Rejecting anything that provokes a return of this old animal sensation is a behavioural response that has evolved in we human beings, and it is not just confined to art. Few of us realise we are conditioned by life itself, and by the way we learn to survive, to look for what we know how to recognise in our powers of perception. We don't look around for what we don't know how to recognise because this brings the uncomfortable 'feeling' of animal recall, and so our mind works to find an idea - any idea rather than no idea - to impose over what we see. If I failed to learn to recognise a bus then the chances are that one day when I cross a road I will get run-over by one of these types of vehicle. The chances are that I won't survive very long because I have failed to learn to recognise buses, and so, just as it was essential for our distant ancestors to learn to recognise tigers and lions, we are born to look towards ever greater powers of certainty as a way of sensing what confronts us. It is therefore a natural response, when we find ourselves confronted by any object or event that fails to fit into this model of how we respond, to start to think up ideas to remove as much uncertainty from what we see as it is possible to do. We look to project the best idea we can call to mind over what we see to stop it provoking the sensation of the unknown. This is what most people do in art galleries. They look for ideas they have learned to apply to the things they see, and this response is what a meaningless black square hanging on a wall challenges. It disrupts your learned idea of art and brings to mind an older way of sensing generated by instinct. This view is only provoked from the depth of your mind when you fail to recognise what you see.


It is here that art lovers and artists part company. The art lover, and those artists who work to satisfy this audiences craving for meaningful creative work, look towards making and displaying recognisable objects that uphold established principles. These principles, in art, have always been about workmanship, engaging subjective content, or fine performance, etc. and these criteria enforce upon the art experience a class of object that we know how to recognise. Remove these established principles in art and you are faced with objects that begin to provoke an underlying behavioural response from the human mind that emerges with loss of recognition. This response has evolved to look to suppress the unknown from your view of the world, and so you 'feel' disturbed and unsure when confronted by something in an art gallery that fails to display the values that create your idea of what constitutes the art experience. The general response is to find a way to reassert your control over your powers of recognition, and the easiest way to do this is to reject anything that fails to display the required values that are expected of art.


A simple black square does not try to represent something other than what it is, and it is an object that you have to look towards not understanding. There is nothing profound or meaningful in this object and if you find yourself thinking up such ideas then you need to realise your mind is working to find a way of suppressing the sensation of unknowing that a meaningless object will begin to provoke from your mind. This is what we do in life and so we find ourselves thinking this meaningless black square has been placed in an art gallery to say something profound. We think about gestalt, or that this work has something to say about social injustice, or even ideas as bizarre as suggesting a black square is a gateway to an alien world - reminding me of the black obelisk from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is very difficult to create an object that stops people doing this. Trying to look without imposing any ideas over your experience of an object creates in we human beings a negative response, and we seek to suppress this experience of what we see. We look to dismiss the work as fraudulent art, or to find the nearest idea we can apply to what we see to rid our thoughts of any sense of the unknown.


C J Hollins, April 2014




If I hang a black square in an art gallery the question I am often asked is, “What is it supposed to be?” I presume this implies that what I hang on a wall in an art gallery is 'supposed' to uphold some sort of value and meaning, and that, to the person asking the question, these qualities are missing from my work. If the qualities were present the person would know what 'it was supposed to be', but an object like a blank black square is thought to represent fraudulent activity. My black square requires no skill to create and it has no story to tell or profound meaning, and therefore it is considered by many art lovers to be of dubious value in relation to their understanding about what an art object should represent. Most people who walk into art galleries believe art is about recognisable qualities combined with creative skills and technical accomplishment, and when you remove these qualities you often get a hostile response to what you claim to be a work of art.



It is this hostility that interests me. I find that we have all been conditioned to think the experience that we go to art galleries to find should be knowable. That is to say that the experience we learn to expect to find when we look at art is an experience that can be recognised like all other experiences we encounter in day-after-day life. This is not what I believe, and to me art should be the one thing in your experience of the world that you don't know how to recognise. Art is not a picture you could paint, a sculpture to carve, or music to compose. The art experience, to me, is the opposite to what the majority think, and what I look to find is a way to create something that disrupts what you expect to see. Something that stops your mind using your intelligent powers of recognition and forces you to sense in an older inherent way. Making art objects that do this makes you something of an outcast in the eyes of those who look to art to bring meaning and value into their lives. To me art is the one experience that my mind works to stop me sensing, and I try to create work that generates a state of mind that is only encountered when I am confronted by an object that, even though I have made it, reveals to me a side of my mind that all my thoughts try to keep out of what I do. Anything could provoke this sensation of not knowing what you are looking at from your mind. Any object could generate this experience that is only 'felt' when we face the unknown, but few objects will give us this sensation. Few objects do this because we are born to look at the world around us to apply learned ideas to what we see and not, as I try to do, remove learned ideas from what I make. When the values of what we expect to find in an object are missing, when all our learned ideas fail to give us the power to recognise what we see, then we find ourselves confronted with an object that provokes, rather than suppresses uncertainty. This, of course, puts the artist who seeks to explore this sensation at odds with people who look to understand everything in their world. People walk into art galleries to fulfil their powers of recognition with an idea called art, but this very expectation destroys your ability to sense the world without ideas. To sense without idea is to call back to mind an older natural way of sensing by instinct that has become suppressed behind all the learned 'cleaver' thoughts we project over everything in day-to-day life. You need to look without learning to get back to a natural way of sensing, but few people come to art to be disturbed by something they do not know how to recognise. They come to satisfy a sense of understanding that they look to find all the time, and, therefore, when confronted by an object that fails to uphold what they expect to find then they respond by looking for ways to reject the work. They look to suppress their natural powers of perception by calling to mind an artificial way of looking through learned ideas. They look to suppress any sense of not knowing and uncertainty in their view of the world because this stops their mind recalling of an older way of looking. We look for assurance in all we see and do becuse this removes uncertainty that brings recall of vision of the world once experienced through animal instinct.