Archive for the Art Exhibits Category

Frieze Weekend 2012

Posted in Art, Art Exhibits, Deleuze and Guattari with tags on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Last weekend, I took a ferry out to Randall’s Island to visit the Frieze Art Fair, the inaugural New York iteration of the London fair. It’s hard not to have a love/hate relationship with art fairs. On the one hand, they offer the opportunity to view an incredible amount of art from galleries all over the world in one location. On the other, the sheer volume of work makes them an exhausting experience that is not conducive to a truly rewarding experience of art – not to mention the fact that there’s no hiding the intention to move large quantities of product.

The tent, three football fields long and pristinely white, was as beautiful as it was imposing. Holding over 180 galleries from 30 countries, Frieze estimates that visitors numbered in the region of 45,000 (1).

Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

There’s really no comparing the experience of the tent’s interior to other New York art fairs, even the Armory Show, Frieze’s closest competitor. With a high, vaulted ceiling and natural lighting only supplemented by fluorescence, the tent provides gallery conditions not far shy of the country’s best contemporary art institutions.

It is both an insult to museums and a compliment to the fair that the two forms have come to resemble one another to this degree. The fair provides these beautiful open spaces, charges you an exorbitant admission fee ($40/ $25 for students), includes panel discussions and lectures by people like curator and art historian Robert Storr and MoMA Director Glen D. Lowry, produces a “Frame” section of curated galleries displaying solo exhibitions of artists who have yet to display internationally, has multiple restaurants, and a non-profit arm called Frieze Projects that commissioned outdoor work by ten artists displayed surrounding the tent. Frieze even came with a major corporate sponsor, Deutsche Bank, who also sponsors exhibitions at the Guggenheim.

Team Gallery’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

Salon 94’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

So yes, the tent was beautiful, but in the end it still had the feeling of a corporate trade show or market, specifically designed to keep you moving and weed out the buyers from the gawkers.  Without a map, the uniform spaces became a blur. I found myself thinking about smooth and striated spaces while traversing the many halls.  Art Fairs are incredibly nomadic as they take place all over the world in pieces of pop up architecture or temporary exhibition halls. One could reach the Frieze Fair by complimentary ferry, shuttle, or car, with connections to the other fairs around the city capitalizing on the influx of art buyers and professionals. This kind of nomadism is not what Deleuze and Guattari are referring to in reference to smooth spaces in A Thousand Plateaus. This kind of travel and movement is about the destination and is incredibly organized. The experience of Frieze was utterly striated and controlled. There is a hierarchy of access including two levels of VIPs as well as the high-ticket price that deters another level of audience. Galleries purchase territories within the tent with slight differences in placement and size, but for the most part, they are all little white boxes in a line. They are homogeneous, distinct, and ordered.

As I was walked the halls, becoming numb to the quantity of art and lacking a sense of direction, I spotted the art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad (http://www.broadfoundation.org/).  I decided that following his path would be as good as any other direction. It was a completely strange experience because it made me realize that while I was conscious of the fact that everything displayed was for sale, the prices were so wildly out of my price range that this fact became almost completely irrelevant. How different it must be to visit an art fair for shopping and not spectacle.

Eli Broad in front of the Metro Pictures booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

For all the doom and gloom about it being a celebration of conspicuous consumption and art market value over artistic value, art fairs and galleries are still some of the best opportunities to see work directly out of artists’ studios and even better, works by artists who have yet to be included in museum shows. There wasn’t much of this at Frieze, the expensive gallery fee no doubt motivating the safer display of established artists (riskier choices at NADA or smaller fairs like seven @ SEVEN the same weekend). I will say, though, that I discovered the work of Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff there, when I almost kicked a piece of their installation:

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Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, “New Media (Cocktails),” 2012 at T293 Naples and Rome, Italy. Photo: http://sb95.com/

And gained a new appreciation for Roger Hiorns, whose sculpture that continuously produced foam, inspired some of the most sustained looking I observed at the fair.

Roger Hiorns at Marc Foxx Gallery’s booth, Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

-HB

(1)  http://friezenewyork.com/press/releases/frieze-new-york-2012-widespread-acclaim-for-inaugural-edition/

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Images of Sound

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film, Theater and Performance with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Applying Deleuze theories on temporarily to sound and music is very interesting. First it is a reminder that image is not only the visual image but any fluctuation within the fabric of the environment that affects our (or any organism’s) perceptual sensors. More importantly the temporal characteristics of sound is different from the moving image. Sound necessarily unfolds through time and a still or snap shot of sound is not imaginable. Music has also been created for thousands of years with primitive tools and without a technological apparatus mediating between creator and the images. One of the first mediation affecting the temporarily of music, at least in terms of its production, was the invention of systems of musical notation. Recording technologies pushed this separation further but at the same time created a reaction to emphasize on the zone of indeterminacy in improvisational music.

Roulette was hosting an opening concert for the 3 day event on ‘Improvisation and Technology’ in conjunction with Department of Music at Colombia University and NYU. The interesting irony about that event was that unlike most of the times that technology, as mentioned above, is being used to decreases virtuality, in this events, it was used to intervene into the regular flow of music to make unexpected happen.

The setup of the stage, with more than 30 computers and different conventional and experimental instruments on the stage, was promising failure to some extent from what had been planned. In many pieces improvising machines were being used to create effects based on what the musician was playing and forcing the musician to change what she was playing, creating a loop of reactions to make the result of the piece completely out of control of the musician. In some other pieces looping machines were recording and looping parts of the performance based on some algorithms creating overlaying and juxtapositions of time.

In overall there were very interesting and state of the art experiments in pushing improvisational music into the extreme to allow the most unexpected to happen. This is also in relation to Deleuze’s idea of desert island that something bold and novel does not happen as a continuation of what had been but as an eruption.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert islands and other texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e) ;, 2004. pp. 9-14

Print/Out MoMA–Field Report

Posted in Art Exhibits, Relational Aesthetics with tags , , , on May 14, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In the last few decades global and cultural boundaries have been in a process of flux aided by newer technologies accelerating communication to allow widespread access to nearly every corner of the globe. Many would argue this technology of the present was at least in some degree facilitated by the advent of print technologies allowing exchange of ideas across increasingly larger spaces. MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition was intended to provide a glimpse into the genealogy of artistic and societal practices related to print over the last few decades. (Cherix, 14/15) Overall the exhibit varied dramatically in style and quality, though some quieter pieces were remarkable, such as the delicate prints of Xu Bing and Guillermo Kuitica. The exhibit open from February 19 until May 14, 2012 was nearly exclusively comprised of MoMA’s extensive collection of prints and books and featured printed works from major artists, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ai Weiwei.

Thinking back to our class discussion of Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and Claire Bishop’s response in “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” it fits to remember Rirkrit Tiravanija and his installations cooking for patrons. Narrowly defined, his art is based on interaction and exchange among participants. Bourriaud defines relational aesthetics as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (113) In a sense this could include all artists, but of specific interest to Bourriaud’s treatise were artists who use the gallery setting in creative ways to explore new artistic concepts in the early to mid 90s.

In Untitled 2008–2011: The map of the land of feeling, Tiravanija presents his first endeavor in print–a cartography of events in his life and work over 20 years–exposed through prints of his passport as major narrative device along with other materials and images indicate trajectories of time through manipulating the space of the visual field. (Cherix, 90) His prints engage the viewer to explore the map of his travels, emotions and ideas.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Map of Land and Feeling, 2008

This project is perhaps at first glance conceptually less provocative than his project cooking for people. However, once one engages with the work, it could be argued that it is more visually interesting, coherent and allows the author more agency over the message. The latter of the list is of course directly opposes the idea behind relational aesthetics—the point of relational art is that meaning is generated by viewers are physically interacting with the work. Tiravanjia’s print arguably engages the viewer’s intellect and imagination in an exploration of the intensive as it imparts ideas of a qualitative journey.  Though it lies within the realm of traditional visual art, the work is still interactive, in a sense, as it allows an exchange between artist and viewer or perhaps even among viewers as they discuss the work.

Through this work, we see systems of signs evocative of linguistic systems but many are not an actual signs of symbols from any system in particular. A viewer recognizes maps of cities superimposed with maze-like structures as well as psychogeographical maps specifically copied directly from those of the Situationists, along with symbolic shapes of cooking pots and pans that would become part of Tiravanija’s work. One is drawn in by the idea of linearity and causality, as the image bending around the corner of two walls seems to unravel in time. One can detect a journey through the permutations of the passport, but is left to the viewer to determine the nature of this journey.

Though perhaps more visually and mentally engaging than the cooking project, it does not necessarily facilitate the types of tensions Claire Bishop calls for in “Antagonism in relational Aesthetics” when she asks “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” (65) Though perhaps he exempt from answering this question, as these prints are not necessarily an example of relational art—bodies physically interacting with each other and the work to derive meaning are not necessarily the intent. These works are also, as previously stated, shown within a traditional art setting. Regardless, it is clear that the Tiravanija print communicates something interesting, a possible mapping of relations through time in space, or exactly what Deleuze would call an intensive cartography as it is a qualitative reckoning of trajectories in space.

One artist’s work in Print/Out that does incorporate interesting flows of tension is that Ai Weiwei and his printed art books. Before Weiwei’s well-known career as an artist and political activist, he was an underground publisher. Upon his arrival in China in the early 90s after years in the United States, he encountered an almost unanimous plea from his artist friends and colleagues for printed information and images of contemporary art of the world—information suppressed by the authoritarian government. (Cherix, 22)

Ai Weiwei, Black Cover Book, 1997

In 1994 Weiwei published three thousand copies  of The Black Cover Book, a catalog of important and now iconic works from twentieth-century including Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, as well as translations of existing art-historical and critical texts, as well as artists’ submissions and essays.These books made their way throughout China via underground distribution channels. The books and their dissemination underscored the presence of a large underground artists’ network in China. (Cherix, 51)

In the case of Weiwei and his work, Bishop’s question “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” is answered succinctly. His work in these books displayed at MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition disseminated information—visual, technical and conceptual–generating conversations between artists who might be prohibited from interacting one another otherwise while also increasing awareness of world wide artistic practices within that milieu. This departs from the charges narcissism leveled against artists of relational aesthetics as these books served to unite artists in a place where this type of subversive networking was prohibited. It was in fact allowing new types of freedom in artistic practices, at the very least.

B. Paris

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October. No. 110, 2004.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002.

Cherix, Christophe.  Print/Out. Museum of Modern Art. 2012.

“Fragile” and some other fragmented bodies

Posted in Art, Art Exhibits, Theater and Performance with tags on May 7, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Eiko & Koma, Fragile, 2012

Eiko & Koma, Fragile, 2012

Things and thoughts advance or grow out from the middle, and that’s where you have to get to work, that’s where everything unfolds.

-Deleuze in Negotiations

In Postproduction, Nicolas Bourriaud discusses how postproduction artists, by making new relations among existing cultural artifacts, erase “the traditional distinction between production and consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work” building on the Situationist International’s tradition of subversion and appropriation. (Bourriaud 4) In these artworks, the spectacle of images is not for the sake of representations, but the artists are making use of them to reach a network of signs, “a temporary terminal of a network of interconnected elements, like a narrative that extends and reinterprets preceding narrative.” (Bourriaud 19) Isn’t this the perfect way to engage in schizoanalysis? Instead of old family pictures, or a recollection of childhood memories, the cultural artifacts ready at the artist’s disposal for her/his act of choosing, a mixing of codes for new assemblages…

Richard Hawkins, Ankoku series, 2012

At the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Richard Hawkins’ Ankoku collages are exhibited, for which the artist cut out and pasted smaller prints of well-known works such as Picasso’s Guernica, Willem de Kooning’s Woman series, Hans Bellmer’s Dolls and Francis Bacon’s various paintings. These visuals are accompanied by texts from Jean Genet, Lautréamont and Antonin Artaud, as well as Hawkins’ own. The artist states that he was inspired by the scrapbooks of Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of the Butoh dance. Hawkins adds how in the Western scholarship, the Butoh dance is contextualized within the traumatic history of post-war Japanese culture and how he is not convinced by this common trauma tale. He guesses Hijikata’s intentions for creating Butoh are overlooked, perhaps, because it was something far too challenging and uncontainable for the Western academia. Hawkins adds that he recognized something sexual, something erotic in the journals of Hijikata, who performed under the name of “Tatsumi Genet” in his earlier years. Inspired by his method of making collages, Hawkins makes his own. Perhaps, by cutting and pasting these works by Picasso, de Kooning, Bacon and Bellmer together, he tries to see something else that is left behind, something else that is seen better when they are together. He cuts out and reassembles the pieces of the works of art in which their creators dismantled the body, whether they are painted as fragmented and disfigured or photographed as tied up. The name Hawkins chooses for his collages is “Ankoku”. He refers to the darkness he recognized in Butoh but he is far from being satisfied with the word “darkness.” When asked about the title, he answers, “The darkness, I wish there were another word –“unspeakableness” or “threatening uncontainableness” might do- but perhaps it’s best merely to use Hijikata’s word, ankoku.” (Sussman and Sanders 133)

Over the spring break, I had the chance to see the retrospective exhibition of Eiko & Koma, the Japanese performance/dance duo who began their artistic career when they joined Tatsumi Hijikata’s dance company. For their retrospective show, they performed Fragile, a version of their previous work Naked accompanied by the Kronos Quartet. It is a four-hour long “live installation” that involves the duo, the musicians, a sound collage and set design.  The performance began as they were lying on the floor covered in bushes and feathers. Their bodies were naked and painted white as if they were covered by dust. As the sound collage started, they began moving very slowly; their movements were repetitious, incremental, almost indiscernible. Their performance was hard to define, a blurring of dance and almost, sculpture; hence they called it a living installation. They moved their bodies in such an incremental and slow manner, their bodies looked nonhuman with their twisted limbs in the middle of all dust, bushes and feathers. Their dance wasn’t an expression of ideal movement like the perfect circles of the whirling dervishes of the Islamic Sufi tradition, nor it was a dance that sacrificed the intervals for the sake of the poses. Instead, their movement was the dance of the intervals, constant movement without any poses or ideal routines. No poses, no routines, no representations, but constant movement. The score of the piece was a collage of audio including President Truman’s address on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, and reports on the Tohoku tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster accompanied by the Kronos Quartet. Even though the score of the piece points out to the traumatic history of Japanese culture, contextualizing Eiko & Koma’s performance only in reference to that would be awfully reductive. Their movements were not only the dance of bodies that attempted to recover under radiation, but also, they looked pre-human. I think there is a lot more to the piece: a different perception of time, nonhuman bodies, moving to find new ways of inhabiting the body and relating to each other…

Hawkins, through visual and textual collages, tries to find new relations among existing works, “testifying to a willingness to inscribe the work of art within an network of signs and significations, instead of considering it an autonomous or original form”, as Eiko & Koma moves to find other ways of inhabiting the body and the environment they are on. (Bourriaud 16) Perhaps, new ways of existence emerge mostly after a trauma, an atomic bomb, the Spanish Civil War, or under the terror of fascism, especially in the absence of a collective imagination and some kind of mythology, at a time when Deleuze is “doubtful whether the individual imagination, unaided could raise itself up to such an admirable identity.” (Deleuze “Desert Islands” 11) Nevertheless, it is too reductive to assume a perfect causality. Art by its capacity to affect can create the necessary zones of indetermination where new ways of being emerge without trauma being a prerequisite or the most common trigger. “Schizoanalysis, or pragmatics, has no other meaning: Make a rhizome. But you don’t know what you can make a rhizome with, you don’t know which subterranean stem is effectively going to make a rhizome, or enter a becoming, people your desert. So experiment.” (Deleuze and Guattari 251) Isn’t this what art is for?

Piril Gunduz

References:

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Postproduction. New York: Lukas and Sternberg, 2002.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. New York: Semiotext[e], 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Whitney Biennial 2012 Catalogue. Edited by Elizabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders. New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012.

Relations, Folds, Affects, Forms

Posted in Art, Art Exhibits, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Immanence, Process Ontology, Rhizome on May 2, 2012 by immanentterrain2

During the semester I went to the MoMa specifically with the intention of exploring the contemporary galleries on the 2nd floor, and with the hope to eat curry in Rikrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (Free/Still), which unfortunately had closed down by the day I got there.  While I wasn’t able to explore that piece, I engaged with a few pieces that have remained with me for this or that reason since my exploration of the exhibit, and I want to use this as a forum to explore why these pieces struck me and why they have remained with me.

I enjoy going to museums, and the city has some of the best and worst examples of them.  The MoMa, especially on Free Friday, is a perfect example of museums gone commercially wrong.  There are thousands of people shuffling in lines through completely white rooms, absorbing a piece for maybe a few seconds and eventually moving on.  The gift shops on every floor are filled with books, mugs, key chains and more with the stamp of various artists or iconic paintings.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a candy wrapper from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Placebo) on a T-shirt. However, in the galleries, every once in a while, someone will remain on a piece for a time for this or that reason. I had a few of these experiences, but only one on the 2nd floor.

I understand the idea behind relational aesthetics, and for me, sublimating the medium to the ideas behind the piece is equally as appealing as it is horrifying, and the emphasis on relations between people is enthralling.  Regardless, there is still some medium in the relational exhibits we’ve been shown, be it wood and curry, candy, or dilapidated huts in ethnic neighborhoods, and my question is if art is about the ends rather than the means, so to speak, as these exhibits, to me, all seem less focused on the experience (relation between person and piece) and more so about the relation between people in regards to the ideas of the piece.  All the Deleuzian thought that we’ve covered so far would lead me to say it is not about conversing about the piece or the experience but the experience itself: the means leading one self to the ends.  I say this knowing my own bias, as the pieces I related with (2 specifically) were all based in a medium, as has almost every art piece I’ve ever engaged with.  The other question brought to my mind is if there is a way to sublimate or remove the medium of cinema in this sense.

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The piece that truly shook the very fiber of my being during my visit was Keith Haring’s masterpiece, Untitled (1982), which occupies nearly 3 walls of a room on the 2nd floor that for some silly reason has a trio of basketballs in the middle, right where the perfect view of the piece is.  Regardless, in my attempt to describe my experience in words, there is no way I can communicate the sublime shock that overcame me when I rounded the corner and saw the room and the piece.  I’ve only seen a few Haring pieces in real life, and still have yet to make it to the exhibit in Brooklyn, but this specific piece is simply incredible. When viewed from right to left, it depicts basically every Haring theme and image in some sort of epic, grand narrative of humankind, and yet every corner of it contains folds within folds so that one can remain within a certain section of the piece for lengthy periods of time.  I spent what felt like an hour going back and forth through this piece, discovering new image after image every time I returned to a section.  I didn’t even see the giant penis the men having sex with each other were riding on, or the Mickey Mouse testicles, until the 2nd or 3rd time around.  The piece is, to say the least, baroque in the sense Deleuze describes in his essay, “The Fold.”

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The other piece that grabbed my attention from another side of the room was Kandinsky’s Panels for Edwin R. Campbell.  Even now looking at these pieces on a computer monitor, they seem to jump out of the screen.  The description reads, “Kandinsky coined the expression ‘nonobjective painting’ to refer to painting that depicted no recognizable objects. Although preliminary studies for one of these paintings suggest that Kandinsky had a landscape in mind when he conceived it, he ultimately envisioned these works as free of descriptive devices. Kandinsky stressed the impact of color and its association with music, explaining that, “color is a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul.”  Whatever Kandinsky was painting, he painted the affects of the pieces in a different way than Cezanne or Bacon, without any descriptors, using the simplest phonemes of formal composition: color and movement.  There is form, but not in the sense that we are used to, and it is painted so masterfully that it exerts a direct visceral response from the beholder upon viewing even on a computer monitor.  What the painting is describing is indescribable in words, as well as in any other medium and digital representation of the painting on a computer, but the affect comes across from piece to viewer without any problem.

Jeff

Giverny at The Hole

Posted in Art, Art Exhibits, Relational Aesthetics with tags on April 25, 2012 by immanentterrain2

E.V. Day & Kembra Pfahler

“Giverny” at The Hole

Walking into the opening of this exhibit was a little bewildering. I had seen a couple of photos from the install in progress, and had heard that the concept of the exhibition was to bring Monet’s garden to life, but I still wasn’t really prepared to step directly onto gravel and Astroturf as I passed through the front door.  The air inside was muggy and hazy (I think augmented by humidifiers and smoke machines, although I didn’t see any), turf, gravel, mulch, ferns, flowers and ivy covered every inch of the space, the plant life wrapping around columns and climbing up walls. I hadn’t even gotten half way through the show yet.

Up a small, fabricated hill, and I arrive at the pond. An actual pond, full of water, and water lilies, with a bridge over it, a turquoise bridge, a replica of the one made famous by Claude Monet’s impressionist musings.  Amidst the canopy of plant life that dominated the space, we found the works that inspired the installation, a series of photographs taken by E.V. Day during her Munn Artist Residency in Giverny, France, at this spot in the actual gardens.

I was very quickly brought to consider our discussions on relational aesthetics, and the notions of relationship, participation and commodity that were touched on by this exhibit. Clearly this is not a practice in avoiding commodification, there are works for sale (or were, the show is sold out) and the installation serves more or less to mystify and generate an added value to the works, and of course hype, hype, hype. Which is fine, I’m not sure why there is such contempt for people who make money doing awesome things.  Yes, it’s a spectacle, and yes it’s sponsored by playboy, and yes some people made a lot of money from it I’m sure, but at least it was interesting, and doesn’t generate it’s worth solely from being “counter” or “anti” contemporary fine art, while at the same time, is exactly that.

What I’m more interested in are the viewers’ relationship with the installation, and the possibility for participation or engagement as such. This was the first, and probably the only, time I’ve walked through a gallery and seen groups of people sitting on the ground, chatting, like they were spending an afternoon in the park. Despite the scene, the press and photographers, the presence of industry big shots and so on, people were chilling, drinking beers, sitting in the grass wearing thousand dollar outfits.  That’s what struck me, that this exhibit is decidedly not geared towards “outsiders,” and was in fact a very well attended event in the traditional sense, yet it brought up the “outsider” tendencies in attendees irrespective of their current status, or whatever we want to call it.  I guess gives some insight into how stale the scene is in some ways, build a garden in a gallery and all of a sudden bourgeois collectors are acting like hippies. It is truly awesome to see how nature and plant life, even manmade and indoors under artificial lighting, can cause even the most composed individual to shed the pomp and circumstance, and relax a bit.

This continued through the duration of the exhibit, I went back a couple weeks later with a friend and found a group of people on their lunch break, eating on the grass in back by the pond.

This really is commercial fine art as an encounter, the material basis, or works included in the show are unlikely to be a defining aspect of a viewer’s engagement with the exhibit as a whole, and the experience of the show is based almost entirely in the relationship established between the installation, and the people there at a given time, yet the focus is not on subverting the existing infrastructure of art politics and commercialization, but simply to build something wild and see what happens.

-OA

Democracy, Affect, and “Enter-activity” in Zoe Strauss

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Immanence, Process Ontology, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 3, 2012 by immanentterrain2

The first of these ideas is the concept of antagonism. Laclau and Mouffe argue that a fully functioning democratic society is not one in which all antagonisms have disappeared, but one in which new political frontiers are constantly being drawn and brought into debate — in other words, a democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased. Without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order—a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.

Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics – Claire Bishop

It is always a truly peculiar situation. The tension residing in the interstices between the one and the other. The stark juxtaposition between percept and affect. The grinding in between.  The antagonism we reference above is resultant of one being thrown amongst the detritus of society. Those forgotten. That’s how it begins.  A violence that confronts the somnambulist as they are awakened from their complacent, passive, acceptance of the world about. The attempt to striate the miasma, to diffuse the smell, to relegate and delineate roles and responsibility, has created a zone of possibility where finally . . . finally, the representative becomes expressive. This I believe was the goal and intent of a Ms. Zoe Strauss. An utterance that could finally be discerned from the constructed milieu of an art world, of a home, of a people. One that resounded “don’t forget us”.

Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, located throughout the city of Philadelphia as billboards with her work strategically positioned in neighborhoods and business districts as well as in the Philadelphia Art Museum, is a materialization of these utterances and the memories of those left along the margins of our society. The identity of these individuals, as just that, individuals, via this display, has created a psycho-geography of sorts out of the cityscape as their stories inscribe their-story (as opposed to his-story) along billboards that dot the sky. The contrast of these images can be jarring as you pass the hopes and dreams of these individuals and the falling out of those same dreams against the progressive utopic skyline of a area betting everything on becoming “America’s next great city”. Zoe is calling for a reading of the lives of the individuals she documents – people she has lived with and befriended – to disturb those walking by. To wake them up. Calling attention to the artistry of these people and the environment that many blindly walk through as these people, trembling and hungry, stand to make up the foundation of our society. Kafka’s melancholic style, resultant of the hyper industrialization of the times he lived in makes plenty of commentary on these facts. His Hunger Artist is evocative of his resentment of the times. “When . . . some leisurely passer-by stopped . . . and spoke of cheating, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward”[1]. Zoe attempts to show the failings of this society in a very human way. To show that society has cheated that which it was meant to protect and afford the right to live. For isn’t the mainstay of our culture supposed to be the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Most importantly to life?

The role of identity within these images – the expressive gestures finally enunciated by those who were subjected to alterity in our society – begs to action not only from the reader of these works but from the subjects documented themselves. In a process of individuation, their identity moves from that of negation to a bellowing affirmation of self. As me because I am me. In truth it was hard to hear these voices at first. The space was filled not with shock and awe but with what Gilles Deleuze would state from his analysis of the works of Francis Bacon, a scream where the source was nowhere to be found. The residue of an attempt to codify and define, to striate the subjects and the subject matter within these pieces. A violent disorientation was the end goal. Screams to the tune of “that’s disgusting” . . . “do people live this way” . . . “this is so random” were ever apparent as they were said by the reader’s of the exhibit.  It was angering, however, this violent disorientation was required of myself as well. Amidst the sounds of laughter, disgust, awe, “don’t go in there . . . don’t look”, was a beautifully tragic project. Tragic in the Greek sense of the hero falling at the expense of what they love or those closest. This story however was re-invented. Zoe’s attempt to give voice to these situations were not about heroicizing problems or vilifying the people’s stories displayed by her works but to vivify their memory. To add a thickness and intensity that contributed to the materialization of their memory. Not as an epithet or effigy but to in-liven their faces.

The soundscape that accompanied the experience of these works added to the working assemblage of constructing their meaning.  The juxtaposition of the well off, high middle class and the open display of the lower rungs of society and the resultant reactions were a jarring reminder of the socio-political landscape that we occupy in our contemporary urban landscape.  “Images without sound are powerless to express horror”. [2] The exegesis of this horror is essential to begin a process of constituting the subject and the individual within this environment of the exhibition space. Allowing for an affective re-constitution that transforms both agents within this assemblage of meaning. There is a rebellious duty to disturb that is evident in each piece by Strauss. Art is meant to disturb and disrupt the status quo. In other words to question.

Zoe Strauss (source: Philly.com)

Identity really becomes material as one traverses the landscape of the exhibit. The promise of photography as a medium is its ability to record difference and time. Difference becomes innate and identity is not constituted through a negation of an other. It becomes a process.  The idea of the subject becoming an individual breaks with a historical trajectory that has tried to demarcate the boundaries of humanity and those included within its purview. The other and their existence, their minor status within the social, have been shown to be a conscious construct of those (regardless of number) who have ascertained power in relation to those subjected to it. “One ever feels his twoness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”[3] One ever feels their status and the status that has been imposed on them. DuBois would go further to say that “[i]t is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” The work of Zoe Strauss is an attempt to reconfigure the image of those with this double consciousness. Those that are subjected to the discursive laws of society and made to feel a “twoness” as the result of the unity of the multiple forces that constitute their identity being torn between two ends or points in the landscape that make up or social-hierarchical structure. To render the invisible not merely as a form of representation but to begin the process of expressing the identity of those within the photographs at that particular instance in history.

Zoe, with an allusion to Bergson and his notions of concrete and abstract time, tries to render the forces within our social terrain visible and remove the confusion that Bergson would constantly refer to in his ideas on time, matter, and memory.  Strauss wants the viewers of these pieces to be realized and to know that they are existent because they truly are. The viewers experiences juxtaposed with those in the photographs renders this distinction more real.  For the viewer, they become a part of this coming into existence as they travel through the spatial enunciation of this identity recorded in a visually material literature. A material language that is read through their active participation in the construction of these spaces meaning and recording in history. To turn this image on its head and give voice to those who in society were told that their voice could only be validated through certain schema or blocks in the social terrain of human experience.

In the case of antagonism, argue Laclau and Mouffe, ‘we are confronted with a different situation: the presence of the ‘Other’ prevents me from being totally myself. The relation arises not from full totalities, but from the impossibility of their constitution.’ 40 In other words, the presence of what is not me renders my identity precarious and vulnerable, and the threat that the other represents transforms my own sense of self into something questionable. When played out on a social level, antagonism can be viewed as the limits of society’s ability to fully constitute itself. Whatever is at the boundary of the social (and of identity), seeking to define it also destroys its ambition to constitute a full presence: ‘As conditions of possibility for the existence of a pluralist democracy, conflicts and antagonisms constitute at the same time the condition of impossibility of its final achievement.’[4] We must push to the edges of those boundaries and burst through. To invent through the openings that have been created via the intense accumulation of otherness on the fringes of society. “Antagonism is discursively constituted”[5] and was made evident through the conversation surrounding each piece within the art gallery and the pieces throughout the city as well.

The process of individuation and democracy must be exhausted as these terms – democracy, interactivity, agency, etc. – are blindly wielded in not only the art world but also the world theater at large. How is a sense of agency, empowerment, or democracy within these theaters even possible based on certain superficial or superimposed ideals glazed over agents and bodies in society? Identity must be valid within one’s self. If unity is multiplicity, as discussed by Nietzsche or even Spinoza, we cannot solely rely on a constituted subject as the result of a derogatory machine that works, subjugates and “reposes on a double identity: of the thinking subject, and of the concepts it creates and to which it lends its own presumed attributes of sameness and constancy . . . In thought its end is truth, in action justice. The weapons it wields in their pursuit are limitive distribution (the determination of the exclusive set of properties possessed by each term in contradistinction to the others: logos, law) and hierarchical ranking (the measurement of the degree of perfection of a term’s self-resemblance in relation to a supreme standard, man, god, or gold: value, morality). The modus operandi is negation: x = x = not y. Identity, resemblance, truth, justice, and negation . . . The end product would be ‘a fully legitimated subject of knowledge and society’ . . . endlessly reproduced and disseminated at every level of the social fabric.” [6] An X = X not because X is not equal to Y but because X is X. This demarcates an indiscernible zone of autonomy within the social landscape that allows for identity to stand in and of itself. A zone that is relationally and affectively interconnected with its milieu. Zoe herself is emblematic of this concept as she still lives within the environments and personally interacts with all of those in her work. The question now becomes how, in these “indiscernible” zones of autonomy, do we truly identify the subject and give it voice? How do we release it from the territorialzed confines of society at large? How do we allow for it’s becoming?

The subject, identity, and/or the individual is realized through a spatial/relational orientation with its milieu. This is an affective relationship. One that allows for all parties involved to enact change on each other. Without this relationship constituted in this way, nothing can occur within the modernist or postmodernist ideal as we have defined it (if we can truly say that it is something that can be defined). Interactivity occurs within the encounter and experience derived of actively perceiving these images that afford us the opportunity to think outside given frameworks. There is no cause and effect type of relationship here as these perceptions and the subsequent meaning – created, not derived – from them occur in the instantaneous moments which we perceive as we “enter-act” (as opposed to merely interact) with pieces. They are created in praesenti. As Hume would note, cause and effect is inferred – it is not given. It is a construction that humanity uses to make the world sensible or intelligible and occurs a posteriori. Hindsight is always 20/20. Thus is logic and causality. Our knowledge and meaning emerges in that miraculous duration of attentive tinkering we call perception. “ . . . The emergence of both individual and milieu – following a course [devenir] in which preliminary tensions are resolved but also preserved . . . the conservation of being through becoming”[7]. Any democratic notions inherent within these works are upheld through this tension. This tension is the creative force, in the in-between (mediation or medius in its pure etymological sense), that materializes the memories and stories told through the interaction one enters into with the photography in the exhibit and billboards displayed throughout the city.

Memory and perception are the apparatus by which we construct a narrative through perceiving these works. Along with Bergson (In his Matter and Memory), the inventive capacity of our cognition, our action in thinking, lies within our ability to forget – our short term memory – which in turn forces us to invent. Henri Bergson defines memory itself as an image that intervenes in active perceptions as we experience the world. Memories become the residual of our affective experience of the world about. These memories are “materially” perceived. By attaching memory and consciousness to a physical process of perception, I believe Bergson allows for the materialization of not only matter but identity itself to be rendered comprehensible even in art. “Matter can be impressed with a form, and the source of ontogenesis can be derived from this matter – form relation. Indeed, if haecceities were not somehow inherent within the atom, or matter, or indeed form, it would be impossible to find a principle of individuation in any . . . realities. To seek the principle of individuation in something that preexists this same individuation is tantamount to reducing individuation to nothing more than ontogenesis. The principle of individuation here is the source of haecceity”[8]. This formation of matter is the beginning of our material perception of our milieu and the beginning of how we can enter into interactivity with the world and in this case this exhibit. Our memory (in the long-term) can no longer be perceived as a latent vegetative contemplation or “image”. “In truth, it no longer represents our past to us, it acts it; and if it still deserves the name of memory, it is not because it conserves bygone images, but because it prolongs their useful effect into the present moment”.[9] This expressive transformation of memory as images and its becoming active in the present is exactly what Zoe’s aim becomes as she spatially gives voice to those within her photographs throughout the city and the art gallery. Our perception of these elements, interwoven into the social fabric of the urban landscape, and the socio-political and economic landscape of the art gallery, allow for a prolonging, and vivification of our experiences long gone but brought to the for.

Zoe Strauss Billoard Project Map
(source: Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The first records, in the form of memory-images, all the events of our daily life as they occur in time; it neglects no detail; it leaves to each fact, to each gesture, its place and date. Regardless of utility or of practical application, it stores up the past by the mere necessity of its own nature. By this memory is made possible the intelligent, or rather intellectual, recognition of a perception already experienced; in it we take refuge every time that, in the search for a particular image, we remount the slope of our past. But every perception is prolonged into a nascent action; and while the images are taking their place and order in this memory, the movements which continue them modify the organism, and create in the body new dispositions towards action.

Matter and Memory – Henri Bergson

These new dispositions allow for a transformative change that in a present, immanent, world of relationality we gain agency in our autonomy as a becoming individual. Agency can no longer be relegated to something that is bequeathed to subjects which in turn subjectifies and indebts them once more to the one who gave this all-too-wonderful gift. These changes can be read as we, as well as our milieu, come into existence in a symbiosis of in-volution. These changes can be read across many different mediums.

This is the primary reason why, in this essay, we have referred to the viewers of these works as readers. This in-volution calls for a new form of literacy in how we interact and navigate an environment such as the one we have been describing in gallery space housing Zoe’s exhibit. A form of literacy that in many ways has been devalued as it cannot be controlled or has been subjugated to other forms of knowledge construction so that it can be. For are not words microcosms of difference that are physically and psychically read due to their innate and minute differences in their constitution and how they’re juxtaposed against open space? Are they not read by the scanning of even the most infinitesimal differences in the assemblage of their visual components? Do we not hold them in contrast to the plane from which they emerge (their environment/milieu)? Essentially, a poetic (and by poetic we mean in the greek sense of creation) attempt to striate, territorialize, and demarcate areas of space to construct systematic meanings from a smooth, indiscernible plane? This action in and of itself, and the illocution or statements that elicit performative acts is exactly what constitutes a language (especially when it comes to art and materially based linguistic systems), otherwise, what is the point? “[T]he performative itself is explained by the illocutionary . . . and the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation”[10].

It is in these assemblages that we are truly interested in order to ascertain a new image of what it means to read these newly re-constituted spaces. What begins to define these territories are these becomings of expression, the enunciated utterances mediated through the words represented by the works placed throughout the city and the gallery space. “ . . . [T]his moment: the becoming-expressive . . . the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints . . . [is] the essential thing. . . [T]he disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory”[11]. The coding of these territorialized spaces are due expressively to this “disjunction”, juxstaposition, or difference in contrast to the milieu these objects are embedded in. In other words, a psycho-geographical rendering of urban space that we consciously perceive and begin to read. And finally beginning to construct knowledge and meaning based on their collective force in expressing their identity. These codes are not predetermined, a priori, determinations of meaning but are derivative of experience and experimentation (as Hume would lay out on his artifice of thought). Through Zoe’s works, it becomes apparent that we enter into these assemblages of meaning not by choice or rationale, but by a necessity to make sense of it all. An affective, symbiotic, relationship that interconnects bodies, modalities, or these indiscernible zones of being to one another. As stated before, if left to logic and ratiocinicity, there would be no room for readers to perceive the variance or chromaticism innate within these pieces. We would be confined to the same functive, normalizing lingual games that we continually impose on environments to derive sense from them after the fact. Meaning can no longer unfold and we are taken out of the immanent and immediate environment in which we conceptualize and communicate the beauty in the world. We must be inventive and through our collective assemblages of meaning and affective (instead of effective) interaction with each other we can communicate this ontogenetic, engendering knowledge. For a new image of language, “[t]he organization of qualified marks into motifs and counterpoints necessarily entails a taking on of consistency, or a capture of the marks of another quality, a mutual branching of . . . colors-gestures . . . Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of a differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were formerly content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the ‘consolidation’ of their coexistence and succession”[12]. This consolidation of expression begins to constitute our new image of language, the word itself, and move toward the valorization of lingual systems that are not primarily representative.

This capacity is found in art and is exemplified by the work of Zoe Strauss in her 10 years exhibit and billboard project. Zoe’s work, “produces an active solidarity in spite of skepticism; and if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility”[13]. An act of solidarity bellowing out from the margins of society and captured in Zoe’s photography.

Victor Peterson 

Notes:

Zoe Strauss: 10 Years Exhibit – Philadelphia Museum of Art

Zoe Strauss Billboard Project in Philadelphia


[1] Kafka, Franz. A Hunger Artist. CreateSpace , 2010. Print.

[2] Toussaint, Jean-Philipe. The Bathroom. Dalkey Archive Press, 1985. Print.

[3] DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls Of Black Folk. Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.

[4] Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2004): 51-79. Print.

[5] Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, Towards A Radical Democratic Politics. Verso Books, 2001. (P. 168)

[6] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

[7] Simmondon, Gilbert. The Birth of the Individual. J. Crary and S. Kwinter. Zone Books, 1992. Print.

[8] Simmondon p. 298. A Haecceity encompasses the discreet qualities, innate to a body or entity. Difference is at the root of all identity.

[9] Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. , 2004. Print.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print. (p. 78).

[11] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p 322.

[12] Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 330.

[13] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guatarri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Theory and History of Literature. Volume 30. (1986) Print.