Archive for December, 2010

Art Within art

December 29, 2010

            OK, so I generate this singular little casting consisting of 6 separate forms. Though similar enough in composition to be a grouping, the forms are unique enough to be individual. The homogeneity of casting disallows reference to anything outside what appears within the entirety. The casting itself is one of “the products of a number of techniques” (Jacques Ranciere, see previous post, many following quotes refer back to that post) commonly referred to as sculpture, though it could also be considered kitsch, folk art, or craft. And therein lies the rub of the Aesthetic Regime. This apparently non utilitarian object (by design) is, immediately upon completion, part of the everyday. Yet ostensibly (because of the intent of its design and execution) its experience is likewise considered separate (exceptional) from the everyday. By virtue of this, it is immediately hurled into the critical arena of the spatial setting in which it may find itself, and forced to answer whether or not its composition (and very being?) can survive within this ultimate fighting cage. This all happens in the determination of its status as Art, its ability to provide for a separation of experience between what it is about and the everyday world it finds itself a part of. The dynamic and stakes here are exceptionally (and immaterially) high. Not only must it address the “thousands of years” heritage of the history of sculpture (and casting/modeling), it also must address the dynamics of modernism as well as the pop culture it swims in. In addition to that, critical theory rushes in and immediately strips the piece of its nascent identity, sniffs its crotch to determine its ultimate pedigree, and asks “How does this work relate to the viewer?” (“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). And then, after having endured all that, it is considered purely along the lines of its satisfaction of current critical, philosophic conditions (“Miwon Kwon, in turn, has critiqued the ideal community because it assumes the transparency of unified concepts of subjectivity and identity and reduces differences to homogeneous collectives” Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics Pg. 16-17). So in order to separate itself effectively, our little casting is obligated to address some pretty gnarly aporias, antinomies, and paradoxes; things like the ideal, the ideal community, unified concepts, subjectivity and identity (already stripped from it through its candidacy as Art), differences and collectives, etc. None of which are found in the material everyday.

            Alright, so the little casting loses its bid in the Aesthetic regime’s UFC open invitational, and is tossed out of the cage into the vast, comforting hinterland of the poetic (mimetic) regime (which seems to cover everything that is not aesthetic, as well as not overly moralizing). Given all that, one wonders whether Kant’s elaboration of separation as a condition of judgment, discernment, and discrimination really was about an imaginary, ever expanding Aesthetic universe, where only a certain pedigree fits the criteria and is entitled to be crowned Art. Kind of makes one think of how many thousands of couples will be wed in the UK in 2011, and yet only one couple will be rightfully designated as a “Royal Couple”.

            If one could read Deutsche and Kwon without the imperial, all encompassing trappings attributed to thoroughness of critique, and ascribe their insights to what actually occurs within the material “products of a number of techniques”, one might just discover Art within art (the terms of relationship within this singular little homogenous material collective). The imagined construction that the event/performance/object under consideration must separate itself from the everyday in order to commune with the Royal discourse of Art neither enhances nor verifies the validity or worth of the event/performance/object that has occurred materially, historically. All it really does is creatively carry (with generous artistic license) Kant’s conditions for discernment to an elaboration of a universe only made possible by the Totalitarian/Imperialist political history of the last 200 years. The envelope of inclusion/exclusion, inseparability/separability has grown ever outward, globally (for everything included/separated, there has to be so much more from which it is excluded/inseparable). What if we were to imagine it in reverse, in a micro sense instead? What if in looking at the little casting (the result of “thousands of years” of “products of a number of techniques”) we were to apply this outward bound criticality (that must encompass all things, all viewers, etc.) to what goes on within this limited material, historical creation at hand? (What is the relationship of the terms of this piece? What constitutes the group? Subject? Identity?) Would this not be a more practical critique than one that continuously expands to whatever imagined nuance it believes it can colonize? Indeed, if the current status quo is of an overwhelming (expanding) abundance of information data, a world that is being watched while it itself is watching, then this may be a good start.    

            This all brings to mind Michel De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. Only in this case, instead of being high atop a building, looking down on all the possible routes the city resident can/may take, the theorists of the Aesthetic regime place themselves atop an ever expanding data base of what the everyday can/may be. Out of this springs the “products of a number of techniques”, but likewise, in order to be Art, their experience must be separate from that of the experience of this ever increasing everyday information (while accounting for it in the critique). The spatial setting changes with each increase of information data. It is the information data that defines and determines the spatial setting. Ultimately, only “nothing” will suffice. The expanding data accounts for the “something” of everyday life, so it only stands to reason that “nothing” would be the ultimate distinction of separation. Is THAT the term of relationship that the viewer, down there negotiating their way through the blizzard of information data is interested in?  The resident viewer of The Practice of Everyday Life would not develop their interest from any kind of affiliation, or sense of affiliation with this continuously growing data base (although they may be included in it). What interests them may be disparate from that statistical “separate reality”. In that sense, a more practical critique of the “products of a number of techniques” would be an excellent start.



In The Singular And With A Capital

December 22, 2010

            Jacques Ranciere begins Contemporary Art and the Politics of Aesthetics, the first essay of a compilation of various thinkers entitled Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics (Duke University Press 2009), with his definition of a community of sense (appropriate enough). He then goes on to write (almost as an assumed given):

            “There is art insofar as the products of a number of techniques, such as painting, performing, dancing, playing music, and so on are grasped in a specific form of visibility that puts them in common and frames, out of their linkage, a specific sense of community. Humanity has known sculptors, dancers, or musicians for thousands of years. It has only known Art as such – in the singular and with a capital – for two centuries. It has known it as a certain partitioning of space. First off, Art is not made of paintings, poems, or melodies. Above all, it is made of some spatial setting, such as theatre, the monument, or the museum. Discussions on contemporary art are not about the comparative value of works. They are all about matters of spatialization: about having video monitors standing in for sculptures or motley collections of items scattered on the floor instead of having paintings hanging on the wall. They are about the sense of presence conveyed by the pictorial frame and the sense of absence conveyed by the screen that takes its place. This discussion deals with distributions of things on a wall or on a floor, in a frame or on a screen. It deals with the sense of the common that is at stake in those shifts between one spatial setting and another, or between presence and absence.” (pg. 31-32)

            He then continues by describing the Aesthetic regime and how this spatialization is a result/integral component of this regime; of its aesthetic composition involving the inseparability of art/non art (the everyday) with its requirement of Art’s immanent separation (spatial setting). He concludes with his description of critical art today, its evolution from that of the 1960’s. The emphasis of all this is the politics of aesthetics, the make up of this inseparable (from the everyday) yet separate experience, Art.

            “Humanity has known sculptors, dancers, or musicians for thousands of years. It has only known Art as such – in the singular and with a capital – for two centuries.” This line of thought was taken in an earlier posting entitled Sculpture Xchange (7/30/10) as a response to that enterprise’s intended determination of the viability of teaching sculpture as a discrete entity, as well as its magnanimous definition of sculpture per se. Indeed, that entire conference, exposition, and network fits in quite neatly with what Ranciere describes as the politics of aesthetics and consensus/dissensus. The tangent not taken in this essay, yet of a like orientation, would be the ones that flow off of this small, almost-an-assumed-aside, quote. This trajectory, likewise consisting of paradox, sheds light on the everyday practice of sculptors, dancers, and musicians, and the reproduction of their art – as a collective noun with a small letter a.

            It is often said that the revolution occurred, and we lost. Jameson pointed out that capitalism is now the only game in town. However, the capitalist venue only likes to present the works of sculptors, dancers, and musicians, etc. as Art – “in the singular and with a capital”. In turn, the production “of a number of techniques, such as painting, performing, dancing, playing music, and so on” is primarily reproduced within our culture’s industrialized education (a topic repeatedly critiqued by this blog). The various galleries, trendy art boutiques, consultants (brokers) and online entrepreneurs are primarily driven to make money (even those described as non profit or public/taxpayer funded). Though it was originally spoken in jest (asking the hog farmer how many pigs he had in the barn, to which he replied “as many as I can cram in there”), today enterprises like Smithfield Farms remind us of the actuality of the capital value of time and space. Visual art venues, for the most part, have as many works of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and weaving, etc. as they “can cram in there”. These are always referred to, described as, and called Art (“in the singular and with a capital”). In turn, the reproduction of “the products of a number of techniques” are also always referred to, described as, and called, Art (“in the singular and with a capital”). The visual art student is studying “Art”. Students of these practices are continuously urged to make “Art” through these various techniques by “Art” professors and instructors (“Artists who also teach”), usually within courses described as “Art” courses, in the “Art” department of universities or colleges. Sometimes these are even further distinguished by the adjective “Fine”.  Of course, this is all evidentiary of consensus and the aesthetic regime of art. The paradox of the venue’s capitalist valuation of space negating the (capital A) “Art” aspect of their offerings and the everyday reality of the necessary expendability (and disposability) of the product of the visual art student’s practice devaluing the capital A aspect of their endeavor (while at the same time cultivating their “thousands of years” old craft) only situates all this deep within the Aesthetic regime. In the visual arts, no one wants the product of their practice to be represented only as a painting (we are post Greenberg after all, aren’t we?). Nor does any technique practitioner dare to refer to themselves as anything but being an “Artist” (“in the singular and with a capital”). Within contemporary art, consensus determines presence. The celebration of a “thousands of years” heritage is best represented by remote ethnic cultural “discoveries” (on the verge of extinction). This “Other” is valued as a souvenir of the origins and unifying “glue” of our current consensual practice. To embrace the contemporary production of a number of techniques that comprise elements of what is understood as Art, to embrace it for what it uniquely is and its “thousands of years” of heritage would be to fundamentally undermine the aesthetic regime while simultaneously initiating a new one.

Our Contemporary Comfort With Revisionist History

December 17, 2010

            Thursday December 16 found Brett Michael Dykes following the continuing BP oil spill saga in the Yahoo News Blog, The Lookout. He writes that the “independent” commission appointed to investigate the oil spill and the various responses found the building of sand berms at the insistent instigation of the governor of Louisiana to be a “colossal waste of time and money”. They claim that only a miniscule amount of oil was captured by this boondoggle, described as “underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive”. It appears the insinuation is that, in addition to being exceptional political grandstanding (and theatre), it was also a utilitarian means of repaying Bobby Jindal’s election campaign high rollers. In response, the ever web savvy Bobby responded to the Lookout by denigrating the report as “partisan revisionist history at taxpayer expense”. I guess, according to Jindal, the “independent” commission was using the wrong search engine terms in arriving at the associations that comprise history.

            “Revisionist History” seems to be making a comeback from its overuse during the Soviet/ Chinese “Communist” era. Remember when China used to be considered “communist”? I guess teabaggers consider it more apropos to blast the socialist threat at home than to speak of the actual and historically real socialism found with a top global economic “trading partner” (whose governance structure includes a sizeable chunk of the world’s total population at that). But I digress (mea culpa for anticipating my view on historic revisionism). Well, at least if not a comeback then our culture seems to be becoming quite at ease with the term’s use. The Texas school board used it as motivation for its mandate to update textbooks and it was used equally so by their critics. It is thrown around repeatedly in accounts of various political intrigues and “scandals” here in the heartland (Rahm Emanuel, resident of Chicago?). Indeed, there is even a “revisionist history” museum in Kentucky (though it is not called that) which will soon be joined by a theme park featuring a large boat sans body of water (complete with incentive tax abatements and taxpayer paid infra structure). Maybe the boat isn’t really “revisionist” history after the recent archeological discovery of a very “real” prehistoric “Atlantis” civilization in the Persian (er, Arabian) Gulf. This civilization may be the “historical” reason for the many great flood accounts that the big boat sailed on. But again, I digress.

            History for Comrade Stalin and Chairman Mao appears to have been different than history today (yes folks, the Chairman was an actual contemporary of the Comrade, as well as old blue eyes- the Chairman of The Board, but yet again I digress). History then had to do with the past. “Revisionist History” spoke of colonialism and Imperialism, and who got to determine the past. At the time, the past had an intense influence on the present, and who got to do what. Today, folks like Mark Zuckerberg, Julian Assange and Jimmy Wales have completely reoriented what history is, what it is about, and what it has to do with today. This redeployment of what comprises “history” (what comes up with any given search engine inquiry) contributes to our contemporary comfort with revisionist history. After all, revise your search engine inquiry terms, and you get a different set of associations (ah the internet, the great equalizer!). It also explains our annoyance with “digressionist history”, you know, the one that is full of disparate associations that have to do with actual events, in already played out time (what once was referred to as “the past”).

Julian Assange

December 4, 2010

            So much has been written about the recent WikiLeaks and the man behind it all, with his own secrets to keep. One wonders how anyone has the time to read the accounts, let alone the leaked releases. Their length alone must be that of a couple “War and Peace”. Content, content, content. “The media” reveal people either love Julian or hate him. But what won’t be found, is who he really embarrassed. “The media” all have us believing he has embarrassed governments and leaders. That this internet action IS the news story. One media even wants to distinguish his effectiveness by making him “man of the year”. But it is the very media who stand most embarrassed by Julian Assange’s enterprise. Oh forgive me, but is it only me who remembers the various media buyouts and consolidations, the GE’s, Disney Corp’s, and Viacom’s, the Rupert Murdoch citizenship machinations, the downsizing of so many investigative journalism departments (in the name of business efficiency), the disappearance of so many reporters? And oh yes, the wonderful reasons for it all. The media no longer has room to do that kind of in depth reporting. This is the information age. The internet is full of bloggers who can fill in what’s left out. News reporting consists of showing what is taking place on the surface, and then going on to the next story. Indeed, investigative journalism, journalism that assumes as a given that there is more to the story (Paul Harvey’s “and now for the rest of the story”) has degenerated into embedded journalism. To cover the government stories, be they of China, Afghanistan or the US, one must abide by the government’s conditions. Ditto for war corresponding or crime reporting, economics or fashion. Getting in bed with the source is today’s preferred intimate journalism. With fewer reporters, there is still a lot of surface news to romance. The business model capitalized on cutting costs by taking the mediation out of media (people only want immediate information on what is making the news, not the story behind the news). It did wonders for the bottom line. And then Julian upset the neat little business model. Something else is taking place, but no one was even looking. No one was looking because they were being paid specifically not to look. Turns out the Mexican News providers are not the only ones who are specifically not writing about what is going on.