Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ways of World Making

In May 2002, artist and writer David Robbins began his description of the conditions of contemporary life by confronting the changed status of illusion. “The illusion-generator”, he wrote, “is now too weak to launch imagined narratives free of the gravitational pull of reality and into the self-completing orbit known as ‘fiction’. Prevented from reaching this condition of full-on, illusionistic make-believe, ‘story’, now grounded and weakened, is infiltrated by a host of earth-bound narratives – reality’s narratives. Fiction and non-fiction contaminate each other. The contamination destabilises each category until, eventually, between them a new equilibrium is attained. The equilibrium point is determined by elements of both, but ultimately gravity weights things in favour of reality.”

Robbins was here ruminating on the widespread move toward what he called “fictionalising the present” in recent years: the production of a new equilibrium between hard reality and soft fiction that makes it difficult to distinguish one from the other. This condition is, importantly, historically specific – emerging as it does out of an era in which the rich and acute tension of ficto-reality touches all aspects of life. We might say, for example, that contemporary life across many parts of the globe is fundamentally shaped by invented mythologies (products) and imaginary stories (image-worlds). Pinning down where story ends and life begins initiates a drama on an ontological scale. And for many contemporary artists working today, confronting this drama begins not with a question of delineation but of navigation: how to work with rather than work out the powerful tension between a limitless fantastical wilderness and the real business of being-in-the-world?

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