Extract from The Prescient and Ahistoric pages 8 - 11 (the name of Parallax)
GEORGE LEONARD. Given that we have mentioned the visitors and their viewpoint, this is a good juncture to ask about your name. The definition of ‘parallax’ has some bearing on your entity. Could you tell us more about it?
PARALLAX. The word ‘parallax’ describes an apparent visual phenomenon whereby near objects appear to shift position relative to distant objects and the observer. It can be demonstrated by closing one eye and covering a distant object with the thumb held at arm’s length. When we switch opening and closing each eye in succession the thumb appears to change position. The apparent problem has been used constructively in order to calculate distance in astronomy, but the phenomenon is also associated with weaponry, camera design, and website production. As a philosophical metaphor, it often refers to semantic relativism and, occasionally, procedures of idealism, where the existence of mind- independent objects, or our capability of veridically experiencing them, is contested. But some philosophers have used it as a strategy for discussing property monism. However, these applications were not how we employed our name. There is an infinite regression affecting relativism. It is difficult to escape the principle of contradiction or mereological dichotomies. But if we take a practical angle from life, property monism and idealism seem inadequate, even irreal, with regard to disease and senescence where we often encounter a sovereign disjuncture, a certain ‘feel’, between conscious desire and physical ability. Indeed, what are designated in quotidian by such nouns as ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are perhaps manifest during ill health and physical weakness. The life function intervenes. It has a unique way of complicating hypotheses and ironically exposing the ‘mystical’ in our rational constructions. It is ironic because in the desire to correct what are perceived to be naïve and mistaken assumptions in common experience, theorists, on the assumption of describing reality more ‘naturally’, have veered into mystical- like unitive and extrovertive experiences. This is especially if we consider some of the strategies as non- standard introspection. Paradoxicality is often a sign of mysticism. If we consider our earlier description of ‘parallax’, the fact is that we do open and close our eyes, which are separated by the nasal bridge. Likewise, two viewers do stand in unique positions or one individual alters their physical location. Should we not expect a perceptible alteration as normative because of relational variations in veridical experience? During the exhibition, visitors responded when they felt the disjuncture due to non-inferential justification of contents turning out to be mere auxiliary beliefs. Our name is a meta-analogy in the way that it is this mode of living. It is not simply metaphorical. It is also the life when the metaphor is other than assumed. This life is not a resolution either because it means living in expectant and consequent judgement. Yet, we live from ‘somewhere’ because this ‘somewhere’ has a certain ‘feel’ to it. We join the Dionysian ecstasy but at moments stop and applaud. We used the word ‘parallax’ in this sense during the exhibitions. In terms of the entretive fair, it still possesses this nuance, but instead of considering auxiliary beliefs about the relationship of time and events, as in the exhibitions, its focus is a different kind of ‘background belief’, for we often approach a consumer fair with suppositions concerning artistic events. These are comparable to art-historical assumptions and art objects.
GEORGE LEONARD. Paradoxically, the word ‘parallax’ could be thought of as descriptive then. Could it not be considered a process of viewer transformation?
PARALLAX. Logically, we could describe it in that way, but not temporally because there is repose in terms of a certain ‘feel’. So, it is not the same as resolution or suspension. It is peaceful contentment like a circadian rhythm. We may change or develop rationally, but we live it as an addition. We are the same entities that we were ten years ago. This is not because of strategies concerning a metaphysical essence, Urstoff, or relational unities in consciousness, but because life is lived as an ‘accumulation’. The movement is multiplex not vertical or horizontal. And we are peaceably content. Persistent change may seem apparent under certain intentional assumptions, but it is not how we actually live and feel our way through quotidian. The latter, as phenomenologically composite and irreducible as it often seems, must surely have some bearing on our default position. A disconnect between imagination and a life lived manifests in absurdities. In some circumstances, we become anti-life. What we feel concerning our veridical life cannot simply be alienated ontologically. Nor should we consider it superficial because, as I explained earlier, a desire to be more ‘natural’ or ‘correct’ often paradoxically leads to mystical-like extrovertive experiences.
Extract from The Prescient and Ahistoric pages 28 - 52 (Problem of selecting art and art-historical conditioning)
PARALLAX. We mentioned the selection process earlier. Before we can explain why it did not work, first we need to say something further about the epistemological issues that problematise art objects. This is because they influence the possibility of a selection process. It was the main challenge of the earlier exhibitions. We have already mentioned the problem of non-inferential justification of contents and the role of auxiliary beliefs in perceptual experience of art objects. The specific auxiliary belief we referred to involved the relation of time and events so it is appropriate to try and understand these issues through discussing the discipline of the History of Art. This is because it involves the same mechanism that lies behind art criticism in general and the process of selection. The History of Art is an auxiliary discipline in the genus of History. At a higher order level, it is part of a strategy through which we attempt to evidence a postulate concerning a collective mind. How the collective mind, as a multiplex of various opaque and transparent beliefs, is thought to externalise itself in cultural objects, partly as non- inferential content, is important then.
GEORGE LEONARD. So, if I follow you correctly, our own beliefs about how paintings externalise what people thought and experienced in the past is equally important?
PARALLAX. Yes. Our belief about that mechanism is just as important as the objects themselves. For example, a nineteenth-century artist produces a sculpture and we assume that they are ‘integrated’ into a collective mind formed by laws, social codes, and institutions that are contingent. The fashioned sculpture, we assume, is an externalisation of aspects of their Weltanschauung. Another way to describe it is to consider that a ‘mental world’ is immanent in an object. We can learn, so we assume, about this ‘mental world’ via a process of induction (but what is essentially deduction) through examining the artefacts and supplemental materials. It is important because our entry into this ‘mental world’, of understanding the past and ourselves, is through these cultural objects. This is a fundamental postulate underlying the instrument of historical production. But it ultimately involves what we believe about non- inferential contents and their role in justifying beliefs when we examine art objects and artefacts.
GEORGE LEONARD. So, its relevancy is that it influences our own definition about who we are?
GEORGE LEONARD. The process that you just described relates to the general scientific method at its most general level. The scientist commences with initial assumptions and proceeds to justify them via induction, occasionally designating the ‘anomaly’. Would this be similar?
PARALLAX. Yes, there is an analogy. Few art historians and critics would consider the object or artefact strictly in a non-relational and representationalist sense. There is always a mind- independent object lurking somewhere for them. But with respect to your question and the scientisation of history, let us consider what it must have been like viewing the cosmology of the Middle Ages from the seventeenth century. With its new arithmetical mode of explanation, the world now appeared to some to parallel a jigsaw that slotted together. We can understand why so many thinkers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries considered that the general scientific method was universal. If it worked successfully in the area of nature, why not in other fields of enquiry? Inevitably, they attempted to apply it to every object of study and often in fields that were utterly incompatible, such as History. So, the extension of the seventeenth-century scientific method was positive in areas of natural investigation, but extremely negative in the way that it was applied to understanding the relationship of human thought and action. This was a major intellectual problem at the end of the nineteenth century. It is one that we have not recovered from, unfortunately. As well as scientism in the discipline of History, theological debates concerning the decrees of God were fundamental too. After all, an important strand in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century rationalism was Arminianism, especially via Remonstrance. It modified virtually all Protestant denominations and sects, such as English Deism, but especially those in the German states where Johann Martin Chladni (1710-1759), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) were religiously educated. All three fundamentally impacted the development of the ‘modern’ historical consciousness. Until it is possible to believe that the human will is completely free from the will of God, we cannot talk about human contingency apart from secondary causation. In fact, the gradual scientisation and secularisation of History partly influenced its problematic because, ultimately, it was a metaphysical and theological strategy for explaining change in human culture.
GEORGE LEONARD. The History of Art matured during the same period. Did the problem influence that discipline?
PARALLAX. Yes. As we mentioned, it is an auxiliary of History. The nature of this problem affects most research enquiries seeking to understand the relation of human thought and action temporally, especially on the basis of external artefacts.
GEORGE LEONARD. You have told us something about our system of constructing historical meaning generally. Can you tell us something about the problem and how it relates to the selection procedure?
PARALLAX. We have to start with perceptual experience again because that precedes any judgement about art objects that we may come to believe. As we have explained, our belief about objects is not the result of non-inferential contents, especially ‘thick’ contents, such as mental-world immanency or even phenomenological representationalism as a content. That idea is absurd and fails to account for defeasibility in the perceptual experience of art. Rather, our belief about objects is through a combination of ‘raw feels’ and auxiliary beliefs. The justification for our perceptual experience emerges due to particular ‘background beliefs’, some ‘thicker’ than others. This is why we experience the perceptual experience that we do and why we believe it to be a particular way and not an alternative. The assumption then with the strategy of the History of Art and art criticism is better described as a commonsensical auxiliary belief. It partly justifies, by inference, a conscious perceptual experience of the world. Part of the problem is that criticism of the History of Art for the last thirty years has always commenced with the auxiliary belief and rarely with perceptual experience, its justification, and the contents of perceptual experience. Having stated things in the right order, we are now able to say something about the assumptions, remembering that they are in fact inferential auxiliary beliefs in a higher order of perceptual experience. So, we find a belief that a ‘mental world’ must be mind-independent and immanent in some way, otherwise we could not talk about objects, or groups of objects, historically.
GEORGE LEONARD. So, using the example of the nineteenth-century sculptor again, we assume that their Weltanschauung is distinct from ourselves?
PARALLAX. Yes. It would be unusual for an art historian or critic to think of a ‘mental world’ in this way as their own mental object. Some have tried but it is a strategy that does not deal adequately with such matters as the ‘feel’ of certain perceptual experiences that cannot simply be described as mental content. So, consensus acts in terms of a conscious mind- independent world. And the further assumption is that we can examine these ‘mental worlds’ like they are specimens from the natural world.
GEORGE LEONARD. But these ‘mentalities’ surely are not like natural objects?
PARALLAX. You are correct. Of course, we are not talking about epiphenomenalism strictly. Our discussion concerns auxiliary beliefs about the ontology of historical evidence. But we are asking how a material artefact and a ‘mental world’ are thought to relate. It would seem that there is an auxiliary belief that conflates a ‘mental world’ in terms of a physical art object in perceptual experience.
GEORGE LEONARD. Do you really think that we fall into this confusion?
PARALLAX. Partly. It is not so much a confusion but an inference from a ‘background belief’ about the world.
GEORGE LEONARD. What might this belief be?
PARALLAX. It is a form of unitive experience. Unlike natural science, the History of Art is different because its objects of study are fashioned by human beings. This is where the seeming interdisciplinarity falters. Ontologically, we already know something about the origin of art objects. Therefore, the identity of a human consciousness and the effect of their will- induced action – the production of an art object – is key to how we conceptualise the artefact. This is where the assumptions of property monism and mental causation are necessary in order for the History of Art to function. It would seem at first glance that the mental and material are reducible to the physical art object, but what about the belief in mental causation? It would not do to reduce either to something like ‘personhood’ because the effect of the action, the physical object, is key. Something of this problem also occurs at the higher level of a collective will – the ‘mental world’. But what can this be reduced to? The entirety of particular physical objects? If a Weltanschauung begets its cultural objects, which in turn immanently induce it, there is a logical fallacy, much the same way as reducing mental causation to the physical object. However, it appears that such a quandary rarely troubles us in perceptual experience. This is because of what would appear to be an auxiliary belief of unitive experience. It allows the critic to move from the objects to the producers or another cultural ‘actor’, such as market forces, and vice versa with few experiential issues. This unity of experience bears resemblance to mysticism because it resolves an explanatory gap in a non-standard introspective manner. It is an important ‘background belief’ in enabling us to justify certain beliefs about the perceptual experience of art objects.
GEORGE LEONARD. Where does this auxiliary belief stem from?
PARALLAX. It may stem from our cultural religious heritage. This does not mean that it is religious because religious mysticism paradoxically tends to separate, at some level, the subject from the numinous, which is always ‘wholly other’. It is not strictly monism. Nevertheless, there is a type of mysticism at the heart of the History of Art in the form of unitive experience then. Yet, there is something ‘contented’ about functioning in this way. After all, to practise the History of Art is also part of our living function and not something separate from our quotidian life or perceptual experience. It is bound up with living in the world with all our ‘raw’ visual, aural, and somatosensory experiences. There has got to be something fundamental about this. Quotidian must have some importance in the matter. When we seek to resolve the problem through further representationalism, where everything is related to the mental, we in fact run into property monism, which is itself a form of unitive experience. But it becomes irreal through having fled quotidian and is unable to account for all of our experience. It is likewise with physicalism. It also cannot do justice to our total experience in the world because it cannot explain some aspects of consciousness and perceptual experience. There is an unresolved ‘tension’ or ‘friction’ with quotidian in our experience. It is complicated to live without some degree of, call it what we will, ‘self-consciousness’ in our relationship with art objects or, in fact, most objects that we encounter with quotidian. Referring to it as an ‘epistemological problem’ is not identical to living without it, for we must assume the absence of the problem in order to function and live in the world. And that assumption is an important part of how we justify perceptual experience.
GEORGE LEONARD. I am beginning to hear a disconnect between theory and practice, the philosophy of art and, what you refer to as, ‘quotidian’.
PARALLAX. That is true. If our life function contradicts philosophical interpretation, which is an attempt to explain that life function, then there is an obvious issue. Perhaps we need to commence with quotidian. Its ‘contented’ aspect is bound up in some way with its quiddity. But the important point in our discussion is that, when it comes to a selection procedure, our perceptual beliefs concerning art objects are controversial.
GEORGE LEONARD. I can see that it has ramifications for judging the qualitative aspects of art objects. It also has implications for the relation between form and content.
PARALLAX. Yes. It raises a problem concerning the possibility of selection. Before we explain this relative to the entretive fair, we want to first raise a secondary issue from the initial edition. It will help to further explain our solution to the problem of selection. At the time, we were still attempting to explore the relationship of the viewer to the art object. That did not work at a practical level. We tried to force the viewer to stop cogitating about particular auxiliary beliefs concerning the non-inferential justification of contents.
GEORGE LEONARD. What was your strategy for achieving that?
PARALLAX. The curatorial mechanism was foregrounded similar to the first pre-exhibitions in 2010. The venue was deliberately restricted and the interior was a micro-mosaic of objects. The quest was to depersonalise the art object…
GEORGE LEONARD. Can you unpack that more for us?
PARALLAX. For reasons that we have outlined, we often assume that mind-independent art objects bear a ‘mental world’. As we have seen, this doctrine, involving unitive experience, is a key component in the way that the interpretation of art functions. It is central to how the art market and cultural industry operate. Applied design functions differently, it appears, because the object seems depersonalised due to intermediary processes of manufacture. But when it comes to art objects, collectors essentially purchase according to the immanency of a ‘mental world’ and the value that it has as an investment teleologically. There also may be an element of what Edgar Zilsel termed Abfärben. Our museum collections are built according to the same creed. A consequence of this doctrine is the method of displaying art today. Indeed, the objects are treated like relics. They are often separated by extensive space. Lighting focusses the object and excises the interior environment. It is as if we are being seduced into a contemplative mode, one of attaining a higher realisation via ‘mystically’ unifying an immanent ‘mental world’ with our own. It partly results from the unitive experience in justifying our perceptual belief. An element of this suggestive format of displaying art is the use of teleology. The objects have existence, it is suggested, because our Weltanschauung is part of their final cause. All is mystically unified. Museum and contemporary art curators often apply this doctrine too. The result is that non-inferential content is assumed and we are jostled by labels, signage, and information to ‘instruct’ the perception of a particular ‘mental world’ only. The fact that supporting material is needed would suggest that there is a problem with the assumed non-inferential content and that it is artificial and mistaken. Indeed, it interferes with our living function in that it denies the legitimacy of our ‘raw feel’ in perceptual experience and the possibility of intersubjective auxiliary beliefs being ‘discovered’ and honed through the sharing of new experiences. Ironically, in wishing to say more, it becomes a reduction in that it replaces living perception for a veil of non-inferential content where we are to enjoy the meaning of the art object not in quotidian but in some transcendental supersensory space. The present method of displaying art in galleries is partly responsible, but it is also a symptom. In the initial fairs we deliberately wanted to obstruct the viewer from pursuing artificial non-inferential contents and we thought that the best way to achieve that was to foreground the curatorial mechanism and the venue. Paradoxically, we wanted to make it uncomfortable for the viewer so that they could enjoy the art in quotidian.
GEORGE LEONARD. So, why did this not work practically?
PARALLAX. We had contradicted what we set out to achieve because the fair had become a veil of non- inferential content. Its meaning was ‘elsewhere’ and not with quotidian. We have to bear in mind that the entretive fair in its early stages was inevitably bound up with political issues. This was completely new to us. But it forced us to confront practicalities. When you are communicating with hundreds of entretives daily, it becomes impossible to ignore the real issues in the industry for them. There needed to be a better integration of these conversations. The actual problems in the industry for entretives had to determine the format of the event. Life had to intervene. The fair would attempt to solve these issues as applied theory instead.
GEORGE LEONARD. ‘A business-to-consumer fair as consciously applied theory’ – would that be an accurate description?
PARALLAX. To some degree, yes.
GEORGE LEONARD. Would you think of that as a unique aspect of your entity?
PARALLAX. All fairs are an application of theory at some level because they attempt to solve a distribution problem by generating a complex: exhibitors need to promote and sell their products, the market desires to adorn itself and acquire status- imparting possessions, preferably increasing in value…
GEORGE LEONARD. But what you are suggesting is slightly different from that, though formally it must contain something of it. You had a selection procedure in the first edition – why did you decide against this in later fairs?
PARALLAX. It is best to start by reflecting on the actual selection procedure in the first edition. As we mentioned, we did not question a selection procedure initially. We followed the normative method. We set an application deadline and then collated the submissions. The process seemed unquestionably objective because of its scientism, but a problem arose concerning the necessity of a constant. If it were to be empirically objective, we needed something fixed in order to compare and contrast each of the submissions against. We needed a process of measurement.
GEORGE LEONARD. I guess this is where our earlier discussion about the problem of perception and art objects arises in the specific domain of selecting applications for an art event?
PARALLAX. It is the same epistemological issue. A constant is required but is arbitrary really. That is part of the quandary. To some extent, it is why the ground of knowledge involves auxiliary belief. After all, we must also believe in such things as postulates for them to be meaningful too. But an art object is not a natural datum, of course. It is a creation of a human will. There is something of the data that consistently escapes both the producer and judge. A human life complicates laws and conclusions based on them because of its multiplexity. So, the problem arises because the artist and judgement panel assume that perceptual experience involves the justification of non-inferential content, especially ‘thick’ content. When a mismatch between the object and expectation occurs, as it inevitably must because there are no such non-inferential contents, the conclusion is that the artist has failed in some regard. This is because the entire selection process depends on the doctrine that an object bears a ‘mental world’ and that this is objective and knowable. So, the idea of an application submission is highly misleading in the context of the visual arts because it is an abstraction incapable of capturing the disparity, variation, and profound richness of human action. In fact, what really happens is that either the judgement panel agrees on what is an auxiliary belief and confuses it for a non-inferential content or one of the judges makes the confusion and, through force of personality, persuades the others to believe it as ‘truth’. The ‘constant’ or ‘unverified assumption’ in the process of selection is an auxiliary belief that partly justifies a perceptual experience about the art object. Indeed, without it, it is impossible to commence any process of selection. Leaving aside the philosophical problem, there is also a practical problem. Two thousand submissions could add up to six thousand individual works of art and design to analyse. It is a lot of ‘mentality’ to absorb! Practically, it is quite absurd.
GEORGE LEONARD. We should perhaps clarify. I think you are saying that this problem is peculiar to the visual arts and that selection procedures in general are unproblematic. Would that be correct?
PARALLAX. Most selection procedures are contingent. They are compromised epistemologically, but they can function on the basis that the unverified assumption is agreed by all parties and specified in detail. For example, some open exhibitions function by delimiting the subject matter in arbitrary ways. We could think of this as foregrounding an auxiliary belief. However, as well as specifying the delimited criteria, they should openly delineate it as contingent – something they rarely do. When it comes to the area of ‘raw feel’ in perceptual experience, there seems to be more scope for thinking about objectivity, but how we would build a selection procedure around non- conceptual ‘content’ seems highly problematic. It would seem that the central problem throughout this process really commences with industry professionals thinking that they have a relational approach to art objects when in fact their procedure is non-relational in some way. But a selection procedure in an industry that did share a more relational approach would surely have to be based on qualia or something equivalent. It would surely also lead to a dramatic reduction in what art objects actually are and can be, but perhaps that would be positive in opening up new ontologies, or categories at least, about some objects presently thought of as ‘art’ or an ‘art object’. However, what this all demonstrates is that there should be reflexivity in this area because it is also an ethical issue.
GEORGE LEONARD. Would that be due to the epistemological problem?
GEORGE LEONARD. Do you think unfamiliarity with this issue plays a role in some organisations?
PARALLAX. To an extent, yes. But let us not forget what we mentioned in relation to unitive experience and mysticism. It may lie under the surface of cognition. However, we think some fairs operating selection procedures have not reflected deeply enough on what they are saying and doing when it comes to selection. It is misleading and negative for the development of the visual arts. This applies to some of the largest dealer fairs in the world. If they detailed their criteria, introduced an element of reflexive and conditional explanation about how they deal with immanency and art objects, explained where they stand on the epistemological issue and why, then their selection process would have a degree of intellectual credibility.
GEORGE LEONARD. But that would run counter to their marketing strategies. I suspect, after all, they would not be able to claim that their selection was objectively definitive or even ‘correct’.
PARALLAX. Most probably. But even when they attempt to add a degree of contingency by talking about the ‘ideas’ of individual judges, it is actually not meant in a contingent way. If it were, what would be the point of the selection procedure in the first place? There is still the notion that though the judges may have their own ‘ideas’, these are in fact still non- inferential contents in perceptual experience. There is the mystical-like unitive experience again: the ‘ideas’ do not quite belong to the judges.
GEORGE LEONARD. I am beginning to see why this is a serious ethical issue. So, how did you try to solve the problem?
PARALLAX. Initially, we selected and rejected applications according to our ‘ideas’, but it was increasingly unjustifiable from a philosophical, practical, and ethical point of view. We had to ask important questions about its intellectual legitimacy, workability, and, eventually, its purpose and relevancy. We wanted to communicate these problems when we first started the fairs. But the research in this area is opaque and we often found ourselves misunderstood. It is one of the reasons why we held lectures in the early fairs and published short introductions to the catalogues. We wanted entretives to wrestle with the issues in their practice. After a long process, we came to the conclusion that we had to abandon selection altogether.
GEORGE LEONARD. It seems ‘radical’ to eradicate selection whilst being intellectually and practically candid about it.
PARALLAX. Yes. But initially some accused us of economic objectives.
GEORGE LEONARD. Why do you think that was?
PARALLAX. We think that there are two reasons: cultural presuppositions around scientism, and a confusion concerning the ontology of a business-to- consumer event. We have already said a great deal about the background to the first, but it is apparent that scientism in the arts is endemic when it comes to the process and meaning of selection procedures. There is something ‘rational’ concerning selection procedures despite the explanatory gap and a necessity of mystical-like unitive experience already discussed. The process appears disinterested, legitimate, and ‘true’. In this way, it is considered ‘ethical’. It carries an authority and flatters our sense of hierarchy and self-importance. Abandoning selection in the face of these powerful presuppositions would seem to some to be inviting a situation where ‘quality’ is unmaintained. By ‘quality’, of course, the contemporary art industry goes even beyond basic elements and strays into the area of genre and technology. For some, the only reason why anyone would abandon such a scientific and legitimising system would be for ‘unethical’ purposes. The definition of ‘unethical’ here is often in the context of economics. But it is clearly politicised because the philosophical issue is not being addressed. Paradoxically, once we consider the philosophical issues, we can see that it is in fact the opposite: selection procedures are ‘unethically’ used for marketing purposes by appealing to prestige in order to increase economic activity. The ‘unethical’ element here regards its lack of metaphysical openness and reflexivity.
GEORGE LEONARD. What role do you think marketing plays in selection procedures?
PARALLAX. If we postulate that ‘mental worlds’ are immanent in art objects and that ‘experts’ can discern and judge these, then that is going to enable an event to operate on a sense of hierarchy and prestige. If it is masked then it is unethical and misleading. However, this entire area of a priori selection is irrelevant for a business-to-consumer fair because the market ‘selects’. This leads me to the second reason concerning what a business-to-consumer fair is supposed to be and whether a selection procedure is completely out of place. It would be best to start by explaining how selection procedures tend to be carried out. They follow the same general pattern. The committee or judgement panel is considered independent and authoritative. The former notion runs afoul of what we just discussed concerning objectivity and whether it would be more transparent to have reflexive statements. The latter notion is based on the idea of argumentum ad verecundiam. It assumes that we can judge veraciously based on repeated perceptual experience of art objects (and, possibly, the relationship of immanent ‘mental worlds’ to those art objects, including our ‘ideas’). But, as we have seen, art objects are not the equivalent of natural specimens in a scientific laboratory. They are the result of the human will and it is questionable as to whether we can bring such irreducible multiplexity under simple laws for comparison. A committee or panel of experts is often an attempt to ‘conceal’ a serious intellectual and ethical flaw at the heart of the industry. So, does a selection procedure have a meaningful place in a business-to-consumer fair at all? Whatever our philosophy, sales play some role in the development of entretives’ professional practice. If a fair is supposed to be a consumer event, then it is surely the market, however we feel about it, that should be the arbiter between exhibitors. Even public votes are not always what the market purchases. Such votes generate confusion and hinder an entretive from carrying out research and development into product formation. A winning vote offers the impression that the entretive is proceeding correctly, but remuneration is a clearer indication. The problem is that some fairs lack clarity because they attempt to straddle both the open- submission/competition format and a business-to- consumer environment. Some have proceeded in this confusion for years because they have not questioned what the selection procedure means and why it is even there.
GEORGE LEONARD. Do you think that they are business-to-consumer fairs then?
PARALLAX. No. They are open-submission exhibitions not business-to-consumer fairs strictly. It is likewise with dealer fairs. The only difference is that they have galleries instead of entretives. The procedure is illogical. After being judged and selected as more ‘excellent’ than the other submissions, exhibitors are then asked to pay a stand fee for the privilege of having been judged the ‘best’. But why should anyone pay for already having been judged worthy? It does not make sense. It should be the reverse, or the rejected submissions pay for the superior exhibitors. To some extent, actual open- submission exhibitions operate like this. Every exhibitor pays a submission fee. The winners are displayed and losers rejected. All fees pay for the winners. But some fairs are going one step further than that and making entretives and galleries pay for being selected, sometimes on top of a submission fee. When you verbalise that thought, it is absurd. So, the fairs must be something else and that is perfectly fine. They are just not strictly business-to-consumer fairs. This can also be seen when they take commission on sales despite entretives selling their own work.
GEORGE LEONARD. Do you take commission?
PARALLAX. No. It has nothing to do with a business-to-consumer fair. It is a confusion of form. Fairs that charge a commission, on top of stand costs, lack conceptual definition and operate like dealers or open exhibitions. It leads them into practical confusion. Their method of administering commission is usually through a centralised system, which curtails entretives from being independent businesses. This defeats the purpose. But if they are going to market themselves as a leader in some way, then they need to consider their own conceptual form and not just the art objects or entretives that they display. But their hands are tied, sometimes by investors, so we should not make impossible demands. Nevertheless, because of the selection procedure, some fairs should market themselves as open- submission exhibitions, even if they display using booths.
GEORGE LEONARD. We spoke earlier about the widening demographic formation in the art industry and the conceptualisation of ‘artist’, do you think that these are influencing notions around selection? I am thinking in terms of what you said about hierarchy especially.
PARALLAX. No. There is resistance to change. Obviously, fairs do not consider that they are open- submission exhibitions. They market themselves as business-to-consumer fairs, and they believe that their selection procedure is objective in some way. The latter understanding is shared by their exhibitors too. We have to remember that the format of art fairs emerged in the mid-twentieth century. It is laden with outmoded ceremonies and procedures. Clearly, some of these fairs still presuppose a certain kind of ‘artist’, the older concept. But an ontological presupposition concerning ‘artist’ or ‘designer’ delegitimises the selection process from the start anyway. This is a hidden deductive element in the inductive process. However, we cannot continue to resist the new conceptualisations of ‘artist’. Whatever the outcome for our selection procedure, we must embrace quotidian.
Dr C G Barlow. Extracts from The Prescient and Ahistoric Copyright © 2019 C. G. Barlow.