When I mention the word failure (in relation to art practice), most folks think that it means I cannot do the thing I have set out to do. Or they think I am talking about doing failure on purpose publicly, like getting on stage and instead of doing something well, just doing something badly.
Failure elicits the concept of Missing the Mark. In Greek tragedy to miss the mark is called hamartia (to err), often associated with hubris, blindness to the self. The meaning of sin in the bible also means to miss the mark. Sinning and tragedy although not explicit in the word failure, those roots are there — to fail publicly at some level is still shameful, sinful, potentially tragic. For me under the tutelage of many a wonderful failure, I began a studious practice of failure years ago. A proper study, of what does it mean to develop art works from a poetics of failure?
I am not meaning that I will paint a nice picture, fail at the attempt of creating a representation, and then eventually overcome and BE Better. That process is deeply intertwined with capital, product and contemporary simulation (or as I like to call it the please love me competition shame machine). I am describing a process that acknowledges right from the start that all representation at some level must fail. Whether it is words, images, or scenes enacted out – whatever the words are, there is not an intrinsic exact meaning that is universal for those words. Symbols mean different things to different people, based on culture, geography, epigenetics or histories of abuse. Any given symbol is not universally shared, although meaning is certainly pointed at.
When I begin a process of making from this place, that for me is non-hierarchical, curious and acknowledges the failure of representations from the beginning, I can truly begin to play. To begin a creative process that is saying Yes to Paradox, and yes to the fact I cannot represent a Kitchen Sink exactly means I can use the garbage-can and write kitchen sink on it, or use the garbage can as a crown and begin to really play with the assumed concepts of ‘shared experience’ that are not in fact shared at all. I can build worlds that are ridiculous and challenging, that start with no text, only images. Beginning with a poetics of Failure, I start with the performers in the room and their gifts. The people who have gathered in good faith audience or performer are collaborators.
Beginning from a model of failure means that competitive models that create the scarcity of the “lone genius” are eradicated— Ready to play in the deconstruction of training, the deconstruction of success and its insatiable need for clever, cool or new. Jungian theory suggests that art is our conversation with the soul. The models of contemporary western art production (even the irreverent ones) can be insistent that we do art for Fame, Validation, to be Good. I am eager to not know and be unknown, to be wrong, and find my way to my community of siblings and have a conversation with our soul. It has happened when working this way, I have experienced some who steal through erasure of the contributions of their collaborators. But that is because the trance of scarcity is powerful, we are all subject to falling prey to the seduction of wanting to be somebody, to represent something CLEVER – to be the next ______.
I am writing to you dear stranger to encourage you to Fail, do not Fail with intent to be better at your craft but to begin with the knowledge you are better. I encourage you to stop competing. In a poetics of failure, we need not erase anyone – we can acknowledge the brave ones who came before and celebrate our collaborators ideas with credit and still be in our centre moving forward, living whatever part of this brief flicker we are. Share boldly, give credit accurately, and love your process of being free from the constraints of ‘hitting your mark’ – Miss the mark! Sin, be the tragedy and paradox that you are in your rehearsal room, studio, or bedroom closet. Mile Zero in Partnership with Rest for the Wicked and University of Ghent are bringing a few artists from Edmonton to the Festival of Failure and Participatory Art Practices Part III in Belgium. Here we will fail with great sin, and for me personally I will be failing as a duet in Falling in Love with the World, Again: A Ritual of Magical Acts of Ridiculousness for transformation.
Some people fancy a French Connection, I just like connection. Connection through story, connection through softening my own resistance, connection through honesty with kindness and humility. Braided together like a long wisdom nobody can own.
May we all fail well.