Essays & Media

The Existential Brick Wall

Sinny Bonlaire, 2023

James R Ford, Finitude (BRCA1), 2023

Why are we here? Is there a god, are we stuck in a computer programme, or is life just pointless and absurd? These are some well known and pressing questions of philosophy relating to the human condition. The most striking feature of our finitude is obviously our temporality, that we will definitely die.

In his first book, The Stranger, philosopher Albert Camus conveys what it is like for someone who embraces the finitude of life and thus the meaninglessness of it. Many of us fear a lack of purpose, and Camus forces us to confront those feelings within, and then leaves us to create an answer for our own lives.

‘Memento mori’ (Latin for ‘remember you must die’) is an artistic trope used as a reminder of the inevitability of death. The most common motif is a skull, often accompanied by one or more bones. Other motifs such as a coffin, hourglass and wilting flowers have been used throughout art history. But what about a more obscure metaphor for the repetition and confusion of a finite life?

James R Ford, Finitude (BDNF), 2023

Each Finitude drawing is a series of lines and marks created by a basic, robotic vacuum cleaner. Ford has altered the appliance and made it perform a task not fit for its intended purpose. In this sense, the object that creates these works is like a modified readymade. The Gift by Man Ray from 1921 comes to mind: the artist stuck fourteen thumb tacks to the underside of an iron (rendering it useless), and then later used the work to tear a dress to ribbons and had a girl perform a dance whilst wearing it.

The robot vacuum could be considered captured, imprisoned and forced to do a dance of its own. It is confined within boundaries far smaller than its intended range; as demonstrated by the back and forth sweeps and constant rotations. The marks, tracks and smudges have a physicality and tactile grunginess that provides a break from the recent proliferation of digitally manufactured art. Of particular note are the areas of dense marks from repetitive rotations and ink-pooling when the pen has got stuck due to the friction of the nib on the surface of the canvas.

James R Ford, Finitude (BSCL2), 2023

The naming convention of the series utilises gene symbols, such as Finitude (BRCA1), Finitude (BDNF) and Finitude (BSCL2). The genes referenced are all related to ageing, which in itself is a symbol for the natural finitude of human life.

Without spirituality or a creator, the absurdity of humanity can be a blessing or a curse. It can either free us from the shackles of purpose and make us courageous towards leading a life of endorsement and tranquillity. Or it can be the vehicle that leads to our psyche’s destruction.

These works are embroiled in the idea of human finitude; our limits of time, space and mortal ability. Throughout life, we metaphorically hit brick walls, back-track, meander, and sometimes go round in circles trying to figure things out, just like the robotic vacuum.