Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Critical Failure

by Laura Brown

26 Mar 2012

Failure is a loaded gun.

Its presence is ominous, even imminent, in any creative endeavor. Bring in the question of risk and, with this perspective, it isn’t difficult to see why the majority of once ambitious ideas never come to fruition. Failure is a word inherently laden with negativity; shame and disappointment are implied. If failure drives endeavors, it is only through fear. If not, this fear exists to prompt giving up.

If the presence of failure is unavoidable why is our relation to it so unstable? What we need is to fundamentally change the definition of failure. In place of an approach so precarious, a perspective shifted to something more perspicacious is proposed. An advance from a sentiment so simplistic is in order if we are to make progress in attitudes and efforts. Instead of perceiving failure as something to be avoided, why not acknowledge the influence that its presence has on our output and work with this. Instead of pushing it away, draw it in and manipulate it to an advantage.

Out of this proposition of working with failure many things emerge. A sense of trust is developed in acknowledging that a project may not go according to plan - a trust of oneself, others, and the work itself. With this buoy more risks can be taken, and so more and better ideas are produced and seen to their completion. Nothing new ever came without immense risk. By regarding failure in a new light, this immensity is transformed from a sense overwhelming to a useful indication of the importance of the project (the more scary, the more important), and with this we can adopt an almost audacious approach. It is my belief that one must be quietly arrogant enough to believe the work is important enough to exist, and this becomes possible with an awareness of our place in the gamble.

There exists too the nerve to forthrightly work with the notion of failure itself throughout the process. A fitting example of this is the Melbourne Kings ARI’s show early in 2011, Fail Harder. A project like this demonstrates not just a perspective that is cognizant, but brazenly approaches failure head-on, daring it to emerge. Here failure is provoked to such an extent that it becomes success – a compelling oxymoron. Another provocation lies in anticipating possible failures and exploiting these within a process so as to push the perimeters of the scope.

In redefining failure, a redefinition of success categorically occurs. If a project is to fall through in its final stages, it remains a success for not only the knowledge and skills acquired throughout the process, but more importantly for the work that prevails from it (whether or not it manifests as originally intended). In this concern, we might often find ourselves willingly surprised by how original intentions often establish themselves in a multiplicity of other subtle ways. To quote Thomas Edison, ‘I have not failed. I have merely found 10 000 ways that won’t work’. And so, perhaps the only true failure is to do nothing at all.