Archive for September, 2011

There’s Nothing Behind It

September 29, 2011

            On Monday of this week, in an interview with the BBC, Mr. Alessio Rastani (an independent trader) reportedly was quoted as stating that “Governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.” Speculation immediately tried to link him with the Yes Men. That group denied any role in the interview but in turn complimented Rastani on his honesty.

            In Iconoclash, Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel’s show and compilation of essays from 2002, there’s a subheading entitled “The Image Makers Are Image Breakers” in Joseph Koerner’s essay The Icon As Iconoclash. Although the Yes Men are readily cast as “image breakers”, it would be considered unusual to think of people in the rarified strata of high finance as “image makers”. Monday the curtain slipped and the image maker became an image breaker.

            A curious offshoot of this connection is a consideration of the current situation of the American political economy with its deepening financial crisis. Like the Yes Men, the better organized and more efficient element is cast as “image breakers” of what American government is about and how the Constitution has been interpreted. Rarely does the media portray the likes of Perry, Palin, Romney, Bachmann, Boehner, Paul, McConnell, and so many others as “image makers”. Indeed, they themselves would be uncomfortable cast within that role although William Buckley would not have been. Ronald Reagan, emulated as the perfect Conservative politician, was likewise the consummate image maker/image breaker. The iconography of America manufactured by Hollywood was embodied in his person as the Marlboro man/JohnWayne. Image making and image breaking were inseparable (and indistinguishable). Today’s Conservatives cannot slough their coziness with, and dependence on secrecy that the Bush/Cheney years afforded. This is not the Warholian imagery provided by Ronald Reagan. “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” could just as easily have been said of Ronald Reagan. As the incident with Rastani and the Yes Men confirms, secrecy, disassociation, and the secure undisclosed are of paramount necessity to insure that image breakers are not equated with image makers. Just what is the image being created by the Conservatives in the US?

Home Is Where The Heart Is They Tell Me

September 18, 2011

            Disruptive innovation theory – “Disruption is a positive force. It is the process by which an innovation transforms a market whose services or products are complicated and expensive into one where simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability characterize the industry.” (Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, pg. 11)

            Occasionally, over the years, a dream recurs and puzzles my analysis. The format is similar, generally involving going, being in transit, either as in moving from one location to another or reviewing some situation (from where it once involved me to where it is evolving). In all of these there is an overriding sense of familiarity and certainty with what is involved – the environment, terrain or object of the dream. There is likewise some impediment, rearrangement or complication that familiarity (and certainty) would deem prevents a conclusion (the neighborhood has evolved, the road has been rerouted, or ownership has shifted). The sense of it has proved evasive because there is so much certainty and familiarity of all the elements involved. It is not so much a sense of frustration, as nothing is attempted to be achieved, retrieved or ascertained within the dream. Rather, it is more about a long term, slow moving kind of anxiety; an anxiety that is accumulated rather than precipitated.

            This is the dream of old age, the reliance on the familiar not in the everyday mundane sense but rather in the psychological sense, that the familiar is how we relate to our expectations, anticipations, values, etc. These were all established, determined, originated yesterday. When we are young, the expectations, anticipations, and values are coexistent and coextensive with the (contemporary) time of their fulfillment. As we age, the expectations, anticipations, values, etc. are more familiar to us than the changing contemporary where their fulfillment can only be met. Not that the fulfillment can’t be met, only the fulfillment must likewise follow changing anticipations, expectations, values, etc. When these subjective abstractions do not undergo change (do not become un-familiar), then what is being desired to be fulfilled (the expectations, anticipations, values, etc.) remain only those with which we are familiar. Hence the dream of not being able to connect with what one is so certain of, so familiar with. Cliché may be that one can never go home, but both home and expectations, anticipations, and the value of home change.

            In an analogous manner, Ranciere’s account of what makes for the expectations, anticipation, valuation of a work of art within the contemporary was formulated yesterday. That formulation did not evolve. Rather, it is continuously clarified and ascertained. In short, as the years sneak by it becomes more and more familiar and certain. The art of the contemporary, which so seamlessly accommodated the theory at its inception, today finds impediments, rerouting and impossibility. Evolving innovations in “new” technology de facto produce an art avant garde. This group’s familiarity and certainty with regard to what “creates” innovative art immediately dates them, makes them old. To be “at home” with the avant garde is to be at heart continuously in a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Such is the consequences of “new” within art. How this differs from Yuriko Saito’s Everyday Aesthetics!

Ascetic Aesthetic Utopia

September 11, 2011

            The previous post (Yart Sale) considered a “trifecta of art credibility”, the stuff of art (the actual thing itself), the theory of art, and integration into actual community. It suggested why today it is next to impossible to achieve. The speculation was centered primarily on the ever changing definition and nature of community. It is highly possible to indicate the art object or event though many are chameleon like in their intent to be mistaken for everyday reality. Even more so is it to define the theory or critique which usually appears as text. But actual community is taken to be slippery, eluding the grasp. Hereabouts in Ohio, an environment of blue green toxic algae has stained summer fun at many local lakes and beaches this year, even on Lake Erie. A recent headline/article reported that local leaders/officials blame it for the decrease in tourism related commercial activity. No mention is made of the crappy economic environment inhibiting people’s ability to spend discretionary income on summer outings. In like manner, focusing on the ephemeral nature of community when considering the trifecta of art credibility misses the greater role theory plays within this wager.

            Many times in previous posts we have considered the enormous impact of the thought of Jacques Ranciere on contemporary art and art/cultural theory. Ranciere relies on a rearrangement of the art historical perspective, introducing regimes of art, how art making/perception were organized over the passage of time. These don’t rely so much on evolution, tracing one regime growing out of another, but more on the direction and emphasis of a civilization’s culture. With Ranciere it would be the European culture. The recent regime, that of Art, the aesthetic regime, originated less than 250 years ago and runs concurrent with the upheavals of democracy and social organizations of equality (rather than hierarchy). Ranciere stimulates this direction by arguing for the aesthetic experience, the establishment of the art experience (sensually as well as theoretically) separate from other experiences with the rise of the romantic period of the 19th century (Why Madame Bovary must die). The aesthetic became legitimate on its own terms as individual experience/event whereas previously it supplemented a religious, ethical or political (monarchic) priority. Now the aesthetic is the priority. Various historic “headlines” evidence the feasibility of this approach – Art for art’s sake, Abstract art critiques of the 1950’s and 60’s that insisted the work had to justify itself, Danto’s art after the end of art, etc.

            With Ranciere’s aesthetic regime and the shifting of art to Art, a worm slips in unnoticed; one that is slipperier than the current definitions of community. It is presumed that Art and the aesthetic experience is akin to the experience of sky diving or wilderness camping. Involvement with the activity is exclusive by definition of the activity. If I jump out of a plane or plunge into the woods without the need for accommodation reservations, the experience produced will be one of free falling or sleeping in whatever weather/terrain is found. However, the worm begs to differ. This is not the current condition of the art (or Art) experience. The aesthetic regime described by Ranciere is not. Whether it ever was is a totally other consideration.

            Today, the art experience (or Art) is simultaneous with many experiences. It does not occur exclusively, nor is it sought out exclusively. Previous posts of this blog have considered the current definition of art as a social activity involving circulation and exchange (indeed reflective of late term capitalism). It has been questioned whether it is at all possible without the dialogic of others, in experience, interpretation or execution. Today’s undergrads have never experienced educational opportunities without video, audio or other artistic resources occurring simultaneously.  Name me an art (Art) experience that is exclusive as such. Movies? Folks get Netflix and enjoy them at home with all the interactions/distractions that provides. The opera? Now simulcast at your local cinema or available on DVD or as a download. Art gallery, with attendant coffee shop/children’s interactive area? Sculpture in public places shared by buskers, hot dog and T shirt vendors? No, art (Art) is experienced in conjunction with, is preferred alongside other experiences simultaneously. To isolate the art experience, to be motivated in art production by the inspiration that “someone will appreciate this particular endeavor” is to not live within our culture. Academy award winning films are experienced in the back seat of distinguished designer SUV’s by kids with iPod buds stuck in their ears downing Schweddy Balls ice cream being chauffeured by mothers texting about the latest episode of Hollywood Hausfraus on their Droids while gulping gourmet cappuccino on the way to soccer practice.

            The difficulty with achieving the trifecta of art credibility lies not with actual community but rather with the theory/critique. Current theory/critique self justifies by withdrawing art to a like exclusivity as itself. To speak/write of art as an activity or experience separate from that of other elements of culture is to promote an ascetic aesthetic utopia.

Yart Sale

September 4, 2011

            The stuff of art (the actual thing itself), the theory of art, and integration into actual community comprise the trifecta of art credibility. Hitting all three means the artist definitely is on to something. Do it within your life time and you are living the dream. Art histories and anthropological texts are filled with cultural accounts of artwork fitting within that description. But today, having 1,000 plus friends following your production doesn’t add up to integration into actual community.

            Midway down the road of my residence is a hunt club that has a tradition of a giant flea market every year at this time. Everything from survivalist essentials and Amish offerings to high powered automatic rifles and gentrified gardening gear can be found there. The surrounding access roads are clogged with the cholesterol of garage and yard sales (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether this is the good kind or not). It is an Ohio end of summer ritual, the exchange of money for stuff and stuff for money. This year I chose to participate. As a lark, amidst the flotsam and jetsam of mediocre but priceless detritus, I interspersed some older art works that resist leaving home like the current generation of college graduates. There were some large pieces for enticement, and some smaller ones for low key market humor. I was very surprised by the reaction of the not ready for gallery hop crowd. They got it. Works that had been officially dismissed by those whose DNA encoded calling it was to know art created great fun and social bonding. It reminded me of a set of essays that appeared in the past October 136 (Spring 2011).

            Yves-Alain Bois introduces these essays about Julian Schnabel’s 2010 art film, Miral. I say art film as opposed to other films since the standard of justification for its existence isn’t found in the millions it made on opening weekend or its ability to knock off some other box office over achiever. If you can afford to make art, you can afford to make an art film. The essays are responses to the film’s opening in the form of letters or critiques. In one, Rabbi Irwin Kula likens the film to Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory calling it “a disruptive innovative peacemaking – a process that is driven by people on the ground who share the intimate stories of their lives rather than politicians and diplomats who argue about principles and interests.” (pg. 209) Earlier Rabbi Kula paraphrased Christensen stating that “We need Disruptive Diplomatic Innovations: methods and processes of peacemaking and diplomacy that are more accessible, usable, and cheaper, that may not seem as powerful to the experts as the existing methods and processes but that may well be good enough to get the job done.” (pg. 206)

            The response of folks not out looking for art, not supporting their networking artists, not fulfilling some higher calling to create and understand art through theory and academic discourse struck me as the third element of the trifecta of credibility. This aspect is consciously elided by most producers since it is so easy to dismiss community as indefinable (virtual or actual? By choice or compulsion? Out of economic necessity or aesthetic need?). Disruptive innovation processes disarm this dismissal by making the experience “more accessible, usable, and cheaper.” It makes for a kind of Zizek short circuit whereby the chances of actually achieving the trifecta become possible.