A critical essay

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Terrible jack
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A critical essay

Post by Terrible jack » January 9th, 2016, 2:20 pm

I had seen the grey and white pigeon with black bits, on a number of occasions. It seemed to have a habit of standing in the gutter at Gorbals Cross, even in the pouring rain. Why it seemed indifferent to the wet, when everyone else in Glasgow was running for shelter, I could only wonder at. Then I saw this notice Sellotaped to a tree in a park. It had an intriguing strangeness about it, so I called the telephone number, but it was unobtainable. There was a cold wind blowing when I returned to the park, but it brought with it a faint aroma of baking bread. I moved in close to the advertisement, to try and understand its logic, but suddenly a colder gust tore the scrap of paper from the tree, and as I watched, it soared away and fluttered in a huge grey Glasgow sky.


What was the significance of the advertisement? Glasgow must have a million pigeons, all of them grey and white with black bits, so why would anyone need to advertise for one that's 'lost', and then by the same token imply that they didn't want to find it anyway? I began to suspect that there never had been a pigeon, and that something quite different was lost. But how do you find what's lost, when you don't know what you're looking for?


There does seem to be a pigeon living, so to speak, in the visual language of the notice. It's an ideal, not a physical pigeon. A kind of word pigeon, which seems to be hinted at by the addition of the letter 'd' to the word pigeon, suggesting a creature hybridised from two words:


pigeon: a bird with a heavy body and short legs, sometimes trained to carry messages.
pidgin: language, not a mother tongue, made up of elements of two or more other languages.


Is what is sought a normal sized, mangy, grey white and black, nameless bird, with short legs and a heavy body? Is it sometimes trained to carry messages in a language made up of elements of two or more of the languages? This is not so confusing, because any text carries at least two themes. Some are read in the words, and the others can be read between the lines. By doing this, and accepting that there is only language, we can try to understand the difference between this ideal pigeon and a pigeon-shaped physical thing.


Supposing, for the sake of argument, that there are such things as pigeons, (and we can't tell from the advert that there are), we could make an inventory of things we think we know about pigeons. We could then say, that this is an inventory of assumptions that are implied by, and therefore used by the advert to kindle the ideal pigeon. They lie as it were, between the lines of the advert, but they affect the language it uses, and the way it looks.


Of all we think we know about physical pigeons, one important difference is that they live and die in a city of cliffs and ledges. They don't experience the city they **** on, and fly in, as the buildings of an urban social system. We experience their behaviour as a sequence of differences, and when we think we understand these differences, we make words for their different ways of behaving. Through language, pigeons are absorbed into the structure of the city; but they aren't aware of being absorbed into a world of words. They experience the city as pure spatial difference, and they don't need their language to indicate objects.


This is where the two languages of the advert seemed to conflict. Language for us is the means by which we try to organise the world, but between the lines, we see that language for a pigeon is not that at all. We could call this conflict 'poetry', and leave it at that; but that might divert us into art, and away from the city. If we are to find and read its lost message, we should really face head on, the dangers that the advert imposes on logic.


A pigeon's life is the defence of its pigeon-hood. Everything a pigeon does, is aimed towards its survival until that situation is impossible. Even its call. We hear a pigeon making a cooing sound that differentiates it from the other things in our frame of reference, and we say that one of the reasons that this thing is a pigeon is because it is cooing. But cooing is not metaphorical language, made up from various subtly different sounds that represent things like the eggs and nest. Although there are certain modulations of cooing, these are not differentiated from each other by their need to function in a language as a sign for something. Cooing is part of the sexual posturing of a pigeon, and because of this, cooing is the profound defence of its own pigeon-hood. As far as we can determine, a pigeon is absolutely its own most cooing thing - for itself and only for itself.


A pigeon is essentially an 'am cooing' thing, not a self-conscious 'I am cooing'. Cooing is pigeon; but that 'is', as an implication of presence, is only as far as we can say it with words, because pigeons aren't inside something called presence. And because pigeons have no need to represent themselves to themselves, they have not evolved a language that can elevate the self, that a pigeon could be conscious of, to the status of the genetically infinite.


Our consciousness of time as a linear unfolding of 'nows', centred on the present, supports a common language structure that is also linear. We talk in time, and we hear ourselves speaking at this present moment. Our language is made of words that are repeatable ideal values, derived from ideas and from things like pigeons. We hold these things ready for use, and at any time, we can represent them, so to speak, almost as if they are physically here. But to be able to communicate in this way, we need to suppress in a quite unethical way, that physicality of things, the unity of which is the very idea of pure spatiality, that profound exterior difference between any one present moment and the next, that would compromise and confuse the linear logic of language. We must suppress the physicality of things, or we wouldn't be able to speak, for living in the pure breadth of unlimited relativity. But the physical nature of pigeon **** is never experienced through discourse. The sanctity of our consciousness of pigeons is seldom contaminated by the abject orifice.


This necessary degree of colloquial insulation from the physical is reflected in our practical behaviour. We have a manual dexterity that enables us to arrange materials, and experience them as such. This is because our internal time consciousness predisposes these skills and materials to being for the sake of some future arrangement, and for some progress towards a better situation. We call this technical expertise, technē, which was for the Greeks, crucially, a practical experience gained from encountering the differences of the physical world, which they were part of.


This view from within the physical world was manifest in their art and architecture, and the Greek body and mind was no doubt fused to the planet. But this plural and diverse way of thinking was already being suppressed through the linearity of a language that had to be made to account for the capitalism and control of material wealth. Derrida's reference to Leroi-Gourhan's text, describes this:


"The development of the first cities corresponds not only to the appearance of the technician of fire, but... writing is born at the same time as metallurgy. Here again, this is not a coincidence... it is at the moment when agrarian capitalism began to establish itself, that the means of stabilising it in written balance accounts appears, and it is also at the moment when social hierarchization is affirmed that writing constructs its first genealogists... the appearance of writing is not fortuitous; after millennia of maturation in the systems of mythographic representation, there emerges, along with metal and slavery, the linear notation of thought. Its content is not fortuitous."


Through the centuries, this linear notation assumed an ascendancy that changed the way European people thought, and the type of questions they asked. Technical specialism and linear notation gradually came to repress what Leroi-Gourhan calls the "Mythogram" - a writing that spells its symbols pluri-dimensionally. Gradually, people asked less the question, why is this the way it is, and more they began to ask, what is it in its own structure? This change of purpose may be evidence that a 'culture' had begun to see itself as self-sufficient; but it was also the opening of technology, that paved the way for an unlimited globalized commodification.
Today, the technical operations of our production lines dovetail smoothly and imperceptibly with linear language. These two modes of structural or systemic defence become synonymous in the word technology, which is the practical management of something called nature, within the voice of consciousness. This ideal world enables us to avoid grappling with pure awkward difference.


Pigeons are not technological. A nest isn't built from twiggy and feathery materials. As a pigeon grapples with the pure awkwardness of physical things, it's not aware of them as materials for progress. What we call materials for nestbuilding, are for a pigeon that exterior part of its own physicality, that must be arranged as a defence of its pigeon-hood. A pigeon is that properly constructed nest, the truth of which is only verifiable in terms of eggs and chicks. Pigeons are their own profound physical relationship with the planet, they are that very spatial exteriority of difference between them and the things they deal with, that one day just stops.


By calling on lost feral pigeon, the notice implies something of this. What is so disconcerting, or indeed dangerous about it, is that it plugs straight into that unnameable spacing, that was already there between one present moment and the next, before the very idea of representation. In other words the advertisement cannot be a representation derived from anything; the advertisement is a purely physical, and visual thing. You might say that its words were never voiced, or that its speech, which would always have been the easiest and most powerful way to represent and dominate things in the breath of its spirit, is immediately silenced by a pigeon that could never be present. Or even lost.


By implying that neither nests nor twigs exist as such - by making us think the one as a trace of the other - the advert is quietly and persistently subverting all urban technologies. By drawing on that very unremarkable ubiquitous thing, which is the absolute opposite to what is required for any marketable item, the notice introduces a lethal virus into the world of advertising. By calling with words, to a pigeon that could never be lost, the notice does violence to the logical structure of language. In fact, by the invocation of something that could never be present, the advert erases its own words as representations. Pigeons do not exist. This advertisement is essentially and profoundly untrue. The answer to the question 'what is lost?' is indeed 'what is lost?', or at least that voracious mode of questioning, and with it goes the assumption that texts relate to objects. Because it has used the ideal pigeon, as pidgeon, to silence its own voice, it hangs there abjectly, but quietly optimistic.


To write these things is to think towards deconstruction, and to be suspicious of the power assumptions inherent in a language of representation. The central currency of this language is the image. Which is why so much of traditional art practice has, in recent years, been called into question, by artists whose thoughts tend towards deconstruction. This may have something to do with what Joseph Kosuth was thinking about when he said in 1969:


"Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art. If an artist accepts painting (or sculpture) he is accepting the tradition that goes with it. That's because the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting as a kind of art. If you make paintings, you are already excepting (not questioning) the nature of art. One is then accepting the nature of art to be the European tradition of a painting - sculpture dichotomy".


Well maybe. It all depends on the context and the intention of the image. David Shrigley's advertisement for a lost pidgeon, as an advertisement in a world of advertising, is a static image that successfully interrogates itself to death, and by doing this, performs deconstructive surgery on its greater technological structure.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by Belinda » January 9th, 2016, 8:03 pm

Terrible Jack wrote:
There does seem to be a pigeon living, so to speak, in the visual language of the notice. It's an ideal, not a physical pigeon. A kind of word pigeon, which seems to be hinted at by the addition of the letter 'd' to the word pigeon, suggesting a creature hybridised from two words:
The content of the notice makes the notice a symbol, symbolic of a pidgeon. The material thing which is the notice is a sign that someone has stuck the notice up with sellotape. The presumed intention of the poster of the notice makes the notice a signal.

Fine art too can be variously described like this. I don't think I much appreciate abstract fine art but inasmuch as I do understand it, it lacks the quality of symbol. Symbols are meaningless if they don't have any context made of all the other symbols in a linguistic community.

However the pidgeon notice is not interesting because it's got symbolic reference to the culturally accepted collection of attributes that is pigeons or a pidgeon. The notice, and by extension, the art work, interests us because of the intermingling of sign and signal that indicates the presence of another person like oneself who observes conventions of communication media such as notices stuck on trees. The human world is very social.

A linguistic community is like fine art which can omit symbols but cannot ever lack the social functions of sign and signal. If we find Paley's watch on the lonely shore we infer that it's a sign of another human being, and we might also infer that someone intended to leave the watch there as a sign.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 15th, 2016, 11:16 pm

terrible Jack:
By calling on lost feral pigeon, the notice implies something of this. What is so disconcerting, or indeed dangerous about it, is that it plugs straight into that unnameable spacing, that was already there between one present moment and the next, before the very idea of representation. In other words the advertisement cannot be a representation derived from anything; the advertisement is a purely physical, and visual thing. You might say that its words were never voiced, or that its speech, which would always have been the easiest and most powerful way to represent and dominate things in the breath of its spirit, is immediately silenced by a pigeon that could never be present. Or even lost.
I'll be the devil's advocate: There is no unnameable spacing, nor was "it" already anywhere. No present moments, no physicality. I mean, if the point is that the world is not language, (and this makes for entertaining logical constructions that play on the idea of what "is") then you are not referencing anything but language with language. 'Unnameable' is itself a name.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by 3uGH7D4MLj » January 16th, 2016, 11:45 am

Terrible jack wrote:What was the significance of the advertisement? Glasgow must have a million pigeons, all of them grey and white with black bits, so why would anyone need to advertise for one that's 'lost', and then by the same token imply that they didn't want to find it anyway? I began to suspect that there never had been a pigeon, and that something quite different was lost. But how do you find what's lost, when you don't know what you're looking for?

There does seem to be a pigeon living, so to speak, in the visual language of the notice. It's an ideal, not a physical pigeon. A kind of word pigeon, which seems to be hinted at by the addition of the letter 'd' to the word pigeon, suggesting a creature hybridised from two words:

pigeon: a bird with a heavy body and short legs, sometimes trained to carry messages.
pidgin: language, not a mother tongue, made up of elements of two or more other languages.
Thanks for calling my attention to David Shringley. He is an inspiration.

The pigeon piece is heartbreaking, life-affirming, funny, cranked, poignant, absurd -- but there are no fitting words. I would say this art is of the Fluxus ilk. He fixes it ineptly to a tree! I love it hearing about it in this round about way, it would be mind blowing to come upon it for real.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 16th, 2016, 1:11 pm

I would need help understanding David Shringley.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by Terrible jack » January 16th, 2016, 4:28 pm

How do you mean?

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Re: A critical essay

Post by 3uGH7D4MLj » January 16th, 2016, 6:59 pm

Hereandnow wrote:I would need help understanding David Shringley.
I'm getting unalloyed delight from the fresh faced unexpectedness of it. But to each his own.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 16th, 2016, 9:14 pm

If you think he has merit as an artist, then put it on the table. Since this is a philosophy club, the proof rests with the thesis, not the taste, the viscera, even the aesthetic. Philosophy uses words.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by Belinda » January 17th, 2016, 8:51 am

While early childhood is closer to pure physicality than adulthood, I guess that orgasm, labour pains and the moment before death are the only experiences of pure physicality we get.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 17th, 2016, 6:59 pm

Actually, I just found this essay and the Shringley work in question. It's here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stan_bonn ... 5214843621

Written by Stan Bonnar. I see, and I wish someone had brought this forward. Shringley is simple, quirky. But he just has a child's eye view. Not interesting to listen to. But Bonnar: He's extraordinary.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by 3uGH7D4MLj » January 18th, 2016, 12:15 am

Hereandnow wrote:If you think he has merit as an artist, then put it on the table. Since this is a philosophy club, the proof rests with the thesis, not the taste, the viscera, even the aesthetic. Philosophy uses words.
You want me to prove the merits of an artist in language. I really don't have much to say about it except that I have really enjoyed and appreciated what I've seen. Like I said, each to his/her own.

John Dewey says in "Art as Experience" that if art could be contained in language then we wouldn't need art (words to that effect). Experience of art far surpasses language so I can escape your demand by saying that words cannot express, don't need to express my appreciation of Shringley or any other artist.

-- Updated January 17th, 2016, 11:30 pm to add the following --
Belinda wrote:While early childhood is closer to pure physicality than adulthood, I guess that orgasm, labour pains and the moment before death are the only experiences of pure physicality we get.
Pure physicality? You mean an experience that is so blinding and intense that it blots out analysis or interpretation? You are bringing this up because...

Any physicality we perceive no matter how subtle, figures importantly in the appreciation of art. We should nurture it.

-- Updated January 17th, 2016, 11:37 pm to add the following --
Terrible jack wrote:Of all we think we know about physical pigeons, one important difference is that they live and die in a city of cliffs and ledges. They don't experience the city they **** on, and fly in, as the buildings of an urban social system. We experience their behaviour as a sequence of differences, and when we think we understand these differences, we make words for their different ways of behaving. Through language, pigeons are absorbed into the structure of the city; but they aren't aware of being absorbed into a world of words. They experience the city as pure spatial difference, and they don't need their language to indicate objects.
This reminds me of the "Cetology" section of Moby Dick.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Belinda » January 18th, 2016, 6:34 am

3uGH7D4MLj wrote:
Pure physicality? You mean an experience that is so blinding and intense that it blots out analysis or interpretation? You are bringing this up because...
Because the sign stuck to the tree was what reified the pidgeon, and language is what reifies "pure physicality" which as the essayist says, exists for pigeons. Attempts at explicit language distance us from "pure physicality" . I say "explicit language" by which I mean language like I'm using here . Everyday / poetic language are more like arts.
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 18th, 2016, 10:03 am

3uGH7D4MLj
You want me to prove the merits of an artist in language. I really don't have much to say about it except that I have really enjoyed and appreciated what I've seen. Like I said, each to his/her own.

John Dewey says in "Art as Experience" that if art could be contained in language then we wouldn't need art (words to that effect). Experience of art far surpasses language so I can escape your demand by saying that words cannot express, don't need to express my appreciation of Shringley or any other artist.
I'd like to let you off the hook 3uGH7D4MLj, but I can't. It's a pet peeve of mine. Very briefly, if art has merit at all, it must possess meaning. Even if you are going the way of DADA, it is the art establishment playing against the absurdities that make DADA what it is. Therein lies it's meaning. If Clive Bell was right, and the aesthetic is derived from significant form (I think he is) then guys like David Shringley need to create significant form. It has to be significant; the value issues from this. He doesn't make the significance of "Lost". Granted, he does have the curious sense of the matter. He is strangely askew in his perspective. But then, so am I. So what?

What makes "Lost" great is NOT David Shingley, it's stan bonnar (lower case his own), who wrote the essay Shringley is just this quirky guy. bonnar brings conceptual form and an interplay of ideas that spans the gap between essay and art. A terrific work.

Dewey was a philosopher who believed that aesthetic experiences were consummatory in nature, the end of a problem solved wholly, completely. No, he doesn't tell what that feeling is, but he grounds it in experience we all have and goes to great lengths to explain how an aesthetic event come to be. He was a pragmatist, as I am.

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Re: A critical essay

Post by 3uGH7D4MLj » January 18th, 2016, 1:44 pm

Hereandnow wrote:I'd like to let you off the hook 3uGH7D4MLj, but I can't. It's a pet peeve of mine. Very briefly, if art has merit at all, it must possess meaning.
ok, I'm only doing this because I think you're a pretty cool thinker. It's a little embarrassing, how much meaning do you need?

A smattering of possible meaning: There's the puzzle at encounter whether this is an artwork or not. It is taped to a tree, which argues for it not being art, but what else can it be? Is it so tossed-off? perishable? to be taped to a tree? There's the narrative of the artist (or not) posting so monumentally and ephemerally at the same moment, the imbecile or genius who taped this poster to a tree for me to perhaps chance upon. There's the narrative of the fictional (or not) person who actually lost her pigeon friend, her special pigeon. There is the issue of caring for an individual member of a despised species. It goes beyond caring, the person and the pigeon have a relationship, how is it that a pigeon can be had, in order to be lost? There is the issue of calling attention to the individual against the prospect of the vast and indistinguishable flock of millions. The metaphors are legion, both obvious and subtle, forgive me if I don't list them. And there is the freshfaced unexpectedness of the piece, it has that going for it. What's not to love?

Teaching art appreciation is a bit like teaching sex ed. It's disappointing when you have to actually do it for them.

Art benefits from a thoughtful encounter. The question "what does it mean" (the first question) (often this question is where art gets its power) is a question that is to be enjoyed rather than answered. What does a Van Gogh painting mean? The enjoyment of art is to let it place you at the crossroads, able to look in all directions, with many ways of looking. You entertain ambiguity, it entertains you. (wow)

In some cases the best art is the most chimerical and the strongest reading is the one which allows the most ambiguity -- you could say open-mindedness.

-- Updated January 18th, 2016, 12:49 pm to add the following --
Hereandnow wrote:Dewey was a philosopher who believed that aesthetic experiences were consummatory in nature, the end of a problem solved wholly, completely. No, he doesn't tell what that feeling is, but he grounds it in experience we all have and goes to great lengths to explain how an aesthetic event come to be. He was a pragmatist, as I am.
So, what? Dewey agrees with both of us? Can you talk more about this?
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Re: A critical essay

Post by Hereandnow » January 18th, 2016, 6:06 pm

3uGH7D4MLj:
A smattering of possible meaning: There's the puzzle at encounter whether this is an artwork or not. It is taped to a tree, which argues for it not being art, but what else can it be? Is it so tossed-off? perishable? to be taped to a tree? There's the narrative of the artist (or not) posting so monumentally and ephemerally at the same moment, the imbecile or genius who taped this poster to a tree for me to perhaps chance upon. There's the narrative of the fictional (or not) person who actually lost her pigeon friend, her special pigeon. There is the issue of caring for an individual member of a despised species. It goes beyond caring, the person and the pigeon have a relationship, how is it that a pigeon can be had, in order to be lost? There is the issue of calling attention to the individual against the prospect of the vast and indistinguishable flock of millions. The metaphors are legion, both obvious and subtle, forgive me if I don't list them. And there is the freshfaced unexpectedness of the piece, it has that going for it. What's not to love?

Teaching art appreciation is a bit like teaching sex ed. It's disappointing when you have to actually do it for them.

Art benefits from a thoughtful encounter. The question "what does it mean" (the first question) (often this question is where art gets its power) is a question that is to be enjoyed rather than answered. What does a Van Gogh painting mean? The enjoyment of art is to let it place you at the crossroads, able to look in all directions, with many ways of looking. You entertain ambiguity, it entertains you. (wow)

In some cases the best art is the most chimerical and the strongest reading is the one which allows the most ambiguity -- you could say open-mindedness.

-- Updated January 18th, 2016, 12:49 pm to add the following --

Hereandnow wrote:
Dewey was a philosopher who believed that aesthetic experiences were consummatory in nature, the end of a problem solved wholly, completely. No, he doesn't tell what that feeling is, but he grounds it in experience we all have and goes to great lengths to explain how an aesthetic event come to be. He was a pragmatist, as I am.

So, what? Dewey agrees with both of us? Can you talk more about this?
Your observations carry the day. Shrigley provides the vehicle, you do the work. My criticism of Shrigley is really a general criticism of modern art: The work itself serves a catalyst only and the real art work lies with the interpretation. That is what conceptual art is: a concept, and the idea of the thing takes center stage. Further, Shrigley, and I've taken the time observe, just isn't that clever, that is, his work does not bare the mark of "significance". I would say that stan bonnar's essay IS the art work while Shrigley's "Lost" is little more than an incidental occasion for significant commentary. I've seen more clever thinking in a sit com, in Bill Waterson's Calvin and Hobbes; more irony than in any of a number of trite and popular media productions.

Art appreciation is a tough business. One has to be savvy and in control of language and its nuances. Frankly, modern conceptual art (and I don't know if Shrigley is this. I do know that without someone to talk about it and the implicit possibilities, it's pretty insignificant) is largely a king's new clothes business. We could argue the point if you like. As to Dewey, i don't think he explains art very well, But a like pragmtism. I think art is a gestalt, an act of the mind that puts focus on aesthetic perspectives. You come across a piece of driftwood, admire it for its form, texture, color, take it home and put it on the mantle. It's art.

Dewey thinks it is the way one feels after taking up the world in some way, solving the problem of the encounter (presuming you have to take up a physical medium to do so; like making a chair because you want to sit down) having that "job well done" experience. He thinks this is intrinsically aesthetic. Artists take up a physical medium specifically for the purpose of realizing an aesthetic experience. A kind of form for form's sake to produce something beautiful.

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