Archive for September, 2010

An Intolerable Image II

September 24, 2010

            In the spring of this year, the former Ms. M N responded actively, via her blog, to the coerced editing of a South Park episode that would have featured an animated image of the P M along with Jesus and Buddha. M N’s response was to suggest that on a particular day, everyone should draw the great P. This triggered a threat being made on the life of Ms. N resulting in United States federal authorities advising her to go into hiding and change her identity. Recently (as noted in this blog’s previous posting The Intolerable Image), the former M N’s tragic tale made it to the bigs, with a headline story on MSNBC. The meteoric plummet (and set back) was on account of a usurped, “off the record”, over-coffee conversation with a Seattle journalist ( This was unfortunate in that the former M N needs to disappear in order for her new identity to take root. Like the Dalai Llama, a reincarnation followed by an “aka” simply will not do.

            Recent developments continue this now-becoming-very-public saga of “forgive and forget” (something seemingly methodologically impossible within the connectivity and virtual immortality of the net and its 2 billion participants). On line, a Seattle based I group has come out in support of Ms. N, something she has not received offline from her democratically elected representatives ( ). In addition, an online petition has appeared signed by prominent western I intellectuals, writers and artists advocating for the universal rights of free speech, image making, and the circulation of ideas ( ).

            These online developments look very promising. In the heartland, we’ve been waiting for such news to make it to the bigs, though it never does. Why not? One suspects there may be other reasons for why such overtures on the part of the I community never make it to the bigs. Immediately springing to mind is the life of Malcolm X who very publicly endorsed an alternate embrace of a then contemporary mainstream I belief. But a less spectacular insight might be found in a drawn out religious response concurrent to that of Malcolm’s variance. This would be the very public ascension of what was known then as Liberation Theology within the RC church (Oops, no need to employ the strategy of deferral and coded description for the sake of intolerance here – the Roman Catholic church). Post Vatican council, many new ways of popularizing the practice of Catholicism came to the fore, one of which was embraced by the far leftist revolutionaries in heavily Catholic, and deeply impoverished, (what was then called) third world countries. This approach never found favor with the main stream Roman Catholic hierarchy. Eventually, it found itself condemned, and finally squelched entirely. Perhaps the universal right of free speech, image making, and the circulation of ideas is an intolerable image too.


The Intolerable Image

September 17, 2010

            “What makes an image intolerable? At first sight, the question seems merely to ask what features make us unable to view an image without experiencing pain or indignation. But a second question immediately emerges, bound up with the first: is it acceptable to make such images and exhibit them to others?” So Jacques Ranciere begins the chapter, The Intolerable Image (pg. 83) within his book, The Emancipated Spectator (Verso 2009). Ranciere spins this thread around and through the spectacle; that any imagery presented, eventually is subsumed within the spectacle and hence contributes to it thereby elevating (and at the same moment denigrating) the pain and indignation. The same goes for the critique of said imagery. Images become intolerable within this “ethical” framework of continuous spectacle. Yet the world is as it is, and must be considered as such, critically, not through the eye of revelation. How is this possible? He offers alternative presentations that do not elide the subject matter, do not stultify the viewer, and yet that can be made critically. One of which is the work of Alfredo Jaar, specifically that dealing with the horror of the Rwandan genocide, The Eyes of Gutete Emerita. This reference is remarkable in that within this work, the horror is not shown within an image though an image of a text describing the horror is manifest. There is no “intolerable image” and yet an image of something intolerable is certainly presented.

            On 9-15-2010, MSNBC headlined a Jim Gold report entitled “U.S. Cartoonist in hiding after cleric’s threat”. This covered the ongoing tragedy of the very real threat on the life of M N for having made a facetious, but critical suggestion on her blog. Being that Ms. N’s blog was very much akin to this very blog, I am actively opting for the alternative proffered by Ranciere. Little comfort there to yours truly (another kindred creator of images) since the methodology of that very alternative is precisely what resulted in a fatwa on the life of Ms. N. What M N suggested, that on some imagined calendar date (say September 31st, 2010) we should all draw the P M, couldn’t itself have been an image of M, since no image of the P M exists. Any image of the great P is considered intolerable by the P’s followers, a substantial percent of the world’s population. So Ranciere’s alternative to dealing with the unrepresentable, without its contributing to the spectacle, has proven in actuality (historically) to be intolerable.

            Within the chapter, Ranciere implicates the voice, the voice of authority, and not reason (with regards the subject matter) as being the determinant that resonates within the outrage of critiques of intolerable images. This voice speaks on what constitutes spectacle, what is admissible, how, when, etc. Within many languages, a distinction is made between an active voice and a passive voice (an active or passive verb, tense, etc.). The Intolerable Image inadvertently remains confined within the passive sense of (in)tolerance. Passive in that it is one that elicits outrage, critique, or sanction but not action. Ms. N’s sorrow lies with the very active interpretation of tolerance; that an active intolerance can result in bodily harm, destruction, and even death. Is the example of the work by Alfredo Jaar to be taken only rhetorically, only another contribution to the culture of spectacle? If not, what response ought we to make regarding the brutality foisted on Ms. N (without any insurance to cover her “not at fault” losses and the enormous costs of her re-identification)? Ought not it be an active response?

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

September 9, 2010

Rhetoric: 1. persuasive speech or writing  2. pretentious words  3. empty talk  4. skill with language  5. study of writing or speaking effectively

            Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)

            “It is fascinating to observe, following the studies of R.W. Lee and Michael Baxandall, which take us through the topoi of the critical literature (I confess we would likely grow tired of these old chestnuts had we not discovered them from the standpoint of the Chinese difference), how all our classical theorists became locked in the same “self-evidence” (calling that sedimented configuration of thought “nature” or “reason”) and hence discussed and argued from within it. Once more it appears strange how, on the European side, the notion of painting submitted – by its own will or by force, in any case systematically – to the assumptions of a purely European invention (which in large part even defined Europe), namely, those of rhetoric. Painting is obliged to respond to the requirement for inventio (by giving precedence to history, using a narrative theme, ancient or modern, profane or sacred), for dispositio (the drawing is to the painting what the plot is to a tragedy, said Aristotle), for expressio, which is analogous to poetic elocutio, (the painter’s aim, like that of the poet, is to express the particular characteristics and passions of the characters). The same Horatian function of “instructing” and “delighting” is attributed to painting and to poetry; painters are enjoined to unite freedom of imagination and the requirements of imitation, to respect the “proprieties” of dress, age, sex, feeling, and condition, and finally, to aspire to a concentration of effect. A perfect painting, like a perfect poem, is a construct ordered by reason whose most insignificant part is causally linked to the dramatic intention informing the whole, thus to produce emotion.”

            Pg. 213-214, The Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject Through Painting by Francois Jullien

            “The sculpture, which measures approximately 16 feet long and 11 feet high, is a double-helix wave form of reflective acrylic-coated aluminum rods. Suspended 25 feet in the air, the sculpture provides a striking image for students, staff and visitors walking through the main atrium of the Academic & Research Center.

            Shotz says she chose the helix shape because it unifies the various disciplines housed within the Academic & Research Center. “The helix is a form found throughout nature,” she says. “It’s similar to half of a strand of DNA, a helix describes a mathematical curve in three-dimensional space and it’s similar to a wave, which is the form of light and sound.””      

            Percent for  Art: “ANGLE OF INCIDENCE” at Ohio University, ArtsOhio September/October 2010  re: recent sculpture installation by Alyson Shotz

A Clean Aesthetic

September 4, 2010

            In passing, within the chapter entitled On The Truth In Painting from his book “The Great Image Has No Form, Or On The Non Object Through Painting” (2009 University of Chicago Press) Francois Jullien associates aesthetics with hygiene (pg. 142). This is a very curious interpolation within a book centered on a specific form of painting, in a chapter considering the truth criteria of this form. Expanded to include our contemporary culture and the various raison d’etre’s given for art within today’s political economy (see this blog’s post entitled Sculpture  Xchange, July 30, 2010), it becomes even more curious.

            Hygiene conjures up images of hospitals, children, kitchens, the army, and hundreds of toiletry products. Contemporary art and aesthetics may overlap some of these within the parameters of design (of the packaging or environment) but little else. It is almost painful to enunciate “hygiene” within the same breath as “aesthetic”. Yet the association is intriguing.

            The expediency of this passing association entails certain accepted assumptions of the artist/viewer’s personage and background (since we are focused on the aesthetic of art and its production, generalizing to include everyone just complicates matters). Jullien speaks of the need for “re-creation” in association with the “recess” activity of school children; the need to cut off from the mundane, everyday consuming tasks of our labor as well as the driven, compulsive social standards and ambitions that fuel them. These implicate a ground or base level personage that aspires to be at ease, unconcerned, and capable of unfettered experience with the world, with the expression of life. The justification for this would be comparable to the reasons given, spoken or unspoken, for personal or group hygiene. Within the capitalist economy, benefit is primarily equated with need met, or desire fulfilled. Hygiene doesn’t necessarily respond to that logic, except negatively; when it fails or is absent it is not beneficial (why it is so often linked with the term “preventative”). Unlike booking a flight on a plane to arrive at a certain destination, the function of hygiene is more to address the current state, to refresh or re-create the status quo, to provide a recess from a continuum. The artist or viewer comes to art for the specific purpose of addressing the fundamental aspiration of their being (to be at ease, unconcerned, and capable of unfettered experience). There is no destination, goal or benefit to be arrived at other than the refreshment and re-creation of this basic aspiration. This brings to mind what Ranciere points at with regard to emancipated art and an emancipated spectator. Analogous to hygiene, the aesthetic intention of art is not about “messages”, injustices rectified, meanings or concepts to be grasped and understood, or lessons to be learned. The responsibility of the art is to address the basic or ground level aspirations of the artist/spectator.  To underscore this in the western sense, Jullien references Bergson in a footnote (pg.145):

            ““Every possible photograph taken from every possible point of view may have complemented one another indefinitely, but to no avail” notes Henri Bergson to establish his conception of intuition with the power to pull you in. “They are still not the equivalent of that three-dimensional copy, the city where you go for walks.””

            In this way, the worthwhile work of art, the significant aesthetic experience pulls you in and leaves one with a sense akin to what one has after a fine walk, or a shower, shave, and tooth brushing; the overall sense or glow that comes from having addressed that basic or ground level aspiration of life. Given the premium placed on terror within today’s world, this is not a bad aesthetic to consider when creating or viewing a work of art.