The Devolution Project – catalogue essay

Catalogue essay to accompany exhibitions at West Space, Melbourne from 25 July – 2 August 2008 and University of Southern Queensland Gallery, Toowoomba from 8 August – 28 August 2008.

Young hunks

Cyberpunks

And sweet things

Trying hard to change your luck

Baby thugs

Bad spuds

And mean things

Living for today or maybe even yesterday

Look around

Shaky ground

Do the right thing

In this world you’re just a guest

Do it now

‘Devo Has Feelings Too’, Smooth Noodle Maps, Enigma Records, 1990.[i]

Evolutionary theories garner attention from numerous opposing perspectives, be they from scientists who construe them as a logical understanding of heretic development, or the religious right who vehemently refute them. Central to both positions is the adherence or dismissal of a higher organising mechanism, most notably, a god. To maintain a position that incorporates a Darwinian based principle of evolution, in that species develop over time to more ably adapt to their environment, dismisses the creationists’ belief that we are now, as god created us then, at least in so far as our physical manifestation is concerned. Thus one side maintains we are the product of an almighty miracle that is scientifically impossible to qualify, or the product of a long evolutionary process of adapting to our changing environment. Of magic or ape.

Following a presentation explaining his theories pertaining to black holes, the eminent scientist Stephen Hawking was asked in a pre-prepared question how he reconciles his scientific theories with his religious beliefs. The response by the oddly American accented gentleman from Oxford was succinctly: ‘That is why I am not a Christian.’[ii]

The Emerging Church or Emergent Church movement is a recent religious movement of the late 20th and early 21st century. Its agenda is to cater to disillusioned Christians of the post modern world, modernising the faith so that it may attract a more youthful congregation or those disenchanted with the stasis and institutionalism of traditional Christian denominations. Dr. R. Todd Magnum, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of Faculty at Biblical Seminary notes: ‘Emergents’ seem to share one common trait: disillusionment with the organized, institutional church as it has existed through the 20th century (whether fundamentalist, liberal, megachurch, or tall-steeple liturgical).[iii]

In this context, the term emergent is used as a source of opposition to the current structures of power and influence, rather than as defining an early stage of trajectory towards becoming integrated within such institution. To filter the usage of emerging within contemporary art through this reading places an emerging artist as one opposed to the established structures, institutions and perceptions of importance rather than artists in the infancy of their artistic practice.

Theories of emergence, as used in disciplines such as systems theory and epistemology, also describe the way emergent behaviours are often formed when individuals interact as a collective. Though to notice them as they start to appear, ‘the emergent behaviour may need to be temporarily isolated from other interactions before it reaches enough critical mass to be self-supporting.’[iv] As a collection of younger artists, those presenting works as part of this project, this temporary isolation, conflate the idea of ‘emerging’ as a defining term through the regressive influences permeating their practices. Progress seems redundant as a linear development, as the works favour antiquated technologies, historical positioning and psychological primitivism. Modern technologies are cast aside as both means of production and implication on the subject matter within the works. Their concerns are located with various historical contexts, not always determinedly specific, as a departure from a pointed contemporaniety towards something verging on more eternal and universal concerns. This blurs both a sense of now and a sense of then to envisage a future affected by multiple and possibly conflicting narratives of temporal development.

Not only is historical temporality reorganised within some of these works, but also the perspective of how narrative is established and executed in a physical and conceptual form. Some of the shamanistic and conspiratorial agendas at play here use outmoded and redundant methodologies to decipher current concerns. As if deeming the failings of our current existence are the result of adopting the wrong evolution of thinking processes and the mistaken direction with which our societies are developing, The propositions here are not necessarily resolved nor definitive, but studies of how we may have diverted from a tangible concept of evolution, or indeed whether to evolve is a positive outcome in any sense. A series of regressive experiments in altering our course, or at least, confusing our assuredness of forward, of progress, of development, of future.

The works engage with alternative art historical cannons and methods of understanding, as if alluding to entirely different referents and value systems. Excavated histories to indicate different trajectories that differ to our understanding of logical development. Thus, the idea of the ‘emerging’ becomes something entirely different to its parlance within contemporary art, as youth metamorphosing into something presumably held to be more fully fledged. This would suggest a natural course that is predefined in its hierarchy and the direction in which art exemplifies a progressive development of conceptual and physical thinking and manufacturing. As each step seems a logical predecessor towards the next, what can we make of gestures that encourage us to walk backwards, or in an entirely different direction, or to simply not walk at all? If this could be considered a process of devolution, or at least a stasis of evolution through non compliance, then where to from here? Or perhaps a multiplicity of evolutions can exist simultaneously, as certain elements progress in one way while others progress in opposing ways, creating a symbiotic relationship between evolution and devolution in a perpetual oscillation that can only be interpreted as change, rather than ever regarded as development.

Mark Feary & Simon Maidment, 2008.

[i] In 1973, Devo played their first gig – as a sextet. This line up performed only once.

[ii] Stephen Hawking presentation, The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham, England, 7 October, 2007.

[iii] Q & A with Todd Mangum (6 October, 2007). Catalyst for Missional Leadership at Biblical Seminary, www.c4ml.com

[iv] www.wikipedia.org

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