L. Budd: I cannot forgive Descartes

“The present is never here. We are hopelessly late for consciousness.”

Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error

Why can’t Lillian Budd and her associate Blaise Pascal forgive Descartes? What could a seventeenth century french philosopher possibly do to a twentieth century artist in New Zealand which rules out personal forgiveness? Well, for a start, it’s not personal. In Budd’s installations Descartes, it turns out, is no more than a cipher for a way of thinking, a stand-in for a philosophy that has dominated Western sciences and humanities for three centuries or more. And so, in this century, we still plan, predict and analyse our world, convinced that underpinning it all are cause and effect. Addicted to numbers we engage in fierce knowledge wars as specialisations fragment and proliferate. Reductionism rules as we try to control a reality which is slippery and evasive beyond comprehension. Budd rejects this obsessive numbering and can count on some odd partners in support. In a world of quantum physicists and chemists pursuing new solutions by combinatorics, the ground is constantly shifting. Hard for Rene Descartes to keep his standing in such a seismic context. Neurologist Antonio Damasio has also made a bid for the rights of feelings, pain and of our physical lives in the creation of memory and experience. Memory, once considered random baggage stacked in the back of the brain, is being dusted down and taken out of storage. Memory, it is being suggested, may well be a constant creative process driven by the body as much as by the mind. If nothing is independent we are freed of a million irritating choices. These installed concoctions are open systems. They take in energy. They will never be in equilibrium.

What matters in Lillian Budd’s work is being there as part of the constantly changing relationships created between the audience and the setting. That this experience can be an assault, a massage or an unsettling combination of both is part of an evolving contract between the work and its participants. Budd’s installations do not operate by the pleasure principle. They upset and disturb in surprising ways. Lock groove sound tracks getting nowhere, loud and low tech disturbances driving you crazy and, on one memorable occasion, the fetid odour of maggot larvae. The installations may choose to draw us in with poetry but are equally happy to repel us with high pitched resonance should we come too close. Like memories they are at once illusive, revealing and a challenge to the comforting formulas with which we negotiate our lives. Lillian Budd and associates buy into that. To them the separation of mind and body never made sense. “If anything would bring her back, it was this invocation, for her voice would infer her body, her presence, her very being.”¹ In their taut installations they tie the personal with the physical and technological in assemblages of memory, place and time. To them installation as an activity is about making rela¬tionships, not setting up polarities. The relief is palpable.

¹ Douglas Kahn describing Lucius Egroizard’s attempts to write his dead daughter’s voice phonographically in Wireless Imagination Sound, Radio and the Avant Garde edited by D. Kahn and G. Whitehead. MIT Press 1992.

Barr Mary & Barr, Jim. In: Toi, Toi, Toi: Three Generations of Artists from New Zealand, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel and Auckland Art Gallery, 1999. Curator René Block.