ACT I – BEING STANLEY BLACK
ACT II – (STANLEY BLACK IS...)
ACT III – MARKED FOR DEATH
This document is an account of the meta-performance conducted by Stanley Black (a.k.a. Dan Mair) whilst studying for the first unit of the MFA Fine Art course at Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London. I started the course with a plan of action (The War Book) which outlined the body of work I intended to make under the working title 'The Death of a Conceptual Artist' and it included a number of broad aims I wished to achieve by the end of the unit. My intention was to execute this plan with military precision and because I had invented my own objectives, goals and essentially rules; I came to accept that I was playing a different game to all the other students and tutors. Several questions had arisen within my research that I wanted to explore on a multiple of fronts and investigate in a multifaceted manner. I posed these as philosophical enquiries. The first question, what is an artist? quickly leads to more personal reflections, such as, am I an artist, what type of artist am I, am I a good artist? The first facet can be seen as an exploration of the artist as an identity. This is an ontological question of being and raises further and broader questions of the artists role in society and their function within that society. The second question can be seen as a question of aesthetics, not in the classical sense of the word which is concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty but rather in the contemporary meaning of the word, which encompasses a broader view of art production. Which again leads to questions of the purpose of art, its function within the cultural sphere and what is arts role in society? “Every age understands itself as a transition: consolidating what is best, against disruptive pressures; absorbing new conceptions, to liberate us from what confines our entrenched habits of thought; doubting the viability of legitimating either commitment, previously endorsed or now admired.” (Margolis, J [ed], 1987, Preface to Philosophy Looks at the Arts: Contemporary Readings in Aesthetics, Temple University Press, p xi) This separated my art practise into two distinct fields, the artist as a being in the world and the artist as a maker of art.
My first aim was to explore the notion of being an artist in the world. For this research I decided to use performance as a mechanism of exploration. As a genealogy of art, performance has a long history starting with the absurdist spectaculars of the Dadaists in Zurich at the outbreak of the Great War but canonised during the 1960/70’s where it was deployed as part of a larger political and cultural vanguard. Several ruminations had been percolating in my consciousness which all fed into my overall thinking. Performance is traditionally bounded by time and location and is therefore more like a theatrical show, I wanted my performance to be a fully immersive experience. Heavily influenced by artists who construct a public persona and then never break character like Gilbert and George or to a lesser degree Jeff Koons, I, quite pretentiously have named my piece a meta-performance because the art resides in the interaction between myself (as a persona) the world at large and the other people (outside agents/actors) who also inhabit this world. In this sense the work is more closely linked to the theory of the Situationist International, as the intention was not to create something that sat outside of the lived experience of the spectators but instead to create a work that was embedded and deeply entangled within everyday life, hopefully raising epistemological questions of what is real and what is (un)real, what is genuine and what is fake, what can be trusted and what has to be discarded? This gets to the crux of Guy Debord’s and the wider existentialist concern of authenticity and especially for Debord, how to achieve the authentic experience whilst existing in the society of the spectacle.
I viewed each part of the course where my work had to be shown as opportunities to inject Stanley Black into the world. Each one posed as a statement of intent to define or project characteristics that Stanley Black possessed.
The showcase occurred on the second day of college. Each student (and tutors) had one minute to show and talk about an image of their work which best represented their current practise. My choice medium for the previous five years had been collage and because I was interested in exploring my identity as an artist under the alias Stanley Black I decided to show a self-portrait. For the previous year I had been creating a series of works where I would take an album cover from my vinyl collection, photograph myself and then collage the self-portrait on to the album cover. Although such work always brings to mind artists such as Cindy Sherman, who’s self portraits question identity in the age of mass media and explore stereotypical roles (especially those of women) my artistic concern centred more around identity in the age of digital media. My aim was to project an image of myself that was constructed from shards of reality but obscured the whole truth, in much the same way people use social media like Facebook or Instagram. I also weaved a narrative structure into the images as I wanted to tell a story of my transformation from Dan Mair into Stanley Black. This was intended to be a microcosm of the website as a whole.
SET UP STUDIO EXHIBITION
The second opportunity to show work also took place within the first couple of weeks. All the students had to bring in an original piece of work. The aim of the task was to introduce us to curation and start to understand how work sits together and creates a dialogue between the objects within a space. The piece I wanted to show was intentionally labour intensive. Again, drawing upon music as my source inspiration, I appropriated lyrics from the back catalogue of the Manic Street Preachers. I chose this band because their work can be read as an investigation of the Marxian concept of alienation in modern society. They are working class autodidacts, who are highly read in the classical literary canon and who’s work can be summed up in the first line of the song Design For Life, “Libraries gave us power.” I took sentences from a number of songs and rearranged them to create a new and personal meaning. I viewed this piece as a manifesto of intent, which outlined my broad objectives for the rest of the unit. I am interested in the circular motion of inspiration, where artists of all disciplines use other aspects of culture to inform their work. The central line ‘people like you, need to fuck people like me’, was borrowed by the lyricist Nicky Wire from a Tracey Emin neon piece of the same name. As this phrase had been transferred from the realm of fine art into pop music, I thought it would be an interesting comment to transfer it back into fine art through my work. Although it was not intended at the time, as my later work started to explore the relevant concern, I find it serendipitous that a line within the text states “working class cliches start here”.
The third opportunity to display a piece came within a group crit. The purpose was to show work (often, in progress) with the aim of getting feed back from the other students and tutors. My aim was to produce a finished work. The War Book with its list of works I wanted to produce by the end of the unit was highly ambitious but I wanted to test my time management skills. I knew that due to the time constraints my work would have a high turnover and would inevitably have a slapdash (and/or slapstick) appearance, I therefore wanted to communicate that this was an artistic decision and that I did have the ability and the skills to produce work of high craftsmanship. With this in mind, I again produced a piece that was highly labour intensive, with this work I wanted to project a tactic of shock and awe. I was primarily interested in the tension between the personal and the everydayness of the objects I chose to display. Cigarette butts are a mundane object and it is only with closer inspection that the viewer discovers that they are in fact unused, which can be read and analysed in a multiple of manners. There is a story attached to the objects which is highly personal and unavailable to the viewer again dealing with my intention of trying to have a running theme within my work of what is shown and what is hidden. As a teenager I was highly involved with the then burgeoning drugs culture. From 1994 to 2000, I was what is now colloquially known as ‘a stoner.’ For a short period I started to collect the cigarette butts which were detritus from the ritual of rolling a spliff. I always had in mind that one day I would make an art work from these objects. I decided to place them in a cabinet and display them in a minimalist style not only as a reference to Damien Hirst, who also works with similar objects and presentation style but to further de-personalise the objects. Titles are extremely important within my work and I feel the title ‘Wasted Youth?’ adds further ambiguity to the piece.
Petra Kucha is a format borrowed from Japanese culture and translates as chit chat. A slide show is given where fifteen images are shown for twenty seconds with a corresponding talk. The brief was to show and talk about influences that informed our work. Meant not only as an opportunity to think and contextualise our own work, the Petra Kucha also served as an insight into the other students thinking and concerns. I viewed this exercise as the first opportunity to reveal Stanley Black as a separate character who has his own costume. This construct which is nested within my broader character fabrication shares all the same behaviours, idiosyncrasies and foibles as Stanley Black, who in turn, shares the same with Dan Mair. My aim was to try and question identity within the framework of what is genuine and what is fake. As with other series within my work I utilised a narrative structure within my slideshow and viewed it as an opportunity to state not only my current thinking but also my future intent by finishing the slideshow referencing cinematic films which explore the theme of dual identity or a crisis of identity.
CORRIDOR SHOW (and/or THE ASSAULT ON THE BLUE CHURCH)
A situationist intervention is distinct from other forms of performance because it is essentially free flowing owing more to improvisation than script. Incorporating planned elements but also owing to random and chaotic outside influences; the Corridor Show can therefore be seen as the crowning glory of the Stanley Black situation. The corridor show is an opportunity to show work in collaboration with two other students. When the schedule was announced, I noticed that it coincided with the exhibition of a body of work, which alongside the web folio, formulated the end of unit assessment. I therefore planned to show work which I had hoped would serve as introductions to themes further explored within my final piece and web folio. Due to a clerical error I discovered this would not be the case and the area would have to be cleared ready for the assessment. The night before the set up I had been on a particularly raucous drinking session, I carried on the next day and for some bizarre reason despite my obvious state I still wanted to fulfil my corridor show commitment. Towards the end of the day, the blackout began to fade and my conscious memory returned. As the studio started to clear, myself and several accomplices decided to put up the exhibition. Someone pulled out a bottle of Disaronno liquor, so some of us had a few shots and started the set up. One of my works was a glass piece and another incorporated milk. My original aim was to have a reasonably precarious display of the objects, however as it turned out that the display was too precarious. The first thing to fall was the glass which duly shattered all over the floor. Then half an hour later some of the milk also started to tumble and leak. At this stage, I decided to take the events as a random intervention into meaning and this new chaotic display would now become the art work. I was therefore quite happy to discover from second hand sources that this was in fact how the piece was viewed and interpreted, as a conscious decision on my part. This I feel, then becomes a comment on the viewing and interpretation of contemporary art.
EXHIBITION OF A BODY OF WORK/ONLINE WEB FOLIO
I had decided, quite early on that I would view the web folio not merely as a document of my work but as an artwork within itself. I was interested in playing around with the format of a website, the links contained within a website mean you can guide a users view and because you have to scroll down the pages, I wanted to produce images that would change or reveal more meaning as they passed up the screen. I attempted this with works such as 'In Bed with Magritte and/or The Tyranny of Objects','The Rod from my Own Back', 'Jacob's Ladder' and to a lesser degree 'Elizabeth my Dear'. Therefore the submission of "The Death of a Conceptual Artist" web folio was the final gesture of my performance. The story being of a suicide (and/or) murder (and/or) resurrection.
A natural dichotomy between ways of thinking arose within the structure of the website. My first intention was to try and weave the several areas of interest I had been exploring into a coherent narrative which would serve as a framework to support my final exhibited piece. An attempt was made for my body of work to be deeply woven, using reoccurring motifs and the comedic tactic of call backs. I had hoped it could also be viewed not just in a linear, sequential fashion but rather as a network of ideas/nodes all interlinked; hopefully questioning the way information/perception is read and interpreted in the computer age. The former view of information distribution and/or perception of reality can be viewed as an analogue way of thinking, the latter digital.
(STANLEY BLACK IS…) anti-leftist
My second aim was to explore the notion of the artist as a maker of art. During the 1950/60/70’s with the breakdown of high and low culture, the crisis of art as an object and the merging of art and theory; art underwent a rapid expansion, artists started to explore the boundaries of what constitutes art and art practise cumulating with the transference of post-modernist ideology into artistic discourse. Therefore, one strand of my work was intended to be a criticism of the postmodernist doctrine, which I feel is outdated, no longer a useful methodology and I would argue is in fact dangerous when applied to the larger cultural and societal landscape. With its central tenets of moral relativism and the undermining of truth claims a strand of postmodernist thought has infiltrated our institutions through the bureaucratic infrastructure contained within these institutions. Heavily influenced by disciplines like Feminist and Gender Studies, theories such as intersectionality and identity politics have promoted a particularly harsh strand of political correctness. Which I believe creates an orthodoxy of thought and leads to a straightjacket of thinking where heterodoxic thinking is discouraged, suppressed and if expressed shut down by the dominant force of the bureaucratic mechanism. I have become increasingly entranced by the ideas put forward by the clinical psychologist Jorden Peterson. He proposes a Jungian interpretation of meaning believing that the archetypal substrata of consciousness is essentially religious and postmodernist (and in fact all) ideology is a parasitic entity, nestling on top of and feeding from this deeper meaning. In his 2009 essay ‘Recovering Radicalism’ Dave Beech states “We are living in a protracted period of reassessment for radical politics and critical art. Postmodernists leapt ahead of the process by badly pronouncing the end of history and the death of the Avant Garde. Now, with postmodern theory and postmodern art a declining force, the reassessment of radicalism is showing signs of recovery.”
In an institution that is predominantly, politically left leaning, I decided that if I wanted Stanley Black to be a true radical he would have to adopt a conservative stance.
(STANLEY BLACK IS…) cliché
The second strand I wanted to play around with was the notion of art as cliché. During the ‘set up studio exhibition’ my tutor Ian Munroe, started to talk about materials that were problematic for use within the university environment, these included drugs paraphernalia, offensive weapons, bodily fluids and explosives. I chuckled to myself and started to think, as several of my planned works within The War Book included at least three of these objects. He also stated his dislike of fishing line as a means of suspending objects and tights (or in his American parlance, pantyhose), which he viewed as highly cliched. As my work was already dealing with problematic materials I decided I would also try to explore the notion of cliché within my work. During my second tutorial Jessica Voorsanger did mention that I was presenting such works, as they were, with no sophistication and that I was offering the viewer no clue that I was in fact aware that I was using cliché. This was my intention. As I view any value judgement as a discriminatory act, my interest in clichés resides not within the clichés themselves or as the object as cliché but rather as a matter of taste, which I view as a class issue. My idea was to reject the postmodernist method of knowing irony and instead use a deadpan delivery of such objects. As I wanted the spectator to question whether I was being serious, or not. I had hoped the sheer number of them would raise questions of their use. Also, as some of my later work dealt with more dangerous subjects this was part of an overall tactic to undermine my own credibility.
(STANLEY BLACK IS…) swimming against the tide
The third strand which manifested itself during the course of my research and could be viewed as a detour or mission creep was the notion of free speech/expression. Given my interest in postmodernist ideology I decided I wanted to make a series of works which directly addressed the current political orthodoxy amongst the left, in such areas as race, feminism, Islam, (faux) radicalism, gender, anti-capitalism, environmentalism, nationalism and immigration. My initial thought was to try and produce work that merely countered these positions. However in my thinking, two ideas arose that were so risqué, I giggled at the outrageousness of them but then thought them too deplorable to pursue. I then started to question my own initial self-censorship and began thinking upon my early pondering of free speech/expression, questioning whether I could defend such works in the open market place of ideas. I was also interested in why certain subject matters are deemed offensive and others not and why political correctness privileges certain groups over others. There is a long history of works that explore notions of Christianity, which for Christians are deemed highly offensive (Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’, Chris Ofili’s ‘The Virgin Mary or our very own, Tania Kovats ‘Virgin in a Condom) but generally thought of legitimate areas of investigation within the art world. This, I feel exposes the deep contradictions of first principles embedded within postmodernist/leftist thinking. I am interested in internet culture and thought I could house these contentious pieces within the context of trolling. I therefore created another series of works which alluded to and referenced aspects of online activity which I hoped, if correctly read would negate and explain my position on such matters. That, although I am not a free speech absolutist (as I believe a certain civil responsibility comes with such rights) all ideas, should be available for discussion and not prone to censorship.
MARKED FOR DEATH (THE FAIL)
"A potentially very serious racist and misogynist tone was evident in the web folio. We must make it very clear that this is not acceptable at any time of place on the MFA, nor indeed the UAL, or the world at large. This kind of material risks legal involvement from a potentially offended party, and has potentially very serious consequences for your future. It shows a major error of judgement and we need to be clear that we can not support this in any form."
I am grateful for the critical response to my work and fully accept the all points raised. I do however have to make a strong rebuttal regarding the two most controversial pieces contained within the arc(hive). Although I fully understand that both ‘Stanley Black is a Bastard’ and ‘The Rape of Barbara Kruger’ are highly offensive, I will strongly deny any accusation that they are racist or misogynistic and by implication that I hold or endorse such views. A stream of thought that started to surface during my research was the question of free speech/expression. I had hoped that I had flagged, with the use of other works contained within the web folio my stance but it would appear that I failed in this endeavour. I realise that I was extremely naive to produce such incendiary works without contextualising them which has left my work and myself open to misinterpretation. Although Matisse wanted his art “to be like a good armchair”, I wanted mine to be like a hammer. I am naturally rebellious and with these works I wanted to question peoples first principles and challenge the viewers presuppositions. Testing the boundaries of taste, decency and what is acceptable discourse within the academy. My intention was to provoke dialogue and initiate debate in and around the question of free speech/expression. Any disciplinary action will now become part of the artwork
"Stanley Black’s work has
THE RECOVERY (and/or KAFKA'S GOT NOTHING ON ME)