Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Turkey and cheese on a roll please, hot, lettuce and mayonnaise: Ranciere Doesn't Go to the Bodega

I struggle to respond to Ranciere, because I do not have a PhD in philosophy and I have emails to reply to, But I Must.

I appreciate the ways in which Ranciere parallels art and politics as avenues for human gathering. He does this first by debasing these constructs to their most basic elements: art is sculpture, painting, dance, song and so on which are on their own craft but come together to from culture; politics is a macro-level agreement between populations and individuals that power and consent will be traded to varying degrees of equity and efficacy. In this, we can clearly see how art is more powerful than politics: art is all of its crafts and power and consent, while Cheeto-in-Charge couldn't paint a dog for his Winter White House (Bush, on the other hand, isn't bad). Both art and politics unite, but on different terms.

What art does not need that politics does is the consent of the public for it to exist. As such, art exists on its own terms. Here we arrive at a junction, whether to subscribe to modernist beliefs of the artist as singular genius responsible for bringing great artwork to the public, or in a postmodern sensibility in which art is a sum and reflection of society's parts. Power is present in each perspective, but its location varies - here Ranciere comes thru with the politicization of aesthetics.

All throughout Contemporary Art and the Politics of Aesthetics, Ranciere steeps his discussion in the art world, acknowledging its tendency to incorporate contemporary art's fancy for bringing in everyday objects into its domain. Never is it acknowledged that the politicization of art - even the dissensual forms of critical art - exist outside the domain of the museum, the art world, the bubble of people with access to museums and politics.

Ranciere views art as solely that which is created by artists for exhibitions. What of the creative choices made regularly, and unconsciously? Are they not political? To limit analysis to Raushenberg, Barney, and museum exhibitions is to say that only established artists may be political.

Ranciere states four dissensual forms of critical art: the joke, the collection, the invitation, and the mystery. This is an insightful reflection on the constitution of contemporary art. These forms exist in the bodega. He even invites this association: "Art is not made of paintings, poems, or melodies. Above all, it is made of some spatial setting, such as the theater, the monument, or the museum." It is important to recognize and interpret how a space exists in connection to time, whether the space is a palimpsest over time or is, relative to a human's life, immune to its confines. And while museums may be more timeless (because they're way richer) than a bodega, the building typology endures.

The collection is the essence of the bodega: Takis, rice, bacon egg and cheese and a cat all exist within its walls. The mystery exists in how these goods define the bodega's customers, and thus, the neighborhood: the bodega is mad ethnographic. Invitation exists to varying degrees, and yet overall one is always invited into a bodega. And finally, the joke. Here Ranciere slays. The joke is not a punchline, it is the unveiling of a secret under which we all exist but must be made aware of. Perhaps the joke of the bodega is not universal, but bodega dependent. Maybe there's no punchline, and maybe its existence is the lifting of the wool. What is certain is that their presence and adoration in urban areas is monumental, and their absence in suburban areas similarly monumental. From here, one may interpret freely.

Ultimately, however, the bodega is no less a monumental artwork than Rauschenberg's Combine paintings (which, honey, I've never heard of). It is, however, obedient to Ranciere's observation of both art and politics as vehicles for human gathering around what is common: cultural participation, political consent, and the need to understand and assign power within society.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Authorship is a claim of propriety. With this claim one may ascribe/identify lineage between lines of questioning/thought. One may also use authorship as a tool for organization - alphabetically. The indirect function comes when the author's clout gives traction to the text: here, the text is contextualized not by its content, but by its creator. There are myriad functions for claiming authorship, and those aforementioned are useful for distinct tasks - conducting research, organizing data, and publicity, respectively. I appreciate Barthes' note that texts exist for the destination of their meaning, rather than the origin of their thought. 

I was standing in the shower and thinking about how my birthday is coming up. Facebook had asked me, right before the shower, if I wanted to add my birthday to my profile so my friends could see it's my birthday, and wish me happy birthday. Clicked "Add birthday to profile" I did. 

When I comment on something, or when someone writes happy birthday on my wall, there is, elsewhere, another person on the other end, inputting commands into pieces of plastic or onto a tap of glass. Attribution is important in personal communication, but not for maintaining the person-centricity of the internet. Rather, it seems very common that people with recognizeable names on the internet are frequently bots, spam, are invented digital personas. The contrary is the username, invented by an individual, highlighting not just the presence of people on the internet, but the intelligence of people in the internet to invent what had not been given to them. 

My first AIM screen name was dtrez892. The only facet of it which represents me is "trez", but it exists sandwiched between to unrelated, "random" elements. The "d" was supposed to suggest the article "the," and I have no idea where 892 came from. The resulting username is only unique in that no one else had that exact combination of numbers and letters. In this, I stand alone, my digital presence is marked out by me. Someone had to come up with this unique combination of numbers and letters. It was me. (My next screen name was ptresadactyl, which I am much more proud of). 

This was also in the mid-2000's, when wifi everywhere was nowhere near assumed. Today, Facebook tells me how many mutual friends I have with those who request me - and of the 13 requests I have not accepted or rejected, only 2 have mutual friends with me (one is a fake account someone made, impersonating my cousin - three of my facebook friends accepted this fraud). 

The rest of the names are Catfish potential - <40 friends, gorgeous people, typical European names. They have populated more info into their profile than anyone ever did with AIM, but still their illegitimacy shines through. They are anyone and they are no one. 

Their existence online is to do naughty internet things (idk lol), and they lure their victims with fake friendship and sex. They are flat and one-dimensional. 

And so, online, what is required to constitute a presence? Is it merely a profile associated with your existence? Is it omnipresence? Digital youth grows exponentially - as does the author. In this, the overlap between digital presence and authorship overlap, as each grows tremendously over time in connection with the desire to understand and be understood, to place oneself in the context of other people and things, to "like" and "dislike" and "poke" and also to "wish happy birthday" I guess. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Transparency and Clout on the Internet and in the City

Transparency: "open, truthful, unreserved communication" - my mom

Clout: "A heavy blow with the hand or a hard object. / Influence or power, especially in politics or business." - the internet

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Proper Solution: Responding to Slurs in the Classroom

I have had two noteworthy experiences in which I was called to act when I heard students using bigoted slurs. The first time was with a racial slur. The White speaker of the word was a victim of bullying, and used the word to leverage his privilege to "even the field" with the person he threw the slur at (a Child of Color). I not so much intervened as I intercepted, and handed the situation off to a supervisor who was close by.

This happened when I had some experience working with kids, but early on in my experience with middle school children.

He explained how other people have used the word. How the word was/is used by White racists as they torment/ed Black families, assault/ed Black bodies, and murdered Black people. The child was quiet. He continued to be bullied.

My second experience was with a homophobic slur. Two students seemed to be new speakers of the word, experimenting with the word and its use - but clearly aware of how to use it, probably because they hear it so frequently at home, in media, etc. I tensed up - I had identified myself to these students as gay, and I am queer-identifying. I am comfortable in my sexuality, but this was the first class I had ever properly come out to.

I felt betrayed, I felt hurt, and I was called to act. I used the same tactic I saw prior, and informed them of the word's etymology (at least in urban legend). I explained to the boys - at a volume that others could hear, if they chose, but without stopping the class - that the word has also been used to define a bundle of sticks to burn on the fire. In previous societies, homosexuals would be murdered, flogged, and, in some places, burned at the stake for their sexuality. The connection was made, and the slur was born.

I ended my explanation with the clear expectation that I would never hear the word in my classroom again.

"Okay, faggot" one boy replied. A boy who cannot control his body. A boy whose parents are separated, whose father lives in another country, whose father he looks up to but has not seen in years. A boy whose mother is largely absent, whose mother is expecting another child. Whose primary caregiver is a distant relative he did not know two years ago.

And so, I reprimanded him. I sent him out of the room, destined for the office. An improper solution. But, in the face of bigotry, is there any proper solution?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Theater of the "Really?????": In defense of architecture at the expense of the overdramatics of painting (or, Bravo TV rendered in oil on canvas, 2012, yolo)

How completely hilarious the difference between painting and architecture. In response to the difference between “non-theatrical” artforms such as painting and the theatre of the absurd which is architecture. In order to do this, I will compare Robert Morris’ Red House, a vanguard of arts and crafts architecture, and The Slave Ship by JMW Turner. Both are noteworthy, "vanguards" in their field in some way, white, English, males, and socially conscious for their time.

The Red House was created by Robert Morris, for himself and his new wife (who got married in a ceremony literally described by wikipedia as “low-key” lmao). Morris was a father of arts and crafts architecture, which held craftsmanship in the highest esteem - often to a spiritual level. The house is constructed by hand-carved railings, hand-made bricks, intricately painted murals and printed wallpaper. For all of the individuals which contributed to this house, it comes together in a singular artwork - Mitchell rightly reminds us of the term Gesamtkuntswerk. And while each individual received a paycheck for their singular work, their personal narrative is present, but flat. They exist in the railing, in the bricks, in the murals - and they exist as anecdotal evidence of a life lived, and nothing else. There are no theatrics to their lives or contributions, there is only the reality of their work which defines their existence. What else could make an artist?

The Slave Ship is a painting which depicts a distant ship preparing for an oncoming typhoon. Its methods of preparation include unfurling its sails and unloading its cargo (its cargo was slaves to be sold). Turner developed a painterly style attributed to early modernism, distinguished by explorations and declarations of color for the sake of painterly experiment. So much so, the BBC (hallmark of visual culture) says he “set painting free” (i know right lol). And in this vaguely figurative work, he depicts slaves, people without rights. Individuals who, at this point, were only people solely because they could do the work of other men. And here, we have theater. An orchestra of colors, cacophoneous as they crescendo and crash into the horizon. Within the sea are black bodies (which were rarely depicted in painting at this time), floating within our reach, able to be saved - but would a viewer from the 19th century save them? Caught between the horizon and the slaves is the ship - furled and prepared to weather a typhoon. Caught between humanity and God. Caught between existing systems of oppression and the reality that we all, ultimately, surrender to the same god. The storm is rolling in. The ship sinks. The slaves drown. Turner tells us.

And so, ultimately, what is theater? So long as history painting, or painting as a form of image recording has existed, so too have personal narratives underpinned the existence of a still image rendered in oil on canvas (ugh). And what is wrong if a painting is theatrical? And what is wrong if we need an oil painting to tell us what happens when a slave ship expects a typhoon? And if there is an architecture that will be remembered uniquely by refugees because of temporary housing measures, who is to blame? And if this architecture is cramped, and musty, and makes gives children night tremors, and they create memories in homes they will never remember the name of, address of, or whether it really had an address or name or existence beyond their temporary occupation of the space, is this any less an architecture? Is their life less deserving of theater? We may limit access to architecture and to paintings through capitalism and exclusion (read: Cheeto-in-Charge), but we may not limit the ability of narrative to exist in these mediums, and for these narratives to speak to real, human existence - which are, in essence, theatrical.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Felix: Economies and scale

Liberated from the confines of both the 20th century and the 2-dimensional screen, Felix the Cat sports a new scale in Leckey's work, crunched into a gallery - his dominating presence being his achilles heel. The cause of his scale is unknown - is it to represent his popularity? Is it to emphasize his inflation and eventual deflation?

Felix was borne at a time when America's greatness, the sort that countless white men would speak of later, was burgeoning. He was on the vanguard of animation, and a fixture of silent films, as his presence and recognition was such that he drew crowds - he was the original Shrek (ya I went there). His existence in American culture mutated, evolved, and expanded into color television, jazz, World War II planes, and student doodles. Unfortunately, though, his silent-movie fame petered after Mickey Mouse entered the American conscious. Attempts at Felix revivals were attempted but unsuccessful.

Enter the decline of the US and Felix: the Great Depression and Mickey Mouse, respectively. While the economy sank, new technology allowed for talking cartoons, and Mickey was the animal for this job (in another light, could Tom and Jerry be a groundhog day-esque metaphor of Mickey stealing the Cat's job?) And so, Felix's prominence deflated to a silhouette of his former glory. And soon he vanished. And twenty years later he returned, a muted version of his former self.

As Felix's story is almost an allegory of American capitalism, Leckey's is an adaptation for the gallery space. And at this scale, we see how a symbol, a cartoon, an illustration can become inflated with our infatuations. And we can see how bizarre it is when something that is over-inflated with cultural notoriety and popularity tries to meet the people on their own turf (although the gallery is hardly a space for the people, but this is another issue). As such, we catch Felix in an intermediary space - he is inflated, but not reaching his potential as he shrinks, crunches, and creases himself to fit into our world. His scale does not meet ours - our expectations are misaligned. To stand in front of Inflated Felix, you feel his scale, his size, his prowess - it is humorous.

Leckey's Felix picks up on the theme of Felix's life and death, but also on that of Felix's (disputed) creator - Pat Sullivan. Sullivan was an animator who arrived in the US from Australia (via London) at age 23. He began as an illustrator's assistant before taking over one of his mentor's studios after his death. Felix came from either Sullivan or Otto Messmer, his top animator, or from both, but Felix's career halted with Sullivan's death in 1933. Prior to his death, Sullivan had fallen into an alcoholic depression, and was a noted racist and pedophile. Still, the image of Felix remains as a hallmark of early American animation. The dissonance between Felix's prominence and his creator's degradation is collapsed in Leckey's work. In effect, Leckey's Felix is a sort of memorial for Sullivan.

In this, Leckey has created a portrait of the American system of capitalism as it effects our culture and as it is affected by "innovators." Their prominence, their power becomes their ending piece. Their environment deteriorates them.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compressure: A case study of time-pressure and the capiltalist mode of production in "I'm Not the Girl who Misses Much"

In reading Hito Steyerl's interview, I instantly began thinking about Marx's theory of the capitalist mode of production. Workers produce labor in exchange for money. With this money, they can then purchase goods which fulfill their wants and needs. This is in contrast to a more direct connection between labor and production, such as in farming where a farmer produces the crops they will end up using to feed themselves. While this enables workers to work in a field removed from what they need to survive (a farmer can purchase a car instead of producing a vehicle themselves), it opens the door for exploitation: income inequality, for example. This process acts as the spine to industrialization and delivers us to our current status of post-industrialization. This is particularly the case in the art world, where industrial advancements have adapted and expedited artistic processes, freeing artists to focus on the content and ideological underpinning of their work.

Here comes Totaro's essay on Tarkovsky. Totaro picks up on the time-pressure of cinematic elements as they aim to reproduce the visuals and time-pressure of life. To this, Pipilotti Rist undoes Totaro's analysis of time-pressure by expanding time in her sped-up singing. While at times her cacophonous movements are more frenetic and the visual reaches a fever pitch, the video is consistent in its distant energy. While we can discern a performer and her movements in the picture plane, it is distorted by distance and blur. This choice both alters the viewers understanding of the performer's action and censors the performer's body. This suspense, unending, maintains the air of this pressure as we view. We understand what is happening, but unable to make sense of it, we are on edge. In this, Rist at once deflates the time-pressure by applying the same pressure throughout, but evokes an anxious response. This could be, in part, because the kinetics and phonics of the piece are so markedly dissonant from the context of the gallery space - even when seen on youtube, it is so unique. Perhaps Rist has understood the concept of time-pressure as something which can exist within the world of the artwork, or it can exist within the world of the viewer.

In a way, Rist has constructed an expression of Marx's theory. The producer - Rist - has distanced herself from the consumer - we as viewers. The physical screen, its presence heightened through editing, represents the psycho-economic process of dissociation between producer and consumer, or artist and viewer, who are at once the same and opposite, pitted against each other. We are left with an enduring image of this separation, and once the video is turned off, all we are left with is the monitor - a symbol of industrialization's rise and of contemporary complacency, of armchair politics, of watching a Cheeto deliver a joint address while we eat cheetos and have a beer.