tags: Tropicomania Betonsalon art papers Paris Triennale criticism
dOCUMENTA (13), highlight two, neue nationalgalerie:
Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass (2012) (one of many commissions for Documenta)
Clippings from Life magazines (1935-1985) stretched out over some sixty feet. American history through political heros, bikini styles, and packaged foods. Ephemera-philia.
dOCUMENTA (13), highlight one, neue nationalgalerie:
Roman Ondák’s pairing of old photos from books with the most exquisitely worded captions. Economy of means, perspicacity of wording, and endearing aesthetic and social commentaries.
tags: Art Papers Innovate or Die Ruth Erickson Experience Economies Boston Review
(Presenters left to right: David Breslin, Thomas Crow, Hal Foster, Robert Slifkin, James Elkins, Matthew Jesse Jackson, Jonathan Katz, Mignon Nixon, Alison Pearlman, Katy Siegel, Paul Wood, Briony Fer, and Theodore Triandos.)
Many things could be said about the tone and content of the conference, perhaps most gossipy that Hal Foster was situated by virtue of his history and institutional alliances to “defend” the art journal October, which, in the formulation of Jonathan Katz, set up a dominant mode in US art history focused on the how of representation rather than the what. In other words, through recourse to critical theory and post-structuralism, October privileged the processes of signification (how meaning is made) over the significations (what meanings), generating a fanciful infrastructure around an empty core (an “act of ideology” in Katz’s words) and failing to acknowledge, for instance, the personal, the AIDS crisis, and queer subject matter. It’s an axe that Katz has been grinding for some time. I think it’s a valuable critique but that the very situatedness of a single piece of art critical writing by a single straight white, twenty-something man in 1985 (Katz spoke about Foster’s “Subversive Signs” in Recodings) has to be taken in historical and material context. I guess, however, that very situation of writing about subversiveness in the arts in NYC in 1985, a time when more people were dying of AIDS-related causes than total soldiers died in the Vietnam war, and failing to talk about AIDS is the problem. Silence=Death.
I’m off track because what most interested me at the conference was an apparent generational divide. Not everyone fit neatly into one or the other category, but I saw two points of view emerge that have broad repercussions for our art historical work. The first might be described by the following constellation: Krauss, mid-1970s, interpretation, universal processes of signification, French critical theory, taking a position. The second might be: Lutticken, mid-1990s, description, localized and situated meanings, post-colonial theory, resisting any single position. The first takes a stand, the latter lays out a network of possible stands without committing. If many of us feel that critique has run out of steam, what is left? How do we practice forms of resistance if our “positions” are as slippery as capital? Combat spectacle and commodification while knowing full well we are always already spectacularized and commodified and feeling okay with that? How do we both reach for more empiricism and “reality” (a word floated around a lot) while noting biases? How do we acknowledge total relativity without losing shreds of truth?
One option on offer is something like Geertz’s “thick description,” where situated and locally-produced systems of making and meaning are piled on top of one another until the speaker susses out what he or she thinks might be intelligible frameworks. The art historian then might be the great assembler or collector of historical facts and subjective observations who then sets up an admittedly personal but trained arrangement that invites (truly welcomes or even produces) alterations and modifications. The art historian is also, therefore, the alterer or tailor who doesn’t tear down and destroy what’s come before but makes subtle adjustments so that it fits better. Can’t we then remove the shoulder pads from October’s 1980s blazer to reveal the body’s more natural contours? Perhaps replace its buttoned up front with a jazzy belt that can be removed at the discretion of the user? Let’s tailor and not burn art history’s history.
Photo of tailor by Henry Boogert
tags: October Clark Institute Art history conference
tags: Documenta 13 press kit ArtStars*
Two reasons that I wish I lived in the Northwest or Canada, or an East coast fan page of social practice.
Open Engagement, Art and Social Practice, May 18-20, 2012, in Portland, Oregon. Now in its fourth iteration, this free conference grew out of Portland State University’s MFA in Art and Social Practice (begun in 2007). I remember in perhaps 2010 my friend Kate who has been centrally involved with the various Feasts going on around the country—the earliest ones in Brooklyn and now Philadelphia’s Philly Stake—organized a train trip across the country with some others to go to this conference (see the project, called Empire Builder on her website). I remember her describing the trip as a functional necessity (i.e. how can we cheaply get across the country while incurring a smaller carbon footprint?) and as a perfect lead-up exercise to conferencing about social practice. Here, smart, quirky, and political people with youth and few responsibilities on their side lived somewhat communally in small quarters and passed time with apropos thinking, gaming, corrupting, and just getting by. The line-up for 2012 looks star-studded in the tiny world of social art practice fandom. Shannon Jackson, whose uh-amazing book Social Works is a must-read, will give the “keynote” address; Tania Bruguera, whose Immigrant Movement International Project is a mainstay in social practice action or discussion. Get thee to Portland by foot, train, car, bus, or plane, and I’d recommend making the voyage a practice in and of itself. Open Engagement #3 is sure to be good.
Institutions by Artists, The Convention, October 12-14, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada. A “world congress,” but really a conference (let’s not kid ourselves), about “artist-run centers, collectives, and cultures” is initiated by ARCpost—a Canadian association of artist-run centers—with some heavyweight sponsors (Andy Warhol Foundation, consulates, etc.) and will cost attendees $125 ($75 for students). Bruguera will also speak here along with, among my “favorites” (I am a fan after all), Julia Bryan-Wilson whose well-known book Art Workers addresses the moniker “worker” as adopted by minimal and conceptual artists and curators in the late 60s and early 70s and Vincent Bonin whose exhibition and catalogue Documentary Protocols (1965-1975) is perhaps the least-known and smartest book about how documentation becomes a key part of collaborative art practice (filling art history’s coffers with typed and xeroxed pages upon pages). It’s a timely topic as the creation of institutions (para-institutions) increasingly interests and occupies artists whose “work” becomes that of small-time white-collar laborers (phone calls, emails, budget sheets, etc.). An open question is whether the managerial and institutional (as far as these modes attempt to fix systems of relations) are becoming transformed by artists’ participation. Considering the hundreds of thousands spent to fly and house people from all over the world for “Institutions by Artists,” it’s unfortunate that the entry fee prohibits some artists (and students) from entering in the conversation.
“To be fully human, one needs to be in relation to others who correspond to oneself.”
Last night over my thirtieth birthday dinner, a friend said that she felt like your 30s are not about yourself but about others. Compared to your 20s, it is a time when the self becomes less important and relationships with others (partners, children, aging parents) become more important. The self built in the 20s proffers the strong pivot on which to turn toward others in the 30s.
The conversation made me think of Kaja Silverman’s masterful book Flesh of my Flesh. In it, she proposes similarity as opposed to difference as a paradigm for humanity. Such an arrangement positions relationality in advance of individuality and opens up the possibility of analogical thinking, which connects self to other, presence to absence, future to history, and countless oppositions within our own being.
She puts this theory to work by analyzing two series of photo-paintings made by Gerhard Richter: portraits of his daughter Betty and of members of the leftist terrorist group Baader-Meinhof (Red Army Faction) who were found dead in their prison cells. Richter painted his bracing series (entitled October 18, 1977) of iconic blurred canvases from press photographs of the dead. Silverman suggests that he posed and painted his daughter Betty (sometimes in comparable positions to Ulrike Meinhof) to register the emotion and importance of the events and to experience a loss. By setting up an analogy between these women, the two series proffered emotional proximity and historical connection.
I’ve always loved the above portrait of Betty. Her red jacket, pinned hair, and turn away. Silverman suggests that in addition to seeing this as a turn away, we consider it a turn toward something, in this case her father’s monochrome, which fills the background of the painting, and all that it represents. I think its a brillant reading and one that correlates with the theme of “turning toward” in the 30s. Let this new decade be one of analogy!
tags: analogy Kaja Silverman Richter 30 Baader Meinhof
Above: Dirt (MIT Press, 2012); Vik Muniz, Pictures of Dust (2000) (after Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1965 and Richard Serra’s Left Corner Rectangles, 1979); Vik Muniz, Wasteland (2007-10) (see the documentary film website)
My very first semester of graduate school, I took a class called “Post-Spectacle” in the Architecture and Design department at UPenn taught by Helene Furjan. It was a great crash course in Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” from c.1900 phantasmagoria—theater shows with projected magic lantern slides—to c.2000 Las Vegas casinos—with their disorienting carpets and scented air so that time, space, and anything outside collapses into quarter-lobbing oblivion. It was also great to meet architecture students whose rapacious program dictated a tempo that made the art history PhD track seem languorous. A few weeks in Helene announced that she was working with a group of students on a publication, via. The issue on Occupation had just come out and the new issues on Dirt was in the works (Camouflage is in-process now). She gave us the option of writing something for a final paper. I wrote about recreations by artists as a way of remaking the heavy detritus of art’s history, and one heavily edited example from my rambling first graduate school paper made its way into the collection of essays. That was 2007, and like most academic publishing, I have learned, the book has finally been published jointly with MIT Press this month in 2012.
The beautiful book is a varied collection of takes (conversations, essays, designs) on an almost limitless definition of dirt. Many take detritus—the rejected, excreted, organic, excessive—as a modality of practice for doing and creation. From the flap: “Dirt presents a selection of works that share dirty attitudes: essays, interviews, excavations, and projects that view dirt not as filth but as a medium, a metaphor, a material, a process, a design tool, a narrative, a system. […] The chapters predict and report on city waterfronts revamped by climate change, the reinvention of suburbia, and cityscapes of ruins; dish the dirt with yet-to-be proven facts; make such unexpected linkages as ornament to weed growth and cell networks to zip-ties; examine the work of innovative thinkers who have imagined or created, among other things, a replica of Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork Spiral Jetty in “table-top scale,” live models of the Arctic ice caps, and an inhabitable “green roof”; and describe an ecological landscape urbanism that incorporates the natural sciences in its processes.” Yup, that’s (emboldened) what I wrote about. Vik Muniz’s recreation in his Brooklyn apartment of Robert Smithson’s legendary earth art. I basically discuss appropriation hinting at originality while exposing artificiality as contemporary art’s dirty modality.
Had I written it today, I would have expanded on Muniz’s incredible oeuvre. His collection of dust (skin, hair, nails, and particles left by the crowds of museum-goers and biological processes) from the Whitney museum, and his use of this public material to recreate installation photos of major minimalist sculptures by Serra, Judd, etc. And so, for instance, you have the sterile minimalist space of the museum and simple, serial forms re-composed from the dirty detritus of that museum space. It’s freaking brillant. Or maybe I would include his work in the trash dumps of Brazil, where he worked with local “catadores”—pickers of recyclables—to create large-scale photographs of famous artworks from the materials and then uses his renown to exhibit and sell the works at auction and gives the money back to the community. It’s captured in a moving documentary Wasteland.
I’m thrilled the book is out…check your local store to see if it’s on the shelves!
Dirt contributors include Barry Bergdoll, Alan Berger, Anita Berrizbeitia, Megan Born, William Braham, Lindsay Bremner, Kim Brickley, Case Brown, Mark Campbell, James Corner, Phillip Crosby, Keller Easterling, Ruth Erickson, Larissa Fassler, Annette Fiero, Helene Furján, Future Cities Lab, Andrea Hansen, Mark Alan Hughes, Tetsugo Hyakutake, Robert Le Ricolais, Lily Jencks, Peter Lloyd Jones, Keith Kaseman, Ferda Kolatan, John Landis, Sylvia Lavin, Andrew Lucia, Ian McHarg, Frank Matero, PEG Office of Landscape + Architecture, Rhett Russo, SERVO, Cathrine Veikos, Phoebe Washburn, Marion Weiss, and Richard Wesley.
Dirt on MIT Press.
Too good to pass up:
The Telegraph reports of a Napoleon-themed amusement park, touted to rival Disneyland, being planned on the site of Napoleon’s final victory just south of Paris (opening in 2017). Reported attractions may include a participatory reenactment of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington ended Napoleon’s rule; a ski run through a battlefield “surrounding by the frozen bodies of soldiers and horses”; and a recreation of Louis XVI being guillotined during the revolution. “It’s going to be fun for the family,” the developer Yves Jégo stated. I’ll certainly buys some advance tickets for my family to take part in that last attraction. It’s never too early to indoctrinate your children of the evils of monarchic rule.