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