Posts Tagged ‘Meaning’

Begging By The Way

February 17, 2013

“BILL MOYERS: To whom or to what do you owe that defining choice of Omar Khayyám over the Playboy calendar? Because that’s the story of your life.
MARTÍN ESPADA: I certainly owe those who came before me. In particular, I owe my father. My father did not have a college education. There were not books of poetry all over the house. But there was this book. It was significant and profound for someone to hand me a book of poetry. I was surrounded already by the images in that Playboy calendar. And they were not as meaningful to me as the images in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. And so I’m very grateful to my father for giving me that that book.”
(from the transcript of Bill Moyers’ conversation with Martin Espada, Moyers&Co. 2-15-2013)

“Tarde’s achievement, Lazzarato claims, is to have made memory the constitutive element of a social or economic quantity and to have understood memory as a production of time and difference.” (Ina Blom’s essay The Autobiography of Video: Outline for a Revisionist Account of Early Video Art, Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No.2, Pg. 282)

And what if the person interviewed by Bill Moyers had said he encountered the Rubáiyát and the Playboy calendar within the same period of his youth? And that no one had introduced him to the one or the other? And that ultimately, it was (to paraphrase Donald Judd), just one thing after another? And what if “memory as a production of time and difference” is what accounts for what made one person’s experience “significant and profound” and the other’s just another in a continuum of events, without time or place, but only quality? And what if this likewise makes for why one individual’s poetry is received as, is considered as “significant and profound”, and the other’s not? And what if this accounts for why one poet, whose work is considered “significant and profound”, finds himself interviewed by Bill Moyers (who only deals with what is “significant and profound”) while the other will never appear? A previous blog post, Getting A Little Behind In My Work 12-13-12, considered “Video’s unique ability to describe or represent (sans words) and contemporary culture’s preference for being shown rather than told”. Another earlier post, The Deer Hunter 11-25-12, states that “A video documentation performs an event as opposed to a written literary narrative that relies on a timeline structure (this comes before that).” “Significant and profound” now begin to aggregate around the “production” of time and difference rather than the accumulation of time and difference (the historic perspective, the one favored by Moyers). “Significant and profound” begin to actively participate in and contribute to the mechanism of what Ranciere describes as sense. Memory performed as video can make no inherent claim of “significant and profound” quality; what is produced within video is just one thing after another. The video itself, as a historic event, may be described as “significant and profound” but this begs the question. Considering that video, like memory, can be understood “as a production of time and difference”, for whom is the memory (either as event or as video) “significant and profound”? And why?


Wisconsin Recall

June 6, 2012

Last night I had a dream about reality.

It was such a relief to wake up.

Stanislaw J. Lec


            Last night I actually did have such a dream. It was as though a sentence had been imposed, a curse. The fellow in the dream was to live his life within the identical same context as his former had been, only without the history. In this case he was involved with some rural activity and found himself within a farming community where the various folk were identical to those he interacted with previously, only he had no historical handle, no myth with which to have a connection (i.e. a co worker was a different physical entity, yet the job and relationship were as before). His only connection to them, and they to him, was his function, their interaction. So while functioning with them, he couldn’t (or didn’t) animate them with any stories or background, no shared experiences or memories. The functioning and interaction was matter-of fact, with the all encompassing (enshrouding?) pall of “who are these people? What am I doing involved with them? Shouldn’t there be something more, something significant in our interaction?” Everything was done as it ought to be done, as it was meant to be done, by definition in terms of how things function, as though according to a mathematical description of a function. Yet it was likewise totally and completely meaningless. What more, to even ask that it have meaning was meaningless for there was no history, no myth with which to relate it to, connect it to, by which to reference it. People acted with each other, within the functions we have grown accustomed to, that are taken for granted, that we have all come to expect. Yet there was no reason to be had for any of it. What was even worse, there was nothing exchanged within the interaction; as though it is really history and myth that are all that can be exchanged, the only things possible or of value, the exchange of which constitute the only sustenance of meaning. It was such a relief to wake up.

 (From the archives inaugural blog posting October 25, 2009)

Thoreau And Jake Reilly

January 31, 2012

Yahoo Contributor Network ran an article/interview by Brad Sylvester entitled “Jake Reilly’s ‘Amish Project:’ 90 Days Without a Cell Phone, Email and Social Media College Student Drops Social Media, Reconnects with Romance” (noted on 1-30-12). Jake Reilly decides to try to live sans high tech communication for three months. He is very surprised by what he experiences as well as the outcome. This is relayed in an interview that comprises the bulk of the article.

Reilly’s experiment hearkens another great adventure in quitting the conventional, Henri D. Thoreau’s account of Walden. Some uncanny analogies and outcomes are hard to dismiss. True, Reilly’s experiment was within the social while Thoreau’s was ostensibly withdrawn from the social (probably why it did not reconnect with romance at the end though many claim that the entire venture was a romance!). Both did stay in touch and communicate with their fellows; Thoreau through his regular visits to Concord and Lincoln as well as his encounters with those he met near his house, Reilly with his bicycling to visit, and use of wall postings and chalk messaging. The most striking analogy is that both took the time to find out what is worthwhile, what is really worthwhile. Thoreau, with a very conscientious, almost critical methodology discovers that a quality life demands a mindful everyday. Reilly discovers that contemporary high tech communication results in mindless, numbing existence. The most fascinating telling by these two philosophical expeditions concerning the nature of quality, the worthwhile, is their conclusions regarding writing and language. Language, of course, is the very heart of high tech communication devices and social media while writing is presently in flux between the kind associated with the epic that Thoreau considers, the kind embodied in multi media presentations, and the kind used to produce the code that makes digital transmission possible. Thoreau writes: “for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and the experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” (Walden, chap. 3 “Reading”, third paragraph). In the transcribed interview Jake Reilly’s response to Brad Sylvester’s inquiry is “What we do now, on e-chat, is people just flying off with whatever comes to mind. It’s so much different to have it really thought-out. I’m a writer, so it’s time consuming. I think it takes 20 minutes or half an hour to write a letter and really get it the way I want it. I think it’s a better, purer way to communicate.”

Oh that Thoreau, he was so 160 years ago. And that Reilly interview is not much better. It is so 60 seconds ago. Modern communication technology within late term capitalism’s embrace has created this unfulfillable desire for a merging of the spoken word with that of the written, a same time reality.  This quest for seamlessness, sameness, is akin to Zeno’s racetrack, where the contestant never reaches the finish line because there is always half the distance to go. There is always that interval, the interval of time. Thoreau and Reilly taking the time to discover what is really worthwhile reveals difference. And the difference is found in the “taking the time”, not in the “time saving” instantaneity of “real time” aspiration.

How Are Things To Be Seen?

June 11, 2011

            It was a small ceramic figurehead on a wall of the boutique, a smiling face. Alongside was a text, not surprising given the statistical preference of buyers for objects accompanied by narrative. It was in memory of a friend who passed away and how the artist looked for that smile to appear in the places it had inhabited in the past.

            Did the artist do this to please herself? Once pleased, was it now available to please me, second hand so to speak? Did the artist do this to please me? Did she relinquish part of herself, her private moment now become public, never to be private again? Would it have been enough to just have the smiling face, or was the meaning of the smile what separated the caricature from kitsch? Did the meaning please or did it just distinguish the pleasure? Is pleasure distinguishable?

            The last essay in the Making Things Public catalog (see prior post Ding Politik May 24, 2011) is one by Peter Weibel, entitled Art and Democracy: People Making Art Making People. It is a synopsis of western art with the turning point of Greek classical art and its relation to democracy. It is also a synopsis of the show for which this is a catalog. The bent is heavily political but from the materialist perspective of the thing and making it public. Although the aesthetic interpretation parallels Ranciere’s description of the Aesthetic regime, the political interpretation differs in that it is from the materialist perspective.

            Making Things Public could also be described as How Things Are To Be Seen. Although this synopsis of history heavily favors the northern European/French perspective (as to how things are seen), it does make a compelling statement as to the intertwining of things and politics. Weibel notes the opening of the Louvre and its accumulation of cultural artifacts in 1794 as distinguishing what had previously been the domain of the monarchy/aristocracy and religious hierarchy to that which became public. He acknowledges the centrality of the bourgeois in this revolutionary move and traces it up through its maturing in the Aesthetic regime (also described by Ranciere). It differs somewhat from Ranciere’s account in that Weibel maintains a hierarchical status for the modus operandi of the art, from what he describes as the artes liberales of classicism, through the artes mechanicae to today’s art of technology/mixed media. In a sense these various methodologies retain the hierarchical appropriateness of Ranciere’s Representative regime while simultaneously partaking of dissensus (demanding their rightful place where they have previously not been included). For Weibel, today’s techno art created through the use of generically ubiquitous tools partakes of this “progression” (dare I call it that?) through its facilitation of informing how things are to be seen. Within this engagement, the contemporary artist is presenting the viewer with operating instructions which then make possible the multiple perspectives of representation of the assembled reality. Weibel references Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (“To Be Looked At, With One Eye, Close To, For Almost An Hour”); which brings us round to the place of the narrative alongside the smiling faced figure, and why it is there today whereas fifty years ago it would not have accompanied the offerings of an art boutique.

            So today, in art/politics (the interface for both Ranciere and Latour/Weibel) we are instructing each other on how things are to be seen. Literally we are asking others to walk in our shoes, except in this case it would rather be to wear our eyeglasses or contacts. But what if we’ve opted for Lasiks?

            A curious perspective of Weibel’s synopsis appears when one asks the questions I posed regarding the creation of the small smiling figure. With the opening of the Louvre in 1794, there was an immediate access to the creativity of previous cultural workers. But what of the “post opening” crowd of cultural workers and their production? The bourgeois with which Weibel articulates his synopsis is notoriously private in its hoarding and accumulating propensities. It is convenient for a brief history of western art to posit the Making Things Public through its cultural artifacts, art and things but the actuality is of an intermediary action ( ““Art is a form of action,” he [Rothko] wrote, or to be more precise: “Art is not only a form of action it is a form of social action. For art is a type of communication, and when it enters the environment it produces its effects just as any other action does.”” Pg.1030). The “social action” of hoarding, accumulating, privatizing this “action” called art is very much a part of the history of western art (the Aesthetic regime) as well as contemporary art (whether the artifacts of the past as well as other cultures, or the “informational” techno art activity of today). The Louvre may have sprung Athena-like from the cultural archives of the French in 1794 but since then most art made public has been mediated through “private” collectors as well as the “private” ambitions of artists. Only after this activity has been private does it become public. To focus on the public exclusively within how things are to be seen is to assign a part-that-has-no-part to what is private.

            Did the artist do this to please herself? Once pleased, was it now available to please me, second hand so to speak? Did the artist do this to please me? Did she relinquish part of herself, her private moment now become public, never to be private again? Would it have been enough to just have the smiling face, or was the meaning of the smile what separated the caricature from kitsch? Did the meaning please or did it just distinguish the pleasure? Is pleasure distinguishable?

            Ultimately this references The Undocumented Life (May 14, 2011). Is it possible to answer “How Things Are To Be Seen” privately?


Art For The Artists’ Sake

May 27, 2011

           In my inbox appeared the Opening Press Release for the Sculpture X show at the Sculpture Center in Cleveland Ohio which included the following:

“Guest curator David Carrier writes about his selections, made from 75 entries from 35 institutions:

This recent art made in our region builds upon the achievement of post-minimalism in the ways that acknowledge the achievement of Jessica Stockholder, Jackie Windsor, and other post-historical sculptors. Employing banal materials to achieve aesthetic results, these artists mostly avoid direct figurative references. Often employing a grid to structure their works, frequently making architectural references these artists are interested in what you find at the intersection between nature and the urban environment. Without making explicit political statements, they all are connected to demonstrate how three-dimensional visual art can be critical of our everyday worldview, as manifested in visual structures. In that way, I believe, they are heirs to the minimalist tradition of the 1960s. What aesthetic experience is possible, they are asking, in a country that, though no longer so arrogantly self confident, has a rich artistic tradition upon which to build. (October 2010)”

            Almost makes you think this was an on-air basketball commentary with all the “post” talk, doesn’t it? One is struck by the reliance on elision in this description (dare I say representation?) of contemporary art- “mostly avoid”, “without making”, “heirs to the minimalist tradition” (there was a tradition?), and finally “though no longer”. I doubt this is an exercise in what Badiou would describe as “subtractive” reasoning. The writing makes what appear to be definite representations but without specific commitments (the absence of commitment in contemporary art culture addressed in The Trope Of Meaning 4-2-11). These apparitions of representation imply without the dreaded nexus of authorial accountability (post-death of the author, huh?). It is his final line that reveals the most telling implication.

            It is a curious art that Mr. Carrier lauds in his representation (description) of overall selection. The final line implies a historic dominance from whence the arrogant self confidence. Subsumed in this implication is the connection between that history and the “rich artistic tradition”. Face it, this guy loves tradition. And no wonder, for it perpetuates the modernist myth of the continuous line (Seth begat…who begat…etc.) so convenient to art historical treatise.  This all is somewhat at odds with “post” thinking (no, not Phil Jackson’s game in basketball) which assumes an end to the great continuous line and approaches time spatially. Carrier’s final line makes the art represented by his selection all the more curious in that he would like one to believe that it hearkens traditional art, the art of the history of the west. That art was intimately bound up with the occurrences of the day, the matters of concern. One finds this in Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Rodin, the French Impressionists spawned by the leisure time “thing” of the bourgeois, the German Expressionists by the political economy of Europe, the Dadaists by the First World War, etc. Yet, here is an art, the implied continuation of this western tradition, that elides any connection with contemporary matters of concern (“mostly avoid direct figurative references”, “Without making explicit political references”). It is an art primarily of abstract composition, one that subsumes matters of concern within the trope of meaning (hence the elision of any commitment). It is an art that appears to be “critical”, yet somehow avoids entering into the messy fray of the assembly committed to matters of concern. Its commitment is primarily to the art itself, to a separation, much as the abstract artists of the 1940’s through 60’s imagined it. Its retro reappearance becomes one of art for the artists’ sake.


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?

The Don As Art

April 8, 2011

            Part of the noose that is knot this week is the Meredith Vieira/Don Trump extravaganza that took place on The Today  Show, April 7th 2011. Poor Meredith was dumped on for being preoccupied with packing her golden parachute while the Trump grandstanded over a non issue. Hearing that an epitome of the American entrepreneurial spirit, vested casino owner, pillar of skyscraperdom, and presidential wannabe has doubts was like hearing a Catholic priest wannabe question her faith. Although not mentioned, Meredith’s interview hearkened memories of Katie Couric bamboozling Sarah Palin. By those standards, Vieira certainly came off as unprepared and unarmed. But she was none of the above.

            Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. is an essay by Bruno Latour that appeared in Critical Inquiry 30, no 2 winter of 2005. Reading this in the light of the Vieira/Trump interview makes finding fault with Meredith totally off the mark. As Latour points out, the Don simply employed methodologies and strategies of critique that have been championed for their incisiveness and originality. These methods and strategies were a stable of the pedagogy molding and forming cultural workers for the 21st century, eventually becoming part and parcel of our culture. That we don’t like the message, or the bearer of the message is one thing, but we certainly are enamored with the process by which the message is being delivered. Besides, the message is irrelevant. The Don got media attention, created buzz, acquired political capital, and promoted his “Already A Successful Celebrity” Apprentice show. Recently, after a Charlie Sheen performance, in a “how was the show?” man-on-the-street interview by a Columbus Ohio TV station, the attendee gushed with praise for what a genius of marketing and how brilliant a promoter Mr. Sheen was.

            How many times have you been to a visual art showing where the artist “interrogated” some commonly held cultural notions or practices, “questioned” given interpretations of reality? (The interrogation’s response- “That is for the viewer to imagine.”) How many times have you left such an art show thinking “Anyone can ask the questions. It’s a little more difficult, and requires some commitment, to provide an answer.” How many times have you seen associations made, juxtapositions of total fabrication, inappropriateness and inaccuracy portrayed as Art, justified by their being meant to jar the viewer and startle them into considering alternate realities? How many issue related works of Art have you pondered that righteously “made the point” that something was questionable or wrong with regard the environment, “human rights”, global economics, genocide, etc. but left you totally irritated and frustrated because the artist exerted absolutely no imagination or creativity in seeing through their banal article of faith declaration and dared not present how it could/should/ must be (all the trappings of critique without being critical)?

            C’mon folks, we love this stuff. As Latour pointed out, we’ve embraced this critique so intimately that we’ve lost the ability (or commitment) to imagine otherwise, to articulate a definitive and determinate meaning.

The Trope Of Meaning

April 1, 2011

            In the essay Now Man’s Bound to Fail, More (October 135), Robert Slifkin quotes Bruce Nauman from decades ago saying that they may need that some day (“and I thought they shouldn’t be so hard on him, because they’re going to need him.” “They should really hang on to Henry Moore, because he really did some good work and they might need him again sometime.” “And I also had the idea that they would need Henry sooner or later,” Pg. 61). Moore’s dominance was being assailed by the contemporary sculptors of that time. Slifkin’s claim is that Nauman’s defense revolved around the nature of figuration. In a sense, Nauman didn’t wish to toss the baby out with the bath (figuratively speaking).

            Jacques Ranciere expends considerable energy in describing/defining the nature of art over the last 200 years. This analysis even produces a unique spelling- Art (in the singular with a capital). The determinants of what becomes Art are various and facile. They are likewise political (within the Rancierean definition of the political as dissensus).  Anything can be everything and vice versa. Juxtaposition and association is not bound by any genealogy.  Whether a porcelain urinal taken out of context or a porcelain figurine of Michael Jackson with his chimp, subject matter is both fluid and not definitive. Something else is going on, something separate from the everyday but very much only found in the everyday.

            Now folks, we all know this has been going on for quite some time. By Ranciere’s account, at least for the last 200 years if not more. In a mature, practiced sense it has been going on for at least 100 (you know, once you learn the basics of a musical instrument or machine, the interaction changes and becomes more “mature”). Recently I came across a poster for an artist who works in wood. The pieces were polychrome cut outs and scraps reassembled to make them appear as though they had some specific purpose or organization. They embodied recognizable shapes, like a funnel or sphere or stringed instrument, but they were not. That is to say, what was present was shapes and colors which had to be embodied in some medium (in this case wood) but were necessarily about nothing.  The forms themselves suggested (evoked) some specific utilitarian or aesthetic history but, like the enormous flotsam left after the recent tsunami, there wasn’t any connection or necessity between the associations and juxtapositions other than that they appear to have all originated from the same source.

            It is the “necessarily about nothing” that becomes critical, and curious (and brings Seinfeld to mind). In similar situations, the artist or her advocate will stress the colors, shapes and arrangements as being something, hence not about nothing. The nature of the something or nothing is of no consequence to this investigation. That this evolution of Art has reprised the conditions of the Abstract, played out so passionately in the middle of the 20th century, is. The social, “networking” justification for the value (and validity) of the works hinges on the craftsmanship, the years of schooling, and the academic recognition. When pressed further, the artist will usually utter something like “the actual or metaphorical meaning is left to the viewer’s imagination”; in short, anything to elide the figurative in terms of conception and execution, and leave the meaning to someone else’s making or doing. This lack of commitment recalls Slifkin (Pg 50 “In his work from the 1960’s Nauman repeatedly employed figuration as a way to test the waters, to see if such apparently outdated and problematically humanist concepts as “commitment,” “expression,” and “metaphor” still had a place in a world where referential certitude, subjective sentiment, and immediate and universal communication were deemed increasingly problematic if not impossible.”).  The aesthetic justification, which can only be found with the “experience” of the work (sans artist’s statement, intent or history), turns on the conditions of abstraction laid down a half century earlier. Retro or renewal?

            It may be a generational observation, or indeed a cultural characteristic, but for many of the artists/art of the “never experienced anything but digital” crowd, meaning itself has a curious connotation. To speak of the meaning of a work may find one mouthing terms of communal and personal relativity. Many times this conversation takes on an almost quasi religious temperament. “It is of the moment. If the attentiveness to the moment produces an art(sy) experience, then the individual(s) is(are) functioning as artist(s), producing art” (so very Kaprow, and so un-Weiwei). Within this “maturity” of Art, of the Art practice, meaning itself has slipped into becoming just another element of the abstract composition. To paraphrase what was stated above, the meaning itself suggests (evokes) some specific definition or history but, like the enormous flotsam left after the recent tsunami, there isn’t any connection or necessity between the associations and juxtapositions other than that they appear to have all originated from the same source. In a sense, meaning has become a trope; not a trope of something, but the trope of meaning. “Whatever.” Well, there is some meaning to be found there but what it is, is not worth the time and effort to elucidate or commit to. That is for the viewer to imagine. Besides, it differs for everyone as well as differs temporally and with any given situation. Etc. Taking into account the descriptions of Art by Ranciere (and others), it is not difficult to imagine the trope of meaning taking its place alongside the colors and shapes of contemporary work, analogous to that of the poster artist described above (Yeah, I put some meaning in there. There’s also some blue and a pyramid). Given such a quasi religious disposition for recognizing meaning only as a trope, dissent may necessarily involve something like saying “they may need that some day.”