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.

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