starling’s synecdoche

here’s the non-pompous, less convoluted version of this post: I talk about some grammar terms, then say that Simon Starling’s futile loops point to two things each while mine only point to one. And then I decide I should make my fish thing have some reference to development or something, but decide my plywood tree [...]

By Christopher Robbins

here’s the non-pompous, less convoluted version of this post: I talk about some grammar terms, then say that Simon Starling’s futile loops point to two things each while mine only point to one. And then I decide I should make my fish thing have some reference to development or something, but decide my plywood tree and dirt for nauru idea are just fine as they are.

Here’s the wordy version:

“The difference between synecdoche and metonymy is that in metonymy the word you employ is linked to the concept you are really talking about, but isn’t actually a part of it.”
Michael Quinion.

So, The Oval Office is metonymy, while Hands on deck is a synecdoche. I guess, in a nutshell, synecdoche is tighter.

Daniel Kurjakovic speaks of Simon Starling‘s work in these terms.

Metonymy is ubiquitous in Starling’s practice. His projects would not take shape as they do, were it not for his ability to respond to the “metonymical passages” that resonate in the world of things. Contiguity/ metonymy is a poetic (and not only a mechanical) principal. (This and all Kurjakovic quotes on this page from Kurjakovic, D. 2006. Hide and Seek in Simon Starling’s Scenarios, in Simon Starling: Cuttings. Hatje Cantz Publishers, p C28-C33)

So, he gets an attribute of a system to represent a greater system, objectifies that attribute, and then by inserting that object into another system similarly composed of representational objects, is able to produce a fiction: “a narrative produced by fictional means.” An example would be his Flaga, in which “he drove a 1974 red Fiat from Fiat’s Turin plant, where the car is no longer made, to a plant in Warsaw, where he switched red parts for Polish-made white ones, then drove the car back to Italy. (MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, Art in Review, New York Times, March 12, 2004)

Kurjakovic distinguishes this narrative process from similar-seeming quasi-research projects that “reproduces the material world.” I appreciate the distinction, because though intrigued, I am skeptical of art that pretends to operate sort of like science. It often feels like rigour without content. Spurse’s Sans Terre in North Adams is a perfect example of a project that, while being beautiful and meticulous and operating in a scientific-like method, merely provides arbitrary connections that reveal little. (caveat: I dig a lot of their other stuff, though, and generally adore the aesthetics of Spurse’s work).

But, back to Starling, Kurjakovic also raises an undermining tendency of fictional work produced through relation: the private joke concocted through arbitrary linkages. “Metonymies are essentially arbitrary… But in Starling’s case, they lead to a certain creditability because the phenomena he investigates are samples of objectified culture in one way or another, and therefore appear to be generally comprehensible (and not attributes of an opaque private mythology).”

By opaque private mythology I assume he is speaking of something akin to Paddy Johnson/Art Fag City’s denigrating term complex cosmology artists, in which Mathew Day Jackson and Mathew Barney fall.

So, to nutshell this, when making art through associative systems borrowed and interloping into the real world, we need to be careful it doesn’t devolve into quasi-scientific gibberish, or into some complex private world of arbitrary systems.

hey Sculpture 2, you can stop here, unless you are interested in some old grad school ruminations about how this applied to what I was working on then. Otherwise, I’d take this time to consider the work you’ve produced so far in this class, how it related to these concerns…

So, how does this relate to my own work? Well, in the trajectory I am currently espousing, I aim to help us peel back from the surfaces of our lives, help us abstract and extract ourselves from our contexts by producing systems that represent some of the systems defined for us in our own lives. The goal is to gain control or at least become aware of the assumed rules we unwittingly follow, many of which were created by ourselves!

That’s the goal at least. (nb: I gotta think of a less pompous way of phrasing that)

In specific, my Misguided Machines are constructed to appear as if they are failing at what they were built to do. Rather, they succeed in what they are trying to do, it’s just that their goals are so misguided that in “succeeding” all they really accomplish is to show just how little they understand of the world they live in. It was inspired by 10 years working overseas, never really being sure if what I was doing had any real value in the culture I had placed myself into.

Except that this link, I realize, is nowhere expressed in the piece. It is a private parable, so to most viewers the piece is about a dead fish that falls. A one liner. So, as I develop this piece, I should not merely add, add, add (to quote Adam Swanson, “if this part holds your attention for two minutes, and you add a few more parts, then that is merely more minutes), but, in the additional mechanics, make more explicit the connection to cross-cultural and neo-colonial exercises. It must not stop at futility.

The Dirt for Nauru project doesn’t really operate on metonymy or synecdoche; it is a direct representation and futile closing of the actual loop of history that decimated Nauru into a former phosphate mine. You see, Nauru, a tiny island in the South Pacific, was mined for phosphate until 70% of its land mass had been turned into gaping pinnacles of rock, entirely non-arable land. I went to the vegetable market, and they had onions and canned peas, imported from Australia. So, in the Dirt for Nauru project, I’ll bring that dirt back to Nauru, fill in those pinnacles with masses of dirt. Except that it won’t work. I’d be filling a dead land with insufficient dirt, and in all likelihood the dirt would never make it there.

And then there’s the Plywood-Tree-Plywood project, in which I build a tree out of plywood, chop it down, mill it up, and press it back into plywood, which really just creates a futile loop out of a material transformation (ooh, plus them I’m gonna return it to Home Depot! Thanks Peter!). There is no explicit reference to anything. Reference can be made by association between the dirt and the plywood, mined and then returned in a manner now useless to its now dead former host, but this is not built into either of the works, nor was it even an intent. And as I currently have an aversion to reference presented as depth, and am aware that these associative references are as arbitrary and essential to the work as any other people might assign, I cannot count them as part of the work.

So, what the hell I am talking about? I create a metaphor in the Machines, a direct representation in the Nauru project, and
a simple futile loop in the stumps. There is no conflation. Each work only explicitly addresses itself. This is how they differ from Starling’s systems. Now, my goal is not to emulate Starling, so this is not necessarily a problem, but it is a consideration I need to make. And while I do not want to merely add more, more, more, perhaps a more explicit linkage to the system I am trying to represent would be helpful. I could do this through material, through place, through object…

Now, time to think how. How do I link a machine made of garbage that “frees” a dead fish and “saves” a stuffed animal to post-colonialism and international development through material, place and form?*

* The other two seem sufficient in their own loops, but the fish seems to need more. Why is that? Is it because the nature of the futile tasks I assign to myself is different to those I assign my machine, as Baca offers? Or is it just because being about themselves is enough?

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