I joke about an awful lot around here, but on this point I am deadly serious: the artists I know are some of the cleverest people I have ever met: universally and routinely erudite, eloquent, literate, informed, storing a specialised knowledge which is carefully shared and generally worn lightly.
Also – they are philosophers. Seriously, they can’t order a shandy without quoting Badiou, which put me in something of a quandary, if not a major disadvantage. I am not schooled in philosophy, especially aesthetics. When anyone suggests I try, I start to sulk, mumbling: ‘can’t make me.’ When I mentioned this, the artists insisted that philosophy would help. At certain institutions, philosophers were even kept on hand in case of emergencies: “…quick – pass the Plato. No – wrong man, stupid. He’s having an existential crisis!”
But if I am to be a real artist, that is – a wise and learned one, then I must play the game, which means reading (or actually studying) philosophy. And I’ve tried. Honest. I read Aristotle, but he didn’t work (made him sound like a floor-cleaner, haven’t I?) Heidegger? Baby steps…I did time with Baudrillard and other French chaps, but soon realised that as with all the better things in life, I’d rather do it than think about it.
Until that is, my friend Mark (a fervent Deleuze man, just so you know) suggested reading up on Foucault. I did, nothing too weighty, just a few short articles and essays, so I don’t get a medal or anything, unlike my friends who sit casually sunning themselves and genning up on Debord (they are all French aren’t they?)
And then I read about heterotopias. It was a revelation. It wasn’t about disciplined thinking. You see, I had noticed that certain places were fruitful places to gather material for my samplers based on overheard conversations and graffiti. Heterotopias are ‘other’ places, situated outside of the mainstream. They are ‘elsewheres,’ like prisons, airports, and – I have argued – public toilets and Café Nero (sue me. I own nothing…) all untied from the usual boundaries and rules, disconnected from usual behavioural norms.
It hasn’t changed my work, but it has unveiled why I do what I do: explaining why I go to places where they are simultaneously welcoming and yet alienating (well - do you spend longer in the toilet than is necessary, and yes, women as well?) And why it is that people feel able to sit a crowded coffee bar and talk loudly so that all may eavesdrop the details about their reasons for having an abortion. It’s a heterotopia: a place outside the world, and yet still in it.
So that’s it, then. I have philosophy. It doesn’t control or dictate what I make, but it does clarify what I do, especially for funding purposes, providing effective, reasoned legitimacy for sewing rude words.
So who do I read to explain why I then sew the overheard words into a sampler. Perhaps it’s because I am weird? Marvellous. Anyway: must dash. I need the heterotopia.