artists with vaginas

Every time I see a headline or an exhibition with “Female Artists” or “Women Artists” or “Black Artists” or “Latin American Artists” or “[Whatever People Segmentation Word] Artists” I die a little.

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To think that, in 2017, with all the progress we had, the arts community — which, in theory, is (or should be) forward-thinking and avant-garde and liberal — still classifies and box in artists is, at least, sad.

Yes, unfortunately, the word ‘artist’ is still a synonym of white-male. From Cézanne to Picasso, to Van Gogh, to Matisse, to Pollock, to Andy Warhol, to David Hockney, to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst: all the blockbusters, show-stoppers, headliners are caucasian dudes. But isn’t it time that we at least try to change that?

By adding [women] or [female] title, you help to corroborate that establishment, to differentiate people amongst the same group. A “woman” *cringe* artist is AN ARTIST as much as her male counterpart. The same goes for “black” artist. And if you happen to be a woman, and black, you automatically earn three extra last names: Jane Doe, Black Women Artist.

Enough with the categorizing. With the condescending bullshit. With the whole “we discovered this great group of women artists.” They were always there, doing fucking awesome work, and the misogynists at the time overlooked them just because they had vaginas instead of penises — and now they want to pretend that it was just an ‘oversight.’

While major institutions don’t step up to try changing the game, we will still be showered with ridiculous (and hard to digest) articles like these:

art market(ing)

You know when you are in the shower and, out of the blue, a drop of shampoo falls in your eye and you have an insight about an excellent title, but that it doesn’t have any context whatsoever? Like when you have this great idea, but there isn’t necessarily a job or a client behind it? You just had this speck of inspiration, and pencil in the idea in your Moleskine (or Evernote, or on the back of a receipt) ‘just in case’? 

Yeah. I think that Contemporary Art (and by ‘contemporary’ I mean post-internet-art) is more and more like that. With a great insight (or just a boring one), translated into “art.” There isn’t research, blood, sweat or tears – trial or error behind it. There is no planning (pun intended) behind it. “Artists” (who are as much as “artists” as I am a marketeer) have a funny idea, put into paper (or on canvas, or on the wall, or –) and wait for someone (an “emerging gallery” or a “curator”) to validate it, and monetize that. But where is the juice? Where is the essence? Where is the “inner beauty”? Is art for Kanye West curate it and Kim Kardashian balance in her ass. Enough with paintings that look good with the couch; that is a great selfie background; that is full of mirror surfaces for narcissus see. 

I want a Kiefer, and his works that look like dirt. I want Beuys and his craziness of living with a coyote. I want Richard Serra and his massive copper walls that don't fit an Instagram square. Yes, art is nice. Art is cool, is hipster. Art is a bunch of hashtags that will bring you hundreds of new followers. But art is also thought, process, work. Artwork – it is work. Is not about having a cool idea and delegating it to assistants/slaves to execute it, nor is a free ticket to Art Basel Miami Beach. It is to educate. To take responsibility about what you are birthing into the world. 

My eyes are precious. And time is money. And I don’t want to spend a minute nor a cent having to walk around your golden balloon dog statue. The “visual arts” are now plastified. Full of botox, liposuction, of taking ass fat and putting on the lips. Where are the Mad Men to fix that? Where is Dove ad campaign, for the “real beauty” in the arts? Give me something real, something raw, something ugly. Give me the truth, for christ sake. 

Thank you, Koons, but I don’t want my art gift-wrapped. 

 

 Sacred Heart (Red & Gold) by Jeff Koons

Sacred Heart (Red & Gold) by Jeff Koons

I went to jim hodges exhibition at the hammer, and I hated it

 

 

There, I said it. In big, bold letters. Without trying to get around it, or making amends. I went to Jim Hodges exhibition at the Hammer, last Saturday, and I hated it. Those who know me can testify: I don’t hate many things. I dislike tons of it - figs, blowing my nose when I step on a wet puddle in the bathroom while wearing socks - and am not a fan of many people - but hate, well, I can count on one hand things I hate. Currently, Jim Hodges works are one of them.

 

Dear Jim, please don’t take it personally. I don’t know you and (hope my MA professors don’t listen to me, but) quite frankly, I have never heard about you before stepping foot at the Hammer last Saturday. So, it’s not you. It’s just what you do. Cracked mirrors, curtains of flowers and butterflies, a tapestry made of denim? Seriously? 

American artist Jim Hodges is known for his singular ability to infuse emotion and narrative into the objects of daily life, creating poignant studies based in temporality, life, and love.
— http://hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/2014/jim-hodges-give-more-than-you-take/


 

 

And the museum’s website doesn't help -- at all. They are not showing ‘studies’ (let alone ‘poignant’). It is all a ton of (I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-paraphrasing-Greenberg) kitschy, wonderland, junk. All I want to do is throw-up buckets of rainbows and ride on my glittery purple unicorn far far away from all of it. Jim Hodges works are layer upon layer of cafona. (‘Cafona’ is a Portuguese word that can loosely be translated as ‘tacky’ - but tacky doesn’t convey the precise meaning I’m aiming for. If you’re Brazilian, you know what I mean by ‘cafona’).

 

 

To be fair, I've ‘googled’ Jim Hodges and saw a piece (three rocks in a circle, half-painted with shiny/metallic colors à la Koons) that it’s quite cool. To be fair, there can be many Hodges pieces that are good and, because they weren’t exhibited at the Hammer (nor in the first page of Google Image search) I am unaware of. But, I’m sorry. This is not about the artist's oeuvre, in general, or about his persona. It is about Jim Hodges exhibition at the Hammer. And, from what I saw, I hated it.



connecting the dots

It is Los Angeles. Probably 80 degrees outside, nothing much going on  (and no one seems actually to work around here) so what better thing to do than going for a swim?  David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, is a snapshot of one of these ordinary Californian days. His canvas works like a window; an aperture to a scene that we arrived a few seconds too late. Who is the diver in the pool is the 1 million dollar question. Its colors don’t give us any hint - on the contrary: they add to the banality of the image. An empty chair, closed doors modernist suburban house, two typical palm trees and a splash. The diving board juts out of the margin into the painting’s foreground – its positioning coming at a diagonal out of the corner – giving perspective as well as cutting across the predominantly horizontals. The yellow makes the diving board stands out dramatically against the turquoise water of the pool, echoed in the intense turquoise of the sky. Hockney has explained: ‘When you photograph a splash, you’re freezing a moment and it becomes something else. I realize that a splash could never be seen this way in real life, it happens too quickly. And I was amused by this, so I painted it in a very, very slow way.’ Overall, it seems like, if it weren't for that stir in the water, disrupting the calm,  nothing would have moved for days.

  David Hockney,   A Bigger Splash,   1967

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967

Strand is a semi-abstract painting of another seemingly common subject (a beach full of holiday-makers), drawn from the German media, made by Sigmar Polke in 1966. With its polka dots technique, Polke seems to question - and, at the same time, mock - the validity of media-spread images. He magnifies, distorts and reverts black with white dots that, in newspapers, are close to seamless. This picture, like Hockney’s, uses the banality of everyday scenes to raise questions. Strand is not about what the people are doing, and how is the weather on that particular day: he creates a distance between the subject matter and the viewer. While many ‘nature scenes’ transport us to a new reality (the way we feel ‘inside’ one of Monet’s garden scenes when we stand in front of it), Polke puts an extra layer,  blurs the window, and make sure that we don’t connect with what is happening at that beach. The closer you get to the image, the less you see the action. This deliberate upsetting of the clarity and stability of the picture, unlike Andy Warhol or Lichtenstein, who celebrated the mass media, elevating its imagery and means of reproduction to the status and the realm of 'high art,' Polke's work is more of a critique. It is cynical.

  Sigmar Polke,   Strand (Beach)  , 1966

Sigmar Polke, Strand (Beach), 1966

When talking about polka dots and Pop art, inevitably – and almost instantly –  Kusama comes to mind. Her obsessive repetition of the pattern in some different mediums (canvas, installations, clothes, pumpkins) made her work universally recognizable. One of her installations, Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli’s Field (Floor Show), done in 1965, is a tiny squared space, covered with mirrors and, yes, red dots. The compulsiveness is said to be Kusama’s means of dealing with the hallucinations that began tormenting her as a child – but what does that do to the viewer? A claustrophobic, mirror-lined hallway leads into a massive room, whose four walls have been filled with several mirrors, set amidst dozens of textile bean bags. These amorphous objects that cover many of Kusama's works recall tumors; a strange mass that doesn’t belong in that space. That is until we step in that area. Suddenly, we turn into tumors; we are the ones that don’t belong. Even if the room is covered with reflections of ourselves, in a matter of seconds, we begin to feel uncomfortable, and much like an outsider. Kusama’s works are the world within a world – and if, in some way, the artist doesn’t quite ‘fit in’ in our world, she makes us feel like we are not a part of her world.

  Yayoi Kusama,   Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli’s Field (Floor Show),   1965

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli’s Field (Floor Show), 1965

Even though Hockney, Polke, and Kusama use very distinct techniques in their pieces, the three works have one thing in common: they shut the viewer off. In Hockney, that is made clear by the splash: he doesn’t allow us to witness the action, just the nanoseconds after it - and emphasize that by freezing an action that otherwise could not be grasped. Polke barely lets us see anything. He blurs and distorts his dots to make the scene almost abstract. He doesn’t want us to connect with the beach-goers, and make us purposely feel left out. Finally, Kusama, even with her room filled with mirrors, finds a way to shut off the viewer – with irony: nevermind that it is an odd room filled with polka dots, bean bags, floor to ceiling. It is a perfect, closed, world – and all of a sudden the strange element in it is us. We, the viewers, are the ones that stand out.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 



 

for sale: goat heads, toilets, cheeseburgers and other gooey stuff

The time is 1915s - Zurich, Switzerland: disillusioned by the social values that led to the war and sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic by shocking people into self-awareness, Dadaists prized the nonsense, irrationality, and intuition. Its father? No one is less than Marcel Duchamp. In the years immediately preceding the war, Duchamp found success as a painter in Paris - but soon gave up, explaining: “I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products.”

The time is the 1950s - New York, USA: After roughly 40 years, Neo-Dada rises as a minor art movement that has similarities in method or intent of the earlier Dada artwork. While it revived some of the objectives of Dada, it puts "emphasis on the importance of the work of art produced rather than on the concept generating the work." Robert Rauschenberg ushered in this new era of postwar American art, rejecting the Greenbergian formalism. His approach was sometimes termed “Neo-Dada” due to its relation to both European forebears and the physical gestures of American Abstract Expressionists.

Rauschenberg’s first pieces were somewhat “anti-art,” as a form of protest about what was happening in the world - and especially in the art world. Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) and This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So (1953) were filled with cynicism, as a strategy of provocation against the dominant bourgeois culture. His most famous pieces, though, came a few years later: Bed (1955) and Monogram (1955) are what the artist called “combines” - pieces that blurred the distinctions between painting and sculpture, as their flat surfaces were augmented with discarded materials and appropriated images. In his combines, everyday objects (garbage on the street, comics, newspapers, pieces of woodwork, posters, fabrics, drawings, mirrors) took the space of the painting. Rauschenberg once said ‘I always wanted my works-whatever happened in the studio- to look more like what was going on outside the window.' While other artists considered his work a way out of abstract expressionism, Greenberg spitefully called it ‘novelty art.'

  Robert Rauschenberg   Bed   1955   mixed mediums, ca. 75 x 32 x 8 in.   Museum of Modern Art

Robert Rauschenberg
Bed
1955
mixed mediums, ca. 75 x 32 x 8 in.
Museum of Modern Art

By the end of the 1950s, Marcel Duchamp came back into the picture. His retrospective in North Carolina in 1963 contributed to the public dissemination of his works around the States, turning him into a very influential artist to pop and, later, conceptual art. With his famous ready-mades, Duchamp questioned the boundaries of the work of art, posting questions like “what constitutes the work of art?”, “what are the parameters?” and, also, examining the influence of ‘the artist's hand.'

With its roots in Dadaism, Pop Art started to take form when artists began making the symbols and products of the world of advertising and propaganda the main subject of their artistic work. Pop artists used the iconography of television, photography, comics, cinema and publicity to create works that were critical of the high culture in the name of mass culture. Riding this wave - but against the current - Claes Oldenburg mixed the gestural and messy combines of Rauschenberg with its contemporary influences (like Warhol and Duchamp) to create his gooey and nasty works.

In his (in)famous The Store (1961), Oldenburg occupied an actual store front, in Manhattan, and filled it with grotesque plaster food and clothing made out of paper mache, making a claim at the pathologies of the commodity culture. In that scenario, the artist was the salesman and the spectator the consumer. Later, his giant soft sculptures took inspiration in barely anything - clothing, fast food, urban decay - generating a new awareness of the environment through strategies of estrangement (with their large scale and soft materials) and displacement. Oldenburg transformed familiar objects (like a toilet or a cheeseburger) into uncanny. What had he to say about it? “I am for an art that is political – erotic – mystical, that does something other than sitting on its ass in a museum.”

 Claes Oldenburg, Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything (Dual Hamburgers), 1962

Claes Oldenburg, Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything (Dual Hamburgers), 1962

Looking at the works of Rauschenberg, Duchamp, and Oldenburg we can see the influence that the everyday, urban, life had in the arts. It was not about representing their emotions, or even ‘art for art's sake’ anymore. Artists from the 1950s and 1960s had something more to say. Regardless of the ‘artistic movement’ they are classified under (Dada, neo-Dada or pop), they found distinct ways to criticize the canons of the art world and high culture by elevating urban debris into art; placing trash in pedestals inside galleries; being rebels with a noble cause.


talking 'bout my generation

In a society like ours – with Photoshopped people, Instagram filters, and ‘reality’ television – it hardly makes sense to discuss concepts like ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ anymore, but one can try. Taking Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations, and Jacques Rancière’s The Future of the Image as foundations, this essay aims to discuss the notions of truth, reality, and image in our contemporary world.

First things first, it is important to clarify some dubious (and crucial) terms that Baudrillard discusses at length in his text. In a very basic sense, simulacra (the plural of simulacrum) are copies that depict things that either had no reality, to begin with, or that no longer have an original; while simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.

Baudrillard claims that our society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs and that human experience is a simulation of reality. And that simulacra are not merely mediations of reality (nor even deceptive mediations of reality), they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality:  they only hide that anything like reality is relevant to our current understanding of our lives:

“It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. (…) The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. (…) It is a hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere. (…) The age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials.”

To clarify his ideas, Baudrillard gives the very-American example of Disneyland. The park is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that all the rest outside it is real when, in fact, all America surrounding it is no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. This lack of reality is not restricted only to this country: we live in a world that is all make-believe to entertain a mass of longtime numb and lazy people. What else can explain the proliferation of places like Las Vegas (where you can go from Paris to ancient Rome to Hollywood just by walking down the street) or Dubai – where you can snowboard, in the middle of the desert, inside a shopping mall?

We don’t even need to leave our couch to get a grasp of this: What about ‘reality television’? We have this obsession in perceiving the so-called-‘reality’ so much that it only ends up blinding us: some of us bluntly-stupidly believe that the people and problems portrayed in these TV shows are somewhat accurate; and some just don’t even bother to question that anymore. The exponential multiplying of The Real Housewives of Anywhere, the 8th season (aka year) of the Kardashian’s show and Big Brother Brazil in its edition #14 (aka year) are all proof of this long new ‘reality’. It is no longer a matter of a false representation of reality, but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.

To be fair to a small portion of humanity, not everybody actually believes in everything they see on TV – but, still, in order to keep on with our lives, we have to be oblivious to the fact that the world that we live in is a simulation - and the younger the generation, the worst. To exemplify, a speech by a ‘modern thinker’, Dave Grohl (ex-Nirvana drummer, current Foo Fighters vocalist):

“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.” 

Well, it is easy to say when your garage band actually turned out to be Nirvana but the point is that our generation believes that to be a musician, you just have to sign up for a reality show; to find love, you just need to download an app or join a dating website, and to be an artist you just have to draw or paint or Photoshop something and sell it on Etsy. There is no real effort anymore. With everything at a button-click distance away, we tend to believe that success is easy – and for everybody - but it is not. That is why the ‘generation Y’ has this chronic, permanent dissatisfaction with what they do; there is no ‘hard work’ anymore.

An article called “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy", published by the Huffington Post in September of 2013 that had a million likes and almost 4 thousand shares, explains (ironically) with drawings this modern phenomenon through the not-so-lovely story of ‘Lucy’ (that can, actually, be anybody). Summing up the narrative:

“Lucy is part of Generation Y (born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s) and she’s kind of unhappy – kind of like everybody else at her age, because reality turns out to be worse than the expectations. Lucy's Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security and raised her parents to build practical, secure careers. They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they'd need to put in years of hard work to make it happen. A few years late, Baby Boomers all around the world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches. So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better. A second delusion comes into play once they enter the job market: while Lucy's parents' expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it's just a matter of time and choosing which way to go. Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they're actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.”

Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GY expert, found that Gen Y has "unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," and "an inflated view of oneself." He says "a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting."

Jacques Rancière ideas can also be related to this concept, as he states that “there is no longer any reality, but only images, and there are no more images but only a reality incessantly representing itself to itself.” Thus, “if there is now nothing but images, there is nothing other than the image. And if there is nothing other than the image, the very notion of the image becomes devoid of content.”

The images that are produced by us and for us, spread all over social media portraying our oh-so-marvelous ‘reality,' when added to “Lucy’s Parents” and the already mentioned ‘reality TV’ phenomenon equals disaster. We have a whole generation of delusional people feeling ‘superior’ and frustrated because the rest of the world doesn’t recognize them as special.

To end this essay, borrowing from Baudrillard’s ideas, “when the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity (…) This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us; a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

#hoarders

What did you have for lunch yesterday? What was the vocalist wearing in the last concert you’ve been? Can you recall where were you six days ago? Try answering any of these questions without reaching for your cell phone. Facebook timelines, old Instagram photographs, ‘cloud storage,' backup disks, hardware disks, and the constant fear/anxiety of losing data. Why does our generation have this obsession of keeping every-single-thing archived?

Before trying to answer this question, and relating to essays of authors like Allan Sekula, Ilya Kabakov, and Tom McDonough, it is important that we sort the term ‘archives’ clear. Paul Ricoeur cleverly begins his essay “Archives, Documents, traces” giving two definitions for the expression: According to the Encyclopaedia Universalis “archives are constituted by the set of documents that result from the activity of an institution or of a physical or moral person”; and, as Encyclopaedia Britannica puts, “the term archives designates the organized body of records produced or received by a public, semi-public, institutional, business or private entity in the transaction of its affairs and preserved by it, its successors or authorized repository through extension of its original meaning as the repository for such materials”.  

As Ricoeur stresses in his text, both definition ensures three key features for the term ‘archives’: 1.the reference to the notion of a document (or ‘record’); 2. the relationship to an institution; and 3. it has the goal of conserving or preserving documents. The document, still in Ricoeur’s essay, is defined “as information, the warrant a document provides a history, a narrative, or an argument. This role of being a warrant constitutes material proof; evidence. If history is a real story, documents represent its last means of proof.”

As the habit of keeping journals and sending letters died long ago, the main ‘documents’ of our generation is, undoubtedly, photographs. And, as any trace left by the past becomes a record for historians, what will the future generations inherit from us?

In Allan Sekula’s “The Body and the Archive,” we read:

“For nineteenth-century positivists, photography doubly fulfilled the Enlightenment dream of an universal language: the universal mimetic language of the camera yielded up a higher, more cerebral truth, a truth that could be uttered in the universal abstract language of mathematics.”

Indeed, one can argue that photography is a universal language. But unfortunately, apparently, we don’t have many interesting things to say: Do people care about ‘self-portraits’ (aka ‘selfies’), random food plates, and cute cats pictures that much? We have such an uncontrollable urge to document every-single-thing that we don’t stop to think beforehand what is worth recording. Do we need to remember every single meal we had in the past year? Who cares if on Tuesday, the 9th of July the weather was horrific, or if you had a bad haircut?

And it gets worse: we storage events for further remembrance and forgets to experience these moments, while they are happening. How many concerts have we attended and made a massive effort to photograph/film every single minute of it – instead of just lifting our eyes out of the screen and looking at it? How many dinner parties did we spend taking pictures and ‘instagraming’ it and not even talked with the people who were there? This necessity of keeping track of everything blurred the line between what is critical to, in fact, keep.

In Ilya Kabakov essay, “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away,” we see the compulsive need of a man to keep and organize everything. At first glance, it seems an exaggeration; but, after a few minutes of consideration, this anecdote is a clear picture of our society nowadays - even though it was written almost 40 years ago.

As said, the contemporary documents are no longer scraps of paper. We live in a mainly visual/pictorial society. The advent of technology and the popularization of digital photography made our ‘archives’ exponentially bigger. As now we can easily take 500 pictures/minute without actually thinking about it, we lost our critical ability to pick and choose what is worth registering.

As Sekula stresses, “The early promise of photography had faded in the face of a massive and chaotic archive of images; the problem of classification.” If in the early nineteenth-century classification was a problem, multiply that for a gazillion, and you get close to the size of the twenty-first-century photograph archives.

But, as Kabakov character, along with the documentation obsession, we acquired the organizational fixation: we have a social network (Pinterest), with over 70 million users, dedicated to the classification of images; mega-stores specialized in providing the right type of container to specific little things (The Container Store). We have label makers, post-its, classifying folders and all sorts of apparatus to feed our insatiable appetite for putting things in boxes. And it is not only in our daily lives that the organizational-freak-monster appears.

Besides what many tend to think, artists are humans just like us - and some of them cultivate the ‘hoarder’ instinct as well. “Against this widely noted crisis in the mechanism of social memory, artists have deployed what Hal Foster calls ‘ an archival impulse’ as a means to construct alternative histories and forms of knowledge” (McDonough’s essay, The Anarchive). The Brazilian Vik Muniz, with his realistic garbage portraits. Mike Kelley with his carefully arranged color-coordinated assemblages. And, more extreme, Christian Boltanski’s works, like ‘the heart archive’ (originally titled ‘les archives du coeur’): a collection of heartbeat recordings captured since 2005 from thousands of people who visited his exhibition, permanently installed on the island of Eshima, in the Seto Inland Sea; and his ‘Reserve: The Dead Swiss’, that consists of 1,168 boxes and photographs making an analogy to people who died in the Holocaust.

As Sekula poses, in the beginning, photography was used by the police to document and classify criminals, in order to prevent them from committing atrocities again. In that sense, photography was considered a socially ameliorative. But, at the same time, it was seen as a socially repressive instrument, as the State was not only using it to ‘repress’ criminals but to ‘keep an eye’ on society in general.

Nowadays, it got exponentially worse: we are under constant surveillance, and we don’t even care anymore. It is George Orwell’s 1984 in the 21st century – and we abide by it, by registering (and geo-tagging) pictures of ourselves; giving personal information to random websites, and allowing organizations to have our fingerprints taken.

Today, photograph portraits ‘classifications’ are now being made by ordinary people, who think they have the authority to judge people according to their looks. The ‘eugenicists’ are now the bullies, the fashion magazines, and the tabloids. People regularly suffer from the pressure to look taller, leaner, blonder – or whatever the supermodels or Hollywood actresses are looking like now.

The question “Why does our generation have this obsession of keeping every-single-thing archived?” remains unanswered – but a guess can be made: the contemporary Enlightenment project is the ‘Spotlight’ project, as people tend to think that they are the center of the show, and everything thing about them – like what they are wearing, what they are eating, where they are, etc.a’ it is an ultimately relevant thing.

We can only hope that the next generation of archive-keepers finds more interesting things to put in their boxes. 

the artist as the white cube

Before digging deep in three very different articles, it is important to underline that this essay does not mean to make a direct relation of cause/effect amid O’Doherty’s ‘White Cube’; Krauss’s “Sculpture/Monument” concept, and Tucker’s PheNAUMANology themes; and it neither proposes a necessary historical link between them. The aim of this text is to find a connection amongst the main arguments presented in those articles and invite the reader to reflect on where contemporary institutions and artists stand today.   

In Inside the White Cube, Brian O’Doherty investigates what the context of the modern gallery does to the art object; to the viewing subject; and how the framework ultimately overcomes the object, and end up becoming content itself. He opens the third chapter of his book, Context as Content, with metaphors of different art movements with interior spaces particular to each time; until he finally arrives at the starting point of this whole book: the White Cube.

O’Doherty describes the modern gallery space as “constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building medieval church.” The basic principle behind these laws, he notes, is that “The outside world must no come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light… The art is free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take in its own life’”. (Thomas McEvilley Introduction, NYC, 1986)

 In other words, the modern galleries dismissed all the luxury and pompous ornaments of past times and became, literally, white cubes. A building composed exclusive by white walls - and preferably with no windows. Although, compared to Renaissance and Baroque times, a place like this tends to evoke ‘simplicity’ and ‘humility’; in fact, it is nothing like it: 

“For many of us, the gallery space still gives off negative vibrations when we wander in. Esthetics are turned into a kind of social elitism – the gallery space is exclusive” (O’Doherty)

Despite being written on the 1970s, after 40 years, this perception of the white cubes still remains precisely true. And, maybe, as consequence of that, the image presented by contemporary is very much the same, as they are often perceived as being some ‘genius’, ‘touched by the hand of God’ in a religious or shamanic way.

 

Going back a few decades, in the late 1910s, Duchamp tried to break the ‘sacredness’ of art by questioning the concept ‘artwork’ by sending a standard urinal, laid flat on its back, signed ‘R. Mutt 1917’ to be exhibited in a group show organized by the Society of Independent Artists. Instantly, a scandal took place in the institutional system, and the board of directors rejected the artwork. In protest Duchamp, who was a member of the Board, resigned immediately.

A few years later, in 1938, Marcel shocked the art world again, by questioning, this time, not the artwork itself, but the context where it was presented:

“In one of those bad puns he loved, Duchamp turned the exhibition topsy-turvy and ‘stood you on your head.' The ceiling is the floor and the floor, to drive home the point, is the ceiling.”

In a group show on Galerie Beaux-Arts, Duchamp hanged 1,200 bags of coal in the roof and “this inversion was the first time an artist subsumed and entire gallery in a single gesture – and managed to do so while it was full of other art.”

In his article, O’Doherty puts the question on why did Duchamp ‘got away’ with doing 1,200 Bags of Coal. My guess is that it was because he was the first. People didn’t know how to react to such a disruption and, maybe, that was the reason that they went along with it:

“This inside-outside confusion is consistent with tilting the gallery on its axis. By exposing the effect of context on art, of the container on the contained, Duchamp recognizes an are of art that hadn’t yet been invented”

Years later, on 1971, when Daniel Buren attempted to do a similar thing on a group exhibition – to transform the museum’s architecture and the way that it functions by hanging a huge piece of striped cotton canvas on the rotunda of the Guggenheim–, the day before the opening, Buren was censored by fellow artists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, arguing that he was ‘hiding’ their artworks.

As Buren questionings were more directed to the institutional’s system themselves, the ‘Duchampian’ examination of the context’s effects on art, and the issue of ‘the container on the contained’ had a direct involvement with the spectators.  As O’Doherty notes, with Mile of String (1942)

 “Every bit of space is marked. Duchamp develops the Modernist monad: the spectator in his gallery box” and “Boxing up the space (or spacing up the box is part of the central formal theme on Duchamp’s art: containment/inside/outside”

And, further:

“Duchamp keeps the spectator, whose presence is always voluntary, hung up on his own etiquette, thus preventing him/her from disapproving of his/her own harassment – a source of further annoyance. Hostility to the audience is one of the key coordinates of modernism, and artists may be classified according to its wit, style and depth.”

In other words, as O’Doherty sees it, one of the goals of modernist artists was to hostiles their spectator. But this seemingly sadistic pleasure ended up turning towards art itself. To most people, Art (with a capital A) was perceived as something elitist and incomprehensible; seeming as ‘high culture,' since it was made by few genius (artists), placed in a sacred temple (white cube), for the nobles (high class and connoisseurs) to appreciate it.

 In that scenario, there’s no place for the mere mortal to interact with those kinds of entities. The whole art world is closed, exclusive, guarded to a mystified high-cultured elite. O’Doherty ends this chapter by mentioning post-modernism attempts to break the superimposition of the white cube: 

With postmodernism, the gallery space is no longer ‘neutral’. The wall becomes a membrane through which esthetic and commercial values osmotically exchange. (…) Context provides a large part of late modern and postmodern art’s content. This is seventies art’s main issue, as well as its strength and weakness”

In Duchamp’s work, and more contemporary ones (like Buren’s, for example) the questioning about the context where the art was present; pieces joined “the outside world with the inside,” but the artist himself was nowhere to be seen. He was still secluded in his genius aura.

Then, when we move to Rosalind Krauss text, we encounter a changed art world.  Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Michael Heizer, Richard Serra, Walter De Maria and few others went a step further in questioning the context of the artwork.

 Krauss’s article discusses, mainly, the concept of ‘sculpture’ on what she calls ‘the expanded field, and how sculpture is a category that can be, nowadays, almost infinitely malleable:

“The historian/critic simply performed a more extended sleight-of-hand and began to construct his genealogies out of the data of millennia rather than decades. Stonehenge, the Nazca lines, the Toltec ball courts, Indian burial mounds – anything at all could be hauled into court to bear witness to this work’s connection to history and thereby to legitimize its status as sculpture.”

            To demystify this now vague term, Krauss compares it to the concept of monuments and, later, makes a diagram to elucidate the notions of not-landscape and not-architecture to draw the limits of modernist sculpture; and end up in the thinking in another term: complex - both landscape and architecture piece. To illustrate the word:

 

By 1970, with the Partially Buried Woodshed at Kent State University, in Ohio, Robert Smithson had begun to occupy the complex axis, which for ease of reference I am calling site construction. In 1971 with the observatory he built in wood and sod in Holland, Robert Morris had joined him. Since that time, many other artists – Robert Irwing, Alice Aycock, John Mason, Michael Heizer, Mary Miss, Charles Sidmons – have operated within this new set of possibilities.

 

            Although this new conception of landscape and architectural art marks a critical shift in the way we perceive the context a work of art - by making the background as the content itself; and turning the outside (landscape/architecture) into the ‘inside’; the same issue found on modernism it’s still present: the absence of the artist.

           

            When, at last, we turn to Marcia Tucker PheNAUMANology, the cycle seems to finally close itself, as Bruce Nauman brings his insides, outside – to the public – and invites the viewer to do the same.

 

            While other artists shut the world off, were hostile to the spectators, and ‘ran to the mountains’ (in landscape and architectural art), Nauman works with the most real, straight-forward, possible material: his body.

Bruce Nauman finally opens his doors and windows, and let everybody in – changing the whole notion of artwork, context, artist, and viewer. He doesn’t exhibit a finished, neatly done, work of art; “he sees his art as more closely related to man’s nature than to the nature of art.” He promotes an experience with the viewer, inviting him to be the actor:

 By dealing with the ways things are experienced instead of how they are made or perceived, the intent of the work is realized only through the physical involvement of the spectator.

Although Nauman’s relationship with the audience may be considered ‘hostile’ in O’Doherty’s logic- as it “expresses itself through physical discomfort (radical theater), excessive noise (music) or by removing perceptual constants (the gallery space)” - it cannot be matched to other raging avant-garde artists acts.  

           

Nauman’s works are too concerned with the bodily experience and centered in his corporeal perceptions to be that aggressive towards another body. Yes, he intends to cause psychological emotions on his audience – but his primary goal is to let them experience these physic experiences in their way, and not trying to ‘impose’ anything. And, also

This concern with physical self is not simple artistic egocentrism, but use of the body to transform intimate subjectivity into objective demonstration. Man is the perceiver and the perceived; he acts and is acted upon; he is the sensor and the sensed.

With this last quote, by Marcia Tucker, we close the cycle of context as content, finally bringing together the artist, the viewers, and institutions:

If what we know of the world is the sum of our perceptions, and our physical, emotional, and intellectual reactions to our environment, then to effectively manipulate these factors is to effect a virtual change in the world.

 

another brick (or peep) in the wall

"Structuralism" and "constructionism" are terms that lead to a direct association with the word building. Building, as a verb in the gerund: “construct by putting parts or material together over a period”; and building, as a noun, in the edifice and structure sense of the word. 

The intention of this text is to build (in a metaphorical sense) correlation between the views of Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall, Laura Mulvey and Betham’s Panopticon building (in a literal sense); and bring their arguments to our present time. First things first; let’s start with Foucault’s concept of discourse:  

[By discourse, Foucault meant] ‘a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – a way of representing the knowledge about – a particular topic at a particular historical moment… Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language But… since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do – our conduct – all practices have a discursive aspect’ (Hall, 1992, p.291)

At first glance, the notion of discourse could be mistaken by the precepts of semiotics. Although they are, indeed, closely related, for Foucault the semiotic theory lacked one crucial aspect: the notion of the historical moment. 

Like Barthes and other semioticians, Foucault was a constructionist; however, his primary concern was with the production of knowledge and meaning not through language, but through discourse – and within a particular historical context. In his view, there is no such thing as an ‘absolute truth’, as he did not believe that the same phenomenon would be found across different historical periods. He thought that, in each period, discourse produced forms of knowledge, objects, subjects, and practices of education, which differed radically from period to period, with no necessary continuity between them. (Hall)

Indeed, looking back on the history of mankind, we can see that a lot (not to say every) of the once considered ‘absolute truths’ fell apart with the advent of science, philosophy, technology, etc. Heck, we used to think that the Earth ended on an abysm and that ‘hysteria’ could be cured with vibrators . It is non-sense to believe that there is such a thing as a given – and unchangeable - truth. Or isn’t? 

To actually learn, as a great professor (to remain anonymous) once said, we have to question everything and everybody. We cannot believe every thing we read, or see, or listen. One has to question: “Why trust someone else’s beliefs over your own?” Knowledge empowers people. As Sir Francis Bacon once claimed, “scientia potentia est"  - and Foucault couldn’t agree more, as he focused on the relationship between knowledge and power, and how power operated within what he called an institutional apparatus  and its technologies (techniques). 

Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’ but has the power to make itself true. (…) Truth isn’t outside power… Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. (Foucault, 1980, p.131)

For the sake of this argument, consider Foucault’s statements on truth and power accurate. Now, let’s dig deeper on the notion of power. Hall summarizes Foucault’s ideas on the topic:

We tend to think of power as always radiating in a single direction – from top to bottom – and coming from a particular source – the sovereign, the state, the ruling class and so on. For Foucault, however, power does not ‘function in the form of a chain’ – it circulates. It is never monopolized by one centre. It is deployed and exercised through a net-like organization’  (Foucault, 1980, p. 98).  This suggests that we are all, to some degree, caught up in its circulation – oppressors and oppressed. Power relations permeate all levels of social existence and are therefore to be found operating at every site of social life. 

And, again the man, Foucault, in The Eye of Power: “The summit and the lower elements of the hierarchy stand in a relationship of mutual support and conditioning, a mutual ‘hold’ (power as a mutual and indefinite ‘blackmail’).”

Done, for now, with the quoting, let’s try to place these ideas in our reality: So, power has not a single direction; and it does not go only from top to bottom. Power, as Foucault puts, it’s a circle. The ‘sovereign,' ‘the state,' ‘the ruling class’ needs the ‘bottom’ of the hierarchy just as much (or maybe even more) than the poor mortals need them. 

To reign, a King must be recognized and respected as such. But, at the time – and, still, nowadays - few had that awareness. Sure, some royalty was beheaded (RIP Marie Antoinette), and thrones were conquered, but people always had the weird tendency of being condescending towards the ruling classes. Why put up with corrupt leaders, and stuck-up nobles for so long?

Today, with the so-called democracy and the voting system, politicians have to kiss-ass of the population to ‘rise to power.' People are now fully responsible to whom they give authority to – and they also have the means to revoke it. So why do we continue to victimize ourselves, thinking that our leaders are the ‘bad guys’; the ‘bad decision-makers’; the ‘evil of the world’; if the only reason why they are our leaders is that we made them in the first place? 
    

On The Eye of Power, Foucault describes a conversation between himself, Jean-Pierre Barou and Michelle Perrot. Among others topics, they discuss the role of ‘opinion,' and the power of the ‘gaze,' on the eighteenth-century population: 

It's an illusion of almost all of the eighteenth-century reformers who credited opinion with considerable potential force. Since opinion could only be good, being the immediate consciousness of the whole social body, they thought people would become virtuous by the simple fact of being observed. (…) And failed to see that these media would necessarily be under the command of economic-political interests. (…) They believed opinion would be inherently just, that it would spread of its own accord, that it would be a sort of democratic surveillance. (Foucault, “Power/Knowledge,” p.161)


Perrot claims that the thinkers at the time ‘misunderstood the difficulty they would have in making their system take effect’ and that ‘they didn’t realize that there would always be ways of slipping through their net, or that resistances would have a role to play’. Then, he goes on talking about her study on the revolts against surveillance (gaze), and Foucault’s follow on the discussion about the resistances of Bentham’s Panopticon. 

Keeping these arguments and Mulvey’s psychoanalysis of ‘scopophilia’ and ‘voyeurism’ in Visual and Other Pleasures in mind, let’s shift, again, to our reality:

Against the statements made by Foucault and Perrot, people now deliberately put themselves under constant surveillance and are more-than-willing to be someone else’s object of voyeurism. We all want our 15 minutes of fame (or I-don’t-know-how-many Likes and Shares); we want to be looked at; we want to be the actors of Sternberg’s and Hitchcock’s movies; we want to be the obsession of Peeping Tom’s. And that is completely insane. 

Instagram pictures, Facebook profiles, iPhone fingerprinting, GPS phones, Internet search tracing is only a few examples of our lunatic behavior of bluntly giving all our personal information to anyone who has Internet access. At a first glance, all this modern tools (Google Maps can find the nearest best restaurant – just give him your exact location, or Tinder can find the perfect romantic match for you – just provide your address, phone number, and recent pictures) seems so benefic to our daily lives that we seize to notice how dangerous they really are. 

“Look, there’s that lovely kid, Mark Zuckerberg, offering you a lovely network to connect with your lovely friends.” And at what cost? Oh, a bargain: Just all of your personal information – to make him earn gazillions of dollars by selling all the data to the advertisement, Google, and whoever is willing to pay the highest price. 

We are now under constant surveillance – and, worse: we don’t even care anymore. Never mind all the cameras everywhere; it is George Orwell’s 1984 in the 21st century. “Heck, if we have cameras, we can now be movie stars! Why not tape ourselves and upload it on the Internet?” Now, everybody seems to have ‘scopophilia’ to some degree:  What else can explain the amount of ‘likes’ given to pseudo-celebrities online profiles; or the sales rates of weekly tabloids? 

In this crazy-surveilled-gazed-uber-exposed-narcissistic-society, we are all voyeurs in the comfort of our couches, watching some ‘reality’ television, as other people look at our ‘real’ lives on some random website. 

 

please, share

‘Culture is Ordinary.' To start comprehending what Raymond Williams means by this phrase, and to relate to what Allan Kaprow wrote in his Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life we must, first, delimitate what the author comprehends as ‘Culture.' In Raymond Williams words,

“We use the word culture in these two senses: to mean a whole way of life – the ordinary meaning to mean the arts and learning – the special processes of discovery and creative effort. (…) I insist on both, and on the significance of their conjunction”.

“Culture is ordinary, in every society and in every mind.”(R. Williams) This statement may seem a little vague at first glance, but it says a lot about how we manage our everyday lives.

The culture (in the broader sense) that we live in works merely as a background for our daily errands - and most people can go through life without actually thinking about it. Sure, we can quickly point the differences between our culture, and other cultures – as our habits and traditions are very different from Japanese’s or primitive African tribes – but how often do we think about our habits and traditions?

Allan Kaprow and his fellow artists invite us (by ‘us’ I mean ‘viewers’ and ‘spectators’ of their artistic performances) to reflect about our everyday life by putting the spotlight on our ordinary routine. In his text, The Education of the Un-Artist, Part III, Kaprow give several examples of experimental arts that use the modern society as a model – and bring the audience from watching to performing.

Ultimately, daily habits are taken as performances, and that completely changes its meanings because, as Kaprow says, “consciousness alters the world, that natural things seem unnatural once you attend to them, and vice versa.”

That statement made sense in the 1970s when it was written, and still makes very much sense right now. People have become obsessed with their daily routines to the point that, now, it all seems too much.

All routines, today, seem exhaustively rehearsed – but not to be intellectually reflected upon, but just to look prettier in the picture. And people perform non-stop. A walk on the street could be a walk on a runway (we all have a paparazzi-like friend who may take a picture anytime), and a meal at a restaurant a grand event. Kaprow’s ready-mades are now all over the place.

With the advent of social media and the powerful ‘share’ button, there aren’t any boundaries between personal and public life. Want a proof? Just open your Instagram. (Well, if you don’t have Instagram, try Facebook. And, ultimately, if you are not at all in the social medias, check the tabloids) How many pictures of food and people waking up, or brushing their teeth, or looking in the mirror, or of their pets can you count? What does all that mean? Who cares about that? Apparently us. (Yes, sorry to inform, but you too).

Back to Raymond Williams text: the author paints a panorama of the English society of the late 1950s, analyzing its thinking and behaviors, influenced by Marxists ideas. Regardless his personal identification with communist philosophies, he still manages to recognize that some of the Marxists interpretations of society cannot be accepted: Raymond is radically against the idea of the prejudiced expression ‘ignorant masses.' Moreover, his against the term ‘masses’ at all:

“I don’t believe that the ordinary people, in fact, resemble the common description of the masses, cheap and trivial in taste and habit. I put it another way: that there are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses”. 

With these statements - and a few others throughout the text - Williams portraits, unintentionally, a common human feature: to think of ourselves as a separate piece of the society; as individuals, and not in a group kind of way. It is always ‘them and me,' instead of ‘us.' And that is one of the reasons why the term ‘ignorant masses’ is still accepted by some people.

They (those who believe in the word masses, and that the masses are ignorant - and I do not include myself as I do not share this belief) failed to understand that they too are part of this group so-called ‘mass.' That everybody is in the same boat, the same society, with the same culture and values. To consider your peers ignorant is to assume your ignorance. And no one wants to look at him or herself like that.

Allan Kaprow says in his essays that ‘Only in the fine arts does the quest for originality remain a vestige of individualism and specialization. It is the ideological token of the sufficient self’. Although the text was written almost 40 years ago – and at that time, could have made sense - today, the reality is other: everybody strives to be different, to stand out. True, we still have the need to feel ‘part of something,' as every human being probably has, but we want to be unique.

And artists, too, want their art to be unique. “Originality as an index of integrity may be on the wane” (A. Kaprow). Is not. Nowadays, to make an imitation became just too easy. Everyone can scan a painting; print a poster, or copy paste a text. The same way that everybody can be (or at least, everybody thinks that they can be) a photographer just by having a smartphone and a photo-editing app.

“Artists are noticeably discarding unique handmade qualities for multiples made by machines or teams, ideas conceived by groups or processes generated in the lab environment.” To Kaprow, that citation signifies the decline of the uniqueness of artworks. But, today, that can mean the exact opposite: everybody can take a picture, as the digital cameras do all the work practically themselves, but there are only a few people who can gather big teams, and generate grand ideas that end up being unique pieces. Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are just two examples.

All in all, we may all have become a performance artist, waiting for someone to press ‘Like,' or share our video on YouTube. The audience? No worries. Google and Facebook will provide us the ratings.

found poetry in soho

In a timid building in the middle of hectic SoHo, a green door and a very steep staircase lead to the home and studio of the artist Erica Baum: A loft packed with high bookshelves, newspapers, magazines, and dozens of boxes filled with different toys (her son’s). On the white walls, few pieces of her body of work hang in very simple frames.

Forget all those preconceived thoughts about crazy-genius-drunk artists, messy spaces, and lots of assistants frenetically running around. Baum, a very humble, good-humored and bright artist, works alone – and in a very sane and methodical way.

In the early nineties, during her MFA at Yale, Baum started taking pictures of desktops details and notes left on blackboards after classes. She was drawn to human ‘ephemeral’ forms of expressions – as it related to her love of langue, Anthropology, and photography.  

  Erica Baum, 2009,   Differently.

Erica Baum, 2009, Differently.

Only a few years ago, after her catalog and index card series, Erica replaced her old large-format camera for a digital one – “only for practical reasons” -, since she still insists on not digitally manipulating the images. Each one of her pieces preserves the color and texture of the materials pictured – books, newspapers, or even piano rows – and the words and expressions found in them.

The beauty of Baum’s work, which she explains in a very lyrical way, lies in her search for ‘hidden poetry’ in day-to-day objects.  Her series of index cards and Dog Ears pieces shows us exactly that: there are poems hidden everywhere, in plain sight. The artist specifically selects the words to create her poetic work; ‘writing’ poetry through the lenses of a camera.

Unlike many other artists, while working, Erica doesn’t listen to music – but to the news: “I don’t know why I do that, it’s just a habit.” Currently, her artworks are in Berlin, Paris and at the Met; but she doesn’t make a big deal of it. Concerning the selection of images on the shows, sometimes she chooses the works, sometimes someone else does it: “I think it’s interesting knowing what other people like.”

After a couple of hours of talk, she has to send us away, because she must pick up her son at school. Surrounded by all this lyricism, what Erica doesn’t seem to notice is that she is a found poem in the middle of a frenzied art world.