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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the political imperative: ai weiwei should congratulate máximo caminero for smashing his "one-million dollar vase" on PAMM's floor

ai weiwei's colored vases (2006)
scandal is sincerity when it is not programmed. sincerity is scandal when the wise world officially runs up against it. -- günter brus (1971)

alFrEdO tRiFf

it all begins with this odd piece of news from the new york times:
(...) a valuable vase by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had been deliberately destroyed by a visitor in what appeared to be an act of protest. A spokeswoman for the museum said the incident occurred on Sunday afternoon when a local artist walked into the waterfront museum and picked up one of the vases in an installation of Mr. Ai’s work titled “Colored Vases.” A guard asked the man to put it down, but instead he threw it to the ground, smashing it, the spokeswoman said.  (click the CNN video in the nytimes piece).
who is the culprit? máximo caminero, a local miami artist.
Mr. Caminero, a native of the Dominican Republic who has long lived in Miami, told the Miami New Times, a weekly newspaper, after his arrest that he had broken the vase to protest what he said was the museum’s exclusion of local artists in its exhibits.
since caminero has no known previous criminal record, it's only fair to take up his reasons:
1- "It was a spontaneous protest,"
2- "I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei's photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest." 
protesting on which ground?
3- (...) "for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here." 
are caminero's reasons justified?

the CNN video implies that caminero's protest "mirrors" weiwei's. performativity (as we'll see later) follows its own norms.

according to the nytimes article, PAMM's description of weiwei's piece discloses that the chinese artist dropped a 206 BCE-220 CE urn to the floor "to express the notion that new ideas and values can be produced through iconoclasm."

new ideas and values produced through iconoclasm? here weiwei is basically endorsing a cultural practice of (deliberate) destruction of a culture's symbol for political motives. in 1995, on the occasion of smashing the dynasty urn, he manifested:
I think by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable— how we decide what is valuable.1
let's call this justification (of the destruction of symbols in order) to crate new forms, the weiwei's performativity principle.

in order to avoid the charge of vandalism, weiwei's performativity principle must --implicitly-- presuppose a political (or moral) justification.

let's not miss a subordinate point here: weiwei's iconoclasm brings transgression to a centre stage, i.e., the destruction of a chinese cultural treasure is performatively and thus morally/politically justified. but the justification of weiwei's act prsupposes that weiwei's destruction of the ancient chinese urn is a vandalic act.  

is caminero's protest/performance not politically justified?

exploring what makes a performance legit is important --in this case-- because caminero's protest has been presented as a criminal act by a PAMM's official by the name of leann standish, who was quick to denounce it as "an act of vandalism."


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2
you'd expect this quick and crude assessment from the police, not from an official representative of a museum exhibiting a performance/document where its author (ai weiwei) appears smashing a similar vase, under the same performative principle which caminero now simply reenacts.

see that we're not underplaying or excusing caminero's action (his unconventional (perhaps radical) use of weiwei's vase as a vehicle for his protest has legal ramifications), nor are we heeding the ridiculous price-tag of $1 million, quickly thrown by PAMM to put a figure to his "crime."


what is at stake here (in following weiwei's performativity principle) is whether the reasons for caminero's protest balance out standard property-rights considerations. let's see:

weiwei's performativity principle bypasses property. why? because owning an ancient chinese urn doesn't give anyone the right to break it. cultural artefacts are considered exclusive in their archaeological, ethnological and social significance. weiwei is, de facto, introducing a different normative order here, i.e., iconoclasm supervenes property.

the question now is are there moral/political reasons to repeat this principle?

philosopher & performance theorist judith butler makes a case for this possibility. she calls this act of repetition (in performance) "citationality."
Performativity is not a regular act, for it's always a reiteration of a norm, or sets of norms, and to the extent that it requires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition. Moreover, the act is not primarily theatrical, indeed its apparent theatricality is produced to the extent that its historicity remains dissimulated (and conversely its theatricality gains a certain inevitability ... a performative is that practice that enacts or produces what it names.2
performativity "is not a regular act." in a sense, caminero's protest presupposes a reiteration of a norm. which norm? by smattering the vase, the performer at once legitimates & overcomes the transgression involved. art's performativity is a productive activity: the breaking of norms justify the creation new forms.

what makes a protest/performance legitimate? we suggest a criteria we discussed with performance artist and theorist marina abramoviç on the occasion of her 2007 conference at FIU. she mentioned proper context, &  compelling reason.

máximo caminero

proper context: caminero carried out his protest/performance right in front of weiwei's document/piece @ PAMM in front of everybody. see how (in the CNN clip & later photos) caminero stands next to weiwei's installation & calmly & deliberately proceeds to let the vase fall onto the floor (as he looks onto weiwei's photos).

compelling reason: caminero's protest/performance was meant to call attention to a persisting problem of the art establishment.  

which problem?

contemporary art's arbitrary criteria of inclusion. 3    

no vandal would act in this manner. a gratuitous act of destruction destroys either for its own sake or (as some artists in facebook & elsewhere have implied) for the sake of a self-aggrandizement.

this is what performance theorist & actionist günter brus refers to as sincerity. caminero was simply doing what he thought was right. as important performance theorists like abramovic, oko, burden, schneemann, etc have pointed out, performance art is much more than mere theatricality.

some limit situations have a purpose because they bring to the open a persistent problem that is often overlooked or ignored altogether. performance artist chris burden has identified how these "limit" situations offer a purpose:

by setting up aberrant situations my art functions on a higher reality.4 

caminero's smashing weiwei's so-called "one million dollar vase" @ PAMM is aberrant enough (in our present context of an incestuous & redundant art market) to fit burden's prescription. performance art is neither inside --nor outside-- the political or moral realms; it becomes a sort of inter-dependent realm to discuss political and moral issues.

here @ miami bourbaki, we present arthoodication, the problem caminero protests against, as a riddle: 

Where is the magic of art if people realize that what makes art art is a market strategy?

which brings me to weiwei's reaction to caminero's protest/performance.

i was baffled by his comment as quoted in the new york times:
The argument does not support the act,” Mr. Ai said. “It doesn’t sound right. His argument (Caminero's) doesn’t make much sense. If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him.
even worse,
“My work belongs to me, it doesn't belong to the public and also it doesn't [belong to] somebody else.”
wait a minute, are you saying that your (iconoclastic) conceptual recipe applies only to you? 

this is an unfortunate verdict, coming from china's enfant terrible of the arts.

by denying caminero the performativity principle his art depends upon, weiwei has lost a great opportunity to actually put his money where his mouth is.

thus, i leave weiwei with günter brus' motto: sincerity is scandal when the wise world officially runs against it.


_____________
1ai weiwei and larry warsh, weiwei-isms  (princeton university press, 2012), p. 37. 2 judith butler, bodies that matter (1993), tracey warr and amelia jones (the artist's body, themes and movements series, phaidon press) p. 263. 3 we've discussed arthoodication  elsewhere. enough to ask: what are the criteria for what goes on the walls of an exhibit? the truth is that the art market, through its collectors & institutions and curators, unproblematically arthoodicate what counts as contemporary (i.e., "contemporary" becomes a sanctioned & redundant convention of style, i.e., if X is on the wall X is good). 4 contemporary art, a source book of artists' writings, (university of california press, 1996), p. 768.