Wednesday, 18 February 2015

'The Process of Content' Readings/// Frances Davis' text 'Complexity and Multiplicity'

On Saturday 29 November 2014, Cooper Gallery presented the Roundtable Discussion The Process of Content: on a temporality in contemporary artDrawn from the proposition that the work of Anna Oppermann acts as 'a practice of thinking', the roundtable discussion was a stimulating gathering of thoughts that elaborated and amplified the histories, politics and social reverberations of art practices in the 1970s and 80s, and the influence and impact they have on our thinking about art and culture today. ​The event included invited speakers Guy Brett (Curator and Critic, London), Lynda Morris (Curator and Art Historian, Norwich), Tobi Maier (Curator and Writer, São Paulo), Prof. Martin Warnke & Carmen Wedemeyer (Researchers, Leuphana University Lüneburg) and was chaired by Dr. Lisa Otty (Research Fellow, The University of Edinburgh). For more information please see here.

Accompanying the Roundtable Discussion was a series of readings from art writers in Scotland: Frances Davis, Kirsty Hendry, Alex Hetherington, Catherine Street & JL Williams, and Richard Taylor. This is the final post in our series of blog posts on Cooper Gallery Notes to publish the texts from each of the writers who presented their readings at the event.

Photo: Frances Davis reading Complexity and Multiplicity. Photo: Kathryn Rattray

Notes on the reading during the Roundtable Discussion on Saturday 29 November 2014.
Frances Davis read her text aloud to the audience.

"Somewhere in this world, complexity must still be valued"

This is a phrase attributed to Anna Opperman that I came across in reading around her work and practice in preparation for the event today and the following short reading takes Opperman’s conception and enactment of complexity as it's starting point and situates it in proximity to Italo Calvino’s writing on multiplicity from his Six Memos for the New Millenium.

In our contemporary era, characterised by a continuous and seemingly instantaneous flow and exchange of information through dense networks, a consideration of complexity is apt. If, as Opperman implores, “complexity must (still) be valued” then first we must ask both what its value is and how might we value it?

Written within a few years of Opperman making Cotoneaster Horizontalis, Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the New Millennium outlines six values of literature which Calvino felt would be important for the coming millennium, the millennium we now find ourselves in. In his fifth text, and the final text to be completed before his death, Calvino addresses multiplicity.

Calvino suggests that we can no longer think in terms of a totality that is not potential, conjectural, and manifold and posits the idea of an open encyclopaedia, a method of knowledge and a network of connections between, in his words, "the events, the people, and the things of the world". While traditionally, and etymologically, the encyclopaedia attempts to enclose all knowledge, Calvino’s open encyclopaedia offers a new model, a complex and continuous whole that disrupts the ideas of truth and fact, instead positing an understanding of knowledge as a mutable and non-linear concept.

In concluding he offers up the potential he perceives in this form, and in embracing multiplicity as method:

“Someone might object that the more the work tends toward the multiplication of possibilities, the further it departs from that unicum which is the self of the writer, his inner sincerity and the discovery of his own truth. But I would answer: Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.

But perhaps the answer that stands closest to my heart is something else: Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would let us escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic...”

Or to return to Opperman: Perhaps here, in Opperman’s ensembles, as in Calvino’s open encyclopaedia, we find both the value of complexity and a method through which it might be valued; a way of thinking, and of making, that reflects the multiplicity and complexity of the contemporary moment, and moves beyond the singular perspective to something larger than its whole.


You can watch a showreel of the readings by Frances Davis, Kirsty Hendry, Alex Hetherington, Catherine Street & JL Williams, and Richard Taylor via the video below:

Interested in critical art writing? Check out our developing collection of work by writers based in Scotland on the Studio Jamming Critical Writing Residency website. Group Critical Writing Residency, edited by Maria Fusco, was part of Studio Jamming: Artists’ Collaborations in Scotland curated by Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in June-August 2014.

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