Walking into the Truthful Truth
Introduction to the Authenticity in the Age of Post-Truth Symposium which took place in June 2018 at Canterbury Christ Church University.
“Move into the path of the truth and you’ll express the truth. In our best moments, we walk into the path of the truth and we have a flash, like that, of what we have to do.”
The Canadian artist Agnes Martin moved to New Mexico from New York in 1967, distilling the abstraction of scrub and air landscape into blocks and lines of colour. The artist Georgia O’Keefe also moved to New Mexico from New York, living at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, where the balm of the reduced physical and social landscape enhanced her creativity. She worked to control her own truth, from the interpretations of her flower painting to the photographs taken of her, which were carefully staged.
In the age of post-truth it is increasingly difficult to listen to thoughts and memories above the babble. Perhaps that is why Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keffe chose places of solitude. A certain clarity attracted artists to New Mexico and to Folkestone, Whitstable, Margate and Dover, from where we have speakers drawing on community, practice, placemaking and the shared truths of participation. Light seems truthful, but it can also be artificial; from son et lumiere to sensory installations, embodied magical reality, making us interact with shadow and simulacra in a suspension of disbelief. We will consider how our belief in the placebo effect, the truthful untruth, has the power to affect our physical performance. Today we will hear observations on art practice, maker culture, craftsmanship, the rules which bind us, the control and the gain in the loss of control in states of flow and the freedom of breaking out with the spirit of 1950’s poets (a beat) and spectacle of adventure tourism.
Whitstable Biennale’s last event was entitled the “Faraway Nearby,” referring to the way in which Georgia O’Keefe signed off her letters and the distance of the auratic, of the idealised, or the memory lost in its entirety. One way in which we try to restore truth is through copying and heritage recreation in historic sites, where material, collective memory is preserved and rebuilt in meticulous detail. In addition to the beauty of the imperfect attempt to find the lost fresco in the crypt, we may try to forget or undo certain aspects of the past, as empty plinths reveal. Any attempted unrememberings by us may, of course, be foiled again by our dreams, which rescue and reinstate fragments of places and people, and we will discuss the dreams, streams of consciousness and remarkable coincidences, in which we inhabit the most truthfully open of states.
New Mexico is one of a few truly magically real places I have visited. I studied at University there in the 1980’s. From the campus, you could see the Sangre de Christo, blood of Christ Mountains, part of the Rockies, which turned the colour of watermelons in the sunset as New Mexico unfolds dichotomies of desert and sky. My friends and I saw meteor showers at night in the desert and ate cinnamon sweet rolls in the Frontier Restaurant with its steer skulls mounted on its walls. The Frontier Restaurant is real, it is legendary, it is a metaphor for the Wild West and it inhabits a liminal Route 66 place in my piecemeal memory; the painted past, the unreliably narrated, varnished truth.
I was showing my sister the garden two summers ago, when we found a strange plant among the Dahlias. It had a large, closed white flower and a prickly fruit. The next day I walked up to a ten-foot image of it on a wall at the Tate. It was a Jimson Weed, a night-flowering plant, rare here, native to South America, which had been chosen as the key image of the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition. I like to think that a connection to Georgia O’Keefe was rooted in my garden, a tangible, coincidental past-truth, a New Mexican maravilloso, but I had to dig it up because, the truth is, it’s poisonous.
Anyway. I hope that today we will walk into the path of some truthful truths.