Sabotage by Toby Üpson


A friend of mine once described the art world as a religion. Personally, as someone wholly bound to the ideology of this creative microcosm, this likening feels pointed; relevant. Something to bear in mind.


As a writer, I am approaching this ‘Sabotage’ from an archetypal position. It is a tentative and loosely sketched position, one that I have not spent enough time with, but here I hope it can suggest something for us to consider.


I would like to start with two quotes. The first—a title, riff and chorus line—is a quote I would like to hold metaphorically, as with that likening made my by friend. The second—coming from a novelistic source—is a quote that I would like to treat as something more indicative of the point am making. Something I would like to reflect back to our previous speakers.


Quote one:

…No church in the wild…

—Jay-Z and Kanye West, ft. Frank Ocean and The-Dream


Quote two:

Too much light will blind you and too much water will drown you. It is a danger to accept anything real from another person, to know something of them. A person has to be careful about the voices they listen to, the faces they let themselves see.

—Catherine Lacey

And as a refrain,

…No church in the wild…


Etymologically speaking a figurehead is the ornament on the projecting part of a ship. A later sense of the word also alludes to a leader without real authority. In an ironic way, figureheads are headless—plan symbolic.


Emancipation has a Latin root. Here it means to capture from someone else’s hand. This sense has developed to mean the act of liberating a child from parental authority. There is something Enlightening in that.


…No church in the wild…

Brought in conjunction as the focus for this Debating Chamber, we are perhaps looking to think through the symbolic forces that ‘free’ artists from a parental hold—the place from which they have grown; their becoming.


…No church in the wild…


In this context, the notion of Breath seems fitting.

An act of freeing the old—to breath out

An act of inbracing the new—to breath in

An act of gaining, or rather maintaining, life—in and out, a act of validation.


In the English usage, Breath denotes an ‘odor, scent, stink’ as well as ‘exhalation’. In itself, this sense of the term comes from a Proto-Germanic root meaning ‘vapour, waft’ and indeed ‘exhalation.’ A corporeal outpouring.


Our contemporaneous understanding of Breath, and the use of which I am thinking with in regards to this talk, therefore has a wholly sensorial quality: Breath is an odour, a scent, a stink, as well as a vital corporeal action—something that has, and which we do in the present.


Breath presentes us.


…No church in the wild…


When we hold these three terms together—figureheads, emancipation, breath—am left wondering about the very usefulness, indeed the risks, of such symbolic guides as cited by our previous speakers.


…No church in the wild…


What is freedom, and what is idolatry?

Indeed, what is sin? And how is this treated?


…No church in the wild…


Intoxicated by the blinding light of ‘radically freeing’ figureheads, I worry that artists today are losing their own heads, unable to critically engage with the world outside of the ideological holds established by quasi-biblical figures—be these individuals, institutions or indeed social movements.


Griped by and gripping to radical artistic ‘emancipation’ I worry that the idols in ‘church of the artworld’ are rendering artists today unable to fully sense the world around them—to engage with this in a way that goes beyond the aestheticization of politics—and therefore unable to be present, using their innate corporeal agency to critically position themselves within the flows of life. Unable to Breath in a way.


—Toby Üpson, October 2023