Texts, Prose etc

                        Inescapable knowledge, Song of the mute Swan



We all know something. What we know for certain is something else. That is not what we find most comforting. Not knowing is worse. But knowing we will die, no matter what happens is a thought most of us relinquish to the barren province of an impossible future. We are safer here in the midst of a useless gnosis, for it leads apparently nowhere, that is, to the end; a point in time where time ceases or no longer manufactures extra points. The punctuation falls silent like the beat of a heart in the rapture of sudden extinguishment.


All of us know this. But some of us know when, where and how. I am not referring to the sad circumstantial status of the diseased, the terminally ill who are the victim of a biological accident, not the product of a collective decisive agreement. The latter is the subject we are considering. This then baffles us: the certainty of an event finds its exact counterpoint in the total uncertainty of the nature of the event. In this, we, the ‘free agents’ in a society of structural surplus remain inferior, if not uninitiated; a status we cannot contradict since it is corroborated by the condition of those who, no longer benefiting from social freedom, have acquired, in their transitory cell space, the status of the mystic, the seer, impregnated with the absolute knowledge of one’s own destiny. These individuals, by way of the catastrophic succession of cause and effect, have achieved the impossible; that which will until the very last breath in our lungs, remain elusive to us all. The death row veterans know the day, the hour, the manner in which it will occur. They were granted this semi conscious wish most of us harbor; to know something we cannot know.


Society has fashioned its own secular oracle. It emits a judgment within which the secret is revealed. It reserves the right to engineer fate itself by designating a number of recipients for this purpose. This releases society from the responsibility of subjugating a living member of its yoke to the violence of fate committed upon them. The sacrificial act has become a legal demonstration of providence. Nevertheless, the death row pennant stands above us if not aloof. In their cell, they stand, kneel, squat, rise, sit, recline, lie, wake and sleep, more free than we are in our daily routine, our leisure time, our private moments, our gatherings, our excursions…we roam in fear, we wonder, we erase the thought.

By contrast, each one of them is free; freed from the terror of the unknown, despite this irreducible emotion eating their soul…a useless hope this certainty will in the finality of this existence be contradicted, bypassed, by some improbable peremptory intervention. This is the double edge sword; the fixation upon the impossible pardon in the face of an instinctual imperative intrinsic to the most basic model of social order: For us all to be forgiven, they must cease to be. This fact is not spoken of. This they know too.


Despite and because of this imposed knowledge, the wisdom we attribute to the ‘guardians’ of the nameless threshold sounds hollow and artificial. It is hardly the trumpet of a private apocalypse; closer to a buffoon’s horn.  The wisdom of the forlorn.

We do not really know the nature of what we fear while the sentenced knows it implicitly. The cage of our fear extends towards a point of infinity while theirs is focused on the hyper definition of a final act out of their control. Death separates us from the cardinal judgment, yet for the prisoner waiting a few gates from their end, judgment was passed, for they are in effect already dead. Yet real biological death will liberate them from this status. Society through their condition has therefore appropriated the final judgment. Society is god, and sacrifice stands as an intrinsic property of the continuous affirmation of common will, an affirmation above all of corporeal life over the invisible threat of fate. The death row prisoner symbolizes the domestication of fate, the humanization of deity, the corner stone of a seemingly seamless design out of which the social body is reborn with each victory over the ultimate predator: death through the execution of the elect.

Henceforth, we might say the imprisoned individual embodies the immortality of humanity. The line of existence is passed through each of them, like a thread through a multitude of beads each marking a new position in the unfathomable expanse, their moment of expiry, an essential point of reference in the obscure mind of ‘god’, in other words, the corporate mind of society. Yet this is not seen as an act of god’s impartial justice but an act of civic vindication, and even an act of mercy. The foundation of moral paradise rests on the salvation our own democracies impose on its deviating citizens. It would seem society has fashioned a novel interpretation of the Eucharist, finding in the death row veteran on the brink of absolute penance the recipient and demonstrator of a cannibalistic ritual … the secular rationalization of the crucifixion.


Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2011






How not to ever cook again, not even once…

I want to write a program on how not to cook, I mean, so one will never have to cook again…Just made a great meal out of avoiding cooking: Threw a few veggies I got from Ridley road market, a few bunches of mini carrots with their luscious verdant tails, two massive parsnips, 1 fennel bulb to light up the anti-culinary sky, and after washing with rushing water, yes, rushing! and plain vinegar, chucked the lot in a pan of heated water on the edge of super boil. Actually, to be fair, I trimmed those carrots a bit, but they still looked dishevelled, then I scraped the parsnips in a debonair kind of way, and the fennel needed some peeling of a few browning layers to become mildly appetizing. The bouquet was divided in upper and lower levels, one half in the steamer compartment and the other, the parsnips to be precise laid to rest and simmer in the pan. Later, noticed a smell of burning organic compounds. I skidded to the kitchen suddenly recalling putting some ingredients in a pan and placing the pan on a ring of fire; this sounds dodgy. Realising my error of timing , I poured a large amount of cold water on the radioactive elementary objects now on the brink of explosion. They needed to cool off for a few hours, so did I . So… went to meet a friend at Otto for a beer and after a great conversation without mentioning food once, migrating towards sex instead, not an unworthy digression, and one could even venture an assortment of canapés to entertain the palate before the entremets, I returned to my sheep so to speak and emptied the content which by then had dozed of in murky liquids into a wide metal dish, having discarded the black water and some other by-products of partial vegetable disintegration. The mass of overcooked roots, yes, the ‘cook’ word must at this point apply, more or less appropriately, fell in one lump of apparent chaos, although one could still distinguish between the initial species. There was no time to waste as I felt pangs of hunger, so in went the glugs of virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, a clove of garlic ripped in half with my teeth, some balsamic vinegar, a drop, not the luxurious viscous type, ground black pepper, a few pinches of sea salt, it is tastier than ordinary table salt; a few leaves of thyme I shredded carelessly, a few shots of tabascco, and mixed energetically ensuring the last twist guided the fork in my direction for the first mouth full, without bothering to sit, lay the table, do the usual ceremonies etc, another waste of time. It sounds more complicated than it is. It is a question of getting the hang of juggling, and timing. No cutting, slicing, roasting, drizzling, buttering, stuffing, dousing, saucing, cubing, glazing, inventing the coulée de Framboise, the Béchamelle, the flambé, the rissolé, …my kitchen is not a chef haven, a frying den or a patisserie, in fact my kitchen is not really a kitchen, my bedroom is not a bedroom, my sitting room is anything but a sofa rescue centre. I don t sleep in my bed, I don’ t watch tv, I don t cook…not food anyway. It s time to wake up to some sort of reality; houses don’t make sense to me. Perhaps instead of ‘cooking’ I would like to use ‘concocting’ but before I can concoct, I need to cogitate although a bit of spontaneity where it matters, without pushing it too far, that is, turning a potential into a combustible, ending thus with spontaneous combustion; a bit of spontaneity is appreciable and even welcome. If there was ever a god, he forgot the pan on the back burner, hence the primordial soup of chaos…although I don t buy that, more to the point, some cretin meddled with the recipe. Proportion in chemistry is vital after all, the difference between inertia and stimulus, between implosion and explosion and so on. Our salad days have turned into compost. Which surely can be useful for future generations so long as they get to grips with getting their hands dirty, if they still have any…hands. The bizarre thing is that we always go back to food to describe how the universe came to be. A loaf of bread becomes a section of the cosmos made out of dimensional slices, a doughnut represents a black hole, a fried egg stands in for our galaxy…and the pizza… a flat Earth before Earatosthenes took a few crucial measurements long before the dark ages wiped the slate…or the plate clean as efficiently as the tongue of a hungry dog… Copernicus himself  suggested  the church was misinforming her flock in regards to the order of the universe, positioning  Sol rather than Terra in the misty center of our little cosmos. Food even plays centre part in the catholic Eucharist, an absurd and objectionable practice. No-one mentioned Jesus should be cooked prior to consumption. Then there is the apple…not really an apple in a garden that was not at all a garden; Bosch’ s wild strawberries and Caravaggio’ s spoiled grapes…someone said the history of cooking is the history of humanity. Yes, we are good at cooking the books, and even better at burning them. But I must return to my non-kitchen and process a film or two, then if time allows, thanks to my anti cooking campaign, print a few images of certain intriguing elements, resembling dare I say, plants, fruits, vegetables, a whole kingdom of edibles to be arranged, composed, mixed and matched for the sole purpose of visual consumption. So, I confess to a blunder, I cannot escape my human destiny, I do cook after all.

Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012




The usefulness of Art

(A question that cannot be answered?)


Looking at art is in itself problematic. “What is it?” Is a question that often comes to mind and most often, at least in the past 20 to 30 years, i.e., from the middle of the 1970s, it has been replaced or followed by “what is it for?”

The artist is then supposed to justify the work with the theory although both are fundamentally different mediums addressing different areas of inquiry…more different than the pacing of a horse’s gallop is from the combustion of fuel in an engine. The theoretical body is as strange to the artist as a photograph is to the indigenous tribe. Yet the members of this tribe also make art, and would never see this as a futile pursuit. Their art has a purpose. It does not require theory to be explained. It is a question that answers itself yet retains the mystery around which this tribe will elaborate a sacred ritual.

But I wonder about the value of this justification and how much it takes away from the comprehension of a piece compared to how much it adds to it.

I wonder about what constitutes a justification for leaving billions of cubic meters of pneumonic  space, air, unfilled by recognizable and useful agents, i.e. every molecule of air filled up with tools, utilities, applications, commodities and services, which would surely enhance the efficiency and speed of our super developing infrastructure.  The justification for not going ahead with this spatial annexation, this conversion of vital space into marketable property is the essential side effect produced: immediate asphyxiation of every life form on the planet for the exception of a few bacteria. The reason behind this ridiculous proposition and obvious consequences sits in the equally absurd question: “What is it for?”

What would happen if art was suddenly deleted, what would be left in its place, what would the absence of art engender? Would it be some sort of suffocation of the psyche? In which case, would we even be aware of it?

What would result from the total replacement of art by unadulterated perfectly contained functionality, culturally ergonomic, turning the object, human or inanimate, into social furniture?

We hypothesize on the role of Andy Warhol in the death of art, and the subsequent flock of postmodernist entrepreneurs embracing his influence by denigrating the value of the past of which he had after all become a resounding part. We are submerged by a continuous shower of half baked grand ideas repeated ad infinitum and appropriated rejects, a fall out from the cultural luxury satellites hogging the stratosphere of the art market. But even in the time of Albrecht Dürer, a pioneer self publicist, art re-production via printmaking was thriving. Yet, these hundreds of duplicates did not clog up history; they expanded its field of cultural magnitude.

I do not see art as taking or filling space. I see art as the very stuff that makes space possible and without which the mind would become blank, suffocated in staleness, in stagnancy.

So the utilization of breathing space is not viable. It is counter productive. Yet we expect this from art. This theorization of art was never really a basis for understanding. It was a way of justifying its presence in our ever sub-devising social structure, in the manner the tourist industry will justify the continuing survival of a village otherwise superfluous, having fallen out of the global economic contract. Art has now reached the status of the tourist attraction. But this is only its social characteristic and its institutionalized manifestation.

Art is complex, like a natural phenomenon, like a human being out of whom it emerges and whom it reflects. Were we to cut through it, we would find an irregular concentric pattern similar to that of a tree; the crystallized maelstrom of spiritual evolution. It is an organism in itself, its layers spreading outward and inward simultaneously, a metamorphic Russian doll within which each crossing of a threshold triggers a butterfly effect. And this happened even when “Art” as a terminology did not exist.

Art is non utilized liminal space to borrow the term from a contemporary art group (Meanwhile Project…), a mental space on the edge of consciousness. An art object cannot be born outside of this space because there is no space for it to be born. What resides outside this art space is the void devoid of space. This vacuum is so because every atom has become a carrier of utilization, utilization we call information as McLuhan suggested in his visionary philosophy in the 1950’s. Therefore the art object in its true sense stands in fundamental opposition to this utilized void, where theory reigns. Art is the enemy of information. And one could then venture the message can only contradict the art that gives rise to it, and that art as a medium becomes outstripped by the imposition of this message (to continue my reference to McLuhan’s ”the medium is the message”’, his famous phrase.) Hostage of an effect, the cause loses meaning. Art, if it is also a medium, is not passive but rendered passive by definition. This definition lay in the interpretation of the medium superseding our perception of the content.

An art object born out of the liminal inter-zone will therefore also not only contain liminal quality but generate it. It possesses a spatial field a little like that of the luminosity of a glow worm seen at night. Removing or disregarding it is to remove the potential of experiencing the liminal space of our mind.

We do not become enlightened or lucid gazing at an art object. Another process takes place, the first characteristic of which is that we are not aware of it…intellectually. A connection occurs between the viewer and the object, between their respective liminal wavelengths. The unconscious part of the viewer is activated, it becomes an additional or more so, an extensional dimension of the art object. They resonate at this point as if the gaze of the onlooker was a hand hitting the tight skin of a drum, or throwing a pebble ricocheting on the flexible surface of the water, then sinking sending out the concentric signal of its passage that will outlast its loss. The sound emerging encapsulates the art space, the liminal manifestation of the art object in the mind of the witness. They catalyze, in this conjunction, the conception of a mercurial element we call ART. Not the object, not the theory, not the audience or the history. We come back to the question “What is art?” Art is what answers this question by another question. Some would say, then Socrates is art, and in a sense, he was.



New notes:

André Malraux on Art par Pierre-Yvan Laroche : Malraux ou l’Art comme Volonté de Métamorphose

André Malraux saw the work of art as a metamorphosis containing the mystery of a unique alchemy.

He writes in The Metamorphosis of the Gods, ” the work of art emerges within and from its time, but becomes truly a work of art by what escapes it.” That is, it is made of more than the sum of its parts. The intention and skill of the artist are not enough to ensure the birth of art. It follows henceforth that a utilitarian motive will not necessarily produce art but may in fact obliterate the supernatural ways through which the aura of art can come into being. Gaetan Picon adds in his essay on Malraux: The sovereign transformation of the world is the privilege of art. Art is not the expression but the song of history”.

There is, said Jean Lacouture, in The Voices of Silence and more so in The Metamorphosis of the Gods, a slow and resilient rise of the vocation and power of art, its role in freedom and continuity and in the manifestation of the universality of humanity, and in our capacity to triumph over fate with a kind of universal transparency.”

“Chaque oeuvre d’art transcende l’histoire” “Each work of art transcends history.”

“Beyond the new relationship establishing itself between creators and the public, a question remains: that of the nature of the interaction between art and civilisation where the art work is born and lives on, between the artist and the society he/she expresses. We are here at the heart of André Malraux’ s reflection for whom art does not reside in the comparison of mediums, of assemblages of forms and colour but in the permanent and revolutionary affirmation of, must we say it, the soul of the artist, of a people, and of a civilisation.”

In his book on the composer Messiaen, Jean Boivin states: “…The most dazzling truth he revealed in his teaching and in his works was that everything is possible in music(as, of course, in all the arts)on one condition: that creation proceed from rich full inner necessity, untouched by aesthetic dogmas and ideologies, guided by a talent in which reason and intuition comingle.”


Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2011

Lucid dreaming on the back of my hand.