Jim Carter
JIM CARTER


THE PRIMITIVE
In an interview following the publication of his volume of poetry North, Seamus Heaney explained the rationale behind the bipartite structure of his work: "the two halves [...] constitute two different types of utterance, each of which arose out of a necessity to shape [...] two kinds of urgency - one symbolic, one explicit." Heaney's dual exigency was a response to the violence in his native Northern Ireland - these texts elucidate the dilemmas of my own time and place as they relate to my advocation of a sacrificial aesthetic in art. It emphasises a pluralistic approach that weaves animistic beliefs with poetry, ritual and sculptural form.

Such contrasting disciplines will perhaps make my work appear, from the outset, a struggle to unite multiple voices in opposition. The primary approach is a co-dependent sculptural and written examination of the suffering experienced by human, animal and the land, whereas the secondary voice is a statement of the real ecological crises that lie behind my chosen art forms. My practice is overall one that champions abstraction rather than offering a merely rational articulation. Despite obvious differences, there is nevertheless an emphasis on establishing a unifying thread, a striving to interface many vital and persuasive voices. To this end, I have found it expedient to structure these texts according to the fundamentals that constitute my practice. Namely, a critique of the beliefs informing my work, an examination of the function of sculpture and ritual as they relate to my beliefs, and how poetics integrate with the whole.

Attendant to this work is the fostering of rituals that serve (albeit, on the surface, irrationally) to forestall the subjugation of species: I want to disrupt modernist attitudes that perpetuate suffering, confront negative instincts by sublimating them into zoomorphic form. In turn, I think of my sculpture as mouthpieces for an abstract language that is irreducible to analytical thought. Put another way, sensual engagement with nature, language and form affords me opportunities to become more aware of my complicity with the reality of suffering. Didier Maleuvre writes of the artist sacrificing the knowledge he has of himself "in order to meet the world in a spirit of respect and obedience." Without sacrificing of a portion of what is most important, my works would be mere couriers, my personality suppressing the reality (in this case, of environmental degradation) that needs encountering.

The complexities involved in drawing obsolete, primitive rituals into dialogue with contemporary ecological thought can hardly be overstated. What is necessary is the construction of imaginative analogy between them whilst adopting what Eric Gans refers to as a sacrificial aesthetic. For Gans, aesthetic forms, though remaining sacrificial, have evolved from being a social function to a psychological element of the human condition. For we must of course be under no illusions that bloody sacrifice, as Georges Bataille succinctly posits, is outside the field of modern Western experience: "only imagination can do duty for the real thing." I would add, however, that primitive conceptions of the role of animals are far more complex and meaningful than a modern interpretation often allows. The animal, devoid of mythic provenance and deprived of inherent value by industrial society can, I will argue, be revitalised by espousing a primitive vision.

In my work I would that a unifying voice was pervasive, that, through any given symbol, be it artefact, word or rite, the story most urgent of the telling is that of an environment in crisis. As poet Gary Snyder argues, poetry embodies "rare and powerful states of mind that are in immediate origin personal [...] but at deep levels common to all man who listen." For me, it is a restorative phenomenon, hushing but not wholly dispensing with a rational voice. I find legitimacy in an approach that seeks to rematerialize art in such a way that the land itself finds utterance.

Since these texts makes extensive use of notions of the primitive, it is prudent to offer a short explanation of my understanding of the term. The essential point is, I feel, to distinguish between form and values. “Primitivism”, as it relates to my sculptural practice, is part of the Western art movement that borrows visual forms from prehistory; “primitive” refers to a prehistoric, non-industrial culture that lived with empathy for the natural world, or to a person belonging to such a culture. Further, it is important to divide what remain discontinuous time zones into the Upper Palaeolithic and Iron Age Europe, this latter being a period in history from which I derive much of my thinking on nature-inspired ritual and sacrifice.

In circumstances less focussed on drawing attention to dualities of self, I would dispense with primitive as a noun altogether, preferring Jean Clottes notion of the "homospiritualis" as the fundamental definition of man indivisible from sacred nature. I have found it helpful to adopt the term "anarcho-primitivism" to indicate my personal ideology, which is an adaptation of a primitive worldview. I acknowledge however that an extended discussion of the homospiritualis and of anarcho-primitivism’s broad critique of civilization is outside the scope of these texts.