Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The meaning of art

Photography is different in a material way from other visual arts because of its relationship to the figurative space. This is partly what I want to talk about today. I will talk about the feelings of anxiety that this practice engenders in me, the sense of doom that sometimes burdens me as I sit at home, perhaps doing the dishes (physical activity distracts) or else sitting on the couch watching TV.

I also want to talk about the kinds of subjects that I choose. The word “challenging” is bandied about with gay abandon in such fields as literature and art but for the most part there’s nothing dangerous about them. For my part I’ve been using two different sources for my paramontages, including old files on my computer dating back 15 years (some of them) and including images from adult sites. Other old files show roads, the countryside, sequences of television visuals, a range of convenient subjects. There are even shots taken inside fast-food restaurants in the inner west of Sydney.

As I mentioned some days ago I’ve been making a book, and in the document file (‘Before Dawn’) that I’ve already talked about I have different sections that are being expanded as the inspiration takes me, so one day I might add a poem to the section ‘Capital’ and on another day I might add one to the section labelled ‘Creativity’. The buckets fill up slowly but surely just as, at the end of another day, I drain my bank balance to pay for prints that I learn about via email when Pixel Perfect tells me an invoice is ready to pay.

As I said I pay in other ways, too. I do a good deal of censoring because I’m not sure what the shop will accept. When the front desk staff look in my USB drive folder to see the files I want to submit there’s a small gap as he or she takes stock of what I’ve brought and in that momentary pause I am suspended. One time I was so flustered I forgot the USB drive and had to call the shop when I’d got to the tram stop to tell them it was still sitting in the dock. “I’ll put it with your order,” I was told over the phone when the line connected. Four days later the invoice arrived so this morning I’ll be going there to pay and to pick up prints.

I made only one paramontage this morning and this is surprising considering the rate I’ve obeyed on recent days. I had been thinking about this one composition overnight and yesterday afternoon when I was busy doing other things (I usually stop working by six or seven o’clock in the morning, at which time I eat food) and it came together after I got up following a tense dream in which I discovered a dead body while I was flying down a staircase.

When I got to the bottom of the staircase I discovered that the body had subsequently been shifted, and the next time I glided down the police were working on the evidence, a forensic team dusting and measuring and analysing with their panoply of chemicals and equipment. It was a university and I was a student, at one point I had to find a seat in a lecture theatre full of different classes, one teacher giving a talk for her group of students who where seated in a section of the room while other classes with their own students were seated in the same room and forced to listen to the same content. 

I didn’t think about the dream when I got up but instead did some housekeeping with my files, copying a bunch of them to a different USB drive and making that awaited paramontage I’d thought about overnight that contains a poem written the previous day and which references a TV commercial. Its gestation was relatively long because most of my thinking occurs early in the morning when I sit down to work. 

I’d downloaded a number of files to my phone from the cloud so that I could look at them while I was downstairs in the living room and so that I could think about the eventual composition in free moments when I wasn’t talking on the phone or cooking. The original files sit in a folder dated June 2008, which was just at the start of a difficult period when I had a relapse of my illness. From August I wouldn’t make many photos until late in the spring, and the folders (I used to make a separate folder for each day whereas now I make one for each month) attest to the fact of crisis. But it’s not only in my dreams that the legacy of such events lingers. I have to look after myself and while making things is a way that I use to moderate feelings of despair – it helps to do something meaningful with my time awake – as mentioned sometimes the figurative play causes anxiety.

It's a bit of a tightrope, and experience helps me to understand the best way to proceed. Meanwhile every now and then I marvel not because of my ability to stay on the line but because of the very existence of all those old files and I wonder what spirit led me back then to make them at a time when I had far fewer options. In those days I was working full-time and I had no space to speak of as I was living in a small, two-bedroom apartment. In 2022 I am free of the crushing burden of work and I occupy a house that with its spaciousness to a degree inspired my new-found dedication to making art. The fact that I have the old files tells me that this future I’ve made for myself was written down somewhere and it’s only now that I’ve been able to decipher the script, though some of the symbols are difficult to make out. 

If I brush away the dust I can just see the initials of the rest of my life. The meaning is art and though I can anticipate a number of viable years I’ve waited so long for this moment that a sense of urgency imbues the practice. So If I say to myself, “I’ll only make one paramontage this morning” that’s a sign to stay on the rope. It’s important to be “grounded” even if the support you’re relying on for stability is a thin wire hanging in space. 


Roger said...

Hi Mat

Hope you are faring well. Sometimes your blog motivates me to break out of my hermitude and respond! Good news about the reactivated art practise. Sounds like the epiphany I had when I moved from making 2D to 3D art; one gets a new angle on things...
A French philosopher, his name escapes me, has a theory that it is only modern man that has the time to ponder and document his existential crisis. But I think art and music have always taken that role, among other functions. Your recent creative spurt is reminding me to plug into my muse again, in the face of rampant inertia! So thanks for that and bye for now.

Regards, Roger

Matthew da Silva said...

Hi Rog, glad to know my posts are making a difference even in a small way. I think it's marvellous to listen to the muse, I have mine instead of my parents nowadays, now that I'm listening that is. Thanks for yr comment it means a lot to me.