Material and Matter Lewis Gesner

Material and Matter

文 | LEWIS GESNER美國多媒材實驗藝術家,近四十年聚焦在聲響發展的可能性,作品常以行為藝術、音樂/樂音與寫作呈現,擁有視覺藝術與英國文學碩士文憑。多元經驗與高度實驗性作品經常走在藝術的前端。現居高雄。 Lewis Gesner is an artist, writer and performer who uses a variety of mediums in his work, in keeping with his philosophy. He is from America but now lives in Taiwan with his wife and children. He has exhibited broadly, including venues in Taiwan.


The word “material” is used a lot in the field of art, both to narrow down the description of the medium (which is itself used to mean something passed through, like a spirit brought by a channeler or shaman), and more simply, the physical substance an item is made from. Trying to identify what something is made from should be a simple task truly, but we are also always describing a kind of relationship, and suggested potentials. “Manifest”, how something is made to appear in the world and the form it takes suggests an inseparable connection between the form and the substance that composes. And in that case, our world becomes the medium by which it appears, our dimension.  To manifest can also mean to merely appear. But material suggests “make-up,” or chemical composition. There is a complication here also. That is the fact that for every literal or actual (concrete) meaning, there is a figurative one, the meaning by which we further our understanding by comparing one thing to another which is similar in some way.  “Love is a rose” comes to mind. A rose is an object, love is not. But they share some imagined nature of delicacy and beauty, and perhaps other qualities we can infer from our individual experiences. So, this non-concrete meaning isn’t even necessarily precise or reliable. If we define the material or medium of an art object as wood, are we to imagine all of the qualities of the substance “wood” is being explored and commented on in the artwork? Of course not. The choice of wood may have been for no other reason than that it was what the artist was used to using. For me, this is a crucial breakdown that interferes with the integrity that art should be able to claim; basically, that it is the result of a cause, uninterrupted by a corrupting third party, the artist. In a sense, the artist should be the medium by which creation passes. A choice of materials (substance) to use for an artwork’s  composition risks being a kind of contamination of the art object. 

Everyone in or around the art field uses the term “art materials” or its equivalent in any language. It means the supplies for making art that you can expect to find in any art store, and you can expect art works to be composed of. There have been art movements in the past that tried to address the limiting aspect of this expectation. The Italian “Arte Povera” movement of the 1970s comes to mind, in which artists used rough or construction-like supplies for art. Yet, all this did was address the limited range of supplies, and not relationships. In that, it was not really radical. It just broadened the range of supplies that were acceptable to use in art. The problem of a disconnection between form and substance remains. Western art has been struggling in a void ever since it detached itself from the patronage of church and nobility. The struggle has spread and remains globally. There would be a simple remedy to putting art on a survival track. Instead of “material” as a word and principle, we should think “matter”, and its equivalents in all art languages. Matter encompasses all substances, and anything with a physical aspect and mass. But it also means the subject or issue. In the art context, it would mean that substance and its use would be an inseparable entity. It would eliminate rendering and leave it behind with the church and the nobility, with their icons and portraits. It would mean you explore your substances by allowing them the forms they want to take. It would free matter, art, and artist. Coupled with a Lower Consciousness (unplanned, unlearned, unskilled) approach, the direct address of substance of the widest range without the intention of forcing into your conception of it should lead the way to future art. (published in Art Observer Field)

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