Service Work

Artistic practice as an act of devotion.

Here is a riddle, one said. 

And who do you think you are? asked another.

Only a servant. He was making films. The answer is unimportant.

Why ask, then?

There is a code in here somewhere. It is the mystery.

Which mystery?

The usual ones: possibilities of transcendence, rebirth, levels of existence. The role of ritual practice.

Such as?

Such as this one. Right now, I am filming a liturgical text. Contemplating the sacred frame by frame, but I am just beginning. He had been at it three decades.

Are you praying, then?

I call it excavation. I am a social worker with a background in archaeology.

But why?

The idea is to resuscitate the present. This is my devotion.

***

Inspired by an interview I read this morning, in BOMB magazine, with the filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak.

Ceremonial Forms

Lessons in morphology.

Had I not known what they were, the artist explained, I would have missed it. He was speaking of Ci Wara sculpture. The word means work animal, he said. Translated through his lens, it was a bicycle, reimagined. 

Examined head-on, the front view reveals nothing. But move with it. They would have appeared futuristic to me, the artist said, of the abstracted animal forms, had I not known their history.

Understood: everything as living. The artist is looking especially closely at the bodies of objects that have been discarded. There is added power, he says, in a ceremonial object. 

A reimagined instrument will play new music. The curves of a guitar body may become the outlines of limbs, ears of an elephant, cut fruit; a piano’s hammers now tail feathers.

The artist raises questions about what happens when the will of an outside force is enacted on a body, insisting some identity.

The artist raises questions about what may happen when the will of any other force is enacted through a body, insisting some other identity.

It calls to mind the phrasings of certain instruments, aimed after midnight into some loving cup, repurposed as an ear––at the suggestion made by another teacher at another time, consent not to be a single being, which some of the latent forms in the body of a vast system of roots might take as a command to go down, while others hear a plea to hold, and others as an invitation to fly.

***

Inspired by the work of American artist Willie Cole, specifically his 2022 solo show, No Strings. I heard Cole speak about the inspiration he took from Ci Wara sculpture in an interview curated by The Met. Also by artist, academic, poet, and theorist Fred Moten, who themed a trilogy, consent not to be a single being, after a line by Martinican poet and theorist Edouard Glissant, bent toward Moten’s purpose.