Notes from the darkness

IFAC Arts
May 3, 2019 5:52AM

by Julie Kern Donck

Similarly to those who write in the darkness—spending their life somewhat enclosed, as constantly trapped between two walls, an existence shared with mice, rats, spiders, all living organisms that lurk in the gaps—one can draw in the darkness, or more exactly draw from the darkness. This darkness of perceptions, that is so thick that can almost become palpable—yet blind—arises with the form of waves, of near-ideas, of near-drawings. It is about recovering all the visions of the world outside from a submerged world, recovering the abandoned ideas, the ones that have been relegated for a time that now seems infinite but could as well be very brief. The thought that emerges from it, the voice that emerges from it, the lines that emerge from it, are the thoughts from below, thoughts that have no place in our world of reason and technology, and in the dreams that flow through it. It is a voice that, although it can sometimes be spoken clearly, remains inaudible, as part of a spectrum to which everyone seems to be deaf; unspeakable words that are too unbearable to be listened to. Thus, one writes and draws in the darkness, in the company of mice, those intelligent little beings of short lifetime.

All I can hope to achieve is to convey these instincts even without really understanding them... me for whom the understanding of things is so essential, me who constantly smooth my thoughts like a bird arranges its feathers... I organise things that I fundamentally do not understand. So be it: they will happen as they happen. So, for those for whom I draw, I offer the same attitude as to those to whom one writes. To whom does a writer write, if not for oneself? It is embarrassing to offer our idiotisms to the world, our obsessions, those furrows grooved a thousand times; they are both the nearest and the most distant things in the world. I can no longer stand the metadiscourses, the comments and the empty sentences; it is even worse than not thinking at all. I dread half-thinking and yet am not able to overcome it; there is nothing possible but half-thinking. Any feeling of articulation and of coherence is a magical effect of language: it exists only within the realm of reason... just because it can be verified, that it can be made to work, it does not mean that it is something coherent—the word coherence itself, should be wiped off the dictionaries.

Then I must succeed in rendering the realm of sensations, from the grossly obvious to the most subtle, from the ridiculous outbursts to the almost invisible oscillations of the mood; a being who is always attentive to all the signals that one's body gives, who always are concerned to transform them into thought, to unwittingly eradicate all the mysteries. Perhaps my character is not exactly the one of an artist, but rather that of a writer; perhaps my character is not that of a human being either, but the character of an animal. Healthy animals are always looking forward; I do. Are unhealthy animals always looking inward? I do. To dedicate one's life to the observation of beasts feels like a radiant ideal; they are neither better nor worse than we are, they are others. Being other is the fate that I share with them, and in their otherness I recover a joy of being, a joy of feeling my fingers take the initiative of movement, of my breathing, of those around me, of a crow that is croaks, of a parakeet that slips into a hole, of flowers that quiver, of a stupid conversation...; stupidity itself and the fallibility of thoughts become part of a world so vast and so bizarre that there is no need to look for any meaning in it; it is a terrain, it has no direction, there is no need to be happy or sad; there is no need at all. There is only experience. That's all that can be known.

The destruction of these others and their systematic replacement by ourselves, or the transformation of these others into ourselves, such as from a wolf to a dog, from an unnamed forest to a hiking trail; from oceans of lives so radically different from ours to black and empty abysses; from grassy plains full of the little noises of tiny lives that inhabit it, to a yellowish and silent stretch, eventually covered with houses, swimming pools and tennis courts, with a café, a pizzeria, a factory, or a shopping, with an airport. The unknown replaced with things whose names are united to us. What are we going to do with the words eagle, lion, wolf, snake, when what they designate will have disappeared - that will be an equivalent of the word unicorn. All my thoughts, all my joy of life are suddenly swallowed up in this thought, that of the upcoming grief. All these beings who are other and whose destiny of strangeness I share - since I live among mice - are doomed to disappear; my community of destiny with them makes me also doomed to disappear, in the dark part, in the nameless part... Can we think of the wonderful masterpieces that have never emerged from a notebook, thrown with the belongings of n old lady who died alone and miserable? Perhaps these are the only works that can achieve the true status of authenticity; works that have never been read by anyone but those who wrote them, works that were born and that died in the greatest secret, in the intimacy of a being with oneself. No one needs to know.

Inside of the drawings, the past and the future merge. Both are underlyingly present in the fragmented figures. They are willingly anachronistic. I don't pretend to make the etchings to look perfectly like old things, even if they carry an important reference to the past. I try to reach a form of obviousness in the confuse recollection of forms of animals, people, weapons, like an observation that triggers a broader questioning.

Basically, my thing is to make this big mish-mash, to take advantage of the confusion, to organise the confusion into something even more confusing; I also enjoy the paradox of working with technologies that we consider obsolete (they are still used in printing banknotes, but perhaps banknotes will also become obsolete) in order to discuss what is happening now, to discuss a world that is all about the future... a future that appears to be rather dark and unbearable, that conveys the end of hope and creative carefreeness. I am one of the generation of people who will have to personally decide what to do and weigh the consequences of it. We are going to take the very concept of responsibility to heart, and it will be an unprecedented level of violence. It is difficult to look to the future under the current circumstances, but it will have to be. Faced to this gloomy perspective we come to impasses of technological fetishism such as accelerationism, or on the contrary we see a kind of return to the values that we consider pre-technological, without realising that because of language itself, which is a technology, the very first one, the most ancient and the most powerful, so powerful that we cannot even think without language... therefore this return to spiritual and religious values, what knows, forms of hope and hopelessness that in fact don't involve much action. I believe that this tension, this political discomfort, can be experienced in the background of my work.

This discomfort also translates in an awareness of materials. I have been working with contemporary technologies as I have with older technologies; they are continuous despite the breaking points that we set in history. There is a tendency to imagine, except perhaps for robotics, the digital as a virtualization, a dematerialization. It is exactly the opposite: it is the materialization of immaterial things. Those are abstract notions that are hard written in all these metal discs, in this gold, this platinum, this copper, this silver, this silicon. It is a very advanced form of writing. The ubiquity of cloud data comes from its constant replication, and this replication is always physical, it consumes an extraordinary amount of energy. Thus the rapid sharing of abstraction has been made easier by the creation of networks—a physical process of simulation.

There came a point when I had had enough, to work in these Aristotelian spaces where you have to invent everything, simulate everything. Simulation is very labour-intensive, it is not an automatic process at all. It requires a considerable amount of mind craftsmanship, and it also has a physical cost for workers who remain behind computers; clicks, screen, position, desk height... Printing is embodying a master in an object made of paper, metal, fabric... It is not fundamentally different to print a drawing from a copper plate than to print a 3D image rendering, it is simply more distant. It's from that distance that I couldn't take it anymore. I don't find it intrinsically bad, but I needed something more direct, a grammar that was less parasitic about the problems of the authentic, the fictitious, the reproducible, the virtual, the simulated... I will always return to it, but I needed to catch my breath and leave the world of distant action to return to the world of near action.

In truth, the main problem of digital art is the question of the input: you can write a program, have a computing unit, a hard disk, but if you have nothing to put in it, nothing will come out of it either. So you have to find images, sounds, information to feed the machine to get it to do its job; this information is not easy to find, and is arbitrary. Either we engage in the laborious adventure of simulation, or we work from existing documents by transforming them. I started with the latter, with all these glitches, these dialectics of blur and controlled destruction. There is something left of that. I was already working on a mixture of mythological images, on wild and tamed animals, on brutality, on war. This is the dataset that keeps coming back in my imageries. Animality as a memento for immanence and otherness, mythology as a memory of history and war as a reminder of the present, which is also the future.

IFAC Arts