Indexical & Willed Forms

Monday, March 24th, 2014 @ 9:27 am

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As stated in our article, an indexical object seems to be entirely a result of its environment.  A willed object, on the other hand, is something obviously and clearly made, willed, not organically produced, by someone.  Presenting an object which is both of these things invites the opportunity to present literally any object in existence.  All things are products of their environments, results of thoughts and ideas, evolutions and circumstances in industry, society and culture, and are then made, willed, into existence within those societal and cultural and economic constraints or circumstances.  So all things are indexical, indicative of their environments and the circumstances which have enabled their conception.  And all things are also willed, made, through those constraints, with materials and facilities available at the time.

It could be argued that the notion of ‘indexical’ aspects of an object are primarily functions of time; they are the things possible given the money allocated, the facilities available, whatever circumstances have made them available, but all depending on the time and level of technology that is actually possible at the time of the object’s conception and subsequent production.  These temporal elements surely play a role in its design; someone will be conscious of the better ways, cheaper, more efficient, to make something, especially on a large scale of production, and design their objects and production strategies accordingly.  This is certainly a result of the circumstances surrounding the designer, maker, and the objects’ ‘birth’ process.

‘Willed’ seems to focus our discussion into only the objects which are actually made by someone’s decision, their purposeful pursuit through process, their intent.  Someone rolling a bowling ball down a hill, causing it to scuff and pick up debris from the road, seems to fall into the indexical category more readily than something made – willed – into existence through a process of decision-making executed by someone as they give and take, add and subtract, and actively decide what elements go where in their work.  Freeform poetry is different from a sonnet in this way; both are willed in some sense, but given our definition of willed, freeform poetry, or stream-of-consciousness writing are too organic to be considered ‘willed’ or ‘chosen’.

Design, then, is a factor.  When something is designed, it becomes more truly willed, than if it were simply a product of process.  Taking some cues from our article, life casting is a product of process, which places it into the indexical category.  Not only that, but history will show that anatomical studies in all mediums are of the oldest forms of indexical works, that is to say non-interpretive works still considered art in some sense or another, in the world.  They are simply replications of something in existence, records made of something real, without bias, without design.  And yet so is that bowling ball thrown down the hill.  The complication maybe comes in the fact that the ball was designed at one point, and the debris it picks up on the street may have been as well, and so is interpreted, and can be perceived as interpretive, if presented as an object ‘designed’ or ‘made,’ ‘willed,’ into existence by someone in a conscious act of making.  But there wasn’t someone consciously making it.  It was a result of process.  It was simply a result.  There is no design in that iteration of the bowling ball, when it is covered in stuff, which can make that occurrence of ‘bowling ball’ a willed object in the designed sense, the sense that we seem to be pursuing for this assignment.  And yet, it is willed, because it was thrown down the hill, and we all know now that an artist can have barely a hand or no hand at all in creating their actual pieces of work and still present them as artistic works.

So: an indexical object, for our purposes, is an object which is simply ‘copy’ or so close to simply ‘copy’ as to negate any content it might potentially bear for a viewer.  Life casts are a good example, but better is something from nature, rocks, branches, etc.  Things which are purely a result of that which makes them.  Their making is willed in some form or another, but it is not a conscious act to create and interpret something for presentation as some object of content or meaningful interpretive value.  Life casts are too direct and representational to be taken that way most of the time.  That does not demean figurative shapes, it simply means that figure is a tool, and not a vessel for content or the actual content in itself, simply as itself.  And if presented as such it often falls flat, seems to be not enough.  Something truly willed involves decision-making, objects pushed through processes that change them, move their interpretive values into different directions, effectively giving the object(s) some aspect more than simply their being, some aspect which we can unravel and infer from, that is interpretive value.  Willing an object means designing it, or designing its components, part of which is its relation to other objects, if other objects are to be added to the initial object.

Making an indexical object seems to be a contradiction given this, since the act of making it makes it a willed object.  But the object itself won’t necessarily be designed, and that is the difference.  So one can make an indexical form, and one can make a willed form; the two are distinct, and function differently.  The danger, I suppose, is in making and presenting indexical objects as willed, deeply meaningful objects, because the viewer will know if they are unable to interpret it, if it is in fact un-interpret-able, if it lacks depth.  Often these objects play on our own associations with the object, rather than the work itself creating a meaning for itself by which the viewer may be enlightened.


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  1. Jesse Says:

    I love the connection between stream of consciousness or Dada poetry to indexical form. Makes me ask the question: was some part of the “slapped together” works you critiqued two weeks back indexical? At it’s root, indexical form is when an object is made through direct contact with the thing it was meant to represent. So a stone is only indexical if it was meant to represent the wearing away that was done with water. Is there more to a stone than this? Was there enough in the work you showed for critique for the work to be “about” the wood’s contact with the worker? As the pointer slides from what is to what isn’t art – what is indexical and meaningless and what is willed and meaningless to what is indexical and meaningful and what is willed and meaningful, we continue to define and refine our sense of our place in the world. Love it. Thanks for writing this Blake!

    March 24th, 2014 at 9:48 am

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