Posts Tagged ‘Artur Zmijewski’

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern

January 1, 2012

            They were a husband and wife tag team of studio art faculty. She did cats. If any of your work per chance showed feline, her name would immediately surface. That was her expertise.

            There was a recent art opening of very current work by a local artist. Without being overtly formatted as such, the work chronicled, “journaled” (ours is the culture of predication) the symbiotic creativity of the parent-child relationship, the Pop Culture bedrock of family. Be it baby Louie, Lourdes, or Chaz, that relationship is totally comprehendible within the public imaginary, almost iconic by definition (mother and child). It is currently red hot and circulation is practically guaranteed. You can stake your career on it. And the artist did.

            This week found me reading something I would never have stalked at my favorite book supplier, the library. It was a gifted book, a rather long one (comparable to War and Peace by the looks of it). “The New York Times bestseller COLLAPSE: how societies choose to fail or succeed JARED DIAMOND author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel With A New Afterword” floats in a cloudy sky over a Mayan ruin landscape on the book’s cover- all in black, white, and tones of grey with a few spare horizontal lines of orange. How much of that IS the book cover by design and how much is marketing is totally academic (it is all one and the same, including the academic!). I haven’t completed the book. But this is not about the book. The author includes his anecdotal and personal experience as part of his professional expertise. Sounds only natural for a naturalist who studies nature to rely on his observation. Nothing exceptional about that, is there? But when one starts to do the math, a different image emerges; one of exception that accounts for the book’s cover. Jared Diamond is no Upton Sinclair. It “appears” that the two have a certain affinity. Both seem to be stating that something is rotten in Denmark. Like current news media, Diamond tries to present “both sides”. This is no simple matter he has researched and writes of. His research has taken him all over the globe, as well as to his second home in Montana which is the subject of the first chapter. Folks there have issues (problems) of historic precedence as well as contemporary urgency. Things are unpleasant. According to Jared the citizens of Montana could choose to address these issues through the passage of laws and vigilant enforcement. Diamond himself lives and works in, and is a citizen of Los Angeles, not Montana. Returning to the math, almost a half century has found him at his profession of research, teaching and writing, with accolades aplenty. His second residence in the Bitterroot Valley was the result of an initial professional invitation on the part of a foundation to spend time there. To put it in distinguishing language, how many students lives has he touched? How many have followed in his footsteps to become research and teaching professionals? Now multiply this by how many have done likewise, within the same or affiliated professions without having encountered him. Add to this the professionals who stake their careers on their expertise with regard cats or “family”, and the ranks swell incredibly; a very large contingency of people, “business person[s] without a business” (Our Literal Speed, unless you consider branding a business), who can afford a second home in a desirable location, yet not predicate themselves as part of the problem (or the solution). The tone of Jared Diamond’s discourse does not implicate him as part of the problem or the solution. After all, researching, analyzing, and disclosure of research analysis IS his profession. Laws and their enforcement are what other people, residents (the people he has studied), do to address these matters. His research and writing requires distancing and detachment to maintain professional standards and credibility. And there’s the rub. To paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, within a democracy there are no spectators.

            Judging a book by its cover, I sense that the primary difference between Sinclair and Diamond is that Diamond’s work is produced and consumed as part of a society of spectacle. It has vast appeal (and is marketed) to intelligent, knowledgeable professionals (like himself) who will “Tsk Tsk” while engaging in quality entertainment worthy of their education and station. Where Sinclair utilized the text to activate change, Diamond simply wants to do his job, report on his correlations, sell books, and retire to his home in Montana.

            Zmijewski is on to something when he urges that “professional” artists implement their professional abilities, utilize their art expertise for social change (Applied Social Arts). Yes, there is the risk of shame, of historically falling on one’s face because of the decision to get involved with a specific social action. But this ostensibly “required” deference and detachment, primarily on the basis of what is expedient for one’s career and profession, reinforces and contributes to the status quo. Clinging to an assumption that being “about” something sets one apart from being the actual something does not contribute to the solution of the problem that “something” may actually be.



April 22, 2011

            The heartland spring this year is conducive to fungus. It has been wet with temps neither too hot nor too cold, like in the story about the blond home invader- “Just right!” I stumbled on some morels the other day, literally almost stepped on them (Excuse me). This morning, in the rain, I went out looking for more. Not a one to be found. The old saw is that you don’t find morels, the morels find you. I talked with a woman once, who recounted a morel hunting experience. She had been looking and was coming up dry. This irritated her, questioned her competence, etc. She thought maybe it was because she was preoccupied with other concerns and worries and wasn’t focused on what she was doing. She wasn’t “centered”. She decided to sit on a log and meditate deeply (what that is, I don’t know), clear her person and give the morels some space. When she got up, she moved with an urgency and determination to a spot where the little spongy fungi were hiding, almost as if drawn there by them. She described it as pretty frightening, so primitive and primal, a single purposed kind of tunnel vision.

            I wonder whether this is what Zmijewski alludes to with his repeated use of “intuitive” in association with art (see previous post Zmijewski In The Heartland). The Eastern European tradition has a rather extensive and involved history of this kind of “intuitive” disposition regarding art and religion (with its mysticism, Rasputins, and icons). Zmijewski offers art as a counter to the effectiveness of science in the service of politics and religion. He cites art’s reticence to claim any effectiveness on account of the uncertainty of its outcomes (akin to the uncertainty of finding morels). He likewise promotes art’s uncanny ability to be appropriate and effective based on “intuition”, something that has led it to regret some of its intuitive certainties, and added to its reticence to act consequentially. Uncertainty, saying “I know that I don’t know”, absolutely is something to feel guilt and shame about within our market driven culture. An out of work artist “certainly” wouldn’t want to put that on their job résumé today, now would they?

Zmijewski In The Heartland

April 15, 2011

            This week there was the opportunity to read (and re read) Artur Zmijewski’s Applied Social Arts ( Like the tsunami debris that will take years to wash ashore on the US west coast, this document from 2007 found its way to the US heartland. Old news for some I’m sure.

            The reading of this manifesto was unusual in that from the very get go, Zmijewski emphasizes the place of guilt and shame within the discourse of contemporary art practice (whether actual or projected). He returns often to this throughout. This reader’s intuitive response to “guilt and shame” as being integral to the document was “what is he talking about?” (Zmijewski puts a lot of weight on the intuitive, at least in terms of it being a defining characteristic of the uniqueness of art) Other artists I spoke with also did not associate “guilt and shame” with art, art production, or the history of western art as such (as experienced by them). A Freudian slip? An (Eastern) European exclusivity? Whatever. (there is meaning here but “That is for the viewer to imagine”)

            In discussing Zmijewski’s referencing/reasoning of the source and centrality of “guilt and shame” (the trauma of fascism/Stalinism and its evolutions), the term “propaganda” surfaced rather quickly. Unspoken was any American version of propaganda within our culture, of our culture, on our culture (unlike what is readily admitted as exported). My guess is that because everyone buys blue jeans, we feel no “guilt or shame”.

            In an archival post (Good Business Is The Best Art, December 20, 2009) I ask “Could it just be possible, even probable, that Warhol will follow the same course as Social Realism did in the states of the former Soviet Union?” Many young artists claim not to care for Warhol. Unbeknownst to them, the emphasis of their art practice and aesthetic appreciation bears the indelible tattoo stain of Andy’s influence. Recently, at an end of the academic year student art show opening, I surveyed responses to the graduating artist’s oeuvre. Of course, the de rigueur response was “I really liked her show.” When pressed, the response became “I like what she did with the space, how she arranged the gallery and directed the viewer’s attention.” In short, how she marketed and promoted her(self) works. There was never any talk of the individual works or their impact on the individual viewer (or “a” viewer in general).

            Impact is central to Zmijewski’s treatise. Yet here, at this annual rite of spring, the concern is with promotion and presentation; i.e. marketing. As alluded to in the previous post (The Don As Art), process has been such an integral part of studio art pedagogy (and aesthetic cultural interpretation) ever since Warhol left Pennsylvania, that it has become an assumed, unquestionable given. It is only “natural” to read, interpret art through the process that makes it possible (Kudos to Zmijewski for dwelling on the significance of reading). Currently, the capitalist marketing of art (individual or collective) has become subsumed within the process of art, one of the more important parts (since many of the material processes cannot be attempted without exceptional funding). Appreciation of art (“a term in relationship with viewers” Rosalyn Deutsche) now includes appreciation for the marketing and promotional abilities of any given artist, of which the individual works essentially become consumables (see Charlie Sheen reference, previous post). This practically precludes consideration of art within the “theoretical” considerations preferred by Zmijewski.

            Zmijewski posits “guilt and shame” with politics and religion, attributed to their power to name. The post-Warhol emphasis on entrepreneurial enterprise, marketing and promotion, the art “process” that continuously re-imagines and reproduces this, could be called “propaganda”. Without the naming, who’s to feel guilt and shame?