Issue 01

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Volume 200,000


The Paradox of Magic

Samuel Playford

“ The paradox of magic is evident: it claims to be initiative and free domination, all the while accepting, in order to constitute itself, the reign of passivity, the realm where there are no ends. ” 1.

This paradox, as Blanchot knows, is also the paradox of art. We can see a name, a definable point on a piece of paper that gives us this artworks origin; and yet, by no means was the artist alone during the works inauguration. This may seem like an evidential observation given that I myself was in the company of Matthew Douglas during the inception of these eight works on steel; I was witness to their formation, so it would be absurd to even attempt to try and state that Matthew was on his own. My point is that as I watched the artist at work on these steel plates in his Bristol-based studio I became aware that his particular way, his formula if you will, was to gather a certain company together. Matthew’s company consists of cans of matt white emulsion paint, sheets of steel, sticks of wood, salt, water, gravity, cardboard on the floor, a certain length of time, a cubicle of space, a small stock of simple signs (crisscrossing lines, circles, squares), moving limbs and a smattering of personal history, though by no means in that order. Neither is the company he keeps exhausted by that list, for as with every artist the bodiless (perhaps even gaseous) entity we name Art permeates and pervades every action and gesture; Art’s company cannot be evaded. Marcel Duchamp (that inescapable companion of the artworld), in his text Apropos of Readymades, made the point that even paint from a tube is a certain type of readymade; being something already here, already formed, we cannot possibly posit this glorious rust-red as snatched up out the depths of the artists head, but rather must figure it as a material he must reckon with, thus constituting, even in some infinitesimal way, one of the artists veritably bustling company, making of every painting what Duchamp calls a “Readymade aided”.

The ancient Latin poet Lucretius posited that the universe, in its primordial base state, is made up of a mass of falling atoms. These atoms, having nothing in their way, would merely continue falling in perfect straight lines without consequence, that is, if it weren’t for a deviation at the heart of this indivisible matter: this deviation Lucretius called the clinamen, a swerving curve that sends these atoms clattering into one another. This clatter is the reason we have something instead of nothing, transgression (otherwise known as evolution) instead of homogenous lines of descent.

But to return to Matthew’s company. Images bubble beneath a thick skin of emulsion. Emulsion mixes with a fast growing layer of rust. Rust cracks the surface of clean steel. The steel bends around a wooden frame. Everything seems to be in the habit of perverting the course of everything else. At one point I witnessed Matthew conjure Malevich’s pure white square into view, but salt’s usurpation perverts its surface serenity with an almighty and incessant sovereignty. Not unlike Dr Seus’ cat in the hat sullying Dick and Sally’s beautiful white slope with his red spots.

Perhaps the mistake here is thinking of these entities in terms of discrete bodies: artist, emulsion, steel, salt, water and stick. None of these can be sullied as their purity is nothing but a magnet, like a clean shirt is to stains, like a pane of glass and it’s proximity to a stone: the two cannot help but hurl themselves into one another, for an almost imperceptible deviation takes a hold of their trajectory. And herein lies the paradox of magic. We cannot deny that two separate objects sat on their tod require a third with the power and will to bind. However, this doesn’t give us the right to posit this third as some almighty sovereign subject, for the first two object’s proximity was there to begin with, crying out for exploitation, for the messy mesh of a glue. All three were swerving, all three following their own rule; all three for a brief second follow the other’s course, thus clattering into one another’s curve, to be duly spat out the other side. Matthew Douglas joins the company of salt and emulsion and steel and all the other present parties, just as the eight works, this rusting and cracking and bubbling and all, now join one another as eight works on steel. For I must not forget to mention that these works are a series, they sit in relation to one another, in opposition to one another, not as discrete bodies but as a dialogue, caught up in the swell of conversation. Each piece of steel waits for a gap in which to say his piece, to make his mark, in opposition and in relation to all that’s been said before, though at the same time beginning ever again by the opening up of new avenues, new trajectories, ever more gaps in which another interrupts and says his piece and so deviates the conversations course. Can I thus posit Matthew as some kind of intermediary or negotiator for this motley crew of a company? This is, again, the paradox of magic; the artist must, in order to constitute himself as the works determining sovereignty, in order to retain his name on that parenthetical piece of paper, in order even to inaugurate the works beginning, the artist must accept the reign of passivity which the company of the work itself demands.

Perhaps the paradox has no answer, but rather must be accepted, and this acceptance must consist of a reckoning with it. I look forward to the future manifestations of this agile balancing act that Matthew Douglas and his company perform on the surface and depths of these eight works on steel, the balancing act that is the acceptance in the form of a reckoning with the paradox of magic. For my part at least I do not have an answer to this paradox, but I can tell you what I saw: some things mixing with other things to become another thing… then, moving on again. .

Samuel Playford, 2010

1. Blanchot, Maurice The Space of Literature, pp262