The Collaborators

THE COLLABORATORS

“I don’t have an original idea in my head and I’ve been developing it for thirty years.”
Doug Henry 2006 1

Was it April first, I don’t remember now when I was invited to show at the Warschaw Gallery in San Pedro.  Presented with the opportunity to fill this distinctive space I inventoried the contents of my gin soaked brain for a stepping off point.  I knew what I didn’t want to do– and that was start with one of the many ideas that just POPS into my head.   These ideas seem to bubble up from the unconscious workings of the mental hardware.  Since I don’t really know their origin it’s quite possible they are being placed in my head by some external force or entity.  At any rate, despite the fact they have popped into my head, I don’t feel comfortable claiming authorship of them.

So, forsaking inspiration, my goal would be to devise a method.

I set to work first by reviewing everything I knew or had ever thought to see if perhaps it was already there so to speak.  No luck so I extended my search.   Now the results of a search, even the most exhaustive search are in large part governed by chance. And as it happened, quite by chance, I stumbled upon a book entitled Modern Genre Theory2 and in this book I read the phrase:  “… the term (genre) seems almost by definition to deny the autonomy of the author, deny the uniqueness of the text, deny spontaneity, originality and self-expression.”

“Eureka!” I thought to myself.  What power, what a marvelous tool that can produce something without the need for all that other, potentially HIGHLY overvalued, because it is completely assumed and unexamined, who-ha. All I have to do is identify some genres and, like an engine of creation, they will do the rest.

My search led me back through history to the tutor of Alexander the Great (Immortalized in the Hollywood blockbuster Alexander – by now in the ‘Action/ Adventure’ section of your local video store) the great Greek philosopher and categorizer, Aristotle. It turns out that Aristotle, though perhaps one of the greatest scientific minds in all history was also a man who appreciated a nice, round number.  He divided the world up into ten categories.  Why ten you ask?  Because Ten is the first number with two figures.  Ten contains the two numbers necessary to create a binary system- 1 and 0.  Ten is the number of perfection in the Pythagorean system.  It’s the number that includes both the human and the divine.  The Tetrakytis: 1+2+3+4=10.3  The all, the absolute, harmony.  Because the 1 is the beginning the 0 is the Ouroboros, the snake devouring its tail that stands for cyclicality, infinity or unity.  Finally, because Ten is one more than 9 but one less than 11.  It’s not eight, nor four, neither is it sixteen (riffs on both This is Spinal Tap4 and Monty Python and the Holy Grail!! – both found in the ‘Comedy’ section of your local video store).

Aristotle, it seems, was trying to find a way to make sense of the world that was more abstract or simple than to have to deal with each and every possibility as an isolated and separate case so he organized all that is, was and ever will be under ten different headings.  Time was separated from substance, substance from quality, quality from quantity and so on, until he had distilled all of god’s great creation into ten categories: Action, Substance, Quality, Quantity, Relation, Place, Time, Situation, Condition and Passion.

Armed with his ten categories Aristotle could now look at the seamless blur of all that is and group such disparate things as dirt, water and wood under the single unifying heading of ‘substance’.  He could see that granularity, wetness and hardness were properties or ‘qualities’ of dirt, water and wood respectively—not ‘substances’ themselves but qualities of substances, and in this way he set out to make sense of the world.

Now here’s the magic: The categories were originally conceived of as razor thin lines that could separate different from like—not things themselves but a mental instrument to organize and compartmentalize things– yet they take on a life of their own and become things in themselves!  Without naming any particular ‘substance’ the very word substance conjures a unique image in the mind of one who hears it that, though perhaps vague and non descript, is distinctly different from that conjured by the word ‘place’.  This image is the reduction or simplification that was originally intended when dividing everything into categories but it is also a complication—the addition of ten MORE to all that is, was or ever will be!!

By now the parallel between Aristotle’s ‘categories’ and ‘genres’ is obvious to the astute reader.  A genre like a category creates an image or impression of what is in that genre that is not any one specific member of that genre.5  In other words, if I say I’m going to write a poem in the ‘epic’ genre you immediately form an impression of ‘epic poem’ that is a composite of all epic poems and yet no one specific epic poem and that impression is the genre, ‘epic’. It is added to all the epics that actually exist.

Meanwhile, back at the book; Modern Genre Theory another passage read: “… the word genre now seems…to be operating…as a valorizing term, signaling not prescription and exclusion but opportunity and common purpose: genre as the enabling device…”

Genre, I was discovering, could be an antidote to all the vain and isolating notions of uniqueness, originality and self-expression that have become the stock in trade of the academy for the last seventy five some odd years to the exclusion of more inclusive notions of how art might work!6

Now that I understood some of the mechanics of my new ‘engine of creation’ I could go on to elaborate how I would employ it to fill the Warschaw gallery.  First I needed to identify the genres I would use.  I decided the list should contain ten genres (for the reasons listed above) and set out to find them.  The search came to an abrupt halt when I came upon this list in the play Hamlet by Wm. Shakespeare (a great version starring Nichol Williamson in the title roll can be found in the ‘Classics’ section of your local video store):

“…The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
poem unlimited…”

Dot dot dot indeed, I realized my list would be somewhat arbitrary.  Since it was going to be up to me, I decided my categories would be familiar rather than novel to facilitate engagement with others.  The field was narrowed but still vast.  I felt like the character played by Bill Murray in the beginning of the movie The Razors Edge, on a definite quest but with an as yet vague outcome.  (This is a dynamite version of the story by the way—MUCH better than the Tyrone Power version despite what people say.  Check it out in the ‘Drama’ section of your local video store.)

Unfortunately or otherwise, working for a living prevents me from devoting one hundred percent of my time to my art interest and so my quest for genres had been put on hold when one day quite by chance, while I stood at the return counter of my local video store gazing idly around the room waiting to returning a late DVD it hit me. …!

Eureka, Eureka!!!  Next to Aristotle’s list of ten categories I would posit a list of the ten sections of the video store:

Aristotle’s categories 1. Action
2. Substance
3. Quality
4. Quantity
5. Relation
6. Place
7. Time
8. Situation
9. Condition
10. Passion
1. Action
2. Sci-Fi
3. Comedy
4. Drama
5. Foreign
6. Children
7. Classic
8. New Release
9. Special Interest
10. Porno
To the sections of a modern day video store.

 

The correspondence was striking to me but of no consequence for my project so from that moment on I abandoned Aristotle and concentrated on the categories found in the video store.

Bear with me for one last trip to the book.  From Modern Genre Theory I discovered that the way we categorize is historical and constantly evolving—the genres we have are of our time and place;  “…a society chooses and codifies the acts that correspond most closely to its ideology; that is why the existence of certain genres in one society, their absence in another…” and more importantly that they are not necessarily shaped solely by a set of internal features or attributes:  “…symbolism existed historically; but that does not prove that the works of authors identified with symbolism have discursive properties in common… the unity of the movement may be centered on friendships, common manifestations, and so on.”  May actually be in part glued together by such external relationships as FRIENDSHIPS!!

Eureka, Eureka, Eureka!!! All the pieces were falling into place.  I now had the plan and the powerful but strange new formula necessary to begin to generate material to fill the Warschaw gallery.  Here’s how it worked.

The names of the genres are like incantations.  All I had to do is say the word ‘drama’ and the images would start to fly like ghosts that were particular to ‘drama’ but no one specific ‘drama’.  Since these images are specific without being particular (or particular without being specific?) they are everywhere and nowhere.  This observation lead me to the conclusion that the work I needed to fill the Warschaw Gallery could be extracted from the very gallery itself!!

The first step was to go into the community of San Pedro and enlist the participation of a group of bright, interested and fearless friends, acquaintances and strangers with whom to collaborate.  Without having to sit down together and spend weeks, days even hours hashing out what it was we were going to do the genres would provide a common, yet unique to each individual, understanding.

As we worked to build each generic we were all able to share a common vision yet no two of us were sharing the same vision.7

The ghosts began to fly!!  The resulting material is a reflection of the conceptions of each member of the group yet it does not match the conception of any one member of the group.  It emerged from the building that houses the gallery and the minds, personalities and relationships between each and every individual that participated in making it! 8

It is as unique as a finger print9 yet as familiar as a common kind.

It is a manifestation of a transformation:  The reduction that is each genre is a production in each mind and so the many distilled into one becomes the one created into many; the 1 the beginning and the 0 the snake eating its tail – the cycle, unity, the infinite. Oh god DAMN what a story!!!10

 

NOTES

1. As quoted in the web log STAMP TREE CHAIR—it’s a real blog, you can Google it…….

2. It’s a real book, you can find it on Amazon.com

3. The arrangement of bowling pins

4.  My cousin produced this incredible movie, swear to god!!!

5. You could get all technical on me and say it’s a set of features or list of characteristics or rules that can be listed and that its not a vague image but if I say ‘detective story’  my guess is an image ‘ll pop into your head before you can think of a rule or feature set.

6. Though it may seem as though I have a bias its not that I don’t appreciate the finger print or poop of the individual artist, its that I regret the mindless privileging of these at the exclusion of all else; e.g. legibility, community and common purpose.

7.For my part, as the one primarily responsible for the content of the exhibition, I felt obliged to supplement my impressions of each genre with online research (see appendix ‘A’).

8. I’ll take the lion’s share of the credit and the blame since it’s my show, but otherwise!!

9. For those who want to collect a one-of-a-kind – I mean, everything in the show is limited edition so, maybe not one-if-a-kind but at least not-MANY-of-a-kind

10. In the first person narrative genre! Am I whipping this or what!!

 

THE MOVIES

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Horror

 

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Drama

 

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Classics

 

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Action

 

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Sci-Fi