Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Toward Politics of Representation

      I would like to introduce to those of you who do not know of him, the artist Paul Chan. I stumbled upon his work and numerous writings about him during my research of the artists that were new to me from this week’s readings. There were quite a few, which was very exciting! The only disappointing thing about my research was that I could not find Pierre Huyghe’s films in their entirety on-line. I did, however, discover some in-depth videos that helped me to understand more about who he is as an artist.

The first video is of the talk he gave in 2012 at The Retreat dOCUMENTA (13) at The Banff Centre (Canada). The introduction of Huyghe is very poignant to this week’s readings, as the scholar who offered an introduction to Huyghe paraphrased ideas of the late Russian philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin. She said, “There is no alibi in life. And he (Bakhtin) meant by that saying, actually, that there is no alibi because we need to deal, all of us, with the fact that life comes as an immense given-ness that we are forced to transform all the time into a world for us, through an exercise of understanding the passages, the connective-ness, the in-between-ness, not only of time, but also of space”.

The other video that I discovered is an interesting Q&A that took place in 2006 between Pierre Huyghe and Mark Godfrey (Slade School of Fine Art, UK)

I discovered a series of seven talks given by Pierre Huyghe in 2008 at the European Graduate School about narrative, projection, and memory. How pertinent to my interests! Here is the link to the first one and you can link to the rest from there:

But back to Paul Chan.

I had not heard of him before now. Following a line of thought from the readings, I looked up Jacques Ranciére and landed on an article written by Ben Davis, “Ranciére, for Dummies”.[1] Perfect! I discovered that Ranciére has been described by Artforum as “the art world’s ‘darling du jour”. The same magazine described Paul Chan as “Ranciérian”, so is he also one of the art world’s darling du jour? These are the little tidbits that many times offer up a whole new world of questions and exploration, and for this I am glad. To me, Chan represents  part of that new generation of artists discussed by Nicolas Bourriaud when he stated at the end of his “Berlin Letter about Relational Aesthetics”, “The political value of the relational aesthetic lies in two very simple observations: social reality is the product of negotiation and democracy is a montage of forms. Whatever the artist’s degree of awareness, every artist secretes and transposes social values, bringing them to bear on the individual or the collective.” Quoting the psychiatrist, David Copper, he goes on to state, “…’madness is not inside the person’ (as if it were a foreign body), but inside the system of relations in which that person participates…What has been ground down by the machine of community must be re-singularized. And this work implies the constitution of temporary subject groups, or micro-communities, the modeling of alternative modes of sociality and the appropriation of industrial production and economic structures. That is what relational aesthetics is about, the emphasis on a parallel engineering, an open forms based on the affirmation of the trans-individual.”

To cut to the chase, Paul Chan’s work falls into with this line of thinking, which is what I perceive to be meant as an egalitarian approach, as individual artist, critic, writer, and human being involved in the politics of our world’s issues with others. He creates. He participates. He disseminates. He doesn’t hold much back, to be sure. Perhaps one could even think of his life’s work as being a contemporary answer to the Ranciérian question of, “What landscape can one describe as the meeting place between artistic and political practice?”[2]  Paul Chan seems to do it all. He embraces modern technology as a means to create, and to support himself (clearly) through DVDs of his art videos, font designs, GIF designs, and experimental publishing. His online company, Badland Unlimited, describes their publications as such: “Historical distinctions between books, files, and artworks are dissolving rapidly. We publish and produce new works by artists and writers that embody the spirit of this emerging dissolution. We make books in an expanded field.” He has been written about in more art magazines than I can list here and has been published by just as many. He is a regular keynote speaker at many high-ranking international art venues. Numerous interviews with him can be seen on the Internet, both in texts and videos.

In an interview with Alina Viola Grumiller, while he comes from a journalism and labor organizing background, Chan stated that he does not mix politics with his art.[3] This statement points back to earlier explorations, with thanks to Valerie Hellstein, about two ways in which art can engage politics-as tending toward a representation of politics wherein art content deals specifically with social identities and political positions or toward a politics of representation wherein art is constructions of representations that are interrogated and deconstructed formally and ideologically.  However, he is adamant in his Ranciérian viewpoints when talking about art:  “I think it’s important to remember where these lines are being drawn; within the philosophical, economic, and social parameters of art, as opposed to politics, and this sort of freedom is exhilarating but impotent. Again, to mix. This is where we get into trouble. To mistake the freedom in art for the freedom and liberation in politics is to be disingenuous about both. The freedom in art translates as pure impotence in politics and the freedom of politics means among other things the destruction of art. To mistake art making as a form of political work I think is fine, but in the end does a disservice to art. It doesn’t mean that artists can’t be political activists or that art can’t have a political resonance. It simply means that we must be aware of the power and the impotence that is the social and historical fabric of contemporary art.” Nevertheless, to me, his art falls into the latter category of interrogated and ideological constructions of representations”.

Paul Chan has much to contribute to the art world along with Pierre Huyghe and many of the other artists studied in recent weeks. He makes sound observations about critical world issues and human exeriences through his art, activism, and writing. To me, he lives a life that points toward the earlier quoted Mikhail Bakhtin, “There is no alibi in life.” At first you might be taken aback by some of his works, but dig deeper and you’ll be surprised:

Here are some interesting supporting articles about his work:

Baghdad in No Particular Order

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans

Sade for Sade’s Sake

Some of Paul chan’s views on art:

[1] Ben Davis. “Ranciére, for Dummies” Web.

[2] Fluvia Carnivale and John Kelsey. “Art of the Possible: An Interview with Jacques Ranciére”. Artforum. March 2012.  Web.

[3] Alina Viola Grumiller. “Hope of Escape”. Web.

Reading List:

  •  Nicolas Bourriaud. “Berlin Letter about Relational Aesthetics”.
  • Thomas Hirschhorn. Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas HIrschhorn. Lisa Lee and Hal Foster, Eds. Cambridge: October Books. 2013. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Biennale Dismay and a Note On Apartment Art

      This week’s readings were definitely eye openers for me. To write about every issue covered would take a month of Sundays to address. It’s strange how in the past I’ve tried to find out about some of these issues and must have searched Google erroneously because I gave up my searches after a while. But this week’s readings have opened up all of that. It pays to be able to begin researching after having a better start at it than zero like before. I found so many supporting articles my head was spinning. I am grateful.

Julian Stallabrass’ explanation about biennials and the other global art venues I read about gave explanations to what I have only felt in my gut and could barely articulate.  The last time I attended a biennale was back in 2002. I was involved in the film side of things, but I went to the Giardini on a day off to look at the architectural concepts. At that time, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of creative brilliance and paid only cursory attention to the art that was placed outside for public view along the main travelling route. Having little free time to enjoy anything was an issue then. Today, I find myself wondering how I would have responded if the Giardini exhibitions were focused on art that year instead of architecture. I might have come away with a stronger viewpoint on all I witnessed.

Nevertheless, I did come away with thoughts about how the pavilions were staunchly nation oriented, not necessarily displaying as I had hoped the larger-than-one-country important global concerns of that time. Some countries presented slight global branching, albeit from an interior eye, so to speak.  They are specific nation’s pavilions, after all. Our own United States pavilion featured design proposals for the new World Trade Center accompanied by photographs of Ground Zero taken by Joel Meyerowitz. The display felt slight as compared to the real issues of loss of life, terrorism, and war. Outside the pavilion was a large twisted heap of metal from one of the Twin Towers. I recall thinking it must have cost our country a fortune to ship it there. Having close ties to 9/11, the whole of our country’s representation in that international intellectual venue hit me hard.

I thought it was such a superficial portrayal of the actual horrors and real fear experienced in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, indeed in the whole of the United States, not to mention for the innocent peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Right there with me in Italy I relived my own experiences of confusion and concern for dear friends and colleagues while being riveted to the news. I thought about all of the phone calls and e-mails to try to reach them—waiting, waiting, waiting—finally hearing their tearful stories. I remembered eerie experiences of being in NYC in the weeks after 9/11. All of the suffering of the bereaved, the subsequent loss of jobs might have been represented in some way. What I got instead was a chunk of metal on view outside our United States pavilion that was far smaller than any one piece I witnessed being hauled away from Ground Zero—no ash, no flyers with faces of missing loved ones, no strange scent in the air of something hard to define but that made one’s spine feel like a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s, nothing that elicited the strange silence that had been NYC streets. I wanted more as a justification for my country’s representation even if it was the year for architecture. I told myself that if it had been the year for art to be represented at the biennale instead of architecture, I would most likely be viewing a more humanistic exhibition that could stand many breaths away from the United States government’s self-consumed ideas about supremacy and clout that, to me, were what was billed under the guise of rebuilding hope for our future. If I had still carried with me the printed out e-mail I had received from my mother (right or wrong in its suggestion), I would have stuck it up inside our pavilion with the chewing gum from my mouth because in just a few words of concern it felt more passionate:

                                      Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 7:43 PM

                                      Subject: Where are you?

                                     > — REBEKAH>

                                     > wrote:

                                     > > Stephanie, In view of today’s acts of war aganist

                                     > > our country, I very much need to know exactly where

                                     > > you are.  Mother

In the end I felt ripped off by my own country.

It was odd, too, that I was at the biennale not as a representative of my country, but for Canada.  All of us were invited to a lavish luncheon at a posh restaurant hosted by the Canadian Embassy to Italy…paid for by Canadian tax dollars. It was a very uncomfortable experience. To make matters worse, I attended another event (paid for by Canadian tax dollars) that took place in a contessa’s home (rented for the evening) with beverages and food served by her personal staff. From the tall elegant windows, drinks in hand, we looked across the narrow canal into the Guggenheim’s darkened windows and spoke about “Peggy’s collection”.  People in tuxes and gowns surrounded me. My faux pas was that I didn’t understand it was a “glowing” event meant for clothing other than the jeans and retro 70’s polyester jacket that I wore. As it stood after receiving many sideways glances, my attire finally went unnoticed when the veiled wife of a Canadian architect who had immigrated to Toronto from the Middle East burst in past one of the contessa’s staff (she had not been invited?!) to find him snuggling with one of his students who was dressed in an expensive gown into which she (perhaps he in a fit of passion?) had cut slits in sexy places that were held together with gold colored safety pins. Oy! The man’s wife was whisked away after her “scene” as people called it and everything settled down to where it was “supposed” to be with a book signing by all of the architects, engineers, and artists who were involved in the Canadian pavilion exhibition, “…a free copy for each of you…”, and speeches…blah, blah, blah. Need I say that I left very soon feeling utterly dismayed with myself? My copy of the book sits out of reach on a high shelf collecting desert dust; its cover is no longer gleaming white.

My accounts are not meant to bash biennales, but to stress that for a very long time I have felt confused and off-kilter against my desires to eventually be a part of one again even in the small way in which I was before, and these thoughts are now further complicated in regard to what I have learned this week of what they have become (or perhaps were then, but did not know the whole of it).  Is it true, as Stallabrass pointed out by numerous examples, that what one wants to think of as a unique honor is really to take part in a watered down art world homogeny produced only upon Western values and desires? Have our truly international (and now transnational) art venues that are supposed to include artists who say something become yet another pulsing vein in the life force of the spectacle? There is no doubt that politics play a role in biennials, but even that seems softened with an eye toward the tastes and expectations of the majority, and worse a elitist, exclusionary, consumerist (?) majority.


      At first, I had no understanding of Julian Stallabrass’ mention of Apartment Art. It seemed that his explanation made no sense of that art as ephemeral when set against an ice wall filled with luxury consumer items that were dug out by the public to eventually destroy the wall. So, I dug deeper. I was surprised to find that barely any mention is made in our American Google search engine; one must attach the name of Gao Minglu to find anything of substance. I was surprised that I had never heard of apartment art until now. It appears to have been a very important response by Chinese artists to government control (legal restrictions on galleries and museums) and traditional museum patronage. “Acclaimed curator and founder of Apartment Art, Gao Minglu, says the movement was made up of ‘art that responded to the moment, the condition of making art in the early 1990s in China.’ What began with artists transforming their apartments and homes into private galleries to compensate for the lack of commercial gallery support, resulted in a full-blown underground art movement. In addition to restricted space, artists were limited to the materials readily available to them. What resulted was a ‘Dada-influenced movement’ that ‘relied on ready-made objects, performances and Zen Buddhism.’[1]

One conceptual Apartment Art artist, Song Dong, began in the late 1990s to perform a daily ritual of writing his dairy with water on a stone. While I have found no documentation to support my thoughts, I believe that his rise in the world of conceptual Chinese artists would not have taken place if there had never been a kind of relief offered up to some Chinese artists via the 1998 Beijing exhibition, Inside/Out: New Chinese Art.  He has exhibited at the Moma (NY), PS1 (NY), SFMoma (California), the Walker Art Museum (Minneapolis), Centre Pompidou (Paris), and in two biennials, Sao Paolo Biennale (2004), Istanbul Biennale (2003). The struggles and fortitude of artists outside of the ever more mainstream Westernized world is always inspiring whether or not their work is labeled as part of an homogenous new art world. Suddenly I find myself back where I started by questioning the biennial culture, selected curators and artists, associated politics and structure, and the oftentimes failed intentions of our Westernized art assemblies.

To me, the most interesting artists in the readings this week were mentioned in Pamela M. Lee’s introduction to her book, Forgetting the Art World. Overall, I agree with her approach of looking at the world’s art and issues of globalization through the lens of “the work of art’s world”. With her eye toward new and important art venues, curators, and artists who are making a difference in how we might view the art in our more globally connected world, I will keep her name as prominent for future reference. I am grateful to have learned about her scholarship. I hope that she will expand her investigations even further beyond the artists she wrote about in her book, which might in turn enable me a greater understanding beyond this vicious circle spinning around inside my head.


[1] Author Unknown. “Apartment Art”. ArtSpeak China, June 28, 2011.

Reading List:

  • Pamela H. Lee. Forgetting the Art World. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2012. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “New World Order”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 19-49. Print.

      Having already been familiar with Adrian Piper’s Calling Cards and Mythic Being I wanted to see what else I could learn about her art. As I searched the web, I thought about a fellow undergraduate student who shared my freshman year art history class. I knew he was a fellow photo student, but our paths rarely crossed since we each worked in different gang dark rooms. I had been sitting outside taking a break from lab work when he handed a card to me and sat down nearby when usually he’d pass by and never speak. He was a unique person who liked to eat ice cream with a big spoon from a gallon-sized container. The container of ice cream would last him about three days worth of snacking during work breaks. I flipped over the card to read it:

Dear Friend,

I am gay.

My father refused to eat at the same table with me after I came out to my family.  That was 7 years ago. I am now 22. I ask you, my friend, to understand that being gay is not a disease. If you share food with me you will not get AIDS; you will not become gay. What I hope could happen if you were to eat with me is that you question your own perceptions about sexuality in relation to mine, and find that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing. I deserve to be loved and respected just like you.

I don’t expect you to share food with me, but I do keep an extra spoon in my pocket.

I hope I have not made you uncomfortable, but I really like you and want to be friends.

Instantly, I wondered if he thought I felt some kind of judgment toward him, but realized he was taking a tack in his own way from Adrian Piper whom we had studied earlier that week. I was so touched in the moment that I didn’t know how to respond except with a smile and to get back to my work. Soon enough, my new friend and I shared ice cream from his gallon container. As our coursework put us in closer daily proximity to one another, we shared wonderful meals and coffee chats throughout our years at NMSU. Whether or not I would have taken his extra spoon to eat food with him is not the point of sharing my memory, rather I was impressed by how many years later an artist’s work can offer up an answer to someone who suffered from lack of understanding and acceptance.

While looking at and reading about Piper’s work (and revisiting Wojnarowicz’s works), I found myself thinking that I am a boring white person. Sometimes when I have struggled for direction in my own work, I have had thoughts like, “I haven’t suffered enough”, “I am not displaced”, “My internal wrestling is not legitimate by comparison to that of others”. I have asked myself, “Who will care about my personal history in my art?” “What in this world, where there have been and will continue to be real fights, is important about my identity?” And now I wonder how I have changed, learned, and who I am today.

Often when I view and/or read about outstanding, thought provoking, and sometimes heart wrenching art created as commentary, observations, explanations, clarifications, etc. on life experiences by persons with different ethnicities than mine, different sexual orientations than mine, who have been traumatically dislocated, who have been personally wrenched by war, or who have suffered lifelong loss of self as acknowledged, as valid and valuable, I find myself feeling alienated from inside much of the art world. Please understand that I feel deep compassion and empathy, but I realize I am oh-so-privileged as most boring white people are. I have asked myself why have I felt a sense of estrangement. There are no clear answers to myself except I lean toward a greater desire than I experience, the implications of which are challenging to put a finger on. Perhaps, I am one of those people who are self-implicated by wishing that to be a boring white artist shouldn’t have to be so hard in its own right. Oh hypocrite, am I!

After reading Wojnarowicz’s horrifying account in Post Cards from America: X -Rays from Hell about what his friend (and he) experienced with the deaths of their friends and lovers, and what their own bodies were experiencing, to be the boring white person that I am is not so bad. In trying to make sense of my easier existence I discovered that Michael Stipe (lead singer of R.E.I.) read the essay out loud at Artists Space as a combined effort with the organization in support of the Andy Warhol Foundation who had demanded that The Smithsonian immediately restore Wojnarowicz censored work as part of the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.[1]  Stipe claimed: “I decided to read this piece by David  Wojnarowicz to illuminate and contextualize the frame of mind that prevailed during the very difficult end of the 1980’s; a political regime and administration that refused to recognize the AIDs crisis, a hostile and frightened public, and a community desperate to be heard, cared for, acknowledged. The piece resonates as strongly now as then, and the question is how much of this has changed or improved over the past 21 years.” To me, Stipes’ last statement is where the lingering truth lies. And now, a couple of years after hearing Jonathan Katz speak here in Las Cruces about some of the Hide/Seek works and all of the politics surrounding the exhibition, it hits home even greater than it did in my harried undergraduate existence then. You can see a video of Katz talking about the importance of the exhibition here:

I found and read excerpts from Piper’s excellent writings about xenophobia and the indexical present. Her works Catalysis (1970), Mythic Being (1970s), and I Embody Everything You Most Hate and Fear (1970) have been described by Carol Stakenas (executive director, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) and Marina Zurkow (multi-media artist, Professor at Tisch School of the Arts) as “the first examples of ‘the indexical present,’ a highly effective (yet commonly criticized as confrontational) technique that Piper uses to situate the work in the immediate present and create a direct relationship to the viewer by the use of words like ‘I,’ ‘You,’ ‘Here,’ and ‘This,’ instead of ‘We,’ ‘There,’ etc. By placing the viewer in the same time frame as the object being observed, the role of the artist as a mediator between the viewer and the subject of the work is diminished, as is the ability of the viewer to place barriers in the way of an honest consideration of the subject presented.”[2]

I knew a person who said he was a self-xenophobe.  I still have no idea what that could mean except perhaps self-hate (No. I hope not!). Self-preservation? To me, all of the artworks we learned about this past week point fingers. The works imply, overtly and subversively, a predominance of great ignorance that has prevailed, and sadly still does, in our collective human existence. I view these artworks as signifiers meant to teach us lessons through their messages that do in fact implicate us in myriad ways and from that which is signified through them, it is our responsibility to find and preserve commonality even in the perceived weakest link between us. If these works want anything as time has moved forward from their beginnings, they ask us to act as witness, to carry forward—to burn into our collective memory why they were created and why they exist in critical discourse. To me, this offers a kind of self-centering against the occasional self-deprecating thoughts of being a boring white person, for in reality there is a place for everyone’s art that is valuable in thought as explored first as reductive through the individual and then as collective bridge to all experience.


Reading List

  • Thelma Golden. “What’s White…?”. 1993 Biennial Exhibition (Whitney Biennial). Elisabeth Sussman, et al. New York: Whitney Museum of Art with Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1993. Pp. 26-35. Print.
  • Adrian Piper. “Ideology, Confrontation, and Political Self-Arewness”. (1981) 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. 787-791. Print.
  • Christopher Reed. “Queer and Beyond”. Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas. 2011. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 229-280. Print.
  • David Wojnarowicz. “Post Cards from America: X-Rays from Hell”. 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. 373-376. Print.
Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Gender Neutrality is Not the “New Black”

      If I understand Whitney Davis correctly, he views the scope of gender depiction in art as divided into four areas: gender in and of representation and gender in practice and of practice, and these are always interrelated, very often ambiguous, and entirely given to subjective interpretation throughout time.

First and foremost, in my mind, all art (each piece in turn) should be considered from the viewpoint of its reason for existing…inside the piece itself as from its source of origination…the artist’s intention, which comes from the entirety of experience and investigated knowledge focused into a piece of art. While it is probably true (if one thinks it is important to understand) that all representational art is gendered, I came to Davis’ writing from the stance of a person who thinks it is not important outside of the realm of what the artist intended, and from the stance that I respect all of what an artist thinks is vital and conveys as important through their work or about their work elsewhere, even if I do not agree with it. I am referencing here art that is the sum of the higher standards a person holds close in their own life and the lives of others.

Gender difference and gender agreement can be tiring theses to me although I understand the need for academician’s of gender studies and culture studies to delve into them and more. Perhaps I am responding to yet another writing (Davis’) that takes a ridiculously long road to get to the point, and arguments that include must as a directive are a fast way to get me unseated with rebellion even though I understand it is a form of convincing writing. I chastised myself during both readings through of Davis to settle down and work it, work it. But honestly, here I am being the one of my fellow graduate students who says, “So what?”   However, I do not write that from the perspective of someone who does not care about all that people have gone through for me to be able to think all of the things I thought while reading about gender perceptions for this week’s studies. I feel fortunate to be able to accept an artist’s viewpoints from whatever position they come from. How lucky I am to be able to say, “So what?”  It is because I have learned, long before Davis what it can mean to have an open mind.

Friends of mine fight a fight everyday, but for Equality and a Socialist government not for the fact that they decided to get married after one of them decided to have medical operations to change his sex from male to female. Gender and sex are complicated. I read an article on NPR’s website titled “The End of Gender?” wherein the writer questioned the possibility of gender neutrality offering examples of young Storm, the child being raised genderless in Toronto, and Andrej Pejic who is an Australian model of both male and female fashions.[1] He also cited J. Crew as depicting in a catalog a young male model with pink painted toenails, gender-neutral proms and dorms, passports that state Parent 1 and Parent 2 instead of mother or father. Included on the left sidebar is a list of why gender matters according to one Dr. Leonard Sax, so there will always be some kind of unfortunate counter-argument. In spite of knowing issues surrounding gender will most likely never go away, I will always call for gender neutrality because I believe that much could be solved for individuals if their was a world perspective in agreement that gender does not matter. I do not want it to be the “new black”. Through practicing gender neutrality we can learn to embrace the beauty of our gender spectrum.

[1] Linton Weeks. “The End of Gender?” National Public Radio. June 23, 2011. Web.

Reading List

  • Whitney Davis.”Gender”. Critical Terms for Art History, 2nd. Edition. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Schiff, Eds. 2003. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp, 330-344. Print.
  • Laura Meyer. “Power and Pleasure: Feminist Art Practice and Theory in the United States and Britain”. A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. Amelia Jones, Editor. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. 2006. Pp. 317-342. Print.