The City and an Art Practice, Simon O'Sullivan
The City and an Art Practice, Simon O'Sullivan

The City and an Art Practice, Simon O'Sullivan

The City and an Art Practice.

There is a causal connection between the city and creativity, just as there is between capitalism and expression. One name for this connection is modernism. And, the bigger the city - generally - the more expression, not least because a very large city lets things slip through, allows dissent - almost as its own internal working logic. Smaller cities - towns - tend to have top-down, often left wing city ‘councils’ that zone the city, striate the space (you can drink/dance here, but not here, this place (always the centre of attention) is for shopping, this place for eating/sleeping...this is where you will go to die...). But in larger cities space is smooth - there is a certain freedom, at least on a certain level; creativity if not always actively encouraged is at least tolerated (and this smooth space is at once global and local, the result of ever expanding markets and new technologies (world-wide organisation in general), as well as of ‘counterattack’ to the latter, strategies that combine the smooth with what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘holey’ space. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as this: the same cities also produce abject deprivation - and stultifying alienation - as well as what Georg Simmel once called the ubiquitous ‘blasé’ attitude, an ambient blankness that arises simply from the speed and stimulus of the city, as well as from the ‘blunting of discrimination’ produced by the ‘money economy’. Nevertheless, cities are, and always have been, a space of possibility - a place of expression. Cities are a plane of immanence; a scene of events. And to celebrate - affirm - this immanence, to really ask the question (and act on It), what am I capable of doing? What am I capable of becoming? means to be involved in an art practice that is in part determined by the city - an expanded art practice in which life is also the work in progress. The Surrealists and Situationists knew this (and the dandys and flaneurs before them). This is the creative practice of everyday life, the making of one’s life into an aesthetic project, the ‘use’ of the city in new, and specifically unsanctioned ways. It is in this sense that it is never a question of rejecting modernity, of turning away from the city - of putting the breaks on as it were, of a ‘withdrawal from the world market’, but, as Deleuze and Guattari once remarked - following Nietzsche - of proceeding in exactly the opposite direction, that is to say plugging into Capital’s logics of invention and innovation. The point in fact is precisely ‘to accelerate the process’ Deleuze and Guattari). We need more expression, not less. More art. More experimentation - and not the endless proliferation of controls and restraints we see on the latter (indeed, how else are we to side step those subjectivities already prescribed to us?). As far as this goes, and as Deleuze and Guattari again remark, ‘the truth is we haven’t seen anything yet’. An expanded art practice will involve the creative use of different spaces of the city (for example, the small artist-run initiatives/spaces that increasingly colonise the east end, or in the psychogeography that still continues in London today) - but also the deployment of different times. A utilisation of any pasts that have been passed by; the utilisation of different futures, of possibilities yet-to-come. And then also a different temporality. A performance, for example, is an event, a moving away from prescribed work/leisure linear time (and the attendant hang ups about the past – and anxieties about the future). A performance also involves the movement of our complex, perhaps altered, bodies within the larger city-body (that is to say, following Spinoza, the constitution of a new body). Within such a performance mistakes - glitches - will be embraced as an opening that allows for the contingent to arise, and for that which is truly singular to emerge (is this not after all what art has always been?). We will always stutter and stammer the dominant - shriek like animals at precisely that point when meaning is demanded. A practice for the city and its future inhabitants then. If you are looking for anything to understand, you will not find it here.

Simon O'Sullivan
(Text from exhibition publication for allsopp&weir;, Some Time Repeating An Embarassed Word, Studio 1.1, London, 2007)