Friday, December 8, 2017

the circularity of FOMO

I learn that "FOMO" means "fear of missing out." (For many this is the cause of the bitcoin frenzy).

How do you explain FOMO?

According to Marco Novarese & Mario Cedrini's paper The Challenge of Fear to Economics:
... fear (in economics) may be defined as a feeling of anxiety for a specific negative or dangerous possible event, but it may be also related to a sense of discomfort produced by something we do not know, something we do not understand, something we are unable to categorize. To some extent, this dichotomy resembles the distinction between risk and uncertainty...
lack of knowledge, umm.

Here is the problem: If classical probability was intended to manage the fear of a seemingly uncertain world, the concept of risk has only grown as reaction to scarcity of knowledge in the globally- warmed world of the Anthropocene. In the meantime, risk has given economy the possibility to build elegant formal models, with its utility maximizer-agent in standard economic theory turning risk -again- into an illusion of predictability.

So why FOMO?

* See The Challenge of Fear to Economics.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Why is a DNA molecule more worthy than a molecule of phosphorus?

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I'm almost done with Levi R. Bryant Democracy of objects. Are wholes better than parts? Is a RNA molecule in the same bill of rights as Bucksminsterfullerene (C60)?  Aristotle, a hero for Bryant (and this writer) would definitely vote against democracy in favor of an aristocracy of objects.

In this paragraph (DO, p. 52), Bryant addresses a correlationist1 objection to his argument.
A second line of argument holds that it is impossible to intelligently think a world without men because, in the very act of thinking such a world, we are picturing ourselves present to this world. 
What's the big deal? In physics there is a world without humans. Take the Lagrange/d'Alembert formula:

Σ(Fi − miai) ⋅δri= 0

Each letter here symbolizes what Bryant, following philosopher of science Roy Bhaskar calls "intransitive objects".

F is the total force,
mi is the mass, (Locke, a correlationist in Bryant's book, would agree that "mass" is independent of correlations, i.e., a "primary quality" independent-of-sense-experience).
ai is the acceleration, 
δri is the displacement of the particle,

Particles are part of a bigger system, i.e., the universe. From his entrance in the Encyclopedie:
It is undeniable that all the bodies of which this universe is made up form a single system, whose parts are interdependent and whose interrelations derive from the harmony of the whole.2
D'Alembert would agree with Bhaskar's idea of "open systems," as long as by "open" we understand not observed yet.
(...) the universe is only a vast ocean on whose surface we perceive a few more or less large islands whose connexion with the continent is hidden from us.3
If there is more science to be discovered, there is more to know of science, that is, more future experiments to be performed, more theories to be proposed, more relations between theories (for example, evolutionism now vs. evolutionism in 1900s).

This is not what Bryant necessarily has in mind. By "open" he means "... those where the powers of objects are either not acting or are disguised or hidden by virtue of the intervention of other causes." (DO, p. 48).

I have a problem with this characterization. Let's take it bit by bit:

"powers of objects are either not acting." A power has to always act. Power is acting. A non-acting power is acting (think of dark matter). By presenting the object as not acting, we liberate the object from the constraint of possible (thought?)
The thesis here is that every picture of the world includes ourselves in the picture. However Quentin Mellissoux has convincingly argued such a line of argument leads to a conclusion that the thought of our own death is unintelligible or that we are necessarily immortal.  For if it is true that we cannot think the world without thinking our presence to the world, then it follows that even the thought of our own death requires the presence of our thinking, thereby undermining the possibility of dying.
Wait. Thinking a world without me in it is logically & causally possible. For instance, a sunset in the late Cambrian era seeing from Gondwana. True, it's my thought, but my thought refers to a fact (regardless of our conceptual scheme to refer to it).

Take thinking my after-death, which is precisely Decartes' move in his sixth meditation. Descartes would laugh at the idea that from the fact that the thought of our death requires the presence of our thinking, thinking it undermines the possibility of dying:   
(...) [T]he difference between the body of a living man and that of a dead man is just like the difference between, on the one hand, a machine or other automaton (that is, a self-moving machine) when it is wound-up... and, on the other hand, the same watch or machine when it is broken.4
The motions of a particle or of a rigid body may be either "free" or "constrained"; that is, it may be at liberty to move in any manner in obedience to the applied forces or torques, or there may be present material barriers which limit its linear motion to a certain path or surface, or its rotation to a certain axis. this is the world of physics, a sort of non-correlationist world.

Since anything I will ever experience is a correlation, how can we get to the objects of science if not by observation? Who says that my eye observing (nervous bits of data) and my mental states (neural macroactivity) are not in a sense object-independent?

coming back to DNA and politics:

a DNA molecule contains phosphorus as part of its skeleton,
a DNA molecule is functionally more complex than phosphorus taken as a part,
DNA is politically more worthy than P15.

My proposition makes sense both from a human-centered and non-human-centered point of view.5 DNA is structurally more complex than phosphorous. Is a planet on the same political footing as cosmic dust? A neuron at a par with a mind?

I guess I'm in favor of a subtle meritocracy of objects.

1  The idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.   2 Jean d'Alembert, Ronald Grimsley, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1963 (p. 223).  3  idem, (p. 224).  4  R. S. Woolhous, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz: The Concept of Substance in Seventeenth-Century Metaphysics p. 159. This is my tentative picture: 1- of course there is a human-independent world as presented by the physics, chemistry, geology, etc. And it works better than any philosopher's ontology, 2- At best, human ontologies remain educated constructions, 3- since pre-history needs to be thought, "correlationism" is inescapable.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is this sculpture "sexually explicit"?

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Which is The Louvre's reason behind their withdrawal of "Domestikator," an installation by Atelier Van Lieshout (The  New York Times article here).

I provisionally borrow the following definition from the Washington Sate Legislature (any legislature would do),
"Sexually explicit material" as that term is used in this section means any pictorial material displaying direct physical stimulation of unclothed genitals.
On that beat,

"sexually explicit"?

The problem with the above account (and The Louvre's assumption) is the explicitness of "explicit."

Here's help:

Explicit: Clearly expressed, leaving nothing implied. 

"Explicit" presented as the absence of implicitness. Thus,

Implicit: Implied or understood though not directly expressed.

If the message leaves "something" implied (i.e., unsaid, unstated or indirectly expressed), then, it is not explicit.

is this photo "sexually explicit"?

Clouds do imply things, for instance, air, frozen crystals, the earth's atmosphere, etc, which are indirectly expressed by this picture.

Can one not make a similar argument in favor of "Domestikator" above? 

Which makes The Louvre's argument seem, how to put it, "cloudy"? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

a new art category: bullshit art

This sculpture by Darren Bader, owned by the New York-based designer Andrew Ong. The work is "‘activated" by putting guacamole into the sound hole of a French horn. (via NYTimes)

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in an effort to understand the ever changing context of contemporary art, we suggest a gamut of equally possible aesthetic options.

so, here is a new art category: man-made as they say marketable, sale-able, buy-able, highly collect-able. this is the first obvious tier. in addition, this form exhibits secondary distinct notes:

*high resistance to flow,
*thickness of purpose,
*a syrupy sentimentality (to exceed the already twitted),
*superfluously redundant,
*artlessly derivative,

we call it bullshit art.º

tautological and succinct in its emptiness, bullshit art is almost axiomatic,

you just know it when you see it. 

º the "bullshit" prefix is not derogatory, but rather descriptive (since the broader the evaluation the better the norm). the category summarizes a trend of very bad art and should be -unapologetically- used.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Rancière: ¿existe un discurso estético privilegiado en el régimen del arte?

Jim Drain AIDS-a-delic (2005)
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Aprovecho la obra de Jim Drain (arriba) para discutir el discurso de Jacques Rancière en reciente libro Malaise dans l'esthétique (2004), traducido al inglés como Aesthetics and its Discontents(2009).

Comencemos con que para Rancière el arte y la política no están separados. El arte es práctica interdisciplinaria, ya que el artista no es un ente aislado de su contexto político/social (por ejemplo, de ahí se explica la revolución estética de fines del siglo XIX llamada esteticismo, con figuras como Mallarmé, Baudelaire, el Arts and Crafts Movement, etc).

Rancière distingue entre "política" (y "policía").

"Policía" es ese sistema de organización que establece leyes que atañen lo sensible (entiéndase por ello ese campo de la experiencia en general). La función de "la policía" es distribuir, separar...

Comisión Nacional de Alfabetización, Cuba, (1961)

en este caso a la sociedad: en grupos, posiciones sociales y/o funciones. La función de la política es interrumpir la distribución de "la policía" (digamos esos miembros que no son parte de las coordenadas de la percepción de dicha sociedad). Escribe Ranciere:
La comunidad política es en efecto una estructuralmente dividida, no ya entre distintos grupos y opiniones, sino dividida en relación ella misma. El todo de la “masa” política no es nunca igual a la suma de sus partes, sino como una simbolización suplementaria.*
La política tiene ese efecto estabilizador homogenizante, digamos las divisiones sociales bajo una identidad es decir, el ciudadano, la nación. El conflicto por el poder político es atenuado por medio de actividades sociales y económicas de trabajo y ocio. Rancière argumenta que siempre hay una "reducción" de lo social por lo político (siempre que la unidad nacional se utilize para protegerse de los conflictos de división social). Por otra parte, la reducción de lo político a lo social ocurre cada vez que la promesa de desarrollo económico o de progreso se ofrece como una solución al conflicto político. 

Mi punto: Al final, la política de Rancière queda casi congelada, estática. 

 Wade Guyton, Action Sculpture, (2006)

Ahora bien, ¿qué es lo estético para Rancière? "Una forma de pensamiento en que se problematiza la naturaleza del arte". 1 Ocurre cuando se desglosa un cierto "régimen". ¿Qué es un régimen? "... la relación específica entre prácticas, formas y modos inteligibles [del arte], que nos permiten identificar ciertos productos específicos como pertenecientes -o no- a eso que llamamos arte". 2

Eduardo Marín, Mearte, (2006?)

La revolución estética que comenzara a fines del siglo XIX y se extiende hasta más allá de la segunda mitad del siglo XX inauguraría un período de "desorden" de lo estético si se entiende como una forma histórica que responde a los retos que este trastorno plantea. En el siglo XX, pensemos en la escultura que abandona la solidez en favor del volumen, la pintura que deja la representación en favor de lo abstracto, la irrupción de la fotografía como híbrido entre tecnología y arte, en la música el fenómeno del atonalismo, etc.

Gabo, Linear Variation No. 1, (1943).

"La estética" por tanto deviene en pensamiento de este nuevo (des)orden. Entonces la jerarquía antigua de los sujetos de estudio se vuelve borrosa. Por ejemplo, en el caso de la separación entre el régimen clásico (siglo XVIII) y el romántico (siglo XIX), la obra de arte ya no indica el prestigio de los mecenas, sino que se relacionan con el "genio" de los pueblos. 3

Para Rancière, la estética surge con el reconocimiento de que no existen reglas "preexistentes" que puedan distinguir rigurosamente la presentación de los objetos o situaciones dentro del contexto del arte (este cambio entre régimen y régimen nos recuerda a Thomas Kuhn y su Estructura de las revoluciones científicas).

 Ana Mendieta, Sin título, (1972)

El trabajo del especialista no es inventar nuevas formas de relación, sino hacerlas inteligibles: investigar qué ha desaparecido, qué da lugar a lo próximo; por ejemplo, la distincion que aparece entre "naturaleza humana" y "orden social natural" acompañando la explosión de nuevas formas de experimentación y creatividad desde fines del siglo XIX. El autor se ha referido a esto como la "democratización del arte".

 Auguste Rodin, Las puertas del infierno, (1884-6)

La identificación estética de las artes no es simplemente una manera de explorar lo ya pasado lo que Rancière llama "régimen de normatividad" sino también de lo que vendrá. El pensador toma el famoso tratado de Las Cartas estéticas sobre la educación del hombre  de Friedrich Schiller (donde el poeta introduce la idea del Spieltrieb), síntesis pre-hegeliana entre dos momentos: Formtrieb (juego de la forma) y Sinnestrieb (juego sensual), que para él significan eso que llamamos "lo bello". El Spieltrieb es una especie de fuerza liberadora que tanto Schiller como Rancière ven como la potencialidad de la educación etética,  
... proceso que representa una promesa para la comunidad; ya no es tan solo arte lo que habita este espacio, sino una forma en la cual no hay separación entre ambos estados de experiencia [forma y contenido]. Es un proceso que transforma la soledad de la apariencia en realidad vivida, cambiando la pasividad estética en la acción de la comunidad viviente (AP, p. 36).
Partiendo de esa premisa, puede comprenderse el realismo socialista como una manifestación de este principio llevado al extremo.

Mikhail Nesterov, Retrato de Ivan Shadr (1934) 

En el contexto de la política del arte soviético durante los años 30, la obra de Nesterov (arriba) compite y desplaza la obra que mostramos abajo.

  Kasimir Malevich, Suprematismo, autorretrato (1916)

Preguntas a Ranciére

Esto es algo que a mi juicio Rancière no ha explorado lo suficiente, ¿existe acaso un discurso estético privilegiado? Si es así ¿en virtud de qué? ¿Qué ocurre cuando aparecen discursos paralelos que se delegitiman unos a otros, como es el caso de el llamado arte "degenerado" (en la Alemania nazi) o "diversionista" (en el bloque soviético o en China)?

Rancière acaso diría que aunque el arte siempre mantiene una estrecha relación con "la vida", el arte hoy por hoy es autónomo. Dicha autonomía del arte es otra manera de nombrar algo básico: la heteronomía del arte. Schiller ilustra cómo la experiencia estética es siempre heterogenea. El arte crea divisiones y destruye jerarquías ontológicas entre categorías.5

Ahora ¿es dicha propensidad del arte intrínseca? Estimo que Rancière diría que no, puesto que la propia idea de régimen indica que el arte no siempre ha sido autótomo. Entonces la cuestión es, ¿hay vuelta atrás? ¿Puede el arte perder su autonomía?

Desde el punto de vista de Rancière, esta clase de experiencia (en Schiller) es parte de una relación estructural que gobierna la sociedad humana. Este mensaje de Schiller funciona hoy por hoy de una manera post-utópica, en que rompe con el estereotipo de la división del trabajo entre explotador y explotado, o en el arte propiamente dicho, entre "artista" y "público". Lo estético para Rancière viene siendo un espacio de comunidad práctico/conceptual.6

Tonico Lemus Auad, Retrato, 2003  

A la estética le toca analizar la diferencia entre lo que es arte y lo que no es arte. Por ejemplo, ¿es Fat Chair (1964) arte? Olvidemos por un momento que la pieza es conocida y que su autor es Beuys. ¿Existe un "régimen" actual en el que Fat Chair no sea considerada arte? La respuesta es afirmativa. Rancière acaso diría que en tal régimen no se consideraría el arte como una esfera autónoma, sino subordinada a "la vida" (por traer a Schiller de nuevo).

Joseph Beuys, Fat Chair, (1964)

Debido a este estado de heterogeneidad, la estética debe evitar caer en los extremos. ¿Pero cómo ilustrar esta tensión?

Insistir demasiado en la autonomía sería excluyente de la vida (un ejemplo sería el arte de Beardsley  a fines del siglo XIX en Inglaterra). Aunque Rancière no diría que este dibujo (desechado en la versión final de las ilustraciones para Lysystrata) no es arte, sin duda no hubiese sido considerado arte para el público victoriano de la época.

The Lacedaimonian Ambassadors, (circa. 1896)

Por otra parte, denegar las diferencias propias del arte convertiría la experiencia del arte en mera "vida". Este es el peligro que Bataille hallaba en el espectáculo totalitario facista, que se aviene tanto a la estética futurista.

 Desfile de Nuremberg, 1933 (en Olympia de Riefenstahl)

 Iofan, pabellón de la URSS, (Expo de Paris, 1937)

¿Le toca a lo estético mantenerse justo al borde? Este aparente (des)orden propio de lo estético no significa caos (el autor se aleja del discurso normativo postmodernista relativista). Y si bien Merda d'artista de Manzoni es arte, ¿qué tipo de arte?

 Piero Manzoni, Merda d'artista, (1961)

Lo que nos lleva directamente a la pregunta sobre la relación entre el arte y la filosofía. Comentando la diferencia entre abstracción y convencionalismo en el arte, Rancière nos recuerda que el paradigma  anti-mimético de la pintura no puede entenderse simplemente como un "destierro" de las imágenes, o de la representación o el redescubrimiento de una esencia perdida entiéndase esto cargado del término tal como es usado por Platón en el capítulo X de La República.

 Sudarshan Shetty, Six Drops, (2009)

En el caso de la pintura moderna, por ejemplo, se trata de una afirmación de ser concebida y practicada como superficie plana, bidimensional, cuya forma deviene en su propio contenido (su materialidad). Rancière escribe: "Se trata de una nueva forma de pintar que se ofrece a los ojos entrenados que pueden verla de manera diferente". Es decir, se requiere a un cambio que es percibido por una nueva mirada. Ambos, obra y mirada, se encuentran felizmente en esa complicidad o "régimen".

 Barnett Newman, Ornament 1, (1948)

Sin embargo, el nuevo régimen estético no rompe completamente el vínculo entre pintura y discurso. Es decir, siempre hay una relación de oposición dada en este caso por la crítica sobre cuál es el lugar propio de cierto arte. Por ello Rancière expresa que en lo sucesivo, "el poder de las palabras ya no es el modelo que la representación pictórica ha de tener como norma" (estado que es posible en tanto no se produzca un próximo régimen).

De ahí que no sea nada raro para nosotros inscribir el trabajo de Lissitzky en un régimen particular que tiene lugar en la URSS durante los primeros años de la revolución y que llamamos Constructivismo.

El Lissitzky, Proun (circa 1920)

Rancière estima que la pintura necesita una nueva forma de visibilidad que se logra a través de una reinterpretación del pasado de ella misma. La teoría viene a jugar un papel importante en el régimen de la estética, pues la teoría influencia la "forma de producción" (mientras que esta forma de producción tiene también sus momentos teóricos). Ambos son modos de hacer, y como tales operan unos sobre los otros. El trabajo de una estética crítica no debe separar estos esfuerzos en campos distintos de especialización, sino redoblar la fuerza de cada uno a través de su combinación en prácticas discursivas.

* Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, (Polity Press, 2009), p. 115. A este respecto, apunta Rancière: "En la clásica definición hay varios grupos opuestos: los incorporados en el estado y la constitución, los que son ignorados por las leyes, y esos que reclaman en el nombre del derecho de otro que aún no ha sido inscrito en los hechos". Es decir, aunque "la policía" pueda verse como un elemento negativo, en realidad ambos, policía y política no pueden existir el uno sin el otro. Se trata de una asimetría estructural básica y a la vez necesaria entre ambos.

1Del ensayo "Aesthetics as Politics", en Aesthetics and Its Discontents, p. 24. 2 Idem. p. 29. Rancière trae el ejemplo del famoso texto de 1797, escrito entre Hegel, Schelling y Hölderlin, titulado Das alteste Systemprogramm des Deutschen Idealismus. 4 Thomas Kuhn usa el término "paradigma" para referirse a cada momento específico que trae una nueva manera de "ver" las cosas. Tomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Chicago University Press, 1962). La autonomía del arte viene precisamente con el tercer régimen (el de la modernidad expresado por el discurso racionalista del siglo XIX), que requiere un sujeto racional "desinteresado". Este régimen estético abre la posibilidad de que se descubra "lo bello" en cualquier parte y lugar, causando una especie de democracia estética. En aparte, debe apuntarse la similitud entrte la idea de "régimen" y el epistémè de Foucault en su Las palabras de las cosas, aunque Foucault se refiere a formaciones discursivas, es posible leer a Rancière con cierta inflexión foucaultiana.  Sería interesante, en un post futuro, abordar la discusión que existe entre Rancière y Alain Badiou a este respecto. 6 En mi interpretación de Rancière podría verse el arte (de una manera vertical) como una disciplina autótoma y a la vez (de modo horizontal) como interdisciplina. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

information warfare muddies the signals being sent from one side to the other in a crisis, deliberately or inadvertently

Bruce Conner, Bomb Head, 1989

• a massive nuclear, but relatively short, war in which strategic nuclear weapons play the major role in deciding the outcome; • a more protracted war including nuclear strikes but also involving all of the armed forces; • a major war in which nuclear weapons are used in a restricted or limited manner in one or several theaters of military action;

Monday, August 28, 2017

la poésie de Joey Starr: "Métèque"

ça me rend psycho dans mon flow et là il y a plus d'idéaux;

kara walker's non-identitarian definition for identity is a gem (let's hope the identifanatics on both sides learn something)

I'm more than a woman,
more than a descendant from Africa,
more than my father's daughter,
more than black,
more than the sum of my experiences thus far.

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, a time when, as Wilhelm Dilthey suggests, "society looks at itself," or else, as a postmodern avatar would hint, "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" (p. 74). 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 theatricality of photography with an added layer manipulation. By "programming" Cameron into his digital method, López delves into Dilthey's unique status of interpretation, and the difference between "hard" and "soft" explanations 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 underpinnings aside, López is open about his intention 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.

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

Arts-and-Cratfs Revival 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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The do's and don'ts

Stop cannibalizing art. Be original. To be original search deep into your sources. Go back your early drawings. Bring back the buried doodling. 

Don't try to be popular. You can't please everyone. 

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

Don't explain your design. Good design 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 just looking at art magazines. Imitation is a form of limitation.

Seek effect and affect. Appropriation is cheap.

Avoid Photoshop. Bring back your drawing skills!

What's your truest mark? YOU.

Bring more free hand design! Trace your own experience of a process  resembling its past development!

Go back to calligraphy! Free your hand and mind from the tedium of the mouse. 

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

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

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

Art making is community. Build community!

The hell with the past. Build futurity!

Stop mimicking Postmodern mimicking.

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

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

* 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

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.