Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Relational Aesthetics and Other Expanded Feilds

The main points of the reading this week center on Bourriaud’s concept of relational aesthetics, post production and appropriation as a form of contemporary art making. Post production is an interesting way of describing this form of art making that is a direct result of appropriation. Artists aren’t working from raw materials but from cultural objects that are in circulation within the cultural market. The artist searches for their place amongst this onslaught of cultural objects and then must look for a new mode of production from it. In this case Bourriaud used the example of the internet, as being a tool for the artist to help sort through this chaos. Through appropriating, the artist doesn’t change the meaning of the original object but changes the objects relationship to culture and individuals. Instead of “What can we make that is new?” Bourriaud asks “how can we produce singularity and meaning from this chaotic mass of objects, names, and references that constitute daily life?” Bourriaud describes postproduction artists as semionauts who search out connections between things essentially different through signs to form new connections in our culture. The artwork isn’t the end result, it is the means to new opportunities.



This photograph from Hank Willis Thomas, Branded Head, portrays his seminautic practice combined with what the Situationist International calls detournament. He not only appropriates the Nike logo but misappropriates it to show a connection between past race relations and current black culture sutured by advertising modes of contemporary society. So convincing to the point that some viewers actually think Nike is sponsoring the event the artwork is shown. Art can sometimes leave the realm of representation and become part of reality itself. Thomas is working in the instance of post production, using culture as a toolbox to form new relationships between logo, capitalism, race relations, history, and culture. Postproduction artists try to navigate through the cultural chaos and create work that fits into this new expanded field, all the while “highlighting those aspects of our environment that still bear imprint on yesterdays order.”

Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel is referred to as a readymade object as opposed to an appropriated one. He puts the readymade in the same category as the object of paint on the canvas. Much like how a painter chooses paint to create art, Duchamp chose an object to react against art. But it’s still said that choosing the readymade is not appropriation because he is giving it new meaning by removing it from its place of origin. Indifference is key with the readymade because you must not desire to own it. You can’t feel indifferent toward an appropriated object. When the readymade is displaced is when it achieves its power. It becomes an object of concept and thought when taken out of its original environment and placed in the museum. I’ve been trying to put specific guidelines on the readymade and appropriation, and once I had it figured out Beuys comes in with his analysis and states that Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel is nothing but appropriation. His comparison of appropriation to the Purloined Letter could mean a few different things so this is where my confusion begins. Is the readymade now an appropriation because it is an object of value now? Or is it because Duchamp is commenting on the relationship between object (art), institution (museum), and person (viewer)? I’m going to need some explanation on this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Aftermath of Postmodernism


I think as artists we are all curious to know in what period we are practicing. Is this post-modern still, or post post-modern? If we even decide at what time we are practicing will this influence are work at all? As artists we are impacted by the imagery from our past and in our contemporary space no matter how much we would like to deny it. We are depositories for this onslaught of image saturation that permeates our practice as artists. In the first years of my image making, not only was I influenced by modernism but postmodernism as well. It has always been interesting to see how aesthetics is measured when art is being presented and how the concept in certain cases is more important than the sensory beauty. So to do something new that isn’t a recycled version of what has been done is a difficult task. How does an artist do this while it seems everything has been photographed, most of the time better than you? What can you say in your work that’s new and thought provoking when it seems everything is just a reaction to something else, all the while creating an aesthetically pleasing image? Widespread aesthetic saturation in contemporary society has diluted the aesthetic from having special status at a time when there seems to be a revival. So instead of “opposing the aesthetic and the conceptual, think of the two as mutually sustaining.” This appears to be the balance of the beautiful and the sublime.

What’s interesting is Jeff Wall’s work is criticized for being banished of all contingency. Contingency meant in a way to carry with it aesthetic significance. Wall claims that lack of contingency, or aesthetic significance, “is manifested by a kind of emptiness “. Wall continues to say “society contains this emptiness and its opposite, and both appear in the work of art.” This lack of aesthetics that give the work of art this emptiness is a kind of artistic sublimation that Lacan referred to as “The Thing”. The Thing is what occurs when an object is represented in an image, and through this representation the viewer becomes aware that their unconscious attachment to the real is lost. The first image I thought of is A ventriloquist at a birthday party in October 1947,1990 by Jeff Wall. Its staged banality runs in conjunction with what i think is going on with this whole "The Thing".

Going back to the idea of widespread aesthetic saturation, Ross explains how in postmodern image culture the line between the culture and the commercial sphere is blurred. The methods of the avant-garde have been appropriated by the established art market to the point that we as consumers are desensitized to its shock tactics. Cultural groupings occurred out of the modernist movement of new technologies such as photography, film, television, and radio. The media mobilized these groups and cultural forms started growing out of the cities these émigrés resided in. These were international anti-bourgeois artists. Williams essay explains how modernism became integrated into international capitalism and lost its anti-bourgeois status. These elements of modernism became essential to the market especially in advertising and cinema.

This reminded me of a certain store ive seen a couple times in relation to anti-bourgeois being sucked into the market place

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Race, Postcolonialism, Globalism, and the idea of the other...

In “Only Skin Deep” By Coco Fusco, there were several points made about race and its impact in our culture through the photograph. Race is not a biological fact, it is a social construction that is still deeply imbedded in our culture whether we like to admit it or not. Race is a theoretical system of human classification, and the best method of recording this classification is through photography. Photography made racial distinction between people a fact though its objectivity as a recording device. One point made in this essay that I found interesting and agree with is the entertainment industries blatant commodification of ethnicity. Racial differences have become a multimillion dollar culture industry that has been reduced to a spectacle. Fusco states that “photography renders and delivers interracial encounters that might be dangerous, forbidden, or unattainable as safe and consumable experiences. Mass-marketed photography in the second half of the nineteenth century made racialized viewing into a form of entertainment.” Even though the individual might not consider themself racist, race is paid much attention to though the mass amounts of racial imagery that is produced for private consumption. Fusco brings up the example of the television show COPS, in which the producer admits that audiences don’t want to see white collar crime, they want to see police officers chase black men. Race is being reduced to a spectacle in a negative way that reinforces this as normal in these communities which will perpetuate this behavior. In a more historical example of ethnic minorities being made a spectacle of through being treated as second class human beings is the photograph of the elderly Navajo and the white nurse. This is a beautiful example of how white superiority is produced by the white nurse having the technology and education to heal that the Navajo lacks. Fusco called this “cultural termination via assimilation.” Photography’s ability to capture the fantasy of an individual is met in the power of the marketplace. Fusco speaks of racial fantasy experienced in photography from exotic places. Steichen altered the look of the Hawaiian hula dancer to provide a more primitive look in his photographs. This would appeal to the white American that fantasizes about the ethnic differences seen in the “Other”. Steichen was aware of the commercial commodification of theses photographs and capitalized upon it. The photographing of racial differences was a lucrative business, and is still out in force today.

Speaking of racial stereotyping in media

In the film “Trading Places”, brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) make a bet that a black con man, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is incapable of learning to be a high society business man because its in his blood to live his life in poverty.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Subjectivity: Psychoanalysis, Identity Formation, Feminist Critique



Jacques Lacan: “The Mirror Phase”

Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”

Jonathan Weinberg, “Things are Queer”

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”

Margaret Olin, “Gaze”

The readings for this week are associated with the ideas of subject identification and that of the “Gaze”. These seemed like to aspects of theory that would differ in many ways but after analysis I came to realize their connection with one another. Lacan’s essay was a bridge between a few of the essays that seemed like they had no connection with each other, so I’ll use his as a starting point.

Lacans essay is an interesting take on how a subject at a young age learns to identify itself though a mirrors reflection. Referred to as the “Mirror Phase” a young child will notice its own reflection which then allows for the realization of its own complete form. Lacan thinks that this is crucial for the subject’s development or maturation. Through the gaze of looking in the mirror the child will form an idea of themselves as an “Ideal –I” which creates the instance of the ego. Lacan uses the term “imago” to better explain how an insect’s maturation into a complete adult form will derive from the visual action of a similar self, which then will create a socially ready being. The function of the “imago” and the function of the mirror phase “is to establish a relation of the organism to its reality” It is the transformation of the subject from its innerworld (Innenwelt) to its surrounding world (Umwelt).

After reading Mulvey’s and Olin’s essays I had a better understanding of Lacans analysis of the mirror phase. It was interesting to see how it was referenced in “Visual Pleasure of Narrative Cinema”. Mulvey describes in her essay “cinema’s skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure”, that of which Hollywood arose. She described the pleasure structures of looking which consisted of scopophilia and the grouping of narcissism and the ego. Cinematic scopophilia is when another person is used as an object for sexual stimulation through sight. Narcissism and ego in cinema is the subject’s fascination with the identification of a character that is in its likeness. This character in the film or on stage is holding the gaze onto the object of desire that the audience member is also holding. The woman on the screen functions on two levels, the erotic object for the characters and the erotic object for the spectators. The woman character is unimportant to the development of the story and is only crucial in how she inspires the hero through love or fear. The gaze of the “screen surrogate” is more powerful than the spectator’s gaze, which gives the illusion of control over the woman to only feed the ego ideal of the audience member. Mulvey claims that this display comes out of an anxiety of castration and the two ways of dealing with this is active scopophilia and fetishistic scopophilia. Although Mulvey doesn’t use the term active scopophilia, I felt it necessary to use Olin’s terminology for clarity.

For active scopophilia, or the demystification of the woman, “Vertigo” was a good example of how a woman is put under the magnifying glass and examined to the point of finding guilt. Fetishistic scopophilia silences the woman for worship and isolates her from happening. The narrative stops and the man hold’s the gaze.

Olin had many parallels to Mulveys essay which allowed for a better understanding of the gaze and how it functions across not only in cinema but in other media as well. Im interested in the gaze of the spectator and its impact on itself as subject and on the object being gazed upon. Olin evaluates the impact the gaze has back onto the subject as spectator. The gaze is a double sided term, someone to gaze at and someone to gaze back. Through all the negative connotations that the gaze implies it was interesting to see that the gaze of a work can have positive meaning. The photograph “The Sharecroppers Wife” was an example of how the gaze differs from generation to generation. The gaze of a pin-up girl and “The Sharecroppers Wife” might look the same but they have different meanings. Her look is an empowering gaze that allows us to offer her respect. Im glad the use of suture was brought about because how often are we in control of the gaze. Our own gaze is denied if through the editing process it reveals that were are looking through the gaze of the character or even director. “Suture” is the viewer’s unawareness of the gaze that is constructed for them. Though the suture can be broken if the viewers are aware of their gaze on the screen if the character acknowledges the audience. Olin takes Mulvey’s analysis of scopophilia a step further just in clarification of vocabulary in the diagram below.

Weinbergs essay “Things are Queer” is an interesting analysis on subject identification with sexual identities. He uses Duane Michels example that “the world is queer” to show how terminology and labels of identities that are socially constructed are used to group people in specific circles in which there are no boundaries. It seemed important to note that the term heterosexuality came after homosexuality. That “the dominant culture needs an Other”. The term Queer should encompass a large group of sexual identities. Weinberg states “that queer studies potentially shifts the emphasis away from specific acts and identities to the myriad ways in which gender organizes and disorganizes society.”

While on the subject of socially constructed labels of identity, Butlers analysis of gender formation makes several points of our role in perpetuating this. Gender identity is constituted through a stylized repetition of acts. The gendered subject is the product of actions that provide an illusion of a gender that is socially constructed. One has to become a woman as opposed to just growing older. To become a woman a person must follow historically what has been done to gain that status of woman as opposed to the natural fact of just always being a woman. There is a set of social constructions that one must obey in order to cross the threshold into becoming a woman. That’s where the idea comes from that the body is a “historical idea” as opposed to a “natural species”. If the body is a historical idea then it will reproduce the historical situation. This occurs because in contemporary culture gender is a performance that if not portrayed within the confines of societies standards, the body is punished. Acts of gender creates the idea of gender.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Archives, Research, Practice

Alan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive”, “Reading an Archive”

George Baker, “Photography’s Expanded Field”

The readings for this week contained several points that could go way beyond a single blog entry. I thought it was interesting when Sekula stated that the history of social documentary photography was written without taking the police into account. In the 19th century the invention of photography allowed for the archiving of criminals. The archive was not just photographs, but the photograph was essential to criminal identification. Bertillon created a system of identification cards that had a photograph of the criminal along with his/her anthropometrics and physiognomy. The point of it was to isolate the individual and their characteristics for better identification. Then if the criminal had a rap sheet and was a repeat offender it was easier to incarcerate. This is the first time prior to fingerprinting that you have record of, what we mostly could agree upon, what is considered a true representation of an individual. This is just one of the many 19th century practices of using photography as an archive, and an early mode of surveillance. Sekula compares the photographic practices of the time to the panopticon, an architectural mode of surveillance. The panopticon is a building that is used for watching many people at once. There is a tower in the middle of a circular building, in which in regards to a prison, the guards would be stationed. The circular building would be exposed from the inside and the guards in the tower can keep an eye on all the prisoners at once. This architecture allowed for each offender to be sectioned off and isolated for control to be maintained. With the invention of photography the “guard tower” would be the general public along with the keen eyed detective. The circular building would be the public spaces plastered with photographs of criminals. Photography introduces “panoptic principles into everyday life.” The photograph though, as mentioned earlier, is not the archive alone but is a form of a truth apparatus that is part of a higher system of intelligence. Sekula states that the photograph is the part of the archive that belongs in the system of intelligence known as the filing cabinet.
Midway through the 19th century there was debate over photography’s role and impact on the culture. This could be taken as photography being a threat (socially repressive), or have promise (socially ameliorative) to the culture. Photography had indexical value to catalogue items for the wealthy. This is a testimony of ownership which obtains legal weight. Then the photograph is used for the portrait of the criminal. The portrait of the criminal is then “designed to facilitate in the arrest of its referent.” Foucault argues that it’s a mistake to use photography in a negative and repressive way. Social power should “operate by virtue of a positive therapeutic or reformative channeling of the body.” Sekula then states

bourgeois order depends on the systematic defense of social relations based on private property, to the extent that the legal basis of the self lies in the model of property rights, in what has been termed “possessive individualism”, every proper portrait has its lurking, objectifying inverse in the files of the police.

Portrait photographer Marcus Aurelius Root claims that photography had salutory effects. The role of photography on the working class migrant life was instrumental due to its power to connect the family with their ancestors, and its connection to the world for cultural enlightenment. He saw photography being used for pleasure, but also for discipline because he applauded the adoption of photography by the police.

In Sekulas article “Photography Between Labour and Captial” he describes how a photograph when placed in or out of and archive its meaning is given up. Meanings will become liberated when a photograph in an archive is viewed, or even placed into a different archive. He used the example of the stockholder with his gaze fixed upon a photograph of a mining machine. That gaze is an abstract representation of his wealth. Then you have a coal miner, or loved one, who has the emotional gaze fixated on a portrait of the worker. These looks of sentimentality and informational are incompatible, but in the form of an archive the meanings seem to get homogenized and obscured into “abstract visual equivalence.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Post


Hal Foster, “1984” from Art Since 1900

Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”

Jean Francis Lyotard, Intro to The Post modern Condition

Douglas Crimp, “Appropriating Appropriation”

The readings this week were focused primarily on postmodernism. It’s difficult to define postmodernism because of the slew of definitions that came out of the four different examinations. This statement from Jameson I found the most interesting;

“The postmodernisms have, in fact, been fascinated precisely by this whole “degraded” landscape of schlock and kitsch, of TV series and Readers Digest culture, of advertising and motels, of the late show and the grade-B Hollywood film, of so-called paraliterature, with its airport paperback categories of the gothic and the romance, the popular biography, the murder mystery, and the science fiction or fantasy novel: materials they no longer simply “quote” as a Joyce or a Mahler might have done, but incorporate it into their very substance.”

This statement explains the postmodern society’s interests in “kitsch or schlock” that bring about the pastiche. Jameson states that “in the pastiche we lose our connection with history”, because the history then turns into a series of styles, or that of the simulacra. Then we only understand our history as a “repository of genres, styles, and codes ready for distribution.” This is readily articulated in Crimps essay when he describes the buildings of Michael Graves. Jameson set this next point up when he states, “of all the arts, architecture is the closest constitutively to the economic, with which in the form of commissions and land values have an unmediated relationship. This growth in post modern architecture will be grounded with the patronage of multinational businesses.

Crimp compares the two architects Michael Graves and Frank Gehry and their relation to the post modern. Graves’ style is that of appropriation while Gehry’s is that of material. They both are postmodern because Graves develops a style out of an understanding of the creative combinations of a historic architectural vocabulary, and Gehry comments on the material conditions of the present through a fragmented design, opposing the illusion of the building being one solid piece.

In this example below you can see the influence on Graves’ architecture that Crimp speaks of, “the pseudo-classicism of Art Deco public buildings.” I feel it necessary to represent my home town in showing a work of Graves cleverly called the “Humana building”. Humana being one of the largest health care providers in the nation. In this architecture you can trace its style back in history while it being financed by a multinational corporation. Personally I’ve always liked this building. I have a feeling Humana had no problem paying for this piece.

I find the idea of culture being regurgitated to create new forms interesting and would like to do more research on the subject. Crimp explains how Weston appropriated the pose of the classical nude, and then Levine appropriates the photograph of Weston, both of them using an appropriation device, the camera. Appropriation becomes a style to push the boundaries of contemporary aesthetics, which then gets re-injected back into the culture industry and hung up on the wall of a gallery for us to experience the “aura” in all its glory. Even Jameson describes how “The Clash”, with their anti capitalism, pro-workingman, describe the world as it is, no nonsense, punk rock attitude can achieve no distance from the culture machine. They got reabsorbed into culture and still to this day are making corporations money. My question is if you make any art to critique the fundamental problems of a capitalist society, and then become financially successful doing it, how then are you not propagating the very system you despise?

On that note, i think we all should take a minute and listen to some good music.....




Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theories of Originality

Jean Baudrillard. “The Hyper-Realism of Simulation”

Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde”

Artists of the avant-garde seem to strip their practice down to a core of originality. This core is composed of a grid, which appears to be the most basic non-referential starting point for a piece of art. A grid is a concept that is derived from originality emerging from repetition and recurrence. The creation of an avant-garde work of art is a starting point that can be considered a birth of a new form that is void of reference. The artist can’t refer to a reality while working in a format that is in refusal to speech and narrative. The art itself is contained in a series of closed boxes that barricades itself from the outside world, which becomes freeing for the artist. The freedom is a result of the grids so-called aesthetic purity. If a grid has no referent, then logically it is purely original. I noticed a parallel in Baudrillard’s essay when he compares the real to hyperrealism. Baudrillard defines the real as that for which it is to provide an equivalent representation. So, if hyperrealism is beyond representation because it is a simulation, and simulation has no secure reference to reality, does that mean that hyperrealism is purely original? Maybe my logic on this matter is a bit too literal, but Baudrillard finishes the paragraph by writing “hyperrealism is an integral part of a coded reality, which it perpetuates without modifying”. That sounds similar to the Krauss’ explanation of the grid in which artists “from the time they submit themselves to this structure their work virtually ceases to develop and becomes involved, instead, in repetition.”

The grid does however represent the canvas surface by being a mapped out infrastructure that, through its network of coordinates, becomes a metaphor for the geometry of the field. Krauss mentions some “texts” that are represented by the grid on the canvas. The representational texts would be of the type that configure a spatial perspective in three-dimensional models or a type that grids out a two dimensional picture for duplication. Since the grid represents a canvas surface and refers to these modes of image making how original is the grid actually. The grid is being reduplicated which in turn keeps signifying itself. So the artist that works in a grid, much like Rodin and his sculptures, is working in a “system of reproduction without an original.”


Using Baudrillards logic in relation to the grid could you say that the grid while trying to escape the crisis of representation it loops itself in pure repetition. A repetition found in pop art and neorealism that tries to exterminate “all subjectivity and psychology in order to render a pristine objectivity.” I can’t help but to compare this to the neorealist filmmaker Roberto Rosselini. The Italian neorealist filmmakers wanted to get away from the style of filmmaking prior to that of WWII, which were referred to as the “white telephone films” (nobody in Italy had white telephones, only the rich people in Hollywood), and show a realistic version of what was actually going on in Italy. These directors wanted to produce a “meticulous reality” as Baudrillard stated. A description of the world they actually lived in. This clip shows a shell shocked village in Italy and the interaction between a drunk hopeless American soldier and a young boy. The young boy hardened by the war is going to steal from the soldier in his drunken state.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Art as Popular Culture; Art as Critique of Popular Culture




Clement Greenburg, “Avant Garde as Kitsch”

Rosalind Krauss, “Reinventing the Medium”

Guy Debord, excerpts from the “Society as Spectacle”

Richard Hamilton; “For the Finest Art, Try Pop,”

This week’s readings were interesting because, first and foremost there was new material to acquire, but secondly it was interesting to see how other theorists, such as Krauss, is reacting to theory that I am now becoming familiar with. Also in Greenburg’s essay it is interesting to hear another theorist take on mass culture, what Adorno referred to as the culture industry, being that of Kitsch.

Krauss started off her essay referring to the three strands of thought that when pulled together convey how photography can be reinvented as a medium. The first being photography as a theoretical object. Krauss explains how Benjamin used photography as a theoretical object in his writings in the 1930’s. Benjamin believed the “genius of the medium is the rendering of the human subject woven into a network of its social relations”. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction made photography a theoretical object when Benjamin starts referring to an aura that a photograph contains. The portraits made by early photographers as amateurs contained an aura of human nature, and intimate relationships that’s indicative to photography prior to its commoditization. Photography being a commodity wasn’t the issue, it was the fact that commodity was overtaken by Kitsch. Greenburg explains Kitsch as a universal literacy that came from urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America as a product of the industrial revolution. This could also be understood as the culture industry. When photography got into the hands of the culture industry it destroyed the “aura of this humanity and its possessor’s authority.”

The second strand Krauss mentioned which leads to how photography can be reinvented as a medium is identified with photography’s destruction of the conditions of the aesthetic medium that would affect all arts. Benjamin did make photography a theoretical object in his essays by describing the aura a photograph holds, but there is a flipside to this point because though photography creates an aura it also destroys it. Since photography in its essence is designed for reproducibility, the aura of the unique and authentic dissolves. When photography made the merge into the art world in the 60’s, the artist was using their practice of photography as a theoretical object which is a tool for deconstructing that practice. Since conceptual art was questioning the very nature of artistic practice, photography was used because art photography was new and didn’t refer to a specific medium. Photography could comment on the art world without being specific to painting, sculpture, etc... In the not too distant future the deconstructive force of photography falls into obsolescence due to social use.

The Third strand that leads up to the reinvention of the medium of photography is the “relationship between obsolescence and the redemptive possibilities enfolded in the outmoded itself.” The conventions of photography as a medium need to develop a form of expressiveness that is both projective and mnemonic. The obsolescence of this medium played a redemptive role by its reinvention. Krauss uses artist James Coleman as an example of someone who reinvented the use of photography as an art form. Coleman displayed his photographs using slide projectors which seemed to mimic that of a cinema. The actors in the photographs are connected to theatre due to elaborate staging. But ultimately he was elaborating on the paradoxical collision of stillness and movement. Krauss then mentions Barthes “third meaning” because it too is a collision of stillness and movement. These examples can be described as counter-narratives. Coleman’s work has been shaped by the narrative vehicle of the photonovel. He develops what is seen in photonovels, or comic books for adults, called the double face out. This can be seen below in my examples of a double face out in Alan Moore's "The Watchmen". During a conversation between characters in a frame, the static image can’t rely on time based editing to show an instigator and a reaction. The instigation and the reaction shot of the characters must be in the same frame. The double face out shows both faces of the characters in a two-shot, one being the instigator and the other being a reaction while not looking at each other. He found a way to “unroll the density of life onto a flat plane”. This is an artist that found a way to reinvent photography. Using the technical aspect of photography, Coleman was able to portray narrative drama which became a “paradoxical collision of stillness and movement.”




Photograph as Text