The Spear Verses the Net by

by June 8, 2018
Conard Martens, Forest scene at Chiloé, from the second voyage of HMS Beagle
Conard Martens, Forest scene at Chiloé, from the second voyage of HMS Beagle. Courtesy of Cambridge Digital Library

In the aftermath of organizing an unrealized exhibition at artist-run institution Odium Fati in San Francisco, K.R.M. Mooney offers a set of relations between figures. These six installments, contributed to Flash Art’s “In Residence” column, are a means for the artist to pursue the significance of each context-specific practice and the potential actions, kinships, and alignments between these figures.

An exhibition is an ideological field in which we are charged with a mandate to think compositionally. The speculative exhibition at Odium Fati asks: What is the role of form as a context-specific practice both inherited and produced? What is the potential of revision as a strategy and a mode of engagement with one’s material conditions and physical world? The slight internal dynamics among practices, forms, and components generate a specific capacity to act as a carrier of the political. To reorient one’s recognition of the varied and uncounted participants that facilitate our innumerous encounters in daily life, while in public space, with objects and with one another. For example, in common architectural discourse attention is seldom paid to the embodied, affective, and relational aspects of site and space. To receive an exhibition of artworks is to recognize the implication of a body tracing a building: its structural citations brought forth by its history of past and future use, made solid in a specific physical arrangement. We recount the role of space as a container, its value as a collaborator, a participant in structural injustice but also in practices of living and of responsiveness.  

An exhibition will often traverse a number of formal and informal networks, including peers or friends, fiduciaries and foundations; the context of a group exhibition plays a particular role. Contingent on situation and context, it provides a space of mutual interruptibility amid works, resisting a singular voice. It asks: What is it to join with another? The physical limits of objects become heightened, distributed throughout space while trying to maintain a set of slight negative spaces — though this space is always full. In the most general sense, organizing a group exhibition is a means to gather and share. The figure of the container leads me to Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1986 revisionist text “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” from which the exhibition at Odium Fati takes its name. The essay describes the importance of two dominant stories in the context of new pedagogies. Le Guin posits a new theory, a counter-narrative, in which the first cultural device used by humans was a container or a carrier bag for food, rather than a weapon. “Before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that brings energy home.” Aware that tales of hunting rather than gathering make for more exciting stories, and thus their cultural capacity to establish dominant patterns of narrative, Le Guin instead argues for the inglorious narrative of the container.

In “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” Le Guin proposes that the container is that which makes us what we are: the bottle, the net, the shell, the clay pot. Reflexive in its pedagogical role, it weaves a story through figures, citations, and memories. The text distilled asks: How we remember or learn anew? How may we story differently? Le Guin believes the process of writing a book to be akin to the lugging of a container, full of words and thoughts. An exhibition can be characterized by similar acts. It is a means of re-storying in which artworks are always coauthored via personal or historical memories made explicit through formal behaviors or not; artworks contain elements waiting to be used up. The exhibition at Odium Fati is a site of intensified involvement wherein less explicit practices of form and revision may find use in the figure of the container: the carrier as a means of responsiveness, gathering words or works that bear meaning and hold a particular relation to one another and to us. While always implicated in formations of knowledge that produce reward, recognition, or status as some stories accumulate and arise over others, the works in the exhibition channel a quiet listening. They function through a continuous process of holding open a slight negative space between philosophy and social realities, theoretical speculations and concrete plans.

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K.R.M. Mooney