Optimism (as cultural rebellion)

Optimism is the vital force that entangles itself with, and then shapes, the future. Nihilistic cynicism is a dominant force within culture and leaves no space for useful visions of the future. This has been a problem for a long time now.

Interestingly with Obama this spirit has shifted slightly in the last few weeks. Most people find it hard to imagine change until it happens. This means that artists who can, have to keep moving away from dominant and institutionalised ways of thinking, and create useful visions of the future. They can also extend the boundaries of what has been considered possible. Today this is a cultural rebellion.

[Matthew Stone]
Interview in Urban Canvas (Vice supplement)

Rosenthal: I wanted to pull you back to two things; first of all the idea of orchestration and how much control you execute over the ‘scene’, and then how much of a pre conceived idea you had of what you wanted the squat in Peckham to become?

Stone: I think that in all situations it has to be a balance of both; having an idea of where you want something to go and then using your control to guide it there.

Rosenthal: I agree with you entirely, and then you go with the flow because you never quite know what you are going to find. I am a great believer in just finding things or people, rather than looking.

Stone: But your eyes must be open!

Rosenthal: Yes, your eyes have to be open. You walk in the street and you never quite know who or what you are going to find round the next corner and that is why you don’t go out looking, you go out in a vague haze.

Stone: But you need to ‘leave the house’.

Rosenthal: (laughs) I am not sure about all these metaphors but yes, you need to ‘leave the house’ or ‘pick up the book’ or whatever it is, but searching for something is not a good idea if you ask me. I am also a huge believer in fate.

Stone: For me fate is a very limited and traditional view of optimism, this idea that everything will work out or the world is inherently a good place. Psychologically it has been proven to be a useful mental position, but that’s not enough for me.

Rosenthal: Ok so that brings me back to the essence of your philosophy. How would you essentially define your philosophy of Optimism?

Stone: I have to be conscious of many things when I am describing this here, as there are many valid reasons that people in recent history have avoided this term ‘Optimism’. We stand in the shadow of a vast century…

Rosenthal: In which, if I may say so, the two historically decisive ideologies, i.e. communism and fascism, if you were one of those to be included, were in fact promoters of a certain kind of crude optimism.

Stone: I saw an interesting cartoon recently that showed Mao in front of thousands of Chinese people with a speech bubble reading “Yes we can”. I think we have to be mindful of blind optimism.

Rosenthal: So what’s the difference between blind optimism and Optimism?

Stone: Blind optimism ignores the reality of suffering and is passive to reality. Without a place in culture for new visions of the future we are just left with nihilism and apathy. Optimism must be more than a na├»ve faith that the future will be OK; actually I’m going to quote myself here “Optimism is the vital force that entangles itself with, and then shapes through action, the future.”

Rosenthal: Considering we are such good friends I have seen a few of your exhibitions but I haven’t ever managed to witness one of your performances. From what I have seen though, you appear to be interested in interaction and the warmth between humans. Can you describe your own work a little bit?

Stone: It’s about interconnection and optimistic visions of social interaction. I really believe that the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Rosenthal: What does the whole consist of?

Stone: The whole consists of everybody and everything and takes in the vast interconnected nature of the universe. For example, when I am making an image, I want you to see a group that is confusing with regard to who's who. Where does one person start and the next begin? I perceive that we do not finish at the end of our fingertips.

Rosenthal: What do you mean by that?

Stone: I mean that the effect we have as individuals on the world has a far greater reach than that of our physical bodies. I have been developing sculptures recently that consist of intersecting solid cubes covered with images of bodies. These cubes, as they interlock, share an invisible space beneath their surfaces, like a Venn diagram. I am really interested in the way two separate ideas can at the same time be completely opposite, but that there can also be an acknowledgment of a shared space.
The cube sculptures illustrate a commonality between objects that are seen as distinct and are symbols for a way of thinking that maintains simultaneously oppositional stances. All at once! (laughs)
I have been toying with the invented term “Multidox Theory”, which is basically a paradox, but with the potential for more than two aspects. I think the future lies in the idea that you can effectively hold two opposing opinions at the same time.

Rosenthal: That is why I have always loved opera, because you can hear two or sometimes many more people, with different thoughts, singing simultaneously. I love the contrariness of it.

Norman Rosenthal and Matthew Stone in conversation, AnOtherMan magazine. See the full thing here.

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