Email from Niel Chapman
Fri,16 Mar 2001

Hi Sarah and Sophie.

A couple of thoughts about your email. The framing of the discussion in terms of 'active' and 'static' strikes me as a problem. First of all it doesn't seem entirely clear what these terms mean. Ella uses equivalents as well and the issue seems to be productivity. In relation to the wall chart of events which she showed towards the end of Programme, the problem being addressed here seems to be the way in which documentation fails to operate in the productive way in which the work itself does. So 'active' equals 'productive', while 'static' corresponds to an idea of conservation which is inevitable in the activity of documenting, and which is also seen here as non-productive.

The concept of 'Collective art practice' is being equated with the productive end of this scale, in opposition to other ways of working with exhibition space. I'm not sure to what extent this is intentional. It certainly seems to be the rhetorical effect of much of the discussion which has surrounded Programme. But dialogue is not necessarily active in this sense. It can be, and often is, conservative in the same way that writing can be. But then, is it right to assume that defining - tying things down -conserving, tends to be non-productive? I think on the contrary, production stops in certain instances, when we are unable to tie things down. There is a danger here that in prioritizing an image of movement over the 'static', we make invisible the many ways in which we are all constantly making points of orientation for ourselves. The point makes a trajectory for a line of movement etc. - the line doesn't happen without the point.

In her naming of the project 'Programme', there is a sense in which Ella's work was complete at that moment. She may not have been entirely sure about the details of the work over the seven weeks, but its realization was, in a sense, the filling in of slots which were conceived before hand. It is not accidental that the period should have been visualized as a grid/diary; this is how Ella saw the period of her work too. The idea of 'completion', like that which is static, is figured as the enemy. Maybe, broadly speaking, production in art is hampered by our tendency to define, tie things down, complete, etc. But my point is that to eradicate these concepts from our practice, will also put a halt to production. Manuel De Landa, in his discussion of the development of urban structures in Europe over the last thousand years is good on this point. Cities are both administrative hierarchies (institutions) and meshworks.

The idea of 'things' or 'objects' as art is also tending to be discredited in Programme. Ella has spoken a lot about her problem with 'finished art objects'. And I think it's being seen as largely the same problem which is expressed in relation to the activity of documenting. A 'thing' is being judged rather to broadly as always a poor document of an event or process.

With the notion of 'collective practice' which is developing, I think we are in danger of denying the presence of these two - the concept of 'completion' and the presence of 'objects' in our process of making art, and of missing the necessity of their presence.

It's interesting that you describe the 'active becoming static' as a paradox. If a particular work or state of affairs could be described as simultaneously active and static, that would be paradoxical. It would also be marvellous. I'd like to think that art could achieve this. Does a paradox not make something different of binary world of cause and effect which we all tend to create for ourselves?

In picturing 'collective practice' as a reversal of the traditional state of affairs in galleries - the solitary activity taking place after the public exhibition - we are, in effect, saying that it is the same. I think the focus should be on the particular way in which the active and unresolved in collective art practice becomes a moment of completion. I think we should be questioning the productive effect of the 'things' which do inevitably appear within collective, dialogical practice, despite the denial of their validity. Maybe this will happen when the Programme timetable is shown again.

I think it's important to recognise completion - the static - what ever you want to call it - which occurs as productive. Maybe it's hard to spot. Maybe it doesn't appear where we expected. I keep coming back to the image of three Evian Bottles sitting on top of the filing cabinet towards the end of Programme. This was someone's work, which seems to have appeared quite spontaneously at some point towards the end of Programme. Why were we not talking about these things at the discussion, and focusing instead on the wall-timetable which, although signifying the possibility of surprising and spontaneous moments within the programme, doesn't actually reveal these?

Neil Chapman, 2001


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