Archive for the ‘Flights of Fancy’ Category

Obligatory Futurism Post and Travel Notice

April 15, 2009

giubberosse_003If you read any of the major international art magazines then you have probably realized that earlier this year marked the 100th anniversary of the First Futurist Manifesto. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s impassioned rant still holds some water evidently. Thus we get Maurizio Cattelan posed in any number of historically inspired states of buffoonery.

If not for my efforts to plow through 1500 pages of Roberto Bolaño, I might actually be able to say something intelligent about Futurism. At my parents’ home in Portland, Oregon over the holidays, I picked up a copy of Marinetti’s Critical Writings at Powell’s Books. (Aside: How great is Powell’s? I got a brand-new hardcopy of this book for $8.99, down from the original $40.) It’s an incredibly thorough volume, more than any accept for a few scholars could every possibly need.

My first encounter, so to speak, with Marinetti was as a student in Florence one cold winter and frosty spring. An overly enthusiastic Italian professor waxed about the Futurists and their avant-gardism, excitedly pointing out the Giubbe Rosse caffe in Piazza della Repubblica where they used to sip their macchiati. I had no idea what she was talking about until a couple of months later when I stared at the Bocconi’s of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

I became more intrigued when Rachel Kushner, writing the 2006 On the Ground: Los Angeles feature for Artforum, singled out the Getty’s exhibition A Tumultuous Assembly: Visual Poems of the Italian Futurists. There is no denying the intensity of Marinetti’s beliefs, even as in hindsight we can view them as naïve or self-destructive. Hopefully post-Bolaño I might get the chance to indulge myself further.

On another personal note I am traveling to Los Angeles this week. Let me know if there is anything I definitely need to see.

Although I love MoCA very much, I’m going to bypass this time since Dan Graham is traveling to the Whitney. Otherwise I hope to see Nine Lives at the Hammer, and Art of Two Germany’s / Cold War Cultures and Franz West at LACMA, as well as see some friends in Culver City. Other ideas? Or particular gallery shows?

Also, I just got an email that Skarstedt Gallery’s exhibition of early Barbara Kruger collages have been extended through April 22. I haven’t made it uptown for this one yet, but a couple of art historians whose opinions are worth listening to have assured me it is a must see.

An Aprille Day for Chaucer

April 3, 2009

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

*Weather like this makes me want to go on a pilgrimmage.

Los Angeles: Two weeks.

Rachel Harrison’s Gone to the Dogs

March 9, 2009
"Posh Floored as Ali G Tackles Becks", 2003, mixed media, installation view at Arndt-Partner

"Posh Floored as Ali G Tackles Becks", 2003, mixed media, installation view at Arndt & Partner

There is something ghastly to Rachel Harrison’s sculptures. In spite of their material endurance and figurative references, these works are like spectral presences. They are not artifacts, which would imply the remnants of a bygone age. Rather they might be thought of as casts of negative spaces. Looking at installation views of Posh Floored as Ali G Tackles Becks, 2003, a series of works exhibited in 2004 at the Camden Arts Centre and Arndt & Partner, one might recall the famous Pompeii dog. The association is not least due to the texture of the works and their papier-mâché and stucco-like (Parex) surfaces. Engaging Harrison’s work always involves a sort of cultural archeology, but the references involve last week’s People magazine just as often as they do art history.

The black construction in the foreground of the above picture is a dead ringer for the Pompeii dog, an idea furthered by the video projection in the background: a Dalmatian shovels around the camera with its snout. Not that this clarifies things in any way, as the video also brings to mind Disney animations and early William Wegman videos with his Weimaraner lapping up milk.

pompeiiancastofdog_800Going back to Pompeii, the image we see here is one of the plaster casts made during excavations of the site. They are after-the-fact figures of what was once there. All of the organic material was long since decayed, but they left a negative impression in the packed ash. Upon discovering each cavern, excavators were able to fill each void with plaster to create a positive impression, thus leaving the forms of the vanished Romans and their household pets. As this description suggests, the process of discovery and reclamation has a relationship to photographic processes. The rhetoric of the artifact (this is from what was) can be differentiated from the photographic (this has been).

A fair amount of critical attention has been paid to the role of photography in Harrison’s work, but it has focused on the actual photographs in her assemblages (as well as recent typologies, etc.). Instead, consider how the autonomous sculptures might themselves reflect a photographic logic. Perhaps the “ghastly” presence of the stucco-ed shelves, plinths and pedestals is because they are casts of originals, evacuated of material and content—leaving only a rough shell.

This critical lens can’t be applied to all of Harrison’s work by any means, and it may only even apply to particular parts of individual sculptures. The artist plays off the multifarious forms and surfaces in each work (not to mention the titles). Biomorphic bases support “pristine” canned foods and other commodities. Even as the plaster bodies might suggest mummification or voiding, they are whip-lashed back to the present by these other objects—defying any gestalt effect.

emergenceAfter writing that last sentence I decided I needed to clarify my loose understanding of Gestalt theory and turned to Wikipedia. It is perhaps not at all incidental that one of the key aspects of Gestalt systems is the principle of Emergence. The classic demonstration of “emergence” involves a Dalmatian:

Emergence is demonstrated by the perception of the Dog Picture, which depicts a Dalmatian dog sniffing the ground in the shade of overhanging trees. The dog is not recognized by first identifying its parts (feet, ears, nose, tail, etc.), and then inferring the dog from those component parts. Instead, the dog is perceived as a whole, all at once.

WTF. So is Harrison really playing a bunch of dogs off one another? Pompeii and Gestalt theory: But what about Ali G, Posh and Becks? Such vexations provide both the pleasure and frustration of Harrison’s work. Are they like photographic images of things, twice removed? It’s actually not difficult to connect the formal properties of the Pompeii casts to a discussion of Gestalt perception, standing in as they do for recognizable forms. It just doesn’t get you very far.


February 17, 2009


Via Amy Stein.

On Kawara Postscript: Qfwfq Reads the News

February 16, 2009


Participating in One Million Years inspired me to read Jeff Wall’s essay, “Monochrome and Photojournalism in On Kawara’s Today Paintings.” In the interest of extending Wall’s assessment of Kawara’s work, I’ll consider how this analogy might accommodate One Million Years.

Wall deftly connects photojournalism and the monochrome via Modernism’s reductive relation to history painting. The Today paintings consist of a field of color, leaving the date they were painted written inscribed in the negative space left unpainted. Each painting also comes in a box, which usually contains newspaper pages from that date. For Wall, Kawara’s paintings mark the confrontation between the conceptual “knots” of the monochrome and photojournalism, and in the framework of history painting their only “point of agreement” is in the dates. Both the photojournalistic function of the newspapers and the monochromatic reductions of the canvas share their sense of the manifestation of an event.

If the monochrome and photojournalism represent the historical antagonisms at work in the Today paintings, then perhaps we can consider the relevance of epic literature and the modern news media in relation to One Million Years as a literary form. Thus a parallel can develop with Wall’s exegesis. The difficulty in this assessment is that the Today paintings function on a level of duration relevant to a single human life, and part of the wonder of One Million Years is in contemplating how much larger it is than any individual. Yet the structure of One Million Years is also clearly connected to the epic poetry of Homer (or the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus) as well as the event-per-minute functions of services like Twitter or the 24-hour cable news cycle (with Joyce’s Ulysses as a literary precursor).

Because One Million Years functions as anti-news in relation to the human individual, we require an Archimedean point to understand this duration. Quite simply we do not have the distance for the duration invoked by Kawara to gain any perspective on the totality of time it creates. Hannah Arendt, writing in The Human Condition, says that with Galileo’s invention of the telescope,

The secrets of the universe were delivered to human cognition ‘with the certainty of sense-perception…’ Man realized his newly won freedom from the shackles of earth-bound experience; instead of observing natural phenomena as they were given to him, he placed nature under the conditions of his own mind, that is, under conditions won from a … cosmic standpoint outside nature itself… Without actually standing where Archimedes wished to stand, still bound to the earth through the human condition, we have found a way to act on the earth and within terrestrial nature as though we dispose of it from outside, from the Archimedean point. (260-262)

Projecting our selves beyond the earthbound in this way, Arendt says, that a process of “world alienation” takes place. Likewise, One Million Years performs a degree of world alienation, functioning as it does on the scale of cosmic time. Rather than Galileo’s telescope, such an Archimedean point might be possible in the form of an ideal narrator, one that could sufficiently appreciate the scope of extreme duration. Italo Calvino dreamed up just such a character with Qfwfq, the narrator of many of the stories collected in Cosmicomics.

An omnipresent being, Qfwfq takes many forms across eons. He narrates the Big Bang; recalls the xenophobia of the era immediately following the extinction of dinosaurs; bemoans the unconsummated desires of beings falling in parallel through infinite space; describes how, as a mollusk, the cogs of sexual selection compell him to “evolve” eyes and sight. During the condensing of matter into the Earth, Qfwfq’s sister takes fright as the Sun lights on fire and she recedes into the forming Earth. Qfwfq doesn’t see her again, “until I met her, much later, at Canberra in 1912, married to a certain Sullivan, a retired railroad man, so changed I hardly recognized her.” (27) The mastery of Calvino’s writing lies in these astounding jumps in historical scale, resolving the human and cosmic in the same narrative register.

Qfwfq is able to represent both the epic and the quotidian, giving form to abstract theories and ideas, even equations. Had Archimedes found his lever and his place to stand, he surely would have found Qfwfq, standing right there next to him. Considering the totality of Kawara’s project in its ideal, spoken form, we might imagine One Million Years as Qfwfq reading the news.