Kids love Ice Cream. Kids love slime. Gunk, ooze, swill, they’ll get it on a stick and present it to adults all day, loving the shudders and turned-up noses. They know adults think of it differently to them. Kids have not learned to specialise, they have not yet learned rigidity, not learned the horror of unbecoming, the horror of the undifferentiated, the ruptured limit, the discorporation of the incorporated. Psychologists will tell us that, to adults, slime is disgusting because it is inter-category--neither fully solid or liquid, something in-between that is a product of decay, or yet may be greenly generative, primordial soup, on the way to either solidity or liquidity. A bit like Ice Cream, palatable slime, and a bit like behaviour, David Robbins’ behaviour, self-reflective behaviour and its products that include, but are not limited to art.
Ice Cream is an example. It is cultural in the most obvious sense; because it is unnecessary. It's not a staple food, it's a luxury, it means enjoyment. What do we do when we ascribe meaning to the unnecessary? Is it itself a metaphor for the meanings it is difficult to ascribe to the necessary? So, this stuff, (works) like the Ice Cream Social we have just enjoyed, is extra-category. OK, it's in a gallery, and there is work on the wall, but what does it have to do with art? Remember that something's memory is being programmed here, ours and something else’s. In the end, how did we behave? As naturally as enjoying ourselves comes? At a certain point, we stop worrying about stuff. Or maybe we file worry away, to think about it later. But while you're chewing it over later, are you making art, or thinking art? I'm not.
Why should I restrict and privilege my production, my ideas for things, if I'm not an expert, if I'm just not cut-out for the discipline? Discipline has us (over a barrel), here, discipline of expertise and investment in the subject, that which gives us the right to speak about it, as it were. The spectre of Dilettantism is also here--not great at anything, so not taken seriously (in its range of approach). What are we after, the model of human truth coming from a life devoted to a single subject? As David Robbins says, we come from a TV and mass media education, it's natural that we get ideas for lots of different mediums. We come from a world of interrelation and we have a capability for it. Even our education proves it; we do French, Maths and Geography in the morning, and another three things after lunch. It is not expected that our learning of Maths will hinder our appreciation of History later on in the day. We can work with little chunks of different things, why do we narrow it down, to specialise? Do we want to assume, for example, as defined by a certain New York Critic (Robert Pincus-Witten) of abstract painting, one of the Ten Flavours of painting, why when there are at least 31?
Art talks about itself, about the behaviour of artists. It unfreshens the things of which it is constituted. It tends to layer them with a patina of mystical somethingness that interrupts a frank relationship. It is fundamentally and exponentially greedy, ready to enclose anything that it wants to be in its gang. But if it allows any sort of behaviour access, it does so on the condition that that behaviour is firstly additive to what is art. If artworld acceptance is an investment, might it not also be like a bank, lending its name to a project, as long as the return is plus interest payment. Might it not be possible to default on this loan? What if it finds within its borders an instance of behaviour which is not prepared to be limited to art? Being a primarily nominative discipline, it gets nervous. Any nominative discipline would. (Religion, for example- the more arbitrarily enunciative, the more rigorously defended, founded on so little, a matter of opinion, and therefore defended to the death; perhaps because of the risk involved in that enunciation, or the challenge, which always comes from the direction of credibility.)
The difficulty with art has always been the breakthrough; the question "Is it Art?' is an old one. The question should be perhaps, what else can it be, what is its ambition? After Duchamp's ructions, art is found to be able to enfold everything which is assumed to be art, operates within the givens of the artworld, or is simply proclaimed to be art. David Robbins' things seem to be moving in the opposite direction, out of art’s context. The trouble is what that movement infers upon those efforts which are left behind. Robbins' behaviour is the kind that provokes the “shivers” in those who 'Believe In Art'. A piece made by someone who also works in other media can be worrying for art, in that it equates the level of selective intention with that applied to other media, and these will include, most worryingly, entertainment. It mistakes what it holds entertainment to be for the ambition of the work, perhaps something "lower" than itself, not as serious, not as high-brow.
To go back to nomination, and nominations' power; if we look at the invitation card for this Ice Cream Social, the invitation card shows a "star", with someone else’s name on the bottom corner, and then another plate on the frame with yet another name, Buster Keaton, Laurence Olivier, and the photo is Paul Newman. This nomination is levered open- it’s the very obviousness of the manipulation which is powerful, resulting in a momentary disarray. There is no mistake, but a deliberate dissociation. The Gravity of that Star-Shaped Object is sufficient to pull its elements from their contextual orbits half-way inside-out, into another universe.
Magritte comes to mind. Magritte's paintings show how normality overtakes objects. Take a few things from their normal flow, relate them with just enough skill or acuity so that what has been done is clear, and you have at least an exposé, measured in amusement or difficult entertainment, of context. When objects are presented in unusual combinations, the only mystery is the banality common to all things. Robbins is determined to make some kind of juxtaposition, this time directly of contexts, revealing as a by-product the limits and rigidity of those contexts. The inter-category form is a strange hybrid, and in a way, the object which represent it itself becomes the more precious and fragile. And also I feel, it earns a strange Normalcy, a matter of factness. An example of that is the series of photographs which are the "Possible Entrance Driveways to the Institute of Advanced Comedic Behaviour’.
The Institute doesn’t exist physically. These are photographs of the entrances to wealthy estates that do exist, the driveway trailing off into nothing, beyond where you could see. So these are places taken from the world and redesignated as a possibility, but also indicative that there should be a place for an Institute of Advance Comedic Behaviour, and also that it would have an entrance driveway which was completely usual, not outlandish, acceptable, in the same way that another branch of another specific church in suburban America is completely normal.
Why do I think this is important? Can we not see that it is the ease of locating things in the art context that hinders their meaningful existence? Artists know this anyway, when they complete something new--its meaning seems elsewhere, or of another order--it is working away on its own. To go back to Magritte, Bernard Noel writes on explaining Magritte--“just when I have reeled off the line that would explain, that would have done with the thing, I see the thing again and realise I have taken atmosphere for visage, and that after it has all been emptied out, it is precisely that which cannot be emptied out, that constitutes whatever meaning it finally has.”
The Ice Cream Social, for example, is not understood, or to be understood, as a conceptual artwork, because its meanings cannot be augmented by inclusion in art. In cases such as this, the idea of art, as a predetermining factor, is lousy to the adventure. The challenge is for the production to become meaningful while swerving existing categories of culture. All the examples of product are there in culture, minus the one which is the specific case of the one which you, anybody, is doing, making, right now. For a century, the more interesting things about science have been found at the subatomic level. There are all sorts of non-Newtonian behaviours going on there which are even difficult or impossible to imagine within our framework of cause and effect, mechanics and, ultimately, language. In the sub-atomic world, nothing makes sense when seen through the normal frame of reference. Art models, visual and popular cultural models form the atoms of our understanding of culture, discrete blocks of practice, of production maintaining in a rigid structure. Is it not time to admit that it is more interesting to look between them (research for new manners of building, opposed to old manners of building or elemental manipulation based on the essentialisms of the atomic model), at their communications, at their little ferries of information passing to and fro, at the very nothings, indiscernibles, or bundles of strange energy that make up these blocks? Its a conundrum, it doesn’t make sense, but it seems to be true.
Finally, an aside. That thing about quantum mechanics is one operation of relation to the subject, it’s a metaphor, a means of understanding through familiar substitute, considered as a somehow artificial but sometimes necessary, and most times pleasurable operation of equating human behaviour or intention with a natural law; that is--amusing.
Read aloud by Padraig at the Ice Cream Social held at Cubitt Studios, London, January 12, 2002, organized by Polly Staple. Published in Trouble, 2005