Sarah Pierce – University of Glasgow (History of Art Research Seminar)

Sarah Pierce's Future Exhibition's in Tate

Attended: Wednesday 8th of November

Sarah Pierce (b. 1968) Lives and works in Dublin. Since 2003, Sarah Pierce has used the term The Metropolitan Complex to describe her art. Despite its institutional resonance, this title does not signify an organisation. Instead, it demonstrates Pierce’s broad understanding of cultural work, articulated through methods that open up to the personal and incidental. Characterised as a way to play with a shared neuroses of finding one’s place (read complex in the Freudian sense), whether a specific locality or a wider set of circumstances that frame interaction, her art considers forms of gathering, both historical examples and those she initiates. (…) The processes of research and presentation that Pierce undertakes highlight a continual renegotiation of the terms for making art: the potential for dissent and self-determination, the slippages between individual work and institution, and the proximity of past artworks. (…) Pierce has described her work as part of a feminist legacy, “deeply committed to a radical turn away from the cult of the artist and individual achievements towards the signs and symbols of a system of art making.”

Text from her website


My reaction to Sarah Pierce’s Lecture:

On being an artist and an agency (A brief personal reaction to Sarah Pierce’s lecture)

The Art-history lecture, initiated by Dominic Paterson in collaboration with Chapter Thirteen, on the 8th of November welcomed Sarah Pierce to present ideas coming from her current PhD research into the artist-talk. The dense circular talk presented by Pierce laid out a genealogy of the lecture-performance and some examples from Pierce’s multidisciplinary practice, brought into a reflective relationship with the artist-talk in terms of agency and the address. Pierce stated that the artist-talk – a way of speaking that belongs to the institution, rather than to the individual practice of an artist – allows for the same undermining effect on the address as the lecture-performance does: the very way the information is transmitted (the form) works against what is being said (the information). Pearce draws a comparison between philosopher George Bataille with artists such as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson and Hito Steyerl. The way these artists reflect on their own agency in talking about (their) art, within the performative, educational or institutional context, results into a direct rebellion towards their own agency on this. What happens, like in the book ‘Unfinished Systems of Nonknowledge’ (authored by Bataille, but not edited by him), is that the task of understanding or the task of the address is left to the reader or the audience. This audience, although now more powerful, is left with the same kind of doubts, uncertainties and embarrassments as the maker of the work.

As Bataille noted in one of his lectures, in an attempt to explain nonknowledge to his students:

“Today, like the other times, I am going to attempt to communicate my experience of nonknowledge to you. Of course, like the other times, I will fail. But first I would like to show you the extent of my failure. (those of you who have followed the presentation have been able to grasp in a fundamental way a perpetual rebellion against itself.) I can say precisely that if I had succeeded, the tangible contact between you and me would have had the nature not of work but of play. I would have known how to make you perceive what is for me a decisive fact; the only object of my thought is play, and in play my thought, the work of my thought, is annihilated.” [1]

Once the work (that what constitutes the information) is annihilated by the attempt to communicate it, the material, the visual, suddenly get a newly instituted importance in this communication.

Quickly after becoming aware of this effect, questions about the quality and intentions of mediation, positioning and addressing start to sprung in many directions. I have always found it important to state a position while speaking, not only for communicative purposes but even more specifically for educational[2] or representational[3] ones. However, the awareness that when moving between or even not defining the position(s) from which to speak as a creative practitioner (artist or curator) generates gaps in which others can position, allows for possibilities to think about this position and its performativity.
‘Curatorial Consciousness’[4], a performance-element in my current practice, functions as a form in which I deal with the difficulty of bringing together parallel thoughts from the artistic practice, the curatorial and the educational. The notions in Pierce’s talk are some I will go back to multiple times in my future practice as I recognise that I cannot yet deal with every aspect or consequence of this thought. I will come back on it on this research blog as it forms a fundamental insight I already look forward to sharing with friends that have a similar movement of positioning in their practice.

[1] Bataille, G. Unfinished systems of nonknowlege (2001) introduced by Stuart Kendall.

[2] Like the use of stating a position in DAI’s methodology for critical dialogue.

[3] As a mediator using Visual Thinking Strategies in order to facilitate the dialogue generating the collective meaning of an image. While being in art academy it has always surprised me on how bad I was in talking about my own work while being trained in talking about that of others. Not only being aware of the unfinished narrative in my work when talking about the process made it difficult but also the, then unconscious, sudden change of role must have muted me.

[4] This one and this one as for now.