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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
4. Contemporary Practice Panel:

Naomi Inata
Un Yamada
Shobana Jeyasingh
Graeme Miller

Graeme Miller is a ResCen Research Associate Artist. Emerging from his influential stage work, his current practice as an artist spans installation, video, stage and music. Aside from his teaching and writing he also composes and designs sound for dance, theatre and film. His recent works include Bassline and Beheld as well as Linked – a semi-permanent installation of radio transmitters in East London.

ON THE SPECIOUSNESS OF THE ORIGINAL

I like repetition. I like it. I like repetition. I do. I like repetition.
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it
I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it I like it

I like how it how it sounds and how it looks on the page. I like the lines of letters making fences and the paths of spaces just as my eye, in the dark of the theatre or cinema has always been drawn to the spaces between people’s seats – the joins making diagonal paths. Diagonal paths that are most thrilling in the circle or higher layers of an auditorium because they lead to the edge. An escape to oblivion. An oblique escape.

I like repetition
I like repetition
Because It tends towards pattern

Towards pattern
Towards musicality

And because copying is the cradle of difference
Because copying is the cradle of difference
Because copying is the cradle of difference
Because copying is the cradle of difference
Because copying is the cradle of difference
Because copying is the cradle of difference

Copying is the source of Originality?

Because it seems to make something

Out of Nothing… Something out of Nothing – Origin – Originality

Then there is its close cousin, Nothing out of Something

When I was six I discovered that saying a word over and over again had this wonderful effect. I discovered it – it was me. It was a giddy drug that transformed verbal meaning into delightful meaninglessness. I became addicted to becoming a stuck record and was so excited by this discovery that I wanted to share its pleasure. I persuaded a group of a dozen other six-year-olds to form a line and chant the word “circus” until we entered a trance and the word itself seemed to start with a K – K’surr, K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr K’surr, a trip and a splash, a click and a hiss. The miracle after a few minutes was that the original meaning would sometimes jump back for a second before being obliterated again.

My chorus-line of chanting verbal nihilists wheeled around the playground – a circus of nothingness…

It was the originality (to me) of my discovery that made me take the lead and incite people into copying. I needed to share this hot information and in the incantation and the public and mysterious performance I had brought the one commandment written again and again down from the mountain and needed to share message. Linked arm in arm, scattering the non-illuminati before them, the acolytes of verbal nihilism chanted up their gang membership into a cult. It was a new wave in the shape of a wave whose only purpose was enchantment with newness and wave-ness. It was a cult which lasted no more that a day, but would go on to form a template for my work as an artist – a culture maker working within culture already made and the work within my work. Both perhaps strung on axes between the originality and stereotype, between innovation and conformity, leading and following.

Two girls. Two teenage girls in same-but-different dress. A repeating motif in the international street-scene. They reassure each other – push each other’s confidence by almost-copying each other. Their variation suggests the centre ground the riff on which they each play. Two is the minimum membership of their culture and culture is their pathological activity. Their t-shirts should say, CULTURE IS ANYTHING TWO PEOPLE AGREE ON. Walking out together they reinforce their position in time, amplify their position in space and ask either to be copied themselves or to be refused to be copied. The least they ask is to be noticed.

So here is minimum-requirement culture whose mechanism is a kind of repetition. A repetitive phenomenon mirrored by witnessing and inviting a third to join – to leave the audience and join the stage. But what is being copied – what is at the centre of this ripple effect. Is it originality?

It is just possible I suppose that one of these two or both in a moment of what the French criminologist might call a Folie à Deux – have come up with a dress sense not really thought of before (a blue Mohican in a Soviet village in the 1950s? ) but even if they did, something of that very originality requires the reinforcement, framing, underlining of copying. It is the emphasis in text of the drop-shadow that gives seeming three dimensionality to the word as an object and suggests the epic stance of that word against the movement of the sun that causes the shadow.

At times I have been awe struck, filled with admiration at the originality of others as well as smugly triumphant at discovering an unfilled niche for my own output. Does the originality I strive for still in my own work (rejecting many conjured ideas in the process) and love in others’ really exist? How certain is it?

On a boat, if possible I try to get to the front. The pointy bit. I assume The Titanic position. It is a mythic position, but it offers the a giddying and hypnotic view of the bow wave. Where sheet steel cuts the water’s skin I see time’s knife slicing through the universe. Without the comfort of time’s cycle – the rise and fall of tide – this is time’s arrow in flight. It is a train laying exactly as much track ahead of itself at the moment it pulls it up behind relentless and driverless. No matter how hard you stare you cannot catch the moment cutting moment but your eye has to trace the v-shaped waves that fan outwards – draw the line backwards to the apex. You see the present by implication. The place of originality is made visible by its echo. In a sense, as you listen to a piece of music or follow any time based work you surf the bow-wave of time’s arrow as it moves along the score or the choreography. Moments are defined by their aftertaste. In a sense.

In the slower biographical journey of making work – making a sequence of works – we seek originality.

Often when I make a work I am amazed at the discovery I have made, the fresh view revealed to me only. It motivates me to make the work. Quick, before someone else does it. Only later do I realise it’s not that different to other works I’ve made. It has not come out of the blue, but out of my own stew. The glamour of originality has carried me to a point where I shruggingly have to drop it and concede to accepting and finally enjoying “some original elements”.

I should not be surprised either by retro-active unoriginality – or, in other words, accidental plagiarism. A recent and current work using projection of sound and image into glass bowls was called Held. I ended up being hounded as a plagiarist (for an idea that literally came out of the blue as I stared up at the sky) by the author and agents of a work called Hold that had projection into glass bowls. A quick search on the internet revealed six or seven more works by artists using projection into glass and glass bowls. The speciousness of The Original does not mean that nothing is original. It is just that originality or its illusion allows both connection and departure.

Are points of origin nodes that energise the creative field? Originality, perhaps, is a necessary idea that generates birth-points not just within the shared field of work over time, not just within our own biographical time, but within work itself. The flat and constant field must be interrupted just to make it readable.

Of course without my previous work, I wouldn’t be making new – I’d have nothing to be original from. Of course without previous material, the peaking moments of live performance and live perception cannot be, just as the boat would sink. There is a pre-echo to performance, a pre-echo to creativity. But returning to the ubiquitous teenage fashion pair and looking a little further we see that the pre-echo of their self-invention has been carefully planned – and not by them. The fabric they wear was manufactured a year ago and the adaptation to the machinery that made it made six months before that. Their discovery was pre-figured by people whose job it is to plan these things. Obligingly, they find what they were meant to find. Their art has been pre-curated.

As makers of work we have to negotiate the complexities and illusions of our own sense of originality. We negotiate it in our lives and our output as much as within the flow of our work. We have to see our work in a field of activity that may not be that similar. We have to see our place in a history of ideas. This unites the traditional artist and the revolutionary, the modernist, and the post-post modernist. Only after five years of working with place and places did I discover the Situationists of the 1950s and 60s who had been doing much the same and only later the many artists who had followed them. The other day I met the author and psychogeographer Ian Sinclair in a Hackney Park. He said something about not being able to move about the streets of the East End without bumping into dozens of psychogeographers. I know, I think, what he means.

The quest for whatever compromise you might make with your own idea of originality is challenged not just by multiplication – too many people doing the same thing – too many bloody artists – but by pre-echo.

In the map of mapping, artists working in mapping are invited to co-map the same bit of land in a Mapfest. The work stems not from a personal engagement with the same area of marshy marginal land that I myself and others no doubt have charted, but from the desk of a commissioning body. These hipper, trend-aware organisations have run the same year and a half ahead as the dictators of denim. The culture of the communications industry pervades the commissioning world with stylistic tactics. Curation is like shopping, and shopping, according to an artist friend of mine, is low-level creativity. A kind of fun, acquired by the producer, allows the artist – drawn by cash, exposure, even modest cash and exposure – to become commission monkey, The Big Brother contestants of the cultural world. Artists find themselves behind a wave pre-cut 18 months ago – la-not-so-nouvelle vague. The real-estate of context has been bought up and your work will have to fit into a preformatted, pre-designed slot – showing, of course the required amount of “originality”. Like noise-cancelling headphones that kill a noise by playing it back at itself, defeating a sound-wave with a sound-wave, the pre-echo can defeat artistic originality. Naming and branding have always been part of the echo effect of the cutting edge, but namers and branders have become so hot on the heels, so sleek and sure, so well resourced, that more of the field in which we, the artists, found our context has been already acquired. It takes your breath away.

So, more cunning, more judicious, more careful to seek out territory where we are free to originate or plunder, coincide or diverge. Even if originality is only a half truth – it is part of a true mechanism.

 
 
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