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.  http://londonewcastle.com/. 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. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/arts/design/richard-prince-lawsuit-focuses-on-limits-of-appropriation.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1. Pp. 2. Web.

[12] Leigh Beadon. “Appeals Court Overturns Richard Prince Ruling In Victory For Fair Use & Appropriation Art”. Tech Dirt.  25 April 2013. http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130425/11554022838/appeals-court-overturns-richard-prince-ruling-victory-fair-use-appropriation-art.shtml. Web.

Reading List:

  • Roland Barthes. “Death of the Artist”. 1968. http://www.tbook.constantvzw.org/wp-content/death_authorbarthes.pdf. 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.
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