Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Limitism Has Come To

I regret to inform you, dear readers, that the following website has emerged, exemplifying everything that is wrong with Limitism: The Sonic Pendulum.

This is a site devoid of meaning, devoid of sense, devoid of humanity! I recommend you visit only to see what I have been warning the world about. But please do not return. Do not support this insult to art, culture, and our way of life.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ch. I: On the Origins and Fate of Berlin Limitism

It was some time in the year 2000 that John Thomas Mumm and the so-called TAR ART RAT, two little-known artists and art theorists, were first brought together by a developing vision of the future of the arts. Living in the vicinity of Berlin, the two young men were radicalized by their reading of Salvador Dali's outrageous Dali on Modern Art. Inspired by the Surrealist's feverish rantings, they sought to turn the tides of art history and liberate the 21st century artist from the grasp of the elite art establishment. It was in this spirit that they formulated a set of aesthetic principles that would later be codified in the "Limitist Manifesto," the founding document of what would eventually, for purposes of clarity, be known to outsiders as Berlin Limitism. This marked the beginning of a period of artistic and intellectual experimentation, with RAT working primarily in the visual and Mumm in the auditory arts. Third-party observers reportedly described the results of these relatively secretive experiments as "incoherent", "ahistorical", and "senseless".

As Limitism gradually solidified, attracting a loyal base of devoted practitioners, trouble was brewing in the upper echelons. The two founders had by this time returned to Seattle, Washington, and Mumm was falling under the influence of the principles of Kantian aesthetics, particularly Kant's account of aesthetic judgment. RAT, otherwise a relatively orthodox Kantian, fiercely believed that transcendental arguments had no place in a theory of art. The two soon became bitter enemies. RAT founded the splinter TAR ART RAT Foundation for the Aesthetic Continuation of Empirical Humanity (later altered by a broken typesetting machine to, simply, "The TAR ART RAT Foundation for the Continuation of Humanity"). Mumm fled Seattle for Bellingham and founded the Society for Research into Cosmic Reverberations and the Development of Occult Musical Technologies (known popularly as "The Music Society"). The two organizations pursued widely divergent goals, as evidenced by their official Statments of Purpose.

The T.A.R. Foundation: [Still verifying source]

The Music Society: "The Society is devoted to continuous research into the relationship between musical harmony and the structure of the universe itself. As a result, we have already yielded a great deal of information and have developed numerous techniques for manipulating the points of contact between sound and cosmos. We firmly believe that the resulting compositional methodologies will serve as a necessary counterpart to the scientific project in bringing about a perfect human society."

Although the Music Society was not officially founded until 2003, experiments along these lines were already taking place in the preceding two years. Mumm had met a like-minded researcher in Michael Ray Laemmle (of the famous Hollywood Laemmles). Together, they embarked on a series of sonic experiments aimed at altering the very fabric of reality. They first believed they had achieved success with the "Nephilim Funk". This unusual composition was reported to have caused one hundred drunken undergraduates to engage in uncontrollable dancing. However, subsequent studies demonstrated that, under the influence of alcohol, undergraduates were prone to this behavior regardless of the stimulus. Nevertheless, according to a secret dossier, this initial failure led to a string of minor successes which would lay the groundwork for future Society research. Few details are publicly available regarding the methods and results of Society activities, with the notable exception of some purportedly harmless popular music aimed at garnering interest among investers.

TAR ART RAT, meanwhile, was engaged in more radically public works of "transformative" art. He had come to believe that the public space itself was his personal canvas and the legitimate site for art in general. He was engaged with several art collectives and put on numerous exhibitions in Seattle but, still convinced by the original Limitist idea that art in the galleries is as good as dead, his primary concern was with his covert public works, many of them puzzingly interactive. In fact, it was around this time that RAT first espoused his theory that the artist has both a special right and a solemn duty to secretly place bystanders at the center of art events over which they would unknowingly preside. He argued that since contemporary society was no longer open to the voluntary experience of authentic art, and yet authentic art was necessary for the happiness of the human race, it was a kind of moral imperative for the artist to see to it that the public was at least exposed to the involuntary experience of such transformative art.

The observant reader might notice that these two splinter organizations stood in a kind of dialectical relationship. Whereas the Music Society was publicly creating art in secrecy, the T.A.R. Foundation was secretly creating public art. And as time began to heal the wounds of unsettled Kantian scores, these two rival groups began at last to realize that they still shared a common cause, more fundamental than either of their respective special aims.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

On My Rationale for Writing this History

My name is Harold Lorkmeier. I feel compelled to begin this continuing history out of concern for the fate of the arts in our rapidly changing times. In particular, I have been increasingly alarmed at the progression and development of a secretive collective of artists who refer to themselves only as Limitists (or some variation thereof). I am convinced that a movement founded on their stated aim of discovering "artistic truth" can only, like modern science and the cult of "fact" before them, devolve into a totalitarian ideology of control and manipulation in which the needs of the individual become secondary to the needs of the collective. If we are at all concerned with the preservation of a robust individualism in the tradition of the greatest artists of modern history, then we must keep a watchful eye on this rising movement, and remain vigilant against the influx of Limitist influence in contemporary theories of the arts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Limitist Manifesto

[What follows is the full text of the Limitist Manifesto, written by John Thomas Mumm. In the future I hope to include other Limitist writings, when and if I can acquire them.]

The Limitist Manifesto

With the decline of religious unity, society has lost its closed system of cultural and spiritual symbols. Whereas art once straightforwardly served to present religious meaning aesthetically, it now suffers from a loss of identity. Years of emphasis on the expression of the artist and the value of originality for its own sake have reduced art in general to a mere laboratory for visual design. With the further devaluing of symbol brought about by mass culture, the artist, it seems, must simply accept the loss of spiritual art and focus on mere image-making. This disillusionment has given rise to several responses, in particular conceptual and so-called “post-conceptual” art, that have aimed to impose meaning on the work of art from without. However, they have simultaneously reduced the work itself to a mere means and, even worse, have ultimately transformed much of contemporary art into a degenerate form of essay-writing.

It is our aim to recover the cultural and spiritual role of the artist from a system of art that is largely dominated by arbitrary financial interests, post-everything pseudo-intellectualism, and the specter of irrelevance. The end of religious art leaves the construction of spiritual symbols as a task for the artist. Of course, symbol does not here indicate something like a cultural logo but rather the end of a complex aesthetic investigation guided by a faith, even if an irrational one, that art can somehow return to its place as a source for the aesthetic experience of meaning.

Axiom 1: Creativity is always accomplished within and against the constraints of convention and tradition—the first sense of “limit.”

Axiom 2: Meaning can never be “accomplished.” The construction of spiritual symbols is an ongoing process in which meaning is approached asymptotically, if at all—the second sense of “limit.”

Axiom 3: The construction of meaningful spiritual symbols is a cultural achievement. It is senseless to speak of the artist’s “own” symbols. Thus, it is only as a society that artists can gradually move toward the construction of shared spiritual symbols, and again only asymptotically—the third sense of “limit.”

The Gallery

The predominant site for “art” in our time is the gallery. We do not seek to abolish the gallery system (an unrealistic and ultimately harmful idea), but rather reveal its true function and meaning:

1. The gallery is a museum displaying works torn from their natural context like pottery from some ancient civilization.

2. The gallery is an advertising forum in which visitors, curators, and art collectors are informed about contemporary artists and their styles.

3. The gallery is a place of study for visual design and technique.

4. The gallery is a financial institution where art serves as a commodity.

The gallery is not a site for art, which always resists all of these factors:

1. Art is suffocated when removed from its natural context.

2. Art is devalued when viewed as a mere source of information.

3. Art functions instrumentally when analyzed in terms of design and technique.

4. As a commodity, art entirely ceases to function as art.

In the gallery, it would be better to refer to works of art as images or pictures, or, to be completely accurate, corpses.

Innovation and Limit

Unfettered freedom (in fact impossible, Axiom 1) as a guiding ideal for the creation of art leads, unsurprisingly, to art that is arbitrary, merely subjective, and ultimately meaningless. Our guiding ideal is a shared system of symbols, which implies that artistic freedom always occurs within a pre-existing tradition. However, we have already seen how the crisis of contemporary art is precisely the apparent lack of rich spiritual symbols. Thus, in practice, artists are left with an historical tradition of artworks more notable for innovation in technique, style, and approach than the exploration of meaning. Because it is necessary to start somewhere and because the current situation is unsatisfactory, we must begin with the arbitrary imposition of limit, just as analysis often begins with a relatively arbitrary division of the subject matter in order to orient itself. This imposition of limit, so as not to be entirely arbitrary, should be guided by a series of reactions to aspects of the current situation that we find unsatisfactory:

In response to mass culture’s devaluation of symbol, we must begin with smaller communities of artists, even if this requires the provisional rejection of the great traditions of art.

In response to the death of art in the galleries, we must re-evaluate the proper context for the experience of art. Our only option at the beginning is to make use of the spaces in which the artists and their circles live and work. In this way, art might take a first step toward reintegrating into life.

In response to the reduction of art to a mere laboratory for visual design resulting from an unhealthy emphasis on isms and their influences/consequences (e.g. “the artist took the spirit of Abstract Expressionism as a starting point to subvert Minimalist constructions in favor of a proto-conceptual return to primitivism”), we must begin from our immediate environment, seeking to emulate the aesthetic qualities of our surroundings (particularly insofar as they differ from the culture at large). This represents the first, difficult step in constructing a new aesthetic vocabulary that is at once tied to our everyday aesthetic experiences and oriented toward the ideal of a shared system of cultural and spiritual symbols.

In response to the prevailing ideal of personal expression, which is certainly viable as a form of therapy but ultimately lacking in any search for shared spiritual symbols, we must see ourselves as aesthetic experimenters, seeking through a quasi-scientific approach to ultimately arrive at artistic truth, even if this is impossible in principle (Axiom 2), and always as doing so within a community of such experimenters (Axiom 3).

The Community of Artists

It is not the place of this document to make specific aesthetic recommendations. These choices must always flow naturally from the contexts in which they are made. In time, small communities of artists guided by the limits outlined above will give birth to local networks of symbols, expressions of the experiences and aspirations of their communities. Eventually, these will come in contact with other communities having undertaken the same kinds of aesthetic investigations in different contexts. The meeting of different communities will lead, in turn, to a continuation of the process on a somewhat larger scale. These aggregates of local communities will then, ideally, come in contact with other such aggregates, etc.

The construction of shared spiritual symbols is an arduous and uncertain project. Contemporary artists lack the advantages of religious artists of the past who already had access to a closed system of belief. It is our hope to restore art to its traditional place as the source for the aesthetic experience of meaning. But this will only be possible, we believe, if we take account of the principles outlined above.