Tuesday, April 26, 2011

arbiterium / nequitum

The arbitrerium experiment (arbitrerium [lat.] means deciding somebody’s fate, choice, judgment, decision) The title experiment is an attempt to analyse the process of choosing, its consequences and irrevocability. A built plan drawn to a scale 1:1 prepared, banal situation of choosing one of two options, perhaps by elimination of the other one, or by following an impulse lasting for a fraction of a second may make one ask oneself a question: why am I doing so? But, of course, one does not need to do it. It may appear to be another artificial store of ideas, ordered in a certain configuration, simply chosen from the others.
The nequitum experiment (nequitum [lat.] not to be able to, not to manage)
Two rooms – doors apparently closed with heavy, steal bolts. One can see what is happening behind them. Peepholes were placed in the doors (such as in prisons), through which one can see what is happening behind them (video simulation – LCD screens placed behind an appropriately prepared glass.
The first simulation (the first door) the inside of some room, a person tossing and turning, the noise of bangs on the door (attempts to force the door from the inside – the character tosses and turns like a wounded animal). An impression that behind the door something terrible is happening, however outside one’s field of vision.
The second simulation (the second door) the eyes gazing searchingly.
The sound is an essential element – suggestive and coming from behind a closed door. However after opening them one sees that all is a deception, the visible signs of life happen in the space in between.

2008 - Experiment arbiterium, Piekary Gallery, Poznan (PL)
2008 - Experiment nequitum, Manhattan Gallery, Lodz (PL)

trapped by flypaper

 Przemysław Jędrowski  In your latest work you suggested a kind of a sociocultural experiment in a form of two artistic events in Lodz and Poznan. Thanks to them everybody could experience an ‘operational model’ of free will, consider the mechanisms of decision-making and face their consequences. The name of the project comes from two Latin notions: arbiterium (Lat.: adjudication, choice, judgement, decision, verdict) and nequitum (Lat.: not to be able, to fail). However, one cannot fail to observe that in this case the free choice was only a consequence of a concrete type of activity – determinism, participation in a happening at an art gallery. Was that intentional?
 Andrzej Wasilewski  Determinism, fatalism, behaviorism. All life long we have our heads crammed with natural sciences that claim that our choices are not ultimately ours since we are constantly stimulated by something. Western culture is dualistic in nature, and it consists in an ongoing evaluation and choosing between good and evil. This is rooted in Christianity. (I think that this bipolarity is absent from Oriental tradition.) We operate in terms of causal effect, a zero-one system, and we keep saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This determines our life; we think that every choice is of profound significance, although it is not, when considered from a distance. We are aware of it, yet the consequences of our activity are often surprising. Therefore, I decided to create the ‘left or right’ model and emphasize the moment of making a choice to consider its mechanism.
 PJ  However, when you incite the choice it becomes insignificant – whichever way you take you reach the same end. There is something of a Greek tragedy in it (‘whatever you do the gods have already decided’) and the Buddhist rising above reality (‘it is not important what happens to you, what is important is how you take it’).
 AW  It is a kind of mystification. I divided it into two parts in Poznan: the motif of viscous space and that of another space that offers the possibility to choose one’s way.
 PJ  All right, but the person taking part in your experiment either finds a projection of flies stuck in glue or gets caught by true flypaper. This is the exploitation of the same issue in two different forms: one is literary, another allegorical. At the tunnel entrance the screens flash subliminal messages, classical baits: attractive women, flowers, and beautiful objects. In this way your work quotes biological mechanisms of luring that are present in nature, and which usually bring a fatal end to the lured...
 AW   Well, one can always try again, can’t he?
 PJ  Yes, but what’s the point if wherever you go will find glue in which you will drown.
 AW  You may be right.However, the film you are referring to is not so unequivocal. Please note that the insect caught in the glue does not always lie down wriggling its legs. Most of the time you can see the substance that is trapping it, but there are also fragments when the fly gets out of the gunk. On several occasions the insect walks out of the frame.
 PJ  So there is hope.
 AW  I hope so (laughter).
 PJ  Considering the idea of Poznan installation I thought about a certain paradox of Christianity. Like in other religions, determinism is a foundation of Christianity and – by definition – it defies the freedom of choice. On the other hand, Catholicism emphasizes ‘free will’ as God’s greatest gift. In the theories that have recently become popular the behavior and choices of a modern man are strongly conditioned by biology, and he can choose on a very superficial level, depending on culture and worldview.
Additionally, you take the opportunity, so to say, to deconstruct one of the Western myths – technical progress. In your work the application of technology seems a way to discover the truth, yet it also imposes a serious restriction. As the form and content of your work is conditioned by this technology, you construe a multilevel trap.
 AW  In a way I do. This reminds me of a certain motif in Gombrowicz, who talks about being enslaved by form, which is what I once tried to face up to in my own way. I constantly feel the enslavement of my own form. As a human being and as an artist. The form determines all of us. We have kissers and behinds. As for technology, I use it trying to show its weaknesses as well. For me, technology is a surrogate.
Going back to the systems of values, I know that in non-Western cultures there are no more simple and obvious antonyms like the East and West, for example. It was our culture that has created the model of opposites: good-evil, black-white. Even in the cycle of the year, winter is the opposite of summer. Something constantly opposes something else. Eastern cultures do not even assume the system where something is an antagonist of something else. I find it very attractive, although as a man shaped by or plastered with Western culture, I am unable to think in a different manner. I can only theorize or create traps.
 PJ  You assumed that choosing concerns everybody everywhere. When commenting on the compulsivity of making choices, did you consider any alternative model? Weren’t you tempted to show the problem through its negation, antithesis?
 AW  It took me a long time to think how to visualize the idea of so-called free will. I concluded that the best mechanism was a passage through the supermarket gates. It is a kind of a modern Rubicon. And the first word that came to my head was ‘glue’, understood as something that glues and enslaves us. I do not know whether it concerns everyone, of course. Right now I am mainly speaking about myself because I have certain difficulties with making life decisions, and I think that a number of people do. A majority regularly tries to postpone the moment of choosing. Yet sometimes the situation forces us to make some concrete choices. This is when the association with glue came up. For me, the alternative you are asking about is a situation when we do not need to define ourselves by making any choices. Or, maybe it is simple the case of treating them lightly, ignoring them.
 PJ  You studied philosophy, and your project has an obvious philosophical foundation. From the point of view of the history of art, it can be treated as a modern vanitas – an allegorical warning. I wonder how important its artistic dimension is to you, and to what extent these are the means to convey an idea.
 AW   I do not think of myself as a philosopher. I simply went to a university with my pals to philosophize, but attending the lectures I rather quickly found out it was utter gibberish. A pure form for the form’s sake. It was like a riding a train with railroad men on it exclusively. Then the art studies happened to me. What is most important for me is a direct experience and clear expression of ideas. If my work is dominated by form, if someone enthuses with its esthetics, it means that I have failed. I always try to make the form secondary so that the experience and rumination are the foundation of perception of my art. In this sense, you are right, I make reference to the tradition of art. I tackle the problems that many artists have already addressed.
 PJ  But you frequently apply modern technologies. You are among the so-called new media artists.
 AW   Yes, but this does not mean much. I am surprised that people are so uncritically confident that the new media signify something utterly novel and marvelous in art. Therefore, I try to show their weakness in my work. With respect to this work it concerns the counter of individuals passing through the tunnels. The data it gathers are useless – they cannot tell us nothing meaningful but idiotic statistics. The counter is only an instrument of a determined idea, and a faulty one, as it makes calculation errors.
 PJ  Medial art created in the 1960s and 1970s was to a certain extent modern futurism. Technical innovations were a hope and utopia for artists. At present, digital cameras and movie cameras are commonly used.
 AW  That’s right, but you can put the same device to very different uses. Once I visited an exhibition of classic photography from the 1920s. I was enchanted with its magic. A single picture used to be cherished, now there are millions of photographs. I have also heard that the 8mm cameras and analog cameras are coming back. A Russian Lomo in the lomographers’ hands is a cult object. These are only tools, anyway. By education I am only a painter (a wall painter quite frequently), who simply helped himself to this electric-electronic arsenal.
 PJ  In the course of Arbiterium/Nequitum exhibitions you were asking various people to speak about choices. What motifs there appeared?
 AW  Diverse. From the attitudes asking whether we can harm others with our behavior and choices to the utterly laid-back ones. There were also opinions that everything is a coincidence, or that sometimes a fungus gets into somebody’s head and as it grows it affects the human being who hosts it.

texts about choices

 Roman Bromboszcz [>a] 
We make our choices in conformity with a certain majority. By this token we confirm a statistic system that has sufficiently adapted itself to the boundary conditions. A median disappears (from our sight?) because it becomes diversified inside. It is difficult to establish the current condition of modern culture, whether it is approaching the median or the boundary conditions. A wrong choice brings a surplus of meaning, the sense that not everybody seeks. When confronted with human masses, whose assessment becomes the border of the judgment, wrong choices lose on their exclusion but they gain on exceptionality. Paradoxically, the masses also generate their irregularities.
As demonstrated by THX1138 ‘cretinization’ emerges from the borders. Huxley, in turn, places it in the ‘cast system’ of the New Technopolis of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons.

rspective from which I look. I am meticulous about them, I do my best because I want to be fair, I want to be honest. I do not always manage and sometimes my choices are dictated only by anger. These choices are frequently related to the feeling of liberty so it is worth choose well.

 Sebastian Cichocki 
One of the most peculiar exhibits in the American Museum of Jurassic Technology, which is a modern chambres de merveilles in itself, is a preserved Cameroon ant with a pointing outgrowth on its head. The insect from Central Africa is a victim of a Tomentella fungus. On occasion, while foraging in the undergrowth, an ant becomes infected by swallowing the spores of this parasite. The fungus lodges itself inside the ant’s brain modifying behavioral changes in its ant host. The infested insect leaves the ant community, wanders confusedly around the tropical forest, probably suffering from serious hallucinations at the same time. After some time, at the fungus ‘wish’, for the first time in its life, the insect leaves the forest floor and begins a climb up a tree. After the ant finally achieves a prescribed height, utterly spent, it impales the bark with its mandibles and, thus affixed, dies. The fungus grows out of the ant’s head as it continues to consume the rest of the tissue. A bright orange tip of the parasite spreads the spores, a portion of which stands quite a chance to find their way to the brain of another ant.

This true story turned out highly useful when I was discussing conceptual traditions in modern art, the return to ecological themes or the political and social involvement of artists, served the purpose of a neat metaphor in a n-artistic situation. I have observed that the story is particularly suitable in the situations that are somehow related to making a decision. Since it was difficult for me to choose the form of the present text, I was aided by the utterly lost ant, for which a vicious fungus decides.

 Ewa Kulesza decisions 
I never make decisions without considering them. Life has taught me to be cautious. I may seem boring to others, but this does not matter.
Not all decisions are equally important, of course. I let myself make mistakes with these less important ones, I do not always focus when making them, I save my energy. But before I make an important decision I take a long time.
Some decisions concern living standards, others concern spiritual matters. The former are probably easier for me. For a sufficient period of time I collect information, analyze and digest it, then I make the decision. This was how I made the decision t build my house. Obviously, there is always some risk of failure, but it has to be small for me to make a decision (see caution).
It is more difficult with spiritual matters. For instance, what is my vocation, who should I live with? To make a good decision you need to know yourself and your deepest needs well. These needs are frequently affected by pseudo needs imposed on us by others (parents, the Church, friends). Alternatively, we copy the patterns that make us feel safe (even if they are obviously harmful to us). We are with a man who destroys us (claiming it’s love) because our parents used to be destructive and it is our natural, familiar environment. Therefore we frequently believe that we have a certain need whereas it is only an illusion. In order to know myself, to know my real needs, I try to spend a lot of time on my own. Then I can hear my intuition better. I touched upon the issue of intuition. This is the essence of the matter. In the spiritual realm it is always most important to me what my intuition tells me. It tends not to fail me but this is so because I do not let myself lose touch with it.
A majority of my decisions were accurate. I have to admit, though, that several times important choices (decisions) in my life were made by others and I had no say. Then hum helps.

 Kamil Kuskowski Dear Andrzej! 
I have eventually motivated myself to write about motivation and decision-making mechanisms in my not necessarily artistic life. All that took quite some time, maybe because I made the decision to write about it rapidly.
The role of motivation in my artistic life is highly important, and everything is motivating for me, be it success or failure. The latter frequently more inspiring, although one may take it to be . Praise is motivatg, but it has to sicere, although I do not always know which is. Criticm is motivating provided that it is constructive. I am basically able to distinguish this from the other.y is motivating for me, I mean positive envy of a good piece of work by another artist, however difficult it may be to believe this.
I cannot imagine a creative process without the element of motivation. Everything begins with it and everything may come to an end without motivation. It creates a peculiar kind of tension in me and it makes me exceptionally pleased with what I am doing. Finally, others motivate me.
As far as decision-making mechanisms are concerned, I tend to make them too hastily and sometimes I surprise myself. That’s all I have to say about it.
As far as artistic decisions are concerned I think I am more cautious. In principle, the mechanism of making decisions concerning my projects is usually similar. At the beginning I have an idea, or an initial concept one could say. Then there is the time of verification, which tends to be really long. Before I make the final decision I need to be some ninety percent sure of what I am doing.
best regards,

 Konrad Kuzyszyn 

 Jaroslaw Lubiak  
This certainly was the worst day of my life. Or rather the longest and most sleepless night. However, I knew that I had to do what hated to do most (or I wanted to do most what I really shouldn’t do, which is the same). Wh is the room for decision here? (I was thinking that it is when I can do this or that and I choose what I want. Or when I feel like having this and that but I can only get one. Or when I do not want either this or that but I need to choose). The time of the decision occurs when there is no choice whatsoever. When I have to do what I do not want to do most and I decide to do this. Søren Kierkegaard wrote that “the moment of decision is madness.”

 Dominik Poplawski 
A boy is facing a choice whether or not to eat a tidbit.
It’s the last piece.
He can see pleasure and the end of pleasure.
He is relishing the thought of the pleasure to come.
He is postponing it.
He is in the state of ‘non-pleasure’*

*Non-pleasure – separate from the binary relation of “pleasant – unpleasant.”

 Marta Smolińska-Byczuk  My decision is the choice of Milan Kundera’s words: Beyond Causality
On Levin’s estate, a man and a woman meet – two melancholy, lonely people. They like each other and secretly hope to join their lives together. All they need is the chance to be alone for a moment and say so. Finally one day they find themselves unobserved in a wood where they have come to gather mushrooms. Ill at ease, they are silent, knowing that the moment is upon them and they must not let it slip by. The silence has already lasted rather a long while when the woman suddenly, “involuntarily, reflexively” starts to talk about mushrooms. Then silence again, and man casts about for a way to declare himself, but instead of speaking of love, “on some unexpected impulse” he too talks about mushrooms. On the way home they go on discussing mushrooms, powerless and desperate, for never, they know it, never will they speak of love.

Back at the house, the man tells himself that he did not declare his love because of the memory of his mistress, which he cannot betray. But we know perfectly well: It is a false excuse he invokes only to console himself. Console himself? Yes. Because we can resign ourselves to losing a love for a reason. We would never forgive ourselves for losing it for no reason at all.
This very beautiful little episode is a kind of parable for one of Anna Karenina’s great feats: bringing to light the causeless, incalculable, even mysterious aspect of human action.

What is action? – the eternal question of the novel, its constitutive question, so to speak. How is a decision born? How is it transformed into and act, and how so acts connect to make an adventure?

Out of the mysterious and chaotic fabric of life, the old novelists tried to tease the thread of a limpid rationality; in their view, the rationally accessible motive gives birth to an act, and that act provokes another. An adventure is a luminously causal chain of acts.

Werther loves his friend’s wife. He cannot betray his friend, he cannot give up his love, so he kills himself. Suicide with the transparent clarity of a mathematical equation.

But why does Anna Karenina kill herself?

The man who talked about mushrooms instead of love wants to believe that he did so out of loyalty to his vanished mistress. The reasons we might give for Anna’s act would be worth just as little. True, people are treating her with contempt, but can she not do the same to them? She is barred from seeing her son, but is that situation beyond appeal and beyond hope of change? Vronsky is already a little less infatuated, but after all, doesn’t he still love her?

Besides, Anna did not come to the station to kill herself, She came to meet Vronsky. She throws herself beneath the train without having taken the decision to do so. It is rather the decision that takes Anna. That overtakes her. Like the man who talked about mushrooms instead of love, Anna acts “on some unexpected impulse.” Which does not mean that her act is senseless. But its sense lies outside rationally apprehensible causality. [...]

With Anna, we are far from Werther, and far from Dostoyevsky’s Kirilow too. Kirilov kills himself because he is forced to it by very clearly defined interests, carefully delineated intrigues. His act, however mad, is rational, conscious, meditated, premeditated. [...]

Dostoyevsky grasped the madness of reason stubbornly determined to carry its logic through to the end. The terrain Tolstoy explores is the opposite: he uncovers the intrusions of illogic, of the irrational. That is why I mention him. The reference to Tolstoy places Broch in the context of one of the great explorations of the European novel: the exploration of the role the irrational plays in our decisions, in our lives.
Milan Kundera (Author), Linda Asher (Translator), The Art of the Novel, Harper Perennial Classics 2003; pp. 56-59.

 Piotrek Stasiowski   Non plus ultra
A byte is made of eight bits. A bit is the smallest unit of information and it is a simple combination of a single option or its absence. In the simulated world of Baudrille’s simulacra this fact may be of profound significance for the world’s structure. Yet a bit as such has no possibility to construe anything, only a combination of bits, their code construes something. A single decision is not able to influence the ultimate form of the intention. This is reassuring as it secures us aorthodoxy.
To light up another cigarette today or not? To press a red button or refrain oneself from an atomic massacre? To paint a picture or go for a picnic with friends? Each decision is conditioned by a series of secondary factors that are frequently not related to our choices directly. These factors provide a context that the decision.
The context of a decision softens one’s responsibility for the decision. It makes the notions of good and evil relative. Do universal values exist then? Indisputable ones? In a certain sense art serves the purpose of searching for answers to this question. Yet even art tries to avoid unambiguous answers, and it rather tends to ask questions and disclose the traps of the context.
The attempts to find a definite difference between various values are usually undertaken by the young. At adolescence they experience a certain need for clarification of attitudes and judgements to become a conscious member of the commu. It is interesting to see how these frequently unilateral attitudes gradually become relative. The context of reality, its opaque obviousness imposes certain concessions to provide for a smooth dialogue and coexistence in the commu. Adulthood– the age of failure is perceived as the period when priorities become blurred, and one becomes distrustful of self-establishing paradigms. This is also the age of awareness when even dogmas are revalued and questioned.
From the cultural perspective this transition from the radical establishment of priorities to their progressive destruction and blurring in the process of growing up is interesting. The time of postproduction, the time of opening to the diversity and multi-aspect nature of experience is able to erase objective and arbitrary decisions. However, isn’t this revival of attitude an added value after all? Isn’t a departure from a bit to a byte?

 Marysia Wasilewska 
Facing the necessity to choose between ONE and ANOTHER I choose ONE. Simultaneously I give up the OTHER. Although in this act I gain ONE it is more of the renouncement or the loss of ANOTHER. Additionally, every time I make any kind of choice I lose more and more: I cannot have ONE+ANOTHER at the same time. The calculation is very simple – I have less than before the act of choosing.
And since I face the necessity to make decisions all the time I lose more and more. It is as if the field of vision, or the set of data about the world that tends to grow as one proceeds narrowed after each act of choosing and turned against itself. As if the reality I can see and experience pushed me away. The vectors pointing against each other will eventually neutralize one another completely.
I cannot a cake and eat I cannot be an artist and materialistic
Whatever I choose I lose and this is the explanation for my inertia. However, if I do nothing, I practically do not exist. a livng corpse. The fear of making a mistake and resignation that accompany me paralyze my activity and thin out the tissue of life Here and Now.

 Monika Weychert Waluszko  Either-OR, Yes means yes. No means no.
I am not interested in the decision-making process. A decision can be spontaneous. It can also be profoundly thought . However, it always seems to be accidental: we only know a fragment of reality and make our decisions on this basis. If we had known another, or a broader section of reality would our decision have been the same? Or if we had formerly been conditioned by different experience? Therefore decision is only a manifestation of chaos. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Following Kierkegaard, maybe that’s why we are so fearful and aching.
What I am interested in are the consequences of choices.
Recently the figure of Krzysztof Niemczyk has been revived. As it has slowly been idolized in a typically Polish manner it transformed from aracow legend to downgrading or/and exalting stereotypes: a predecessor of Polish gay art, first Polish situationist, reviver of literary expressionism or the advocate of naturalism – anybody, somebody, again a nobody. What I am drawn to in him is the moment of making a choice. Whoever Niemczyk was he was the prototype of ‘the man who made a choice.’ The first choice: Whatever my activity is I do it without the protective umbrella of art. He paid for it with prison, asylum, a complicated game with theret sentempt and ostracism of the ‘circle’ (conflict with Kantor and Foksal), humiliating living standards: poverty, progressing illness, dreadful accommodation. Being forgotten. Another choice he made after his mother’s death: to stop creating anything because the selfishness of ‘Niemczyk – the artist’ was harmful to his deast. As he ceased being ‘an active artist’ Niemczyk moved so far to the life margin that he was described as a ‘social suicidal’ in his biography
I respect his choices. His care that their consequences do not harm people – the nearest ones and those more distant ones. The choices that are not controlled by individual interest. Observed from a they may seem to be pure madness.
Still... as Kazimierz Staszewski, Sr., wrote:
 Out of so many different paths of life everyone has the right to make a wrong choice...