on the art of undoing: knots, illustrated with some beautiful works by Julien Spianti

It must seem confusing. I’ve been advocating, advocating by the most simple means, the means of naming, which cannot these days be anything but an ironic take on branding, or on meme creation, undoing. But I’ve hashed undoing. I’ve hashed it by calling it by that tag, that could not these days be seen as anything but ironic and therefore transparent and therefore self-…something, and by then accusing Creative New Zealand, acting in complicity, with all sorts of complicities, major and minor, from the government to the individual artist, of undoing an institution, Downstage, a venerable institution, an institution almost fifty years old.

And now we must ask what is the difference?

Then I was listening to Bill Calahan singing about his apocalypse, making all sorts of connections, major and minor, from the government to the individual artist, and I decided it was tentacles. Or maybe strands. Or better, braids, if we think of a river. A river running over the shingle, across the plains. The Waimakariri. Did you know, briefly, when I checked the spelling, it was known as the Courtenay River? Now that I have the spelling right, it is again the Waimakariri. But it would have been spoken. Not spelled. As Lorde sings, So there.

Of course, again, I think of Courtney Place. The view out onto the twin domes of the old public toilet, the Taj Mahal, onto Kent Terrace. Or course, I think again of James K. sleeping on the draughty open slats of the bus stop bench.

What do you do if you undo but separate the strands? the streams? of which the river is braided? And even when there is no shingle basin, no separation, no plain to see them single silver snaking blending weaving down there, undoing the river would still mean to find each water in the waters, each flow in the act of blending and weaving, and separate each current, in its process.

What if the moutain withdrew its tentacles? It would draw up the waters of the Waimakariri. You would see them all, in all their colours.

I found the apron straps had formed a knot. And a knot, as Wyndham Lewis tells us, is a form of energy. The form of energy. An energetic form: the forms of martial arts are the same; they sculpt the air. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska saw this too. Sculpting expresses the energy already present in the medium.

We have a front-load washing-machine. It knots the apron straps into a ball. How do you undo a knot?

We could stop. Appreciate the knot. Try different media. Submit them to the front-load washing-machine. Knot them up. Admire the washing-machinic expression.

I have no doubt they would each be different and each one in its way would be worthy of admiration. Different passages of parallelisms, interlacings, bifurcatings, crossings, inversions, subversions, perversions. Transversalities.

But consider, just consider, we want to undo. Do we need to know, as I mistakenly suggested in a previous post, invoking Michel Foucault talking, if I recall, about Romanticism, was it? Do we need to know how a thing is made to unmake it?

No. We don’t even have to follow each complicity, from the complicities of government to those of individual artists; or, in the case of the Southern Alps and its Waimakariri, we don’t need to retrace every braid, each stream in the current to its source in melt-offs, run-offs, mountain streams, each tributary, major or minor. This would in any case be misleading: the river is braided by the rocks in its course, not from the summit of its source. Similarly, the intentions of government and individual artists do not need to be eked out for us to know there is a flow of eventuation, finding its summary energetic expression in a knot.

Destruction would already look different. I’ve considered before detaching the straps from the aprons before submitting them to the wash and washing them separately. Perhaps we use velcro. But the straps themselves need cleaning. They’d knot up worse on their own without the opening out of the aprons themselves, which in some way breaks the flows of energies and makes for serial and not singular knots.

My mother sat in the sun patiently undoing the strands of apron straps, picking at them with her fingers, and her mother’s fingers. At some point or other she gave up. Then she’d simply sit. In the sun. Have a gin. Smile more or less benignly. J., however, said just pull randomly at the knots with your fingers. Randomly. Without thinking about what goes or weaves in where. I don’t have the energy, said my mother.

Pulling randomly works. The strands loosen; the energetic form weakens; the straps separate: the knots undo. A certain tentacular emancipation is effectuated. To each apron two straps. When before the braid, the confusion.

So I think undoing is like this. It is like what Michel Foucault did with discourse. The reading, the analysis is random but inclusive. Pulling now here now there at the energetic form. You have to have the energy for this. Because it is not immediate. First one line will work its way loose: one contributor, one kind of complicity, one agent of knottiness. Name him. Name her. Then progress.

One is never enough. For anything like a knot to occur there have to be at least two.

What happens in a case like the destruction of Downstage is like a vengeance. A revenge killing. All those tentacles, some were good, some bad, sure, all lopped off, some wriggling on the carpet, escaping down the easy stairs of sentiment, Such a shame! … some long dead dead ends … some outright castrations … some cuttings-off merciful … some stupid … but taken in sum, to shut down every flow, to sever the root or plug the spring – a drought may still be a flow – but fracking the earth, killing the spring. No. There is something different in destruction than undoing.