Lebenskünstler

one way to set the table in honor of influences

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/01/2016

placesetting

The unfunny joke and the unartist: the metaphysics of absence? A comedian and an artist walk into a bar…

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/20/2015

Excerpts from Welcome to the Age of the Unfunny Joke by Lee Siegel (marked “LS”) juxtaposed with quotes from Stephen Wright (SW) and Allan Kaprow (AK).

LS: “In the unfunny joke, the comedian’s format is the Trojan horse that makes its way into your secret store of feelings as you wait genially to be entertained. The surprise is the unfunny truth that cuts through your consciousness with the force of a sword.”

SW: “…though informed by art-related skills, their work suffers from — or, should we say, enjoys — impaired visibility as art. Yet this impaired visibility may well be inversely proportional to the work’s political efficacy: since it is not partitioned off as ‘art,’ that is, as ‘just art,’ it remains free to deploy all its symbolic force in lending enhanced visibility and legibility to social processes of all kinds.”

LS: “Comedy is becoming an occasion to abandon humor for the exposure of unsoftened truth. Of course, comedians have always had license to be blunt so long as they cushioned their provocations with humor. In the case of the unfunny joke, however, the humor is absent.”

AK: “…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. Signal scrambling, perhaps. Something like those venerable baseball aficionados in the vaudeville act that began, “Who’s on first?”

LS: “These people are professional comedians and most of their acts are spent making people laugh. But there is a schizoid dimension to comedy now. As fiction merges into autobiography, and movies based on actual events proliferate, the compulsion for comedians to smash through the artifice of comedy and tell the unadorned truth without humor is becoming stronger and stronger.”

“What could be more normal than artists producing artworks? After all, they’re just doing their job, and there seems to be no stopping them.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/01/2013

The Future of the Reciprocal Readymade (Use-Value and Art-related Practice) – Stephen Wright

Art’s broken promises
By and large, when artworlders talk about what might be broadly described as art’s ‘use value,’ they’re bluffing. Anyone who believes that art, in any conventional sense of the term, by ‘questioning,’ ‘investigating,’ or otherwise ‘depicting’ some socio-political issue, actually empowers anyone to do anything about it, is actively engaged in self-delusion. Yet art continues to make such promises — using its institutions to lend them not only a largely unchallenged semblance of truth, but all the trustworthiness of convention — only to immediately break them. Why? Is it because art is unable to do away with its romantic underpinnings, except by abandoning itself to all-out cynicism?

…What could be more normal than artists producing artworks? After all, they’re just doing their job, and there seems to be no stopping them. And besides, who would want to stop them? So they go on and on making art — adding to the constantly growing category of objects obeying that description. What is more unusual, and far more interesting, is when artists don’t do art; or, at any rate, when they don’t claim that whatever it is they are doing is, in fact, art. When they recycle their artistic skills, perceptions and habitus back into the general symbolic economy of the real.

Art-related practice
There is, of course, a context for this shake-up of the status of art and the artist, bequeathed by the twentieth century: artistic activity itself is developing on a massive scale and in a mind-boggling variety of forms, and the production of meaning, form and knowledge is no longer the exclusive preserve of professionals of expression. One finds artistic skills and competencies at work in a variety of areas far beyond the confines of the symbolic economy of the art world, and the practices which they inform are in many cases never designated and domesticated as art. The fact that this sort of art-related creativity seeks no particular validation from the art world, that it pays scant heed to the values and conventions underpinning it, should by no means inhibit us from charting its genealogy and identifying its inherent rationality. And yet, aesthetic philosophy, persisting as it does in construing art as an enigma to be deciphered, as an object begging interpretation, seems decidedly ill-equipped to theorize art in this expanded sense. Beyond both the well-worn logic of appropriation, which consists of recuperating as art all description of objects and activities not intended as such; and beyond the converse, though symmetrical logic consisting of using artistic practices — those, in other words, initiated and managed by artists — to stake out and claim new territories for art, it seems worth pursuing use-value in this particular direction though on the basis of an extraterritoriality and reciprocity that prefigure an unforeseen future for it.

…Duchamp points to the symbolic potential of recycling art — and artistic tools and competencies — into the general symbolic economy of life (as opposed to the standard readymade, which recycles the real into art). The point, and starting point, of this project is to reactivate this unacknowledged genre of artistic activity.

Art without artists, without artworks, and without an artworld
So what happens when art crops up in the everyday, not to aestheticize it, but to inform it? When art appears not in terms of its specific ends (artworks) but in terms of its specific means (competencies)? Well, for one thing, it has an exceedingly low coefficient of artistic visibility: we see something, but not as art. For without the validating framework of the artworld, art cannot be recognized as such, which is one reason why it is from time to time useful to reterritorialize and assemble it in an art-specific space. In one way or another, all the collectives in this project confront a common operative paradox: though informed by art-related skills, their work suffers from — or, should we say, enjoys — impaired visibility as art. Yet this impaired visibility may well be inversely proportional to the work’s political efficacy: since it is not partitioned off as ‘art,’ that is, as ‘just art,’ it remains free to deploy all its symbolic force in lending enhanced visibility and legibility to social processes of all kinds. It is a form of stealth art, infiltrating spheres of world-making beyond the scope of work operating unambiguously under the banner of art. The art-related practitioners involved in this project have all sought to circumvent the reputation-based economy of the artworld, founded on individual names, and have chosen to engage in collaborative action; they use their skills to generate perception and produce reality-estranging configurations outside the artworld. As the wide range of tools developed by these collectives show, this has nothing to do with an ban on images; art has no reason to renounce representation, a tool it has done much to forge and to hone over its long history. The question is the use to which such tools are put, in what context, and by whom: tools whose use-value is revealed as they are taken up and put to work.

“the nebula of “offroad conceptualists” who have withdrawn from the artworld attention economy into the shadows, never performing what they do as art.” – Stephen Wright on “art without qualities”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/23/2013

An Art Without Qualities: Raivo Puusemp’s “Beyond Art — Dissolution of Rosendale, N.Y.” – Stephen Wright

[Stephen Wright is one of the last truly vibrant theorists left in the art world. Although maybe that is because he spends so much time outside the art world. And maybe his early years in the Pacific Northwest gifted him with the temerity of a cryptozoologist (escapologist). He is relentlessly innovative with turns of phrase and new memes, not in some pointlessly entrepreneurial attention seeking way, but as a matter of necessity – because the things he is trying to describe are outside “accepted formal parameters of art” (as he quotes Raivo Puusemp saying in this post). Wright, if not a member himself of the “offroad conceptualists,” is surely their greatest chronicler.]

Upon resigning as mayor, Puusemp left Rosendale forever, moving to somewhere in Utah, and thereby joining the nebula of “offroad conceptualists” who have withdrawn from the artworld attention economy into the shadows, never performing what they do as art.

Of course plenty of things are not performed as art (in many cases because they just aren’t) although their coefficient of art — in terms of their form, contextual engagement and the competence they epitomize — would be largely adequate for them to successfully lay claim to artistic status. And it is precisely this issue which makes Raivo Puusemp’s short preface to Beyond Art so compelling. From it can be deduced an entirely original and under-theorized line of institutional critique as the background of his project to instantiate a plausible new artworld in Rosendale, A public work.

But before considering the underpinnings of the project laid out in the document’s preface, let’s pause for a moment to consider just exactly what “not performing art” means in the case of Raivo Puusemp. Since his stint as mayor of Rosendale, Puusemp has ceased making art; he hasn’t even done art. But he’s thought it. Meaning that he’s not so much a former concept artist, as that he remains an artiste sans oeuvre. Not in the affected sense of a dandy, but with the infectious humility of concept art. As he put it in a recent public conversation with curator Krist Gruijthuijsen at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (one of the venues to recently host a retrospective of the artist’s work, up to and including his stint as mayor) Puusemp acknowledged as much, at least implicitly, describing how his relationship to art had itself become conceptual. “I’ve always thought about art, I just haven’t done it. I would see something, and think someone should do that. But I would never do it myself.”

He’s sees conceptual-artistic potential in any number of situations, relations and things, contemplates making it art, but leaves the doing, the making, the “performing” (or not) to others.

Of course, this principled imperformativity only makes sense against Puusemp’s background as an active artist in the 1970s. This is the paradox of the imperformative: not-doing only has traction against a horizon of reasonable expectation of an ability-to-do and the deed itself. Countless things don’t get done, but the imperformative implies that something actually eludes performative capture — that it is done quietly, and not necessarily materially (who knows?) in the shadows. And the shadow of the deed is the idea. But the very fact that Puusemp would be inclined to contemplate people performing (or not) ideas he had thought of also stems directly from his previous artistic practice.

Several things happened that would lead Puusemp to choose to move into the shadows. For one thing, he became involved with an underground group in New York City called “Museum” which allowed him to understand art as an essentially collective endeavor and to gain insight into group dynamics and process. But above all, he writes, “it became apparent that art was a continuum of predictable steps each built upon the last. It seemed that by being familiar with the then accepted formal parameters of art, and by doing work within those parameters, there was a great likelihood of art community acceptance of that work. Creative leaps were reduced to inevitable innovations and predictable steps. I became fascinated with the process of conception to completion rather than the product. From that point, I found it difficult to continue making art within the standard context.”

–Did you still think of yourself as an artist?
–It’s hard to say. I just kind of walked away from it, or from the object stuff anyway. I was thinking about things a lot. I mean, the other thing is, I started looking at this Rosendale thing more and more as a piece of art. It was a strange thing to do, like living a dual life. On the one hand, I was doing this thing, but I couldn’t tell people I was doing it because they would think I was using them or kind of manipulating the whole thing.
–But was it always intentional for you that running for mayor would be an artwork?
–I think it evolved. I was intrigued by the possibility…

Raivo Puusemp, a possibilitarian? That was the term (Möglichkeitsmensch) that Robert Musil coined to describe Ulrich, his Man Without Qualities. Not because his protagonist was without quality — his insights were of exceeding quality — but because he possessed none that determined the others and locked him down into a particular ontology. We tend to think of artworks as characterized by a deep singularity — and as the documents on Rosendale’s dissolution show, it was a project so steeped in nitty-gritty singularity as to conceal its self-understanding as art. But as a morphing pursuit of intriguing possibilities, and in light of Puusemp’s decision to further withdraw from exercising artistic agency, Rosendale, A Public Work may be seen as paving the way toward an art without qualities.

The prison of artlike art – Stephen Wright on Rasheed Araeen’s Art Beyond Art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/09/2013

The Escapologist. Rasheed Araeen and the transformative potential of art beyond art – Stephen Wright

[To be clear – I love the field Wright stakes out even though I would argue with many of the details. One specific objection would be the idea of art as an inherently “critical” enterprise. This seems to be demonstrably false as a historical matter and an unnecessary notion ideologically. That is, one might ask – “Wouldn’t it be important to escape capture by the empire of criticality too?” ]

…Third Text’s controlled coefficient of specific visibility as a collective, conceptual artwork situated it in the “art-beyond-art” category — that is, of practices whose self-understanding is as art, but which manage to avoid being performed as art, somehow foiling the powerful apparatus of performative capture within what Araeen calls “the legitimising prisonhouse” of bourgeois aesthetics. Though Third Text, as we know, has since been captured by those very forces it had set out to challenge, Rasheed Araeen, we can be sure, eludes capture.

What’s most important about Art Beyond Art, though, is its discussion of the obstacles art faces today, and how it might elude them. Given Araeen’s experience in escapology — not of the Harry-Houdini variety of cuffs and chains, that wouldn’t be his style, but in escaping institutional, epistemic and performative capture — he has some important points to make. Here’s how he sets the stage:

“At the end of the sixties there emerged a concept of art whose true significance has not been generally and fully understood of recognized. Its significance was not in its newness or innovation, but what was conceptually a radical shift from art as displayable objects that can be looked at and contemplated — painting, scultupre, installations, photography, etc — to art as a process of transformation within the everyday. Historically, it was a movement of the idea that entered human imagination with a consciousness that sought integration of art with life, so that it would by becoming part of life’s everyday energy and creativity join its journey towards what for Hegel was its ultimate fulfillment. But this was not to happen. The journey was halted as it entered the cultural citadel of bourgeois capitalist society to seek legitimation. And, as it succumbed and capitulated to the privileges that the bourgeois art institution offered, the idea became trapped with in the logic of the very institutional space it was allowed to enter and occupy.”

“What is fundamental to my suggestion is the idea that it is possible to perceive or produce art in a radically different content, an art which locates itself away from the bourgeois institution and is not necessarily dependent on its mediation and legitimation.” This involves, amongst other things, making theory a practice, wresting it away from the academy: “It is with the imaginative power of art that I want to move forward; with a proposition that may lead to a new kind of thinking and produce a new kind of critical practice, out of which may also emerge a revolutionary concept of art based on the nominalism of the everyday work carried out by people themselves or their material production.” …

art, he writes, “must lead a double life.” “On the one hand, it is a conceptual artwork but, on the other, its material form must become independent of whether it is a work of art or not. Only when it can escape from being merely an art concept or form that it can avoid its reification, and only then can it continue to maintain its transformative function within the productive force of everyday life.”

Although what I propose as a collaborative practice results in a material form — it may be a farm, a factory, a supermarket, a transport system, etc, collectively run and owned by the workers themselves — I continue to call it a conceptual artwork. Why? Because it is not possible to get rid of art as a special category or completely dissolve it in other things so long as there exists capitalism and its division of labour. The complete dissolution of art into life so that art loses its identity as art will deprive it of its transformative function. If it is allowed to become like any other thing, without maintaining its specific non-instrumental imaginative power, art will not be able to act upon those things which are the products of consumer culture and turn them into a critical force capable of confronting the bourgeois society. In other s words, art’s function as a liberating force is dependent not only on its becoming something other than art but also maintaining its identity as a specific material as well as a symbolic practice.”

In essence, art secretes a kind of invisible but conceptual otherness within the everyday life processes that it permeates. Acting as a kind of yeast, the idea of art brings about a minimal shift within sameness. Though its dissolution into life may be impossible, it may act like a solvent upon ontologically stable relations. Like mycelium in a mineral, the idea steadily, “without complaint or resentment,” dissolves the obstacle.

In which Suhail Malik is invited to read Allan Kaprow – Or some answers to the questions of art’s exit, and more questions

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/16/2013

On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art – Suhail Malik

Contemporary art’s shortcomings are increasingly evident even with respect to its own purported ambitions: proposing alternatives to homogenizing, normative conventions; as a method or mechanism of escape from the standardizations and conventions set by large-scale, commercial-corporate, or institutionally secured forms of recognition; as a site of utopian proposals, and so on. These imperatives impose themselves yet more severely when contemporary art itself establishes such norms and institutional figures. The effort is then made to escape art as we have it, perhaps for a more valid, more immediate, perhaps more populist or accessible kind of art which, for that reason, would have yet greater critical-political traction than institutionalized art. The now-familiar emphases on public participation, nonart, smuggling, deterritorialisation, inbetweenness, eventhood, indeterminacy, deskilling, etc. all heed this imperative. But as re-iterations of the logic of escape, these efforts also perpetuate and entrench the very limitations of art they seek to overcome. The resulting interminable endgame of art’s critical maneuvers serves after a short moment to provide new paradigmatic exemplars for it, a condition of tamed instability that characterizes contemporary art today well enough.

This series proposes that for art to have substantial and credible traction on anything beyond or larger than itself, it is necessary to exit contemporary art. An exit that requires the revocation of contemporary art’s logic of escape. If the demand here has an appeal and deserves attention—and it need not since the current constitution of contemporary art serves very well the aesthetic, intellectual, and sociological forms that sustain prevalent power in and through the art field, including all prevalent forms of critique—then this demand must be placed not just on the art itself but also on the ideas it invokes, as well as the social structures and ethos sustaining this configuration. The question then is what this art other to contemporary art’s paradigm of escape can be? What other kind of social structure and distribution of power than that prevalent in contemporary art would support it? What should an art that is not contemporary art do? Of what would its traction consist and amount to?

Kaprow:
“…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.”

Koch:
Why would an ex-artist potentially bring more creativity, more imagination or more self-responsibility to natural sciences and medicine than anybody else? I think Richard Rorty (whom we both admire) would actually support me here. If artists merely become social scientists or long-distance runners, or if they do become social scientists or long-distance runners “as artists”, would sound for him a) as really hard to distinguish, b) unclear what this distinction is good for, and c) sound like an attempt to find something essential about what artists are, exactly in the very moment of their disappearance, whereas my theoretic proposals of the artistic dropout try to contribute to an anti-essentialist perspective on that disappearance.”

“For some time now, my work has been circling the question: What if, as an artist, you decide to give up your artistic practice, disappear from the art scene, and leave the field of art altogether? Does this simply mean you have given up, that you have failed? Or would you merely be switching to a new line of work, changing your job? Or could there be, potentially, more to it than this? Could leaving art be, perhaps, a gesture of critique and (artistic) sovereignty? It will, indeed, come as no surprise if we say that today there are far more former artists in the Western world, than there are practicing artists. Given the large number of artists who graduate from our academies and the very few who eventually succeed in a professional career, the »ex-artist« is a very common phenomenon in our social environment – mind you, without being a particularly seductive subject for art critics or art historians.”

Saltz:
“The best parts of Documenta 13 bring us into close contact with this illusive [might he have meant “elusive?”] entity of Post Art—things that aren’t artworks so much as they are about the drive to make things that, like art, embed imagination in material and grasp that creativity is a cosmic force. It’s an idea I love. (As I’ve written before, everything that’s made, if you look at it in certain ways, already is or can be art.) Things that couldn’t be fitted into old categories embody powerfully creative forms, capable of carrying meaning and making change. Post Art doesn’t see art as medicine, relief, or religion; Post Art doesn’t even see art as separate from living. A chemist or a general may be making Post Art every day at the office.

Wright:
I am referring to an art without artwork, without authorship (not signed by an artist) and above all without a spectator or audience. It is visible, public, and indeed, it is seen–but not as art. In this way, it cannot be placed between invisible parentheses–to be written off as “just art,” that is, as a mere symbolic transgression, the likes of which we have seen so often, whose principal effect is to promote the artist’s position within the reputational economy.”

“There are more stealth practices going on than the artworld ever acknowledges, or even knows about. This is for the self-evident reason that they are, by definition and by design, hard to see let alone recognize, but also because they subvert mainstream artworld values, for there is nothing to exhibit and thus, nothing to sell. Stealth practices tend to be written off as non-art, if not quite nonexistent. The art-critical challenge is to draw attention to them in an appropriately elusive way, both for their intrinsic worth and because they obey a certain art-historical logic. Stealth and spy art practices have become a viable way of pursuing art at a historical moment when art has withdrawn from the world–though that may appear grossly counterintuitive to anyone whose only sources are the official organs of the artworld like Flash Art or Art Forum. In the face of the omnipresence of the cultural and consciousness industries, art has withdrawn from the world and has hidden before our very eyes–the only place it is safe from artworld recuperation, the only place left where the artworld is not looking for it.

Leaving Dieter Roelstraete – The art world as urinal

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/03/2013

Can I Go Now? – Dieter Roelstraete

I find myself in the unfortunate position of defending Andrea Fraser, art, and Dave Hickey.

Roelstraete’s argument here has a familiar ring to it. Any vegetarian would likely recognize it – you don’t eat meat, but you’ve got a leather wallet. Or Anarcho-primitivists might see it too – you are arguing for an end to modernity, but you use a computer to type your manifesto. Maybe even anti-capitalist activists might notice – why don’t you leave this country or stop using money if you’re so sick of it? And who do you think reads your anti-capitalist essays other than anti-capitalists?

And perhaps Roelstraete “should be forgiven” for completely misunderstanding the distinction between being “more real” and being real in a different way. Just as the lives of the wealthy are “real” in some reductive ontological sense, it should not be mystifying to say that “real” life is not one of servants and private jets being at one’s beck and call. And McDonald’s might claim that Chicken McNuggets are real food and be correct in a very basic sense, but claiming fast food isn’t real food is not denying this. Sure the art world is a part of the real world just like Rodarte makes “real” clothes and Ann Romney had a “real” job, but they are not real in the same way as clothes from Wal-mart or being a cashier there. And to say “in the same way” is stopping short a bit – it would be more accurate to say they are not equally real in any way that actually matters. They are less real in this pragmatic sense.

One wonders how a curator might not understand an artistic proposition – how is it he ends up “wedded to the wrong notion of art?” Surely he understands that Duchamp’s urinal is both real and differently real, or that to declare the urinals in the MCA bathrooms more real than Duchamp’s implies nothing else than “more” real for a particular purpose. To borrow from Stephen Wright, if you need to piss, a double ontological toilet might not be the best choice and it may in fact be “better” to piss in a real one. Although Duchamp’s idea of the “reciprocal readymade” might cause us to reconsider even that decision.

In the various gestures of leaving that Roelstraete takes umbrage with, he appears to fail to see them as gestures. Ironically he sets up an even stricter “antimony” between art and the real world. He seems to want Fraser et. al. to really leave, a possibility he forecloses given that he believes that art and the real world are besties. It would seem that he wants to distract us from the flavorless, heat lamp warmed “food” of the art world by arguing about its reality rather than its desirability. When some declare let’s leave this place and find some real food, he merely wishes us luck and mumbles smugly like a Taco Bell manager, “They’ll be back.” And that art world attitude is what has my soul truly despairing.

& then you disappear – Stephen Wright [Part I] – Apprehension vs. Invisibility

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/13/2012

Stephen Wright – & then you disappear

Exhibit A:

apprehend

The comments above are from a procedural document on the road to obtaining my MFA (2000) and read:

We accept Randall’s outline as an indication of the written trace of his practice. The performative trace of Randall’s practice need not necessarily take form as a gallery exhibition, yet a challenge for Randall remains his resolution of what will constitute our apprehension of his practice.

Exhibit B:

Q. “What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?”

A. I don’t know and I don’t care.

Exhibit C:
Screenshot_2012-12-13-06-53-32-1

Exhibit D:

Screenshot_2012-12-13-07-27-54-1

Escape, Invisibility, and Professional Suicide in Art – A brief foray into science fiction and a detective story

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/27/2012

[Someone suggested I read the article After OWS: Social Practice Art, Abstraction, and the Limits of the Social by Gregory Sholette. It is in e-flux‘s journal, which I generally find to be a complete waste of time (and not in a good way like Gallery Girls). Surely e-flux aspires to be as stultifying and obscurantist as October,  but since it was Gregory Sholette, and the person suggesting the link seemed reliable, I acquiesced.]

Scene 1: The dark star of suicide, or the infinite density of nothingness

“…After all, instructors can hardly follow Wright’s prescription simply by refusing to engage with art’s institutional frame, at least not until before that glorious moment when all delimiting social divisions are swept away in the ecstasy of revolution. Prior to that day of liberation, any failure to reproduce one’s own academic field simply amounts to professional suicide….”

There are several ways to approach the above quote from Sholette. The first is to adopt his own astronomical metaphors and propose that rather than “dark matter,” perhaps “black hole” might be more apt. That is, one can think of art as a star that exploded long ago and we mistakenly believe that the originating object still exists because the light from it still shines so brightly. This would mean that what we call “the art world” now is just the Baudrillardian death throes of a distant star and we are trapped in its immense gravitational pull, destined to be sucked into the black hole as it were. The “ecstasy of revolution” then is the event horizon of said black hole and suicide therefore is nonsensical in this scheme…

Or what of this alternative? Maybe it is “suicide” to reproduce one’s academic field. Or the becoming-professional of art is its own kind of death? And to perpetuate that is a far worse fate than walking away. Kaprow certainly appeared to think so (although yes he was an established artist with tenure!) when he implored, “Artists of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!

Scene 2: Why is “dark matter” so damn visible? And who is buying all that stuff at Dick Blick? And why did part of the “missing mass” go missing?

When I first encountered Sholette’s “dark matter,” I had high hopes (see this). But the “dark matter” of 2003  and the “dark matter” of 2005 changed ever so subtly from the “dark matter” of 2011. There are myriad explanations – was it Professor Plum in the Study with the candlestick? Or, more likely, an editorial decision?

The missing mass of 2003:

Like its astronomical cousin, creative dark matter also makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture – the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators and arts administrators. It includes informal practices such as home-crafts, makeshift memorials, amateur photography (and pornography), Sunday-painters, self-published newsletters and fan-zines, Internet art galleries — all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world. Yet, just as the physical universe is dependent on its dark matter and energy, so too is the art world dependent on its shadow creativity. It needs it in much the same way certain developing countries depend on their shadow or informal economies.”

The missing mass of 2011:

Like its astronomical cousin, creative dark matter also makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture – the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators, and arts administrators. It includes makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organized practices – all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world, some of which might be said to emulate cultural dark matter by rejecting art world demands of visibility, and much of which has no choice but to be invisible. While astrophysicists are eager to know what dark matter is, the denizens of the art world largely ignore the unseen accretion of creativity they nevertheless remain dependent upon.

What you may note is that in 2011 some of the missing mass has gone missing. The specificity of “home-crafts, makeshift memorials, amateur photography (and pornography), Sunday-painters, self-published newsletters and fan-zines” has been tidied up into “makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organized practices.” And this revision sets the stage for the disappointment I mention here. Sholette’s book becomes then not so much a radical questioning of the creative economy, but a somewhat conventional questioning of the creative economy. By this, I mean that despite providing tantalizing hints of his admiration of, and insight into, the dark matter of anti/non professional creative practices and subcultures, very little light is cast. Instead, Sholette proceeds, despite his protestation, to celebrate if not  avant-garde strategies in some strictly defined historical sense, then vanguard strategies in which insightful political/intellectual/artistic leaders employ strategies of intervention and subversion.

So dark matter turns out to be not all that dark after all – Temporary Services, Red 76, The Yes Men, 16 Beaver, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. While none of these figures are “stars,” neither are they particularly invisible. It is certainly within Sholette’s purview to limit his discussion to the strains of dark matter he is most comfortable with, and the groups and people he does write about certainly deserve attention. But there is something symptomatic here, something that art/intellectual types seem perpetually trapped by – the allure of their own radiance.

Perhaps what Sholette describes in his final chapter as “isolated flashes of defiance” are not only found in the places he is so accustomed to looking – among his academic professional and activist peers and among the most obvious forms of resistance. It seems that Sholette, and even Stephen Wright, too often look for the “invisible” in the didactically resistant. One certainly wonders why they always seem to find activist/intellectual/artist types and not people more like Kaprow’s unartist:

“…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.”

Sholette recognizes that “creative dark activity refuses to be productive for the market,” but its final act of refusal may well be in refusing to be productive for him. I guess I just wish he spent more time with Kaprow’s “beach bum” or even his own “river rafters” than with Bruce High Quality Foundation – it might illuminate how to go on living after “professional suicide.”

Steven Wright vs. Stephen Wright – Double Ontology, Escaping the Art World – Baudrillard & Kaprow and Abbott & Costello

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/23/2012

 

[Cue video to 7:06 – 7:32]

“But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction’s charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer’s mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation, whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation.”

[From that other comedic genius, Jean Baudrillard]

“…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. Signal scrambling, perhaps. Something like those venerable baseball aficionados in the vaudeville act that began, “Who’s on first?”

[Kaprow invoking comedy]

 

[signal scrambling]

“Use the country itself, as its own map”: operating on the 1:1 scale – Stephen Wright

…They seem to be seeking to escape performative and ontological capture as art altogether. It is certainly possible to describe them as having a double ontology; but it seems more closely in keeping with their self-understanding to argue that this is not an ontological issue at all, but rather a question of the extent to which they are informed by a certain coefficient of art. Informed by artistic self-understanding, not framed as art.

[see Kaprow’s “stored code” above]

This may be a way to renegotiate the asymmetrical relationship between art and memory. Though both are constructs, art long focused on shaping and reshaping memory’s matrix-like status — in other words, art stemmed from memory, yet somehow managed to scale memory down and thereby to hold it at a distance. The practices I have briefly described, and countless others today, have come to challenge this scalar bias and instead, increasingly, to operate on the 1:1 scale, no longer distinguishable from their object on the basis of scale and thus of use. Such full-scale aesthetics may make it possible to force memory to the fore as a dimension of the historical present, and as such, fully political.

[see Baudrillard’s “mad project” above]

I love Steven and Stephen (talk about double ontology!!!), but I think Steven’s distillation wins in this instance. I also think Stephen cites terribly insufficient examples of “escape.”  And the challenge to ontology itself offered by Baudrillard should at least, when talking of maps and territories, be addressed if only to engender the silly confusion of a theoretical vaudeville.

Open Engagement 2012, or a drop out drops in

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/22/2012

What follows is a wholly incomplete account of my time in Portland during the Open Engagement conference. It may or may not be accurate or completely truthful. It is dedicated to my fellow travelers, and is especially dedicated to Abby (it may not be poetry per se, but still…):

 

Public sculpture near lecture hall.

 

eclipse watchers on the sidewalks

early dusk hummingbird escape

a graceful old farmhouse scratched by divorce and chicken feet

yakuza drinks with a Port Townsend farmer I swear keeps talking about gynecology (but is not)

an old friend rant, like falling from a bar stool – “ham and cheese sandwiches in my pocket!”

Cheerful Tortoise

beards and spectacles

aggressively unfashionable lesbians

fashionably unaggressive  straight dudes

bloody mary truth serum

portable wardrobe sidewalk disintegration

confiscated fake id with threats of boyfriend reprisal

tales of mutton served to unsuspecting family members

Grain and Gristle

red velvet cake with herbaceous Italian dessert wine

crazy i-talian farmstand bitches

Native American salmon fisherman breaking down his catch over beer (I open one for him as his hands are slimy from the work)

DOC

opening remarks missed due to hangover

pickled beets greens mint soft boiled egg

bamboo mat is magic carpet then hiding place

alka seltzer + alka seltzer plus cold medicine

they talk and talk of social practice yet the farmer’s market overshadows

Woodsman Tavern

stacking veggie filled Rubbermaid totes for Gathering Together Farm

iced coffee in the rain

old haunts with new friends

new haunts with old friends

honey basil tequila lime

driving a Toyota Tacoma

lunch in the grass

radicchio feta hazelnuts

crows by the dozen carrying on as crows do

pea shoots and potatoes

drunk Florida women yelling from a car (see also i-talians)

deviled egg w/anchovy

anchovy butter w/cauliflower

cauliflower w/smoked almonds

almonds coated in salty sweet cocoa

Obama classmate from Hawaii describes him in a way that makes me like him

Robo Taco throat slash confusion

Ted Purves as phantom limb

Stephen Wright as mushroom shaman

who is sleeping with their grad students/who is not?

much note taking and unasked questions

I left it all with a heavy heart and a French goodbye (thanks Sal)…

Stephen Wright – Invisible Art – Quitting

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/04/2012

“Behind Police Lines: Art Visible and Invisible” – Stephen Wright

I suspect that one reason for the artworld’s warm embrace of Rancière’s aesthetic theory is that it tells the artworld what it wants to hear about itself; it reinforces the glowing stereotype that the artworld fancies for itself – that is, as an inherently political and almost subversive place, whatever sort of predictable and conventional buffoonery it actually engages in.

And it may well be for this reason that ever more artists today are quitting the artworld, sacrificing their coefficient of artistic visibility in favour of a more corrosively dissensus-engendering capacity in the dominant semiotic order. For to see something as art according to the dominant performative paradigm of the contemporary artworld, is to acknowledge something terribly debilitating: that it is just art – not the dangerous, litigious, real thing. It is not my intent to deny that art can, on occasion, do what Rancière claims it can: for the artworld élite that likes that sort of thing, the concentrated, composed and self-reflective works one finds in museums have a disruptive value that is far from negligible. But deliberately circumscribing it within the policed structure of the artworld is to ensure that our relationship to art remains one of constantly renewed, constantly dashed hopes.

Art Work – Leisure

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/02/2009

UPDATE: More here.

These comments pertain to the recent release of Art Work by Temporary Services. They apply to the project as a whole, but a link to them was left on Julia Bryan-Wilson’s essay “Art Versus Work” as it is a central organizing essay. I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of the response. I level these criticisms and objections with great admiration of, and humility toward,  Art Work, its organizers, and its contributors even if I don’t always maintain that tone.

Anything but work: Call Me a Slacker – NEVER a Worker.

“My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it. I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh – anything but work.” – Abraham Lincoln

Julia Bryan-Wilson does an admirable job presenting a historical overview and theoretical foundation for those who embrace the notion of the artist as worker. What leaves me a bit cold, not just in her piece, but in Art Work as a whole, is the lack of any substantive dissent from this notion. At the very least, a sketch of some counter-theorizations, and a survey of key figures advocating against the valorization of work and labor would be useful. The slackers, quitters, idlers, loafers, drop outs, and leisure theorists have their own history, many providing a scathing critique of the lefts embrace of the proletarianization of human activity. I, being one of these good for nothings myself, hope to provide just such a sketch, but it will remain just a sketch as anything more would feel too much like work, and I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh…

On work, labor, and old man Marx

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused
by the belief that work is virtuous…” – Bertrand Russell

Julia Bryan-Wilson writes, “Drawing on Marx’s theoretical work, and prompted by a desire to make art legitimate, necessary, and meaningful, artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tried to erode the distinction between art and labor by insisting that their actions, and the products of those actions, were indeed work.” The idea that calling what you do “work” makes it “legitimate” or “meaningful” is the crux of the problem I have with much of what one finds in Art Work. This sort of thinking is everywhere on the left and Marx does in fact provide the theoretical mirror in which many self-identified “cultural workers” (I always shudder at this phrase) see themselves. Jean Baudrillard, the still mostly Marxist incarnation of which Bryan-Wilson cites, moved very quickly into a position not easily integrated within her piece or this newspaper as a whole. In his book The Mirror of Production he writes “The critical theory of the mode of production does not touch the principle of production.” That is to say that Marxist analysis too readily embraces the terms of the debate and therefore provides a mere functional critique, one that Baudrillard might note, “…deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as model.”

Like Baudrillard I see a certain kind of of Marxist theoretical fundamentalism at work here. Art, like everything else in life apparently, becomes just another form of work. The proponents of artist unions and art workers appear to see labor and production everywhere and thus we find ourselves talking of wages, compensation, and professional practices. Let’s keep in mind though that just as the id, ego, and superego are organizing myths of psychoanalysis, Marxism has its own myths. Mapping the world using these specialized tools is certainly useful in certain contexts, but I’d just like to keep in mind that they are specialized, very partial, and historically bound views and that they are maps after all. Or to return to Baudrillard in reference to Marxism:

“Historical materialism, dialectics, modes of production, labor power – through these concepts Marxist theory has sought to shatter the abstract universality of the concepts of bourgeois thought…Yet Marxism in turn universalizes them with a ‘critical’ imperialism as ferocious as the other’s.”

“…Thus, to be logical the concept of history must itself be regarded as historical, turn back on itself…Instead, in Marxism history is transhistoricized: it redoubles on itself and is universalized.”

“As soon as they [critical concepts] are constituted as universal they cease to be analytical and the religion of meaning begins [or what we called theoretical fundamentalism].”

Giles Gunn, not writing specifically about Marxism puts it this way, “Theory of this sort is always in danger of reifying itself – or, what amounts to the same thing, of treating everything it touches as mere epiphenomena of its own idioms. [emphasis mine]” So where does that leave us? What does employing these terms do? It seems many contributors here find them liberating. I feel it gives too much ground, too readily cedes a particular view of what is important about what artists do. I’m not sure that Baudrillard doesn’t have this one right:

“Failing to conceive of a mode of social wealth other than that founded on labor and production, Marxism no longer furnishes in the long run a real alternative to capitalism.”

And:

“And in this Marxism assists in the cunning of capital. It convinces men [sic] that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the ‘inalienable’ power of creating value by their labor. [entire quote in italics in the original]”

I see in Bryan-Wilson’s apparent acceptance of Marx a failure of imagination of sorts, one that leads us reductively to seeing the world through a narrow, economic prism. Much like the psychoanalyst sees libidinal drives and frustrated sexuality in everything from their morning coffee to flower arrangements, many in Art Work, see money, labor, and production everywhere. This strikes me as unhealthy and teeters dangerously close to the history of conceptual imperialism employed by Western ethnographers when they interpreted other cultures through their own cultural matrix and mistook this reading as transcription rather than translation. Baudrillard, again in The Mirror of Production is helpful here:

“…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:

“In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects [so called primitive art] in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all. 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.”

If we substitute “esthetic” with “economic” it should become clear why this is pertinent. By seeing something that looks like what the West calls economic exchange or labor and calling it such, we miss the opportunity to observe something deeply challenging to the very premise of economy, value, and work. To extrapolate then, we should think long and hard about how readily we want to place art within the conceptual spreadsheet of capitalist vocabulary, or as Baudrillard would say, its mirror – Marxist vocabulary.

Art work or Art leisure?

“…with art-relaxing art comes to you with a greater simplicity clearness beauty reality feelingness and life.” – Gilbert and George

“…there is no art without laziness.” – Mladen Stilinovic

Leisure, Joseph Pieper, the “intellectual worker,” and de-proletarianization

“Leisure has had a bad press. For the puritan it is the source of vice; for the egalitarian a sign of privilege. The Marxist regards leisure as the unjust surplus, enjoyed by the few at the expense of the many.” – Roger Scruton

“Work does not make you rich; it only makes you bent over.” – Russian proverb

One doesn’t have to look very far to find alternatives to the worship of work. Josef Pieper’s book Leisure, The Basis of Culture provides a road map to rethinking many of the founding assumptions of Art Work. Tackling head on what he calls the culture of “total work,” Pieper argues for leisure as an organizing principle for culture. He is especially scornful of the notion of the “intellectual worker” from which the easy leap to “art worker” should be obvious. He writes, “…the takeover…of intellectual action…and its exclusive possession by the realm of ‘total work’…the most recent phase of a whole series of conquests made by the ‘imperial figure’ of the ‘Worker.’ And the concepts of intellectual worker and intellectual work…make the fact of that conquest especially clear and especially challenging to our times.”

He goes on to provide a historical summary of how the idea of effort, work, and labor came to be equated with knowing and how this transformation omitted the very basis of intellectus, the passive, listening, visionary, effortless dimension of knowing at the expense of ratio, the mostly discursive, active form. As he describes it, many in this publication seem to have followed this same path of over-valuing effort and difficulty. So in Art Work it becomes clear that “…not only the wage earner, the hand-worker, and the proletarian are workers; even the learned man, the student, are workers; they too are drawn into the social system and its distribution of labor. the intellectual worker…is a functionary in the total world of work, he may be called a ‘specialist,’ he is still a functionary…nobody is granted a ‘free zone’ of intellectual activity…” In this I sense a sad resignation to proletarianization, but what if we sought rather de-proletarianization?

Pieper defines being proletarian as “being bound to the working-process.” This he argues leads one to become a “spiritually impoverished functionary” – and it is this that rings loudly when I see one embrace the term art worker. For once again it seems like a failure of imagination, a spiritual failure (knowing full well how unfashionable that must seem) to adopt, if even tactically, the rhetoric of total work, or “to fall into line as ready functionaries for the collective working-state.” What is the alternative? Rather than expanding the reach of work, its colonization of existence, its imperial nature, perhaps it is better to tame it, refuse it (to the extent one can), and most easily, reject its measures. As Pieper says de-proletarianization “would consist in making available for the working person a meaningful kind of activity that is not work – in other words, by opening up an area of true leisure.”

Slack

Another prism through which to read all of this is through the “paradoxes of slackerdom” – an online conference I co-organized with Stephen Wright here. In its own way that (international) conversation stands as a kind of rejoinder to this one, or at least a necessary supplement. I urge those who have found their way here to look not only at it, but at the legions of lazy sods, slackers,  and others that reject work altogether as the (only) measure of human worthiness – those that seek  to define their lives relative to, and in, leisure – what Paul Willis calls “the hidden continent of the informal.”

Alexander Koch – Quitting – Stephen Wright

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/18/2009

“Why would an ex-artist potentially bring more creativity, more imagination or more self-responsibility to natural sciences and medicine than anybody else. I think Richard Rorty (whom we both admire) would actually support me here. If artists merely become social scientists or long-distance runners, or if they do become social scientists or long-distance runners “as artists”, would sound for him a) as really hard to distinguish, b) unclear what this distinction is good for, and c) sound like an attempt to find something essential about what artists are, exactly in the very moment of their disappearance, whereas my theoretic proposals of the artistic dropout try to contribute to an anti-essentialist perspective on that disappearance.” – from an amazing interview here.