Saturday, February 22, 2014

weiwei's performativity principle on its head (the opinion pendulum is switching)


aLfReDo tRiFf

the caminero performance/protest gets renewed attention from critic jonathan jones @ the guardian.

how could a critic from across the atlantic see better than PAMM's claque & officials?
On Sunday, a man called Maximo Caminero has smashed an artwork by Ai Weiwei, one of the most famous artists of this century and a hero to many for his defiance of the Chinese state (...) this is not such a simple story. Caminero's proclaimed motive – that the Perez Museum in Miami should be showing local, not global, art – is pretty daft (...) he has accidentally punched a massive hole in the logic of contemporary art.
jones is right. but which logic is he referring to?

what we've called the weiwei principle, 
(...) by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable— how we decide what is valuable.
jones develops a different argument than the one we explored at miami bourbaki, but his conclusion is similar: 
Ai Weiwei is courageous and eloquent but this incident and his response – for he has condemned the vandal – make me wonder about the rules of art right now. The reasons for condemning one destructive act and celebrating another don't seem clear. Suddenly, the world's most respected artist looks a bit conceptually fragile.
some of the comments jones gets in his article gloss over this logic. why?

let's see:
frustrated artist: Much as I dislike the iconoclasm of smashing- or repainting- ancient vases, there's a clear difference. Ai Weiwei bought the vases first. They were like those Goya prints that the Chapmans bought and then altered. But Caminero smashed someone else's property. That's illegal.
"illegal?" and who says that what is legal is necessarily moral? 
barmycabbage: When Ai Weiwei dropped and photoed the Han's pot, he was trying to make a statement, that is, one has to try to destroy what is deemed to be traditionally valuable and only then, a new view can be established. Now, that is the difference. The artist never owned the Ai Weiwei pot, and the act of protest is to express a disagreement of other people's exhibition on the site.
see how easily people accept weiwei's "shattering" on the grounds of ownership, which seems like saying that ownership unproblematically overrides other relevant moral and political considerations. not even propery-rights master john locke would agree with that:
For this "labour" being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others (paragraph 26).
does ownership (of the ancient urn) settle its shattering tour court just because weiwei paid for it? to whom? are we to disregard the history of these artifacts? how about the artisan who made them? what if the urns were stolen, or even arbitrarily undersold or unjustly appropriated? (within a feudal exploitative relation of production?) could one not say that even if in owned by weiwei, the chinese people have a right to the urn's integrity? there are reasons to believe that for locke the chinese urn is sort of "owned by all." in other words, property rights are justified only on the grounds that it can be shown that no one is made worse off by the appropriation. could one not object that cultural rights supervene ownership rights? 
snertly: It begs questions like What, if anything, separates Caminero's actions from those of Laszlo Toth, who in 1972 took a hammer to Michalangelo's Pietà?
it doesn't. michelangelo didn't invoke iconoclasm to produce his pietá. toth was deranged (he screamed "i'm jesus risen from the dead" as he pounded michelangelo's masterpiece).



however, weiwei is also getting the heat of it. here are some comments:
davegunner: Except eating his own medicine doesn't have the same effect. Ai WeiWei is a vandal and ought to be jailed for destroying a 2000 year old Han era urn. Owning the urn does not make it his right to destroy antiques as there's heritage value for China and even the world at large.
now it's time for caminero detractors (on the grounds of property destruction) to defend weiwei (on the gounds of cultural heritage destruction).
homeboy 88: An attack on the Chinese artist's installation in Miami has been condemned as an act of vandalism. Why is smashing art only acceptable if an acclaimed global artist does it? So what you're telling us is that hypocrisy is rampant within the art community? I believe you.
no comment.
karl schwinbarger: So in theory I could buy the Mona Lisa and scratch off the paint and then white wash the canvas and I am good to go because I owned it. We need new laws to protect cultural artifacts in private hands so that it would be just as wrong legally to destroy a cultural artifact you "own" as it is to skin your pet dog and then put the writhing skinned creature on display as a conceptual art piece for which the viewer is left to the decipher the meaning. Buying something that is irreplaceable should entail responsibilities as well as rights. 
why has the west been (historically, notoriously) silent about the rape of cultural artifacts from elsewhere, most notably, the parthenon marbles, the nefertiti bust, the rosetta stone, etc?

is one not entitled to say that the caminero protest/performance @ PAMM has brought forth the issue of whether weiwei has unconsciously played with our cultural blind spots?
biggsthe2nd: Let me get this right. Ai Weiwei got some 2,000 year old vases and vandalized them by pouring paint over them. This gave the vase a one million pound value. I suspect the vases about are churned out by under paid Chinese craftsmen in China and could be produced time and time again. Who really cares. From the photos I've seen the installation is rather dull and predictable. I'm actually on the side of the artist who wants to see his local art gallery support local artists.
biggs can smell the history of exploitation behind questionable property rights.
panpipes: A better comparison would be to say that the Taliban had an absolute right to destroy those ancient Buddhas because they ran the country.
precisely the taliban "property" argument.
quarrytone: Perhaps Ai would have been better to have remained silent, than to condemn Caminero. To remember where his anarchism really comes from.
agree.
gulleysimpson: Should Robert Rauschenberg be arrested for erasing a deKooning? As I see it... the art installation begs the viewer to break the pots on display as per the photographs of OuiOui. And, really, those are some ugly glazes.
interesting point.

see that we are not saying that cultural considerations override property rights. that is a different argument which is tangential though pertinent to this one. what we are doing is problematizing the naïve assumptions made by PAMM, some people in the media and some miami artists and personalities that rushed to present caminero's protest/performance as an act of vandalism.

such assumptions selectively ignore that performance art is repeatable & politically & morally symmetric. that is to say, weiwei has no rights to his performativity principle that he could refuse others on similar grounds.

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