Archive for the ‘ArtReview’ tag
Eric L. Santner, The Royal Remains: The People’s Tow Bodies and the Endgame of Sovereignty
The University of Chicago Press, 2011
’Sovereignty studies’ has been on the rise over the last decade. The translation of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in 1998 and the publication of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire in 2000 did much to bring theories of personal and political sovereignty to the center of debates over the ‘biopolitical,’ Michel Foucault’s term since the ’70s for the type of ‘governmentality’ to which we are all subject at present. At least since his magisterial study of the German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber’s ‘nervous illness’ (My Own Private Germany, 1996), Eric Santner, currently Professor of Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, has been at work considering the ways that this sovereign power, understood particularly as a ‘space of representation’ – that is, as the ‘offices, roles, symbolic mandates and titles’ that we assume in our daily lives – can affect, to put it plainly, our ‘nerves.’
Drawing upon Ernst Kantorowicz’s landmark The King’s Two Bodies (1957), Santner here, in The Royal Remains, argues that the (traumatic) investiture of sovereign power in The People at the moment of the French Revolution logically transfers the split corporeality of The King, at once the body politic (immutable, devine, transcendent) and the body natural (mortal, contingent, precarious), onto us. This power transfer is not a clean one, however. We never quite ‘fit’ our new symbolic authority. The King never did either, for that matter. The ‘political theology’ of sovereignty itself is always productive of a kind of excess, what Santner calls a ‘surplus of immanence,’ a ‘strange materiality,’ in short, the ‘flesh’, that organises the symbolic networks of authority in the first place….
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Erik Bulatov House, 1992; Seva’s Blue, 1979; Russian XX Century, 1998-99; from The New Museum
Erik Bulatov’s House (Dom), completed in 1992, just months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, could serve as an emblem of the kind of time slip that is everywhere present in Ostalgia, New Museum Director of Exhibitions Massimiliano Gioni’s love letter to the art and artists of the former eastern bloc and the contemporary artists who remain fascinated by the latter. Running vertically down a background of photo-based, faded Kodachrome colored sky cracking with Baroque rays of light one ‘reads’ the three large block letters of the Russian word for ‘house’: ‘дом’. The painting as a whole mobilizes familiar pictorial tropes, such as tensions between surface and depth, image and text, form and content, but there is something more to House than this. It recalls, rather, those kitschy credits from 1970s science fiction movies—think Zardoz (1974), or Logan’s Run (1976), or Solaris (1972)—with their equal mixtures of techno-utopianism and environmento-Wagnerian romanticism.
The point here is not to saddle Bulatov’s work with some particular iconographic resource but rather to note that those films themselves, their aesthetic and their narratives, were, like Bulatov’s paintings and much of the best work in Ostalgia, products of the cold war, which was everywhere itself a product of collective fantasies and fears and desires. The future, back then, was a contest played out on the field of the present with the weapons of history, both personal and political; and SF offered some of the most compelling diagnoses and representations of that contest, precisely because the horizon of time that formed SF’s core orientation was also the horizon that organized the two super powers’ dueling collective projects. And as with capitalism (but notably not democracy) the modern nation state was for socialism merely an exit vehicle, one that could eventually be discarded when the working class or consumer, as the subject and so the inevitability of history, traversed the globe…
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Thomas Lowe, Thanks. Come Again, 2011; image from Horton Gallery
Dada photomontage – think Hannah Höch’s iconic Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919) – was meant to disrupt the plenitude of the ‘bourgeois’ easel picture. It was syntactical rather than mimetic. Like an editorial, one had to ‘read’ it, which would be a political act, and photomontage a political form, given how it countered any conventional ‘aesthetic experience’. One gets the sense that Thomas Lowe is after a similar politics of form, though with this series of deft coloured-pencil drawings, we’re firmly back in the province of mimesis, but now the mimesis of photomontage itself…
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Painting has long given up the ghost on the Renaissance metaphor of acting as a window onto some other world; it now has to battle it out as just one more screen among many. Yet it is surprising how few of those screens have taken up this metaphor for themselves. Of course Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) made the case for cinema as voyeurism, and along less mainstream lines, both Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) and Richard Serra’s Frame (1969) probed the limits of fenestrated filmic perception and cognition. To my knowledge, however, no practitioner of the camera arts has equated the screen with the window, has literalized this metaphoric relationship, quite as effectively as Krzysztof Wodiczko…
E’wao Kagoshima, Monkey Smoking, 2007; image from Algus Greenspon
Is the difference between eclecticism and pastiche simply a function of framing? When an artist works in many different styles, let alone mediums, and the results are gathered together in one place, the outcome we regard as a kind of willed eclecticism. When those styles all appear in a single work, or when their allusions to other works of art, or artists’ styles, are so strong as to be quickly recognizable, it’s pastiche. But what happens when the frame that keeps eclecticism distinct from pastiche begins to slip, when we find ourselves caught in the midst of a search (for a style) and a comment (on “style” itself) without knowing which is which, or even if the question itself is valid (after all, who would think to talk about “style” anymore)? Valid or not, it is a question that will confront any viewer of E’wao Kagoshima’s output since 1976, which is when the artist arrived in New York and began the various artistic campaigns that are well represented at Mitchell Algus’s (and business partner Amy Greenspon’s) newest enterprise…
Image: Monika Sosnowska, 2010 (installation view), photo: Thomas Mueller. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth London, New York, & Zurich.
My write up of Tony Cox’s show from back in October now up at artreviewdigital.com (requires registration), along with the rest of the December issue. PDFs of this and other recent writing will be updated soon.
It is tempting to say that Carol Bove’s show at Kimmerich’s new space in New York was, quite simply, beautiful, and leave it at that. It would not be wrong, either, to state as much, though it likely would be to leave it at that, not only because a show like this, with its conceptual underpinnings (Bove became known for her acute arrangements of historically symbolic items, such as touchstone books and photographs from the 1960s) and manifest attention to detail (no arrangement of things in a gallery has ever been more ‘acute’ than they are here) is after so much more than any mere pronouncement on what can count as beautiful, or perhaps ‘tasteful’, today, but also because one gets the sense that this is exactly what such beauty, or perhaps ‘taste’, is being asked to do – that is, to compel us not to go too far with any kind of enquiry…
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Here is a link to a brief piece on Luis Camnitzer’s new project. It’s a more personal reflection than I’m accustomed to, but I don’t really see any other way this work.