MICHAEL WAITE: The World We Found
Michael Waite uses archival ordering structures to examine aspects of everyday life, as a way of exploring the subjectivity inherent in our quest for knowledge. As expressed by one of the fundamental philosophical questions - "Is the world knowable?" The three projects in this exhibition use photography, video and drawings made by street portrait artists.
Michael Waite is a Sydney visual artist, working mostly with photography and video. He has a BFA from UNSW CoFA and is undertaking an MFA at CoFA.
DRAWINGS FROM WHERE WE ARE: Wayde Owen & Shayle Flesser
"The natural sciences at last defined what Nature was, and each new emerging scientific discipline was experienced as a total revolution by means of which it was finally liberated from its prescientific past, from its Old Regime. No one who has not felt the beauty of this dawn and thrilled to its promises is modern." Bruno Latour, 1991
Drawing has an embedded history associated with magical (or, if you prefer, religious) belief - the animals depicted were those on which human survival depended. drawing has a primal and elemental character: any drawing enjoys a default mythic status as the earliest and most immediate form of image making. And at the same time, drawing has been associated with analysis, clarity, planning and, of course, scientific observation.
Consider Shayle Flesser's drawing "Woman and Rodent". Imagine that the rodent represents nature while the woman represents society. Natural scientists, by studying the rodent (rat mazes, perhaps high school dissections), come understand the facts of things and the fundamental forces which shape the world. Social scientists are able to apply this knowledge to society. They understand how genetics, biology, linguistics and neuroscience serve to define social structures (humans can solve mazes too). The un-scientific (let's call them ordinary) people, for their part, imagine that the forces of nature must apply to their society in such things as the beauty of art, the attractiveness of fashion or the power of gods. But no! We should understand that these things - Gods, money, fashion and art are just things on which social needs have been projected. If we think rats are not attractive, that is just because of cultural bias.
On the other hand, people understand that their own free will, their agency, allows them to influence and shape their material world. We could kill the rat if we wanted too. But here is the rub - it is naive to think that humans have genuinely free will, the forces of nature, as understood and articulated by the natural sciences, are powerful and clearly manipulate and control the wills of the puny humans (just look up articles about Neuroscience and free will). Humans are hard-wired to find rats repulsive since they represent a health threat.
So the problem is this: on one hand non-human objects (rats) count for nothing in themselves and are just screens on which society projects its needs and desires. On the other hand, they represent an irresistible force controlling the shape of society. Too weak and too strong at the same time.
So now when we look at the nature part of Flesser's drawing, we see two rats. One rat belongs to the soft part of nature. The projection screen rat, Ratatouille perhaps or the more evil b-movie plague rat. The other belongs to the hard part of nature: rattus rattus made of organic molecules organised into cells, blood, tissues, organs, genes, with instinctive and learned behaviours.
The woman, who I have ignored for too long in this essay, is also split in two. She (and recall she represents society at the moment) has a hard part - the part which dissected the rat in high school, and a soft part, which squirmed in revulsion during the swimming pool scene in "the Rats" 2002.
Critical analysis can be, and is, made on the soft part of nature by the hard part of society. Here we can think of Wayde Owens drawings of humans apparently articulating crystalline structures networks or symbolic representations (see Man Drawing # 1, 2 and 3).
Conversely it is understood that the hard parts of nature control and influence the soft parts of society. Here we can think of Flesser's hybrid drawings such as Deer Woman, Headdress or Mother love. Nature - represented by animals - is literally part of the human body or brain.
So by applying the soft part of nature to the hard part of society and vice versa dualism has sufficed as a conceptual model.
Latour describes how the Edinburgh school of social studies of science turned the hard part of the social onto the hard part of nature. In other words, they considered the hard facts of science as a constructed by the interests and requirements of a society. The result: collapse! "Society had to produce everything arbitrarily including the cosmic order, biology, chemistry and the laws of Physics!" (Latour, 1991).
It is the splits of dualism which are arbitrary rather than things in nature or society. As both Flesser's and Owen's drawings amply demonstrate, the "hard" and "soft" parts of both the natural world and the social world are entwined as both nature and society are entwined with each other. Networks form between Flesser's works and Owen's works, between the animals and humans in Flesser's drawings and between Owen's humans and the architectural shapes and forms which issue from their mouths. These drawings are hybrid objects which bridge the yawning gap of nature and society.
Sam Leach, 2010
Wayde Owen is represented by Harrison Gallery, Sydney