I’ve been thinking a bit again about conceptual complexity. OK, that’s not a very enticing way to start a blog, but conceptual complexity is one of the hallmarks of contemporary art, and probably of good art in general.
Two thoughts. (1) Picture a short, cartoon-style animation of a tree on the brow of a hill. A leaf falls off one of its branches. If we’re told the animation is about the human condition, with notions of ageing or mortality to the fore, the animation slips in the direction of art. There’s a metaphorical turn which seems to be sufficient to introduce just enough conceptual complexity to satisfy us – which is another way of saying that the conceptual complexity we require of art is not all that complex. But if we’re told that the animation is about the destruction of the rain forest, we don’t take it, the self-same animation, as having much artistic ambition.
caption: Molly Mishkas: Helen, 2009, digital image; image held here
(2) Theres’s a show on at the moment in the NCAD Gallery in Dublin. There are two artists, Molly Mishkas and Logan McLain. In my next blog I’ll probably return to McLain but for now Mishkas interests me. In her installation, Mishkas relates the activities of Helen (no surname given), a resident of a remote part of Co Sligo. Every Sunday, it seems, Helen does a ten-mile round trip on foot so that she can attend a country-and-western session in a hotel. Prior to each such outing she sources a new outfit, which she afterwards uses to adorn her garden. Mishkas brings text, photographic evidence and videos to document this woman’s activities.
Here we have a bit of an odd situation. It would appear that Helen is making the art – an installation around her home – and that Mishkas is just deftly documenting it. What’s odd is that this mere fact is of sufficient conceptual complexity to make the installation in the NCAD Gallery satisfy at least some of us that it is art.