Installation Photo of Cory Archangel vs. Pierre Bismuth Courtesy Team Gallery
The bottom line is, we are subject at the mercy of rapidly developing technology. As consumers of information, we peer through a multitude of invisible technological filters and lenses.
–Howard Hurst review of Corey Archangel vs Pierre Bismuth at Team Gallery for Hyperallergic
Although I’ve distanced this quote from the original context in a way that might make it seem a bit more polemic than it is originally intended, I can’t help but take issue with what it proclaims. This “bottom line” – a term itself derived from the financial/corporate sector – is not as glum, or otherwise hopeless as it is proposed by Hurst. We are not at the mercy of the advancement of technology, and to claim that we are, disavows any agency we have with the gadgets and gear that we surround ourselves with on a daily basis. To make this leap, we must also refuse acknowledgment to the great hacking ethic that permeates many communities that live (or at least primarily communicate) online. To deny these communities is to deny Archangel’s very own “rise to fame” through his now infamous Super Mario Clouds cartridge hack. It is not that we are helpless to the bombardment of technology as a culture, but rather have more readily bought into the ways in which that technology packages itself as necessity in our daily lives. This process is undoubtably complicated and manipulative, but the ways in which consumers jailbreak, hack, and casually appropriate technology is evidence of our willingness to bite back.
To suggest that humans are just empty vessels of consumerism enslaved to technological developments is a grave mistake, and to argue that Archangel and Bismuth are simply reacting to the demands of technology is also a shallow read of the ways in which culture responds and dynamically engages new technology in a multitude of unexpected and ingenious ways. The danger here, which I believe is part of the originally intended message, is to be unaware of the ways in which user participation and activation actually shapes the development of technology; it is a system of feedback, not a system of force-feeding. A striking example of this in the past year has been the proliferation of XBOX Kinect hacks, and how Microsoft eventually caved to the demands of its users by releasing their own Software Development Kit (even though Microsoft now quickly is trying to rewrite that history by claiming this was always their intention).
This is to say that culture does not simply “peer” through the lenses of consumer technology/media. We critically contribute to the fabrication and development of those filters by means of remediation and repurposing. Culture is not simple information consumption, there is also a process of digestion. That activity is more often then not co-opted back into the corporate system – a problematic in and of itself – but requires participation on both ends, and not simply from a top-down hierarchy any longer. This emergent shift of a cultural class moving from users to makers is already underway in a variety of communities: Maker Faire, Deviant Art, /b/, are but a few. To presuppose that this activity is still “underground” or solely reserved to a select group of commercial artists is dangerously ignorant of the ways in which digital/network technology have radically reconstituted participation with, or reaction against, the supposed ceaseless march of technology.
January 03rd, 2012 | 05:47 pm | Uncategorized
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originally published with ilikethisart
After downloading source material from mediafire, listening to a motivational mp3, seeing installation pictures, and playing in an interactive 3D recreation of their current exhibition at Important Projects in Oakland, it seems no surprise to me that Body by Body were “[attempting] to ‘smear’ the exhibition out over time.” Through the multiple layers of engagement and several avenues for participation, Body By Body (otherwise known as Melissa Sachs and Cameron Soren) invest a great deal in developing lasting dialogs that can be sustained beyond the initial “hype” that goes along with the physical manifestation of work that primarily exists through networked exchange. As a result the pieces on display from October 29th to December 3rd take on the form of traditional gallery objects that serve as metaphorical placement holders. The allegorical “paintings” and “video” – speaking very loosely – create a bridge between the expectations of differing art communities that exists online, offline, and somewhere in between. The tension built from attempting to navigate these zones of production and distribution become focal points of criticism of attention. Each venue, be it digital or analog, acts as a comment on the other. The bouncing back and forth between these arenas creates a subtle reflection on the properties and materials that each field provides.
What Body by Body is skilled at showing is how the striking similarities between mediums are more interesting limitations to work through than around. The work accomplishes this by employing the rhetoric of an art gallery and deviantART in equal parts as a platform to question the ways in which communities and dialogs are generated dependent on, or a result of, the infrastructure from which they emerge. When viewing the work, one begins to see how context seems essential in determining the value and success of a work, since context regulates so much of the vernacular applicable for judgement or appreciation. The more one looks, the more one observes how Body by Body play within these various idioms to pose questions about the efficacy of standards or quality in art and culture.
In one particular work, a slideshow of superimposed hyper-realist sculptures aimless float in hyper-render RAY-traced fractal drawings that play on a carelessly hung consumer-grade flatscreen. The precarious installation, combined with the purposefully casual juxtaposition of high and low, question how artists define craft and skill when moving between creative/cultural platforms of distribution. Instead of prioritizing one condition over another, all methods not only seem even but necessary. One begins to see what is initially considered impromptu or accidental is instead essential and deliberate. When this knowledge starts to sink in, the otherwise immediate joke quality of blank canvasses and work made for a keychain wears off and a more sophisticated complex motivation takes its place. In other words, the work should not be judge on aesthetic, or scale, or even on quality of installation, but instead should be measured by a metric bound to the ways in which our traditional expectations dictate so much of our formulaic reading of art.
An underlying question then emerges: how can an artist immersed in the language of critical theory and fan-based image making find middle ground for both contexts to coexist? For Body by Body, the answer seems to reside in how they use their own pseudonym as a self-reflexive means to an end; a way of displacing the pressure, anxiety, and commitment to something singular and univocal. Opting for an alias, Body by Body conjure an ironically disembodied and artificial identity as another layer of abstraction to operate within. This is not to say that any more “layers” are particularly needed to prove any specific point, but the overuse the Body by Body brand reinforces a (self) parody at play throughout the show. This purposeful distance of personality – combined with the ongoing investigation of how the conventional reading of art applied to emerging fields often overlooks content – grounds the initially humble-looking show into a more cultivated dialog that extends well beyond the walls of the gallery.
January 03rd, 2012 | 05:35 pm | Uncategorized
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Unititled, Clyfford Still (courtesy Art Institute of Chicago)
I used to be a painter. I was never a really good painter, so the discontinuation of that part of practice some seven years ago was not a big loss. That being said, I am often reminded of how much I owe to my humble/clumsy painting beginnings. While still in my post-painting undergraduate studies, I would often frequent the Art Institute’s Abstract Expressionist rooms for comfort and solitude between classes or after an emotionally draining critique. I distinctly remember visiting a long, narrow room that existed upstairs in the pre-modern-wing building that housed only five or six paintings at a time. This room would often rotate works by Ad Reinhardt, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, or Paul Kline. However, a permanent fixture in this space were always two massive, wall-sized paintings by Clyfford Still.
Both works – which are currently not on display – employed Still’s signature nocturnal black, but one was interspersed with scars and crevices of cream, red, and yellow; colors that now seem “out-of-the-tube” but were hand mixed by Still in the early 1950s. These two pieces were fantastic evidence of Still’s meticulous pallet knife work, and the dense murky black of 1951-1952 (almost none of Still’s work had titles) the heavy layering created a remarkable sombre darkness that would engulf a viewer, creating a void primed for personal exploration and meditation. I would sit on the bench that bisected the room longways feeling as if a white noise reverberated between these two pieces; a stoic frequency bounced between them that only a metaphysical shortwave radio could dial into. During ideal viewing sessions – times when the museum was near closing hours, or during particularly cold winter weekdays that deterred visitors – the power of sitting between these facing works would create the perfect mental vacuum to delve into deep contemplation. In those moments, I felt as if the subtlety of texture and composition that existed in these works acted as mirrors for the complexity and nuance of my own burgeoning artistic voice. That sense of belonging amidst those two works would bring me back countless times, and made me a life-long appreciator of Still’s oeuvre.
Gallery View of Clyfford Still Museum (courtesy Clyfford Still Museum)
So, perhaps needless to say, it is with some bias that I came to the press preview of the Clyfford Still Museum in downtown Denver. The dense concrete cube, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, is located just behind the iconic Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum almost serving as an architectural antithesis to Daniel Liebeskind’s hyperactive bravado. The subdued practicality of the museum does a great service to the new home for 94% of Still’s life work, allowing for the fabled 300 days-a-year Front Range sun to filter through the perforated ceiling with the help of motorized shades and diffusing glass. During the press conference, Cloepfil discussed how he imagined the materials of the building being “compacted” into the earth to ground the museum in an act of homage to the organic palette found within the 2400+ pieces of the collection. The density of the concrete delicately avoids being cumbersome due to the airy quality of the nine galleries found on the second floor. Almost all elements of the building – from the low ceiling lobby, to the publicly available storage facilities – faithfully serve the ambition and sincerity of Still’s six decade career that started in the prairies of Alberta and ended at his isolated farm in central Maryland.
The galleries are delicately filled with key selections from the estate for the inaugural exhibition, and many works on view have had extremely limited public appearances until now. Although the initial galleries that you approach are a bit cluttered with early semi-figurative work from Southern Canada and Washington State, the care taken by adjunct curator David Anfam and museum director Dean Sobel with Still’s more iconic work truly accentuates their undeniable arresting prescience. I was fortunate enough to be led on a guided tour by Anfam of the various facilities that are housed in the museum complex, including a preservation center, a research library, and an interactive timeline. While on the tour, Anfam frequently emphasized how Still, unlike his contemporaries, always prioritized personal cerebral exploration over exhibition and public notoriety. Anfam also took many opportunities to dispel the misreading of Still’s work as masculine grandiosity, and instead argued that the colossal paintings that comprise a majority of his later output came instead from a sincere inward-looking sensitivity to the ways in which post-war America politics and culture were in a state of radical change.
In this way, the inaugural exhibition is incredibly successful – to rewrite the dominant narrative of American AbEx is no easy task, and the lasting impression of the museum that has followed me since my visit is that Still’s conscientiousness is evident in an unexpected and rare display. This is not to say that the museum leadership should reward themselves with single handedly changing the contemporary perspective of High Modernism, but the reward of the nearly seven year process it took between the gifting of the collection from Patricia Still to the completion of the museum is unfathomable. The immediate benefit of the museum’s opening is to finally allow for a more wide recognition for an artist – when compared to other giants in the American AbEx pantheon – whose work contains transcendent empathy for the world around him. This quality shines through in Still’s opus, providing a much needed counter to the otherwise stale or remote machismo that typically dominates Abstract Expressionism.
1957-J No. 2, Clyfford Still (courtesy Clyfford Still Museum)
The current showing at the museum provides a very faithful testament to a man incredibly in touch with his cultural surroundings; a figure of his era often overlooked but always lingering. Still was not only a contemporary of those more lauded, but was considered amongst that community to be one of the the most generous of teachers and mentors to those around him. Pollock is famously quoted for saying his work made “the rest of us look academic.” However, Still’s tremendous control over how his work could be shown prevented him from becoming a household name. In 1951 he severed ties from Betty Parsons Gallery and for the rest of his career was notorious known for respectfully declining invitations to participate in exhibitions. One famous account documented in the catalog of the museum is a short reply to Peggy Guggenheim to thank her for his representation at The Art of This Century Gallery and her efforts in championing American AbEx painters, but deciding to cease his relationship with the gallery.
This prolonged self-excommunication that spanned Still imposed upon his career is undeniably reflected in the commitment he put into his paintings. As a result the serene – at times overwhelming – spaces that are created within the paintings on display are so enveloping that the very act of removing one’s gaze from their aura is a reeling task. In short, the work chosen by the museum for its first outing is undoubtably mesmerizing and entrancing in their profound melancholia and enlightened earnestness. Where writers and critics of the past have judged these paintings as aloof, remote, and antagonistically abstract, I’d instead argue the opposite and claim that the empathy and humanity found within these paintings remains remarkably poignant, particularly in an artistic age so bereft with pastiche and indifference.
January 03rd, 2012 | 03:14 am | Uncategorized
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Originally posted on art21
I don’t live in Chicago anymore, but I frequently visit. Over the past summer I was invited to a housewarming party for friends who had rented a large loft space on South Michigan Avenue that was easiest to reach by taking the Cermak-Chinatown CTA Red Line. On the way, I passed the Hilliard Complex housing project and realized that even though I had seen these buildings many times before while on my way to eat some Dim Sum or see a White Sox game, I had never associated these projects as works by Bertrand Goldberg. Currently Goldberg is experience a type of second-Renaissance of appreciation in the city, with two retrospective shows at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing as well as at The Arts Club. The extensive display of drawings, models, furniture, designs, and other ephemera shown from The Art Institute’s dedicated collection provides a dynamic narrative of Goldberg’s development from Bauhaus disciple into a significant figure in architecture, engineering, and urban planning.
The daunting scale of his pursuits and passions for exploration of the urban landscape propelled Goldberg into national recognition during the late 1950s, when many of his most well-known projects were either being completed or announced. His work included single-family homes, commercial projects, and several municipal or institutional works. During his 60 year career Goldberg completed over 30 finished buildings, the bulk of which exist in Chicago. He had great faith in the exciting power that comes from living in close proximity to one another, and claimed that “most men like the action that comes from living together. We like the market place, we like the forum. We like the social and mental heath that we generate when we rub against each other. We like cities.”
This undaunted enthusiasm for the experiment that is the urban environment is lucidly explored in Goldberg’s most famous multipurpose “cities within cities.” He wanted to minimize the commute of a city, the distance that travel creates amongst its citizens, and to treat every structure as its own microcosm of activity and shared cultural community. A decisive turn in Goldberg’s career occurred in the 1960s, when his designs and perspectives began to borrow from the ideas of Renaissance humanism. As the exhibition materials on Goldberg’s work published by The Art Institute suggest, the types of projects designed by Goldberg took a radical turn away from single family homes to projects that spoke “a common vocabulary… of collective participation and civic responsibility.” It seems no mistake that this type of humanistic dedication to the progressive development of the lived-in and built environment of a city would occur in Chicago. I hope that the following anecdotes attest to the brilliance that Goldberg imparted to the City of Broad Shoulders.
Marina City, Chicago, IL, Perspective Sketch, 1985. Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.
When I first came to Chicago in the winter of 2003, I already understood that Chicago was one of the great architectural epicenters of the Western hemisphere. Between my former high-school sweetheart’s architect father, and my own mother’s recollection of her experience of riding the L as a Baby Boomer teenager, I had been instilled with the knowledge of the extensive built environment that played an integral part in the history and contemporary cultural climate of the city. Even with these surrogate memories implanted into the architectural expectations of my first visit to the city that would soon become my second home (and first true urban romance), I was still overwhelmed with the variety of skyscrapers, brownstone storefronts (and the apartments “living-above-the-store,” as Goldberg’s mother eloquently described), museums, and residential structures that speckled the flat midwestern lake side.
I was particularly shocked to find, almost by complete accident while on my first stroll around downtown, the twin towers of Marina City, their corn-cobbed faces looking down at me–a sight that many would recognize from the cover of Wilco’s album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I stood at the northwest corner of State and Wabash looking across the reversed river to the balconies and exposed parking garages that give Marina City its signature ridges and ribs–an engineering triumph of its time. The strangeness of seeing a building working against the angularity and rigidity of works by Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe that came to mark the Chicago suburbs and skyline was instantly welcomed with an unfamiliar glee. The building itself was designed in such a way as to optimize the modularity that Modernism had perfected–it was constructed at the incredible pace of one floor a day–but used concrete and earthen hues to challenge the cold steel that also came with this mobility.
One could argue that the entire structure was very much a direct jab at the architecture of its neighbor, The IMB Building at 330 North Wabash. The curvature of Marina City’s facade alone points to Goldberg’s detestation for right angles and their oppressive implications. The investment in this challenge, of how to make structures that were engineered for both economical efficiency and world-class design, is evidenced in the extensive research that Goldberg’s office conducted during this period. As Goldberg expressed in The Chicago Architects Oral History Project (in the context of a discussion on the publications that his office published on urban planning and domestic high-rise architecture), this devotion stemmed from “always feeling as if there is more to be done.”
My fascination with Marina City has never yielded an interior visitation, but I have frequently stopped on my bike ride home along Wacker Drive to admire the towers. During the periods when I’ve lived in Chicago, I have walked around underneath the site as well as viewed it from afar some seven or eight times. A perpetual fascination with the site and engineering of this monument–one that extends beyond Wilco–has remained in me, from that moment of first visitation well into this past summer, when a friend from out-of-town stayed in a hotel across the river. We were having a nightcap on a street-level patio, and I looked over his shoulder to point out where the famous car free-fall occurred in the movie The Hunter some 30 years before. On that night, we looked up to see the balconies and windows lit up with decorations, forgotten christmas lights, and other flashing bulbs and sparkling furniture, imagining what it would be like to live in such a remarkable structure.
River City II: Interior Perspective, 1985. Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.
During my undergraduate studies I went to visit a friend living in River City to play music, watch claymation, and generally relax before immersing myself back into the spring semester. I was living in a tiny apartment on the near north west side at the time, and had barely ever ventured to the South Loop for anything besides the occasional show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. I distinctly remembered my friend telling me to get off at the Clinton stop (even though I believe the LaSalle stop to be closer). I’d never gotten off on this stop before, even though I’d passed it countless times while on my way to the West Loop or Oak Park. Getting off the train and coming above ground found me underneath Congress Parkway, right next to the south branch of the Chicago River. I found I had to cross the bridge at Harrison in the midst of a typical Chicago February gale that made for a disorienting and troublesome trek. I hadn’t initially known that my friend was living in an architectural treasure, and just had the 800 South Wells address with which to navigate my blustery walk from the Blue Line stop. However, as I arrived at the open field of River City’s grounds and looked south and upwards, to the distinctive semicircular serpentine structure of Goldberg’s mixed-use mid-rise adaptation of a much larger (230 acres) project, I knew that I would be in for a memorable afternoon.
I entered the massive lobby and although my visual memory of looking into the cavernous space is hazy now, I remember experiencing the weight of the concrete that encased the fairly dim corridor that led to the front desk. This bodily sense was important to Goldberg; in a publication he wrote for The Museum of Science and Industry, he stated that his research showed “a profound need for communication – not just communication by telephone or the written word, but by body language.” At first I felt small–maybe in part due to the chilling walk from the train–but later, I was warmed by the presence of the space, and my individualistic place within the community I had entered.
Continuing on past the empty welcome desk and navigating the hallways to my friend’s apartment put me in the remarkable nine-story chamber that snakes along the building’s interior. I gaped upwards into the canyon that this space makes between outward facing apartments, a passage so spookily empty during my visit that my entrance alone created a cacophony of reverberated rattling. I must have stood at that entrance for some time, admiring the impossible airiness of the concrete and glass atrium, since my friend called and asked if I had gotten lost. Although I reassured my friend that I was only a few steps away from his door, I should have honestly answered that I had, in fact, lost myself in that moment.
Upon entering the actual apartment, I was surprised by the lack of care that my friend had taken in furnishing the roomy accommodations of what was billed as an efficiency unit – even if now I recall that there was a separate bedroom. This observation of the apartment’s unique quality was part of the design that went into River City. The 22 different floor plans that Goldberg intended for this structure were aimed at highlighting an “interest in the individual rather than on the abstract society.” This late philosophy in Goldberg’s lectures and writings points to a readjustment in wanting to understand the desires of a community based on interpersonal needs.
I’m sure that part of the cramped feeling I had when entering to room was due to the unit’s over-occupation. My friend shared his room, and two other people slept in the living room, which was sectioned off by sheets and movable partitions. Although this clutter clearly did not suit the living arrangement that Goldberg (and most likely the landlords) intended, I’d venture that the ingenuity of my friends in finding a way to live cheaply downtown was satisfying the desire for urban adaptability that Goldberg sought to achieve with his work. I couldn’t resist immediately asking my friend to go out onto the south-facing balcony to admire the industrial corridor that still clung to the south branch of the river. Reluctant to let in the cold from outside, my friend eventually obliged my request and joined me for a cigarette. We smoked in shivering silence as the south side chimneys plumed their steam and heat into low clouds that had already started to dust and accumulate onto the cement courtyard below. In that moment of looking out from the terrace of one of Goldberg’s last built projects, I gained a newfound and immense appreciation for the work of a man who contributed so much to the urban fabric of Chicago.
January 03rd, 2012 | 03:02 am | Uncategorized
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authors note: As I’m sitting down to write this a little over a week before my deadline for B@S, I’m sitting across from a younger student in a library amidst the Art and Art History Stacks. She is visibly frustrated at her reading, fidgeting often and being easily distracted by her frequently vibrating iPhone. Amidst deep sighs, eye rolls, and aggravated throat clearings, she lifts her book off the table just enough for me to read the spine: Postmodernism for Beginners. Perhaps all to obvious, I feel her pain.
Even though I’ve spoken, written, and thought about humor often in my own visual work, it is a research topic for me that I’ve felt particularly compelled to reconsider lately. This desire to continue to explore, or else rehash, previous considerations on this topic of critical inquiry have been spurred by a couple of recent inspirations and events that I hope will act as benchmarks for what will inevitably and unfortunately be too short of an essay (I’m writing in the future tense here, so you’ll have to bear with me). These events are as follows: a serious reading of an essay by Brad Troemel entitled Why No Serious? A Case for Idealism in and Era of Constant Irony, rewatching Sshtoorrty by Michael Snow while in the midst of reading Hegel, and recently finding things – in a very general sense – to not be very funny.
I’ll start with the last order of business. “Funny” is an illusive and nefarious trait of things. Saying that I’ve been struggling to find the funny in things – objects, scenarios, events, exchanges – is not to say that I haven’t been laughing. This might strike most as an emotional paradox, but I’ve unquestionably been given to guffaw and genuinely LOL on many a recent occasion. Lately, however, I have noticed that this laughter is not coming from a place of celebration, or from enjoyment of humor, but instead is driven by a recognition of the desperate state of authentic communication. In my mind, laughter, as a communicative gesture, has little to do with something being funny but more to do with a person’s display of empathy. A case study for this could be found in the comedic oeuvre of Louie CK. A recent episode (Eddie – season 2 , episode 9) of his FX show is almost a perfect example of this point in that although there are scenes throughout the show of more “typical funny” moments, the entire episode is dedicated to (SPOILER) an old friend taking Louie on a binger in order to tell him at the end of the evening that he is going to commit suicide. Louie, to his credit, attempts to convince his friend not to go through with his plans, but ultimately the episode ends with a knowledge that he was unsuccessful. Although I understand the potentially severe dark humor that Louie CK might be playing with at these margins, I’m fairly certain that the lack of funniness in this episode still invites laughter due to a shared desperation between this scenario – which I suspect to be a reenactment or semi-diaristic event – and the personal experience of the audience.
However, I wouldn’t classify the show as being tritely bittersweet, but instead would say that the humor of the show is attempting to move through or beyond the funny, and into an emotional territory rarely explored in traditional comedy: authentic empathy. Troemel’s essay attempts to address the lack of empathic exchanges through grounding the current sustained onslaught of irony through a critical lens of cultural history. His description of early Parisian Surrealist performances provide a backdrop for the contemporary mainstream joke paradigm and situates MTV – via Mark C. Miller and Robert McChensey – as the catalyst for the emptying out of irony as a critical device for Gen X’ers and the current Millennial generation. His argument that the commercial manipulation of youngsters perpetrated by MTV resulted in a development of radically harmful porous identities amongst those that proverbially “took the bait.” Even though I think there is an underlying subtextual irony presented by Troemel in writing such a treatise due to the frequent (and arguably unjust) allegation of trolling the netart community, his attempt to critically engage ironic tendencies within those that work in creative online environments does bear noteworthy merit:
Used as a coping mechanism for the anxiety caused by rapid cultural turn over, constant irony is the reclamation of hopelessness or lack of idealistic creativity spoken through the voice of detached coolness. Being constantly ironic is an effective deflection of one’s own porosity because it provides the illusion you were too cunning to have ever wanted anything more solidified.
It is precisely this hopeless and detached deflection that has contributed so much to the now dominant standard of humorless funny. As a result of constantly having to reconfigure ones own identity in relation to new standards and status-quo’s that necessitate a pastiche of subversion, artists and cultural workers of my generation suffer from a lack of self-criticality that is required to create an empathic response. Certainly this is partially due to the speed in which artists working online are expected to produce content, and that the minimal layover time between conception of an idea, its production, and eventual distribution, leave little opportunity for the emerging artists to devote to critical self-reflexivity.
Troemel’s concern with irony superseding idealism is stressed near the end of the essay when he claims that this porous process “does not [just] conceal idealism, but is a reactionary response to the compounding belief that political change of any kind is unfeasible.” Even though I agree that the political left is in serious danger of the hand-in-hand apathy that comes with the current status of irony, I would argue that the underlying problem with contemporary manifestations of irony is that its overuse has resulted in a lack public discourse concerning the formulating of new modes to convey sincerity and authenticity.
One domain that has offered a tremendous amount of personal reflexive space for myself has been a rekindled attraction to experimental/avant-garde cinema (I must give proper credit here to Phil Solomon for my re-found appreciation for cinema). While thoughts of humor had been milling around in my head for several weeks, I had the timely fortune of having a second viewing of renowned artists/filmmaker Michael Snow’s Sshtoorrty. This approximately 30 minute examination of a three minuet staged scene cut in half and superimposed on itself reveals hidden temporal and spatial considerations of an otherwise cliched melodramatic Farsi mise-en-scène. The repetition of the scene forces audiences to closely examine color, shape, composition, and movement that normally remains obfuscated through a seamless professionalism, or else completely removed from the conversation of traditional narrative cinema. What at first seems completely ironic and ill-purposed develops into a complex musing of form and cinematic space. Over time, the absurdity of this surfaced staging made to emulate authentic drama becomes apparent and a humor emerges precisely due to a kind of transparent reflexivity between Snow and his medium – a self-awareness that translates into an audiences ability to empathize and laugh.
Coincidentally, while in the midst of rediscovering gems of humor found within various formal and conceptual gestures in experimental cinema, I was also reading Hegel for the first time (this juxtaposition should be read as a kind of joke, i.e., “So, Michael Snow and Hegel walk into a bar…”). During my reading of Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, I couldn’t help underline passages in Chapter 5 that directly discuss the ironic and sincere properties of art’s relationships to the history and development of Modern Philosophy:
… negativity which displays itself as irony is, then, on the one hand the futility of all this matter of fact… on the other hand, the reverse may happen, and the I may also find itself unsatisfied in its enjoyment of itself… so as in consequence to feel a craving for the solid and substantial, for determinate and essential interests. Out of this there arises misfortune and antinomy, in that subject desires to penetrate into truth… but yet is unable to abandon its isolation and retirement into itself, and to strip itself free of this unsatisfied abstract inwardness (of mind).
In this way, Hegel provides some philosophical context to both what Troemel is criticizing while also showing that aesthetics and the artists should – in one way or another – be involved in an outward reflexivity that Snow is approaching in Sshtoorrty. That is, if the artists or cultural producer limits themselves to ironic tendencies, then s/he will inevitably limit themselves to a aesthetic discourse and experience. They will develop a propriety for an “antinomian” funny; one that is inherently in contradiction, incapable of mixing in with greater society/culture, always at odds, and unable to function in an empathic humorous way.
In a sense, humor must rely on the utmost pursuit of an honest communication. Certainly we can apply the old comedy adage of humor needing space to be able to “tell it like it is,” but this cliché – which now is mired in its own irony – won’t suffice. Hegel himself equates the “eternal lamentations over the lack of profound feeling, artistic insight, and genius” as a result of the proliferation of a “half grotesque and half characterless” ironic “insincerity.” The grossness of those that operate solely in self-interest engender a cultural state which “affords no pleasure,” and as a result marginalize attempts at sincere communication. One could easily trace the rampant fear/paranoia that is generated by mass telecommunication to the prolonged repulsion of sincerity in online formats. A potential downfall of drawing this comparison, however, is that alternatives to the standard impersonal/ironic behavior might become less visible to those seeking profound exchanges.
In this way, I offer an alternative way in which humor can occupy a public dialog of communal reflexivity, criticality, and empathy: Wit. As one of my more favorite subtopics within the strata of humor, wit, as a communicative gesture, requires – if not outright demands – an attention to comic subtlety. Wit, in its most profound execution, requires two fundamental properties: timing (which is all but lost in this article), and an acute awareness of context – especially the context of self with others. A deep understanding of social-self, and a willingness to strip ones self of social convention, allows for wit to become a critical tool for creating conceptually and emotionally charged humor. For wit operates not just as an observation of a scenario, but as an act of interruption. This witty interjection is not meant directly to undermine the subject material of any specific conversation, but instead made to enhance an exchange by grounding it in an attentive reclamation of subjective experience into more “solid and substantive” realms of shared empathy.
To do this effectively, and for full humorous effect, one must conceive of any and all social scenarios to be a potential moment for communal self-reflection. In this way, wit requires a devotion to the moment; an immersion in a discourse like none other, a commitment where an individual willing to powerfully invoke wit must “strip [themselves] free of unsatisfied abstract self-inwardness.” A result of this phenomenological embodiment of the moment, one can use wit as a tool against the demanding pace of online activity and situate themselves in a position of critical presentness. This ability to take ownership of the moment can simultaneously be used as a weapon against fighting ironic tendencies due to a new-found self-agency and self-awareness. The mitigation that wit provides against the pulverizing pace of the internet’s demanding creative production cycle not only allows for more temporal space for reflection, but also generates a public voice that stimulates reactive (read engaged but not reactionary) public discourse.
Even though I’m finding a lack of funny things – a problem, as I said, that motivated me to critically revisit humor – I want to emphasize that I’m not observing a climate of overwhelming heartlessness amongst my peers. The amount of empathy that is generated amongst the community that I find particular affinity towards – a vibrant pool of artists, activists, writers, and curators – is most likely the most visible aspect of the variable social networking channels available to these individuals today. However, I’d argue that the empathy and shared communal reflection that occurs within comment threads and group chats, needs to be more tangibly translated into the visual and conceptual work generated by this community. These efforts will hopefully bridge the gradual shrinking gap that still separates those working under the netart classification and the rest of the contemporary art world.
January 03rd, 2012 | 02:15 am | Uncategorized
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