More broadly, how do the values that underpin No Telos retain their criticality and potential now that contemporary life seems so uncertain, so ungrounded, with global socio-political destabilisation, economic collapse and societal unbelonging reflected at a national and local level? Whilst emblematic of the highly commodified nature of the contemporary art world, Venice can also be approached as a microcosm of or as a mirror that reflects back the conditions of wider global instability — the challenges of contemporary exile and migration, the precarity of contemporary work and life, the uncertainties of environmental and ecological crisis. What role has the practising of creative uncertainty within these increasingly uncertain conditions of contemporary life? Could arts-based practices activate new conversations on how to live creatively in uncertain times, offering a tactical toolkit for testing different ways of being and behaving, where the unknown is actively embraced? Are such tactics the privilege of artists alone—how can they be shared with and opened up further through engagement with wider communities of practice? How can a controlled encounter with the uncertain or unfamiliar operate as a form of dosage against which to rehearse or test ways for cultivating a creative response? How does one differentiate between affirming and debilitating forms of uncertainty and open-endedness, between the not knowing that vectors towards generative playfulness and that which creates only paralysis or stasis? Towards an ethics of uncertainty—how can the encounter with the unfamiliar and strange(r) operate as a micro-political, even ethico-aesthetic practice? How do we cultivate receptivity to experiences and encounters beyond our zone of habitual comfort?
Alternatively, how does one resist the nihilistic implications of the imperative towards No Telos —the debilitating sense of having no point or purpose to one’s own actions, indeed to one’s own life? Here perhaps, might not the invitation towards No Telos be reframed through a call towards the autotelic? Autotelic activities also refuse the reward-driven, outcome-motivated tendencies of contemporary culture, however, they are not pitched in antagonistic relation to the idea of a goal or end: they are not against telos as such. Autotelic (autos—‘self’ and telos — ‘goal’) refers to an activity or a creative work that has an end or purpose in and of itself. Autotelic activity exhibits a sense of intrinsic meaning or curiosity —that is internal to it, emerging through it —where the sense of its worth or value is not established or measured according to external criteria. Rather than choosing between outcome-driven or open-ended activity, between process and product, the shift from the non-teleological towards autotelic activity seeks to playfully navigate the intervals and spaces in-between, refusing the binary of either/or.
This artists’ book comprises a series of ‘scores’, drawing on exercises and practices first developed and tested in Venice (2017), where the city is approached as a working ground or live laboratory for artistic research and aesthetic investigation, for poetic inscription and playful experimentation. The intent is not to just document or archive what was or has been, but rather that these various scores might operate as a speculative tool-kit that can be shared with others for future use or activation, in other situations and at other times.
The publication was launched in Venice (June 2019) through a series of participatory actions, readings and animated extracts for activating the scores, within the frame of the Research Pavilion (http://www.researchpavilion.fi/)and against the wider context of the 58th Venice Biennale. A digital version of the publication, contextualised through further documentation and reflection will be cumulatively developed for the online research catalogue, an enhanced dissemination platform hosted by the Society of Artistic Research. See https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/611078/611079