Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Performed Self and Performance Art Documentation

      Often I have contemplated why I began my artistic career photographing other people to ultimately choose to create images mostly of myself. There was no specific incident that caused the shift, but rather a phasing out occurred of other bodies represented in my artworks to portrayals of my body as an expressive medium. As I think about it now, the change most likely occurred as a response to numerous life events that compelled me to get at the meat of my existence by working my way through deep, life altering experiences shared with others close to me.  In part, this exploration resulted in photographs, intaglio prints, films, and videos that were both emotive and physical interpretations. While it is truly impossible to articulate the whole of my complex thoughts, emotions, or the entirety of my bodily experience—or to wholly (if at all really) convey as a proxy for others in association with any particular life event, I have tried.

From my viewpoint about images created with my body that are about myself, I fail often. From the point of view of others I rarely fail. From others’ viewpoints about images wherein I have attempted to represent them I have failed more often in their minds, and less in my own. This has remained a constant internal argument for me that I think will always exist because no other person can fully perform me; nor can I completely perform them. Yet I believe there is a psychological space that lies in-between an art and a viewer that makes all manner of dialogue possible simply because we are humans.  As I understand it from Amelia Jones through Merleau-Ponty’s philosophies: that in-between space allows for dialogue by virtue of phenomenology as gained through our perceptions through our lived bodies. Each person’s experience through their living body is and will be different; therefore each person’s phenomenology through experience is and will be different, and that space in-between the art and the viewer opens up what I understand to be inter-subjectivity.

My viewpoint about my performative body has been not only from a thesis of a self-reflexive stance, but also in the final object (photograph, film or video) as one of many of Susan Stewart’s explanations about the body ”…[as] a kind of [emotive] mirror of the world…the antithesis of the ‘self-reflecting mirro’ [wherein] the mirror’s image exists only at the moment the subject projects it.”[1]  The subject matter I have attempted to convey through performing images is what Stewart describes as “an eternalized future-past”.[2] And just as she has taken up Jorge Luis Borges’ aleph as a “surface which provides profundity as well as projection”, so have I, in the same manner as Jones’ inter-subjectivity that to me engages that in-between psychological space of dialogue between the artist, the viewer, and the world.  If Jones intends that we understand the self in this inter-subjective space as embodied, particular and contingent, and always in a reciprocal relationship, then it would seem that this way of viewing body art discourse in the world and our place in this together would be a limitless, empowering exchange.

With regards to documentation of performance art, I have read in numerous articles wherein Jones described what she called “the memory screen”.  By way of a defense for writing about performance art pieces that she did not witness in person, she described it as a vital documentation of those performances. She stated: “Making use of a feminist poststructural-ism informed by phenomenology, I argue this by reading this transfigured subjectivity through the works themselves (specifically: the works as documentary traces, and this goes even for those events I also experienced ‘in the flesh’; I view these, through the memory screen, and they become documentary in their own right)”.[3] She was referring to documentation of past performances that can only be experienced today through photographs, film, video, or text documentation, and that these are no less important (when no other documentation is available) than being an eyewitness to these events as part of the history of art. To me, this is an important argument in support of documentation of performance art today. Philip Auslander took up this argument in a more attainable way of writing and dissects the differences in issues very well, ultimately stating (when speaking about sonic recordings, but I believe it is true for performance art when it cannot be experienced flesh-to-flesh): “The pleasures are available through the documentation and therefore do not depend on whether an audience witnessed the original event…It may well be that our sense of presence, power, and authenticity of these pieces derives not from treating the document as an indexical access point to a past event but from perceiving the document itself as a performance that directly reflects an artist’s aesthetic project or sensibility for which we are the present audience.”[4]  Many artists do not document performance works, but I believe it is a vital part of an art practice even if one is working primarily in video as the actual performance that will be viewed later or working in front of the living viewer.

[1] Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  Durham: Duke University Press. 2005. Pp. 126. Print.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amelia Jones. “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation”. Art Journal, Volume 56, Number 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century (Winter, 1997).  College Art Association. Pp. 12: 11-18. Print.

[4] Philip Auslander “The Performativity of Performance Documentation”. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, September 2006, Volume 28, Number 3, (PAJ 84). Cambridge: MIT Press. Pp. 10: 1-10. Print.

Reading List:

  • Philip Auslander “The Performativity of Performance Documentation”. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, September 2006, Volume 28, Number 3, (PAJ 84). Cambridge: MIT Press. Print.
  • Amelia Jones. “Postmodernism, Subjectivity and Body Art”. Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. 1998. Print.
  • Amelia Jones. “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation”. Art Journal, Volume 56, Number 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century (Winter, 1997).  College Art Association. Print.
  • Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  Durham: Duke University Press. 2005. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

On Consideration of a Hornet’s Nest

      Thought waves about intertextuality and intermediality constantly came to mind as I parsed through the essays from the reading list below. There was a sharpness of theory and facts in Miwon Kwon’s essay that remained limitlessly complicated to me as they seemed to coincide in explanations and were brought forward into thoughts about art today. It made me want to immediately purchase Situation, a book edited by Claire Doherty that I passed up when ordering reference material for my research for this semester.

In my investigations I discovered the simplest definition of intertextuality as it usually defines literary text and intermediality in its simplest relevance to inter-art do not cut it when related to site art (as, or in place; as, or in space, and all other iterations), and are further complicated by any combinations of what Kwon described as “… the three paradigms of site specificity…phenomenological, social/institutional, and discursive…” and are exactly as she wrote in her essay as not punctual, not neatly linear stages, and that are overlapping and very often simultaneous. [1]

While working this past week to prepare for a meeting tomorrow about water issues in the Southern region of the Chihuahuan Desert, I struggled with Kwon’s essay and how it might relate to this possible new division of my art practice that feels entirely uncertain and already so complicated that I realize in the end I will have to choose one direction or the other; I cannot have success (defined as deeply delved theoretical and visual art results = time!) at both personal memory work and environmental work.  As I see it they are not combinable.

From within my mind’s infancy about them, I applied Kwon’s three paradigms to a few of my churning ideas of performance videos, as well as ethereal interventions and site-works that will not be lasting like a privileged Richard Serra sculpture or as cyclically “interacting” as Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. Knowing that all thoughtfully created artwork will always be discursively fluid, expansive, and transformative, I questioned how it is possible for this new art to be social/political, not institutional. A quick answer before tomorrow’s opening up of potential institutional collaboration is fairly straightforward: the natural elements as harsh as they are in the desert will take their toll with great speed removing institution as a factor unless photographs, videos and public media circulate by association, perhaps not even in association since the media is quick for a snappy story. The social is easy. The political seems closer on its way.

The introduction of people and bureaucracy (institution) on top of the already known higher governing politics sitting on top of the water issues here complicates freedom of movement, but could aid in getting larger works completed. Respect for the sanctity of nature and the city, state, federal, and international laws protecting specific regional lands and waterways complicates ideas of moving nature from outdoors to indoors, such as in the work of Mark Dion, who is known for his mighty feat of a project On Tropical Nature (1991).  And I could take some lessons from Nancy Holt about how to gain favor from a local community. Ranchers here have already yelled out their gun-toting language of cease and desist, don’t go near my horses, and nope I got too much to do besides worrying about an ar-tist doing videos on (and get this) near my land. Perhaps in a rancher’s world everything that surrounds water rights is the kind of phenomenology that will open doors instead of one person’s memory work. Who can say except to continue to try at it?

So, ethereal gestures about the ruination of the Rio Grande and the pipeline that carries water past our region’s struggling farmers onward-ho to Texas could easily become lost if not institutionalized in some way or be taken into the vastness of inter-media. My questions to myself are wide in scope and heavy in consideration, and not even fully realized yet.  Kwon’s essay has become an invaluable launching off point causing me to begin digging into what I had only romantically envisioned. When earlier in the week I was trying to parse through my thoughts about the differences between the two words intertextuality and intermediality that I keep reading often in reference to art, I presented many questions to a fellow artist who replied, “Maybe you should just do the art yourself on the tiniest scale and think about it later because those words sound like ‘the emperor has no clothes’ to me”. I was also given a gift that was lightly tossed onto my desk, “Here’s some intertexuality for you!”  It was dry alphabet pasta in a bag…tiny letters all jumbled together…uncooked…waiting to become something delicious. The letters arrived in the nick of time…right when I was thinking about what the director of the Southwest Environmental Canter said, “You don’t realize what a hornet’s nest you want to walk into.”

[1] Miwon Kwon. “Genealogy of Site Specificity”. One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge:MIT Press. 2004. Pp. 30. Print.

Reading List

  • Nancy Holt. “Sun Tunnels” (1977).  Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Eds. 1996. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pp. 536-539. Print.
  • Miwon Kwon. “Genealogy of Site Specificity”. One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge:MIT Press. 2004. Pp. 11-33. Print.
  • Robert Smithson. “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” (1967).  Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings. Jack Flam, Ed. 1996. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pp. 68-74. Print.
  • James Turrell. “Mapping Spaces” (1987).  Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Eds. 1996. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pp. 574-576. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

I Am For… A Response to Claes Oldenburg’s “I Am for an Art…”

      I am for my body in motion, for it’s everything-catching-up-aftermath that never goes away. I am for my arms heavy-, limp-, numb-painting the color of dirt during many lost hours, hearing Yumeji’s Theme over and over somewhere in the distance. I am for understanding how little it matters that the poetry of my body is understood by the masses. I am for my edges and down and slow and straight, and wobble and fall. I am for bubble bath memories in Hettie’s house, of singing “The raaa-aain in Spaaa-aain stays maaa-aainly in the Plaa-ain.” I am for rolled down stockings in the parlor on Sunday and spitting “chew” into Elvis’ Coca-Cola bottle. I am for the mystery of remembering and forgetting, of “Ole!” and holes filled with breathed secrets. I am for the painted Angkor Wat trees that permeate my mind.

I am for guppies with artful tails that fan like silk in water, for guppies that die and float rancid explaining more gently than Warhol’s car crash that death is the alternative to living. I am for honor medals, real I love yous, and when he said “People remember how you say things more than what you say”. I am for Marilyn’s gold, blonde, and sorry sorrow.  I am for “help me”, and one glass eyeball sitting on a nightstand, for tiny red newspaper pencils stacked messy in a dusty box. I am for shiny plastic streamers blowing out from a front porch fan, and garage and funeral parlor ads on Jesus fans in a Southern Baptist Church somewhere in Charlotte. I am for generations of women snapping green beans together for dinner even if I never did it, (Did I?) and for Alzheimer’s-three-hours-long cooked three-bean salad. I am for crab apple stomachaches, stones turned in a drum. I am for thinking we had arrived and getting out of the car on the railroad tracks. I am for synecdoche’s imparted perplexity I keep trying to figure out.

I am for the boulder that refused to roll over my iron bridge celluloid memories. I am for the rope that broke and singed my flesh. I am for my body motionless like concrete, and for the fear that always comes after being too still. Too small. Too tired. Too weak. Too late. I am for rocks that look like body organs and volcanic outcrops that offer songs from wind. I am for metal that conforms to my will, and mind-malleable circuit boards that on and off, blink and spin. I am for PNP, gravures, and neutralized toxic waste, for respirators and gloves that supposedly save. I am for rattlesnakes that hide, for garter snakes in the hallway, and gopher snakes that are seven feet long, for never-ending desert dust and thankful tears for rain. I am for cotton gins and bolls threaded with my ancestor’s hair. I am for best-tool-scissors-arms and half-naked women on pedestals in boats going who knows where. I am for Picasso’s wounded women on horseback, for Aunt Bea’s dancing down the stairs, and for Peggy Phelan and Joan Jonas leading the way. I am for my art’s infection, obsession, affection, shame, and pain.

I am for my Mother’s wails upon my shaven head, and the years long challenge of “why don’t you ever shave!” I am for last night’s garlic standing too close for comfort and laughing anyway. I am for “I hope you get this done before I die, so we can have more time.” I am for the mother-daughter, daughter-sons mutual gaze. I am for taking chances on “Sorry your art doesn’t fit our mission” and “Yes, we’d love to have you here.” I am for keeping the guts to do all of it after all. I am for eschewing the “fourth wall”, whatever the hell that is and I don’t care. I am for having my picture taken next to one of many Duchamp fountains and posting it on my status page anyway. I am for recording sounds of art openings and taking cell phone videos of my feet walking through museums. I am for the creak and groan of all walls that try to speak, for the dddzzzzzzddddd of electrical wires, and emptied gas neon waiting in storage facilities. I am for dreaming I created hundreds of water bottles formed from the Rio Grande’s empty basin sand, and for seeing they’d been run over by four-wheeling bastards around the turn.  I am for bending too much, leaning too far, reaching too tall, for knees and shoulders that scream. I am for singing about yellow stars to her heart hoping she would live, but Grace couldn’t make it in the end.

I am for all artists I don’t give a rat’s ass about and those whom I revere. I am for art’s histories shredding apart with blood and spit, a typewriter, glue, and many a gray hair.  I am for Arnold Newman’s sweet old man kiss upon my cheek, for Darius Himes’ “Nice work, you’ll go far”, and even Charles Haid’s “Your all a bunch of Girl Scouts here” when he couldn’t get his way. I am for renting out rooms, sanding hundreds of painter’s panels, having yard sales to gain nothing much for squeezing out money from my sweaty hands for education and the creation of all I can be. I am for what throws me toward art passion and for what doesn’t feel right sometimes at all cost. I am for Stallabrass’ matter of fact, for Warhol’s branded act. I am for “The Rise of the Sixties”, before that, the future, and everything in-between. I am for dots, spins and Murakami’s monopoly set, for the colors blue, green, and dishwasher sized art…paperback sized too. I am for Gursky’s 99 Cent. I am for tchotchke and fine, and yes I DO have a spine, in case you are wondering by now. I am for memories that corner bend the individual, lean on and sway the collective, and blend us in real histories. I am for art that is smashed in our fictions and will never end. I am for Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 after Isobel didn’t rear end down a snow deep ravine. I am for this year’s biennale and the next, and all of the Documentas too. I am for the art of Claes and my grandmother’s violets drawn with precision of pen and yes, of revolutionaries who believe in responsible free will too.

I am for the words, and, and, and AND. And I am for Dan Fox’s Freize where he doesn’t see Jesus on his toast.[1] And I am for art that is yours and art that is mine. I am for the meandering creative mind and a sharpness in self. I am for an auto-focus art, bio-focus art, and multi-focused art that is all of this, AND more.

[1] Dan Fox. “Dear Claes…”. In “State of the Art” in Frieze Magazine, Issue 148, June-August 2012. Web.

Reading List:

  • Thomas Crow. The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1996. Print.
  • Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood, eds. “Andy Warhol (930-1987) Interview with Gene Swenson”, Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Pp. 747-749. 1992. UK: Blackwell Publishing. Print.
  • Claes Oldenburg and Emmett Williams. Store Days. New York,Villefranche-sur-mer, and Frankfurt am Main: Something Else Press, Inc. 1967. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “Consuming Culture”, Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 50-69. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

The Grayness of It All

      Because we all read with our own emphasis, inflection, and cadence, I found that listening to the recording included in Aspen, No. 5+6, The Minimalism Issue of Marcel Duchamp reading “The Creative Act” (1957) to be very beneficial. I realized that one afterthought I had about listening to and responding to Duchamp reading his manuscript as “spoken word”, that I was partly subscribing to Barthe’s idea about how reader’s associations of authors to their works can be limiting to broader interpretation. But as a student (hopefully beforehand and definitely beyond this period) I learn to practice critical thinking from varied viewpoints, that of the author/artist and from the perspectives of our my own experiences and worldviews. While I am always interested in authorship and sources for works, I operate (as a viewer) past Roland Barthe’s questioning through Balzac from the position of Samuel Beckett quoted by Foucault in his writing,” What is an Author?” (1969): “’What does it matter who is speaking;’ someone said; ‘what does it matter who is speaking.’”[1]  Well, maybe not even from this as the whole of my experiences, but from the viewpoints of neither, either, and both, which might be said of all of us in particular points of time. Nevertheless, I appreciate Duchamp’s and Barthe’s ideas, and those of Michel Foucault, whose discourses are heavily intertwined arguments that are always relevant in the larger schema of human dialogue, if we are open to thinking about them. Even today in a world where it is accepted that there will always be a free flow of digital data about art (writings), art made visible through digital data (copies of originals that we might otherwise never see in person), and art as digital data (art created with digital based technologies) questions of the importance of the artist (creator of experience), the event (publically experienced art), the viewer (individual and collective experience), and judgment (criticism through experience) are forever linked in the course of the past, the present, and the future. Each part of this continuum is in itself a source for deeper and varied discourse.

From the readings list below, I am very interested in the viewer experience, “digital liquefaction”, and appropriation. To me, authorship always exists whether we are aware of it or not. (Duh, right?) I have to laugh at myself for writing that.  But it leads me onward to say so.  Regarding the fact that many artists are taking up investigations about viewer experience, I found an interesting example that communicates by virtue of materials, space, and time directly to and through viewer’s experiences rather than as an afterword, it is Caitlin Art Prize winner Poppy Bisdee’s 2012 installation at the Londonewcastle Project Space.[2] In an interview for Aesthetica Magazine, Bisdee explained she was “…interested in the relationship between the viewer and the artwork…the role of the viewer within the exhibition environment”.[3] She used “recording and presentation technologies such as film and projection to create minimal sculptures and installations which reflect the exhibition space, the viewer’s presence, and the duration of the viewing experience”.[4] She further stated, “…by mirroring the viewer’s physicality through images, sounds and shadows, I hope to bring in to question their role as spectator, subject or performer”.[5] To me, she toyed with the questions of spectator as primary or secondary inference in the circle, or branching if one prefers, created by the author-spectator relationship bringing this argument to the level of spectator as primary, as physically essential to the viewer’s experience, and the artist’s, because of their immediate immersion, which seems more in keeping with many advancements in the art world today. I feel as if I have fumbled through this, which is proof that to stay immersed in reading in vital.

Having thought of the digital aspects of art through “fixity and fluidity”, which are mostly curator/conservator concerns, to think about “digital liquefaction” as a term is new for me, though not necessarily most of the associated ideas. It is an interesting way to put what I see as indispensable to the types of installations like the one described above. I will now begin to earn how to use it as a partial describer of what occurs by our complete acceptance of the Internet, or at least my acceptance since it is a seamless (mostly) integration into my life—personal, academic, and professional. And too, it leads to whole new ways to explore memory, as we learned in the last section of Dore Bowan’s chapter.[6] In a twist of thought, it brought to mind something I read in Memory a book of essays edited by Ian Farr. In his introduction he presented an argument about the present condition of cultural memory’s mediation, he explained that by watching television (considered to be a relatively thoughtless mundane act) as part of many people’s everyday experiences the invisible separation of the visible datum, split between three sites at once, recording, reception, and transmission, are combined into a singular, visual logo of the gestalt that is the screen.[7]  Farr wrote that this experience is “comparable in complexity to the operations of memory and defining the ‘place ‘ of memory-image in relation to space and time, except that it is not a subjective experience of reverie, whether voluntary or involuntary. It is a technologically determined effect shaping our consciousness”.[8]  This effect is what he described as a political problem in that the communality produced by this technology becomes more and more homogenized thereby creating “an increasingly uniform memory”.[9] Farr quotes Victor Burgin, “We rarely own the memories we are sold”.[10] Bowen’s chapter and Farr’s essay have gigantic implications, and are part and parcel to what I take for granted and what I need to explore as underlying my work that has been thus far pretty straight forward expression of memory that are somewhat nostalgic and entirely based upon my personal history without regard to a greater discourse.

In another turn of thought, I almost fall in line with SVA professorStephen Frailey’s students whom he described in the article, “Apropos Appropriation”. He was quoted as saying; “They feel that once an image goes into a shared digital space, it’s just there for them to change, to elaborate on, to add to, to improve, to do whatever they want with it. They don’t see this as a subversive act. They see the Internet as a collaborative community and everything on it as raw material”.[11] I’d love to experience that kind of fearlessness, but I do not having learned a lot about copyright law as it relates to film and music. I am still hazy enough about it with regards to visual art to hold back on some of my own appropriated works. I read in another article that stated all but five of the works in question were returned to Richard Prince due to the presiding judge’s misinterpretation of the copyright law.[12] It is an interesting read about the grayness of copyright regarding the appropriation of visual art. It also includes an embedded scrolling PDF of the overturning legal document. (Yay for the Internet!) I will follow the case to learn what becomes of those five. I cannot help but wonder if those five pieces in particular are still in litigation due to some of Prince’s “gray” comments about why he created them, which might speak back in one sense to that “mediumistic” space of the artists that Duchamp described.

[2] This is the website for Londonewcastle Project Space, which is a regional community-based venue for artists in the Shoreditch area of London. Poke around on the website because the venue is obviously in relation to property/community developers for that area, but well worth looking into for how one community has encouraged a diverse art scene. Web.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dore Bowen. “Imagine There’s No Image (It’s Easy if You Try): Appropriation in the Age of Digital Reproduction”.  A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. Amelia Jones, ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. 2006. Print.

[7] Ian Farr. “Introduction/Not Quite How I Remember It”. Memory. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 2012. Pp. 17. Print.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Randy Kennedy. “Apropos Appropriation”. The New York Times. 28 December 2011. Pp. 2. Web.

[12] Leigh Beadon. “Appeals Court Overturns Richard Prince Ruling In Victory For Fair Use & Appropriation Art”. Tech Dirt.  25 April 2013. Web.

Reading List:

  • Roland Barthes. “Death of the Artist”. 1968. Web.
  • Dore Bowen. “Imagine There’s No Image (It’s Easy if You Try): Appropriation in the Age of Digital Reproduction”.  A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. Amelia Jones, ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. 2006. Pp. 547-551. Print.
  • Marcel Duchamp. “The Creative Act”. Salt Seller: The Writings of Marcel Duchamp. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Pterson, Eds. New York: Oxford University Press . 1973. Print.

      One really wonderful thing about being an artist is to influence and be influenced. Eve Hesse and Sol LeWitt did just this not only in their works, but also in support toward one another as friends. I have often read about how LeWitt influenced Hesse’s work, but rarely about how she was influential to his before her death after which he created, Wall Drawing #46 (1970), as a tribute to her life and work. From this perspective along with the knowledge that uniquely for both artists, process and materiality were vital aspects of their works and between them as friends it makes perfect sense that their art was displayed together in the 2011 exhibition, “Eve Hesse and Sol LeWitt”, at Craig F. Starr Gallery in New York.

The exhibition curator, Veronica Roberts, wrote in the show catalogue an essay that begins: “In 1970, Eve Hesse died at the age of 34. When Sol received word of her death, he was in Paris preparing a show that would open a few days later. In that short time he made a brand new work dedicated to Eva. It was the first time in his entire career that he made ‘not straight lines.’  Everything before that—whether Yaffa-block-like sculptures of ‘incomplete cubes’ or his ‘wall drawings’ with their ordered lines you could stencil notebook paper off of—was never anything but straight.” [1]  As stated by Valerie Hellstein, Hesse belonged to the camp of artists whose works emerge from both process and materiality “as intricately bound together, the one informing the other.”  While looking at images of some of the pieces on display during the LeWit-Hesse exhibit, it is easy to see that this was true for LeWitt too (perhaps less so about materiality), and that many of their works can easily be defined, to me, as creating an important meeting point of dialogue.  One “dialogue” among numerous examples of influences like the fact that they both sometimes worked with circle, rectangle, and square modules, can be found between Hesse’s Accession V (1968) and LeWitt’s 3x3x3 (1965).  Some works were inscribed with dedications to one another, such as Eva Hesse’s Untitled piece (below top) that is inscribed on the back side, “For Sol—Eva Hesse 1966” and LeWitt’s Drawing Series 1/3241/A&B inscribed on the lower left “For Eva November 6, 1968”.

A very well known letter written in 1965 by LeWitt to Hesse circulates the Web as whole and in parts, as well as in a wide range of artistic and commercial appropriations. A photocopy of the original letter can be viewed as an addendum to one of Art21’s blogs.[2] Over the years I have come across his letter as re-articulated through the “voices” of artists of many genres, and always through an inspirational lens regarding struggle, encouragement, and individuality. In one particularly fascinating 21st century articulation in MOCATV’s Lyric Video series is a collaborative work produced by Aaron Rose (Beautiful Losers, director) with director, animator Thomas McMahon and the band, Rancid.[3]  I mention this because it is one example of how former artworks, Sol LeWitt’s in particular, influence artist’s process and materiality decades later.  It is interesting to note here that in LeWitt’s letter of encouragement to Hesse, he wrote lists of words like “…struggling, grasping, confusing…”… and “tumbling, scumbling, scrambling…” that might easily be thought of as a kind of mirroring of her use of the Mel Bochner’s gift of a thesaurus to aid her in finding words that could best drive her works, fit their content, and contextualize her work’s titles, as explained in the reading below by Briony Fer.[4] These are sung in the video by punk rock singer, Tim Armstrong, along with visuals taken from Sol LeWitt’s motifs.

This dialogue between friend artists and later varying artistic articulations of something as simple as a letter speaks to how, from a movement or era, art is still generatively carried through, albeit drastically changed, over time. Veronica Roberts has a new book, Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, due to be released in 2014. The book will also contain essays by Lucy Lippard and Kirsten Swenson, It should be every bit as informative as Fer’s book, and I can’t help but wonder if it was written as an answer to a call.

[1] Amy Whitaker. “The Friends and Family Plan: Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse”. May 17, 2011. Art21 Blog. Web.

[2] PDF of photocopy of Sol Le Witt’s letter to Eva Hesse: Web.

[3] MOCATV. “Learn to Say F**k You”. April 23, 2013. Web.

[4] Briony Fer. The Infinite Line: Remaking Art After Modernism. New Haven, CT. Yale: University Press. 2004.

Reading List:

  • Briony Fer.”Studio”. The Infinite Line: Remaking Art After Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2004. Pp. 117-143. Print.
  • Leo Steinberg. “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public”, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth Century Art. 1972. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 3-16. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Where Do I Fit In: Foster’s Bewilderment, WIPP, and Alberro’s Imaginary

      Being more and more confused about contemporary art today, I began to ask myself about some of the numerous issues surrounding it, focusing mostly on what can be my place in it.  Quite frankly, it is beyond me at this point regarding some of the subjects associated with contemporary art to comprehend, as a whole, all that I have read thus far. I have found myself thinking that we are fortunate to have more experienced scholars—interested and concerned thinkers—working to make sense of so many layered and intertwined issues.  Confusion and ignorance aside, as I see it, to try to stay apprised of developments in thought about contemporary art is one responsibility I owe to my artist self as part of our greater scope of global concerns. The readings from the list below gave me an opportunity to make a huge list of artist’s whose works I will continue to look at, and authors to study further, for a long time to come.

 It was interesting to note that Hal Foster (for the editors) opened “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’” with some pressing questions that led me to believe that he, too, has read Julian Stallabrass’ Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. His use of terminology, such as “floating free” as it points to “lightness of being”, well, the introduction as a whole, seemed to me to be a summation of Stallabrass’ compaction of history in his chapter titled, “A Zone of Freedom?”, a very enlightening read for me of which I agree with the author that it is “too neatly parceled up”.  I am eager to move on to the rest of the book, and more, so as to try to fit more pieces of the puzzle that has instigated the “problem” of categorizing contemporary art into the quandary that it is. In an interview published on The Platypus Affiliated Society website, Bret Schneider, questioned Foster: “I am interested to learn your motives in surveying critics and curators in this way, i.e. by questionaire. It seems to imply some bewilderment, or maybe even discontent with the recent heterogeneity of contemporary art. What was at stake for you in this questionnaire?”.[1]   His initial response: “Perhaps it was fueled by discontent, but bewilderment also played a part. For my generation contemporary art seemed to have a special purchase on the present; the sense that art is an index of the moment appears lost in today’s profusion of practices. That is a source of discontent for me. As for bewilderment, well, that could just be another name for ignorance.”[2] I was relieved to read that even though he is one of our foremost thinkers and writers about art (in my opinion), he is confused too. He goes on to state “any present is made up of many presents” and, “One of the definitions of contemporary is not that we are all in the same time, but that many times coexist at once. We live in a plurality of moments…”, which is how I have always viewed contemporary art as right, or wrong as it appears might be the case as more research unfolds and is published.[3]  In any case, the interview is worth a read as it goes further into questions about how modernism, postmodernism, avant-garde, and neo-avant-garde may be the best models through and from which contemporary art should be viewed.

I made varied notes while reading all of the essays in “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’”. One of a few essays stood out in particular. While I agree with Julia Bryan-Wilson that art historians or practicing artists should have been included in the visual planning of the obelisks and other markers (associated federal and state politics aside, the reasons given for exclusion point toward elitism themselves) that will mark the Waste isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) here in New Mexico, I cannot help but share in her sense of temporality and concern about solutions for the future. I found myself laughing out loud after reading physical descriptions of the waste site on one of many websites addressing WIPP ( ) thinking that the physical power of our Earth and its natural forces in light of global warming (notwithstanding the possibility of human intervention to the site by error, war, and myriad other concerns that have been publicly protested by organizations not only in New Mexico) to me negates any obelisks/markers no matter what the design or any other devices set in place that are meant to protect humans until 12,000 AD. But of course, since man has found ways to use transuranic elements, so we must find ways to dispose of the associated waste. The debates surrounding WIPP have been long-going on both the federal and state levels of bureaucracy and we are seeing more research-based articles published by scientists concerning the dangers of the shale-like geography of the Salado Salt basin, water interaction and nearby aquifers, and mining of known oil and gas resources; this coupled with my growing distrust of any government leads me to feel no hope of safety in totality before the 12, 000 year mark will come. One joke around these parts even though we are about 250 miles away from the WIPP site is, “Somebody better hurry and come up with a Geiger Counter app for the iPhone!”

 Alexander Alberro’s discussion about the effects of new technologies in contemporary art and how the integration of these has caused a shift “within the context of art and art history” was fascinating.[4]  I, too, have described video installations as “black box” exhibitions (in a celebratory sense!) and consider projected videos shown in museums/galleries as objects though they are most often still not thought of as such, even given a fact that I learned during the summer, which is that curators are archiving them (digital data on hard drives, CDs, DVDs, etc.) when given permission by artists to do so. I find myself struggling with how my art can speak to and archive memory, my personal history, inside the realm of new media technology and through all that is contemporary art. Yes I do mean that, even though contemporary art is more expansive than one artist might possibly be able to deal with, interact with in a lifetime. I am keeping Alberro’s phrase, “new technological imaginary”, nearby in my mind’s eye.[5] I find myself wishing that all of us had a hand-held instrument that is similar to a Geiger counter in order to instantaneously measure and make intelligent all of these pressing issues before us about contemporary art, but alas we do not.

[1] Omair Hussain and Bret Schneider. “An Interview with Hal Foster”, The Platypus Affiliated Society. April 08, 2010. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hal Foster for the *Editors. “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’ ”, October, (Fall 2009, No. 130: 3–124). MIT Press. Web.  *See a full editors list at:

[5] Ibid.

Reading List:

  • Hal Foster. “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary”. October, No. 130: 3-124. Cambridge: MIT Press. Fall 2009. Web.
  • Omar Hussein & Bret Schneider. “An Interview with Hal Foster”, The Platypus Affiliated Society. April 08, 2010. Web.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “A Zone of Freedom?”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 1-18. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “New World Order”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 19-49. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “The Rules of Art Now”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 101-118. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Desire: One Artist’s Wanting for the ‘Cosmic I’

      While delving into the readings listed below, I found myself wanting. For what I could not define, which I can loosely attribute to having taken seven art history classes as an undergraduate, finding that the dotted lines always overlap, and discovering time and time again that in the contemporary art world nothing much is really new. I might sound like I have a bit of a desiccated attitude, but believe me I do not. Some may say I appear as if I am indifferent about art in history. Again, any such thoughts are far from my mind. It is simply that I recognize the fact that we, all of us, approach art, the making of art, and the writing about art from inside the human condition. To me, the only thing that makes anything new about art is that it arises from the unique experience of the individual first, then reaches out from there into world totality or as some might believe, the universe.  This is not to say that I lack excitement about art because very frequently, wow, I am delighted and jazzed about what I discover. Yet I am always wanting even after a satisfying exploration of artworks in a fabulous exhibition or reading interesting writings about art in our world history; I am always left with feelings that are hard to define and that seem like something akin to desire.

After reading about vitalism (indeterminacy) as a form of anti-mechanistic thought (determinacy-as viewed in Modernist society?) and dualism, which I perceive as grappling between the two, here I find myself trying to define my ongoing feelings of desire with regards to being an individual witnessing art and creating art in our world. In Valerie Hellstein’s essay, “The Cage-iness of Abstract Expressionism”, she wrote, “Whitman’s ‘cosmic I’ is a vitalist self. It suggests an individual’s deeply felt connection to nature, to the cosmos, and to all that reside in it; it is not an isolated self. Significantly, when Whitman says ‘I,’ he also says ‘you’ because the Whitmanian self is inherently social. In the poem ‘Song of Myself,’ he presents the self continuously wrapped in the other…Self-definition…depends on, is involved with, others. This inherent connectedness of individuals and the breaking down of binaries becomes the condition for Whitman’s democracy.”  Whitman’s ideas expressed in her essay about equality, emergence, and man’s connection with nature are also beautifully expressed in his book of poems, Leaves of Grass (1855). As a testament to the universality and longevity of his sentiments, some of our revered poets, such as Ezra Pound and Langston Hughes, felt a kinship with Whitman or uniquely modeled their works from within the spirit of his ideals. Pound whose identity was challenged against the great poet’s legacy eventually wrote during his incarceration at St Elizabeth’s Hospital, “I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman–/I have detested you long enough”.[1] And too, Hughes acknowledged his contributions to the literature of mankind by writing, “Whitman’s ‘I’ is…the cosmic ‘I’ of all peoples who seek freedom, decency, and dignity, friendship and equality between individuals and races all over the world…I, too, sing America.”[2] All three of these poets felt and suffered desire, and used their unique forms of written and spoken language to express their wishes, however at times misunderstood (especially in the case of Pound), for a breaking down of barriers, as expressions crafted toward the greater good of mankind.

If simply stated, desire means to hope for an outcome, then I am on board with that definition for my own delving of answers and can easily insert it as an overarching notion into the exploratory actions in art, ways of living and thinking, and the communing of artists/intellectuals at Black Mountain College and The Club.  I was, at first, very concerned that John Cage described vitilist thought as “disinterestedness” and desire as a “nonimposition”, but it makes sense when coupled with his ideas expressed through the lens of Zen about oneness and acceptance and his statement in “Lecture on Something”, “It all goes together and doesn’t require that we try to improve it or feel our inferiority or superiority to it.”[3] Perhaps, my quest to put a finger on my feelings of desire can be partially summed in Hellstein’s statement about Cage’s thoughts regarding the detrimental nature of the categorizations of art and action, which I view as a compelling response to the temperament and outcomes of what was/is happening in our world, “For Cage, when art is understood as action, art and life are no longer separate.”[4] Perhaps one can view this as a complete acceptance of truth and its consequences.

But still, I hold back from this writing wanting to feel that my personal desire is separate, uniquely my own however I continue to not be able to wholly understand it. And I am left wondering how my “cosmic I” would experience Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-1951). I can easily imagine myself basking in its radiating wash of red color reflected upon my body. I can see myself turning toward anyone standing next to me, within that color field of red or separated by any one of the vibrating vertical lines, and smiling from inside the space of myself and from a place of universal understanding of our shared human existence. Perhaps it is all right to never fully understand my desire, but to always acknowledge it, to always be wanting.

[1] Roberts, Kim. “Whitman in Memory and Influence”, Beltway: A Poetry Quarterly. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hellstein, Valerie. “The Cage-iness of Abstract Expressionism”. Art in America (forthcoming, Spring 2014).

[4] Ibid.


  • Valerie Hellstein. “The Cage-iness of Abstract Expressionism”, Art in America (forthcoming Spring 2014). PDF.
  • Kim Roberts. “Whitman in Memory and Influence”, Beltway: A Poetry Quarterly.Pp. 4. Web.
  • W.J.T. Mitchell. “What Do Pictures Want?”. What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2005. Print.