Paradigms of transmission: Aesthetic affinities and intertextualities in the art of Will MacLean

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In his essay, “The Melancholy Angel”, Giorgio Agamben writes: “In a traditional system, culture exists only in the act of transmission, that is, in the living act of its tradition. . . in a mythical-traditional system, an absolute identity exists between the act of transmission and the thing transmitted, in the sense that there is no other ethical, religious, or aesthetic value outside the act of transmission.” This idea is diametrically opposed to the idea of beauty as instantaneous and elusive epiphany. In his collaborative publication with John Burnside, A Catechism of the Laws of Storms, Will Maclean blends the aura of Doré’s fantastical forebodings with Ernst’s absurdist conceits. The relationship between image and text resembles more improvisational conversation than illustration. Maclean is intent on opening out the past and on unconcealing its transmissibility; emigration, arctic exploration, whaling and fishing all relate to the mythologies and epic tales of those who live and work by the sea and they remain a constant source which Maclean insists be transmissible: from this heritage he may still draw “the criterion of his actions and his well-being.” (Agamben) He revealed in interview his participant/observer’s relationship with the past – a past which was very much a living past: “My father did pass on to me a knowledge and a passion for the culture as . . . part of one’s own flesh and blood.” This sense of transmissibility is exemplified in Maclean’s land piece An Suileachan at Uig on the Island of Lewis. The sculpture/temple is a collaboration between two artists (Maclean and Marian Leven) Lewis stonemason, (Jim Crawford) and the community at Reiff. It is openly political: radically removed from structuralist formalism by deliberately renewing the dialogical relationship between people and their history. It raises questions about curatorial or aesthetic categories constructing the artwork under the aegis of the community and aligning it with Heideggerian notions of temple. It reaffirms the oppositional marginalized voice of the displaced indigenous people in opposition to the hegemonic voice of landlord ownership and the support of the establishment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnthropology and Beauty: from Aesthetics to Creativity
EditorsStephanie Bunn
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)978-1138928794, 1138928798
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • 25ref2021


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