Another way of saying why it’s OK in the Cancer Centre is because I do not feel like a subtraction there. And I am writing this not only to explain here the gymnastics involved in trying not to be a subtraction outside of the Cancer Centre, but also as a part of those gymnastics themselves which maybe existed already before any of this, for other reasons. But with regard to now what I mean is that if you don’t watch out there’s a default position in this game that infects your own life and the lives of others whereby:
life + cancer = —life
(as in, life plus cancer equals minus life)
Let’s not do this. For one thing, life is always lived under some condition or other. But what’s more is that this would be too much like not doing anything at all even though ‘minus life’ is no more ‘death’ than life without the minus is ‘liberation’. I am not experiencing either of these right now anyway. Rather, it will be totally familiar to anyone who has had chemotherapy that we might better call this ‘minus life’ ‘treatment’. There’s nothing new in me writing this. This treatment determines the subtraction (nausea, sleep, crash, slowness, half-days etc.) so that when you go to the place where you have the treatment this place can only and obviously be the experience of a double negative, i.e. no longer a minus. Ironically, at that moment, it is something to do, being done.
Similarly, it is exactly at this time of year when I make something physical happen to my own perception, like a jerk: because leaves change colour. Forever I have had a default position in my own mind game about this whereby:
leaf — life ≠ colour
(leaf minus life is not a colour)
But this is simply not the case and every year I remind myself of this – it takes some work – and this reminding also feels physical because of the way it commands the eye to look, to work as a muscle, not through conjecture, fear, morbidity or by any other psychological infection. The Mind Is A Muscle. Look at the leaf. It is not dead as in nothing. It is yellow. Or red. Or even if it is brown it is still not no-colour. Look at the colour. The colour is real, it is something to do and it can be done. War is over IF YOU WANT IT. WANT IT. These are acts.
Which is like what I’ve been thinking about Robert Smithson’s model of disintegration that he uses to characterise modern life in the 1960s as an inevitable decline that might nonetheless be celebrated, his famous picture of entropy:
Picture in your mind’s eye [a] sand box divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise, but the result will not be a restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greyness and an increase of entropy. ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,’ first published as ‘The Monuments of Passaic,’ Artforum, December 1967
Seen in this way, all systems spiral degeneratively into sameness, all of life, all of production is an incremental inertia, even the act of looking and for sure making art. But we can do something about this. Move closer. Get really close. Step into the box and bend down. What is there is not what you saw before. The individual grains of sand in Smithson’s pit are not grey, but still black and white. The analogy only holds for as long as we occupy a fixed position of inviolable, immaterial perception. ‘Greyness’ is the impression of a colour from a fixed perspective. Only in this way does looking become blindness.* The Mind Is A Muscle. MOVE.
Not to celebrate decline and yet it is not stopped exactly either, but stayed, in/of time and space, a temporary _____, for as long as… , as a muscle moves, as something provisional but still some thing.
So, in general then removing the minus is really about whether or not there are things to do that can be done, which is also what there is to be bothered about for me in anything made and in making it. Things that take time in one way or another and please, I don’t mean craft. It is what to me is so magnetic about what these two paintings by Nicolas Poussin in the National Gallery lead me to, and the gallery itself (though I’ll write more on that place next):
The paintings are not considered to be Poussin’s most interesting or remarkable, according to the gallery – they are non-literary, figures (primitive) popped into a landscape, not thinking, like nothing to think about, as an excuse for the particularly Roman landscape to be studied, its painting practiced for another purpose, for the benefit of another picture which would be literary. The figures are described as if they are an excuse, but they are not an excuse. They are there doing things that can be done. In relation to each other. Like sitting in a gallery.
Who wants to be trussed-up like this lot adoring the Golden Calf of their own palava just to get told off?
I am exhilarated. What is being done? We are told and then we look and this is the thing: it is not, or not only. I do not know and yet I do and these things combined are like that dead clean ravishing of Michael Clark. These paintings mobilise my desire to a regularity. They remove the minus, or they offer this as possible and how. This is not a picture but a body plotted, nothing more nor less is told than by anyone anywhere sitting or walking, framed even if only by the look as an act too: a stage space and a scene of stages. Of ours, or mine, or one that I want, or all I want, or the only one, really. That I am reading backwards and into for a purpose, to go on:
Into/of time and space and/as the function of something done. Love and time. It is basic.
* this paragraph is a slightly altered version of an extract from an essay I wrote called ‘What Is Material?’ for Ruth Buchanan’s new book, The weather, a building.