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.

[2] http://www.o-matic.com/public_art/piper.html

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. http://www.npr.org/2011/06/27/137342682/the-end-of-gender. 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.
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. http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/dear-claes-/. 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.  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.

      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. http://blog.art21.org/2011/05/17/the-friends-and-family-plan-sol-lewitt-and-eva-hesse/. Web.

[2] PDF of photocopy of Sol Le Witt’s letter to Eva Hesse: http://blog.art21.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/sol-eva-letter.pdf. Web.

[3] MOCATV. “Learn to Say F**k You”. April 23, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2bC-3o9h4I. 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.