Just in time for the groundbreaking of the Art and Nature Park and the third Team Building session at IMA, Type A give us a peek into their on-going discussion…
Dear Count Blogula,
I’m still trying to figure out what we were trying to say last time. Something about the Invisible Man and mirrors. Good reading. I figure we should keep going with this.
More new things percolating since we last wrote. At this point we are reevaluating what the sculpture will look like and what it means within the larger context of the project as a whole. The original conception for the piece, a 40ish-foot climbing tower suspended about 12 feet of the ground, has been expanded to include handholds that are cast from our team members’ grips, and indeed the decision to suspend or not suspend the tower has come into question.
We are back to having it in the ground and accessible to those who want to touch and climb it, and then we’re back again to the suspended version with all its visual impact and conceptual tickle. We will be discussing what all this means with the Team and we hope this could influence the direction the sculpture takes. In the end, we might have the sculpture suspended for one year and then renew the piece and give it new meaning by lowering it onto the ground for another year. So the question remains: what does it mean to build the tower and suspend it and what does it mean for it to rest on the ground?
One connection jumped out at me: the Tower of Babel allegory. Babel was the first city built after the Flood, and the tower was built as a tribute to the human endurance that allowed the city to flourish. Forget the fact that God destroyed it and fractured the population into multiple languages as punishment for building such a monument to themselves and not to him… I am mostly interested in how the Tower was the first utopian gesture, how it was a bold manifestation of the Life Drive and an assertion that the community can grow, survive, and improve itself without limits. As it turns out, God didn’t like that idea and neither did Freud. (I made drawings of our sculpture in a way that strongly referenced the Tower of Babel, but it made the thing look like some Meso-American shrine. Looks aaaall wrong. Scrapped that idea.)
So there we were, minding our own business when a certain curator who shall remain nameless came along and dropped Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents in our lap. This is the first I’ve read of Freud and I am completely blown away by the ideas he offers and their relevance to our project. I write this blog entry from within a prankster-socialist family camp somewhere near East Noseblow West Virginia, and was able to get you on the pay phone for a few moments today to express my enthusiasm for said ideas. It seems these are all familiar to you, dare I say old hat, so no need to spell everything out for you. But in the interest of our gentle readers, Mr. Smarty McShrinkpants, I will lay it down as I see it. Everyone, stick with me here. It’s gonna get a bit stuffy in here. I’ve only read only the introduction and am already wanting to bring in the ideas presented. Let’s see what happens when I read the actual book.
For those who want the brief version of my conclusions: the suspended tower expresses the unattainability of balanced society and the absurdity of monuments built to honor that ideal. The grounded tower introduces the element of risk (to an inferred or real climber) and as such becomes a device that can be used to confront our primal desire to destroy ourselves, which manifests as a fear of bodily harm and death. This confrontation of our primal Death Drive is what ultimately makes the use of the high course in Experiential Education so powerful and effective. We negotiate our own primal desire/fear of death to grow and perhaps realize that we all are driven to die but go on living thanks to the Life Drive, a striving towards that unattainable ideal of an inner and outer growth and, ultimately, utopia.
I’ve been going on about the idea of Recapitulation(ism) for years, and it seems Freud was into that idea as well. In terms of biology, the idea is that as the human fetus develops, it reenacts key stages in the evolution of life, from single-cell creatures to amphibians to primitive mammals, etc. What this means is that developmental evolution is scalable: the path taken by life at a macro level can be scaled to apply to the path taken by one organism in its development process, and conversely, can be scaled up to apply to the evolution of civilizations and cultures and communities. Stages of the psychological challenge and growth that individuals face are reflected in the growth of societies. Understand the person and you’ll understand the community. Seems like there is some relevance here to the Project.
The neuroses of the individual and how s/he negotiates them can be scaled up to societies at large. Since the collaborative process is at heart a functioning within a society or a community, we are indeed a community of two. As part of the Team Building project we are inviting others to create a larger community and as such it’s worth examining how community is created and how it can succeed or fail. Louis Menand in his introduction to Civilization and Its Discontents says that humans can’t help but create a culture wherever they are, that “humans beings produce culture in the same sense that they produce carbon monoxide: they can’t help it.” (I think he meant “carbon dioxide”, that culture is a natural byproduct of our existence. I doubt he’s referring to internal combustion engines.)
But where do the individual’s and society’s neuroses and anxieties come from?
Another idea that Freud embraced was Lamarckianism, which proposes that a creature’s behavior can create traits which are genetically passed down. This idea is somewhat at odds with Natural Selection in that it proposes that there is an ideal towards which every species is striving, rather than Natural Selection’s hit-or-miss stumble towards better reproductive success. As it applies to Freud, the idea is that the traumas of our ancestors are somehow carried down the generations for us to struggle with. We still not only feel the repercussions of the Fall from Eden and the murder of Abel (or our crazy great-grandfather Sid who killed his wife with an ax); we have to find our own way to actively negotiate their consequences. Freud believes that everything comes back to the Oedipal struggle. As Menand puts it, “civilization began when the young men of the tribe ganged up and murdered the father-figure, the tribal leader who had appropriated all the women for his own sexual use. The guilt they experienced (since hatred is ambivalent: they loved their leader, too), is the origin of the Über-Ich – the superego – and of the repression that makes culture possible.” The idea is that we’ve been paying for this ever since, that this primal guilt is what redirects that violent urge inward towards self-destruction and destruction of societies, or can be displaced to focus on others. Masochism is primal urge; sadism is that same urge redirected. Most importantly, society and culture cannot exist without this primal guilt, and it is this guilt that lies at the root of anxiety and depression.
Freud originally proposed that humans have two primal drives: the Sexual, or libido which is a Pleasure Principle, and the Ego, which is the Reality principle. These drives, he proposed, are always in conflict. But when it comes to narcissism, the theory breaks down. Lust for self has no place within this original system. So he revised his thinking to describe these two primal drive: the Life Drive, or “Eros”, which is the drive to reproduce and the assemble organic substances into larger entities, such as culture and civilizations. This is in conflict with, and can only exist because of the struggle with, the Death Drive. This is the legacy of our father-killing guilt and is a primal drive towards a suicidal penance for that crime. This energy can be redirected towards others in an effort to allow ourselves to live a bit longer and control the circumstances of our own death. We do not fear death so much as loss of control as it pertains to the timing and manner of our own death.
And so enter the high elements on the challenge course.
In short, tension is central to the meaning of the Team Building project and the sculpture, and I believe that this tension is between the creative and the destructive.
OK, I’m worn out from this. I am fully prepared for you to blow holes all through this if need be, and surrender control of this blogfest into your capable, Lacanian hands. Lacan was, after all, a strong believer in Freud.
Yours in over-thinking everything,
Rubber Baby Bloggy Bumper,
I’m not going to attempt to blow holes in this because I’m not that up on my Freud. And, I’m not reading the copy of Civilization and it’s Discontents that you so graciously sent to me. It’s sitting on my desk just looking like I read it, right next to my very tattered copy of the latest GQ (you deal with what theory goes into our heads; i’ll worry about what styling product goes onto them).
Anyhoo, what you wrote is intense and well considered. It’s also more of a lecture than a dialog. And, that’s both welcome and needed. Just makes a response a bit tougher. I was going to go through it and respond paragraph by paragraph but rejected that method. Figure I’ll just jump in with thoughts about where the project is and where it appears to be going.
First, I’m writing this before our third Team Building session coming up next week. It’s amazing how quickly the time in between our meetings has passed. It’s welcome though. This project needs a forward momentum. Without it, we’d lose energy and, truth be told, interest. Experiential education has a half life. The effects do last but tend to fade as does all experience. Real life, as they say, creeps back in. Throwing oneself back into the experience is both beneficial and necessary. I can honestly say that the time spent away from the project becomes tinged with a certain longing for both a return to team building as well as an end to the whole thing. Kinda like “Should we include the Wiggle Waggle initiative?” vs. “If I have to say ‘Wiggle Waggle initiative’ one more time, I’m gonna lose it!” There’s a desire to hold on to the profundity that can accompany Experiential Education (as with art). Isn’t that what brings me/us/everyone back to it again and again? It is motivation. At the same time, there’s a desire to just have it be over, to let the artwork be complete. Ah, there’s our beloved tension.
How do we address the idea that we want this project to be over, that we want to move on to the next thing, when the experience and growth we’ve encountered through it has been unprecedented? Our entire working process has changed. We’ve always wanted to challenge notions of what we could be as artists. We attempted to do this at first by always making stuff that looked different from other stuff we made. At some point, we let ourselves play with concepts that were different as well. But, With Team Building, it’s moved to a whole new level. We have chosen a medium that does not have an end like a painting or a sculpture or a video has. Oddly enough, it can also have an amorphous beginning since all experience preceding the team building plays a role in whatever happens. The opportunity to relinquish defining the parameters of the artwork is unique, at least for us. We hope it is for both the team members and anyone else who is following the project. That level of collaborative uncertainty helps to propel. It’s real life that tends to drag its heels in this kind of situation.
Heading back to Indy for the third session, I am very interested in how the team will respond to a new challenges, including low course and high course elements. We’ve seen how the team can both unify and we’ve seen how they can remain fragmented. That’s the nature of such a diverse group. The next session will bring a level of individual challenge heretofore unaddressed. Yay! It’s exciting and, of course, anxiety provoking for everyone involved. It’s the biggest challenge yet.
During this next session, we will, as you mentioned, discuss the sculptural element with the team in a direct manner that will call for participation and engagement in the creative process. We’ve already broached this subject but in a more indirect manner. We’ve referenced the sculpture for the park but not necessarily the decision making process that goes into making it, the realm usually reserved for the artist(s) proper. The questions surrounding the handholds and the tower’s suspension will be addressed as will others that will arise throughout the team’s time together. The discussion and results will make it official: we are truly collaborating with the team. It’s necessary for the project to culminate and, then, end. And isn’t that what we all want, a satisfying resolution? I know I do.
In suspending the tower, we end the Team Building project. The tower becomes a symbol of what we did, at least for those that did it. Like a photograph, it could remind someone of something, but it’d be hard pressed to offer up a new experience other than viewing it as art. On the ground, the tower offers more experience. You could actually climb it. Team Building continues. Not sure I’m ready for that. As mentioned, I want an ending, something definitive. So, I’m up for the one-two punch of suspending it and then lowering it after a designated period of time. That way, Team Building ends and we get all the good stuff that comes along with that (and a big, sexy sculpture to boot). Lowering it in the future will be a way to revisit what we and others have done as well as start something anew. Now, I’m not saying that we should go back and teambuild new people on that tower. I’d be happy to have someone else determine how the tower will be used, to let it live on without us.
The best I can do to connect these ideas with what you wrote is to acknowledge that in realizing the Team Building project, we’ve engaged in Recapitulation that follows our own ten-year-old, artmaking relationship. Team Building began by focusing on conflict (Type A vs. IMA); it’s evolved to true collaboration (Type A hearts IMA). This is how it happened with us. This is cool. In this sense all the Life/Death drive of which you speak exists for The Team in the project as well as for us behind the scenes. You and I have pushed and pulled with our ego and the attempt to subvert it. We are dealing with our own pleasure but also with our own death. We are both the fathers and the sons who want to kill them. No wonder we’re so guilty. In any
case, we are definitely dealing with the primal urge to control our own demise.
On that note, let’s make sure that our harnesses are secure when we’re up in the high elements.