What Can the Object Do?
A Group Exhibition at The Hand
February 11 - March 4, 2017
More Info Here
Making art is a form of non-verbal theorizing. I feel these things, I see these things. And theory is, basically, a representation of the world: observations about the way things work and exist, whether in the past, present, or future. Explaining something. Representing something.
Charms, amulets, and talismans work in a similar way. The maker looks at the world and creates an object. Charms are tools, though of a different order. Is the ceremonial blade/ax still a tool, even if it never leaves its altar? It certainly “does” something, but that “something” is not immediately clear. But the important thing is: almost as long as there have been blades there have been ceremonial blades.
That’s the genesis of the title, What Can the Object Do?
Hopefully this question can also reveal something about the way we think. Asking what an art piece “does”, in some contexts, is completely acceptable: What does this piece do? We often say that a good piece of art “works”.
In recent history, charms, amulets, and talismans are used primarily by the most disenfranchised. Those in a position of privilege consistently use this as evidence of “lack of rationality” or simply lower brain capacity. Of course, these groups turn to this type of agency – magic – precisely because they have no other options.
For example, Ernesto De Martino, an anthropologist who studied in Naples and the surrounding areas, points out that women in these communities so often used love spells and charms not because women are more “irrational”, but because they had so little say in love and the marriage process. They could not pick whom, when, or why. The love spells and charms were a way out of passivity.
Perhaps my attraction to this subject is sentimental nostalgia for a period when artists and their labor were more integrated into society. Most artists I know (myself included) are currently experiencing some level of crisis in their studio:
What can art do to help our situation?
These conversations eventually come up against the big question: Why Make Art?, or at least: Why Make the Art I Make? As more than on person has said: “What do I do now? Make a painting of Donald Trump?”
In the dream, all is reconciled: I make art, my art effects change.
In the “real world” we must still vote, protest, and take concrete steps to make things better. But the dream and the real cannot exist without each other.
text by Maren Miller