This work, even in how it was executed, was an experiment; the rationale behind it, was solid, but the medium, was completely new to me. Briefly, for lack of an expanded explanation, it is subtitled: ‘The ladder on which we stand, a reminder of the ever-indecisiveness to be faced; the identification of the personal within the philosophical; the need for simplicity and honesty; and the throwing away of that ladder, a self-declaration.’
Below I present the contained film, shot by then house-mate and film-maker Mateusz Żebrowski; and after that, some associated literature. The essay mentioned- I am as of now unsure of its value; and have thus not included it.
Evolution of the Experiment
- Was allotted three words: philosophy, painting, audio, to use for an artwork as part of my current course of study.
- First idea- Incorporating in some way another ongoing experiment where I was trying to live with different people each week in London in exchange for work. Abandoned due to having to pause this earlier experiment.
- Second idea- Differentiating between Newton’s and Goethe’s colour theories, using in some way the basing of Newton’s colour wheel on the seven notes of a scale and the concept on an octave in music. Unclear in intentions. Abandoned because of a loss in interest and an anticipation of not having enough time to study the two theories carefully enough.
- Third idea- Illustrating Leonard Bernstein’s ideas as described in his lectures ‘The Unanswered Question’ about the links between music and linguistics. Had no clear components of audio or painting as such, given that I did not want to distort the sense in which the word ‘painting’ was allotted to me. Inspired ideas about music being a constant stream of metaphor and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s remarks on culture and value. Abandoned because of a lack of time, and the project being too theoretical.
- Fourth idea- Focusing on Wittgenstein’s remark: ‘If anyone should think he has solved the problem of life and feels like telling himself that everything is quite easy now, he can see that he is wrong just by recalling that there was a time when this “solution” had not been discovered; but it must have been possible to live then too and the solution which has now been discovered seems fortuitous in relation to how things were then. If there were a “solution” to the problems of philosophy we should only need to caution ourselves that there was a time when they had not been solved (and even at that time people must have known how to live and think).’ Compiling list of events in history, strictly academic and artistic, particularly personally significant. Abandoned in original un-thought-out form, because it was too mechanical and devoid of affection.
- Fifth idea- Taking forward the fourth idea with the addition of an earlier print of mine titled ‘Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink’ into it in some way, intended to convey a sense of chaos and inability in dealing with the multiple viewpoints presented by historical events to choose from. Completing the list of personally significant historical events- finalised at 160 in number. Confusion between various layouts possible- either a long chain leading to the print, or a large border bordering the print. Completing actual production of list in tangible form- on 160 5X5 cm khadi paper squares. Abandoned because of nervous exhaustion and sudden renewed understanding of personal situation.
- Final idea- Deciding to burn the 160 squares- the ladder on which I was climbing, kick it away- in the park near my home, perhaps video-recording it early in the morning. Presenting surrounding thoughts by way of essays and posters. Self-clarifying intentions with the course, and with the stay in London. Presenting also, the first part, the first chapter on history and the preface, of the book I had been working on since some weeks. Re-orienting myself. The viewer is supposed to take back from the piece, what one takes back from reading an honest memoir.
Conclusion of the Experiment
Here, I try to, as best as I can, explain, myself as regards this work, how the experiment was concluded, and my thoughts leading up to the conclusion.
I would not be able to explain myself exactly of course, because as far as I could have, using words, I did, through an essay, which is in the process of being revised. If the explanation was to be done by way of words primarily, the work would have been a paper, not a work of art. And for the work to be a work of art, explanation, I think, should be kept to a minimum. It is the infecting of the viewer with the artist’s feelings, I believe, that is the mark of good art. If the work does that, it can be called a work of art; if it does not, no explanation will be worthwhile. I request you so, to read through the writing if something akin to an explanation is required, especially the end of the above-mentioned essay titled ‘History’, although it is not exactly that. Writing this, I must confess my inexperience in such things.
Leading to the night I would finally complete the experiment, several interpretations of it, acts, similar to what I was wanting to do, struck me. My aims had resemblance to parts of each one of them. The first, belonging to experiences in childhood, was the ritual of the havan, wherein offerings are made into a consecrated fire, the ritual symbolizing a rite of passage, and being potent, regardless of its apparent non-essentialness, in its getting etched on the subconscious of the performer. The second was an admired guitarist, Jimi Hendrix’ burning, ‘sacrificing’, of his guitar after an extraordinary show. There is an element of wildness, of breaking loose that cannot be denied. The third was the main theme of Goethe’s Faust, and the idea of the Romantic journey. The fourth was Gandhi’s public burning of the obligatory ID cards issued to Indians in South Africa. The fifth was a product of a conversation with a friend, of how people hoard, and how this hoarding leads to their unhappiness, and how one ought to always seek to give rather than collect. The sixth was the setting of the Bhagwata Gita, of Arjuna wrapped in moral conflict, and Krishna’s call to him for selfless action. The seventh was the burning of Raavana’s effigy on the festival of Dusshera.
To conclude the experiment, I carried out what had occurred to me during a turmoil filled walk through the park near my home one rainy afternoon. I had been thinking about what exactly I’d been doing those days, about my sense of lack of time, about the sudden un-structuredness in my life, and about this project. I had recently been deeply affected by some of Tagore’s early poetry, in particular the 41st of his The Gardener. At the end of the trail, opposite a bench, was a tree yellowing, between two, taller, green trees. I was listening to the 4th movement of Mozart’s 41st symphony then. I’d decided to rest. It was there that the thought struck. With a housemate of mine, who had experience in filming, I set out for the park, for that very spot in the park, the night before Nov. 9th. I had with me, the 160 square sheets with the descriptions, some with only names, of the works of art and science that had had significant influence on me. Fearful about being caught by the cameras in the park and stared at by passers-by, I nevertheless proceeded to set fire to the sheets. It was too windy however. After about half an hour more of trials, we returned, to try again, next to our house. I stood there watching the sheets burn, my mind wrestling between giving names to what I had done, computing consequences, and letting emotion take over, letting feelings of breaking free overwhelm me, recalling in metaphor what had led me to such a concluding. In an ambiguous but victorious state, I was reminded of my favourite lines from Whitman’s Song of The Open Road.