Saturday, 31 January 2009

the birth of the timid modernist...?

though it's traditional to regard december as the period of reflection and self assessment, it occurs to me, as this first month of 2009 draws to a very rapid close, that in reality january is when all the navel gazing actually happens. because january is the time when we re-read those crumpled lists and resolutions hastily made in the dazzling glow of new years brilliant and deafening fireworks, fooling us into temporary aberrations of unfounded optimism or sheer foolhardiness...

like the two faced janus it is named after, this first month looks as much at the retreating year as the coming one. it is a metaphorical bridge between the past and the future, the year we have lived and our aspirations for whats to come. it is in effect a rehearsal, a trial period for the rest of the year...a sort of introductory offer. january is for many somewhat bleak, stark and joyless after all that festive fun and frivolity and not for nothing has it been dubbed the most depressing month of the year. we have just these four weeks to try out, refine or abandon all those crazy dreams for self improvement, reinvention, flagellation, before the year starts in earnest. by february gym memberships drop, attendance at weight watchers crashes and the long dark nights can seem interminable.

as for me, i too have looked back at 2008, assessed my failures and achievements and made a long list of 'to does' in an effort to focus my attention for the coming year. i've also attempted to identify just what it is that im trying to do, or in contemporary parlance, understand and articulate my 'practice'.

the problem with being what often feels like a lone visual culturist in a city of poets, artists, playwrights, actors and novelists, is the sense of isolation, of not having the camaraderie of one's peers. and crucially unlike them, i simply dont have a practice, a title or definition to guide my progress. without this sense of self awareness or identity, my gaze tends to range far and wide, encompassing too many interests, and i am always in danger of floundering ineffectively in the backwaters of the cultural zeitgeist, a mere dilettante in a world of solid practitioners, all creating artefacts or making work within definite boundaries or disciplines.

last year i was writer in residence at apartment and i came to enjoy hiding behind that handy title, though i was ever uncertain as to my function amongst the artists and curators, an imposter in the world of art. i have also been made welcome amongst loiterers, flaneurs and urbanists, but again have no real purpose in their midst, a mere voyeur in a world of activity, agency and creativity. i have been shortlisted in the writing category of the manchester blog community, but turned out to be a fish out of water amongst the other worthy shortlisters, with no actual writing under my belt, no manuscripts, recitals or readings to my credit. i have a keen interest in the built environment and the metropolis, but am not an architect or landscape designer. i have presented papers about the way we live now and how we navigate space in todays city, but am hardly a social anthropologist or cultural geographer.

so this january i have been pitifully attempting to pinpoint just what it is i am, what is it i do and how i can do it better and more effectively, find an audience, fellow enthusiasts, some of my own kind to play with and find my own path amongst. and as we progress to february its surely time to get down to business, face the coming year, embrace it and do something useful with it...

looking back at my past ruminatings whilst preparing the Reading Room section of the recent apartment show i realise how much of my output has been a defence of modernism in general and especially what is all too often dismissed as 'grim' or 'utopian' but always misguided and failed post-war social housing. my new year list of urgent things to write about in the diary reiterates this, comprising as it does the umist hollaway wall, the threats to the umist campus, and the 20th century society's murals campaign.

owen hatherley in his brilliant blog 'sit down man you're a bloody tragedy' has as his visual motif the beautiful tag 'militant modernist', the title of his forthcoming book, described on the ballardian as

'a call to have the courage to be modern against all the current postmodern pieties of exhaustion and fragmentation' and 'a revolutionary modernism against its absorption into the heritage industry and the aesthetics of the luxury flat'.

it is also a call to arms to this humble scribbler to get off the fence and come out as at the very least a timid but determined modernist. perhaps this is my new title and aspiration for 2009:

EP Niblock, diarist, bluestocking and modernist, defender of the brutalist aesthetic!


Katherine said...

This is very interesting... and I really like the idea of a militant (or indeed timid!) modernist.

However, I do sometimes think that being too prescriptive or specific about what you are trying to do - defining what your practice is about, or even what kind of an artist you are - can be very limiting. It takes away some of the openness and possibility. For me, I think the most interesting part is the process, not the end-point - much like a psychogeographic ramble, the interesting bit is not where you're going to, but what happens along the way.

Bluestocking said...

yes, i did keep hearing that sort of reasoning ringing round my ears as i was writing this, so thank you for reminding me - it became THE mantra of my tutors during my masters and drove them to despair i think!!!

whilst my head understands that my constant need to pop myself in a box, be an 'expert' (its a tendancy ive had since watching university challenge as a child...) is limiting and self censuring, i still revert to it,especially when im feeling down....i worry that im not ever going to make a difference, save the world, or rescue an artefact from destruction. its perhaps a hangover from years of rescue excavation - the feeling that your doing something concrete and real -and its also typically victorian!!!

but this is what i love about conversation and collaboration - the imput and elucidation of others. thanks katherine, i appreciate it,

much love epn xx