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– Autumn/Winter 2005

Ten Concepts Following Cathy Wilkes's Practice

Simon O'Sullivan

Tags: Gilles Deleuze

Cathy Wilkes, 1/4 Moon, drill, wood, paper, glass panels, fabric, candles, telephones, VCH, plastic, metal, 167cm x 465cm x 430cm, installation view and details, Galerie Giti Nourbaksch, Berlin, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

Cathy Wilkes, 1/4 Moon, drill, wood, paper, glass panels, fabric, candles, telephones, VCH, plastic, metal, 167cm x 465cm x 430cm, installation view and details, Galerie Giti Nourbaksch, Berlin, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

What is the role of writing in relation to art, and specifically Cathy Wilkes's art? What can writing add? What function might it play? Certainly writing about art can operate as an apparatus of capture that can halt the very work of art.

This is often the arrogance of 'theory' that positions itself as master discourse and reads the work through its own particular optics and logics. Here the work becomes an illustration of certain theoretical models - a prop for certain arguments and suppositions. And yet Wilkes's work, in particular, stymies any such interpretive moves, rendering them clumsy if not obsolete.
In fact we might say that this is a key modality of Wilkes's work in general: it does not pander to our desire for reassurance; it does not multiply the 'fantasies of realism' as perhaps Jean-Francois Lyotard would say.1 It 'stops making sense'. Indeed, although there are certainly art-historical references, fragments of other signifying regimes and distinct expressive elements that a critic/art historian may be able to seize upon, there is also, as other commentators have pointed out, a resolute toughness that prevents, or at least renders partial, any such 'reading'.

This does not mean that Wilkes's art is without intentionality. There is certainly something going on in and with the work, but rather that this 'going on' is irreducible to writing, operating as the work does, for this writer at least, predominantly on a register of affect - or as what Raymond Williams once called, in relation to emergent cultures, a 'structure of feeling'.2 It is this internal affective complexity, this consistency and cohesiveness,

Footnotes
  1. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984, p.74, p.81

  2. Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, London: Athlone Press, 2000, p.42

  3. Ibid., p.42

  4. For a discussion of opinion in this sense see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, London: Verso, 1994, p.144

  5. For an account of this specifically Spinozist definition of affect see Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, San Francisco: City Light Books, 1988, pp.48-51. See also Deleuze's essay 'Spinoza and the Three "Ethics"', Essays Critical and Clinical, London: Verso, 1998, pp.138-51

  6. For an account of affect in this second sense, see 'Percept, Affect, Concept', in G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, What is Philosophy?, op. cit., pp.163-99

  7. G. Deleuze 'Spinoza and the Three "Ethics"', op. cit., p.144

  8. See G. Deleuze, What is Philosophy?, op. cit., pp.170-71

  9. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 'Year Zero: Faciality', A Thousand Plateaus, London: Athlone Press, 1988, pp.167-91

  10. Ibid., pp.190-91. See also Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London: Continuum, 2003, pp.20-21

  11. For a discussion of the abstract machine and its diagrammatic functioning see G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, op. cit., pp.141-43 and 510-14

  12. See Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, p.128-35

  13. In this context I want to mention Will Bradley's remarkable essay on Wilkes's work, 'Quiet Radical', Untitled, no.25, Summer 2001, pp.4-6, that successfully combines many of the above approaches.

  14. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p.139

  15. Ibid., p.139

  16. Félix Guattari, 'Subjectivities: For Better and for Worse', in G. Genosko (ed.), The Guattari Reader, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996, p.200

  17. For an account of the virtual in this sense see Henri Bergson, 'On the Recognition of Images: Memory and Brain', Matter and Memory, New York: Zone Books, 1991, p.77-131. See also Gilles Deleuze, 'Memory as Virtual Co-existence', Bergsonism, New York: Zone Books, 1988, pp.51-72

  18. See Karl Marx, 'The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret', Part I, Chapter I, Section IV, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol.1, London: Penguin, 1976, pp.163-77

  19. Ibid., p.169