Curated by: Jennifer McMackon and Max Streicher
16 March 1995 - 15 April 1995
Opening Reception 16 March 1995 8pm
White Lily Presents:
Michael Fernandes I am a failure
Failure carries such a stigma. It is calling attention to oneself. Here I am, I’m a loser, everything I touch turns to nought.
I’m afraid I won’t have enough savings for my old age.
I’m afraid I am not physically attractive.
I’m afraid I can’t do this.
I’m afraid I don’t have computer skills.
I’m afraid I i am not respected.
I’m afraid if people get to know the real me they won’t like me.
It’s all saying I am special. Everything wrong is happening to me. I am the target of all the bad luck. I am different. Poor me. I’m a failure.
I am a failure is a mixed-media installation for the project room in white lily. A work where the ghosts of fear haunt the walls striving for success.
White Lily Presents is the curatorial initiative of Jennifer McMackon and Max Streicher, a series of six exhibitions in Mercer Union’s Project Room. The site is proposed as a forum for experimentation and risk, focusing on the dynamics of flux and process.
White Lily Presents
Published by Mercer Union, 1996
Clearly, our labour just about turns to dust in our hands, it falls through our fingers. But it’s all we have, our art, our twisted dust rearranging itself endlessly, a rhythmic catastrophe in desperate pursuit of some reassurance or insight into itself.
As I sit there with my tepid coffee and doughy croissant, savouring the inevitable failure of impossible projects, I think of Agnes Martin, a purist if there ever was one: “.. the more we are aware of perfection the more we realise how very far away it is. That is why art work is so very hard. It is a working through disappointments to greater disappointment and a growing recognition of failure to the point of defeat.”
I think it would be nice to do a book on failure, consisting of interviews with people of every sort discussing their very own failure. It would be a glass half empty kind of thing, and let’s face it, the glass is half empty. Oh, we know it’s half full too, but for artist’s in mid-life, it’s half over, the glass is half empty and our bodies’ failure is upon us. Sadness will be big in the art of the next decade. Our fate is no longer an imagined future, and much of our achievement is already written. This is it. We can still imagine, but we no longer believe in magic. We’ll be sad like no one has ever been sad before. We’ll make sadness our own, and we’ll surf the breadth and depth of human pathos. We’ll swim in it, sink in it, get tossed like a cork in it. We’ll love it, wallow in it. Sadness has come from Heaven and cradled us. We’re weeping! We’re wailing! We’re sorry for what we haven’t done and we’re sorry for what we have done! And we’re afraid, mortally afraid. Or maybe it’s just me.
Michael Fernandes is an artist for whom wisdom is the essential content of art, and this exhibit is more compassion than despair. What else, after all, should be worthy of art but wisdom and compassion, and, after all, what else has art got but its poor suspect wisdom. But we don’t even know what wisdom is. It is this persistent idealism in art, the unavoidable pursuit of some version of perfection, that makes failure inevitable and the project impossible. It’s nuts. I haven’t finished the coffee or the croissant, but it’s all clear to me now. We’re idiots, shouting obscenities at passersby, talking to God, and intently filling notebooks with obscure formulae. My shirt’s on backwards and there are crumbs in my beard, and I’m crying.
At best, the artist’s swamp of indulgences are the wetlands of a human ecology The swamp may be ugly, and less than cost effective, but it can’t be consumed by economic harvesters because it’s the economy’s own liver. It serves as a constraint that blooms like a fantastic algae on the thin scum of surplus generated by the economically driven, sprouting occasional fantastic apparitions like Stanislaw Lem’s living ocean in Solaris. I’ve just finished the coffee and I can feel my own liver sprouting something right now.
I’d like to think art was such an indigestible grit in the economy, a bad investment, an ultimate ecological constraint on the growth of an increasingly sophisticated and invasive and insidious economy. digestible as this croissant, but then I realise this croissant could be recycled into diapers, or insulation, or something. Art s really a managed swamp that feeds on waste and poison at one end and pumps out a couple of magazines, a few management and teaching positions, and a boutique at the other end. Really, capital is capable of invading the most intimate or lethal or marginal parts of the engine. privatizing molecular structures, sending out dainty roots that occupy the poisonous liver like a parasitic alien, so subtle and fastidious, the liver hardly notices a thing.
OK, I’m finished. I think I’ll go home and eat my children.
– Tom Dean