Featuring “Simplicity” as an “Irrational Fear”

Featuring “Simplicity” as an “Irrational Fear” is an exploration of the concept of simplicity and its impact on the direction of contemporary art discourse. Simplicity, which one could argue is akin to accessibility, is so rarely available in this current climate of contemporary art and one finds that there's a tendency to intellectualise away anything that may be overly-accessible or easily understood in art.

Concepts are often times over-complicated in the circumlocutory pseudo-intellectual babble that creeps into discussions, perhaps out of some irrational fear that once it is all decoded, then nothing is left. As Raymond Havens stated in “Simplicity, a changing concept” (1953:3):

Simplicity, it would seem, is a simple matter... In the eighteenth century, critics, essayists, and poets were constantly referring to it as the supreme excellence in almost every field, the "open sesame" to every door, whether of conduct, thought, taste, or artistic production. "The best and truest ornament of most things in life," Swift called it, and Shaftesbury, "this beauty above all beauties." Lord Kames declared, "The best artists ... have in all ages been governed by a taste for simplicity," and Horace Walpole said, "Taste...cannot exist without Simplicity." Joseph Warton went even further, maintaining “SIMPLICITY is with justice esteemed a supreme excellence in all the performances of art."

Ironically, simplicity is not quite as one-dimensional as one may expect. It is engulfed in concentric skins that seemingly lead right back to complexity. Simplicity itself becomes a slippery subject with multiple personalities but nonetheless one that is tackled head on. Through this performance-based installation a multitude of characters discovered in the excavation of simplicity are addressed and re-interpreted to create a triangle of responses from three performance artists, Nathalie Bikoro, Donna Kukama and Nástio Mosquito. The physical absence of the three performance artists in the performance space creates a rift between time and space, thereby necessitating a creative clarity in a media as interaction-reliant as performance.

Monday, September 6, 2010

So in response to what Donna said regarding the banalities of simplicity and complexity, I say: The whole reason for my interest in simplicity was in fact derived from my frustration with complexity. My understanding being that there is almost always a simpler way to discuss and engage with art that is often shied away from as a result of a fear of transparency (for lack of a better word). One often attempts to fog and mystify in order to create the illusion that their concept or creation transcends the simple or arguably the normal. This is not necessarily untrue, but at times it seems as though conceptualization gets tangled in its own web of complexity. So in a way, you could say that simplicity is what is natural/ normal/ instinctive, and complexity is only derived from repressing instinct.

Simply put in my opinion, the whole reason concepts and theories exist is to entice people to engage, discuss and experience the world in a new and less bland way. Why then would we use language as a tool to exclude and confuse? I think it is perhaps out of fear of mass consumption. The moment an object, a thought or a concept is made to be easily understood or related to, then it is seen as “watered down” and this very watering down means potential interest from larger, more general audiences, and not exclusively the close-knit network of art practitioners. It runs the risk of popularity, which puts in danger the very mystery that holds firmly the pillars of artistic practice. So, in a sense, simplicity ruptures the exclusionary realm of the art world.

It is true that it is a little challenging to begin a conversation on simplicity, perhaps owing to the fact that simplicity is not actually as simple as the term implies. Through our understandings of art and discussion, we are somewhat baffled when having to talk about something in an “easy” way. I find myself looking struggling to resist the temptation to search for complex theories to better understand simplicity. I’m reading a few things you might find interesting. See:

Simplicity, a Changing Concept
Author(s): Raymond D. Havens
Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1953), pp. 3-32
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Lerato Bereng

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