Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: C. Derick VarnJuly 22, 2019
Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Daniel SpicerAugust 5, 2019
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
I am Iona Singh. I live in quite a rural village in France, we travelled quite a long way to get a walled garden with mature trees! A fine-artist by training now I write about art, culture and politics. I also work as a translator of French to English. I try to paint and continue my art practice.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
As a kid from London I was lucky because there was always access to the galleries and at about 10 years old I still remember staring at the Monet in the National Gallery and getting lost in the paint layers and the effect! Later on I worked across the road from the National Gallery and went over most lunch-times; there was the shock of seeing the Manets in real life which were entirely different to how they appeared in books or on TV, especially The Execution of Maximilian – the large areas of black colour, so simple and definite.
Also… Uccello, Turner, Popova.
Literature (I think philosophy should be included here) – Dostoyevski, DH Lawrence, Samuel Butler, Marx, Engels, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Piaget.
Music – Bach, Purcell, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Satie, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream.
Cinema – Billy Wilder, Eisenstein, Charles Laughton, Godard.
I would like to add architecture and design to the list: Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouve.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
I define art as the use of the materials, techniques available for making and constructing things that serve human sensibilities and only human sensibilities as its main purpose; that is, the visual, tactile, aural and olfactory senses, and taste too, all of which connect throughout the whole body and includes the rational in this. The better that art does this as opposed to being popular, or having a practical ‘use’, or selling well or anything else, then the better art it is.
4. What makes something subversive?
Most things are constructed to serve “everyday life”; like things we need to use, food, furniture for ‘straightforward practical necessity’ so there is a perverse element in making something that does not serve any of these and may not be classed as having financial value, or any obvious value (see answer to 3), this is art. It has a perverse, subversive element to it.
So quite often mainstream society doesn’t like artists, the really good ones, because they don’t appear to be doing things that support the practical or commercial world. I think it would be a bit like this in any society but in Capitalism this is more extreme and artists can only earn a living if they can be seen to be promoting the status quo or fall in with the common conception of what art is, which in a class orientated and rather alienated society is likely to be quite far behind artists and philosophers and far from being subversive to that society. This is why people like Van Gogh, Modigliani, lots of less famous heroes and numerous writers and scientists too actually, have a very hard time. In my opinion anyone who manages to keep their head above water and actually produce something in this is virtually a miracle maker.
The more that education, artistic, scientific and philosophical, becomes widespread then the less extreme these gaps would become, but we’re looking at a society that is successfully socialist. Actually some socialist countries do or did have traces of movements in this direction. I trace some of these possibilities in the chapter on the ‘Aesthetic World in the Future’ in my book Color, Facture, Art and Design.
Of course there is also ‘fake’ subversion, encouraged and fully controlled by the dominant class and which is actually not really subversive at all; for example there is often a conformist assimilation of original good works, a sort of washing out of all the ‘dangerous’ elements.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
I think if any kind of work and productivity is done conscientiously then it has a positive effect, and this includes artistic and intellectual output. In art the kindest thing is to make a form that appeals to people and that they respond to, this is influential. However it may not exactly mean winning friends but it is definitely influencing people.
I try to write or paint so that the profundity of what needs to be said is there with all my educational know-how but in such a way that is entirely urbane and appeals to Everyone, across all classes. This is the dream but it’s sort of always unobtainable, but one can strive! I’d like to combine the fun filled wise cracking of Kitchen Confidential with the profundity of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
To work without suffering.
I quote from the poem Work by DH Lawrence:
There is no point in work
unless it absorbs you
like an absorbing game.
If it doesn’t absorb you
if it’s never any fun,
don’t do it.
When a man goes out to work,
he is alive like a tree in spring,
he is living, not merely working.
(I’m sure he means women too by the way lol)
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
Walter Benjamin always talked about ‘immanent criticism’, where you politically criticise from what you know best about, hence from within your own profession. I think I agree with that.
I think most or all people have opinions or think they know what to do to make things better for society through politics; they follow their own political ideas, whether it’s the Tory government or the general public, but I feel that most mainstream political ideas are not very good though, and not thought through well enough. Politicians seem to waste loads of money keeping up appearances when people, with all their potential, aren’t living well or being developed. It’s mad. The televised debates during Brexit shows parliament has quite conscientious procedures and tries to follow the rules to make it all ‘fair’ but the whole thing is so medieval. Weird old procedures and language for old fashioned folk.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
We have good political and philosophical knowledge, but in the mainstream, societies seem to remain submerged in ‘what they know’, their sensibilities are used to a certain type of lifestyle, ideology and aesthetics and it’s painful for them to have to change that.
I’ve just been translating and thinking about some essays by the French historian Marc Bloch, one of his great contributions to history and philosophy are his concepts of ‘sensibilities and mentalities’.
He implies that education will counterbalance any problems of this nature but in our present system this is carefully controlled and limited and hence we remain in a kind of Capitalist aesthetic cycle but obviously ‘breaks’, if they can be called that, can occur.
I think communication, art – including music performance and cinema, design and architecture – that is so good it manages to jump the class divide, is the answer, I am always striving or hoping for this.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
My answer is that technology does not liberate mankind on its own. There’s plenty of cool technology but what a mess. It needs other things as well.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
Yes, competition and profit taken out of the equation as they are currently number 1 and number 2 in terms of importance in our system. This would quite simply allow everything else to fall into place with the value and care for human productivity elevated to first place as it should be and in all its facets: intellectual, constructive and emotional.
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?
My book Color, Facture, Art and Design, was published by Zero Books a few years ago, also available on Amazon. A review of the book can be read here.
As I mentioned I’m currently finishing a book of introduced and translated essays by the French Annales historian Marc Bloch with publication planned later this year.
I’ve also had some peer-reviewed essays published in Rethinking Marxism and also Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: a journal of socialist ecology.