The Certainty of Insignificance. By Oliver Braid. First presented at Glasgow School of Art, April 2012. 1. Hello my name is Oliver Braid and Iâ€™m an artist based in Glasgow. What I want to speak about tonight is called The Certainty of Insignificance. It is an idea I have been thinking about recently that is like a combination of a well-being method and some of my recent thoughts about producing and receiving art. 2. The Certainty of Insignificance is based on the idea of Pascalâ€™s Wager, a sort of Existential Probability Theory and it goes like this: You are uncertain as to whether your actions in the world will be significant or insignificant. It is much more certain that your actions will be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. 3. By finding a way to seriously accept The Certainty of Insignificance of your own actions you could no longer logically find a reason to be disappointed by your expectations. You would cease to understand expectations. Simultaneously you would be able to erase any Status Anxiety leading to professional or personal jealousy. 4. As a self-employed artist it is one of my beliefs that the desire for Significance can play a detrimental role in both personal well-being and the way you choose to produce and present your art. When I use the word Significance in this context I am talking specifically about the desire to have been self-verified en-masse by others.
5. Last year I spent a long time focusing on the role Expectation plays in the both the motivations for, and the methods by which, we produce art. I had originally arrived at my concerns for Expectation by way of a Quentin Crisp quote, ‘living in the future is the death of happiness’. 6. It implies that you cannot be happy about an event that is yet to happen as its eventual impact on you is uncertain. The only time happiness can be experienced is from living in the moment, not living in your dreams. Quentin Crisp suggested one should only be allowed their dreams until twenty five. 7. Although both of these theories seem rational to me, my one concern is that propagating these ideas of Anti-Significance and Anti-Expectation could very easily be co-opted into the conspiracy that the Guardian seemed to be obsessed with last year – The New Boring; a term attributed culturally to the likes of Adele, Kirsty Allsopp, Brogues and Downton Abbey. 8. A common way to describe The New Boring has been ‘the beige wave’. The Guardian bemoaned that ‘the main narrative of recession Britain’ had somehow ‘become one of political quiescence and cultural conservatism’, suggesting that the aforementioned Adele ‘worked tirelessly to subdue a whole population during recession by boring us silly’. 9. This is why I want to explain how The Certainty of Insignificance does not fall into the realm of The New Boring. To do that I want to first mention Jan Verwoert’s Existential Exuberance – in which we choose to perform our daily actions exuberantly but without specific desire for these actions to simply please a verifying party. 10. Instead it is for the pure flow of pleasurable involvement in performing a task of daily living and existing. Verwoert gives the example of Sponge Bob Square Pants, who although exploited daily by his boss at the Krusty Krab, sings happily as he fries patties on the basis that it happens to also be his favourite pastime. 11. The idea of pastimes is important in relation to art-making, because if you are happy in the moment of performing an action why do you ever need anyone to share it with anyone in a way that isn’t beyond sharing a pastime amongst friends. Why ever share something purely with the hope of verifying its Significance? 12. And to what lengths would you go in the search for Significance? How far would you bend your own pleasure to ensure your verification by others? Alternatively can we find pleasure in Insignificance; by focusing more deeply on personally attributing Significance to our more intimate daily interactions? 13. If we call something work, and produce on the premise of being ‘seen’ and ‘received’ do we not detract from the potential for pleasure and experimentation that could occur more freely in what we see as pastime? Is the distinction between work and pastime the audience with whom we share the action?
14. I’m suggesting two audience categories, the audience that views our work who we do not have an intimate relationship with, who we spend time with as public, and the audience that we would also call our friends, who we share time with as private. I’m interested in the actions we share in the security of our friends. 15. These actions may not seem of Significance to the majority or to the general world scheme. But to a group of individuals of varying scales who are also connected through friendship there can be small acts of dressing-up, dancing or discussion that Significantly permeate the lives of those who experience them. 16. Rather than a single self at the centre of the action, the group as a whole perform a role in determining these actions of Significance. The possibility for each member of the group to produce their own contribution securely and freely is the reason that these actions become remembered as Significant to the participants. 17. These shared but initially Insignificant actions between people can stimulate a creativity somewhere between Emile Durkheim’s Collective Effervescence, a shared group ecstasy that can cement social bonds, and Hakim Bey’s Poetic Terrorism, an art that is both ‘divorced from all conventional structures of art consumption’ and a ‘conscious act in a deliberately beautiful life’. 18. So currently I am debating the hows and whys of whether these insignificant actions can exists within the public realm. Chiefly I wonder how they can exist in public without becoming simply like the spectacle of the flash-mob improvised pleasure actions so popular with mobile phone companies, to use social networks as purely promotional device. 19. Insignificant actions should not be performed in order to promote the concept as Significant. Abandoning the desire to seduce an audience with Significant actions may at best induce anyone left still identifying themselves as ‘audience’ to grow so bored by our lack of interest in pleasing them that they become distracted by the Significance their own Insignificant actions. 20. Which we too can feel free to ignore. I envision this non-hierarchical hub-bub of ideas through insignificant actions as the end of the Dialectical world as we know it. It will become as Quentin Crisp would say – ‘The party at the end of the world…that glittering occasion where everyone is talking and no-one is listening’.
Transcript of Pecha Kucha presentation, first given at Glasgow School of Art, April 2012.