Archive for the ‘Jonathan T D Neil’ tag
Cinthia Marcelle & Tiago Mata Machado, O Século (The Century), 2011
…is by Cinthia Marcelle & Tiago Mata Machado, and it is called O Século (The Century) (2011). It’s a video, roughly ten-minutes long, and it shows a sun-raked, empty street, the kind you find at the edges or in the industrial zones of cities. Marcelle and Machado’s camera overlooks the street as if from a perch on an adjacent wall, so that what we see is only pavement, gutter, curb, sidewalk and a wall opposite the camera, all of which runs the length of the frame. The top of the wall is outside that frame, but we know that it is lined with concertina wire, because we can see its shadow on the sidewalk below. There are sewer drains, just left of center.
Then the action begins. From the right side of the frame, all manner of things are chucked into the scene: chairs, oil drums, car tires, slatted crates, hard hats, bicycle wheels, fluorescent light bulbs (these last are particularly satisfying to watch, given how they often disintegrate with a great “POP” when breaking against the rest of the junk). Sometimes chunks of dried dirt that must have been stuck to one or another of the things vaporize into puffs of brown smoke when landing in the scrum.
The delivery is rapid-fire and comes from a number of different positions off to the right. It builds quickly into a steady barrage, waxes and wanes a bit, and then begins to trail off, presumably as the hurlers begin to tire and their ammunition runs out. At one point, the scene gets enveloped in white smoke, as if some larger collapse has occurred off screen. Then it dissipates, and a final few things (some more fluorescent light bulbs, luckily) are thrown at and onto the pile.
It all takes about five minutes, at which point the video transitions back to the empty street, but now mirror-reversed. The volleys begin again, the junk is hurled, but it is comes from the left. Junk, smoke, smashing bulbs, it’s all there.
O Século is a powerful distillation of the kind of ballistics that have become so familiar to us in the age of filmed, televised, and streaming conflict. It would be a mistake to romanticize the action though. The resistance fighter, the demonstrator and the protestor are here, but so too is the rioter, the looter, the vandal. The act of throwing something about which one cares only that it hit its mark and do its damage, to person or property—or that it be seen to harbor this intention; so many times such throws are complete in and of themselves as acts, regardless of whether they hit anything at all—is a pure act of aggression.
This does not mean, however, that it is not historical. As Marcelle and Machado’s title suggests, this act belongs to a period, and which period is given by what is thrown. The light bulbs, the bicycle wheels, the hard hats, the oil drums, these are products of the Twentieth Century, as is their visibility as items in an arsenal of impromptu urban battles. That O Século was made in this, the twenty-first century, gives it a necessary ambiguity too. Will it memorialize the century just past? Or is it prophetic for the century that has just begun?
As a work of art it is undoubtedly a product the 1900s. Its formal rigor (the empty street is composed like a color field painting—think Kenneth Noland), its fixed-camera performance (a form that traces its genealogy back through Bruce Nauman to the films of Edison and the Lumieres), its dependence on gravity and accumulative spread (Jackson Pollock, Barry Le Va), its quotidian character (Duchamp), its mid-point mirror reversal (a hallmark of 1960s structural and materialist filmmaking), and so much more anchor O Século in twentieth-century art’s incessant, sometimes obsessive, concern with form.
In contrast to most everything else at The Ungovernables, which is almost singularly concerned with content, with what all this work is about and with what it all means, work which is in many cases seemingly wholly unaware of or willfully amnesiac about the art of the recent past, as if to suggest that its simply having been made is justification enough for our attending to it—in contrast to all of this, O Século is exceptional.
Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation, still from whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, 2011
The question of why Kazimir Malevich, painter of the Black Square (1914–5), inventor of Suprematism, plowhead of Russian Modernism and sacrifice of the Soviet avant-garde, turned, or rather returned, during the 1930s, to painting odd, faceless, geometricised peasants has yet to be answered fully or forcefully. That this self-proclaimed ‘commissar of space’, who had once enlisted himself with Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh – the ‘men of the future’ (budetliane) – in a battle to gain ‘victory over the sun’, retreated to the precincts of indigenous mysticism and donned the vestments of religion (Malevich’s final self-portrait, from 1933, shows the artist as church father) troubles any mind that desires the genuine venture of thought, be it artistic, scientific or intellectual breakthrough, to open onto the promise of some future free from the shackles of the present, let alone the past. And yet perhaps what Malevich was grappling with during the 1930s was not so much the past as a different conception of the future, and how one could get there.
Malevich, the good modernist, had a time problem, and at its root was film. Caught out by Sergei Eisenstein’s and Dziga Vertov’s masterworks of the 1920s, and with them the rise of filmic and photographic montage as the inevitable visual language of the revolution, Malevich’s commitment to painting could only appear quaint at best and counterrevolutionary at worst. Art historian Margarita Tupitsyn has argued convincingly however that even by 1920 Malevich had begun thinking filmically. In the small booklet Suprematism: 34 Drawings, published that year, Malevich projected one abstract sketch after another within, or rather upon, a drawn frame. Like a film, Malevich saw this work as ‘one piece, with no visible joints’ – he called it a ‘suprematist apparatus’. ‘It was a mechanism’, Tupitsyn says, ‘meant to operate without its inventor.’
Like their previous two films, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004), a dilation of the moment depicted in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), and The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), which dramatises the suspension of time pictured in that painting (by Rubens) and its cognates (by David), the latest film by Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation (her ever evolving studio of collaborators), whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2011), which completes the trilogy, nods in the direction of another painting – Malevich’s Composition: White on White (1918). And it, too, is a mechanism that operates without its inventor…
 See Margarita Tupitsyn, Malevich and Film (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, in association with Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém, 2002), 25.
Barbara Kruger, “Untitled” (Money makes money), 2011
Cognitive dissonance. It’s a cliché by now, a toss-off term used to explain (or to keep from explaining) all sorts of contradictions, hypocrisies, moral and ethical failings, feats of self-loathing, etc. It has become a standard operating principle, the kernel of cynical reason, the delivery mechanism of mental detachment.
And we love it. We can’t get enough of it. Harmony is for hippie losers. Dissonance is complex, difficult, dangerous; it’s Heidegger in six-inch heels at a rifle range. It’s why we love family-guy politicians and the prostitutes they pay for dirty sex. It’s why we adore the billionaire record producers that rail against the 1% down at Occupy Wall Street. It’s why campus police (at UC Irvine) use pepper spray against peaceful student demonstrators, and why a customer (at Wal-Mart) uses pepper spray against her fellow Black-Friday shoppers. It’s why we believe in too-big-to-fail. And yes, it’s why we love Art Basel Miami Beach…
Read the rest at Art Agenda.
Originally posted at Artworld Salon.
Making its way across the web as I write is a story about the exploitation of performers at the hands of Marina Abramović. ARTINFO is running the best recap of the story, and Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic has picked it up and carried it as well, but here’s a brief:
Abramović was tapped by LA MOCA to produce a performance work for the Museum’s annual gala. The outcome? Each table at the gala comes with a performer getting paid $150 to sit under it on a slowly-rotating lazy-susan with his or her head protruding up through the table’s center, which carries the promise of intermittent and likely uncomfortable eye contact throughout the evening. One human-centerpiece-to-be was none too happy about such future prospects and sent a missive to Yvonne Rainer, presumably because Rainer’s position in the artworld is unassailable, her politics predictable, and her network far reaching. Rainer in turn decried the spectacle in a letter to Jeffrey Deitch, which was published on the web as co-signed by Douglas Crimp, Taisha Paggett and, according to ARTINFO, Tom Knechtel and Monica Majoli.
In response to Rainer, Abramović told ARTINFO, “All these accusations, you can’t have them before you actually experience the situation and see how I can change the atmosphere [of the gala], that’s my main purpose.” And in a comment to the LA Times, Jeffrey Deitch said, “I would just hope that when people make allegations like this, they would actually come to see the performance and talk to the performers.” To make good on that, Deitch invited Rainer to a rehearsal of the piece.
A ticket to see this performance costs at least $2500, so entreaties to see it before judging it are disingenuous. But more importantly, such entreaties are missing the point of the work itself, which is odd, since they are coming from the artist creating it and the institution hosting it.
After all, to take part in the performance costs the performers their labor for at least the duration of the gala, but it also, as we know, costs the duration of the tryout and of the rehearsals too, and the value of this labor and time, as Abramović and the museum have priced it, is $150. The tenor, if not the point, of Rainer’s letter, was to point out the exploitation of the performer in this situation, because the tenor, if not the point, of the performance itself, the thing that would make it possible for living centerpieces to “change the atmosphere” of the event, turns on the condition of their being exploited.
Which is to say, it is exactly the stark confrontation between the gala’s (monied) patrons and the (not-so-monied) performers-turned-centerpieces that is meant to be “experienced” and which gives the performance its reason for being—it’s the very thing that would make it possible, in fact, for Abramović to conceive of the work as something that might “bring some kind of dignity, serenity, and concentration to the normal situation of a gala.” Would not the change of atmosphere be entirely different if, for example, Eli Broad and Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zhukova were sitting under those tables? How would dignity or serenity or concentration ensue from such a reversal?—the whole point is that it would be a reversal, that such asymmetry between patron and performer is what the performance is about.
From one perspective, then, the thing that makes such a performance what it is is exactly the fact that most people—people who cannot afford to support LA MOCA by buying a gala ticket for $2500—won’t see it. And what makes such a performance from another perspective is that the people who are “performing” in it are exactly those same people. And it’s the confrontation between these two classes of people, the possibility of their mutual recognition, that makes the performance what it is—a performance of, if not about, exploitation. Seeing such a performance, and so “experiencing” it, if it is indeed to take place as described, wouldn’t change a thing.
Josephine Meckseper, Emirates Palace, 2011; Timothy Taylor Gallery
Consider this: ‘Around 2000, I began to focus on making shelves and vitrines. I felt motivated by the idea of establishing a link to real shop windows smashed by rioters.’ Or this: ‘The mirrored sculptures, vitrines, and slatwalls are not meant as affirmations or glorifications of consumerism. On the contrary, their shiny surfaces are meant as provocations for destruction.’ Or this: ‘Their clean surfaces are a provocation for vandalism and destruction. They represent the moment right before a demonstrator picks up a stone and smashes a window.’
These statements, which Josephine Meckseper made in interviews between 2008 and 2010, must read much differently today after the violence, looting and vandalism of England’s August riots, when the ‘shoplifters of the world’ united under the banner of what we might call ‘liberated consumerism’. The word that will inevitably be bandied about during the run of Meckseper’s show at London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery this month is ‘prescient’. Well-placed artworld types, commentators, loyal ‘theorists’ and devotees will note that Meckseper ‘gets it’, and that she obviously ‘got it’ long before the London, Manchester and Birmingham police, or the shocked populace, or the media cynics, or the welfare state, or the neoliberal world order – which, one might add, both the left and the right have diagnosed as the disaffected rioters’ spectrum disorder: ‘What’s wrong with Johnny?’ ‘Oh, he’s neoliberalistic.’
But here’s a question: if you were to pick up a stone and hurl it through the crystal pane of one of Meckseper’s mirrored vitrines, would you still qualify as a demonstrator? Who and how, exactly, is this work meant to provoke? Does it want from you – the artist, the collector, the casual gallerygoer, the writer/critic/curator, the socialite/dealer, the exhausted art-handler, the art martyr – the same as it wants from the tracksuited hoodies from North London? Is it even possible that you want the same things?
Download the full article here.
‘What, exactly, is a blog?’ This question is our contemporary moment’s shibboleth. If you ask it, it’s likely that you’re receiving social security checks, or get into the movies at a reduced rate. Nevertheless, it’s a valid existential question too, because a blog is the quickest and most ubiquitous way to gain an independent ‘presence’ online (i.e. one not tethered to Facebook or Google). And though blogs have been around since the early days of the web browser, their ubiquity belongs to the last decade, long enough, that is, to begin to feedback into the way we look at, and think about, and do things, offline.
Can I Get a Witness, curated, or ‘posted’, we might say, by Tisch Abelow, Jashin Friedrich, and Dakotah Savage, is the first exhibition I have seen that manages to translate, or perhaps ‘remediate’, the form and sensibility of the blog. I say “the blog,” even though there is ‘a’ blog in particular—Art Blog Art Blog, the blog of Joshua Abelow, one of the artists in the show and older brother to Tisch—that has temporarily lent its name to the space (Ross Bleckner’s studio, in fact) in which Can I Get A Witness was ‘posted’. There is another blog too, Ah Hole Ah Hole, which is Tisch Abelow and Dakotah Savage’s, and which does much of what the elder Abelow’s does, and that is to array—this is what blogs do, array things, consecutively, most often vertically, but sometimes horizontally too; it is the blog’s form—images and videos and short tweet-worthy statements and questions and announcements, and, of course, links, all of which have been put there by the blogger(s).
Download the rest here.
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…
Read the rest at ArtReview
“To have fidelity to the image.” This is how Robert Longo recently described the way he thought about making the kind of art that he does. It’s a statement that requires greater attention now that this trilogy of works, what I understand as the God Machines proper, take as their subject the holiest sites—St. Peter’s in Rome, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Ka’ba in Mecca—of the globe’s three dominant monotheistic religions, all of which, at one time or another, have manifested iconoclastic policies toward some kind of imagery and demanded utter fidelity toward another.
But what does it mean “to have fidelity to the image”? It is not at all self-evident what the relationship between the two critical terms, “fidelity” and “image,” might be. Notice too that it is “fidelity to the image” and not “fidelity to an image.” The latter is more apposite to the worship of icons, for which the indefinite article is key, because the image, in this case, is merely a meaning-bearing token (picture) of a certain meaning-securing type (Jesus or Mary or the Saints). The definite designation of “the” image, however, means that it is the token in which Longo is interested—or rather, to which he is committed, for this is the sense in which “to have fidelity” makes sense. But what does it mean to be committed to a token?…