...It was a peculiarly beautiful book. Its smooth creamy paper, a little yellowed by age, was of a kind that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past. He could guess, however, that the book was much older than that. He had seen it lying in the window of a frowsy little junk-shop in a slummy quarter of the town (just what quarter he did not now remember) and had been stricken immediately by an overwhelming desire to possess it. Party members were supposed not to go into ordinary shops ('dealing on the free market', it was called), but the rule was not strictly kept, because there were various things, such as shoelaces and razor blades, which it was impossible to get hold of in any other way. He had given a quick glance up and down the street and then had slipped inside and bought the book for two dollars fifty. At the time he was not conscious of wanting it for any particular purpose. He had carried it guiltily home in his briefcase. Even with nothing written in it, it was a compromising possession.
The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp. Winston fitted a nib into the penholder and sucked it to get the grease off. The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures, and he had procured one, furtively and with some difficulty, simply because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with an ink-pencil. Actually he was not used to writing by hand. Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speakwrite which was of course impossible for his present purpose. He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:
April 4th, 1984.
He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him.
In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston’s first act of rebellion against the Party is to purchase a blank book, bring it into a private space, and mark it by hand. The helplessness he feels in this moment is a confrontation with his creative potential that has remained dormant and unaltered amid all that had been lost in a dystopian society. This “decisive act” immediately becomes an irresistible glimpse into the possibility of regaining his humanity.
From the initial mark placed on a blank page, the artist is laid bare. As Philip Guston said, that first mark is necessarily destructive. The pristine blank page is perfect and once marked is ruined and only saved when the artist finds a way, through magic, to transform it into something better than before. The artist leads the way into the unknown, owning the details of each choice. To mark a blank page becomes a tremendous proposition and responsibility, to set out without direction and asking the viewer to follow.
Neurotypical artists presented with a blank page invariably seek direction. What am I supposed to do? How do I navigate this? What is expected from me? Developmentally disabled artists rarely ask these questions, proceeding without any hesitation because engaging the unknown is inherent to their way of being; an innate immunity to guidelines is often how they find their way to progressive art studios to begin with. The progressive art studio acknowledges this and understands an important potential it represents. The blank page exists as the manifesto which the studio offers to these artists in response.
The studio uses the highest quality of blank paper that it can afford - smooth, hot pressed, acid free, and archival. These choices aren’t made for the untrained or trained eye, but for the artist who receives the paper, the work they will create, and its future.
Our manifesto to the artist: this paper is important, can last forever, and be widely seen and revered. We value and have invested in it and we give it to you blank. The intention isn’t to change, cure, or teach you; we created a space to include you in our culture and hear you speak as a member of our community - you may occupy it however you choose.
The installation and corresponding text above was contributed at the request of First Street Gallery Art Center for their current exhibition Manifesto for all. This inclusive group show is presented in conjunction with Pitzer College Art Galleries, which is hosting a concurrent exhibition entitled Manifesto: A Modest Proposal curated by Ciara Ennis and Jennifer Vanderpool. Both exhibitions address our collective need to formulate effective and attainable solutions to the pressing sociopolitical, cultural, economic, and environmental issues of our time. First Street is an LA-based progressive art studio that facilitates many great artists, including recent Wynn Newhouse Award recipient Helen Rae, as well as Joe Zaldivar, Hugo Rocha, and many others.
Manifesto for all January 20th - March 23rd, 2018
Leul Asfaw, Tony Barnes, Clovis Blackwell, Marcelle Desrosiers, Andreana Donahue & Tim Ortiz of Disparate Minds, Jonathan Jackson, Chelsea Lenninger, Bill Marshall, Katie Mendoza, Vicente Siso, Zack Stewart, Joe Zaldivar
First Street Gallery 250 West First Street, Suite 120 Claremont, CA 91711
Gallery Hours: M-F, 9:30am - 5:00pm