Caroline Slotte

Making Knowledge Visible

“Men omkring människotanken nere i verklighetens värld råder ständig natt. Djup, evig natt. Vi anar det men kan inte tro det är riktigt sant. Vi känner ju föremålen, kan ta på dem, vi sysslar alltid med dem, vet precis hur de är.

Vi undersöker dem i minsta detalj, analyserar och förstår. Det är inget som tyder på att det är natt, på att vi  inte ser någonting. Intet som helst av alltsamman. Bara trevar oss fram i ett oerhört, spöklikt hus med svarta fönster ut mot spöklika rymder, höljda i samma natt. Och vi står vid rutan och tror att vi ser långt långt bort. Och vi tassar kring i det ödsliga huset och känner på föremålen och tror att vi ser dem och förstår, som man tror i drömmen att allt är riktigt och att det är på ljusa dagen –

Men vi drömmer ju. Allt detta är ju bara en underlig dröm.”  

Pär Lagerkvist, Det Besegrade Livet, 1927

A crucial function of art is that it can move us, build a bridge between inner and outer realities. Creating art requires a strong belief in the potential of mankind. It is about allowing the ineffable to exist in oneself and in the world, protecting one’s curiosity and, when necessary, resisting all mindsets that belittle this potential.

The explorative element inherent in creative work is a constant theme in the discussion on research and artistic practices. The nature of the creative process is one of striving towards lucidity, and it is therefore legitimate to claim that all artistic activities, regardless of context, contain this movement – from open exploration, towards a greater understanding of the motifs that currently absorb our attention and the themes that engross us.

In the course of working on my project Second Hand Stories (The Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme, 2007-2011), this development towards clarity was both a strong personal incentive and my express objective. I was striving for a greater understanding of my own artistic decisions and thematic preferences – and I embarked on the written part of the development project both as an instrument for experiments and as a learning process in its own right.

My aim was to write about a field, to lay bare and shed light on a thematic area I was already working in at the start of the project, but which nevertheless appeared obscure to me. The purpose of my text was to monitor the artistic development, to follow the creative process like a shadow. My striving was to let the viewer see the mental efforts involved in the artistic process, and thus to make the concrete artistic-practical exploration more comprehensible to the broader public. In that way, the written part of my development work has largely concerned making already existing, hitherto unarticulated thoughts accessible – or making knowledge visible.

Works of art are not spawned in a mental vacuum – they are created through active thought processes and many small and large choices. At times, these choices come easily and spontaneously, but just as often, decisions are made after careful deliberation. In both cases, this process is usually tacit; decisions are made in a silent, inner dialogue.

The fact that artistic processes usually remain unverbalised does not imply that they are impossible to verbalise. Although the choices are generally unverbalised, this does not infer that they are not based on profoundly reflected, motivated and distinct cognitive processes. On the contrary, it is in these concrete, visual, tactile, practical, conceptual and aesthetic deliberations that we find what could be called the artist’s expertise. This is knowledge that is not directly accessible to anyone else; it is the practitioner’s own territory. Putting words to these processes is an effective way of bringing them to a conscious level, and visualising them, for oneself and for external spectators.

By writing close to the creative process the artist presents information that no one else could have provided. This has been an essential aim for me: the writing artist has access to a perspective that other writers in the field cannot reach. He or she provides a voice from within – a peep hole into the creative process.

One might imagine that a period as a research fellow would impact on future artistic practices, and especially in such a way that the reflective, analysing elements would continue to play a key role. Although I myself have presented writing close to the process as the most valuable discovery made during my research fellowship period, my practice has by no means become dominated by critical scrutiny. On the contrary, the research project has taught me the importance of differentiating between the various components of creative work: the wordless, intuitive search that usually occurs early in the art project, and the more clarifying, intellectual approach that often requires a temporal distance before it can develop its full potential. In consequence, I now actually have greater confidence in the intuitive stage than before. This is a vulnerable moment in the work process, and an excessively rigorous, analytical stance can be detrimental. I am convinced that non-questioning, rambling explorations are crucial to the artistic end result – that the complexity and integrity found in good art are qualities that simply cannot be worked out entirely with the mind, and thus, that creativity is only truly interesting when a sufficient degree of blind groping is involved.

Published in the exhibition catalogue Making Knowledge
Gustavsbergs Konsthall, 2012