Lebenskünstler

[from the LeisureArts archive] – Allan Kaprow – Refusal/Un-Artist – Keith Tilford

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/07/2014

Keith Tilford, in a brilliant guest essay whose first portion is hosted at Long Sunday, asks How No Can You Go? We lost a good portion of our Saturday morning reading through it and its second part hosted on Tilford’s blog Metastable Equilibrium. It’s well worth taking the time to read.

We’d like to use Tilford’s essay as “a point of departure more than anything else” as he describes his treatment of Mario Tronti’s essay “The Strategy of Refusal.” In his “departure,” Tilford thinks through practices of refusal and their generative possibilities. Regular readers of this blog (to our astonishment, such creatures exist) will immediately recognize how germane this is to LeisureArts. What follows is our incomplete and possibly incoherent attempt to ask, “How no can you go?”

Against Tronti, Tilford seeks to dispense with a class based analysis of refusal. “To say this does not mean denying that there are classes, or that there is a ruling class; only that refusal, resistance – what composes and calls for them – are not reducible to the antagonisms of a class division.” This enables us to think in terms of what we have called elsewhere – political proximities. We developed politics of proximity as a way to create a place/space based configuration of Donna Haraway’s “affinity politics” – which itself was seen as an escape from identity politics. These impulses to moved beyond sedimentary, or essentialist subject formations are the sort of thing Tilford wants to take into account in his update of Tronti.

While laying out the overlapping histories and aspirations of his reading of worker’s movements (mostly those in Italy) and conceptual art, Tilford delves into the problematics of these sedimentarities, or what he describes as “institutional nomination” when these antagonistic identities are recognized and named as such. Via a perspective indebted to Deleuze and Guattari, he argues that, “A minority may create a model for itself in order to survive, but it is a model which it does not depend on…” This is a treatment of antagonistic identities as a process rather than discrete, (permanently) stable products, he notes “…it would appear as necessary to proceed from the knowledge that such solidifications are also the mark of a very real production of social subjects who continue to resist such solidification.”

This leads us to a central concern of ours regarding Tilford’s analysis and the field of invisibility and refusal. How much do the artists (especially Rirkrit Tiravanija, Aleksandra Mir, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres) cited by Tilford really “resist” institutional nomination? Do their operations and procedures of refusal actually square with this astute statement offered in Tilford’s essay? We remain somewhat suspicious:

Whatever name is given to such procedures, refusal then becomes synonymous with invention…It might also be asked how new and complex strategies of refusal can potentially count as an art not merely for those who might designate it as being such within the field of art, but for anyone who, engaged in struggle, seizes hold of opportunities within the empty unrepresentable spaces covered over in capitalism, so as to channel their own desire toward something and somewhere other than here.

The most fruitful line of thinking here rests on the distinction between art and an art. LeisureArts exists at the interstice of this fine distinction and aims to proliferate practices that might be described as an art over those that are described as art proper. We see this as placing these practices in the realm of affinity, and proximity, as mentioned earlier, rather than identity. It follows that this is itself an act of refusing institutional inscription, a desire to remain “empty.”

We believe Tilford is correct in citing Duchamp as being an important model of refusal, but he problematically characterizes Duchamp’s intellectual inheritors as finding “…it was relevant to take an anti-art stance and perform a constant restaging of the matter and means of artistic practice.” The appropriate legacy of refusal is not “anti-art,” which ends up enacting the State/worker problematic he finds in Tronti’s work: “…the categories of ‘worker’ and ‘party’ seem to end up installing themselves within the very representations that the workers would have intended to overthrow…” A better model, we believe, is Allan Kaprow’s “un-artist.” Writing about anti-art, Kaprow notes: “You cannot be against art when art invites its own destruction…” He offers us the “un-artist” asking that we “give up all references to being artists of any kind whatever.” This un-artist reconfigures the subjective formation of an artist identity, echoing the “resistance as effect” and “antagonism as consequence” operations mentioned by Tilford.

Another concern of ours is Tilford’s treatment of “institutional critique.” It’s a bit confusing because he describes “the exodus from the studio and exhibition space” represented by the work of Mir and Tiravanija as an example of a refinement of institutional critique. We think this works against his succinct employment of Adrian Piper’s “meta-art” which in many ways resonates with Kaprow. To our mind Mir (whose work we enjoy) and Tiravanija (whose work is completely undeserving of being propped up by the cadre of critics that champion him), refuses only the institution of art in the most facile way – bring art to life and life to art in a didactic sense only. Challenging the physical apparatus of art institutions and leaving the ideological frame unchallenged (Piper calls for examining the ideological genesis of work) seems like a minor refusal, not the sort of radical refusal Tilford is writing about.

Skipping ahead to Tilford’s exploration of “anorectic subjectivities” as theorized by Maurizio Lazzarato (for a feminist take on the refusal of the anorectic see Susan Bordo’s essay “Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallisation of Culture” and Elizabaeth Grosz’s “Psychoanalysis and Psychical Topographies”) we find this question:

And what of ‘artistic practices’ within the new situations generated through globalization and the proliferation of institutions? What, if anything, is art supposed to do under such circumstances and how might it benefit from refusal – from its own ‘anorexia’?

This question brings us back to Kaprow’s conceptualization of the un-artist. One of the keys here, of course is being specific about the difference between refusal and opposition. Refusal is a kind of escape, shifting the terms of discussion, leaving the scene, and not a direct engagement. It is not possible to dispense with art completely, but Kaprow, is aware of this, noting:

“...the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art [emphasis mine].”

It is this broader aim of un-artistic activity and the steadfast refusal of a professional art identity that many “relational” artists and their variants have yet to sufficiently explore. The call by Kaprow is clear “Artists of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!” Clearly the champions of relational aesthetics and its practitioners have no intention of answering that call.

In this vein, Tilford quotes Andrea Fraser, who in a recent Artforum essay arrives at the position Kaprow explored some forty years earlier saying that institutional escape is “only what, at any given moment, does not exist as an object of artistic discourses and practices” and “It is artists – as much as museums or the market – who, in their very efforts to escape the institution of art, have driven its expansion.” The difference here is that the sort of escape Fraser is mentioning in the latter statement, is the kind Rirkrit Tiravanija and other “relational” artists engage in. They merely import art discourse into the social field and vice versa without a wholesale re-working of the conceptual schema, of “saying no” as Tilford puts it:

Saying no – or more appropriately, just refusing in general (however it might be decided to do so) – becomes the means to invest new forms of affirmation, new ways in which to grab hold of the gaps and run with them.

How no can you go? Few have come closer than Kaprow in their direct exploration of this question. He cut to the heart of things: “Once the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind.” That’s about as no as you can go.

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[from the LeisureArts archive] – Gambling in Reno, Some Notes on a Social Practices “Field Trip”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/20/2013

Gambling in Reno, Some Notes on a Social Practices “Field Trip” – Published in Revelry and Risk: Approaches to Social Practice, or Something Like That (2007)

“After the conference papers are over, we go slumming in their bars.”

Like many things in my life, this essay begins somewhat obliquely. The above quote is from Richard Shusterman’s Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. He’s writing about what comes to count as legitimate experience in the professional world of philosophy and literary theory. For an experience to count in these domains it has to take an institutionally recognizable form as a conference, a paper, or a book. This same question of legitimacy plagues the professional art world – roughly analogous substitutions might be exhibitions, works, and projects. Shusterman writes that we are impoverished by academic practices “…[which fail] to recognize the value of non-professional responses which seek neither interpretive truth nor publishable novelty but simply enriched experience [emphasis mine], experience which may perhaps be communicated in writing but does not need to be to count as legitimate and meaningful.” When one engages in such non-professional practices, when one goes “slumming” in Reno, you run the risk of academic oblivion.

How does “enriched experience” find articulation? Does this essay enhance or undermine the experience of our field trip? How do you provide enough of a structure for something to become legible without allowing the structure to be the only thing that’s experienced? Perhaps these considerations are central to social practices, or maybe this is merely my conceit. My interest has always led me to teeter as far on the edge of evanescence as possible – allowing, for example, the trip to Reno to live or die in the memories of my fellow travelers rather than making a video, or taking photos, or creating a Jeremy Deller like travel guide.

This essay may undermine this anti-ambition, but it can at least specify that no guide book is possible for the trip. It was a singularity comprised of a specific set of people at a specific moment in time. This is not to say that fruitful discussion/interpretation cannot take place, but if the trip was “successful,” discussion, documentation, and exhibition, would never adequately capture its complexity. This is dangerous territory. I’m sounding awfully “arty.”

Perhaps there’s little else you need to know about the trip other than the fact that it was bookended by free appetizers when we arrived in Reno, and sage cheddar cheese on crackers on our way home in the white mini-van. Perhaps that is all you can know unless you were there. It was never a “project,” but it was something more than spontaneous revelry, although that happened too. Above all, it was a gamble.

I’ve gambled with others in Reno before, in more and less serious ways. Neil Young has indirectly asked – Tell Me Why Only Love Breaks Your Heart? To this I can only offer the corniest of replies – love is a gamble, and that gamble, if it is to have any meaning at all, must have failure as one of its real possibilities. Without the risk of losing everything, gambling/love is just another game, one hardly worth playing. Maybe my deepest ambition for social practices and the art/life tension it embodies for me, is that it too is a game worth playing, something more than a profession, something more than a series of projects, a game with something tragic at stake – something that could break your heart…

[from the LeisureArts archive] – Art A Way Of Life (1935) – Melvin E. Haggerty

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/08/2013

Art A Way Of Life (1935!!!) – Melvin E. Haggerty

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

[from the LeisureArts archive] – A David Robbins Trifecta – The Art/Life Conundrum Solved!

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/08/2013

[This is a three in one post of material (in reverse order)  I did for LeisureArts on David Robbins. Although I might choose another word than “production,” I think Robbins asks a question that still needs much contemplation – “who are we when we pursue a larger field of production, some of which is art?”]

An initial stab at a semiotic square [David Robbins]

Note that “High Entertainment” is a category Robbins describes as “…works and artifacts that retain fine art’s complex ambitions for the culture while eschewing the specialized language of fine art in favor of mass accessibility – [it] can be manifested in games, toys, fashion, public sculpture, books, hoaxes, indeed in any product that has contact with the public.” p. 311

Art/Life – David Robbins – LeisureArts

The old art/life distinction.

The “triangulation” theory of David Robbins.

This notion is worked out in various ways throughout his book The Velvet Grind, but the essay “On Talent” spells things out pretty directly:

That something might stand outside art and report on it, comment on it, editorialize about it in an iconic language of its own – this was, and apparently still is, disorienting. The reason, I submit, is that it instantiates a complication of the modernist dialogue between life and art. Talent suggests that the old binary model has been superseded by a triangulated model whose points are life, art, and entertainment – a competing communication system no less madly self-sustaining, self-referential, and self-celebratory than art. “Showbiz” adds another category that’s neither Art nor Life. p.24

Robbins’s triangulation is an important step to finding new forms and languages for what he calls “imaginative practice” – creative, funny, thoughtful forms of invention that are not art. We at LesiureArts find Robbins incredibly useful [We hope to write more, but being the slackers that we are, this might be as far as we get]. He also writes about inventing experience which he distinguishes from producing culture. This is a welcome relief from all of the talk about cultural production, as invented experience resonates nicely with John Dewey’s aesthetic theory which is in dire need of being read by the legions of curators and artists who are reinventing the wheel of experience based practices.

The LeisureArts modified model.

As we mentioned, the triangulation theory is an important step, but LeisureArts is interested in expanding the terrain of inventive practices and theory to cover a host of other activities that Robbins’s triangle can’t account for. That leads to the above modification. In leisure, we have a broad field of activities that fall in between the various oppositions, some closer to one vertex or the other, but the field itself exists in a kind of equipoise (ideally). Adding leisure to the model allows for the inventiveness of car customizers, tea cozy makers, coat hanger collectors, home cooks, and others to mingle on equal footing with so called “high” forms of culture be it entertainment or art.

David Robbins – The Velvet Grind

Some excerpts:

…the pertinent question is no longer “what infinite variety of materials, strategies, concerns might we include in the context of art?” It isn’t “what might we map onto the coordinates of art?” These were the questions of modernism. The more contemporary question – tomorrow’s question – is “who are we when we pursue a larger field of production, some of which is art?” (p.29)

The maximum site of invention, now, is one that forces the culture of criticality into direct and continuous contact with its strongest and most radical cultural alternative, the culture that thrives despite art’s low regard for it, the culture, ladies and gentleman, that actually expresses respect for lives conventionally led, the culture that doesn’t need art: entertainment. (p.167)

[from the LeisureArts archive] – The “as art” gaze

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/22/2012

[I would obviously state some things differently and use some modified examples, but this post is still mostly on the mark and relevant to many ongoing conversations I’m currently having]

Baudrillard – “as art” relational art – Kaprow [September 2006]

In The Mirror of Production, Jean Baudrillard writes about the colonial intellectual impulses of the West. Concerning the criticality of Western culture he notes:

…it [Western culture] reflected on itself in the universal, and thus all other cultures were entered in its museum as vestiges of its own image. It ‘estheticized’ them, reinterpreted them on its own model, and thus precluded the radical interrogation these ‘different’ cultures implied for it.

Continuing:

Without bias, they have attempted to ‘relocate’ these ‘works’ [so called primitive art] into their magical and religious ‘context.’ In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all [Emphasis ours]. And, precisely their non-esthetic character could at last have been the starting point for a radical perspective on (and not an internal critical perspective leading to a broadened reproduction of) Western culture.

This critique can easily be applied to the critical appropriation of any number of new “art” practices, most notably relational art. We see quite clearly how a variety of activities and modes of research that began to stray from the flock were quickly recuperated under the banner of “relational aesthetics.” This needn’t apply necessarily to the stars of the movement (Liam Gillick and Rirkrit Tiravanija are obvious) as their work was never really intended to offer a radical perspective on anything, but Oda Projesi (who are not nearly as gallery friendly, and don’t engage in the same sort of faux art institutional critique) has certainly become a bit of a flashpoint. The debate surrounding them provides an interesting model as Claire Bishop begs to read their activities “as art,” making sure they are safely inscribed within the known parameters of self-criticality that the museum Baudrillard describes above tolerates. Maria Lind, however, prefers to read their actions without preemptively applying critical classifications.

Allan Kaprow in his essay “The Real Experiment”describes the “as art” impulse as well:

‘Look,’ I remember a critic exclaiming once as we walked by a vacant lot full of scattered rags and boxes, ‘how that extends the gestural painting of the fifties!’ He wanted to cart the whole mess to a museum. But life bracketed by the physical and cultural [emphasis ours] frames of art quickly becomes trivialized life at the service of high art’s presumed greater value. The critic wanted everyone to see the garbage as he did through art history, not as urban dirt, not as a playground for kids and home for rats, not as rags blowing about in the wind, boxes rotting in the rain.

We see here the application of the art historical gaze, the “as art” gaze. And not unlike the “male gaze” (although obviously the parallel is in how it operates, not in its social effects) it becomes a way of subjugating the world to a particular critical regime and seeks to infiltrate the self-perception of others, so that they see themselves and their activities through the “as art” lens.

We return in closing to Baudrillard’s critique of Marxist anthropology which can be seen to possess the same impulse to universalize its history, its criticality:

…because the system of political economy tends to project itself retrospectively as a model and subordinates everything else to the genealogy of this model…Thus in the strict sense, it analyzes only the conditions of the model’s reproduction, of its production as such: of the separation that establishes it…By presupposing the axiom of the economic, the Marxist critique perhaps deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as a model.

It is evident that the “as art” perspective functions to accept as a given the art model, thus binding itself to merely reproducing the logic of art production rather than challenging it in any substantive way. It presupposes the axiom of the artistic, and shields itself from the messiness of rotting boxes, leaving us in the “internal critical” hall of mirrors, trapped in the “as art” aesthetic fun-house.