Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tomás López's The Portrait Series at The Lowe Museum (open until September 17)

Darby, Tom López, 2010-2017

A still photograph is simply an isolated frame taken out of the infinite camera - Hollis Frampton

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The photograph, above, of the late Darby Bannard, is part of Tomás López's The Portrait Series at the Lowe Museum. López's black-and-white, silverish print, has the prompt of a chancy shot with a focused center and out-of-focus periphery. We see Darby's inquisitive expression, almost hinting a smile, his quick-witted eyes scrutinizing the observer from yonder. The subject's countenance exudes a steaming melting quality, as if we got a composite of Darby-moments before and after the shot. López has suffused this photo with a "condensed" mobility. The trick is part of the history of photography. This is what photography has to its credit that film betrays, the implicit potential change of the permanent.1

How is Darby suffused with history? The portrait brings to mind the concerns of portraiture photography during the last half of the Nineteenth Century, the epoch of the Human Sciences when, as Wilhelm Dilthey suggests, "society looks at itself," that is to say, "the same century that invented History and Photography." How to negotiate the intrinsic mimetic quality of the medium with the complex and contradictory nature of the human psyche?

Take Chuck for example: handsome, strong-necked, broad-shouldered, self-assured and laid back.

Tomás López, Chuck, 2010-2017

The success of this picture depends of the "absorption" of the sitter, in part looking out and looking in. Whatever Chuck's countenance, let's keep in mind that in portraiture photography the sitter presents himself to the camera. Clearly, the genre has wrestled with this implicit tension. Michael Fried in a recent book about Photography has called this presenting/representing dichotomy "theatricality." Add digital photography and Photoshop to the mix and the tension gets amplified. 3 López accepts the fact that he deals with theatricality when he writes (for the folded catalog to the show): "My intention was to reveal a moment of collaboration and connection with each sitter, however brief." So, let's assume this sitter/camera "connection" plus López's digital manipulation of the visual information, which only amplifies the truth/fiction divide at the heart of photography. 4

Coming back to Chuck's portrait: Is he really relaxed or is he just successfully conveying the disposition for the camera? We'll never know (neither López, and surprisingly, neither Chuck himself). What makes the human psyche so complicated is that behavioral dispositions do not necessarily reveal the sitter's mental states. But that doesn't matter. As Fried observes, we understand that photography is a form of theater, and the best theater happens when the sitter shows (as if there was) no regard for the camera.

In the folded catalog to the exhibit, López acknowledges his debt to Nadar and Julia Margaret Cameron. But there is little of Nadar in this series. The French photographer was not particularly interested in "raising photography to an art" (nothing wrong with that either). Nadar, a supreme documentarian of his epoch, wanted, not the "inner" Delacroix (below), but the famous painter. 5

Paul Nadar, Delacroix, 1856 (where the painter strikes the à-la-mode "Napoleonic" pose). For Nadar, it's secondary that Delacroix looks at the camera. This is portrait as epochal documentary.

To better understand López's work, let's follow the lead of Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir John Herschel, 1864

Compared with Nadar, Cameron is breaking new ground. Sir John Herschel was a respected British astronomer and mathematician. Other photographers of the epoch would have depicted Herschel full figured, grave, amidst weighty academic tomes. Instead we have a close up of the scientist, draped in black. His face rendered in chiaroscuro appears three-dimensional. His unkempt hair diffracts the light infusing the figure with a sage-like aura. As it were, a speck of light coming from Herschel's eyes under his salient bushy brows, brings the present of the moment back to us. Herschel's dignified fragility reminds us of a Pre-Raphaelite disenchanted prophet. 6

Let's recall that by the 1850s photography was the ideal medium to render preciseness and accuracy. But the form, particularly landscape study and portraiture, lent itself to an aesthetic contemplation already explored by the art of painting. No wonder John Ruskin, a strong critic of anything "mechanical," embraced early photography as a way to explain perceptual aberration. Ruskin saw in photography the potential to distort and/or enhance epistemological assumptions.7 From this point on, the mimetic quality of photography was negotiated with a perceptual softness more common to art. 8 This is when Cameron's chancy, blemished style comes in. 9

Cameron's art is, on the one hand, the result of the chance implicit in analog photography, and on the other, a specific sensitivity of letting accident become a formal element of her work. In his Photography and the Art of Chance, Robin Kesley argues that serendipity plays a central Cameron's work, so that the picture "manifests the intention to put accident to a specific use that attests to the maker's sensitivity and supple mindedness." A hundred a fifty years later, López's postmodern sensibility "recreates" Cameron premodern methods for a new medium. In a sense, Cameron's semi-deliberate accident becomes López's deliberate scheme. To that effect, he designs a specific algorithm that introduces the "visual noise" of the ambrotype and collodion prints of the 1860s on a high-dot-gain quality thick-paper print. López employs a high resolution digital camera and a lens that actually "mimics" the optical quality of Nineteenth Century flaws, such as astigmatism and chromatic aberration.10

López's Cameronian "out-of-focus" procedure demands an extremely shallow depth of field with a maximum "bokeh," which causes the soft-edged, yet selectively focused image. One slight difference is that López exaggerates the preciseness of the sitter's eyes vs. the slightly "out-of-focus" quality of the sitter's face and body, thus making this alleged "softness" different than Cameron's. In other words, if the softness is already built-in, is it really "soft"? (we don't have time to debate this precious point here).

Tomás López, Bill, 2010-2017

In the portrait above Bill turns his head to look at the camera. His face does not occupy the whole frame —as if the sitter's upper torso could offer a relevant clue. Bill's buttoned up shirt squeezing his neck accentuates his chubby frame. The camera, a little lower here than in other shots of the series, reveals the sitter's drooping shoulders. Bill's broad face is crossed by expressive deep wrinkles, showing a life devoted to artistic and pedagogical pursuits. The sitter's whitish mane standing on end —as if excited by a Tesla coil, adds a humorous touch pertaining the sitter's character. The added insight now is that the imprecision around Bill's face is far from imprecise. López succeeds. The sitter's ambiguous countenance compels the observer to zoom in on Bill's baffling gaze (i.e., Cameron's signature). This form of theatricality is not naïve and López embraces it. I bet that what the artist cares about is that Bill is a friend and colleague and the photo is a proof of it. The rest should be left open-ended.

Tomás López, Ruth, 2010-2017

Ruth is graceful and delicate, and a subtle counter to Cameron, who considered the eyes to be the windows of the soul (López shows that there are alternative windows to explore). 

If style is the relatum issue between López and Cameron, clearly López is not appropriating Cameron's style. Rather he employs Cameron's style to inform the very theatricality of photography with an added layer that is, manipulation. By programming Cameron into his methodology, López delves into Dilthey's territory, that of the uniqueness of interpretation and the difference between "hard" and "soft" in the Human Sciences (we can't pursue this point here, which is very much at the front of digital photography right now). López reconstructs Cameron's style for the digital medium with a different sensibility and for a different epoch. This is not far from the Pre-Raphaelite reconstructive program, which is why López feels connected to Cameron's work. Theoretical underpinning aside, López is clear that he intends to "reveal a moment of collaboration and connection with each sitter, however brief." 

Photography is a medium old enough and pervasive enough to manipulate the artless and the artful not to mention that the face has been rendered flat by our selfie-centered narcissistic culture (which explains why López chooses to sign his exhibition with a selfie a-la-Cameron)

Tomás López, Self-portrait Scanogram, 2010-2017

This selfie opens up the possibility of a new López series. Let's wait and see.


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1 Christian Metz defines the "ideal" movement as that transition between one image and another "even if each image is still." Cited in Justin Remes, Motion(less) Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis, Columbia University Press, 2015, p. 11.The first quote is from the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey. He  coins the term Human Sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) in his Introduction to the Human Sciences of 1883. Human Sciences range from disciplines like philology, literary and cultural studies, religion, anthropology, and psychology, to political science and economics. Regarding the advent of History and Photography, I'd like to bring this interesting quote from Barthes:
But history is a form of memory fabricated from positive recipes, a purely intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and Photography is a sure testimony, but a fleeting one; to such an extent that today, everything tends to prepare our species for an incapacity, which will soon be with us: an incapacity to conceive, either affectively or symbolically, of duration: the era of photography is also that of revolutions, contestation, assault and explosion—in short, of different forms of impatience, of all that is opposed to the notion of maturing.
Stephen Bann's Introduction to Roland Barthes, "The Discourse of history," Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 3 (1981) 5,6). Bann advances that Nadar is "one of the most dedicated memorialists of the Nineteenth Century." 3 Matthew Biro states: "The rise of digital recording and Photoshop manipulation have called into question the photography's claims to truthful representation to such a degree that some critics prefer to consider digital photography a different medium that that of analog photography."  4 The definition of digital image is clear: A numeric (usually binary) representation of a two dimmensional image. Michael Fried's point adds a new layer for the reception of objectivity in Photography. There are three moments to "theatricality": 1- Between mid-Eighteenth and mid-Nineteenth centuries, painters developed various strategies to defeat theatricality, each one ultimately failing. 2- With Courbet we have the climax of this development, since the artist merges with his paintings as he recognizes and abolishes theatricality's pull. 3- Manet embodies the final crisis of the antitheatrical ideal. His work explores a new radical "facingness" through the direct gazes of his subjects. Now theatricality finally acknowledges the presence of the beholder while making them participants. On the other hand, "anti-theatricality" happens when the elements of a picture are constructed without any visible concession being made to an audience, or even to the idea of an audience (Minimalism for examples achieves it). The image stands by itself as if independent of the audience's participation. This doesn't apply to López's Portrait Series. 5 At the bottom of this Daumier lithograph (1856), at the MET, one reads: "Nadar élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art." 6 Cameron is perhaps the first to use close up photography. See Martin W. Sandler, An Illustrated History of Photography, (Oxford U. Press, 2002) p.  31. 7 This point in worth keeping in mind. Cameron, as a distant member of the Pre-Raphaelites, exhibits a "forward" sensibility masked as a rejection to the present and a return to a past. See Lindsay Smith, Victorian Photography: The Enigma of Visibility in Ruskin, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites (Cambridge University Press, 2008) p. 92, 135.  8 Lady Elizabeth Eastlake who wrote about photography for a number of magazines contributed vitally to photographic practice by offering a modern aesthetic. 9 In her study of Cameron's style, Mirjam Brusius suggests that Cameron’s work should be situated between "error" and "deliberate impreciseness," used as a visual style. Before the critical conversation concerning photographic detail became explicit, Cameron already understood the value of omitting details in a photographic portrait. But in 1860s the tradition of photography is a bit far from the achievements of Pictorialism (the international aesthetic movement in Photography of the 1890s and early Twentieth Century). Even "in" and "out of focus" were not established categories until the 1890s, when they became normative parameters in the nascent movement of art Photography. See Mirjam Brusius, "Impreciseness in Julia Margaret Cameron Portrait Photographs," History of Photograhy, 25 October 2010, Vol. 34 (4), p. 342-355. 10 López digital modus operandus was disclosed to this writer via email.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Robert Linsley RIP


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It is with sadness that I find this piece of news, about the passing of Canadian artist, critic and fellow blogger Robert Linsley.

I knew of Linsley's writing when he discussed my post covering the Caminero/Weiwei controversy at PAMM (which started an amicable back-and-forth between both of us). I was a fan of Robert's wonderful blog, Abstract Art in the Age of Global Conceptualism. He had a direct, intimate and approachable style, nurtured by his experience as an art teacher.

At times he felt tired of writing for this reduced -though loyal few following his weekly art musings. In 2015 he stopped writing for a while, and came back reenergized with a first book, which I had the pleasure of reading.

Linsley's book is an excellent survey of past, present and -with a critical eye- a possible future of abstraction.

God bless your soul, my friend.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How "inadecuacy of language" does *artblicity* wonders for Luc Tuymans

Luc Tuyman Still Life, 2002, 11x16 feet


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At miami.bourbaki, we expose artblicity whenever and wherever we see it.

Dear reader, if you pay a visit to our site for the first time, perhaps we should revisit the term.

Artblicity is basically publicity passing for artspeak, its goal is to $ell art.

Though publicity and contemporary art are best friends, they pretend not to know each other. Profits belong in this other human science called Economy. Art, on the other hand, is this wonderful thing you can present and represent with hyperbolic paraphrasis, pseudo theory & epiphanic slush.

In what follows we'll try to show artblicity in action. Which brings us to Belgian painter Luc Tuymans (full disclosure: we've covered Luc Tuymans before: here, here, and here).

Tuymans is an artblicity favourite.

Take this sample from the Saatchi Gallery Webpage:
The sheer scale makes the contemplation of this painting almost impossible: a vast canvas representing an absolute nothingness. Luc Tuymans chose the subject of still life precisely because it was utterly unremarkable; a generic ‘brand’ of ‘object’ rendered to immense scale; it is banality expanded to the extreme. The simplicity of Luc Tuymans’s composition alludes to a pure and uninterrupted world order; the ephemeral light, with which the canvas seems to glow, places it as an epic masterpiece of metaphysical and spiritual contemplation. In response to unimaginable horror, Luc Tuymans offers the sublime. A gaping magnitude of impotency, which neither words nor paintings could ever express.
At first, we didn't know who wrote this presentation. Then we found it was used here, and refered to as Saatchi blurb.

Then we located Simon Morley (as it turns, an artist, professor and expert in sublimity)

Morley opens with the assumption that Tuymans delivers "absolute nothingness." Not just "nothingness" (a knotty Sartrean category, circa 1950s), but an "absolute" one at that.

Suddenly, one can feel the viscosity of hyperbole constraining one's neck muscles.

This "nothingness" happens as a result of "sheer size." Yet, the ratio of the centered still-life arrangement, about 5x8 feet2, is actually quite proportional to the size of the whole piece (11x16 feet2). If Morley takes a literal cue to imply a symbolic result, the painting's ratio between part and whole doesn't deliver his badly needed sorcery.

Then, inexplicably, Morley ventures into divination: Tuymans chooses this subject matter because Still-Life's "utterly unremarkable" standing. Not just "unremarkable" but "utterly" so (notice artblicity's hyperbolic adjectival, adverbial compulsion: 1- "sheer," 2- "absolute," and 3- "utterly," etc).

In an instant, Morley turns Still Life, one of paintings' sturdiest genres, with 24 centuries of history, into a "generic brand of object."

Now, comes Morley's epiphanic release (in a mere 58-word paragraph)

* ... expanded to the extreme,
* ... an epic masterpiece,
* ... of metaphysical and spiritual contemplation,
* ... response to imaginable horror,
* ... offers the sublime,
* ... gaping magnitude of impotency,
* ... which neither words nor paintings could ever express,

And after this panegyric, he has the nerve to drop this portent:

Still Life is a monument to the inadequacy of language.

Do you buy it? 

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Revival-of-Crafts Manifesto (in progress)

Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1933

Painting, sculpture or performance art are no better than bookbinding, stucco ornament, hand hammering, dry set masonry, or violin making.- Anonymous exploited craftsperson 


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Contemporary art as the church of Mammon

On Contemporary art 

Static, eroded self-presence in the now, looking yonder to its past, Contemporary art has no future.

Contemporary art builds its reputation on hubris financed by artblicity.

From artblicity comes impunity to distort: from the impunity to distort, comes the impunity to dismantle truth: from the impunity to dismantle truth comes the impunity to brainwash. Contemporary art is a form of brainwashing.

Contemporary art expresses pseudodesires. When you see it you want something, but you don't know what or why.*

Contemporary art is a state of aesthetic fetishismThe difference between the represented 14-foot tiger shark in Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death In the Mind of Someone Living and a Carcharodon Carcharias majestically swimming in the subtropical Florida Straits is that the latter is not inside a vitrine filled with formaldehyde inside a white box.

Wake up! Contemporary art is a form of cultural hypnosis.

Contemporary art is a cheap mode of efficacy based on trendiness.

Contemporary art is redundant. Make it a goal to reinvent the art wheel.

The do's and don'ts

Stop cannibalizing art. Be original.

Don't make your art popular. Don't please everyone. 

Craft is the slow food of art. Bring craft back into your art. 

Don't explain your art. Good art doesn't need explaining.

Don't be sloppy. Whatever art you do, learn it thoroughly. 

Don't be a Mammon-sucker! If you hire someone do to art work for you, give them credit in your work.

Don't do art by looking at art magazines. Imitation is a form of limitation.

Seek effect and affect. Appropriation is cheap.

Avoid Photoshop. Bring back your drawing skills!

Art doesn't comment. Stop making art to make comments about comments.

Don't cheat. Achieving style is a slow process. 

Don't delegate any art/skill that you can master yourself.

Art making is community. Build community!

The hell with the past. Build futurity!

Stop mimicking Postmodern mimicking.

Avoid art fair art (better, go to Vegas).

Good art is not political. It is political because it's good.

Don't cheat. Learn your craft from scratch. No shortcuts! 

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* Every line expressed here applies to this writer (he is YOU).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Walter Crane's dictionary (in progress)


At first sight Walter Crane (1845-1915) would not seem a figure at the level of a Ruskin or a Morris. The received information is that Crane was indeed the most prolific children's book designer of his generation; that he was a disciple of Morris and contributor to Morris’s Kelmscott Press. But Crane was active force behind the development of the Arts and Crafts movement. He figures as spokesman of the The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which was started in London in 1888. And yet, it is after the death of Morris in 1896 that Crane's voice emerges with a unique self confidence that makes him a valuable source of ideas behind the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Click here for our Walter Crane dictionary (in progress).  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

William Morris' dictionary (in progress)

William Morris, 1883

This brief William Morris curated dictionary (in progress) and Ruskin's dictionary, below are spurred by this discussion.

Much of contemporary art's current crisis can be traced back to a specific moment during the fin de siecle Arts and Crafts revolution. Pre-avantgarde Nineteenth Century illumines recent ideological friction in the contemporary art world, between what we've called "not making," the "art assembly line," art "hypnosis," "the signature," the problem of "proper naming" in art, etc. It makes sense to analyze these contemporary issues from the contributions of the Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly John Ruskin, and more predominantly, by William Morris.

John Ruskin's dictionary (in progress)

John Ruskin, 1863

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Robert Chambers' Iron Oar closes tonight at Emerson Dorsch

Robert Chambers, Trackcendence, 2017, steel I- beams, BBs and reclaimed steel buoy (ball) 5 x 5 x 5 feet

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Don't miss the the closing of Robert Chambers' Iron Oar, tonight, at Emerson Dorsch Gallery.

Iron Oar is a playground connoting the Modern, craft, and a reverence to Homo ludens. One can appreciate Chamber's vatic ability to fill a big white box with the ponderous without pretense. The show invites interaction, wonderment and youthful puzzlement.

There are:

1- "Trackcendence," a 5x5x5 feet ball (a repurposed steel buoy), rolling on a sectional track of steel I-beams, occupies half the gallery space.
2- "Spinner, " a reddish 5 foot diameter disc on the floor.
3- "Couplings," two 28x28x28 inches green-painted forged drops.
4- "Lever," a forged stainless steel rod standing on its own.
5- "Ryoanji Sky Mural," a seven-sheet polished aluminum mural, on the gallery wall.

Robert Chambers, Spinner, 2017, cast iron and steel 5 feet diameter x 11 inches tall

First, the pieces speak of their historic raw material, the uneasy intersection of craftspersonship and the machine. This is the age of the steel industry, the blast furnace, Fordism, trade Unions, The New Deal, progress, the future. Thus, the Modern epoch.

Robert Chambers, Couplings, 2017, two drop forge parts, paint, 28 x 28 x 28 inches

On the other hand, Iron Oar exemplifies what one could call "Chambersian."

Here is the craftsman, dada prankster, the object/puzzle engineer fitting the outrê in the ordinary, the ponderous in the fragile, the retro in the hereafter, the ingenious in the facile, or better, the child in the grownup. The night of the opening children were static playing with the imposing two tons, 5-feet diameter ball (let's advance that the best proof for good art is a child's reaction to it). "Trackcendence" reminded this repentant adult of a benevolent, awkward giant, joltily riding its metallic spherical frame on this abstrusely narrow track in the shape of a polyhedron— for fear of harming us Lilliputians.

Chamber's objects typically exhibit a to-and-fro between the "found" and the "made" (although Chambers is too much of an engineer to ever leave things exactly as they are). These sculptures proudly evince the making: first, there's the finding. Then comes the flanging, the swiveling and the welding. Then there is the painting, the hot blackening & the polishing.

Rough enough and furbished enough, Iron Oar follows John Ruskins' craftily advice to let the art object speak of the hand that makes it.

Emerson Dorsch Gallery,
5900 NW 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 576-1278 info@emersondorsch.com

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hegel & the logic of the "real" Barbie

Nyadak, the black Barbie

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This news from Nyadak Thot, the stunning black Barbie from Sudan made me think of Valerie Lukyanova, the white Barbie from Ukraine and this m.bourbaki post from 2012, which applies to both Nyadak and Valerie. Here it goes:
____________

Do you know Valerie Lukyanova, the "real" Barbie?

Being the "real," she is more than her role model, the famed Barbie Doll:

the Barbie Doll

In what sense is the "real" more than the doll? It's human!

Valerie's impressive transitioning shows she has achieved her doll/ideal in the flesh. She possesses a more than, leaving dollness behind. But wait, isn't this more than not, as well, automatically, a less than?*

The "real" Barbie is sort of a truer version, but being @ this fullness, it immediately enters a perplexing state of vacancy. From now on, nothing can be realer than it.** Undeniably, with this new in-between category Valerie attains what the doll could only aspire to, but the "real" also signals its own lack.

G. F. Hegel has a telling paragraph in his Logic, under the title "Being determinate": 
... in becoming, the being which is one with nothing, and the nothing which is one with being, are only vanishing factors; they are and are not. Thus by its inherent contradiction becoming collapses into the unity in which the two elements are absorbed. This result is accordingly being determinate (being there and so). (p. 133)
This is no galimatias: the being of "real" is determinate. "Being there and so" is Valerie, the "real" Barbie. She finally filled with flesh-and-bones what used to be a mere doll/ideal (caveat: as old Heraclitus suggests things are never static).

Meanwhile, Valerie is petrified in her own determinate "real" category. She's more than automatically stopped in her tracks.

She won't be able to overcome another more than.

Valerie, the white Barbie

The question persists: Now that Valerie embodies the "real," what would a "realer" Barbie be? 

____________________________
*If the human needs dollness to become "real," being human is far from the measure -as it were (a pretty girl is called "a doll"). Meanwhile the doll forever persists in its dollness. ** A "superreal" would not solve the paradox, it would actually augment it: to a "superreal," one merely adds a higher order, "super(superreal)" and so on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Contemporary Art Has No Future

Basquiat's Untitled, sold for 57 million in 2016

Any valuable object, in order to appeal to our sense of beauty must conform to the requirements of beauty and expensiveness both. This cannon of expensiveness also affects our tastes in such a way as inextricably to blend the mark of expensiveness… with the beautiful features of the object and to subsume the resultant effect under the head of an appreciation of beauty simply. — Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class. 

My piece for The Miami Rail here. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

How "craft" fights back "not making"

Nôtre-Dame, Paris (central entrance door)

The right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this: Was it done with enjoymentwas the carver happy while he was about it?– John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Art hypnosis," and how craft becomes subservient to the art of "not making"

Damien Hirst's Demon With Bowl, 2017 (59 feet tall)

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1. Art as socio-aesthetic hypnosis

Above, see Damien Hirst's grand Demon with Bowl (2017) at the inner patio of the Palazzo Grassi for the Venice Biennale (click here for the assembling of the headless behemoth inside the patio). One is impressed by the work's majesty. The 59 feet tall bronze sculpture is a grandiose spectacle. Keep in mind that Demon is six meters taller than Phidias' masterpiece, Statute of Zeus at Olympia. Standing next to Hirst's colossus should elicit aesthetic awe  what some scholars refer to as the "symbolic."

In The Psychological Structure of Fascism Georges Bataille presents a similar idea: "the heterogeneous," a deep psychological response, quite resistant to assimilation, which is caused by the "presentation", "formation," "elements":
... heterogeneous elements will provoke affective reactions of varying intensity (...) There is sometimes attraction, sometimes repulsion, and in certain circumstance, any object of repulsion can become an object of attraction and vice versa... (p. 69)
Can this "impossible to assimilate" force be processed within society?
Heterogeneous ... is that of a force or shock. It presents itself as a charge, as a value, passing from one object to another in a more or less abstract fashion, almost as if the change were taking place not in the world of objects but only in the judgments of the subject. (p. 70)
Bataille suggests a causal chain-reaction guiding the heterogeneous. As "symbolic," the heterogeneous has a potential for mass-brainwashing, as "sacred," it assumes uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic forms. A surplus energy, once unleashed, it's often spent externally, producing shock, leading to imperialistic wars and destructive violence.


Mass hypnosis at Nuremberg, 1936 

From the symbolic to the political:
Opposed to democratic politicians (...) Mussolini and Hitler immediately stand out as something other (...) Considered not with regard to its external action but with regard to its source, the force of a leader is analogous to that exerted in hypnosis. (p. 70)
Think of "hypnosis" as socio/aesthetic phenomenon a side show of our political impasse. Being hypnotized by symbols is not out of the question. However, if one yields to aesthetic fondness while in the presence of Demon, self-indulgence fizzles as soon as one is hit with the truth:

Demon With Bowl is not made by Demian Hirst.

2. The art of "not making"

In The Art of Not Making, artist/curator Michael Petry makes the following observation:
In recent years there has been a return to a highly drafted aesthetic in art (...) But when the artist does not make his or her own work, what does it mean for the nature of art, and for the status of the artist? How can we distinguish between the artist and the artisan? Do we even need to?  (Intro, p. 6)
Petry is not equating "craft" with "fine arts." He has a different agenda.
If the intentions of context of the actual maker are irrelevant to a work's meaning, then why get your hands dirty with the making? Anyone can produce the work for you; its authorship lies elsewhere. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami clearly fit this category, with their hundreds of assistants producing the work of "the artist" in factory-like conditions. (Intro, p. 11)
Petry seems so enthused with the prospect of "hundreds of assistants." As if "not making" was some kind of culmination of Renaissance and Baroque's arts and crafts relations of production, a come back of a movement. But we're not in the Baroque era. This is a Post Fordist assembly-line production with a star artist producing artworks made by hundreds of (anonymous) assistants in glorified artsy sweatshops. Here comes Petry's conclusion:

Art lies not in the making of an object, but in the naming of it as art.

Naming what?  One presumes that Petry is making an emergency exit through a poststructuralist secret door.1 He selectively forgets that authorship is a form of reference, as in: "Demon With Bowl is a Hirst masterpiece," which is false. The name "Hirst" does not refer to Demon With Bowl, not in the sense of art "making." Petry doesn't understand that reference (contra his watered down version of Poststructuralism) can not be arbitrary before it stops referring altogether. Thus, for the purposes of our discussion, Petry's "naming" becomes a purposeful omission, a suppression of the unnamed (those whose names have been crossed out in the name of the signature).

 Any historic development within the avantgarde (Futurism, dada, Surrealism, etc.) presupposed a battle of ideas, a winning of hearts and minds. Petry's "naming" has the glow of a solipsistic decree produced in a social vacuum. The character of corporate take over.  

Instead of "naming," we wish to defend proper description, deserved recognition and fair compensation.

"Not making" is an art of name usurpation.

3. A brief but necessary digression into the demotion of craft

Petry implodes arts and craft as a plausible explanation of his "return to craft." But he doesn't offer a convincing argument. The historic consensus is that fine art emerges from craft. According to social historian Arnold Hauser, in ancient Greece, there is little difference between the craftsperson and the artist/artisan.
Art was still looked upon as a mere handicraft, and the artist as an ordinary artisan with no part or lot in the spiritual value of knowledge or education. He was still ill-paid, without secure abode, and led a wandering life, and so was a stranger and foreigner in the city that employed him. (SHA, Vol. I, p. 55)
The difference between a commentator like Petry and Hauser is that the latter is careful to present a socio-economic backdrop against which structural developments occur. One cannot properly address the fine art/craft split during the Renaissance without understanding the economic innovations in banking, architecture, commerce and the agrarian revolution, which drives Humanism and the fine arts. For example, Giorgio Vasari no longer considers the acceptance of handicraft work compatible with the self-respect of an artist. This stage coincides with the end of the economic dependence of artists on the guilds. (SHA, Vol. II, p 49).

According to Hauser, the emancipation of the fine arts from the spirit of pure craftsmanship has to do with a new conception of fine arts as a science, which Leon Battista Alberti defends as a program of instruction for the art academies. The already pronounced fine arts/craft split becomes insoluble during the Baroque era, with the "genius" artist embodied by the figure of Michelangelo.
This is more than the artist's inborn pride, more than the consciousness of being superior to the craftsman, the mere mechanic, the philistine (...) Michelangelo is the first example of the modern, lonely, demonically impelled artist —the first to be completely possessed by his idea and for whom nothing exists but his idea— who feels a deep sense of responsibility towards his gifts and sees a higher and superhuman power in his own artistic genius. (SHA, Volume II, p. 56).
Toward the end of mid-Nineteenth Century fine art & craft converge again, during the Arts and Crafts revolution in England. But by now it's too late. The down-top push for a return to Quattrocento ideals of craftsmanship espoused by Ruskin and Morris cannot counter the top-down productive forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. Hauser puts it elegantly:
In other words, those elements which might have transferred the tradition of craftsmanship to mechanical production, the independent masters and their apprentices, were eliminated from economic life before they had had any chance of adapting themselves and the traditions of their craft to the new methods of production. (SHA, Volume III, p.68)
When the industrial machine takes over so much of the function of manufacture, the craftsperson is reduced to a part of a totally mechanized culture. Technological changes contribute to a transition from home-based craft production of goods to mass manufacture in urban factories, and as a result, trade replaces craft. This is why William Morris took the Middle Ages as the crafts' model era: The craftsperson produces beauty because he/she is the master of his/her material, tools, and time.

This brief Hauserian history shows the bad faith & narcissism on behalf of the fine arts. Bad faith because while coveting the excellence, idealism and practicality of craft, fine arts pretends self-sufficiency and aesthetic disdain; narcissism because without the excellence of craft, the fine arts are empty.

_______

Fast forward to the present. Contemporary art's soaring prices and the constant demand for contemporary artworks has changed the relations of production, spurring the use of apprentices by more artists. "The Art Assembly Line" in The Wall Street Journal takes the contemporary-art-market side of the argument:
At the other end of the spectrum is Mr. Koons, who runs his vast, high-ceilinged studio with an efficiency that discourages personal interactions. Everyone has an assigned task, from painting a section of a canvas by following elaborate diagrams to mixing dozens of paints to produce exactly the right color. Large paintings are lifted up a wall by electric hoists; in one room on a recent afternoon, two painters worked silently on a canvas at floor level while two others painted the upper part from a scaffold. There's a hierarchy of supervisors, including a studio manager, a painting supervisor and several assistant managers. It brings to mind an assembly line.  
As per the division of labor:
Mr. Koons says he has 150 people on his payroll and that he himself never wields a paintbrush. "If I had to be doing this myself, I wouldn't even be able to finish one painting a year," he says. Every year his studio averages 10 paintings and 10 sculptures. In the last four years, six of his works offered at auction have sold for prices between $11 million and $25 million each.
At this point we need to make a distinction: Koons' is not an "assembly line" in the traditional Fordist sense. Koons keeps a Fordist skeleton with Post-Fordist tissue and nerves.

4. A second digression from assembly-line Fordism to Post-Fordism

Fordism refers to the economy paradigm under modern industrial Capitalism during 1930s-1960s, which brought a sustained cycle of economic growth based on mass production and consumption along with raising income and labor rights. Though far from perfect, Fordism was being constantly tweaked and ensured a stable wage relation (with the organization of labor markets and wage-effort bargaining). Since the 1970s on, a new phase of financial Capitalism has emerged. Post Fordism amounts to the Walmartization of the economy, i.e., better consumer prices, increased flexibility, along with the vanishing of mom-and-pop businesses, unemployment, reduction in wages, dissolution of the working day and de-unionization of labor. The shift from Fordism to Post-Fordism has brought a profound change in the social experience of labor.

Why is all this relevant? Because "not making" art has morphed into full fledged Post-Fordist venture capitalism. Petry and others' defense of "not making" as a historic practice in the ateliers of Renaissance and Baroque masters naively ignores the fundamental economic differences between pre-industrial and industrial Capitalism. 2

5. How "not making" exploits craft: Koons' Cracked Egg (1995)

Jeff Koons' Cracked Egg, 1995

Koons' Cracked Egg sold for $501,933 in 2003, but he never touched the painting. What you see above is the painting of an anonymous craftsperson. And yet, Cracked Egg has Koons' signature.

"I Was Jeff Koon's Studio Serf," tells John Powers' (the anonymous craftsperson) side of the story:
I was assigned a new work, a painting called “Cracked Egg.” (...) My job was simple: Paint by numbers. The most intricate sections required miniature brushes, sizes 0 and 00, their bristles no longer than an eyelash. The goal was to hand-fashion a flat, seamless surface that appeared to have been manufactured by machine, which meant there could be no visible brush strokes, no blending, no mistakes. After five long months, the painting —my painting— was nearly complete. 
Here is a true sentence: "Cracked Egg was painted by an anonymous craftsperson, not by Jeff Koons."

You bet the actual owner of Cracked Egg could care less about the sentence above being true. They would gladly use Petry's market friendly argument to add that though Koons didn't paint it, the painting is still his. Ownership? Granted, but authorship? How come? "All I care is that it has Koons' signature." Let the market do the talking: Koons has been the top selling American artist for years.

Yes, the market can favor and foster a falsehood.

Contractually speaking, Powers entered the studio agreeing to Koons' you paint, I own terms (a contract doesn't have to be fair to still compel fulfillment). "I own" means the usurpation of Powers' name (which will not appear anywhere). Koons' bargain is more than unfair: First, the contract presupposes a deceitful maneuver whereby a principal aesthetic property of the art work (that is to say, the craft) becomes now subservient to brand/name spectacle. Predictably, the wages earned by the anonymous craftsperson reflect his subservient aesthetic role.

According to his account, Powers got paid $14 an hour. He worked three nights a week and every Saturday for five months. Suppose he did 4 hrs per night and 8 hrs on Saturdays. In five months Powers worked 400 hours of work for $5,600. "Cracked Egg" sold for $501,933, which is 100 times what Powers got paid for painting it. Petry may retort that without Koons' signature Powers is lucky to sell his painting for $5,600. And by "signature" one understands enterprise, promotional ability, know-how and more importantly Koons' brand name.

Let's revise this contemporary art "return to craft,"

"not making" is the brand name spectacle: it owns the show. 

"making" amounts to merely craft and the anonymous (underpaid) craftsperson.   


Takashi Murakami, Of Chinese Lions, Ponies, Skulls and Fountains (2011)

Why is the signature so important?

Because with the scaffolding of craft, art spectacle becomes an accessible form of aesthetic hypnosis.

Meanwhile, "not making" perpetuates the oppression of craft.

When will people realize that there is no art spectacle without craft's scaffolding of the signature?3

Is there a social climate for a bottom/up craft-driven Luddite insurgency to counter the travesty of "not making"?  

(to be continued)

____________________________
1 Precisely because they conflate "signature" with authorship, Koons and Hirst make authorship the absolute standard. 2 Artists like Verrocchio, and later Rubens followed a "fathering" gilded, preindustrial division of labor. To the emergent demand of artworks by the church, the court and the nascent bourgeoisie, the master artist provided training & lodging in exchange for studio work. The apprentice started as a young man who was provided with food, clothing, shelter, and an education by the master (without payment). After completing a term of service (from five to nine years), the apprentice became a journeyman and moved on to sell his services, now with the reputation of having graduated from his master's studio. 3 The scaffolding sustains the structure, but it is not (structurally) considered a part of it. Generally what sustains is relegated to a demoted, secondary, subsidiary, role. A social comparison that comes to our mind is the southern gentleman's energic protest against abolition during early 19th Century, while maintaining that the prosperity of the antebellum South was independent of the South's white class structure based on slavery:
In our description of the Southern Gentleman, his family and friends, his negroes, horses, dogs and estates, his manners, speech, opinions, excellencies, and faults, all indeed that appertains to him, we wish the reader to understand from the beginning, that we intend to confine ourselves to such a gentleman as is peculiarly the outgrowth of the institutions of the South."-- See, Social Relations in Our Southern States, Daniel Robinson Hundley (p. 20).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The stench of nepostism atop of the art world


 i.e., both curators curated their significant others

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Congratulations to Hili Perlson and Julia Halperin from artnews, for their uncovering of nepotism at the high echelons of contemporary art. 
This year’s Venice Biennale and documenta 14—the two most high-profile contemporary art events in the world—have quite a bit in common. Both eschew art-market darlings in favor of obscure discoveries; both are heavy on music, sound art, and performance; and both seek to reinforce the healing power of art. But there is another, perhaps more surprising, overlap: both shows include work by the curator’s significant other. The Polish curator Adam Szymczyk, the artistic director of documenta 14, included his partner, the choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis, in the quinquennial exhibition’s performance program. Meanwhile, the French curator Christine Macel included the work of her partner, the Italian-born, France-based artist Michele Ciacciofera, in the Venice Biennale’s central exhibition, “Viva Arte Viva.”
According to the reporters, the coincidence,
... illustrates the extent to which the art world is built on close personal relationships between artists and curators. But some have questioned the wisdom of these curators’ choices at a time when nepotism and conflicts of interest are increasingly scrutinized and the art industry has grown more professionalized.
Not choices, "poor" choices.

It would be clear to anyone, that a curator should not, include a family member, lover, or significant other (whatever that means) in a project they organize.

Why not? At a simple level, artistic merit and favoritism are procedural enemies: the first is autarchic and self-sufficient, the second is biased and dependent.

A conflict of interest happens when personal interests clash with judiciary obligations. As curators of documenta 14 and the Venice Biennale, both Szymczyk and Macel have the obligation to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the highest standards. The "poor" choice of including their respective lovers doesn't reflect the best standards of selection. It speaks of a disconnect that mirrors contemporary art's identity crisis.

This is documenta 14's awkward disclosure to artnews' follow-up:
Alexandra Bachzetsis, who already participated in documenta 13 in 2012, was invited to documenta 14—like every curatorial decision in the process of documenta 14—based on the Artistic Director’s and curatorial team’s belief in the importance of the artist’s practice in the context of themes, interests, and urgencies of documenta 14. This decision does not violate any "code of conduct" of documenta gGmbH.
The documenta 14 komunikat smells of rancid arrogance. What does (being invited to) documenta 13 have anything to do with (being invited to) documenta 14? Bachzetsis' artistic merit is thrown into question the moment her invitation happens under the directorship of her boyfriend. This is what perceived conflict of interest does. But even for the sake of artistic diversity, one should argue against an artist being selected for two consecutive documentas!*

The inclusion of Szymczyk's and Macel's partners puts both artistic directors under the shadow of nepotism (that's when the conflict ends up benefiting one's "family"). And there's no way out of it.

From the top of the art pyramid to the top of the political pyramid (übercurators could learn something here):

The instant president Trump fired FBI's director James Comey, he walked into the swampland of conflict of interest (in this case leading to possible abuse of justice, but we just want to stress the conflict itself). Though many people, including rank leading democrats disliked Comey, what's at stake is that when he was fired, Comey was investigating a possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. A smart Trump (thinking already about firing Comey) would have understood the danger of perceived conflict and (since the innocent have nothing to lose) let things take their course.** Not this president. And "perceived conflict" is a stubborn fellow. That's why invoking Rod Rosenstein's recommendations as the reason behind the dismissal (which the president disavowed later) did nothing to assuage the public's perception of conflict. See how conflict now mushrooms: One could argue that it's this perception of conflict, now on behalf of Rosenstein (who is "to gain" by Comey's dismissal) that made the former to appoint a special prosecutor (in this case, not only to heed the best course of action, but also avoid the perception that he's Trump's henchman, which is what the president intended).

In a perverse way, Trump, Szymczyk and Macel have something in common: they are individuals with power making "poor" choices.

Trump was clear about it, "I'm the president."

What's Szymczyk's excuse? "I'm the artistic director of documenta 14"?

Yeap. Impunity dwells in a clear sentence.

________________________
* Just like an artist should not win a grant twice in a row from the same grantor.  Click here to find the process to be admitted to the Venice Biennale for British artists. It seems a lengthy and careful process. Not bad. The selection process needs checks and balances to avoid unfairness. And unfairness means selecting (or not selecting) someone for the wrong reasons. **Learning from Trump's mistakes, what should a smarter Szymczyk (or Macel) have done when presented with these "choices"?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

artspeak's fumblings


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it's difficult to remain neutral with artspeak. the style oscillates between the pseudo-theoretical (derridean deconstructive morsels, demanian undecidability rants, neocolonial gobbledygook), and the epihanic (kantian & lacue-labarthian "sublime" de rigueur).

here is just a paragraph from übercurator carolyn christov-bakargief of dOCUMENTA 13:
dOCUMENTA 13 is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated, to theory. These terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual energetic and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary.
1) dedicated to artistic research" (that's easy!) &
2) "forms of imagination that explore,"

*commitment,
*matter,
*things, (granted not all things need be matter)
*embodiment, (of matter? matter and things? does it matter?)
and active living! (as in promoting health? this is trending in the millenial department!). don't forget this oversupply as you plow along.

2.5) "... in connection with, yet not subordinated, to theory."

in artspeak, "subordinating" carries a fetor. yet, not appealing to theory is considered unsophisticated. granted, art is not theory & theory is not art, so what's this union?

contemporary art is generally a commentary on influences. the modern, the contemporary's predecessor, permanently influences the latter. so, the influence, although implicit, now becomes explicit.

up to this point, the contemporary professed non-subordination. remember 2.5)?

theory plays a nasty game: if you leave the door ajar, it comes in uninvited. with theory, non-subordination is a form of subordination. 

that's why contemporary art comes scaffolded with theory.

next,

3) we learn these things 1)-2.5) above, are "terrains,"

now we have a non-sentence, from "these terrains" on, that is. but we still don't know what "these terrains" refer to, what they predicate, in case they did.

christov-bakargief take us through a metonymical chute-the-chute, whereby any new phrase will be automatically subsumed under the previous one, for instance:

"artistic research" and "forms of imagination that explore commitment" become... terrains, where, as the curator suggests: "...politics are inseparable from a sensual energetic and worldly alliance..." and so on,

what are we doing? why don't we just surrender & let artspeak carry us across the land expanse, that is to say, " between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges"?

as the paragraph closes, it warily drops one more: "both ancient and contemporary."

aye.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Foucault's chironomia




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...whereas the hands may almost be said to speak. Quintilian

Michel Foucault's personality was intense & deliberate, his explosive laughter was famous. But his hands have not been paid attention to. Foucault's gesticulations exhibit a simmering touch for the dramatic, as if his hands move following an stylistic poiesis to calibrate his next cogitation. Take for instance, 1:48, when the interviewer observes: "... it's like watching yourself in a mirror and you're both strangers," 1:58, when Foucault adds:"... how can we know if not with our own knowledge?"

The philosopher sits back at 6:10 and emphatically uses his diestra. He addresses a broader (imaginary) audience in the studio (unlike today's politicians, looking straight at the camera to establish customer rapport). @ 6:58 he leans forward: "... and also this curious notion of humanism..." savoring his words (the book being discussed, Les mots et le choses, is openly anti-humanist).

@ 7:14 he incidentally looks at the camera ("...on peut dire que l'homme n'existait pas"), but he will really looks at the camera to restate this point @ 10:24, after having dropped, en passant, that "Sartre is a philosopher of the 19th Century."


Aristotle is the first philosopher to give some serious thought to the hands. On his lesser known On the Parts of Animals, one has a rare chance to see Aristotle, the zoologist, in action. One marvels at his boundless curiosity, which takes him to ponder the most minute animal morphological details, his conclusions informed by intricate unexpected relationships:
... in elephants, though they must be reckoned polydactylous, as their foot has neither cloven nor solid hoof, the fore-feet, owing to the great size and weight of the body, are reduced to the condition of mere supports; and indeed their slow motion and unfitness for bending make them useless for any other purpose. (Ibid.)
(to his credit, later, in Book 4, 12, Aristotle observes that the elephant's trunk is a kind of hand)

Here comes the point in the context of handtHiNkInG:
... it is the opinion of Anaxagoras that the possession of these hands is the cause of man being of all animals the most intelligent. But it is more rational to suppose that his endowment with hands is the consequence rather than the cause of his superior intelligence. (Book 4, 9)
Aristotle starts from the premise that if nature gives us hands it is because we can use them, hence we can not find hands in animals that are not intelligent. Following his teleological reasoning, for a hand to be such, it must function as such, i.e., the form of a human being is responsible for the matter being the matter that it is, so the form of a human being is responsible for a hand being a hand. 

Quintilian, one of the best rhetoricians of antiquity, offers a different angle in his Institutio Oratio:
As for the hands, without which all action would be crippled and enfeebled, it is scarcely possible to describe the variety of their motions, since they are almost as expressive as words. For other portions of the body may help the speaker, whereas the hands may almost be said to speak. Do we not use them to demand, promise, summon, dismiss, threaten, supplicate, express aversion or fear, question or deny? Do we not employ them to indicate joy, sorrow, hesitation, confession, penitence, measure, quantity, number and time? Have they not power to excite and prohibit, to express approval, wonder or shame? Do they not take the place of adverbs and pronouns when we point at places and things? In fact, though the peoples and nations of the earth speak a multitude of languages, they share in common the universal language of the hands.
In the 17th Century John Bulwer borrowed Quintilian's idea of universal language to build a vocabulary of hand gestures in his Chirologia, or the Natural Language of the Hand (1644). He seemed to have been influenced by Francis Bacon's idea of "manual hieroglyphics" (which the latter inherited from Valeriano Pierio's Hieroglyphica, 1556). In the end the enterprise may have paid off in a totally different field. 

Before we go, how about this photo of our anti-humanist philosopher donning his familiar white turtleneck, gesturing auditoris mitigabit, while guarding the rear of a famous "19th Century" French philosopher?


 the hand rules.