Sunday, August 31, 2014

work hard to win the front, just before losing the rear

aLfRedO tRifF

i have to admit i'm a fan of yves klein's art. there is something unique about his messed up theology, his outlandish cerebration, his ability to reinterpret, reinvent and re-appropriate avant-garde mannerisms that's very telling of his time.

i also enjoy klein's perverted sense of humor. true, he may have pursued his art with an obliged dose of [avant-garde] "seriousness", but one would surely miss a great deal in klein's "actions" if one is looking for a pellucid correspondence between what he said and what he did -or what he did and what he meant.

so, i was baffled when, in recapping some of the existing literature on klein, i found benjamin buchloh's Klein and Poses, an article for artforum international (Vol. 33, Summer 1995). buchloh’s tone betrays ideological ressentiment:
The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avant-garde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art).
according to buchloh, there is a moment, after WWII, when the avant-garde could've (as in the munchausen paradox) pulled itself from its straps out of the swamp of late-capitalism: the neo-avant-garde was born!

buchloh's discussion conflates “ought” with “is” in matters of art-making. art history (as well as capitalism) has its black swans, no matter how much one milks that 20th century epochal seism known as the sacred cow, revising and reinterpreting it, in order to accommodate one's ideological paraphernalia. 
The dubious distinction of having claimed a natural phenomenon (the blue chroma of pigment, or of the sky) as private property, a brand name, and of legalizing this preposterous pretense by a signature or by the quest for a patent, is Yves Klein's. The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avant-garde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art). 
precisely! "inventing" certain chroma of blue pigment makes perfect sense in post world-war-two, when capitalism and technology was being driven by a new manic administrative, legalistic approach and incipient shortermism.

klein's gesture is akin to manzoni's merda d'artista:

As with Marcel Duchamp (whose legacy Klein pilfered freely, with no concern at all for the property rights of earlier avant-garde paradigms), it has sometimes been difficult not to resent the messenger for delivering the message (…) While Duchamp announced his decision to abandon art in favor of chess only late in his career (while clandestinely elaborating one of the most important works of the postwar period), Klein would from the start insist on an alternate public persona, identifying himself with a non-artistic activity.
who? duchamp, Mr. appropriator, inventor of the objet trouvé?

in which art-constitution (of a development as manifold as the avant-garde) is buchloh's "breach of morals" stipulated? 

buchloh's "who-copies-who" account reminds me of the derrida/searle debate, over the nature of "serious/unserious." so, duchamp's public-"serious" announcement of abandoning art for chess gets the german critic's blessing; not so klein's "unserious" announcement after -as buchloh puts it- "his plans for a career in judo failed."

& who cares?

i do however agree with buchloh here:
Klein is the quintessential disenfranchised European male artist of the postwar period: images of him (accompanied by a pompier) searing a "virgin" canvas with a giant gas-torch, or harassing nude models as they smear themselves with blue paint to become "living brushes" before a gaping audience, secure him a place in an art history of protagonists desperate to resuscitate the lost tools and torments of artistic virility.
and here:
For they had in mind the needs of a specific segment of France's postwar reconstruction culture: the art world's elitist bourgeois consumers, whose political leanings seem to have oscillated between a nostalgic royalism and authoritarian, antidemocratic impulses eventually absorbed by Gaullism.
and isn't "oscillation," the art-making predicament par excellence during much of the twentieth and early-twenty-first century?

i get it, buchloh is mad about klein's style of "not pretending to pretend."
Klein's ostentatious association with Rosicrucianism and with the writings of its 19th-century popularizer Max Heindel (which he acquired by mail order from the Rosicrucian headquarters in Oceanside, California), as well as his subsequent induction as a knight in the order of Saint Sebastian, have an analogue in Beuys' alignment with the anthropasophy of Rudolf Steiner.
as if symbolists, expressionists and other twentieth-century avant-garde avatars (like mondrian) did not?
Klein as haunted by a paranoid fear of the predecessor: wherever evidence of continuity or contact between his work and some earlier example was irrefutable, he effaced his traces, renewing claims for originality and authenticity that manifestly contradicted the actual conditions of his painterly practice as production and as design. Duchamp's rotoreliefs, Jean Dubuffet's eponges, Man Ray's rayo-grams, Ellsworth Kelly's monochrome paintings, Robert Rauschenberg's blueprints from 1949-51, all resurface in Klein’s opus, covered in a homogenizing layer of IKB, and with an average delay of about ten years. 

buchloh's detailed account of klein's ethical/aesthetic violations misses the point. without "sampling" there would be no hip-hop (are the DJ's from the hood to blame for recording companies' ponderous "legalistic and administrative" system?).

buchloh, the rigorous and superb critic of the neo-avantgarde cannot understand that art is an endless playing of inventions and reinventions, appropriations and re-appropriations?
Klein’s shrill claims of originality are almost a standard condition in the responses of the neo-avant-garde to its predecessors. He is almost unique, however, in his capacity to reinvest strategies and concepts of the historical avant-garde, from Duchamp through Ray to Rodchenko, with irrationality, a dimension of metaphysics, and a rabidly affirmed claim for the validity of cult and ritual, be it that of the genius artist or of the spectatorial experience.
what is to be learned from klein according to buchloh?
Among the lessons to be learned from Klein is that not a single semiotic “revolution” of the avant-garde - neither the readymade nor the monochrome, neither non-compositionality nor the indexical procedure - is secured by its own radicality, or protected against subsequent operations of recoding and reinvestment with myth. 

paradoxically, the german critic now gives klein more than any poseur would've  expected: how can a charlatan teach the avant-garde on revolutionary issues such as "radicality" or "reinvestment of myths"?

buchloh's veiled ambivalence with klein only reveals ressentiment, which at this point can be defined as theory's pyrrhic drive:

work hard to win the front, just before losing the rear

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fountain is, and is not, a urinal

alfRedO tRifF

I've been reading Robert Hopkins' essay "Speaking Through Silence," on conceptual art.* I take issue with this paragraph:
While I might appreciate, say the audacity of Fountain on seeing it, my experience is not altered by my awareness of that feature. The urinal looks the same whether I'm engaging with audacity or not (...) The idea is that for other art, sense experience plays the role of medium of appreciation; whereas for conceptual art it provides nothing more than means of access to the work.
I take the last sentence. So, according to Hopkins, whereas my sense of horror is the medium of appreciation to Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes,

 the same feeling cannot apply in the case of Puto (2007), by Michael Rees.

Why is the "means to access(ing)" my horror NOT a sort of "medium of appreciation"?

Hopkins obsesses too much with the urinal and overlooks Fountain. He takes them to be exactly the same. They are not: Fountain is, and is not, a urinal.

My statement in red is not a logical proposition. Take it as aesthetic amplification. Ready-making automatically turns something into something else.** This act of investing instant "artness" (on urinals, or anything for that matter) is described in this letter sent to the Blind Man by Duchamp himself:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
For Hopkins Caravaggio makes you feel more, instead of just, differently than Duchamp.*** For example, in A Propos of Readymades, Duchamp's goes for elimination of the experience (i.e., the dissolving of aesthetic sense):
(...) I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste – in fact a complete anesthesia.
I don't know about Hopkins, but I when see Fountain I don't see a urinal. I see instant coffee. 
*"Speaking Through Silence," in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, by Peter Goldie, Elisabeth Schellekens (Oxford University Press: 2007). p. 56-58. **Remember Russell's famous 5 Minutes Hypothesis?  ***Keep in mind that different styles may demand different analyses. The ways in which we apprehend objects though conceptual cerebration is different from that of more traditional forms of representation. Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista is not apprehended in the same way than Monet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe.

Monday, August 18, 2014

why pamela druckerman (a native miamian) still deserves credit for her inane article about miami for the new york times

alFreDo tRiFf

from the ny times, written by ex-patriate miamian pamela druckerman:
MIAMI even has a homegrown dialect. Young Latinos — regardless of whether they even know Spanish — speak English with a Spanish twang. To non-Miamians, they sound like extremely fluent immigrants. Phillip M. Carter, a linguist at Florida International University, says that when young born-and-bred Miamians visit the rest of America, or even Boca Raton, people often ask them what country they’re from. “Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan. People typically don’t realize they’re speaking a dialect unless they leave Miami, Mr. Carter says.
are young latinos to blame for speaking english with a spanish twang?

does druckerman know that english is considered a pluricentric language. i.e., language and ethnic identity are essentially divergent? if so, english is more like a heterogeneous socio-phonetic universe than a prosodic safe-zone.

what is the english language if not an amazing pottage of germanic, french, latin, greek, and whatnot?

and what, if not ethnic bias, would predispose an american from elsewhere, listening to a native miamian speaker, to assume that she/he is from a different country?

druckerman is happy to cash in her appeal to authority by a linguist at FIU by the name of phillip carter, whose pseudo-academic dictum is as thin as air:
“Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan.
here's the meaning of "cosmopolitan":
1. Pertinent or common to the whole world: an issue of cosmopolitan import.
2. Having constituent elements from all over the world or from many different parts of the world: the ancient and cosmopolitan societies of Syria and Egypt.
3. So sophisticated as to be at home in all parts of the world or conversant with many spheres of interest: a cosmopolitan traveler.
would you expect modigliani, kandinsky, rilke, max ernst & joyce (all foreigners) to speak french in the 1920's with a piccardian twang?

oh, but 1920's paris is the paradigm of "cosmopolitan."

what is this distinction between "international" and "cosmopolitan" that doesn't beg the question on ethnicity?

and with "cosmopolitan" and "international" being so close, why is miami still not "cosmopolitan"?

i bet druckerman favors definition #3 above: miami lacks sophistication.


at this point, druckerman offers a no-brainer: miami's inequality.
Most locals also don’t seem bothered that Miami is one of America’s most unequal cities, with lots of very poor people living close to rich ones. Miami’s have-nots are easy to ignore, since — if they’re not cleaning your house or parking your car — you just drive past them.
it's clear that in most cosmopolitan cities, rich and poor live pretty close. next, i'll gloss over druckerman's unwarranted inferences & vapid satire. however, she has a point: miami has lots of poor people.

but that nothing to do with cosmopolitanism. for instance, oxnard-thousand oaks-ventura, california, population 822,000 (with a 72% of well-to-do whites), is the sixth most affluent city in america, but does that make it a cosmopolitan destination?

since druckerman cannot successfully establish the rich/cosmopolitan connection, she is left with an even worse conjecture:

miami is --generally-- stupid.
And while there are some thinkers scattered around town, Miami is overrun with lawyers, jewelry designers and personal trainers, all trying to sell services to one another.
while druckerman conveys very little cogitation in her article, we should marvel that this native miamian can write such a goofy piece for one of the best world's newspapers (and get away with it).

go girl! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

if being a young farmer in america makes no sense, my diet automatically becomes a political issue


being a young farmer in america makes no sense. that's bern smith's conclusion in his article for the nytimes. 
The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income.
a sobering statistics. when over dinner, people praise the merits of organic or slow food, rarely the discussion veers from the aesthetic merits & flavor & nutrition of the food to who grows the food.  
On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free market. Growing Power alone received over $6.8 million in grants over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to compete with that?
we're generally blind to our food provenance. is it ignorance, bad faith or both?
... in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax breaks than tomatoes.
(forbes' suggestion makes my skin crawl)
It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. 
if what smith discusses is true, we have a big problem. we need not just good food, but more sustainable farming. food production should not destroy the very planet we're trying to feed. of course we understand the adaptability of the market, a three-pointed vector that includes agribusiness, factory farming & the so called intensive crop farming (and the problems associated with water conservation, pollution, food prices, government subsidies, etc).

smith's article hits me with its factual force. i feel i've lowered my guard & once you lower your guard you become an accomplice (incidentally, complicity is more widespread than we're prepared to accept: see it as a befuddlement between seudo-enlightenment and social anomie).

what's the meaning of "slow" or "organic" if it's produced from the top down & financed by big farm?

in the last few years our food has gotten better, people are changing eating habits, but the food message is coming from the wrong source. 90% of independent farmers don't have the means to underwrite the the food publicity ads we urbanites read.

this is the picture: america's urban poor are hooked to junk, which leaves the dwindling middle class and the rich full access to "better" food (let's assume now that some of our better food comes from big farm and their interests posing as "sustainable"). by the way, the mantra that better food is not necessarily more expensive is a discussion the poor will not understand as long as they are socially conditioned to eat poorly. the asymmetry in food consumption reflects the chronic dysfunction of our system.

so, i'm prepared to connect two apparently disparate vectors: if being a young farmer in america makes no sense anymore, my diet automatically becomes a political issue.

Monday, August 11, 2014