Saturday, 17 March 2012

St George's Field: Aesthetico-Affective Acts

Odette Dewhurst, at the University of Leeds, alerted me to this gravestone in the university cemetery, St George's Field. She found it in August 2011 and when I went there in February this year (2012) it was still there (see image below).

The gravestone is of a similar style to many others located in this part of the garden. It is not of a particularly impressive design and contains the words "IN MEMORY OF/ JAMES ROBINSON MASON OF LEEDS/who died March 15th 1840/aged 45 Years". With yellow and red chalk or pastel someone has drawn a flying (rising?) bird in an expressionist style, in a way that makes the bird look like it is taking off and moving upwards. Odette has called it a phoenix. I am not sure if it was the intention of the artist to be a phoenix, but it does look like one and the semiotic context (a graveyard, death, ashes) could suggest it is.

This drawing is temporary: if it was not removed by anyone at the university (by estates staff or students), it would eventually be removed by 'the elements'. The artwork serves as a schizoanalytical action in that it incorporates both an "aesthetic production" and a "micro-political act". (Guattari 1998: 433) The artwork could also be considered in relation to the concept of death, providing one assumes it is a phoenix; but, also because of its situation in a graveyard. Félix Guattari poses the problem of the death instinct in relation to desire, explaining that in contemporary society with its dominant capitalist subjectivity, schizoanalysis enables the death instinct to be side-stepped by desire which then subjectively changes in differing situations. (1998: 72) For this reason the phoenix drawing could be considered the symbol that represents the presence of schizocartography actually taking place in St George's Field. The Situationist Raoul Vaneigem believed that for a true aesthetic of daily life we must all become artists in our negation of the death instinct in the way it was for Freud in the superego's submission to dominant individuals and structures. (2010: 95) This demonstrates that creativity does not have to be opposed to death but that, in a sense, they rise concurrently outside of any dichotomous relationship that dictates some inevitably destructive end.

Guattari says of his aesthetic paradigm that:
it has ethico-political implications because to speak of creation is to speak of the responsibility of the creative instance with regard to the thing created, inflection of the state of things, bifurcation beyond pre-established schemas, once again taking into account the fate of alterity in its extreme modalities. (1995: 105)

The creative instance of the phoenix drawing is something that we cannot temporally tie down exactly, since we do not know when it was created, nor who the artist is. However, we can examine it in regards to its moving away from dominant modes of representation and pose some questions around its reception. For example, is it an anarchic work of art? Could it be considered to be graffiti? And, if there were relatives of the deceased still living, and they liked the artwork, would either of the two questions be relevant?

I ask these questions so as to place the art in the context of a potential viewer of the work in the sense that they would become the interface of a new assemblage: the 'university' would likely view it differently than a random student wandering through the garden. This is why this artwork could be considered a transversal object, because it helps us consider the situation from two directions:
The establishment of such a transversalist bridge leads us to postulate the existence of a certain type of entity inhabiting both domains, such that the incorporeals of value and virtuality become endowed with an ontological depth both equal to objects set in energetico-spatial-temporal coordinates. (Guattari 1995: 109)

The question of aesthetics is not only posed in regards to the multiplicity of the subjectivities of the potential viewers, but we are also pointed in the opposite direction, towards the origins of the dead person in the grave, to their personal and familial history. This also draws our attention to the issue of alterity as it is for St George's Field; not only in relation to the paupers grave, none of which were properly spared in the 1960s landscaping, but also to the question of who decided which gravestone survived and which did not.

Links to St George's Field posts in this series:
Subjectification and Singularization
Decontextualization and Desire
Traversing Transversality

Guattari, Félix.' Schizoanalysis', The Yale Journal of Criticism, 11, 2 (1998), 433-439.
Vaneigem, Raoul. 2010. The Revolution of Everyday Life: An Illustrated Reader: Part 1 (Great Britain: Justpress).
Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

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