[iDC] (no subject) - ethics

R Labossiere admin at klooj.net
Tue Jan 22 06:46:23 UTC 2008

Threads on ethics have been running here on iDC since at least April '07, variously named 
Ethics of Participation, of Leisure, of (Productive) Leisure. But it was recent posts with the subject line (no subject) - ethics by Davin, Mark and Danny that prompted me to enter the fray.

I think Randolph is very sensitive to how prone we are to beating ourselves up about not much we are NOT doing; how we can be simultaneously frustrated by BOTH work that is not explicitly trying to change the world and by overtly political work that is. Which is to say, perhaps, that reading the book is not unlike therapy. You're not sure what exactly is going on but you feel better, or if not better, at least not worse... more than not worse, more than just the same, somewhat less stuck, more able to go on.

Which isn't to say the book is a cake walk; like therapy, you have to work it. 

Good question Sal about the 'tone' or 'valence' of the term 'illusion', but it's better to refer to Randolph's words than mine. 

Take for example Randolph's phrase "shared illusion of the experience of ethical imagining." 

Why I think this notion is relevant here is that Randolph doesn't talk about individual artists or their particular commitments but puts the concept of ethics into a social/group context. Groups involve ethics, believing you all stand for the same thing, which is a kind of illusion, but I think she's talking about more than that, about sharing a kind of practice, which she calls 'ethical imagining.'

She's not talking about explicitly critical or didactic creative work. Randolph in a very entertaining way chides advertising; jingles, slogans and the fashion industry but really, to me she's gettting at something more aesthetic...  

Sal's description of Winnicott is great... makes me think how advertising and consumer products fail, really, to achieve their potential to be 'transitional objects.' We don't invest that much in a brand of shampoo or sneakers. And this is perhaps how materialist-driven consumer products fail, they aren't "ethically imagined," the process is flawed from the get-go.

I should add that the text of Ethics of Luxury is accompanied by about 20 reproductions of artworks selected by Randolph and editor Ihor Holubizky. These don't so much illustrate her thesis as run parallel to the text, as examples of works where ethics are in play. These works have, like a curated exhibition, a distinct aesthetic to them; there's something prickly about them, something that is crtically challenging in terms of the conventions of representation and in terms of how they might be read in context. You might say, in terms of Winnicott, that they are more successful as transitional objects, you can love them sometimes, hate them other times, be neutral about them at other times but it would be hard to imagine anyone owning them or appreciating them as mere material objects.

I don't know how helpful I'm being in explaining the book. But to me there's something important about what she's getting at that the discourses around socially-based art practices, participatory art, relational aesthetics often don't get to. 

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Sal Randolph 
  To: R Labossiere ; iDC 
  Sent: Monday, January 21, 2008 5:54 PM
  Subject: Re: [iDC] (no subject) - ethics

  Hi Robert,

  That's a really intriguing quote from Ethics of Luxury, but I'm not quite sure how to interpret it - can you offer a little more context for those of us who don't have a copy of the book on hand just yet?

    Randolph postulates community as a common illusion 
    produced by the exercise of imagination in ways that involve trust and a 
    shared ethics:

  I'd be particularly interested to know with what sort of tone or valence she (and you) are using the word "illusion" here, and in what way this illusion is thought to influence actions and realities.  

  Personally I love Winnicott, especially for his notions of  transitional objects and transitional space - what I take from his ideas is specifically that the "transitional" occupies a middle zone between imagination and reality, a way for the two modes to meet and transform one another.  

  (For anyone here who isn't yet a Winnicott fan, the classic "transitional object" is something like a child's blankie - a real thing infused with the imaginary presence of another, for instance the child's mother.  The blankie works for the child -- it feels comforting, it can be thrown away and retrieved, played with, and ignored -- precisely because both its real and imaginary properties operate together).

  This implies that transitional spaces (for instance, art or play) are pathways by which imagination (illusion?) can have an influence on, can matter, in the real world (and vice versa).  Or to put it differently, it's one way of thinking about how imagination can be political.

  - Sal

  On Jan 18, 2008, at 11:30 PM, R Labossiere wrote:

    I've just had the great pleasure of working on a book that tackles the 
    difficult question of ethics and creative production and would like to quote 
    a part of it (below) that I believe is particularly relevant to this thread. 
    The book, as I proofed it so many times, struck me as so pertinent not just 
    to the visual arts but particularly to our new media milieu. Jeanne 
    Randolph, the author, is an artist and psychiatrist. Informed by object 
    relations theory, Winnicott in particular, she conceptualizes the positions 
    of creators and artists in terms of ethics, while tackling the ornery 
    reality that our positions are fundamentally 'tainted,' by the reality of 
    superabundance -  luxury. Randolph postulates community as a common illusion 
    produced by the exercise of imagination in ways that involve trust and a 
    shared ethics:


    "I continue the make-believe of a group of basically imaginative people, a 
    group formed on the basis of shared illusion of the experience of ethical 
    imagining (or, if this is really a new idea, a group formed on the basis of 
    the hypothesis that there is such a practice of ethical imagining).

    It would be our joy, whenever given the impetus primum non nocere [from the 
    hypocratic oath: before all else, do no harm], it would not be contradictory 
    to suppose that in our enclave of luxury:

    We would converse gladly;

    We would delight in curiosity;

    Certainly we would abhor objectification of any person anywhere;  this would 
    include abhorrence of reacting to another person as a mere function of our 
    own agenda;

    Each of us would maintain equanimity about holding individual or group 

    We would never enforce judgments on the possible, to remove obstacles to 

    If we witnessed someone(s) who rarely had the opportunity to participate in 
    situations like ours, our saddened response would include reconsideration of 
    the relevance of their situation to our enclave of luxury;

    After many conversations we might even come to believe that the illusory 
    experience we had conjured -- ethical imagining -- keeps us together even 
    while we are dispersed ... working in separate enclaves of luxury."

    - excerpted from Ethics of Luxury: materialism and imagination by Jeanne 
    Randolph  https://nt2.nshosts.com/yyzartistsoutletorg/books.asp?language=en

    Robert Labossiere

  : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

  Sal Randolph
  salrandolph [at[ gmail [dot] com


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