Monday, May 24, 2010

Soft Machine - I Should Have Known

I bring what you much need, yet always have,
Not money, amours, dress, eating, but as good;
I send no agent or medium, offer no representative
of value, but offer the value itself.

... lever, crank, axle, piston, shaft,
air-pump, boiler, beam, pulley, hinge, flange,
band, bolt, throttle, governors, up and down
rods.-- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gender trouble

Chi Peng's Self-Portrait with One Breast Photoshopped In   

In his Self-Portrait, Chinese artist Peng depicts himself as undergoing some sort of inner metamorphosis. His bigger left breast (and more pronounced left ear and cheekbone) may hint at a right/left asymmetry. How to render Peng's "body" within the recognized parameters of traditional gender stereotypes?

In her 2004 book, Undoing Gender, Judith Butler interprets gender as process, a kind of sequence of per-formative stages with no pre-existing performer in them or even behind them. The distinction been that there is performance (which presupposes the existence of a subject) and performativity (which does not). The idea is to render identity more plastic and malleable. Butler elaborates on the case of David/Brenda:
Although David comes to claim that he would prefer to be a man, it is not clear whether David himself believes in the primary causal force of the Y chromosome. Diamond finds support for his theory in David, but it is not clear that David agrees with Diamond. David clearly knows about the world of hormones, asked for them and takes them. David has learned about phallic construction from transsexual contexts, wants a phallus, has it made, and so allegorizes a certain transsexual transformation without precisely exemplifying it. He is, in his view, a man born a man, castrated by the medical establishment, feminized by the psychiatric world, and then enabled to return to who he is. But in order to return to who he is, he requires-and wants, and gets-a subjection to hormones and surgery. He allegorizes transsexuality in order to achieve a sense of naturalness. And this transformation is applauded by the endocrinologists on the case since they understand his appearance now to be in accord with an inner truth.*
A better point, yet,
[...] and the "nature" that the endocrinologists defend also needs a certain assistance through surgical and hormonal means, at which point a certain nonnatural intervention in anatomy and biology is precisely what is mandated by nature. So in each case, the primary premise is in some ways refuted by the means by which it is implemented. Malleability is, as it were, violently imposed. And naturalness is artificially induced.*
By the way, check out the site of intersex artist Del La Grace Volcano. Pretty interesing stuff.
*Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, p. 65, 66.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the shadows of the moon, climbing thro nights highest noon

I rent the Veil where the Dead dwell
When weary Man enters his Cave
He meets his Saviour in the Grave
Some find a Female Garment there
And some a Male woven with care
Lest the Sexual Garments sweet
Should grow a devouring Winding sheet.

William Blake, The Keys of the Gates.

Hirst's failings

@ Scurvy Tunes: There was a moment in postwar culture when this coldness was mirrored effectively as a critical artist means. That was the bite of dissonant modernism. But compared to Hirst, even Beckett’s stare is a warm and compassionate protest.

There is no protest to Hirst’s coldness. It mirrors, but without a trace of that passion or compassion that leads us back to each other in urgency. This lack of heart, this absent clenched fist of humane outrage at our present impotence, is the missed encounter at the heart of Hirst’s work. It marks not just Hirst’s failings as an individual artist, but the crystallized failure of a whole historical moment.

Needing heart, needing warmth, as well as honesty and truth, from anything that would call itself art, now more than ever, what shall we say to or about skulls that leave us “blinking, dazzled, and bemused” but not warmed or more human?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Diego Singh: STALKER

The word reality would lose all meaning, or would metastasize beyond recognition. If you missed your wife or husband, whose physical body had died, you could meet up again in the virtual world. Take a walk together. Drink cappuccino. Have sex.1
Alfredo Triff

(Full disclosure: After working for almost two hours on this review, my post disappeared without a trace. Could it be in my browsing history? Nyet. How about someplace inside the dashboard? Nyet. So, I've lost my best draft. What follows is an approximation of the original).

STALKER, is a show of paintings by Argentinean-american artist Diego Singh, from March 12-April 3 @ Snitzer Gallery in Miami. At the time of this review, the show is already history. It doesn't matter. Diego Singh is one of Miami's best young painters.

Singh's work is driven by saturated colorization, zigzagging of lines, boldly presented, contrasting media. On the formal side, there is an eclectic influence of contemporary German styles and a nervous neo-Expressionist drawing pulse. He is able to congeal Duchamp-like stoppages, in-motion body fragments (as they become a sort of chaotic telepresence of nodes and fields) and bring all these elements into a denouement consistent with his own script.  

On the other hand, the paintings' sheer plasticity can become, from the formal standpoint, a production riddle. It is here that the old curse of inspiration of the Romantics serves as caveat: What you love the most can turn into your worst enemy. But let's go on.

Dumping Puig (Oil on linen 60 x 90 inches, 2010)

What's this show about? A (true) cyber-sex relation gone out-of-whack. But who cares for veracity in cyberspace? 
I am your audience and as such, at some point, I felt like I was dating my father or my mother (for the impossibility of it). I find that with you, truth reveals itself in a fictional structure; and the reality of our construction depends on the relational aspect of that exchange and also on the contraband of your photo. Since I '"met" you, my reality became abstraction and like on the verge of modernism you were built as speculation while I turned into a verb.*
Monument (Oil on linen, 132 x 72 inches, 2009-2010)

People turn into verbs when they act in the world (make note: "actions" presume intentionality, which happens in the mind/brain). So far the mind/brain wins.

Let's define two domains: RL (real life), and VL (virtual life). Cybersex in VL will promise you the experience of RL (at a minimum cost). A subjective and liberating interplay of mutual exploration of kinky fantasies with almost no risk of physical -or psychic- harm.


Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).

The style of desire is a vicious cycle: Bloated libidinal states get reduced to a receiving end by an antenna swilling gigabytes of signal from the other end of virtual space to a monitor/head showing its own reception. The user becomes its own program!

Is this Lacanian supplanting of the Real by imaginary and symbolic registers (where fantasy -liminally- hangs so to speak?) true desire or just an aftertaste?

"A surface text that can be switched off with a click, an interaction from a distance, a love without touch." 2
If I have to locate desire in your body or in mine, it will be in the head […] In any case, as I was saying, the subjects depicted are sometimes generic headless totems, rocks that look like people, unfinished torsos from bad sculptors in the 30’s, red jackets and black pants 'walking' backwards and forward.*
Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).

Singh's Headless Torso series' makes me think of an early 1980’s video-clip choreography of headless mannequins (wearing red jackets and black pans), robotically dancing back-and forth to the beat of a repetitive drum machine. Chaotic looping, colluding lines, now mimicking the haptic pulsations of sexual role-play and jerky chatter -in IRC's, and MUD's.

As such:
Halcyon: man, am beat....that tryptophan... :-(
©KoolKam68: turkey drugs
Halcyon: seriously powerful stuff
©KoolKam68: what r u looking 4
Halcyon: it's starting to kick in
Lilmomma: hi boys, it's meeee!
Crayola boy: need more turkey soon, any young tvs, ts, cds?
Halcyon: wow momma! () yo dude that bitch on that webcam was a cyber skank
Calygirl68: lol
subboy: cboy, let's go private
Halcyon: been lookin forwrd to tis VG all week
'SUPNIG: 'Sup nigga HERE...
Blobs of deleuzenable chancy -barely liminal- bassy, down beat, pSyChiC/teledildonic contortions.

Thus, William Gibson's admonition: Cyberspace is consensual hallucination.

Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).

{So far it's all a [male] mind game to be precise (since we're talking about embodied minds)]}.

(gasping) "WOW!", "Mmmmm," "Ohhhh!" and "I'mmmmm commminnnnggg!!!" the subject haphazardly types with one finger on a keyboard, the other hand WTF¡@K%! while HE/SHE/IT is fixated to a monitor. 

Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).

headless torso appears against the black-hole of informational energy, a fractal of ludic white noise -as if a flicker of desire/distortion got sucked by mental syntactic throbbing. Why is the body shunned from cyberspace?

Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).
On our chat sessions 3 modes of exchange took place. I build you up, I erase; I attack. In all 3, there was the possibility of losing control materially, of not being able to direct that curve, or this conversation. The paintings that came from the chat room are now becoming a poster, an ad, a letter. So, in that (sort of) state of becoming, the performance that was started by your image became extra-pictorial, and at the end, what was left wasn't just a bunch of photos or paintings or letters, but rather the scene of our exchange, its process and the memory of it's materiality, whatever that was.*
The scene is about bodies without faces. And why Intimacy? At this point Singh remains ambivalent. Intimacy, by definition, cannot be reduced to a "feel" devoid of otherness.

Ok, why not "virtual otherness?"     

Headless Torso (Acrylic on paper, 19 x 27, 2010).

The white graffiti at the bottom of the above painting reads: "The situation with these headless torsos is that they achieve exactly what they want." Still some make this argument: What's more real, our "headless torsos" online, or our bodies in the daylight? Can VL = RL? It all goes back to the futile mind/body division. In the Cartesian virtual world of functionalism, mental states don't require brain or body states.

The Assistant (Oil on linen, 79 x 96 inches, 2009-2010).

This whole discussion brings to mind Freud's treatment of "instincts" and "drives." For Freud, while "instinct" is more biological, "drive" mixes both instinctual energy and psychic representation. Feminist critic Elizabeth Grosz suggests that "drives" can transform and transcend "instincts." So, in Freudian terms, the body is always traced over, (as in Singh's white lines) by desire.3

Yet, the late Samuel Todes presents an alternative picture:

"The knowable world is the human body's world, and only those elements who have some kind of affinity to the human body can enter it. For others there can be no names: others are inconceivable, imperceivable, undesirable, unimaginable, unapproachable. To appear, to be anything at all, is to be a function of the human body." 4 
I leave you with Singh's last word:

They sort of echo the basic premise for exchanging one's own nude photos on the chat room: Always headless, nobody will know who you are...You'll avoid blackmail. I only have headshots of you; you never got one from me.*
1Mark Slouka, War of the Worlds: Cyberspace and the High-Tech Assault on Reality (Basic Books, 1995) p. 20. *Diego Singh's written fragments for the exhibition (my italics). 2 Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, Eds. Cyberfeminism: Connectivity, Critique and Creativity (Spinifex, 1999) p. 192. 3 Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, (Indiana University Press, 1994). 4Samuel Todes Body and World  (MIT Press, 2001) p. 42.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010



Emmy Hennings

We are waiting for one last adventure
What do we care about sunshine?
High-towered days crumble into ruins
Turbulent nights --prayer in Purgatory.
We no longer read the daily mail
Only sometimes do we smile quietly in the pillows,
Since we know everything, and fly
To and fro slyly in attacks of shivering.
Men may hurry and struggle
Today the rain still falls cheerlessly
We push unsteadily through life
And sleep, confused and exhausted...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


1- Talking silence (Dogen):

“Avoid unnecessary words.
Speak with your mind.
Read people’s minds.”

2- Being a fool (Master Ikkyu):

“How to reach out?
Listen… ask.”
“How can I obtain wisdom?
Be a fool.”

3- Gentle Face (Shin-Hiu)

“Gentle face means a happy spirit,
Let people know it.
Let people see it.
What if they resent it?
Since they need it, they will come to love it.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mette Tommerup at Dorsch Gallery

Alfredo Triff

"11 Glimpses" is a show of oil paintings in small format, by Danish-American artist Mette Tommerup at Dorsch Gallery. The exhibit is an interesting departure from her previous work.

Orb Passage (Lambda Print under Plexiglass, 2004).

 Unpolished Valentine (Ink on Metallic Sheet on Board, 2006),

This is what I wrote for her 2003 exhibition, "Free-transform":
"Tommerup's images look fuzzy, as if acknowledging their vagueness in today's ambiguous political contexts. See them through a transparent beehive wall, like a maze of flecks where each little hexagon holds a hue and your eyes move from shade to shade. My favorite piece is a handsome, big rectangular photo of a wall covered with graffiti -later I discover it is a segment of the Berlin Wall. Read it: The message is the medium."
Some themes remain constant: Tommerup's fondness for the small format, her odd and witty sense of humor, the almost sculptural quality of her pieces, her use of color. Yet, "11 Glimpses" reveal new painterly, realistic ruminations. Quick, watery and somewhat fuzzy, this work is imbued with psychological meaning, as if windows through which we are welcomed to gaze a series of potentially liminal -precarious- acts.

What are these glipmses about?

In contemporary capitalism, the relations of production (that is, the formation of subjects who willingly "accept" their position), occurs outside capitalist relations of production.* That's when the private space of domesticity comes in. How are individuals turned into subjects? How do they negotiate and channel their frustrations and fantasies?

Garden Hose (Oil on linen mounted on panel, 12 x 16 inches, 2010) 

One could take the image above as an innocent playful moment between two women (in the house's backyard?), or as less than implicit golden shower, with one genuflecting girl as the receiver. Is the artist building enough ambiguity to support -and also probe- feminist discourse?**

A side note: Ash Tray, (Oil on linen on panel 9 x 12 inches, 2010), works as rhetorical pictogram. Tommerup builds this relationship between title and image as a sort of uneasy refraction; meaning is visually savored once again, but without a didactic aftertaste.

Burning Sofa (Oil on linen on panel, 12 x 16 inches, 2010) can be taken as commentary on domestic everydayness. A sitting man is so oblivious to a raging ball of fire next to him, that one of the two gets obviously reduced to a mere symbol. One can think of a limit case: Are we not in hell already?

Newspaper (Oil on linen on panel, 16 x 12 inches, 2010) illustrates an atmosphere of eccentric suspicion. Behaviors are framed as deadpan, but they seem devoid of their everyday "expected" intentions.   

Domesticity is out of kilter with modern disciplinary projects, because at least one can escape the oppressive spatial and temporal regulations of the 9-5 work space. Yet, there is not much to say about these people's surroundings. They dwell not in places, but in "situations," as if cut off from their environments (nearness-to and depth become redundant), framed by a snapshot.

In late capitalist societies, the home can be an insidious place for the negotiation of interests and fantasies. As alienated subjects, it becomes extremely difficult to escape our means-to-end existence. So we end up as instruments of our own alienation. One gets this much. Yet, something makes me uncomfortable about Tommerup's images. What I mean is her preference of time over place, event over situatedness. 

Hanger (Oil on linen on panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2010)

I wished to see more of these subject's environments. Not only would it enrich my  understanding of their existence, but it would make this overall preference of event over dwelling -already- built in our daily practices more problematic. Having said that, I like the fact that Mette sticks to this smaller format (it's not easy to pack punch in this much area as she does).

Tommerup's dog series is hilarious. The dog becomes a proxy for some of our most revered habits.

Above, Dog as Shrek, (Oil on linen 16 x 12 inches, 2010).
Dog as Turkey, (Oil on linen on panel 16 x 12 inches, 2009). 

 Dog Yoga, (Oil on panel 9 x 12 inches, 2010).

"11 Glimpses" is humorous and vague enough to make us ponder the -uneasy- symbolic merger of "home" and "self." Let's not forget that it's precisely through the seclusion of the self in the home that late-capitalism (grounded in the principle of individualism), reproduces itself.
* French philosopher Louis Althusser explores this idea in his 1970 essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." **The conventional view of the family was challenged by feminist writers from the 1960s onwards, when it was shown that the home was not, as we had beliecved, a place where women exercise their own interests, but instead, a locus where women became the slaves of other people's needs. The home was much the same as the public world in that it represented the principal site within which women's lives were oppressed -often endangered- by men. Radical feminists argued that men had created a patriarchy in society -an integrated web of constraints to keep women in their place- servicing the needs of men.