Beyond the Real- The Imaginary Solution

Plants exist, people exist. They live like two peas in a pod. Tony climbed into his pod to snuggle his magnolias.

Pataphysical traditions tend to focus on processes of their creation and elements of chance or arbitrary choices creating imaginary solutions to imaginary problems that recreate and mimic themselves through process of doing so. Baudrillard says in his 1992 essay Pataphysics of Year 2000, ‘nothing behind us exists anymore, only the present.’ I relate this quote (and essay in its entirety) to the continuing theme within my practice of moving existing visual culture from a point of nostalgia to a new contemporary role in today’s society. History no longer exists, but it has left a lot of things behind. These things become tools in my work and I piece them together to create new stories, an imaginary world that only exists in the present. People who come across GBC in the future, even a second after it is made, will attach their own fantasies, their own stories to the work just as I have done with the existing imagery in the first place. GBC becomes a pataphor for an original idea, seeking to describe a new and separate world where that original idea has taken a life of its own.

 

In The Imaginary Solution, Douglas-Dworkin (2007) describes pataphysics as being two degrees of separation from reality. The plants that exist in GBC were once photographed for inclusion in a book. Being photographed is meant to replicate reality, but this does not always transcend in new meaning or new context in which the photograph is placed. The photograph then becomes one degree separated from reality. That photograph/book then moves forward in time 40 years and is picked up and that photograph cut out to be appropriated next to an image taken from a American Apparel advert where the model has also lost his head in place of a green leafy plant. The second degree of separation takes place, and no longer is the plant serving a pictorial reference for a pruning article, but is now taking a role in an entirely imagined world exploring their relationships with people, thus removing it entirely from its original context.

My practice has always been concerned with the idea of digital technologies having the capability to remove the physical photograph and attached processes from today’s culture. Digital technologies can be used to create fantasy worlds through online gaming, websites and photo manipulation software, store digital archives and be used in any facet of life whether it be through computers, smart phones or tablets. It is this distinct acceleration of digital technology and media that Baudrillard blames for the ‘losing tempo of liberation’ and means we are only now loosely attached to the real. We can no longer pin down reality or meaning because of the digital absorption that we are contained within. I wrote about a similar issue when addressing my first year MA work, in the post named ‘RIP Pat Butcher’ examining the worlds people believe in beyond reality, in places such as Eastenders; sending cards to a fictional character when she had died onscreen. When applying this to the idea of GBC, it comes down to the breakdown of foundational knowledge on which I base stereotypes and presumptions of a certain era. I was born in 1988, and remember nothing before roughly 1992-1993. Things I know about history have been taught, researched or presumed. It is this foundational knowledge on which I make presumptions about a book I find in a charity shop from 1976. It is a certain colour, it smells a certain way and the people within the pages are wearing certain clothes. These beliefs I then attach to an object that has travelled through time could be entirely untrue to begin with. Things I think have happened, that actually may not have happened at all mean I immediately breakdown the knowledge into a pataphysical idea and expand that idea further through collage and photography. The narrative that originally existed has gone through so many state changes; we know nothing true about anything except for the now. Thinking that all history no longer exists can force an obsession of the now, spurred on by its exemption from linear time. We seek immediate satisfaction but fear the forgetting, so no longer trust the meaning of events in current time. When we arrive at the event, we then arm ourselves with tools of artificial memory in order to preserve the event without experiencing it in the now, in order to recall it later in time.

Linking with ideas of the absurd, pataphysics creates meaningless worlds where if context is applied the general laws of pataphysics become weakened. Garden Book Club is an entirely pataphysical world, where proportion is ignored and facts of botanical science turned upside down. It explores a world of plant obsessives (which do in fact exist in metaphysics) but extends the idea further by changing facts and placing fully grown men in glass plant containers, among other things. The imaginary problem that GBC attempts to solve is that the imagined people who are embodied through collage have nowhere to go to talk to people of similar ilk or with the same interests. Providing a ‘club’ to which they can share stories and peculiar images of one another becomes the solution. All the content contained in GBC is made up of elements entirely removed from context, placing them in a pataphysical myth where people will attempt to apply existing foundational knowledge to when viewing. On failing to do so, people tend to become defensive or panic that their knowledge does not stretch to this new visual culture, and thoughts race whilst trying to apply something, anything relevant they can. I find that most people tend to try and understand the plant element before the role of the people, which seems a much easier process for most. I have rarely been questioned past the ‘relationships between plants and people’ answer I give to ‘what is it about?’ and I think this links directly back to seeing a world we do not recognize or have not learned through school or the internet.

This may be because plants are seemingly ‘emotionless’ physical things, although they share a few of the same qualities as humans. This lack of emotion means they are immediately easy to interpret than the more complex human aspect. They are treated as objects, and objects that do not offer opinion or any argument to the way they are treated meaning humans can abuse, or obsess about plants.

Baudrillard, J. (1992). Pataphysics of Year 2000. Galilee: Paris. Available:http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/pataphysics.html

Douglas-Dworkin, C. (2007) The Imaginary Solution. Journal of Contemporary Literature. 48:1, pp. 49-60

 

Distribution and dissemination

Throughout my MA I have explored the idea of the ‘process’ of work, creating collages and photographs without identifying much thought or need for the end product. Now, coming to the end of my independent project I realise that period of my practice was in fact simply a focus into the exploration of process, and I had not yet considered the work in its final or cumulative stages at all. Instead of disregarding the end product all together, I would have been better understanding my own process of working and exploring a subject first, using my practice as research.

Garden Book Club started its life as a way of me translating nostalgia from old books and magazines into a new contemporary, sometimes absurd and humourous works that forged its own natural pattern with plants and their relationships with people. At first, I struggled to pin down the reasoning behind the work and was unsure of its place in my practice, but as the struggle subsided it was much easier to work and concentrate on being creative, with the research questions and themes coming directly from the pieces rather than me forcing them upon the work. The Create show in May was a working milestone for my practice, as I managed to show my collage through the form of a handmade book- another area I have toyed around with for much of my MA. Seeing the success of the book and its reaction from an audience, my next decision was how to move Garden Book Club on for the independent project. The work I was producing for GBC were all separate elements. I had video, collage, print and book work. Although tied together with the obvious content, they all seemed to exist as individual works. It was tying these parts together that was tricky for me. Used to producing series’ of photographs, or singular collages, it was difficult to imagine the work existing in any other way. Linking these things together in an overall ‘performance’ by creating an imagined club was the most exciting and enticing option for me creatively. Publishing as Performance (2014) examined the role of publishing practices through the notion of the performative. The easy access to web and print publishing has expanded the relationship of publishing to dissemination, and it is this ease that has enticed me to take part in this new form of the performative. Perfomance is instant, but also carries a continued outreach. I wanted GBC to have a similar impact. Accessible to people who weren’t just gathered in a gallery for an opening night, but rather have the project brought to them as an emergent identity through published material. New research questions and problems such as how will the reaction be measured in an uncontrolled environment, the ‘finished-ness’ of material distributed in such an overall way, and the new meanings it finds along the way.

The decision to create a newspaper as a vehicle for GBC was a simple one. Many of the books and magazines used for creating the collages came from an era where such things were subscribed to by post – often, the subscription cards were still held inbetween pages of the books. The idea of a book is distributing a certain message or narrative to an audience, but the GBC book’s coverage was limited by cost and reach. Being only available to buy online from one website and a select few bookshops at a cost meant that the work was only reaching so far. The natural next step was to freely distribute the work with a much further reach, and with entirely different content, giving a new audience chance to take part in the project. Inspired by mail art, performance and pataphysics, the idea of a newspaper representing the club written by a character created from one of the main collages came about. In large towns and cities, free newspapers are often distributed and discarded, some copies read by many whilst others are discarded straight away. Some stories may leave an impression on a reader, be torn out and kept or simply ignored. It was this anonymity and unpredictability that I craved from the project, not knowing what the papers would amount to once left in situ. In the same way that the books’ owners would not have known their once prized, well thumbed and earmarked pages would end up in a project some 30 years later. The idea of a newspaper rather than a magazine or book came down to a couple of things. As aforementioned, I wanted the newspaper to hold a certain amount of anonymity and slot in just as an evening newspaper would. If I had chosen a magazine or book, the end product may have been more obvious as a newcomer, or prevented people from picking a copy up due to fear of cost or existing ownership. A newspaper also holds aesthetical value to me, with it being a traditional print process- giving a nod to my analogue photography and collage methods. It is recognizable to an audience; most people are familiar with holding a paper and how it is read. It is this contrast with the unusual or unexpected content that I like, the disassociation between the two elements, and people trying to create that connection. Size was a factor; to print a book of this size would not have been cost effective whereas a paper begs to be of a larger size traditionally giving me more creative scope with the design process.

Where to distribute the newspaper was a tough decision. The newspaper is part of an imagined mythical gardening club, ran by an overprotective, blunt and sometimes obsessive character who emerged from a collage. Already with a book published, a website selling GBC merchandise and an active Twitter page, I had already created a world in which this character lived. The questions I had to ask myself when deciding on distribution and content were things like ‘is this going to be an art thing, or entirely a gardening newspaper?’ ‘Am I going to end up tricking an audience into participating in something that doesn’t exist if I go for the latter?’ ‘What happens when different types of people connect with the paper?’ It was difficult, but the answer came when creating the content. Bordering on the absurd and surreal, the articles were subtly changed or entirely rewritten, with some facts becoming false and the language intensified leading the audience to question what they were reading. The articles are peppered with collage and illustration, suggesting that the paper does actually serve a different purpose rather than being directed towards a gardening audience. Taken from online forums, books and magazines, the questions and words used in the pages form a whole new realm of collage for my practice where a whole new document has been produced from (mostly) existing culture. To reflect the content decisions and to expand reach of the project, a mixture of locations were chosen. Local coffee shops where reading material was often available and shared were first on the list. I had frequented all of them and often had picked up a well-read newspaper in there. I hoped the new publication would follow suit in these places. Some art-book and magazine shops in the area and further afield were also targeted. Selling a similar type of item, the free newspaper seemed to compliment such purchases. Garden centres seemed an obvious choice, and one where an entirely different audience would be reached. Botanical Gardens were also on the list as some of the photographs were taken at Sheffield and Glasgow Botanical Gardens, and the subject matter fitted in well there. I think of them as halfway between a gallery and a garden centre, if such a comparison exists?

The GBC newspaper has already generated some local interest even before its initial distribution, with local magazine One & Other expressing an interest in writing an article on the book and mentioning the newspaper within it. This will hopefully encourage an audience to seek out the newspaper, an element of hype almost. The newspaper contains both the GBC website and the email addresses. On some pages, the content actively asks the audience to participate by sending in photographs and letters. If any of these things are received, it will form the basis for the next issue of the paper. Ideas for the future include a subscription service, and also a locked members only content website where readers of the paper can access exclusive content online, pushing the boundaries of this mythical club even further. The character ‘running’ the newspaper is planned to become even more real and prevalent, with an actor being selected to front issue launches and video roles.

Bibliography

Derrida, J. 1998, Archive fever: a Freudian impression, University of Chicago Press, London; Chicago, [Ill.].

Publishing as Performance, (2014). http://www.phdarts.eu/Programme/Spring2014/PublishingasPerformance

Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967).

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, trans. H. Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1963).

Ulises Carrión, “The New Art of Making Books,” Kontexts no. 6–7, 1975.

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris: Editions Buchet-Chastel, 1967) trans. Ken Knabb (bopsecrets.org: 1992);

Dear Images: Art, Copyright, and Culture, eds. Daniel McClean and Karsten Schubert (London: Ridinghouse, 2002).

Allen Ruppersberg, “Fifty helpful hints on the Art of the Everyday,” in The Secret of Life and Death (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1985), 113.