Lebenskünstler

Wonder Woman’s plane – Ralph Rugoff – visible works of invisible art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/25/2013

Touched By Your Presence – Ralph Rugoff

Telepathic Piece pinpointed a major concern for many artists at the time: an emphasis on thinking and communicative possibilities over art’s visible and material qualities. But by invoking a sensibility beyond words, it also underscored an interest in the Sublime – an aesthetic preoccupation which typically gets written out of the Conceptual art story book. For Barry – who once remarked that ‘Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world’ – invisibility was a means of evoking the void and emptiness. Immeasurable and without limit, the realm of the unseen is as Sublime it gets.

The same year, Maria Nordman began creating works in specific urban settings, usually in and around Los Angeles, that employed ambient sounds, shifting sunlight and shadow, and the chance presence of local pedestrians. Geared towards accidental encounters and blending with their surrounding environments, Nordman’s works ideally attained a kind of invisible participation in the flow of urban life: an aesthetic which seemingly matched her desire to create a democratic art that would be accessible to viewers from all backgrounds. The idealistic undertones of Nordman’s approach resonate in much other invisible art from this period, as if practitioners believed their work could achieve a state of social and political grace simply by dispensing with a perceptible presence. From another perspective, however, projects like Nordman’s represent the culmination of a century-long concern with dissolving the boundaries between the work of art and its larger environment – a vein of interest that essentially reverses the strategy of collage: rather than incorporating worldly fragments, the artwork is incorporated into its surrounding milieu, embracing a dissolution of identity that, once again, recalls the mechanisms of the Sublime.

Hiding oneself or one’s art can also be an exercise in humility, an ego-stripping practice designed to force artist and audience alike to rethink the desire to exhibit, and to question the narcissistic value we place on public approbation in general. The performance artist Tehching Hsieh, probably best known for the year-long performances he began in the 70s (such as living outdoors in New York City for a twelve-month period) has recently completed such a project but, by its nature, it would be surprising if many people were aware he had even embarked upon it. For a 13-year performance which stretched from December 31st 1986 until December 31st 1999, Hsieh continued to make art, but did not show it to anyone in any way, shape or form. The lesson in invisibility he offers is simple yet powerful: rather than take the measure of himself from the external world, he makes do with his own internal value system – a system which remains unseen but must be deeply felt in order to carry out such a project.

the idea of invisible art can serve as a much-needed tonic, prompting us to see through the art world’s grandiose distractions, and so, perhaps, to think a little more clearly. They also remind us that, in the larger scheme of things, art occupies a fairly immaterial position, and whether visible or not, works of art ultimately come to life only in our imaginations, in the unseen museums we carry within us.

But perhaps the most salutary effect of invisible art lies in the chameleon-like array of meanings which have cloaked it over the past half century. Rather than simply serving as a static limit defining the no-go zone of artistic practice, it has alternately appeared under the guise of the Sublime, of social idealism, avant-garde aggression, personal humility and ironic commentary. No single artist has been able to possess invisibility as a signature medium, and its wayward history gently yet pointedly mocks our waning belief in the cult of originality. It suggests instead that art doesn’t begin and end in a physical frame or a singular context, but lives on in the potentially endless process by which we make use of it.

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