Monday, 20 November 2017

Art As Social Practice

‘Artificial Hells ... demonstrates that Breton wanted… to classify and systematize creative experience, to justify it morally and place it within a tradition of cultural rebellion.’

Dada Breton by  Matthew S. Witkovsky p127
October Vol. 105, Dada (Summer, 2003)

Claire Bishop takes the title of her book Artificial Hells from Andre Breton, founder of surrealism, writing on that period.

While Grant Kester in ‘Autonomy, Antagonism and the Aesthetic’ champions participatory work, including work made with a moral intent and ‘within a tradition of cultural rebellion’, Claire Bishop seems to believe that the aesthetic qualities of art suffers when it takes on social, ethical concerns.

Through the history of theatre and performance, the book draws out a history of visual art, claiming that participatory art, while most popular since the 1990s, can be traced back throughout the twentieth century.

In a talk at Kaaitheater (Brussels) in 2013, Claire Bishop says that the American term ‘social practice’ is telling, as it removes art from the equation. (But you could equally argue that about Duchamp’s readymades.)

Dr Toby Lowe of Newcastle University/Helix Arts created this table to make the respective positions of the two writers clear.













Claire Bishop asserts that the good intentions of the participatory art cannot make up for a loss of aesthetic quality.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily true that there has to be loss of aesthetic quality.

Three inspiring artists in my field make art in this way. To me, the aesthetic quality of their work is still high, whilst they also engage with social issues and include other people in its creation.

The Henningham Family Press’ work is based on printmaking, book arts and publishing, and often includes performance outside a gallery setting (eg during the London Word Festival in 2010 they set up a screenprinting ‘Chip Shop’ in the Red Art Café in Dalston)
Henningham Family Press at the London Word Festival, 2010






















I wrote in detail on Gallery Ell about the Henningham Family Press and their day of participatory art based on George Orwell’s Maximum Wage in a church hall in Dalston (2015). 

‘The Maximum Wage’ is a live art show about income inequality… inspired by George Orwell’s idea of a limitation of incomes in his essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.

 ...The centrepiece is ‘The Maximum Wage’ screen-print production line, where the public will help print ‘Orwells’ – money that can be used at the event, as well as in several Hackney businesses. Each player’s ‘wages’ will be determined by their randomly allocated status and a spin of the wheel of fortune.  Earnings will be capped at Orwell’s 10:1 or Osborne’s 330:1. It is the battle of the Georges.'

My interview with David Henningham, Gallery Ell March 2015

Henningham Family Press  - Maximum Wage (2015) - photo Wei Xun
















Printing money

a printed 'Orwell' bank note











Their art work is playful, imaginative, collaborative, political, creative, performance based and participatory. But I don't believe it suffers from any lack of aesthetic value.


























The other artist is Swoon.

When I lived in Hackney  around 2005 and started to take photos of street art, I became disillusioned quickly as it seemed that much street art was used cynically as a way for creatives just to get gallery representation.

The work itself had no content, it was just that people knew that Banksy was successful and that street art was fashionable and could sell.  (Banksy’s excellent satire ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ tells this story.)

Swoon (Caledonia Curry) was an exception to this.   I find both her work and her ethos inspiring.  (She started as a printmaker working in large scale linocuts inspired by Expressionism and Japanese woodcuts.)
paper pasteup, Bethnal Green circa 2005

Swoon, Shoreditch circa 2011












Murmuration installation, Black Rat Projects 2011

Murmuration installation, Black Rat Projects 2011

Murmuration installation, Black Rat Projects 2011

Murmuration installation, Black Rat Projects 2011


She was given a solo show early in her career by gallerist Jeffrey Deitch.
Swoon, Deitch Projects 2005
















Many artists would have been happy with commercial success, but Swoon used this to fund other projects involving communities.

For example, with other artists and activists, Swoon gatecrashed the 2008 Venice Biennale, by sailing two giant rafts  made from recycled rubbish through Europe to Venice, holding events and projects with audiences at stop off points along the way.
Deitch 'Swimming Cities' 2008 photo by Tod Seelie

Deitch 'Swimming Cities' 2008 photo by Tod Seelie




























Other examples of Swoon's work include Konbit Shelter, a creative project to make sustainable, earthquake-proof buildings including a community centre and homes in  Haiti, and the Transformazium – a collective of artists in recession-hit Braddock, Pennsylvania who work with residents on the creative use of the town’s derelict spaces.

I don’t believe that you have to choose between aesthetics and activism, Swoon is a shining example of someone who makes high quality work in aesthetic terms, while working with audiences to make participatory art.

I think that the key issue in these texts is access and entitlement.

Claire Bishop is an art historian with a degree from Cambridge University, and I would guess has never been anxious about entering an art gallery or museum. 

But when I volunteered on a local advisory committee in 2006 for the exhibitions strategy at the V&A Museum of Childhood (probably the least intimidating, friendliest gallery/museum in London) Stephen Nicholls the Exhibition Manager said the biggest problem they faced was getting local people through the door in the first place. 

They held English classes, playgroups and coffee mornings for people, just to get them used to entering the museum and feeling comfortable there – feeling that they were allowed into the place.

These articles made me consider who art belongs to.  Taking art out of the museum and gallery and involving audiences in its making, opens it up for more people.

The art that Grant Kester writes about blurs the lines between the artist and the audience, and this is something that seems to make Claire Bishop cross.  If art belongs to everyone and everyone has the ability to make art, it undermines the role of a critic, whose job is to judge what is pure or real or authentic art, and to be a kind of gatekeeper.

I found this week’s reading à propos as I’d just seen on Twitter a story about the V&A buying a part of ‘a nationally important and internationally recognised work of Brutalist architecture’, Robin Hood Gardens, a working class estate which has been demolished, so that the residents have lost their homes, to make way for ‘luxury flats’-  ie property investment.

It was not deemed so important when they asked the curator to sign a petition to save their homes.

Stephen Pritchard,( co-founder of Artists Against Artwashing and PhD researcher at Northumbria University focusing on activist art) writes more about this and about artwashing here.

This story made me think about the role of art and how much more is at stake than just an argument between art critics.

Neither article specifically addresses art washing but this is a further twist in the story of how art functions in society.

References

Bishop, C. (2012) ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents’ in Artificial Hells. London: Verso, pp. 11-40

Henningham Family Press 2015 https://maximumwage.uk/tag/henningham-family-press/

Kester, G. (2011) ‘Autonomy, Antagonism and the Aesthetic’ in The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context . Durham NC: Duke UP, pp.19-65

Lowe, T (2011) http://helixarts.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/what-does-participatory-arts-mean.html  

Pritchard,  S (2017)  http://colouringinculture.org/blog/artwashingrobinhoodgardens

Witkovsky, M.S. ( Summer 2003) Dada Breton  p127 October Vol. 105, Dada

Friday, 17 November 2017

the radical history of Middlesex

Looking for information about the former art & design campus at Cat Hill and Quicksilver, I came across this interesting blog about the student occupy movement at Middlesex

Friday, 10 November 2017

Susan Hiller’s The Last Silent Movie

The Last Silent Movie

Hiller orchestrates voices of the last speakers of extinct or endangered languages. Subtitles translate their utterances while the screen remains black. … this work provides the framework for the audience to reflect on the speakers and the conditions that may have prompted the loss of their language. These silenced speakers buried in archives, have literally been given voice again by the artist.
Tate


I would like to have seen (heard?) this film, and was only able to find some clips online.

Alexandra writes about the work as rescuing these voices from the archives, and about the 'recording voice as index of an already fleeting human presence.'

The work is ‘full of shadows’ eg. the recording device which crackles audibly and the shadow of the anthropologist or data collector who assembles the clips.

Referencing Charles Sanders Peirce’s description of the index as a sign that denotes the object through an actual connection, and Roland Barthes’ idea of the index in Camera Lucida as ‘a haunted and haunting quasi-signifier’  the essay is about the effect of the recorded voices. (Barthes was writing about photography but his idea is applied here to the sound recording of the human voice.)

‘The recorded voice can become a melancholic vestige of presence now past and a testimony to this passing. '

This discussion of the uncanny, of loss and haunting reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, a non silent movie.  It is partly about the themes of memory and home, and the plot revolves around the index, in the form of old home movies.

The protagonist Mike has a form of narcolepsy (cataplexy) in which he falls unconscious when he experiences strong emotion. The memories of his childhood and his lost mother which trigger the narcolepsy are seen on the screen as home movies featuring various lost childhood homes.
































Author Peter Brooks, writing about memory in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principal, writes ‘The understanding of time.. is the work of memory… or more precisely we could say with Freud, ‘of remembering, repeating, working through.’ Repetition, remembering, reenactment are the ways in which we replay time so that it may not be lost… All we can do is subvert time, which is what narrative does’. (Freud’s Masterplot, Reading for the Plot p 92)

Film represents what was filmed in the past in the present moment, and this narrative film plays with its power to subvert time by bringing what has been lost alive in the present.

I think the theme of loss, which is more political in this example of Susan Hiller’s work, is something often expressed in art. 

My Own Private Idaho is a mainstream film, but by drawing attention to the mechanics of  recording through the home movies, it is also dealing with the mystery of time which has passed and is irretrievable. 

Art may try to record time and to relive it, but it is only a recording.  Gus van Sant’s film draws attention time and again to home movies by replaying them, underlining the recording of a ‘fleeting human presence’.

The essay quotes media theorist Friedrich Kittler ‘Voice is neither dead nor alive: its status […] is that of a “living dead” . Alexandra writes “In recording, the voice has its intrinsic uncanniness simultaneously amplified and repressed.”

I was not sure but I thought that this meant that it is uncanny because it is as though the person is alive, and a recording of their voice seems more ‘real’ than a photo – so the uncanniness of it not being the actual person is repressed. At the same time we know that it is only a recording and the person whose voice it is may be gone, so the uncanniness is amplified.

I find Susan Hiller’s subject moving because when I lost a friend to cancer, after she died I heard her voice, (rather than imagining I saw her.)  Whenever I think about her it is always her voice I hear. It is especially strange to think that her voice is still so clear and vivid in my head when I won’t ever hear it again.  I think this is the core of the mystery that The Last Silent Movie deals with.

I ran out of word count to write about Claire Pajazkowska's Tension, Time and Tenderness: Indexical Traces of Touch in Textiles.

In brief, CP anaylses textiles through semiotics and theories of child psychology.

“Tension” - she discusses the texture in relation to semiotics, and how material and meaning are bound together.

In semiotic terms,  it is made by hand and therefore an index of the hand, but can also be symbolic.

Time - to summarise, it takes time to make the textiles

Tenderness - about child psychologist Winnicott  and the theory of 'holding' & containment (both physical holding, and in the sense of holding ideas).

In theory it should be interesting. I  remember some of this from last time at university nearly 25 years ago. Just wondering why we still haven't moved on from Freud and semiotics yet.





Friday, 3 November 2017

bell hooks on Jean Michel Basquiat, Barbara Rose on Jasper Johns

bell hooks writing on a Basquiat retrospective in Art in America 1993

A black author writing about a black artist and the white critical art establishment. bell hooks shows how endemic racism and the entitlement of the critics leads to them underestimating Jean Michel Basquiat's work or making racist claims about primitivism in his paintings.

bell hooks writes about how they wilfully ignore the political content of his work, judging it only from the perspective of a Eurocentric, white Western art history. The essay reclaims the ‘dynamism springing from the convergence, contact and conflict of varied traditions.’

It’s a personal essay about bell hooks' emotional response to Basquiat's paintings, which also manages to bring in the wide influences and context of his work, from African art and history to jazz, hip hop and graffiti, discounted by the other critics as it didn’t fit into the canon.

The essay defends Basquiat, as the exhibition in 1993 seems to have been slated by many white art critics at the time, and his work was torn to pieces.

This  was republished more recently for Black History Month (date not given in article).   It is interesting reading this 24 years later,  as now I would say that Basquiat’s status is currently very high in the art world (eg the very popular and lauded retrospective at the Barbican in Autumn 2017, and his “Untitled,” painting sold for $110,487,500 at Sotheby's in May 2017) and it’s a less controversial opinion to say he is a great artist than it was in 1993.

(This shows just how the art market works, how reputations can rise and fall, and how fashions can come and go. To sell a painting for that amount of money, it’s in the interest of the market to big up someone’s reputation.)

I really like his work.  I do wonder what he would have made of this essay, he repeatedly said during his short life that he didn’t want to be seen as a ‘black artist’, but as an artist, in the same way that most of us might be feminist but not want to be shoved into a ghetto as a ‘woman artist’.  I think he always knew his own worth. He was painting the world he lived in.

The racism bell hooks talks about in the essay is alive and well. I liked Banksy’s ironic comment outside the Barbican exhibition, which recalls Basquiat’s painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), about the death of his fellow graffiti artist at the hands of NYC police in 1983.




 

Barbara Rose on Jasper Johns for the RA Magazine Autumn 2017

I read the the second article next and couldn’t help comparing the artists because I read bel hooks first (and watched films about and featuring Basquiat such as Downtown 81.)  Johns didn’t have to hustle for his place as an artist in the same way, to be seen as legitimate by the establishment.

They have in common that they both found their source material in everyday life and in iconography, (eg Basquiat’s skulls and crowns, cars and planes, and Johns’ maps, alphabets, flags and brushes) but only one still has to be defended as a real artist.
Flag 1955 Jasper Johns












Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2013, offset lithograph



















Barbara Rae is an art historian ‘who has written extensively on Johns’ work.’ This article for the RA magazine is for a general audience, so is not academic  but it is sometimes unintentionally funny. ‘like serial killers who often take a hiatus, Johns did not paint the third canvas… until 1966.’ ‘Obviously Johns, like the fox in Pinocchio, actively tempts the critic to see.’ And some names are mentioned for no reason (eg Proust, Dosteyevsky) as they don’t seem to have a connection with his work.

The sentences I have underlined in the text include ‘transforms objects into images’ (but this is something artists have done since the Lascaux cave paintings, so can’t be claimed just for Jasper Johns) to  ‘displaced in a variety of contexts that alter their meaning’.  It describes his practice, using printmaking to develop his painting and vice versa, and going from 2D to 3D and back.

I quite like Jasper John’s art (unlike Basquiat's work I think it doesn't reproduce so well but is stunning when you see it). But this is the kind of writing that makes it seem less than it is, just because of the breathlessness and awe of the style. What Alastair Gentry would identify as ‘Normal Thing Is Amazing Because Artist Did It’

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Notes on the Index

 Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America

Rosalind Krauss for October Vol 3 Spring 1977

Rosalind Krauss art critic writing about the variety of art forms in the 70s and what such different art forms (video, performance, ‘earthworks’ &c, all share. She writes about the primacy of photography in art (as compared with painting for earlier generations)

What the different art forms share is the idea of the index – something ‘standing in’ for something else. She gives the examples of physical traces – eg footprints,  medical symptoms, cast shadows.

I understood the ideas she was talking about, but the terminology was confusing.

Refers to terms of structural theorists Lacan (French psychoanalytic theorist) and Roman Jakobson (Russian–American linguist and literary theorist writing about language)

Shifter = a linguistic sign which is empty, having a floating meaning which depends on the context.
 –eg ‘this’ - when you say ‘this chair’ ‘this table’   the word ‘this’ is only given a meaning by the context.

also personal pronouns –  ‘I’ or ‘you’ change meaning depending on who is speaking in a conversation.

Rosalind Krauss compares the symbol to the index

Symbol -


 An image which can be detached from the object or idea it represents – “completely arbitrary and must be culturally learned” 

different types of symbol

















Numbers and written language/words are also symbols – there is no connection between the thing itself and the word  representing it. For example:

can be cat in English or gato in Spanish or chat in French or
               
in Chinese





(This talk about the index and the symbol also reminded me of Magritte's The Treachery of Images)


 













Index

 “they are the marks or traces of a particular cause, and that cause is the thing to which they refer, the object they signify.”

This is where I started to become interested,  I’ve been photographing these (index) images as visual sources for a long time without realising what it was called.

Just some of them below (for some reason Blogger is rotating some of the photos upside down & won't let you correct this)














Monday, 16 October 2017

Site and Situation: (not) at Home



   



Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex, an art critic and historian with a specialism in feminist art criticism and theory about contemporary women artists.


An introductory essay to Fran Cottell’s book, which collects together descriptions of different interative installations in her home over a period of time. 


Cooking Up the Self Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do” the Kitchen by Lesley Ferris


Critical writing with some historical background, analysing two different performance artists; Bobby Baker stages her work in her own kitchen and Blondell Cummings performed in kitchen ‘sets’. 


Written by Lesley Ferris - Arts & Humanities Professor, Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, a theatre director and scholar.




Blondell Cummings Chicken Soup –

video still 1989



https://danceinteractive.jacobspillow.org/blondell-cummings/chicken-soup/




Bobby Baker Kitchen Show


Bobby Baker: Redeeming Features of Daily Life edited by Michèle Barrett and Bobby Baker (2007), Routledge.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Fran Cottell:  “During the 1980s and 1990s I had started to think about the public/private relationships between and within the body (often represented by clothing) and or the spaces we occupy.”


Fran Cottell is the Fine Art Senior Lecturer at Camberwell.  


 “Since 2001, Cottell has used her own house as both subject and experimental site for her performative events, subtly altering this domestic environment through architectural interventions. (Camberwell website)


Back to Front installation 2011– photos by Terry Watts from Fran Cottrell’s website

The work made interventions (eg viewing platforms, peepholes) over a period of time in her own house in Greenwich and invited people in whilst going about her everyday life with her family.

















Platform for visitors to stand on while family got on with daily life














Fran Cottell’s interest has been in exploring the relationships between ‘inhabited spaces’ – the body, the home, and the exterior world.  (Introduction by Fran Cottell)

She found that galleries were too public a space and wanted to explore ‘real experience’ – the interior space and the life that took place there.’


Collecting time – invited different curators and critics to put their heads through a hole in her daughter’s bedroom floor so that she could take a photo of them











In this essay, Katy Deepwell writes about the work in the context of sculpture, and cites Rosalind Krauss idea of the ‘expanded field’ – 

 “No longer an object to be looked at, the work will literally put us in another place, create another kind of environment”. 

Instead of standing and looking at one fixed object in one space, the experience can be a ‘4D experience’, being immersed in an environment or installation, happening over a period of time.

Some examples of other immersive installations for comparison:  









DreamThinkSpeaks’ Absent, Shoreditch Town Hall, 2015 


 photo Jim Stephenson






‘An intimate promenade installation inspired by The Duchess of Argyll’s residence at a central London hotel in the 1970’s’ 

14 Radnor Terrace 1974 – feminist art group SLAG – South London Art Group took over/squatted a small terraced house as a large scale installation  called ‘ A Woman’s Place’  - contemporary critique of family life. 

In 2017 Raven Row gallery reconstructed some of the work, the show was called 56 Artillery Lane in homage


Su Richardson for Fenex 1977 (my photo) recreated in Raven Row in 2017















 Conclusion: 

Fran Cottell explains in her introduction how a live ‘real’ experience is more vivid and alive , something that it is not possible to deliver through a performance in a gallery.

(I enjoyed the Raven Row show very much but you can see how much more powerful it must have been in the squatted house the artists had taken over in the 1970s.)  

Also, by inviting people into her home with her family, the work ‘invites viewers to consider ‘where’ they are in the process of viewing the work: a viewer/a resident, a participant/an observer, part of the life displayed/or on display” . 

I  felt that Katy Deepwell and Lesley Ferris were both admirers of their respective artists’ work.The writing was enthusiastic and keen to give the reader a personal impression of the work, and to argue for its value. 

Both pieces admitted the work is not easy to convey in description. For this kind of live work, to get the most out of it you really have to be there. 

I also thought that the pieces played down the humour of this work, as though if something is funny, it can’t also be serious and meaningful. 

I liked Fran Cottell’s remark on her visitors. 

 “Most people reacted with humour… although some… reported back afterwards, complaining that they had been unable to sleep, after a visit, because they found it unsettling’. 

Questions:


It is alive and vivid , more so that a traditional gallery installation, but not repeatable, recordable (or sellable?) 

I wondered why the book was only available as a download? 

Can a writer support themselves with this kind of work if they don’t also have a day job, eg an academic job at a university?