THE BOREDOM OF ART
Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Amongst the jackals, panthers, bitches,
Apes, scorpions, vultures, serpents,
Yelping, howling, snarling, groveling monsters
In the squalid menagerie of our vices,
There is one uglier, filthier and most wicked!
Although it manages no grand gestures or screams,
It would gladly make the earth a shambles,
And swallow up the world with a yawn
Boredom! - involuntary tears burden its eye,
As it dreams of gallows and smokes its hookah.
Baudelaire – “Fleurs du Mal” (1857)
Andy Warhol - "200 Campbell's Soup Cans" (1962)
As the besetting sin of art, it may be considered an unconventional position to argue the validity of aesthetic boredom, yet it is contended here that this has become an inextricable and even valuable part of postmodern art. Boredom manifests itself in a variety of ways, of which three particular categories of ‘boring art’ will be explored in this essay. In his article “Zonk or Observations on the Phenomenology of Aesthetic Talk”, Johannes Gaertner plays with the linguistic advantages of using neologisms in order to explore formerly unknown qualities within aesthetic objects, beginning his article: “Let us suppose there were a number of works of art which had a quality which we would call ‘zonk’”. By employing Gaertner’s neologistic technique, the concepts of the Fadheit (blandness), Langeweile (tedium) and Wiederholung (repetitiveness) have been assigned to portray different ‘qualities’ of boredom found in ‘boring art’. This is in order to avoid the value-laden terms of blandness, tedium and repetitiveness.
The Fadheit - boredom deriving from a perceived lack of stimulating content, which is exhibited in the art world through minimalism, as its reductive characteristics diminish the quantity of content that can be potentially viewed. The work of Jürgen Schmidhuber, who has utilised computer technology in order to generate aesthetic forms that are algorithmically simple, will also be considered as possessing the Fadheit. A more extensive analysis of the temporal nature of boredom will be covered in the discussion of the Langeweile, a boredom drawn from the perceived pace of subjective time as being slower than that of objective time. As such, we will look at the time-based art forms that emerged in the postmodern age: performance and video, in which the length of time is a variable attribute. In the hope of unearthing the essence of the Langeweile, the physical experience of spectators will be assessed in terms of their relation to the passage of time and the construction of meaning, where the artist has extracted meaning. The final boredom, the Wiederholung is boredom that comes from the predictability experienced through repeated action. Inextricably linked to the technological advancements that enabled artists to experiment with repetition in their work on an overwhelming scale, the presence of the Wiederholung in screen-printing will be explored, along with the way in which artists such as Kristoffer Mysjka have incorporated the repetitive actions of human habits in their work through mechanical operations.
Since, “boredom is a phenomenon which is easier to describe than to define”, this essay will apply Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology in order to analyse the way in which artists have intended to create the intersubjective experience of boredom. In the same way that Heidegger discusses boredom in relation to the experience of waiting for a train or reluctantly attending a dinner party, we will investigate the experiential account of the three qualities of ‘boring art’ to understand our being-in-the-world. It is recognised that for most artists the qualities of the Fadheit, Langeweile or Wiederholung would be a pejorative labeling of their work, yet we will see how some artists have derived value from boredom. We must then question upon what grounds we may conceive boredom as having value in postmodernity and how our experience of ‘boring art’ may uncover fundamental truth about being-in-the-postmodern-world.
Kristoffer Myskja - "A machine that uses 1,000 years to shut itself down" (2011)
II. WHAT IS AESTHETIC BOREDOM?
Before we see its manifestation in art, we must first explicate the mood of boredom and more importantly the move from a situative (emotional) boredom to an existential (mood-based) boredom. In art galleries, we may situationally become bored by a particular work in our contemplation, which may then extend itself to a more existential ennui with our relation to the world. Boring art in this instance becomes the transitional vehicle for the movement from situative boredom to profound boredom. In profound boredom, Heidegger describes that we contemplate Being as being; this is the Being for whom being is a question.
Mood is neither subjective nor objective. Mood is the way in which we are linked to the world; we cannot see the world without mood. Although for Otto Bollnow, the mood precedes our very conception of the world and it is “only within its bounds and conditioned by it does the perception of a single object follow”; for Heidegger, there is no before. To conceive of consciousness as a chronological series of events is to conceive incorrectly – the mood is given with the object. Heidegger shifts the “focus of the epistemological tradition away from this conception of the human being as an unmoving point of view upon the world”, breaking down the preceding philosophical reliance on Cartesian dualism which postulates a subject/object dichotomy. In Heideggerian phenomenology, there is no such distinction. Building on Edmund Husserl’s intentionality which recognised that consciousness was a consciousness of something, Heidegger developed the notion of the being-in-the-world, something that was to place importance on the being’s inextricable relation to the world and its objects.
In awakening the mood of boredom, Heidegger believes that we will be in a position to gain access to time and the meaning of being. This is to be achieved through a void of meaning, concerning our being-in-the-world. We lack the ability to find interest with the world surrounding us and so we are in the simple company of our “own sheer beingness”. For Paul Nadal, it is in this “awareness of our merely being-there, its utter gnawing mundaneness, that an opening into the true nature of being becomes possible. In a word, boredom becomes something ontological”. With our ontic enquiry into the physical, present-at-hand aesthetic object, the perceived quality of situative boredom then extends to an ontological profound boredom that fundamentally attunes us to Being. Art can catalyse this ontico-ontological enquiry into Being by procuring the experience of boredom. For Heidegger, Boredom provides us with the virtue of revelation to ‘Nothing’:
When we are not absorbed in things or in our own selves, this ‘wholeness comes over us – for example, in real boredom. This profound boredom…like a mute fog draws all things, all men and oneself along with them, together in a queer kind of indifference. This boredom reveals what-is in totality…Yet at the very moment when our moods thus bring us face to face with what-is-in-totality they hide the Nothing we are seeking.
Bob Law - "Nothing to be Afraid Of V (15.08.69)" (1969)
Boredom, in its everyday experiential form represents a “fog of indifference”, the very ‘Nothing’ Heidegger claims we are seeking, is veiled by this cloud. This reveals the imperative role of ‘boring art’ in fundamentally attuning us to Being. Artists, intending to transmit the experience of boredom, have capitalised on the disinterested space of contemplation created by the artwork, providing the viewer with clarity in their attunement to simply ‘being-there’. Heidegger acknowledges the importance of disinterest when he states (above) “when we are not absorbed in things”, which recalls Kant’s notion that the transcendental experience of disinterestedness must first alleviate itself from the “accidents” and context of the object. However, it is important not to discount the role of nihilism in providing the access to the ‘Nothing’ that Heidegger discusses. However, nihilism is for the human who has “ceased to solicit or demand meaning…at the heart of nihilism, the significance of significance itself evaporates”. This is not the case for the bored human, for whom meaning retains its significance and is sought out. Boredom therefore affords the access to the question of Being wherein the ‘Nothing’ has significance.
Boredom is perceived on an individual basis, like all aesthetic phenomena. Yet in the case of boredom or for example, colour the collective experience of these particular types of phenomena renders their subjective experience as universal (or intersubjective). With colour, we expect social consensus. Similarly, we expect a social conformity that determines the object from which we feel the mood of boredom, as boring. It is in this sense that a social conformity on the quality of ‘boring’ in certain objects or experiences, like ‘watching paint dry’, gain universal subjective validity. Such potential intersubjectivity can then be utilised by artists in order to use their own sense of boredom to encourage the syncopated experience of boredom from their spectators through the vehicle of the artwork. This is akin to the universal subjectivity that Kant formulates in his fourth moment of modality found in ‘The Critique of Judgment’. Kant recognises that aesthetic judgments cannot be a practical or theoretically objective necessity:
Since an aesthetic judgment is not an objective or cognitive judgment, this necessity is not derivable from definite concepts, and so is not apodeictic…[aesthetic judgments] must have a subjective principle, and one which determines what pleases or displeases, by means of feeling only and not through concepts, but yet with universal validity. Such a principle, however, could only be regarded as a common sense...it follows that our assumption of it is well founded
It is therefore asserted here, in the same way that Kant regarded aesthetic judgments of beauty, the assumption that the qualities of boredom are potentially intersubjective is ‘well-founded’. This will be shown from the phenomenological experience of the Fadheit, Langeweile and Wiederholung.
Andy Warhol - "Empire" (1964)
III. THE FADHEIT
I write the way you might arrange flowers. Not every try works, but each one launches another.
Each constraint, even dullness, frees up a new design.
Fadheit is a term to describe the boredom that develops out of a lack of stimulation, that which is uninteresting, bland or unenticing. It is the work of the minimalists that represent the artistic manifestation of the Fadheit in their characteristic presentation of a lack of content. The work of Bob Law exemplifies the Fadheit in his piece ‘No. 62’ [Figure 1], which is a canvas covered in its entirety with in monochromatic black paint. ‘No.62’ gives the viewer a low-level of sensory information to be synthesized, typifying Colpitt’s assessment of minimalism as “inexpressive of human emotion and lacking in visual incident…there is nothing there”. This lack of sensory information, the prime characteristic of the Fadheit, is symptomatic of boredom. As Makoto Watanabe determines, a reduction to simple forms is a significant component for consumer experience of boring design. Law continued to experiment with this extreme simplicity in his work, “Nothing to be afraid of VI” [Figure 3], he directly forces almost nothing upon the viewer, presenting only a black framing line and a date as marks on a plain canvas. This notion of ‘Nothing’ recalls the earlier discussion of Heidegger’s metaphysics in which ‘Nothing’ is the starting-point for our question of being, as “it alone brings Dasein face-to-face with what is as such”. Law’s role in bringing forth this ‘Nothing’ is coupled with the mood of boredom through the experience of the Fadheit in the piece, a deprivation of sensory information. Aesthetically, Law’s work and those who produce similar levels of minimalism present the closest entity to nothing. However, this does not mean that we may characterize Law’s work as nihilistic because the nothingness in ‘No.62’ and “Nothing to be afraid of VI” is presented as holding meaning. This correlates with George Dickie’s theory of the institutional definition of art, which states:
A work of art in the classificatory sense is: (1) an [original] artefact, (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld)
Rossetti - "Cassandra" (1860)
Thus we anticipate the presence of meaning and expect a potentiality for its revelation, as Lind assesses, “Most pop and minimal pieces would probably never qualify as aesthetic objects were they not presented as potentially aesthetic”. The very fact that the movement of minimalism is acknowledged by the ‘artworld’ makes it a ‘work of art’ - a beholder of meaning. When presented with an aesthetic object that has no teleological concept but indeterminately presents itself so. Evoking Kantian aesthetics, our cognitive faculties of imagination and understanding are engaged in free-play. The minimalist ‘Nothing’ is potentially meaningful, one that facilitates the mood of boredom to generate self-reflexive awareness of nothing else, leaving the ‘being-there’ alone to be cognized. Law seems to recognise this value in his series ‘Nothing to be afraid of’ in presenting to the audience the question of nothing (and that of being), is not to be feared as shown through the title. Lippard characterizes the experience of such minimalism as progressive. The initial mood of boredom, once endured, leads to contemplation, which is subsequently fuelled by interest. It is, as Barbara Rose states “a test of commitment”. Profound boredom must be felt to the core in order for the spectator to realize the value of enduring it, something that Law maximized his chances of achieving by producing not just one ‘Nothing to be afraid of’ piece but seven in total over the period 1969-72. Rose recognises that the minimalists are challenging what we expect as interesting. The lack of formal differentiation deprives us of sensory information, removing the possibility for immediate and complex cognitive reactions to the art. Removing the traditional formal qualities of line, space, composition and colour, we are presented with a “unity or holistic quality of the object”. It is in this way that Law replicates the Heideggerian duality of nothing and totality, by presenting nothing formally. Our experience of the object avoids the honing cognition of specificity, by encouraging the spectator to experience the holistic nature of the piece - its totality. The entity as a whole is revealed through an intrinsic lack of formal or compositional content.
When discussing the visual ‘Nothing’ as presented in the Fadheit, one may also call this the confrontation of the horror vacui. This term was coined by Aristotle to describe a natural phenomenon. He believed that nature abhors empty space and will rectify this by filling it with gas or liquid. The Italian scholar Mario Praz reassigned the horror vacui to describe the suffocating ornamental works of art in the Victorian era. An artistic tendency demonstrated in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s drawing ‘Cassandra’ [Figure 4]. Horror vacui art has since been applied to art that fills every space and crevice of the canvas with detail, leaving nothing uncovered. Its polar opposite is high minimalism, works like “Nothing to be afraid of” that directly confront the horror vacui both titularly by instructing their audience to divest themselves of their cenophobia and to embrace the ‘Nothing’ of the canvas as well as formally by presenting the void of content. Minimalism conquers the compulsion to ‘fill space’ by actively transgressing this urge and perhaps simultaneously confronting a fear of the Fadheit quality of boredom.
Paul Vitanyi writes that according to the principle in science called Occam’s razor “if presented with a choice between indifferent alternatives, then one ought to select the simplest one”. It is from this principle that Jürgen Schmidhuber cultivates his theory on low-complexity art. The philosopher Eric D’Arcy said that, “Art is the act of omission” and for Schmidhuber this should be exhibited in the creative process. Schmidhuber proposes the possibility to “formalize the intuitive notions of simplicity and complexity”, to be achieved by employing Kolmogorov complexity, which ascertains the shortest computing algorithm for the artwork: “the shorter the algorithm, the simpler the object”. A theory demonstrated algorithmically in his graphic ‘Woman’s Profile’ [Figure 5 & 6]. Kolmogorov complexity does not constitute the totality of Schmidhuber’s theory; the first goal is that the piece “should look right”. Low-complexity art therefore unifies the goals of computable simplicity and the aesthetic experience of beauty. Creating art according to low Kolmogorov complexity ensures a low-subjective element in the aesthetic judgment of the beautiful as this is developed from a quantifiable, objective standard. Minimum Description Length (MDL) is the unit used in the application of Schmidhuber’s formalist analysis of beauty but recognising the subjective nature of perception he accounts for this by using the Church-Turing thesis that states:
Everything that can be computed by a human being can be computed by an appropriate program for general-purpose computer...at a given time, a human observer’s current knowledge about visual scenes can be described as a coding algorithm
What is pertinent to this discussion of the Fadheit is Schmidhuber’s conclusion that “something beautiful need not be interesting”. The characteristic identified by Schmidhuber that pertains to beauty is unexpectedness not interestingness. This separation of interest from beauty is pivotal. The established potential of simple art to be beautiful creates potential for a disinterested attitude towards the piece. The technological premises in Schmidhuber’s paper emphasises the postmodernity of the Fadheit. As Schmidhuber understands, the progression of society has led to the development of computerized aesthetics, “the cave artists from the stone age did not have the technology for creating the colours that made impressionism possible. The impressionists did not have today’s computer graphics”. Within the computerized age, the goals of simplified beauty may be pursued, highlighting the importance of technology in the development of the particular boredom of the Fadheit.
John Cage - "Sheet Music for 4'33"" (Composed in 1952)
VI. THE LANGEWEILE
Perhaps there is no agony worse than the tedium I experienced waiting for something to happen
Literally translated as long-while, the Langeweile characterizes the type of boredom that derives from enduring time. The participant who experiences the Langeweile wishes to drive time onwards. In his piece, ‘Machine uses 1,000 years to shut itself down’ [Figure 7], Kristoffer Myskja built a machine that runs for no reason except that, after one thousand years, it will turn itself off. The piece has been described as “elegant as it is useless. It becomes a place for reflection on the possibilities of wonderful pointlessness”. As acknowledged by the Ikon Gallery, the art itself is functionless, consisting of a repeated action of no particular interest but with an epic duration. Although, the interest has not dissipated completely, it is present in the art’s demise. The moment of interest becomes the moment the machine turns itself off, the only point of action in an otherwise monotonous 1,000 years. The event of cessation is cast forward through time, which then becomes a task of waiting, not for an individual but for humankind. Like waiting for the next millennium, it is impossible to get excited about this moment now but we may recognise that this moment in time is something of relative interest against the background of a thousand years of monotony. Myskja has fabricated this moment. He creates boredom through enduring time, the Langeweile by giving humankind the opportunity to wait for a thousand years for a marginally interesting event.
Andy Warhol however, actively and directly engages with the Langeweile, in fact he relishes it; he “like[s] boring things” and replicates this in his work by deconstructing meaning. For Warhol, interest derives from the presence of meaning and he focuses much of his video art on creating something devoid of it. As Lars Svendsen argues, “Warhol has an uncompromising insistence on meaninglessness”. With modern technology, came the opportunity for artists to play with time in their art by creating performance pieces or videos in which the narratives are not immediately cognized by the viewer; instead they are diachronous. Performance and video have temporality - a new variable for art. Instead of using this in a conventionally positive way, Warhol “problematizes the experience of filmic temporality by exaggerating viewers’ experiences of duration”. At eight hours, Warhol’s 1964 film ‘Empire’ [Figure 8] is something that one watches, as its creator said, “to see time go by”. Lengthening the film even more, Warhol slowed the frames, originally shot at twenty-four frames per second, down to sixteen. Jonas Mekas gives a phenomenological account of a showing of this film to his class of art students, he surmises the two collective responses displayed by his students to Empire, “the only response left to viewers is either to leave the film or ‘resign’ oneself to enduring it”. In this resignation there is a tolerance of the film, an acceptance of its lack of meaning. Warhol’s aim in producing Empire was to eliminate the inferring of a clear intentional authorial meaning or that the content is part of the “purpose of the scene”. Warhol shows his “insistence on meaninglessness” by forbidding the film to be shown in an abridged version, for him the supposed unwatchability of the film was integral. The void in the piece then shifts the burden of creation onto the viewer. In the same way that Law’s canvases encourage the invention of meaning onto the spectator, John Cage’s ‘4’33’’’ re-centres the locus of creation onto its audience. 4’33’’ is a performed composition, which has three movements lasting for the entitled duration but there are no notes played [Figure 9]; the orchestra is silent. The lack of sound or music, i.e. the void, does not become the art as there is nothing to hear. Instead, the music becomes the shuffling, coughing, murmur and silence from the audience; the members of the audience become the musicians and create the very sound or silence that is experienced in ‘4’33’’’. Applying this particular void to Empire is implausible. There is no void in the crude sense of the word; we have a film running and the image of a grainy Empire State Building in front of us, but there is a void of meaning. The film sits there incessantly for eight hours and five minutes. Such boredom is felt by the audience through the collective unease with the film’s lack of content over the protracted eight hours. As a result of this void of content, they fabricate the meaning themselves to compensate for this lack they experience, as Haladyn identifies, “The viewer must participate in the creation of the film through their act of investing time and meaning into Warhol’s uncompromisingly meaningless movies…a Warhol film ‘asks that it be shaken up: by you, filled up with ideas by you!”. The locus of meaning then resides with the viewer. The viewer creates meaning for the meaningless film, directly the viewers’ experience to themselves rather than in the aesthetic object. Warhol explicitly indicated these intentions: “my first films using the stationary objects were...made to help the audience get more acquainted with themselves”. This shows the intention or possibility for the viewer to become focused on their being by experiencing ‘boring art’. The films become catalysts for meaning and experience akin to Heidegger’s fundamental attunement. It raises questions of the being of Dasein for the being itself. What resultantly characterizes the Dasein is the capability to access being as being; ‘boring art’ unleashes this access.
The duality of subjective and objective experience of time is explained by Brian Tucker in his analysis of Fontane’s novel ‘Effi Briest’, “the two registers of narrated time and narrative time thus replicate the two temporal components of boredom, the objective rate of time’s passage and the subject’s perception of time”. The aesthetic encounter with a time-based art form, which includes literature, performance and video, usually syncopates viewing or reading time with that of the time in the art piece. However, some artists have bifurcated these passages of time. In Effi Briest, the experience of the protagonist’s boredom is relayed to the reader by elongating the narrated time in correlation with a short narrative time so that the reader processes long passages of text to detail very short, uninteresting events in the narrative. This creates the intersubjective experience of boredom between character and reader. Lacking the subject, Warhol’s Empire is unable to identically replicate this sense of intersubjectivity in which the character’s mood is syncopated with that of the viewer. Empire goes further with this, by transferring the void felt from this lack of syncopation, back to the viewers themselves. Becoming syncopated with their own being, it is in this way that Warhol creates a more powerful experience of the Langeweile by removing the notion of the ‘character’ and indeed that of the ‘creator’. Warhol leaves only the spectator with his meaningless film, to reflect a search for meaning from within the participant themselves.
Further to the above discussion of the horror vacui, Patricia Reed recognises a shift from spatial vacuum to a temporal one – the Langeweile, characterizing this new horror vacui as a condition of contemporary times:
Seeing as substantial empty space has largely been conquered; filled up with architecture, artefacts and competing ideological structures, the contemporary condition is charged with an inverse plight: no longer an imaginary vacuum space to fear, but rather a coping with an over-fullness of space. The saturation of structures and abundance of objects, redirects the horror of a spatial vacuum to that of the temporal vacuum, where cenophobic tendencies are aimed at the filling-up of temporality itself
This cenophobic tendency toward the fear of empty spaces transfers to time-based fear. The temporal vacuum present in Empire becomes a horror vacui the audience feels compelled to fill. Even shown as Warhol intended, Empire is only marginally slowed down, so the effect of shifting the temporal locus that is the objective measure of ‘real time’, is minimal. This is experienced more acutely in Mark Wallinger’s ‘Threshold to the Kingdom’ [Figure 10]. The film length is 11 minutes 20 seconds; it features a pair of double doors at London City Airport’s International terminal with passengers coming towards a static camera. Most video art and films run at a syncopated temporal pace with ‘real time’, narrated time and narrative time are syncopated for the spectator. In ‘Threshold to the Kingdom’ this is not the case. The narrative time is much slower than the narrated time, so painfully elongated, that a yawn seems to take forever. Passengers in fact walk at a pace of only half a mile per hour. The temporal locus is therefore with the spectators themselves and they become the measurement for the passage of time. This increases the experience of the Langeweile, to apply this to a Heideggerian example - not only is the person waiting for the train but can see the train moving at a snail’s pace, increasing anticipation and intensity of boredom with the current situation. It is only with a video that such boredom can be expressed in this manner, as we cannot literally slow time down without technology. This demonstrates the link between our ‘postmodernity’, technology and boredom.
Putting aside its use as a medium, the artists considered above recognise the potential of self-reflexivity that film provides. Warhol in particular, directly confronts the technological age with technology itself, engaging spectators in contemplating their own creations. As Karen Rosenberg assesses:
The camera is a machine capable of paying attention to anything for any length of time. Warhol throws down a gauntlet with Empire, as he quietly did so often in his career, and asks us to watch our creations doing what we made them capable of doing
It is in this way, he provided comment on the age of technological advancement, by forcing us to reflect upon our creations with new eyes, to warp our perspective upon technology. Warhol manipulates the postmodern sensibility that lacks the focus or attention to be interested in anything other than novelty, in order to highlight the mundanity of postmodern life.
M. Wallinger - "Threshold to the Kingdom" (2000)
VII. THE WIEDERHOLUNG
The eye tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition
W. H. Auden
The Wiederholung is a derivative of predictability; the idea that through repetition, the monotonous image subsequently becomes experientially boring for the spectator, who feels jaded with the lack of novelty in the artwork. By recognising the link between predictability and repetitiveness in establishing the boring quality of the Wiederholung, John Baldessari exemplifies this in his piece “I Will Not Make Anymore Boring Art” [Figure 11]. Commissioned by the Nova Scotia College of Art, Baldessari was requested to complete an on-site piece but being unable to attend in person, he suggested that the college students repeatedly write the mantra “I will not make anymore boring art” ad infinitum over the walls. Baldessari later completed his own rendition of the performance on paper, which he then committed to videotape. Baldessari frequently cites boredom as a force of impetus to his work, “you just have to get to the studio…and eventually you get bored and you’ll try not to be bored and then that’s the beginning of creativity”. Perhaps in simulating the practice of boredom by monotonously writing the same sentence countless times, Baldessari seeks to recalibrate his artistic practice and catalyse his inspiration for new, ‘more interesting’ art than he had previously accomplished. This is further evidenced by the fact that he became disillusioned with his work in the 1960s and burnt his many landscape and abstract paintings in 1970, prior to “I Will Not Make Anymore Boring Art”. Here, Baldessari has used repetition to emphasise the predictability of his work, the performance element of the work has a punishing nature akin to the schoolboy punishment of ‘writing lines’, which stresses the power of boredom and its negative aspects.
Though Baldessari works with the human action of repetition, the essence of repetitive action has been more successfully explored when its relation to technology is made evident. Warhol’s screen-print “Men in her life” [Figure 12] demonstrates this through the disintegration of image and consequently of meaning. Warhol's most famous works were based on grids of repeated silkscreen images for example his “200 Campbell’s Soup Cans” [Figure 2], though sometimes he varied his colour scheme. Typically, commentary on these works emphasises the relationship between the capitalist proliferation of products in the postmodern age and the celebrity culture of the USA. Warhol likens the celebrity rise to stardom to the production of manufactured products and William Wilson elaborates:
“the characters have the lustre of assembly-line products with custom trim, of things manufactured for sale. They would combine quite nicely with the repetition of endlessly unchanging assembly-lines of soup cans, ketchup bottles, green stamps.”
Repetitive action or image was for Warhol something to be sought after. He believed that “the more you look at the same exact thing, the more meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel”. Such a phenomenological account of experience can subsequently be applied to his work; we see such a continuous replication of this experience through his images. Warhol intends for the spectator to be syncopated with the images, in terms of how the meaning is both lost pictorially and then felt emotionally. Taking Warhol’s work ‘Men in her Life’, we can evidence this. Reading (as we do) from top to bottom the images are depicted as follows: the first row is strong, clear repeated copies of black and white photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and ‘her men’. The second row is still strong and clear but begins to disrupt in the final two frames, which repeat Ms Taylor incorrectly. The third row has elements of both disruption and fading but the frames can still be discerned. This worsens in the fourth row and even more starkly in the fifth and sixth rows. By the seventh row, the image has significantly disintegrated; the frames are no longer detectably discrete as they are blurred, patchy and incomprehensible. At this point, the picture has dissipated so much that it has become a remnant of the initial image. Slowly, as the image is repeated for the spectator again and again and again, clarity is lost, both in terms of its pictorial display and its meaning. It is in this way that the Wiederholung manifests itself in Warhol’s screen-prints. The screen-print method grants something to the artist that was previously unavailable, the endless capability of perfect repetitions. Warhol had an uncommon appreciation for machinery in the crude sense, shown by his comment that, “the reason I'm painting this way is because I want to be a machine. Whatever I do, and do machine-like, is because it is what I want to do". Warhol’s ‘intimate’ relation with technology critically comments on the societal consumption of aesthetic products and their repetition in the marketplace. Our inability to conceive of the ‘everyday’ boredom as boring derives from the cultural need to fill a spatial vacuum, thus satisfying the spatial horror vacui superficially. Warhol challenges our cenophobic subversion by confronting our perceived interest in repetition head on, through the use of hyperbole. Intense repetition of image, only made possible through technological reproduction, forces a pure aesthetic experience of the Wiederholung onto the audience.
Mysjka’s work shows a clear unity of technology with the Wiederholung and strengthens the parallels between boredom, technology and postmodernity created by Warhol. Myskja uses machines to experiment with the repetitive process of human practices, for example his “Smoking Machine” [Figure 13], in which the machine itself very slowly rolls, lights, ‘smokes’, discards, extinguishes and dusts away the ash of a full pack of cigarettes. These mechanical actions demonstrate the repeatedly mundane habit of smoking cigarettes. The pacing of the machine feels almost intolerably repetitive and slow. It is only through technology can the Wiederholung be felt so acutely. This results from the mechanically systematic pacing of the machine, a quality that cannot be emulated by human performance with such a similarly relentless quality. The machine exaggerates the mundanity of human practices through elevating the regularity and insistence of the action at a slower pace. As such, the boredom experienced through the Wiederholung is a product of the technological advancement, characterising the postmodern age.
J. Baldessari - "I will not make anymore boring art" (1971)
VIII. THE VALUE OF BOREDOM
Intersubjective aesthetic boredom enables the artist to convey a message to the public, the content of which has been explored above but we may still question what the value of this message might be. Boredom can be a tool of politics. Boredom is a classifier, although not discussed explicitly by Pierre Bourdieu in ‘Distinction’, we can see how the experience of ‘boring art’ may purport to classify spectators through their aesthetic reactions. Bourdieu discusses the classifying-status of art, criticising the notion of taste in Kantian aesthetics, he states:
Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed
Bourdieu describes how in our reactions to art, by making classifications, ‘social subjects’ are in turn classifying themselves according to the Kantian hierarchy of taste. Boredom is a defining reaction to art; those who are able to derive interest or meaning in the mundane, simple or tedious are able to establish themselves as holders of cultural capital. The cultural cachet of watching the film Empire comes from one’s ability to sit through the entire screening, to endure the inevitable tedium of watching a virtually unchanging image for hours at a time. This is in parallel to those who are able to derive beauty or interest from Law’s monotone canvases. As Susan Sontag wrote in 1966,
There is, in a sense, no such thing as boredom. Boredom is only another name for a certain species of frustration. And the new languages which the interesting art of our time speaks are frustrating to the sensibilities of educated people
Sontag can be viewed patronising or elitist in her analysis of ‘audiential experience’. By denouncing their reactions of boredom as a lack of comprehension, she implies they are ignorant of the theoretical underpinnings of progressive art; ‘they’ just don’t get it. Rose supports this when she states, “Boring the public is one way of testing its commitment”. To fail to endure the monotony of certain artworks is then a loss of cultural capital; endurance is a way of showing your commitment to the progressive arts. As such, we may plausibly categorise aesthetic boredom as a particular Bourdieuian social classifier.
Bob Law - "No. 62" (1967)
Boredom as a mood may also afford us philosophical reflection. In the modern and postmodern age, boredom is driven by technology. What differentiates these eras is their attitude towards technological progress. In teleological terms, the postmodern age is modernism stripped of its faith in progress. Leslie Thiele signifies that this characterizes postmodernity as the “routinisation of novelty” and results in the perennial condition of being bored. The drive of innovation is present but the final goals for humankind are undefined. This results in the innovative process constituting an end in itself; innovation for innovation’s sake. Technology therefore creates the shackles of boredom for modern man but it is these very shackles, which grant the possibility of being freed from human ignorance of our “social atomization of our Being”. It is recognised here however, that the condition of boredom is rarely seized and so a re-calibration of our attitude to boredom must be achieved, in order to glean value from such fundamental attunement. It is asserted here that art provides such opportunity, providing an artificial space for contemplation. Kant conceives that the aesthetic object pertaining to the quality of beauty generates a disinterested experience. Thus the aesthetic attitude of the disinterested, coupled with the mood of boredom can be achieved through art. Such unity of aesthetic experience would therefore permit the viewer to have an experience of ‘profound boredom’; one that concerns itself with ‘Being’. Technological advancement has resulted in a juxtaposition of modern attitudes. As Heidegger assesses in “A Question concerning technology”, the question of world is obscured from man by technical obsession. Technology grounds man in utility, limiting the relation from being to world to instrumental value. It is in this sense that technology deprives man of world. Yet even Heidegger fails to recognise the potential for the very reliance of man upon technology, as means of access to the fundamental attunement to Being. Heidegger saw the relation of technology to boredom without recognizing this as a path to access profundity; it is advocated here that this could be achieved through aesthetic experience.
For Heidegger, the role of time created this relation, “the man of today has no time for anything, and yet, when he has free time, it immediately becomes too long. He must kill long periods of time”. The temporal boredom, the Langeweile, must be embraced, parallel to Friedrich Nietzsche’s discussion of nihilism in ‘The Will to Power’: “the first perfect nihilist of Europe who, however, has even now lived through the whole of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself”. This might be said of boredom, as to overcome it, one must repeatedly endure it. Access to boredom through technology, in turn will challenge the very rationality that technology establishes. As Parvis Emad states, “When we are overwhelmed by boredom, technological rationality is confronted with something that it cannot manage or control”. Thiele critiques this assessment as failing to realize that technology encourages us to turn away from questions of being, as it “alleviates the discomfort of boredom through the manufacture of novelty and the killing of time”. However, Thiele narrowly determines the role of technology and neglects the power of art in commenting on social practice. Art can expose the mundanity of technological novelty and those artists, such as Mysjka have accomplished this by highlighting the profound repetitiveness of machinery. Additionally, Warhol’s video work forces the audience to experience the intolerable temporal capacity of the camera. It is thus through art that we may unify the clarity of disinterested aesthetic experience with the repetitiveness or time-endurance of technology in the postmodern age and therefore confront the domination of technology through a questioning of Being, “Under Heidegger’s analysis, technology becomes radically reinterpreted not simply belonging to means-ends but as indeed a poetic form of worlding”. Nadal asserts here that according to Heidegger the concept of technology is not to be considered as singularly teleological but that in fact it is world-forming, in the sense that it reveals that which is present-at-hand. Yet, Heidegger neglects to recognise the creative power of modern technology and reduces technology to being a means of obscuring the world. It has been shown that this potentiality has been utilised by postmodern artists such as Warhol and Myskja who recognise that technology provides a superior access to profound boredom by capitalising on the postmodern condition to routinise the repeated and time-consuming actions of technology in order to realise the “liberation of the Dasein in Man”
Andy Warhol - "Men in her Life" (1962)
Against boredom even gods struggle in vain
We have observed the historical grounding for boredom in terms of its advent in postmodern times. As Acacia Warwick comments, “The birth of the idea of boredom is contemporary with that of modernity. However, it has been asserted here that the historical factor for the provenance of the mood of boredom, as we contemporarily understand it, can be pinned down somewhat more specifically to the advancements in technology and the subsequent impact on the social perception of our being-in-the-world. Our relation of being to world is one that is full of distraction as Reed assesses, our spatial world becomes “filled”. The overwhelming phenomena that keep us from simply ‘being’, distract us from the meditative contemplation that boredom affords us and yet, boredom is seen as a failing. This is never more evident than in our attitudes to bored children; we may all recollect nostalgic moments of our childhood when presenting complaints of boredom to our parents, we were told to do ‘something constructive’ or that ‘only boring people get bored’. As Adam Phillips assesses this from a psychoanalytic perspective:
The child’s boredom is met by that most perplexing form of disapproval, the adults wish to distract him...as though the adults have decided that the child’s life must be or seen to be endlessly interesting...[but] boredom protects the individual, makes tolerable for him the impossible experience of waiting for something without knowing what it could be
In being bored we strip away all distractions, as this is in fact one of the attributes of boredom. All extraneous detail in our lives is cast aside leaving us only with ourselves. In a sense, this replicates the Husserlian phenomenological reduction (epoché), in which the core of experience, its essence, is uncovered. Such a reduction can be gleaned from ‘boring art’, which advantages the profound boredom in which we may access the Dasein. In uniting the strands of boredom, it has been established that the common thread of technology is involved in the process of experience in creating or viewing ‘boring art’ whether this be a computerized reduction of simple forms (Fadheit), the manifestation of protracted time in video art (Langeweile) or the enabling of repeated action or content through mechanics (Wiederholung). Concentrating this argument on the link between boredom and the rise of technology, contemporary boredom is conceived to generate the experience of ‘Being’ that Heidegger calls the fundamental attunement – one in which we come to know ourselves as the Dasein. It is therefore proposed that artists tackling the mood of boredom and establishing its presence intersubjectively through the vehicle of their artworks, enable a vital access to a stripped-back attunement to our Being in our chaotic and ‘novelty-filled’ world. The void created by ‘boring art’ surreptitiously shifts the very ontology of the artwork onto the viewers themselves. These viewers in some respects become the artworks, the very ‘Beings’ of the art. Any aesthetic contemplation thus becomes a self-reflexive contemplation of our own Being. It is in this sense that we may deduce one certainty: the essence of ‘boring art’ is paradoxically fascinating.
Kristoffer Myskja - "Smoking Machine" (2007)