Archive for May, 2010

Spam Camouflage

May 30, 2010

            Artworkshop International keeps sending me spam. Do you think they are trying to tell me something? The subject line always refers to some international art workshop with some artist whose name is always unknown to me. I’m sure the artist of the week has a practice, of which networking and being an educator probably occupy the greatest part.

            One of America’s longest running wars, with no determinable outcome in site, has been the one in Afghanistan. Their president, whose country is the site of our war, is often quoted chastising the NATO or US forces for perpetrating civilian deaths. The curious realization is that he never criticizes the Taliban for civilian deaths. A raid by the occupation forces which has gone awry resulting in civilian casualties is, of course, a cause for concern and regret. But a roadside bomb or suicide attack, resulting only in civilian casualties has no effect on Hamid Karzai’s ire.

            This past month the international corporate giant, BP, has been hogging the news with the mess they are creating in the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, when the Mexican currency was devalued, or Hugo Chavez did something or other in Venezuela, or Nigerian rebels threatened Shell oil production, or the Iranians rattled their sabers, etc. the price of petroleum products shot up and the stock market reacted sharply. This past month, neither has happened. The stock market has gyrated, mostly on the basis of the European debt crisis, and the price of petroleum products has actually decreased.

            What is it that remains hidden within these “news” events (OK, so spam isn’t news)? Where’s the theory interface that can shed some light on our everyday?

            With the international art workshops, it is almost obvious. The topic of hierarchy, and the binary representation of what is deemed “art” and what is not, was covered within the post entitled House Haunting (January 21, 2010)  as well as briefly elsewhere. It is a recurring theme with this blog. And sure enough, that is what is hidden in all the spam from Artworkshop International. The commercial exploitation of the covert pressure exerted by this binary mystification of what constitutes “real” art provides fertile ground for this ongoing educational enterprise. The educator must be the “real” artist, the student is just a wannabe. As an artist, at some point, one must learn to make discoveries and self educate. Otherwise, being an artist becomes little more than someone proficient at coloring between the lines.

            With Hamid it is just as obvious only stating it reveals so much more about us than him. As long as Afghanistan is occupied, for Afghans the occupier will always be considered the “Other”. For Hamid Karzai to embrace humanism (or religious tolerance) by extending 18th century notions of equality and equity to ALL acts of war that result in civilian casualties would be to abandon his own solidarity with his countrymen and its reliance on an “Other”.  After all, what is war if not the actualization of an Other?

            The BP debacle is the most curious. It defies interpretation as a “hidden”. Yet the “hidden” aspect is the most revealing one for our times. All previous stock market reactions and petroleum product increases have been due to international “governmental” political reasons (politics can be interpreted variously, by some accounts everything can be political), or some “natural” disaster or incidental mishap within the chain of delivery. This time the producer has erred internally within their own production. There have been no repercussions as there were for the other events. The other events were primarily State interference or dabbling in the “market”. Now, however, the State has been totally powerless. And the market hasn’t flinched. It is as though BP, being such a huge source of revenue for the market, has asserted its hegemony. It (as well as Exxon Mobil, Shell, etc.) calls the shots and determines value (We are too big to fail). It is a goose laying golden eggs and no one wants to have it otherwise (so the eggs are a little soiled, so what?). There is no threat to delivery of product, so the markets remain unaffected. This in itself implicates the complete incompatibility of a “green” economy and the market. It makes no difference whether super tankers sail on pristine blue waters or on a cesspool, as long as product delivery remains unaffected. We watched as major businesses were ostensibly monopolized by the State under Putin in Russia, thinking it was simply part of the “Soviet” DNA. Ditto for China. Now, for a brief instant, we have been given a glimpse into what otherwise must remain hidden. The actual, real order of things has now been briefly but completely exposed by BP’s screw up. It is that giant international business affiliations determine how States are run, and not that States determine how business should be conducted within their borders. This is borne out by BP’s emphasis on “recapture” of its oil during the first month, not on plugging the leak. Maintaining continued access to their product motivated the initial response to the loss of lives and environment. The only real solution, they have constantly reminded us, is to drill another well.

            Spam always insures that there is something we are not to see.

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Slip Sliding Away

May 26, 2010

            The fine folks “authorized” to determine what is and ain’t in Texas schoolbooks have decided to replace “imperialism” with “expansion-ism”. Given the power of the marketplace, or rather the powerlessness of those who cannot (or will not) organize to have an influence on the market, the Texas standard will permeate most US educational textbooks much as the oil filling the gulf will eventually coat all of the coast.

            This past week Yinka Shonibare’s ship in a bottle was unveiled on Trafalgar Square. The AP is quoted as stating that the “work features 37 sails made from colorful, African-inspired textiles, celebrating London’s vibrant cultural diversity.” Sounds good enough. Indeed, so many artist statements read that the material or product “celebrates” some esteemed value or contemporary condition. New Year’s eve party hats and evergreens don’t “celebrate” the New Year or the Christmas holidays anymore than groundhogs or flags celebrate Groundhog Day or Flag Day/Fourth of July/ Memorial Day etc. People celebrate these events. They make it significant, worthwhile to take the time to notice and observe. Yinka himself says it best (and accurately) when he says (quoted by Art Daily.org, May 26, 2010): “For me, it’s a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom.”

            Like the Texas administrators decision, it sure sounds better than saying that Nelson’s HMS Victory is “Powered by colonialism.”

The Figure

May 19, 2010

            The figure in sculpture has been done and is done. It is not new. Indeed, it goes back to the earliest archaeological traces of the human representational endeavor. There are numbers of “Venuses” from pre literary history. These forms are always described as that of the human figure though there is no text to verify that was the intent of the creator.

            The figure is a form, a curious one at that. It is a form that elicits a response, an appreciation, even when created by some culture, some people, some language, non-existent today. We’ve all looked at, and marveled at the figures of various peoples world wide who have vanished, leaving only their 3D trace. Part of the wonder is that we still resonate to the figures portrayed. We still feel some connection or link to the hands that fashioned the work as being like our own, a person who experienced the world with only their wit and five senses. The language connection may be absent. The technology may be inconceivable, but the form grounds us to something shared in common. 

            It is a form that is most readily comprehended. Unlike a geometric form, the figure is not precisely defined. We handle imprecise definition quite well, thank you. No one has trouble discussing or understanding what games are though examples of games can span everything from board games, to video, and athletic competitions.  The figure’s effectiveness lies in the fact that it is, by nature, only partially defined. It is never complete. It is always open ended, an invitation to something more. It is this very open ended function of “invitation” that makes the form so resilient, so outside time and language. This invitation is always accepted. How many critiques of art, as well as art history writings, have consisted primarily of explications defining/redefining geometric forms? What happens when it comes to the figure? Is the explication purely one of defining/redefining the form given? Can you recall any archaeological/art history figures that were not accompanied by some narrative, some “imaginary” of what the inhabitants of this culture were like, what their everyday was, solely on the basis of some residual 3D form? Why should we believe that this form (the figure) functions any differently today?