Archive for March, 2011


March 23, 2011

            This week I submitted an entry to a Manifest Gallery show. This week also found me reading the excellent (and very critical) reply to the Yve-Alain Bois, Hal Foster, David Joselit Recessional Aesthetics questionnaire by Jakob Schillinger that appeared in the recent October 135 (pages 104-110). The Manifest Gallery entry form was conveniently online, with the usual: highlighted questions MUST be filled in or the machine spits the form back at you and emotionlessly informs that it can’t be accepted incomplete. You know: Who are you? What are you? Where do you live? How can you be reached (other than at the already given residence)? etc. Then there was “Status (select one): Student__ , Professional__ , Professor/Instructor__ , Novice__”. The nice thing about online forms is that you get time to think since some of these questions can be hard and can leave one completely dazed (like age, for instance). This happened to be one of those questions. I kept looking for the “All of the above__” and “None of the above__” selections, but there weren’t any; no professional student, no novice professor/instructor, no professional novice, nor professional student professor/instructor, etc. The thought of Schillinger’s reply appeared (the mind has got to go somewhere when it takes flight!). In a recent posting (Recognition Within Art, March 13, 2011) I suggest that in terms of Ranciere’s insights on aesthetics and politics and the equality of creativity (which cannot be taught and we all exercise until we are required to learn), recognition acts as the police aspect of consensus. This “Status” requirement certainly was a verification of not only the police function of recognition (for recognition is essentially the arbiter of what is novice and what is pro, what is student and what is professor, etc.) but also of the Ranciere Ignorant Schoolmaster equality of intelligence/creativity analogy (since there is likewise an assumed bifurcation in creativity between that of the novice and that of professor/instructor, etc.). But this “Status” requirement for entry form submission likewise verifies Schillinger’s position in that Manifest Gallery itself, within their own self-description of who is eligible to enter, states there is no distinction, all are eligible to enter (“is open to everyone. Professionals as well as students are encouraged to enter.”). So why is the distinction a requisite of entry? As Jakob says: “It seems we rely on these institutions, and we tend to trust the established criteria they reproduce and perpetuate. Why would someone who is doing interesting work not have an exhibition record, not have registered in the differentiated web of institutional structures? But wasn’t this the point? Didn’t we start from the very conclusion that these very structures are largely conditioned by the forms of the commodity, the spectacle, and entertainment? That they exert a “pressure to conform to [such] expectations,” which any artist (or writer, curator, etc.) who wants to succeed within them has to conform to?” (Pg. 109).

            Once there was a time when people were asked what their race was, whether they were married or single, etc. Feminism raised “consciousness” with regard to the structure of language and its use, and gave hope that change is possible. As Schillinger phrases it (Pg. 107) “X [X Initiative] is exemplary for a mode of operating whose success depends on the kind of discourse that conceals the fact that, unless we actively change things, things stay the same.”

            One doesn’t know whether it is technology which determines culture or culture that determines technology. This is an ambiguous question which if it was required to be answered on an online form would leave the one answering in a state of catatonic stupor. We all know that technology isn’t without categories, and that data in is data out. We also know that it is culture that supplies this very data. It brings to mind the history of American music in the 20th century as a verification of Ranciere’s dissensus within art. So much that “unknown”, unrecognized musicians were producing was considered as “not even music”.  But folks couldn’t get enough of it. I wonder how these musicians would be categorized in terms of “Status”- Student? Professional? Professor/instructor? Or Novice?

On The Banks Of The Styx

March 18, 2011

            Charon must have been one of the first beekeepers, ferrying the dead hives home with the start of each new season. This blog post was going to be about a different perspective on economics and capitalism derived from the bees. It was going to reference yet another report out, this time from the UN (UN Alarmed at Huge Decline of Bee Numbers, Peter Capella, AFP, March 10, 2011). That report notes the shrinking number of bees and bee keepers, and the large percentage of food consumed globally that is reliant on their pollination. This post was going to examine the failing economics of beekeeping with an eye toward what would, or could, reverse the decline. It was going to point out that the market solution just doesn’t work with bees because more money doesn’t necessarily equate with more bees, hence more money “invested” in bees, as bee numbers decline, would not produce an even greater return (scarcity being one factor that affects exchange value). This post was going to say that this is so because the “soup” the bees swim in is already so toxic, and that the diminishing foraging environment includes an ever shrinking amount of required flora. It was going to suggest that the alternative of no bees was rather unappetizing: GM cultivars of questionable quality let alone variety, hand pollinated “museum” cultivars (so we could remember what they were like), or synthetic fruits and veggies reliant on artificial flavoring (much as we have faux crab meat, beef, chicken, etc.). The post was going to conclude with an insight ultimately suggesting that only a “not for profit” type of policy regarding bees and beekeeping, that favors them as a natural resource (like water or air), as a kind of “national treasure” would radically change the orientation. But then the images coming out of Japan overwhelmed. Images even more bizarre and grotesque than any out of Katrina, the BP oil spill, Haiti, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.(ad nauseam). Here was a hybrid, a marriage of Mad Max and future Sci Fi; an obliterated environment populated by inhabitants dressed in high tech protective gear.

            Money flees trouble, devastation and catastrophe as evidenced by the immediate drop in stock markets. Glaringly absent in the aftermath of this catastrophe is the presence of names like Toyota, Toshiba, Sony, Honda, Panasonic, etc. Unlike the beekeeper un-empowered to affect the environment from which the bees, beekeepers and others benefit, multi national companies are empowered to have a huge impact on the environment from which they derive their profits. The people of Japan contributed to these companies’ successes, no matter in how miniscule a fashion. To say that these folks were already compensated for their contributions at the time and no other obligation adheres is like relying on the market to reverse the decline of bees and beekeepers. The economics just don’t work that way.

            Post Script: The Irony – A year ago at this time, in a post entitled Post Warhol Possibility, I elaborating on the impossibility of a commercial “green art”.

Recognition Within Art

March 13, 2011

            For some time now I have been bandying around certain co incidentals, never quite able to clearly understand the correlation. Jacques Ranciere’s juxtaposition of aesthetics and politics hinges primarily on dissensus. Dissensus is used both in comprehending politics as well as aesthetics (“And, in particular, the sensible pertaining to art and that pertaining to the beautiful only ever conjoin in the mode of ‘the dissensual’, since art cannot but know and to will, while the beautiful can only be thought of as that which does not result from knowledge or will.” The Use of Distinctions pg. 211 Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics). The political is understood in terms of the demos, and the role played therein by equality (“From the moment that the word equality is inscribed in the texts of laws and on the pediments of buildings; from the moment that a state institutes procedures of equality under a common law or an equal counting of votes, there is an effectiveness of politics, even if that effectiveness is subordinated to a police principle of distribution of identities, places and functions.” The Use of Distinctions pg. 207). Ranciere originates/ elaborates his understanding of equality with The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. This interpretation of the equality of intelligence forms the basis of communication between the demos, equality and politics. This description may bleed over into the art/aesthetic interpretation (“since art cannot but know and to will”) but that tack comes across as rather incomplete (and unsatisfying). With aesthetics, Ranciere’s tack is to reconfigures western art history in order to distinguish what he terms Art (in the singular and with a capital). He dwells extensively on the aesthetic regime of art (part of this reconfiguration) which makes Art possible (comprehensible). Equality of intelligence contributes to the comprehension of the workings of democracy and politics (within a democracy) but it does little to help grasp the workings of Art within the aesthetic regime (Why Emma Bovary Had To Be Killed). Indeed, the “equality” found in the aesthetics has more to do with representation, what can be said, and how. The agency aspect of intelligence, its subjectivity, and by extension the equality, is rather marginal to the account given of the aesthetic regime and Art. The analogous relationship seems to come unraveled here. We can’t seem to trace it back to a wonderful narrative like The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Or can we?

            Ranciere recognizes the classical distinction made between technique and creativity with regard to art (collectively and without a capital). With technique, equality cannot be posited since hierarchy is fundamental to definition (greater or lesser proficiency). But with creativity something else is at play (literally play). For Jacotot, that the mother tongue was learned by all without “a master explicator” was reason enough for an equality of intelligence. In like manner creativity is manifest early on by all. What is not present, the lack of which gives rise to the western distinction of Art Stars and those who abhor any association with art, is the one who recognizes (to paraphrase, a master recognizer). Like the Jacototean interpretation of intelligence, creativity cannot be taught and does not rely on an other (who appropriately dispenses creative capacity). It can be developed (Gasp!) but not necessarily through the required presence of a “master” (of creativity). With this interpretation, there is an equality of creativity. Recognition underwrites and insures the reproduction of academically educated art and artists. At its inception during the Renaissance, the academy primarily focused its attention on the development of technical skill (greater or lesser proficiency). Within the aesthetic regime, and Art (with its ontology of everything-can-be-anything, and the uniqueness, isolation and “separateness” of the art experience), a slippage has occurred with regard the required necessity of the schools in fostering the technical and their new role as adjudicators of creativity. Small wonder that so many abhor association with Art; that there is so much dissension to the policing of what is deemed Art and what is not.

            This subject is certainly worth revisiting again.

Between The Saying And The Doing

March 4, 2011

            In the dream, the dreamer/agent is invited, expected, anticipated. Within the reception, conversation with the hostess is easy. The hostess is attractive, accepting, enhancing, and contributory. Overall there is such ease, comfort and “rightness”. An acquaintance present wants to know about the hostess. The dreamer/agent relays a description of the hostess to the acquaintance. The account, completely accurate, is empirical, distant; the hostess becoming unattractive, suspect. Overall, the entirety becomes dis-eased, uncomfortable, questionable. 

            A simple case of buyer’s remorse? Dreams inform the dreamer (or is it the dreamer informs the dream?). They are remarkable more for the curiosity of their recall than their description of the dreamer. Everyone in the dream is the dreamer (or so I’m told).

            There it was, on the desk, Allan Kaprow’s Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. The greenish image of tires and a laborer moving them from here to there propositioned entry. It seems like not so long ago, such employment, with “a working class hero is what you should be” droning away on the always on, always present radio (pre earphone days). Though his essays end with the 90’s, the redundancy of genius threads Kaprow back to when radio was the ubiquitous personal screen (TV being the public, common one).

            Language is often spoken of as a system, a relationship between signs, with the meanings determined by the changes within the system. So with the machine I’m producing this essay on, certain “commands”, certain icons, produce certain results, certain interpretations depending on their combination, order, sequence, etc. No one thing stands for, represents exclusively a single function or determination. Even on/off is precisely that- on or off. Others link language to some “thing”. They say it points to, indicates, adumbrates some determination or particularity. Often, this is prefaced contextually, culturally, or historically.

            Sorry Allan, blurring Art (in the singular and with a capital) and Life (in the singular and with a capital) is to deny it, to destroy it, to make it not. Which one, the Art, or the Life, or both? Hard to tell, they have become so blurred (Oh my, how cool is that!). The privileged dreamer, privileged to recall the dream. The recollection is not the dream. Everyone in the dream is the dreamer (or so I’m told). But does everyone dream? Rather, is everyone privileged to recall? No re-call(ing) without differentiating (Play it again, Sam). One morning the privileged agent wakes and recalls a description of themselves that is empirical, distant, unattractive and suspect.  It is also unabashedly accurate. Sartre’s Roquentin “But you have to choose: live or tell.” isn’t so clear anymore; not the living or telling, but the choosing.

            A simple case of biopolitics? It is so much easier to manage the laborer, to get the tires moved from here to there if the difference can be removed, the distinction obliterated (no heroes here, we are all heroes. Everyone gets a trophy). It is the distinction, the difference of saying, that makes the other possible (saying assumes/implicates an other). Blurring removes the other altogether. The saying is a choice, a distinction, a commitment. As Ranciere points out, such a distribution of sense (the saying) is political. As Yuriko Saito points out (archive post It’s Complicated), the distinction presents the opportunity for respect, for appreciation of difference.