What is Error?
Wellington St Projects, Sydney, NSW, 2016.
Pour Iain Pour Iain
Iain Dean is not an easy artist to talk to. He struggles to articulate verbally the intuitive processes behind his work. Iain is not sure of himself, but it is this instability, this inability, that allows his work to exist, straight-faced, in zones of formal inquiry which might be inaccessible to artists entrapped in the theoretical workings of contemporary art. How aware Iain actually is of the artistic potentialities of his work is not known to this interviewer, because Iain refuses to be transparent about his art practice. What follows is a selection of transcriptions detailing my interaction with Iain leading up to his exhibition What is Error? at Wellington Street Projects in Sydney, accompanied by a series of intrusions.
The artist wakes up. The artist has escaped the impositions of the day through the materials offered to them by a particular social configuration. Wood, fabrics, feathers—all had been crucial in making a momentary escape without intervals or moments.
K: I was told today that I would not be meeting the artist Iain Dean. That instead he was going to send his acquaintance, Ian Dean, but you are clearly the artist Iain Dean. You are not even wearing a disguise. Can you please explain yourself?
I: I am not Iain Dean, I am Ian Dean. Iain met me serendipitously when a package I had ordered online was mistakenly delivered to his house, rather than my own, which is located directly across the road. The fact that we look similar is purely coincidental. Iain asked me to come here today to answer your questions about his work. Apparently he thinks I have a unique perspective on them. I am not so sure.
K: Okay. Well, would it be possible for you to give me an idea of the process behind some of Iain’s paintings in the show?
I: Well I can only guess at Iain’s process, because I’m not him, but I would imagine it has something to do with circles, triangles and squares.
K: Could you elaborate?
I: Basically everything can be constructed from circles, triangles and squares. Even something really complex, like an automobile or a painting, can be broken down into these basic shapes. Your body could also be deconstructed like this, or your mind. If you look inside an atom: circles, triangles and squares. The Cubists understood this, as did Kandinsky and, later, Warhol, then
Michael Bay. The Transformers films are the greatest contemporary example of formal abstraction.
When I look at those robots I understand nothing.
The artist eats. The artist attends to metabolic strictures through the materials offered to them by a particular social configuration. Bread, cured meats, cheeses, and leafs are all crucial in making a momentary escape from the excitations of hunger.
I: …Orange C is 25% fruit juice. Sometimes when I look at art I think maybe it’s like, 25% art. Then, other times, I look at a funny dog on the internet and I think that it’s maybe 75% art. So I’m not sure where to get the highest percentage of art a lot of the time, which is annoying because I have a pretty high art-metabolism so I need to take in a lot of art every day or otherwise I get famished.
K: Are you speaking in metaphors?
I: No. I think I heard somewhere that fish oil has a high art concentrate. I might start taking supplements.
The artist works. The artist attends to their social, moral, familial, and financial strictures by performing their worth in the production of surplus-value. A hatred of one’s own lack of sovereignty is crucial in this making without escape.
K: What would you say is Iain’s biggest influence?
I: If I’m going to be charitable I would say Picard, but to be honest I think Iain’s relationship to art discourse is more like Captain Janeway’s relationship to the Borg. Iain fears assimilation, but he appreciates the wealth of knowledge that assimilation would provide. So Iain’s biggest influence is probably Seven of Nine, because she is halfway between the Borg and a human.
K: I feel as though you are not answering my questions seriously. Please, I need to write a text for
Iain for his upcoming exhibition, What is Error? I need to be given some insights into the show, so that I can pass those insights on to the viewer. I don’t understand why you are talking about Star
I: Star Trek is simply an allegory for the last two hundred-odd years of art history. Kirk and Spock are Abstraction and Formalism, respectively. Picard is Conceptual Art, Sisko is Postmodernism,
Janeway is New Media and Archer, with the soullessness of his performance, is clearly the YBAs.
K: Do the new Star Trek films fit into this allegory?
I: Yes. They are a metaphor for the prevalence of adult colouring books.
The artist masturbates. The artist draws on the norms of sexuality and gender to facilitate an orgasm. In the auto-erotic act the artist escapes, though from what and to what it cannot explain.
I: When I was a kid I used to eat weetabix and honey for breakfast. I would smoosh it all up in the bowl with the milk until it was a big mush and then I would slurp it like soup. Sometimes, if you waited too long, the soup would congeal and turn into a kind of dough. If that happened I would smear it on my face and wait for it to dry, then peel off the resulting mask. A mask made of honey, milk and wheat. I would collect the masks under my bed and wear them when I wanted to be someone else. Sometimes I would let my friends wear them too, and we would lose the ability to recognise each other under the masks, and we would move around my house in the shadows, stalking my parents like strange, mythic creatures.
K: Why are you telling me this?
I: When Joseph Beuys smeared fat and gold on his face he was articulating what myself and my friends intuited as children - that the pagan gods are not dead. They simply exist in-between things, in the shadows.
K: Does this have any relationship to the work?
I: The artist is subject to the wills of supernatural beings, just like any mortal.
The artist sees, hears, tastes, feels and knows. The meaning of these senses and the practices that informs their immanent execution are all informed by a social configuration at the fringes of what can be truly called sensed. The artist does all these things without knowing precisely what it is they come into contact with.
K: I want to return to the work for a moment.
I: We all want to return to something, but it is not possible.
I: A return to the sea, a return to the womb, a return to the store you purchased your faulty electronics from, a return to childhood ignorance… It’s all the same, caught up in the progression of time. You can’t go back, stop trying to ‘go back to the work’ - it’s just a thing, a collection of things, things I am not interested in talking about. Would it not be more interesting to stand in front of a painting and talk about literally anything else? The painting is there, it is apparent. The painting does things that can’t be articulated verbally, that’s the fucking point. Stop trying to get me to talk about the work.
I: Okay I will describe one of Iain’s paintings. It is a rectangular canvas, on it are some shapes, they are different colours. For some reason Iain chose to exhibit this painting instead of another one. So here it is for you to look at.
I: Are you happy?
The artist fails and succeeds, though without ever being sure if one has settled in the place of the other.
I: … and, for example, the other day I watched a video of a man setting the world record for the
‘Most Bites Taken out of Three Apples While Juggling Them in a Minute’ - now that is true skill.
People are always wanting artists to be skilful, or to have no skills, but how do you measure artistic skill? It is much easier to measure the skill of a juggler, or an eater of apples, than it is to measure the skill of the artist.
K: Is skill part of your… I mean Iain’s… work?
I: To varying degrees.
Where does art fit into all of this?
Does the artist make art when they enter a sleepless dream? Does the artist make art when they escape the impositions of the day and with such intensity that there is no interval to demarcate the duration of time? Does the artist make art when they eat? Does the artist make art when they attend to the metabolic necessity of keeping the organism alive? Does the artist need art to live?Does the artist make art when they masturbate? Does the artist make art when they begin to play with themselves, and, by extension, come to play with an erogenous totality at the fringes of sense? Does the artist make art when they grapple with the fringes of sense? Does the artist make art when they succeed in meeting an expectation, or do they make art when that expectation to have produced art is frustrated?
Kieron Broadhurst and Francis Russell, 2016.