasm was taken to be a form of indirect criticism … anyway, most thought sarcasm was worse … the speaker seemed superior, or snide. And I was reading … this is different probably … an article in Art Monthly, about a current theme of ‘the therapeutic’ in contemporary art, and … I seem to recall … it was saying something like such art … dealing with the therapeutic … could either be supportive of the status quo, which I took to mean helping people feel happier about their miserable lives … or it came across as alienated … performed alienation, I think, was what it said.

 
Do you think that you are doing – or can do – something that is neither of those things?

 
I can’t say that doing this … the bricks … made me any happier.

 
Perhaps you should try to do things that make you happy? Would you be happy if someone saw this and appreciated its sardonic quality?

 
I’d be happy if they saw it … and fucking bought it.

 
Do you think that’s very likely?

 
Well it’s not likely to be you is it … it’s more likely that my alienation will mean I’ll carry on paying you.

 
You don’t have to carry on do you? Either with me … or your … er … habit … if it doesn’t do much for you. I can’t tell you what to do … I’m not a teacher …

 
Er … well … yes and no … and lucky you … and more’s the pity … you’ll be ok though whatever won’t you, you and all the other middle-class cunts who occupy … Occupy … privileged positions in this great nation of ours … all the fucking Oxbridge tossers who wind up … somehow … working for the fucking BBC or the fucking Arts Council or whatever …

 
Ok … I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for today. I’ll see you next week at 5.