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Happenstance. Or, why it’s never a good idea to accept a drink from a stranger. It’s a fortuitous coincidence that this exhibition — Happenstance — should take place during the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of the Species’ by Charles Darwin. Darwin was famously conflicted about the publication of his theory of natural selection because it foregrounded the enormous power of natural forces and seemed to argue against the existence of God. To the concluding sentence of his masterwork, Darwin added in 1860 the phrase ‘by the Creator’ in an effort, some say, to deflect criticism: ‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.’ To this day, proponents of ‘intelligent design’ argue that some of the alleged products of the indifferent forces of natural selection are just too complex to have been formed by dumb luck. The human eye— an incredibly complex organ—is the usual example used to justify this assertion. The prospect that there is nothing ‘out there’, that the meaning of life is just a convenient fiction, that our lives are effectively the sum-total of random events are for most of us dangerous and unsettling ideas to contemplate. A fabulously charismatic professor of theology has said that where you have ‘creatures’, by definition, you have creativity. And where you have creativity, you have evolution. An organism that doesn’t create is not, by definition, a creature. It may be a lump of matter; inert, unchanging except through exogenous forces. A creature, whether engaged in procreation or recreation, causes change. The creature, by virtue of its creation, changes the environment. In a world of creatures, change is ubiquitous. But is there a direction to the change? Is the change teleological? If so, to what end? And whom, or what, established and fixed that trajectory? Well, the answer to that question is happenstance.

What does it take to make one’s way in a world of ‘happenings’ and ‘circumstances’ (mainly) beyond one’s control? Look no further than the second extant work of Western literature, The Odyssey by Homer. One episode finds the hero Odysseus and his men unwittingly trapped in a cave by Polyphemus, a gigantic Cyclops who also happens to be the son of Poseidon and Thoosa. As the story goes, Odysseus manages to get Polyphemus drunk. While intoxicated, the giant asks Odysseus his name; Odysseus, clever fox that he is, replies ‘no man.’ Too drunk to know better, Polyphemus thinks that that is his name. Later, when Odysseus and his men drive a sharpened club into Polyphemus’s eye, all the Cyclops can do is cry for help, screaming ‘No man has attacked me!’ His fellow giants think he has gone mad and rather politely ignore him, as one does. Thus, Odysseus makes good his escape. Happenstance is the background to the creative evolution of the universe. Odysseus’s heroic aspect is characterized as cunning intelligence, or metis. It is an indifferent intelligence, adapting itself to any and every situation. Odysseus is both ‘no man’ and ‘everyman’ in the sense that his fate is to find his way home, by whatever means necessary. The essential meaninglessness of happenstance might turn our thoughts to a rather different sort of worldview; that of the philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. In another context, Kierkegaard mentions something like happenstance, writing ‘after the ideal in the very next place the accidental. . . . When a classification does not ideally exhaust its object, a haphazard classification is altogether preferable, because it sets imagination in motion.’ Happenstance—the exhibition—might be thought of as a demonstration of imagination in motion. Or, in a more challenging vein, as a way of turning the tables on Odysseus. Consider art as a way of making the random and unpredictable concatenation of events and experiences of life work for us, rather than simply making dupes of us all. Odysseus made certain that Polyphemus was left bereft of

adequate means to understand what had happened to him in the first place. Not ‘no man’, but a very particular and very special man had injured him and exposed his weakness. To name the man precisely, in a manner of speaking, is to begin a chain of reasoning that would eventually expose the fallacy of the Cyclops’s misguided sense of invulnerability. In The Odyssey, we read how Odysseus, in an act of ill-considered hubris, boasts to Polyphemus that it was he, Odysseus—not ‘no man’—who blinded him and tricked him out of his prey. Predictably, the gods took their revenge on Odysseus; Poseidon made certain that the seas would not be favourable to this cunning sailor for some time to come. Happenstance—the word itself is a collision of ‘happening’ and ‘circumstance’—takes the idea of serendipity and turns it up to ‘11’. It’s difficult to give much credence to the blind forces of Nature. Even more preposterous to lionize such indifference as a guiding principal of art, let alone life. Happenstance may detain or propel; the outcome is as much a factor of our character as the relative force of circumstance. A force without motive may be a ‘cause’, but it does not have the status of an intention. Yet isn’t that what happenstance—in its most potent form a poetic filigree at best— comes to mean: the gesture of thumbing one’s nose at intention. That wonderful Fluxus artist, George Brecht, made a life’s work of randomness. The artists in happenstance, perhaps not as militant as Brecht, nevertheless have come to respect this indifferent flux and have learned to wear it lightly as a muse. Like the Typhoon in the Pacific Ocean that finds its origin in the fluttering wings of a solitary Amazonian butterfly, all creatures create and environments change. If you are wired up to the flux, you can go with the flow. Fortunate chance!

Michael Corris

Sara Brannan

To make, to unmake, to remake.... I have an experimental and process led practice usually stemming from research which is based on historical art practices and movements. Recently I have moved away from the ritualistic making of objects to investigating how the effects of making, in a post minimal practice, can be transferred to performance video. Using video as a recording device I have been looking at the performativity of objects in relation to the body. Each piece of my work can be seen as an utterance, one that is engaged in an ongoing conversation with past and present work (both my own and that of others). To do, to undo, to redo........ In my practice repetition is used as a principle means of knowing and a major factor both in the internal and external processes of the work. By repetition we re-cognise what has come before, thereby drawing connections between a cognitive event in the past and its ‘recurrence’ in the present. Repetition renders knowledge unconscious, as repeatedly playing scales on a piano results in being able to play them without consciously thinking about every note: potentially leading ­to a deeper form of knowledge.

Video still ‘Drawing Studies #2’ 2009

Video still ‘Pen Clicking to the Beat of my Heart’ 2009

Andrew Cooke Erratum One word, circled below, has been printed incorrectly in the SHU Copyright Guidelines brochure.

The sentence should read: several extracts, none more than 300 words, and totalling no more than 800 words

I Just Want to Give a Little Something Back. 2009

David Thomas Crawley


I certify that this is a true likeness of.... opposite

Anthony Hatton

Previous work has primarily focused on the blurring of reality and fiction, creating ephemeral locations set against the evidence of industrial and social history. Recent sculptural work draws on themes of gender, interpersonal relations and the fragile nature of identity.

The New Republic

Penny Jones


Xin Shu Li

‘Everything is the same, but you are not here, and I still am. In separation the one who goes away suffers less than the one who stays behind.’ Leslie, A. Marchand, Byron, II 783

‘In peace - which is as much above joy as joy is above pleasure, and which can scarcely be called emotion, since it rests, as it were, in final good, the premium mobile, which is without motion—we find ourselves in the region of “great art”.’ Patmore, C. Principle in Art 1889, 29

 ‘Wit, you know is the unexpected copulation of ideas, the discovery of some occult relation between images in appearance remote from each other.’ Rambler, No. 194, Everyman’s Lib., 284;cf. R. Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism, I, 3

Chris Pheysey

The aim of my work is to explore the concept of language and communication. As I have a speech impediment, my spoken language and how I communicate is different to most. How I express language and how it sounds when I speak when in written form gives the effect of sounding poetic. I want people to understand more about me and my difficulties with language. I am interested in how the computer is involved in the transformation of my spoken word into text form. My words are a personal account of a journey, illustrating not only what I see but how I feel as I walk through and experience a particular place. I use phrases as a kind of a voice box in my mind as the way I’m thinking. I have a curious thing about how the accents change and what the computer is thinking by using sound tones. I like being part of a world that has uncontrolled language, that describes details based on how the computer translates with difficulty and problems. That is what grows my interest.


ma contemporary fine art Sylvester Space,Sheffield

June 2009


MA Contemporary Fine Art Sheffield Hallam University ©2009