2013 in review
I tried to write out something about my favorite books of 2013, realized I hadn’t really read any of them, and then wound up with 2000 words recapping my recent academic research instead, which is interesting to no one. So these were the best things I read this year, without commentary:
Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
Raymond of Capua, Legenda Major of Catherine of Siena (I read a few different translations, but the best was by Conleth Kearns, OP)
Kirill Medvedev, It’s No Good
Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge
Danilo Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
Andrei Platonov, Happy Moscow
Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism
Moira Gatens, Feminism and Philosophy
Michel Leiris, L’Afrique fantôme
Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity
Martin Rudwick, Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform
Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography
Martha Rosler, Culture Class
The only movie I can remember seeing in theaters is Spring Breakers, I really liked the Haim and Kanye West albums, and when pressed to think of exhibitions I enjoyed, I drew a blank, probably because I’m the world’s worst art historian.
1:32 pm • 22 December 2013 • 2 notes
I reviewed Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge for the New York Observer and Ben Davis’s 9.5 Theses on Art and Class for Jacobin.
The reception of Davis’s book has been overwhelmingly positive, so I’m admittedly feeling like a bit of a killjoy right now, but I think it is, on the whole, unsuccessful—even though it’s very well-intentioned and I’m basically on board with its aims, and many of its conclusions. With that said, I think it also might be a productive failure, in the sense that trying to figure out why and how it fails involves a different set of terms than those typically used to discuss art, economics, inequality, and so on (the looming, vaguely defined evil of “the market” for instance, or Larry Gagosian, who has become a kind of metonym for an entire subset of recent art-world phenomena.) The flaws are serious enough that I can’t really bring myself to recommend it to anyone, but I do hope that people read it, because I’d like to talk about it, or at least some of the issues that it raises.
3:36 pm • 24 September 2013 • 4 notes
I made a comment about the Met’s punk show on Twitter that seems to have sparked a bit of a lively response. Since Twitter is a medium best suited to pithy and/or snarky declarations and not actual conversation or debate, I figured I’d elaborate here instead.
My ‘boredom’ with all the hand-wringing around the show shouldn’t be taken as a defense of it. I actually haven’t seen it, and probably won’t—there are too many things in the world that I actively want to see/read/whatever and don’t have time for to waste any on something that I know I won’t find worthwhile. Likewise, the boredom isn’t directed towards criticisms of the show as an exhibition (curation, layout, what have you) or the experience of viewing it engenders, but rather of the knee-jerk reactions towards the idea of a museum doing a show about punk fashion—that such a show flies in the face of what punk was “all about.” That is boring for several reasons, the first of which I mentioned in the first tweet in question: it should come as no surprise, at this point, that institutions are capable of absorbing everything, even that which is intended to oppose them. This is why we have Dada and Situationism on art history syllabi and mall shops that sell Che Guevara t-shirts to teenagers. Merely pointing this out, it seems to me, is not a particularly interesting critical gesture. Mostly, I think, it serves as a means for the people doing the criticizing to rhetorically distance themselves, to suggest that they are outside of a system, and, moreover, that they have some kind of authentic access to or understanding of whatever phenomena has been co-opted and thus sullied by association. In short, I think it’s a weak, and even self-serving, form of critique.
The second reason I think it’s boring is that it implies punk was “all about” one particular thing, and that the thing in question was “pure” in its anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-institutional radicality. I actually don’t think there’s anything particularly sacrilegious about a museum doing a punk show, or the idea of punk-inspired high fashion. I alluded to this somewhat in the second tweet, about McLaren’s application of the styles and strategies of King Mob (a British offshoot of Situationism and the anarchist group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers) as a means of marketing the Sex Pistols. Which is to say that punk, like any other product of culture, was already embedded within such a system. That may seem cynical, and maybe it is to some degree, but I’m not trying to dismiss punk, only to point out the problems of labeling something as an inauthentic manifestation or representation, given that “authenticity” itself is impossible. Personally, I’d argue that it’s the contradictions that make any sort of radical avant-garde compelling—less their stated politics or ideological program than the ways in which those politics must negotiate with the world as it exists. Think, for instance, of the Surrealists, whose entire history is marked by an internal conflict between their avowed rejection of the bourgeoisie and its institutions and their simultaneous reliance on bourgeois intellectuals as the only audience who was remotely interested in what they were doing (the Parti Communiste Français, which they repeatedly courted, certainly wasn’t.)
Again, this is not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to take umbrage with the show. As far as I can gather from reviews, for whatever those are worth, it’s not very good. I thought Maika Pollock’s review in the Observer
did a good job of criticizing the show on its own terms, pointing out the ways in which it fails as a fashion exhibition
. Likewise, I am uncomfortable with the fact that if you go to the website of the corporate sponsor, Moda Operandi (a high-end e-commerce site founded by ex-Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo), you can purchase a lot of very expensive punk-themed clothing made by designers featured in the show (perhaps even some of the items on view themselves?) and order versions of the dresses worn to the Met Gala by the rich and famous. Corporate sponsorship is not new—indeed, it’s what allows many of the best and most ambitious exhibitions to be realized—but this seems to come a little too close for comfort. The irony of a car company underwriting an exhibition on ecology aside, it’s not as if Volkswagen has placed Jettas in the middle of PS1; here, though, there seems to be no distance between what the sponsor is selling and what’s on display—you could conceivably swap in any number of the garments on Moda Operandi for ones in the show without altering the exhibition in any substantial way. Perhaps its unfair to use the same criteria for a fashion exhibition, since fashion is intimate with consumer culture by definition, but there is something unsettling about the idea of the museum being used as a showroom.
I’m often frustrated with the ways that we tend to talk about the links between art and capitalism, institutions and the market, and so on. That’s not to say that I’m not also dismayed, disgusted even, at the disparity between the hammer price of a Warhol or Koons at auction and the average income of an artist or cultural worker, or that art—something that I ultimately believe is more than just an accumulation of expensive objects, but rather a form of knowledge production worth defending—is so often treated as little more than a status symbol for the ultra-rich. But at the same time, I think we need to find a new way of articulating all of this, to move past simply identifying the fact that art fairs are spectacles that have little to do with art itself or that galleries have a commercial stake in promoting their artists. I don’t think it’s productive, and it certainly doesn’t change anything—if all it took was a lot of complaining, art fairs would’ve been abolished a long time ago. I suppose what I’m getting at is that these conversations go around in circles—they’re boring in the same way that it’s boring to say that the Met killed punk by putting a couture gown adorned with safety pins next to a picture of the Sex Pistols (and it should go without saying that I’m implicating myself in this, too). I’m not sure what the alternative to this is, exactly, but it seems like it’s time to find one.
1:35 am • 16 May 2013 • 5 notes
Two notes tangentially related to recent research
1. Writing on Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion in 1985, Benjamin Buchloh describes its “problematic” status as a work with no clear audience: existing solely as a video tape, without any artist-specified installation parameters, the hour-long video is unbound by the confines of the museum or gallery, suggesting the possibility of multiple channels of distribution. Yet trying to identify what those channels might be raises its own set of issues: however enchanting Graham’s argument may seem, it fails spectacularly as a work of historical scholarship, thus precluding the possibility of treating it as a straightforward documentary—it is plainly an artist’s project, subjectively composed by an author who is allowed the license of a bricoleur. Likewise, its low-budget production values and “unorthodox methodological synthesis of Horkheimer/Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault, and Lacan” makes a television audience unlikely: too academic for MTV, too unwieldy for Masterpiece Theater. Buchloh is at once intrigued and disturbed by Rock My Religion, less by the content of the video itself than its lack of a determined contextual framework:
"While the audience for Graham’s work is therefore unspecific—and that is clearly problematic—it is at least shifting and diffuse, and the work is potentially open to non-art-world audiences, neither fixed in its distribution form nor exclusively contained in one particular institutional apparatus."
Rock My Religion was made in the early 1980s, but its ideal mode of distribution and presentation seems, in retrospect, obvious: it’s the Internet.
2. Awhile ago, I wrote an essay for Rhizome on several projects involving quasi-ethnographic or archaeological fieldwork, including Ellie Ga’s ongoing The Fortunetellers, the result of several months as the ‘artist in residence’ on a research expedition in the Arctic, for which she became the expedition’s self-appointed archivist. The precedent for this, I realized today, is the surrealist poet-turned-ethnographer Michel Leiris’s 1934 publication L’Afrique fantôme, an essentially uncategorizable document of his time as the “secretary-archivist” of the Mission Dakar-Djibouti, an ethnographic expedition sponsored by the French government from 1931-33.
4:37 pm • 24 March 2013 • 3 notes
I reviewed It’s No Good, the recently-released collection of poems and essays by Kirill Medvedev (published by N+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse) for the Observer. I initially came to Medvedev’s work a year or so ago via Chto Delat (though most of what he’s published there has been essays and dialogues), so I’d been anticipating this collection for awhile. Medvedev is a strange, but fascinating writer, and overall I thought the book successfully captured the various aspects of his “practice,” for lack of a better word, and the ways they intertwine. That said, I found it to be, at times, almost excessively thorough—there are a few mediocre, shorter texts that seemed unnecessary, especially given the strength of the longer essays, which I’d place among the most provocative arguments about literature and politics of the last decade. There are a few aspects of the book that I wish I’d had room to discuss, namely the near-absence of women in Medvedev’s work, which seems to attest to the problematic place of feminism in Eastern Europe even among the far-left, and, more broadly, the issues that go along with transplanting writing initially intended for the Internet into print form. For instance, “An Invitation,” a short text originally posted on Medvedev’s Livejournal, includes a discussion about why he’d turned comments off on the post, which is a sort of jarring intrusion, but one that opens up a potentially productive conversation about the blog as a literary form and the types of language it introduces.
7:54 pm • 23 January 2013 • 4 notes
This is probably overdue, but:
Maren Hassinger, Place for Nature, 2011
I had little to contribute to the furor that erupted in late October ago over Ken Johnson’s New York Times review of Now Dig This: Art and Black Los Angeles, currently at MoMA PS1, since I hadn’t seen the show. It seemed obvious that Johnson’s approach to the work was based in some deeply problematic assumptions (for instance, that works by Duchamp are “deracinated, intellectual mischief-making designed to question relations between language and reality” which seems to implicitly argue that only white men can make wide-reaching statements about reality, as if being a white, heterosexual European male isn’t a perspective as particular as that of a non-white, female, or gay artist) but I wondered if the clumsiness of the review was based on the fact that Johnson is, simply put, an inarticulate, unsubtle critic. I figured it was possible that Johnson simply lacked the adequate language or intellectual acuity to properly express whatever point he was trying to make, and thus fell back on worn out art-historical assumptions about the universality of the canon of white men. However, I saw the show yesterday, and was shocked by the degree to which it differed from the expectations set up by Johnson’s review. In reality, the show bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the one Johnson describes. At no point did I feel alienated, as a white viewer, as Johnson apparently did, from the works; rather, I was mostly frustrated that I was encountering so many of them for the first time.
2:20 pm • 21 January 2013 • 2 notes
Join Triple Canopy for our annual marathon reading of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn, NY
7 p.m. Friday, January 18, 2013 through 11 p.m Sunday, January 20
Free and open to the public
Triple Canopy is pleased to present our second annual marathon reading of Gertrude Stein’s enormously long and allegedly unreadable novel The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress. Over one weekend, an invited list of New York–based artists, writers, publishers, scholars, and other collaborators will gather in Greenpoint to perform the entirety of Stein’s text in a continuous read-in, expected to last 52 hours, more or less. There will be coffee and donuts during the dawn walk-in hours; borscht and booze at dinnertime; and champagne toasts. The schedule of readers, including time slots for walk-ins, can be found here.
You can come heckle me from 3:15-3:30pm on Saturday.
2:58 pm • 16 January 2013 • 25 notes
I told Michael that I wanted to spend my break doing something productive like, say, reading Hegel.
This was my Christmas present:
He appears to have called my bluff.
12:42 am • 28 December 2012 • 3 notes
I wrote an essay for Rhizome about some of Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp’s projects for public access TV after the end of Avalanche. The projects are interesting in themselves, insofar as they represent an early attempt to experiment with what was, at the time, a new medium (public access channels in the US were introduced around 1969), but I was also interested in the fact that they’re rarely, if ever, mentioned in any of the work that’s been done on Avalanche over the past few years. Avalanche is often discussed in terms of the materiality of the magazine format and the ways in which Sharp/Bear experimented with it as a medium, as well as its rootedness in the SoHo art scene of the 1970s, all of which is very true, but considered in light of the artists’ subsequent turn towards telecommunications, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more consideration of their interest in (and Avalanche's relationship to) mass media.
This is something I’d like to do more work on (at some theoretical future date when I have free time, which will be never) but I was struck by the degree to which the discourse surrounding public access in the ’70s anticipates the internet (for instance, Ann Arlen’s 1972 article “Public Access: The Second Coming of Television?” in Radical Software, wherein she describes it as “our first experience of an electronic mass medium through which people may talk to other people unmanipulated by media professionals.”) I’d be curious to hear whether early internet artists were thinking about public access TV at all, especially in terms of projects oriented towards reaching the broadest possible audience (as opposed to, say, engaging the formal properties of the website as a medium, specificity of the browser as a site of reception, and so on).
3:53 pm • 1 December 2012 • 6 notes
Fore catalogue is here!
I have an essay in here on artist/dancer/choreographer Taisha Paggett. Her work is amazing, as is the show in general.
7:48 pm • 15 November 2012 • 11 notes