seeing and not seeing

This flash of insight had illuminated the connection between my initial idea of the matchsticks as Zen-like challenges and my thoughts about performativity and indexicality that followed. Realising this connection led me to think of the new artefacts that I was seeking to create as “playable koans” — toy-like objects with some vital element of realness that could enable moments of satori. T1

T1:During my most recent phase of frustrated sketching I had also been reading about Fluxus, the avant garde art movement of the 1960s and 70s that embraced playfully Zen methods as a means ‘to deflect us back to a starting point — to the world itself with all of its vagueness, dislocations, and potentialities’ (Smith 2011, p. 119). While Fluxus is perhaps best known for its conceptual “scores” or instruction pieces that detail a series of actions to be undertaken, there is also an emphasis on objects in the Fluxus oeuvre. Most notable are the assemblages known as FluxKits and FluxGames, which share with the more dematerialised instruction pieces an interest in process that can be described as performative. Games scholar Celia Pearce alludes to the performativity of these works when she notes: ‘The FluxKits and FluxGames that emerged out of the 60’s and 70’s were beautiful readymade objects, but their object-ness represents a state of dormant play. Just as a chess board is a beautiful object, its true value is in its potential energy, which is actuated when the game is played. It is in the playing that a chess board comes alive, and the game object becomes a catalyst for play’ (2010, p. 17).

As Pearce notes, the FluxKits and FluxGames were readymades, comprised of everyday materials like the matchsticks and other sundries I had been collecting. (In fact Ben Vautier’s 1968 piece Total Art Matchbox is an altered box of matches.) Fluxus artists employed these familiar objects for deliberately political ends, ‘to make statements not only about the media themselves, but also about the larger context of society, power and control in which they are embedded’ (ibid. p. 10). But the marbles and dice and dried beans in these works also convey an indexicality; an invitation to do something for real. And yet the political agenda of Fluxus frequently steps in to stymie the doing of anything: a common trope in Fluxus works is ‘the unplayable game, a kind of high concept game that makes a larger statement by exposing the broken systems that it represents’ (ibid. p. 11).

Although Fluxus was not a conscious point of reference in my epiphany of the playable koans, it undoubtedly influenced my thinking. In hindsight I can say that I was most affected by the aspects of Fluxus that didn’t resonate with my vision for The Parallaxis — specifically the idea of the unplayable or the strictly conceptual. In my resistance to this idea I found my own research interests further emphasised: the open rather than the closed; the possible rather than the impossible.

With refreshed enthusiasm I unpacked my inventory of objects and set up my studio. The items that seemed to have the most potential went on my work table, where I would contemplate them while trying to avoid thinking too hard about their possibilities. It was a sort of sideways focus, hoping to catch glints of inspiration out of the corner of my eye. I began moving things around, this next to that. Dice and pill boxes; balloons and dressmaker pins. Some objects flickered and then fell silent: darts, dominoes, poker chips. Others continued to gleam with possibility: magnets, marbles, a dollar coin. In fits and starts, a body of work came together. But none of the ideas came as freely as the matchsticks, and none resulted in an artefact so elegant. I was still missing something.