A catalog text written on the occasion of the 2014 MFA exhibition at Konstfack, Stockholm, Sweden.
Everything is at Hand
Everything is at hand. We take hold of the world with our vision and with it the observation of our surroundings, as such ours is a world of objects. These objects make their appearance and we apprehend them. This is how I came into the world, and I see no other way to think than as a sculptor. My thoughts, my language, my movements, are all in reference to the world of things. This is even true, most perplexingly and vividly so, concerning what is defined here as avisual material, such as ideas and abstract concepts.
Understanding materials, their qualities and proportions, is as important as understanding the language used to give these things their meaning. This constitutes the physicality of language, and to this end language is material. As such, everything I do is a form of sculpture, be it built, written, or spoken. Everything is at hand.
There are volumes of thoughts tied up within our speech. Our gestures hint at and begin to unravel these volumes. I see gesture as part of a latent language, at once immaterial and material. The changes of state, from indeterminate to determinate, here specific to the temporality of the gesture-space, underscore the intricate complexities of spatial movement versus the slow force and objecthood of materials.
Through materialization, a physical form of translation, new notions come to light. There are hidden notions that are lost at the moment of their making, in the compound trajectories of these hand gestures, the subtleties of which could be made known to us if these gestures could be materialized. Our understanding of these gestures is one made of degrees, levels of which we could improve on. Looking at the history of language development, and our physical relation to the world through gestures, one can see that this development has been placed upon a continuum of an intelligence tied to processes of de/materialization. As we have developed, our capacity to think of abstractions in spatial terms has followed suit, yet the physicality of our gestures goes unattended. This process of development is still taking place and this gestural physicality should be considered as one level in a dialogue of translations. Ranciére suggested in The Emancipated Spectator that, “the transfer of knowledge, of any expression, is achieved by counter-translation.” (Ranciére, Artforum, March vol. 45 nr. 7: pp. 271-280) It is our capacity to follow the translation of one thing into another, which allows the new to become known to us. A process of transmutation takes place. Both time and space must be taken into account when comprehending such an image. The same could most certainly be said about a materialization of the gesture though the spatial aspect is much more quickly overcome when one can interact with an object in three dimensions. The temporality of the gesture-space, on the other hand, is an undeniably difficult dimension to condense. That we are seemingly able to compound these dimensions––within our minds eye––which are plotted out in gesture, is a demonstration in the profound complexity that makes up our language world, a world reaching far beyond the syntax of speech.
The movement of hands and forming of shapes is an attempt to––in that moment––conjure the thought just described, and to bring it into the world of the physical. It is a slight-of-hand-act for oneself, a calling into being in this space, a thing that so clearly exists for oneself in another internal space, quite literally a different dimension. The gestural-space is a place carved out to serve the speakers agency in an urge to understand and be understood. These trajectories into the gesture-space are threads connecting the distance between individuals; this distance is a natural condition, which may only be shortened within the framework of communication. Although, as Ranciére stated, “distance is not an evil that should be abolished. It is the normal condition of communication… Any distance is a matter of happenstance. Each intellectual act weaves a casual thread between a form of ignorance and a form of knowledge.” (Ranciére) The manifestation, or investment, of language in the body stems from the urge to negotiate this distance, and make human these abstract concepts. By turning them into things, if ever fleeting, we make ideas more physically real to ourselves. They are produced to make translations possible, made even at the risk that they may remain “unreadable.” My research focuses on the inquiry, which may lead to the “readable,” not in terms of type of legibility but in terms of awareness in the sense that there is material to be taken into account. Gesture is an attempt to make our agency indelible, and to do so we take up these movements together with words, and use the tools of a storyteller. “An emancipated community is in fact a community of storytellers and translators.” (Ranciére) The proposition of such a community calls forward the consideration of personal representation. This agency that is embodied through the mind-body externalizing itself, fleshed out as it is through gesture, hints to the human urge to understand and be understood by another.
Written by Joel Hurlburt, 2014