I’m Free - Now I got Worry *
text: Dan Shipsides
I began compiling lists of methods; what we are doing when we are in the broad and narrow processes of being an artist making art. This is needed because currently we are pushed into inappropriate models of research that, in my experience, lead inevitably to a case of sterilisation bordering on impotency. Whilst compiling this ongoing list I started to monitor how the processes, methods or phases combine. In doing so I came to reflect on two processes that overarch key phases of art making: Play and Worry.
I’m suggesting here, that bringing artwork into being might be understood as a result of the complex oscillating relationship between freedom as play and pressure as worry. Play and Worry as method.
Play describes a relatively depressurised mode or space - of open-ended experimentation, the gathering of materials, research and experiences and the playing with making and unmaking processes. This is fun, totally engaging, rewarding but not fully committing. It might follow Derrida’s Play concept (‘Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ 1966) in that whilst presenting a field of reference it is indeterminate, doesn’t settle as centred ‘meaning’ and is always in flux. Play is critically engaged and embodied. It intuitively and rationally applies ideas, conceptual and theoretical concerns, questions and inquiries to practical and physical actions - processes to the material world. It determines and follows specific and emerging trajectories of sensibility, thought and emotion. It is open ended and flexible. It allows failures to grow and successes to become tired. Play is pretty well established as a process of art making.
Worry as method? Why not? It has obvious negative associations (perhaps leading to cliché’s around the ‘artistic temperament’) but it has positive too. Worry exists in relation to fear and may constitute the power needed to shape or make anything. Worry is triggered by stages of exposure to a wider public and ultimately towards its public exposure. It examines the results of play and modifies it according to a wide and complex set of rational and irrational interrogations. This is where one complicates personal with public – with what one wants to be seen, what one must allow to be seen, what one doesn’t want be seen and how one knows what others will see. It entangles the personal self with an artwork – it might also entangle others – as collective worry (though collaborative processes might defer or shift worry – this may recalibrate creative dynamics but also may present issues in terms of responsibility – however, someone has to worry enough). Partially it’s the same worry as the anxious self generates – deeply psychological, irrational, murky and potentially twisted (this is why art is ethically crucial – a truly human register) – partially it’s the worry, the puzzling - of asking rational questions, theory, logistics and the pragmatics where an idea hits reality. It is the most intense phase and one where the artist really tests, modulates and produces – what it is they make. It’s where aesthetics meet the desires and problems of our lives. It doesn’t fix or finalise the creative process because it opens the next phase where play and worry might spill out onto a wider set of people.
It’s through these oscillations where the work is pressurised then depressurised that the artists’ methodology develops a ‘becoming’ of what wasn’t there or able to be there before – and necessarily what wasn’t exactly imagined before. To that extent it is processes of living - of being an artist – where the work is not a result of method (in that it can be perfectly replicated or cleanly applied to issues of the day), but a result of method that has warped under such oscillating pressures. In effect we might link this to Feyerabend’s methodological ‘anarchism’ (Against Method, 1975). We need our own ‘homemade’ sets of well-pursued, astute and relevant developing methods to give traction to the pressures required for something to be made that has significant impact and to be able to expect the unexpected.
*I’m Free, Soup Dragons, 1990.
Now I got Worry, Jon Spencer Blues, 1996.