Posts Tagged ‘Post Warhol Art’

Ding Politik

May 24, 2011

            In 2005 Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel curated/put together/promoted a show at the Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe Germany entitled Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Maybe “promote” is the appropriate word as these things are presented much as a professional fight, with multiple approaches and perspectives. The catalog for this event is the size of a bible. At least Gideon manages to keep their editions at handheld size. This volume even comes with an “olde” ribbon bookmark, much as a bible or dictionary. But it is chock full of various essays and well worth the read (if you can get your hands on it, literally).

            Ding politik centers on the word “ding” which (Latour points out) in German can have various slants or perspectives of meaning, going back to one origin, which is that of assembly to determine matters of concern. So “ding” or thing, can be considered as a matter of concern. Hence, GM agricultural products can be considered as a “thing” (matter of concern) as well as an “object” (matter of scientific inquiry or outcome). Object (in the Latour/Weibel sense) almost borders on the ancient definitions of matter – the something “out there” that the mind operates on to determine what it is, how it functions, interacts, etc. Physical sciences deal with objects, the social sciences deal with things.

            The show was crammed to the limits (and more) with various art pieces, texts, performances and interactive media works dealing with this inquiry. Each of the submissions was part of the “assembly” that congregated in order to distinguish this matter of concern, this thing (Making Things Public). In this way, it was providing an Atmosphere of Democracy, but not necessarily in the Rancierean sense as here the various interpretations and perspectives of the matters of concern account for the “democratic” element as opposed to a dissensual power dynamic.

            This creates an interesting line of inquiry. If the works promoted (as elements of this assembly) were to continue on in their merry way, after the calendar end of the show, and not live on merely as residue in the catalogue, what are we to make of them? Are they “things” or are they “objects”? The assembly is integral to the determination of thing. During the show, this was indeed the case. But as the works detach themselves from this assembly, and find themselves isolated or in conjunction with other works not from this show, would they not be “objects” much as the stuff of the physical sciences? Would they not be approached and critiqued as “something out there”? If one of these works would show up at The Wexner, would not a context immediately be provided for it by the Wexner staff in order to give it relevance to the Wexner visitor? Would not an artist bio likewise accompany the contextual essay in order to give it credence? And would not all of this be supplemented by an informative text enlightening the viewer as to what it is they are looking at? How does this differ from a scientific account of “something out there”?

            This all becomes intriguing when considered within the current disposition toward what makes for art. As Robert Morris points out in The Idle Idol, or Why Abstract Art Ended Up Looking Like A Chinese Room (archival post From The Archives: Making The Signifier, 12-3-09), currently works find themselves circulating through a “community” of  folks who claim production of art. These folks don’t necessarily identify themselves as artists, though they can enter in and out of artistic productions, individually or collaboratively. When the “assembly” requests, demands, requires, solicits, needs art, these folks provide a response. This is all well and good and elegant. But it is also oblivious of the obsessive compulsive nature of art creation (at least historically as presented by social science studies/critiques of art involvement). To say that within the political economy art is a supplement is one thing, but to assume that someone consumed by making music will dismiss this passion in the absence of communal space is suspect. Indeed, some say that the art production IS the production of this very space. Of course, one could say a community is always available (though always accessible?) but historic circumstance appears to bear that out. In short, the production of art, within the process, places it where? As object or ding? Or indeterminate, that is, simply as activity that has the potential of becoming object or thing? If so, then we find ourselves back with the ancients and their description of matter.

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Zmijewski In The Heartland

April 15, 2011

            This week there was the opportunity to read (and re read) Artur Zmijewski’s Applied Social Arts (http://www.krytykapolityczna.pl/English/Applied-Social-Arts/menu-id-113.html). 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?

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.”

Status

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?

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.

A Tolerable Start

February 25, 2011

            In an article written for Reuters dated February 24, 2011, Paul Bond reports on the prison sentencing of Zachary Chesser for providing material support to terrorists and communicating threats of violence. Mr. Chesser was instrumental in threatening the lives of, notably, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (“South Park” creators) for their animated, suggested portrayal of the source of Chesser’s religious belief. He is also implicated in threats made on others who came out actively in support of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s right to create such art. Precedent had been set with the murder of Theo Van Gogh (which Chesser referenced), so, at the time, these were no idle threats.

“Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of U.S. citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said Thursday. “His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out — even in jest — to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed.”

            In an ironic twist, it is precisely this kind of active intervention by the government in aggressively protecting the constitutional rights of the citizenry that acts as an effective antidote to the swilling of tea. The sentencing of Zachary Chesser is certainly no denouement to the intolerance described within various archive postings (The Intolerable Image, An Intolerable Image II, More Intolerable Imagining). It is, however, a tolerable start.

Reverse Kino-Eye

January 30, 2011

            Recently I attended a small town gallery hop. The handful of visual art venues featured either solo shows of local artists or group showings of a wide array of talent. These shows included photographs, paintings, watercolors, quilted fabrics, etc. Perusing the works I noticed a glaring absence, something an art historian, or at least a contemporary art historian, might take an interest in. Alas, this is not the stuff of significant art historical figures, so I’m left to speculate.

            Kino-Eye. With the early introduction of film (motion pictures), Dziga Vertov situated the camera wherever possible and called it Kino-Eye. Today, the camera’s presence is pretty well ubiquitous, from convenience store security to folks recording their surroundings on a phone. Everyone is a Dziga Vertov. Although the fascination with Kino-Eye lies mainly with the surprise and wonder of what “the machine” will see (that escapes the subjective gaze), we’ve learned since that with any machine “data in yields data out” (Who let the data in?). The purely objective “possibilities” that provided the initial attraction of this enterprise were already stained by the very human, and subjective, machine operator.

            This doesn’t mean that Kino-Eye hasn’t had a whale of an impact on how we perceive visual phenomena, and on how the visual arts produce visual phenomena, as well as on how we perceive and critique the visual arts. Although Warhol doesn’t reference Vertov specifically, wanting to produce “like a machine” certainly can be traced back to Dziga’s enthusiasm.

            With the small town art scene, there was an absolute paucity of representations of humans or human activity. What was presented repeatedly, were images lacking humans or vestiges of their activity. True, Andy Wyeth often did include the human or their trace within his paintings. One critique of his work that resonated was that there never were any airplane contrails in his skies. In the case of the multitude of works created by the local artists, there were no traces of recent human activity, period. Yet they all portrayed landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers or animations with intensity, enthusiasm and energy. It isn’t as though there was no exposition of talent. It was as though there was an innate desire to elide the evidence of the social. “We don’t need to see that” the artist was reminding herself as well as her viewer. Why not?

            There is a kind of reverse Kino-Eye at play here. If one could marry the economic trickle down theory with the aesthetic regime described by Jacques Ranciere, these works would be prima facie evidence of its efficacy. The artwork presented here is set apart, individuated as art work per se with no utilitarian ambiguity. It announces its place and role within the civic by virtue of the hop’s venues and the works presented there. Analogous to the display of sports at a sports bar, the art here functions as an enhancement of the social. Within this culture, reflexivity is not conducive to the social. Reflexivity is considered private, personal. A Kino-Eye is relied on for a record of what we look like (while doing whatever). Unsolicited interaction with these reflexive records is socially disparaged (Want to see my 8 mm movies of our family trip to the Wisconsin Dells?). Of course, these same folks will flock to art shows at big city venues featuring celebrity artists entitled to show us what we look like. That’s what spectacle is about, isn’t it?

            With the gallery hop art, it is as though the work presented is the artist’s subjectivity put on display (qua subjectivity); hence primarily contributing to the social while at the same time eliding any reference to others (those actually comprising the social). It is akin to wanting one’s social cake (social gathering) and eating it too (taking part in it, not distancing oneself through any kind of alienation). Again, using the trickle down theory, this is not at all surprising since the emphasis today is on the artist, especially the international artist, and not the art itself (more lines of critical text are devoted to the artist, their history, resume and statement than to the work itself). I’m sure you can not only name, but also tell me something about many celebrity artists and yet not be able to speak cogently about any one specific work they’ve produced. (Jeff Koons made a big reflective balloon rabbit. Uh, it’s shiny. And big. He is quite the businessman, has a weird head, and is all the time reminding us of our intimacy with commodities, popular culture, etc.).

            Like the methodology of the Kino-Eye, the emphasis of subjectivity found at these art shows is no accident. Analogous to the motion picture machine set up to make objective images of whatever appears in front of it, the artistic endeavors here are the results of folks setting themselves up to NOT be objective, but rather, in the spirit of the aesthetic regime, to produce unique and distinct works that will allow them to socially interact as their originators (qua artists). It is a reverse of the objectively intended Kino-Eye in that the visually discernible reproductive activity is purely directed at a subjective, social end.

The Face Of Jesus

January 6, 2011

            One of the phenomena of the history of Western Christianity is people finding Jesus, and his entourage, in the everyday. OK, I agree, that was the original intent of the religion. In this case, I mean finding Him sensually, in the everyday; they find his face or likeness on a piece of toast or a flood lit, rusty oil storage tank. Such recognition can earn the astute breakfast practitioner a few bucks on Ebay, as well as cause headaches for the oil company planning to provide its facilities with a facelift.

            Several months ago I saw the face of Jesus in the image of Zahra Baker taken while she was waiting to be fitted with a hearing aid at one of those charity health clinic events that compensate for the lack of a universally provided, fundamental health care in the USA. You may not remember but she was the 10 year old girl whom fate had afflicted early in life, lost a leg, hearing, parents split up, found herself in another country, father remarried, step mother was abusive, poverty, etc. The image of her face revealed a quietness, an openness to things being better.

            Last night there was an American Masters documentary on PBS which covered the life of Pete Seeger. The short coming of documentaries is that they always leave you thinking that the end was already anticipated at the beginning, and thus mitigated what went on in between. Wrong. Pete Seeger’s life was filled with quite a bit of affliction and uncertainty during an exceptionally trying time for our society. True, he was privileged by being white and native born, but this didn’t provide comfort or exception during the times he lived through. Like George McGovern, no reference was ever made that he was a veteran by those challenging his patriotism or commitments. At the end of the documentary, Zahra Baker came to mind. Many of the images of Seeger’s face during his early, and then middle, strife filled years also showed a quietness, an openness to things being better.

            Maybe the commonality was the sensuality of sound. In Zahra’s case, she could enhance her enjoyment and active participation in life. With Seeger, he could structure community; one of sanity and humanity (amazingly, community much in the manner described by Ranciere since it spanned many peoples, differences, times, and geographies while also being political in the contentious sense). The sensual and the everyday intimately intertwined. Unfortunately, at the end of the American Master’s documentary, I also found myself thinking “Sorry, Pete, but you lost”. Today, the closest thing to loosely organized, spontaneously singing groupings of people would be flash mobs. Sensual interaction has become a deeply personal expression of individual choice and ambition. Like tattoos, it is the mark of one’s identity and personality. Most musical sound is experienced within the confines of earphones, emanating noiselessly from an ipod, phone or other electronic device. The songs themselves, and the music, have become commodified. Little is found in the common domain (even “Happy Birthday To You” has been contested). Indeed, many question the very existence of a commons.  In the end, after much suffering, Zahra lost her life and her body was dismembered, scattered about a North Carolina county. After suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, Pete Seeger’s music-as-a-social-event has been hyper-individualized to the extent that it is not, save for the buzz.

            This week, in the United States House of Representatives (“the people’s house”), John Boehner took the speaker’s gavel in hand, and the election’s much ballyhooed “primary need” to provide jobs quickly was displaced by the priority of killing and dismembering the health care legislation passed in the previous congress. What were the lyrics to that old song; the one about Joe Hill (who died 10 years ago), his ghost, and the words that it spoke?

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.