Archive for February, 2010

Beauty And The Beast

February 28, 2010

            Calling Beauty, curated by James Voorhies, at the Canzani Center Gallery, Columbus College of Art and Design runs February 17 through April 10. It is part of the Bureau For Open Culture initiative ( It includes the work of 10 cultural workers. The initial gestalt upon entering includes the installation Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial Of Photography And Video by Thorsten Brinkman, along side the complete text of An Argument About Beauty by Susan Sontag (around which the show is organized). Hmmm, which to choose first? Though Sontag argues against such a binary understanding of Beauty which subliminally implicates a vertical interpretation as opposed to the lateral interpretation she prefers, inevitably a choice must be made (we can’t live in the gestalt). Given that few show goers would read the Sontag outside the context of this show, I chose the everyday/everyperson’s route and left the essay for later. The show was refreshing and stimulating in many ways, primarily in that the ten presentations were given adequate space for consideration (without impinging on each other), and the wonderful diversity of interests and interpretations. Within his short summation of the show’s trajectory, James Voorhies states “Calling Beauty is organized around four basic pillars of reflection: still life, landscape, nude and portraiture.” The reflective aspect shows up repeatedly, whether in the gist of Sontag’s essay being reflected in the careful selection of works presented, or in the fact that several of the artists chose to make images of images (and even another image of those images) in the form of projected images of photos taken of paintings, or paintings of photos, or photos of photos (of photos!). Though Sontag dismisses the narcissistic and possessive as aspects of beauty, the desire to “own a little piece of it” (mine separated from others) returns within this reflective format. This binary tension between the beauty that accompanies what is noted and pointed at (stressed by the individual works within a gallery setting), and that which is found in nature and the everyday (Sontag’s “Imagine saying, “That sunset is interesting.””) provides for a very vital viewing gestalt. Kudos to James Voorhies and Diana Matuszak for putting this show together.

            A different kind of tension was in play at the Roy G Biv Gallery ( on the afternoon of February 27. A group of artists and affiliates gathered at the invitation of  Cassandra Troyan to consider the newspaper publication, Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics. This was the final installment of her Your Life Is Not My Playground performance that occurred throughout February at the Roy. “Artists, especially emerging artists, constantly struggle with the financial and professional hardships that accompany the decision to make art for a living… What is the role of the “artist” in contributing “labor” (culminating in “artwork”) in our current economic and political atmosphere?” The tension of the “market’s” job definition of an artist, and the “subjective” (social) role definition of an artist danced throughout the group’s interchange. At times the two assumed the same mantel, at times their incompatibility was glaring. Tension existed in the proffered alternatives or survivalist strategies. Most could not escape the Warhol blinders of “Good business is the best art” and its autonomous entrepreneurial (and market driven) implications. There were some forays into unimagined zones of collective response. Most of these were based on inadequate models from America’s experience in the 1930’s, a time of isolationism, limited communication, and identity founded on a group ethos nonexistent today. The gathering found it difficult to surface from its immersion in the positivist ideology required of participants in the global economy. One sensed a lack of urgency within this dialogue. “Failure is not an option” (the penultimate positivist cliché) was taken as a secure and unimpeachable given. Acquaintance with the history of the Columbus based Zivili dance/cultural project would have quickly dispelled that sense of positive invincibility. The dance and other cultural aspects of the Balkans may have become extinct if not for the urgent response by this local group. Things, both conceptual and material, actually DO go out of existence. This tension between the lack of acquaintance with the homegrown and the over familiarity with the global likewise became manifest in the constant slippage to seeking international/national solutions to satisfy “local,” cultural workers’ needs and concerns. Much of this can be attributed to the mobility of labor demanded by late capitalist, global economics. How many of that day’s participants can imagine, can visualize themselves as still being here in 2 years? They may find that to be the case but their current, day to day strategies and tactics may have them visualizing themselves as being elsewhere (“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.” Howard Zinn). Kudos to Cassandra Troyan and Justin Luna for initiating this necessary imaginary. Let’s hope there’s more from whence this came.

Time To Step Back And Admire Ourselves Profusely

February 25, 2010

            The interface between theory and the everyday is the original fascination producing the essays that comprise this blog. Though this interest predates exposure to Ranciere, his “distribution of sense” acts as a touchstone regarding what is considered and why. The material manifestations of culture (of which art is one part) only relay what is already included in the distribution of sense (why the interface is so intriguing, and so very relevant). What looks to redefine that distribution, or expand its participants, is political. The rest reveals what is the status quo, the current distribution of sense. That status quo often goes unnoticed.

            Quite some time ago (long before even thinking of blogging) I met a studio art professor in town and we conversed regarding the summer’s activity. This everyday event resonated as just such an interface. The essay that followed revealed an outrageous insight; that studio art pedagogy has evolved to where the emphasis on process has precluded, indeed, excluded the product entirely. No matter how often I reread it, the writing insisted on this being sensible. I put the essay away but never forgot it.

            Last year, within the writings of this blog, I tried to approach this aspect of our culture. Analogous to Baudrillard’s simulacra being a copy without an original, this insight presents an activity without an end result, a process without a product (such as endless war). An essay by Robert Morris resurrected my thoughts regarding this emphasis on process without a product (our obsession with “green” comes immediately to mind, but again, it is not in itself convincing enough). After rereading my initial essay several times, I decided to post this insight in an essay entitled From The Archives: Making The Signifier (December 3, 2009). In a series of essays following that, entitled The Product As Medium, I approached the matter from a different perspective. The results from that perspective were not very satisfying or convincing. Stumbling on an actual interface with the everyday is the most convincing part of any theory.

            On Sunday February 21, 2010, CBS aired a 60 Minute segment regarding the status of the Ground Zero World Trade Center site. Nine years after the horror, the rebuilding/ building process has produced NO product (still mostly a hole in the ground). It is questionable whether the tenth anniversary will have anything of permanent completion to show. The aired segment noted in passing that the Empire State building was completed very quickly in the midst of our country’s great depression. In addition (as adumbrated in the December 3 posting), the signifier is being continuously made through many “dedication” ceremonies, where various tuxedoed dignitaries (Punxsutawney Phil in hand) step forward declaring this to be a new day, and setting a cornerstone (which has also been removed). Need more be said?

            Remember folks, you heard it here first!

Another Look At What We Choose To Emphasize

February 22, 2010

            The aftermath of Marcel Duchamp’s contribution, and its evolution, touches much that has been interrogated in these posts.  A recent October essay (George Baker, Leather and Lace) “frames” one aspect of Duchamp’s 1920’s work as involving the dialectic of what is framed with the frame (including the frame), and the tension between what is staged with the stage, and what is collected (the secret) with what is exhibited (the revelation). In a Critical Inquiry essay entitled The Cybernetic Unconscious: Rethinking Lacan, Poe, and French Theory, Lydia Liu argues that Lacan was influenced by American cybernetic theory of the 1940’s, particularly game theory. This enters into the distinction of the sociosymbolic and the Real. Much of the “conceptual” emphasis initiated by Duchamp can be situated within an interpretation of code as language, of game theory.

            Who actually wins and who loses are of no import with mathematical endeavor. The dialogical process of the artist with the material that handwork implicates (the craft or skill part of making and doing) is dismissed early on with Duchamp. He relegates this aspect of the aesthetic to that of the “machine” (the manufacturing process necessitated by the definition of an art object). With the value of the doing and making in art being universalized to the repetitiveness and predictability of a machine, of course the game or coded conceptual nature would be of a much greater interest. Here repetitiveness and predictability become components of mathematical process, of systems, gambits, traps, probabilities and inevitabilities. Something appreciated by a chess player like Duchamp. The down side of all this is the guilt by association with imperialism/colonialism implicated by the exclusively winner/loser disposition of games. Without the urgency of an avant garde hierarchy of winners and losers, the value of handwork (craft) within art can reemerge as something other than the necessity of a machine process.

            What an entirely different historical scenario would have been determined if the early dialectic fascination found in Duchamp’s 1920’s work had been with the tension between the Real and the sociosymbolic, between nature (the propensities attributed to DNA) and nurture ( the behavioral modifications and interpretations brought about through knowledge and praxis). With such a shift in emphasis the dialogic process relationship of the artist and the material would maintain some interest and validity rather than be relegated to the mundane reality of the machine. The priority would not have become all “conceptual.” The “thingness” that Heidegger tried to elaborate would still have some say or place within the work of art. Lacking this scenario the conceptual reinforces the position of ownership over that of production. The rupture between the maker and the made, driven by this emphasis on the conceptual, becomes quite complete.

What We Choose To Emphasize In This Complex History Will Determine Our Lives

February 19, 2010

“Yet, because contemporary art, especially since the 1980’s, has stressed that a work of art is not a discrete entity but, rather, a term in relationship with viewers;” (Rosalyn Deutsche, Hiroshima After Iraq, October winter 2010, pg. 8 )

            At or around lunch time, the OSU hospital/medical complex reminds one of what a Ford or GM factory must have been like a half century ago. Not only are there several complete hospitals within the cluster (Cancer, Heart, General) but there are branch facilities articulated by shuttle. The medical college is only one part of the larger franchise, the university itself. If we compare the education industry in America today to the automotive industry of yesterday, we find a lot of similarities. Education industry jobs pay well with exceptional benefits. Everyone has to have an education, that is, needs one if even the most rudimentary aspirations of human existence are to be fulfilled. Like the automobile, education’s use is primarily work related. Most places in the US, for most of the population, no car means no job. Ditto for education. The long view (over the past centuries) associated education with knowledge, and the knowledge (from that education) with value. The knowledge of the “uneducated” was considered practical, mundane, “worldly.” Not that it had no value, but the knowledge received through an education was considered of a “higher value” (that term is used so much in marketing today that it has lost its meaning. Trust me on this one, it once had a meaning, a completely different meaning). So I guess it is safe to say that the value of knowledge accorded by industrialized education today is different.

            From very early on industrialized education stresses the importance of the SAT style exam. Like Chutes and Ladders, land on the correct circle and you advance, darken the wrong one and you don’t. We all learn it before we are even cognizant of it. Do you care for the work of Marcel Duchamp? The rote answer is, of course, that he was significant in helping to introduce and foster the conceptual (you can put your pencil down now). If you are a craftsman, someone who has extensive training, and “passion” for art (the new legitimizing buzzword), your best bet is to apply whatever marketing skills you can muster for a position within the education industry teaching others your hard earned skills (Don’t want to teach? Rather be an independent fine art producer? Get real! Volume is what produces a livable profit margin. Do the math). Do you care for the work of Marcel Duchamp? The rote answer is still the same even though the evolution of art after Duchamp eschewed the skills needed for handwork, eventually even the artwork itself  as “a discrete entity.” The rote answer undermines your life, training, craftsmanship, and “passion” for art. But the rote answer is still the one that will be chosen. Without it there is no advancing within the education industry. The value of knowledge associated with present day industrialized education is comparable to what it was for automotive ownership. Does it get me to and from work, reliably, perhaps in style or even in luxury? That it, in any way, has anything to do with “passion,” personal commitment, individual development, or everyday life is a non sequitur. The value of educational knowledge is now primarily “a term in relationship with viewers.” How do you view the work of Marcel Duchamp?

            “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places (and there are so many) where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
the late Howard Zinn (source not researched)

Universal Citizen

February 14, 2010

            A post show, post card announcing “Cultural Exodus Of The Universal Citizen” arrived the other day. It shows Micaela de Vivero in her Tourist Series (a friendly alien). The show ran January 16-31 at the Partnership Gallery of the Queens Museum of Art. It was part of the Ecuadorian Renaissance In NY 2010.

            The title of the show struck me as curious. With the post modern critique of universals and their application, the reappearance of the word evinced a double take. Universals appear to be benign enough (friendly aliens). Consider Fela Kuti’s Water No Get Enemy. The need for water, to sustain life, can safely be considered universal. This then can be extended to other facets of human existence, something already proposed in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas, a rudimentary universal human rights. Originally it was that folks, to be folks, required recognition of their necessity to eat, have shelter and be secure in their person so as to foster their growth, procreate and care for their families. Centuries later the interpretation was modified to all folks who can think, reason. It was tainted by the Enlightenment’s encyclopedic definition of what it means to think, reason, be human, etc. (which was nothing new considering that all peoples, whether Greek, Native Americans, etc. considered themselves as the “real” humans, and the other as a barbarian, primitive, not “real” human). The American and French revolutions sprang from this Enlightenment view. With Marx, the universal returns but almost as a residue, a surplus, with everything being defined materially (man interacts with nature. What comprises nature and interaction can vary but man is tacitly assumed to be universal). With late modernism the various elements synthesize in the social movements of the 20th century. The universal is found in terms of human rights, conditions of governance, social obligations regarding health care, retirement, labor conditions, etc. With post modernism the universal was critiqued severely and linked with essentialism. Post modern’s needed interpretation to be related to context, source, intent, etc. One wonders whether this was as intellectual a critique as theorists would have liked us to believe. With the ascendancy of late capitalism, the harsh post modern critique of the universal rather helped facilitate its morphing into mobility; a preparation for the acceptance of and surrender to mobility demanded by late capitalism. With the heavy emphasis on the mobility of capital and labor required by globalism, the universal became reified and lost its original transcendent magic to inspire or motivate. The United Nations may have been a symbolic gesture of universal suffrage amongst nations but the mobility of capital and labor became real and actual with the repercussions of a globalized economy.

            In what sense do we find the word universal used in the Cultural Exodus of the Universal Citizen? Would it be in the sense introduced by Aquinas, further elaborated by the Enlightenment, and activated in late modernism? Or is it simply making an encore re-entry into the post post modern lexicon, as a synonym for the subject of mobility (within the context of late capitalism)?

            Sometimes when things are difficult to puzzle out, it is best to walk away and be distracted (House does this all the time). The Pika was in the news again recently (it appears and reappears every now and then). This little furry fellow is running out of mountain to ascend in its need to be cool. As average surface temps rise, the portions of mountains cool enough to sustain the critter decrease, since the tree line marks the boundary of their habitat, and that is determined by elevation, not temperature. The Pika disappears within the late capitalist economy since it is not amenable to that sense of mobility. The value of the Pika lies with its uniqueness and the diversity it embodies. Does the cultural exodus of the universal citizen signal an abdication of the value of the Pika, and the diversity it embodies? Does this exodus offer as rich a diversity without the unique contextual grounding of place as found with the Pika?

Cracks: Sign Of A Future Schism Or Did The Freudian Mask Just Slip?

February 11, 2010

            Last week Sarah Palin made excellent use of her personal Palm Communication Device. She activated it chastising our president. Seems the president lectures too much, comes off as the great educator rather than the fearless leader her heart desires. She may have a valid point. Education certainly is a good thing. What parent witnessing their child’s high school graduation hasn’t been stirred by feelings of hope for their future, of a change for the better? But anything more than that may be pushing it. Too much study can be a bit taxing. This pretty well puts her at odds with one of the richest men, if not the richest man, in the US. William Gates enabled so many hands across America to hold communication devices through his untiring dedication to the early development of internet correspondence. The Microsoft CEO marketed his contraption as a resource of boundless educational opportunity, both in the intellectual rigor required to figure out how to use the darn thing and the vitally important data that could be accessed through its use (why Sarah relies so heavily on her Palm, and the president on his Blackberry). Building on the successful Detroit marketing model of the 1950’s (selling more cars by doing away with public mass transit through the use of overwhelming financial muscle and the political promotion of publicly funded programs, like the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system), Bill championed the greater and ever greater necessity for integrating his constantly evolving technology within the educational format of schools, not only in the US but around the world. Funding resources were generously made available, but only on condition that computer literacy became part of the core institutional curriculum (concurrent with the institution’s continual need to reinvest in the latest technology). Abroad, the urgent need to extricate children from the vicious cycle of poverty in underdeveloped countries would best be met by getting a laptop into each and every hungry hand.

            Are these cracks a sign of an impending schism between “the market’s” embrace and emphasis on technology (with its accompanying alibi of education), and the free market advocates of the TEA party with their implied “we don’t need to be educated” message? Or did all the jostling of Carnival Time cause the mask to slip?

            “By 1998, the average pay received by CEOs was 419 times that of the average worker, and in that same year Bill Gates was worth more than 45 percent of the entire population of the country combined.”  Dark Ages America: The Final Phase Of Empire by Morris Berman pg. 59

Communication Devices: Part II

February 7, 2010

            To continue with the thought of how communication devices work great for machines but not so for humans:

            “Spain has tried to shrug off a comparison with Greece and Portugal — but markets were dubious following comments by EU Economy Commissioner Joaquin Almunia who said Wednesday that high wages and low productivity in all three make them less competitive against other European nations. Changing that would mean wide economic reforms — such as making labor conditions more flexible and opening up markets for goods and services. Greece is promising to do this but markets doubt that it can in time to generate growth. In the meantime, hefty public spending cuts could wreck any chance of economic recovery. “The reason why investors are so scared is that they find it difficult to see how these economies are going to return to reasonably robust growth or any growth,” said Tilford, adding that a devaluation usually accompanies such cuts. Euro countries no longer have their own currency to devalue, which boosts exports and makes them more attractive manufacturing destinations. So instead they have to force wages down by other means, in part by cutting them for public sector workers.”

Europe Debt Crisis Intensifies Feb 5, 2010 By AOIFE WHITE and PAN PYLAS, AP Business Writers

            Another AP article from the exact same day:

“JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon received a stock bonus valued at nearly $16 million for 2009 after steering the big bank through the aftermath of the financial crisis, the company said Friday…. Like other big bank CEOs, Dimon received no cash bonus for 2009. Instead, he got $7.8 million in restricted stock and 563,562 in restricted stock options, JPMorgan said. The options are valued at about $8.1 million, bringing his total 2009 bonus to $15.9 million. Also on Friday, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reported that CEO Lloyd Blankfein is getting a $9 million stock bonus for 2009. The bank said in a securities filing that Blankfein will receive more than 58,000 shares of restricted stock. Blankfein can’t cash in the shares for five years.”

            I guess the article that is missing, that we will probably never see from the AP or any other corporate news source (Rupert Murdoch owned or otherwise), is the interviews with folks in Greece, Portugal, or Spain as to how they feel about their wages going down, the loss of their jobs, and the disappearance of vital public services. Joyfully they will reply that “We need to guarantee that investors like Mr. Dimon, Mr. Blankfein, and other CEO’s will make good on their investments.” Machines get it, do we?

            So where does that leave practicing artists? The arts don’t exist separately, in a vacuum. They manifest what is already included in the world they find themselves in. With a Giacometti stick figure being fetched by the likes of Jamie or Lloyd, it gives us some inkling as to a ditto structure for artists. I guess what it says is that second (and third) tier artists should be prepared to dedicate and sacrifice themselves even more for the success and accomplishment of their first tier compatriots. It all seems so natural, almost Darwinian, doesn’t it?

“In other words, the problem is not simply that success and efficiency have become the supreme values of our late capitalist society (as we often hear from critics of this society) – there is nothing particularly new in this; social promotion of success (defined in different ways) has existed since time immemorial. The problem is, rather, that success is becoming almost a biological notion, and thus the foundation of a genuine racism of successfulness. The poorest and most miserable are no longer perceived as a socioeconomic class, but almost as a race of their own, as a special form of life. We are indeed witnessing a spectacular rise of racism or, more precisely, of “racization.” This is to say that we are no longer simply dealing with racism in its traditional sense of hatred toward other races, but also and above all with a production of (new) races based on economic, political, and class differences and factors, as well as with the segregation based on these differences. If traditional racism tended to socialize biological features- that is, directly translate them into cultural and symbolic points of a given order- contemporary racism works in the opposite direction. It tends to “naturalize” the differences and features produced by the sociosymbolic order.”

Pg. 5 and 6, The Odd One In: On Comedy  By Alenka Zupancic MIT Press 2008

Communication Devices: Ode to Marlene Dietrich

February 4, 2010

            Communication works real well with machines. If this weren’t so, reading this would not be possible. Machines can supply information as well as accumulate it. We call the exchange of this information “communication.” They can also respond immediately when the exchange has taken place, announcing or verifying that this has been so. Can as much be said for human interaction?

            When the monthly job statistics come out, do those who are hanging on with part time gigs consider themselves amongst the unemployed? When information is supplied showing a sharp increase in teen pregnancies, does Sarah Palin consider her family complicit? Human interaction differs markedly from machines. “Sharing” information doesn’t come as readily (capitalists will rock on their heels and gloat that it is more “give and take,” depending more on who is doing the giving, and who is taking). Responses are often assumed, existing in some “transcendent” nether world of nuanced body language, cultural etiquette, or norms of “good faith.” Whatever it is that folks do, it ain’t the same as machines.

            “Bouncing ideas off someone” is heard so often that it is now ubiquitous. Its meaning may invite an interpretation of what people do that isn’t what machines do. Of course, this is not for the squeamish since the phrase assumes that actually, I’m only speaking to myself; you are there only to echo my thoughts, to let me hear what I’m saying as it comes back to me, materially, sensually through my hearing capacity (Jenny Sanford says as much with her new book). So then, when do we actually want someone, other than ourselves, to receive information that we are supplying or return our inquiry, respond to our demand? The ancients believed such interaction was all only a matter of persuasion. But then, that again returns us to the solipsism of only interacting in order to get what we want in the first place (whether it be with the eloquence of words, or a gun).

            Folks constantly whipping out their cell phones and looking at them bring to mind the black and white Cagney-esque movies of the 1930’s and 40’s where women were always taking out compacts to view themselves in the mirror, partially to see if they were still all there (or at least the way they wanted to believe themselves to be), partially to block out those surrounding them so as to be alone. We miss you Marlene.