Friday, September 26, 2008

Interview with Christian Marclay, Jonathan Seliger

Jonathan Seliger: You perform music and use sound as a subject for your art; were you a musician or a visual artist first?
Christian Marclay: I started as a visual artist. I studied art in Switzerland where I grew up and came to the United States in 1977, to the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. That is where I began to get interested in performance art, and it was through this interest that I started to play music.

Seliger: What was the performance art coming out of?

Marclay: People like Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, and Laurie Anderson, but more directly from Punk Rock. There were a lot of bands, everybody started a band. In New York, a lot of this music experimentation, like No Wave music and Punk Rock, was taking place in clubs and had a strong influence on the art world. Art people would be directly connected to the music, and a lot of bands came out of art schools. At the time there was a lot happening in clubs, and it was more interesting to me than what was happening in the galleries. Right now that symbiosis between music and art doesn't exist anymore; throughout the 1980s the galleries became powerful and things got very commercial, people were in the art business to make money, and that kind of killed live art. People gave up performances and went back to the studios. I feel now there's a possibility of a return to more ephemeral activities. Maybe it's in times of economic crisis, like the one we're experiencing right now, that people find more innovative and daring ways to make art. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the experimentation was really happening in clubs like the Pyramid or 8BC, where tons of things were taking place every night. At the time I was not showing in galleries, I was only performing.

Seliger: Were you performing by yourself?

Marclay: By myself or with a band called Mon Ton Son. I was also starting to work with John Zorn, in his big game pieces based on improvised music. For a few months John Zorn had a storefront called The Saint, where we would play with many different improvisers. There was also a club called The Chandelier.

Seliger: How did the visual art that you were doing relate to all this?

Marclay: I made very little art throughout that period except for drawings and record collages often used in my performances. I would mix the records on turntables, so they were used as sound objects. I cut up various vinyl records and glued them back together in different configurations. As they were played, the needle would sample from different fragments of records. The music was loud and gritty.

Seliger: Would it just play or would you manipulate it further as it went?

Marclay: Yes, I would manipulate it. I was interested in the interaction of the performer with the recorded sound, very much in the fashion of a hip hop DJ, although I was doing it before I knew anything about hip hop. This was before it became popular. I wasn't making dance music, I was influenced more by people like John Cage and the musique concrete. I started using records because I didn't know how to play an instrument, but I wanted to perform. I started as a singer, using my voice with minimal lyrics, kind of talking, singing or screaming. That was with my band, The Bachelors Even, a duo using a guitar, voices, and background tapes. When I made the tapes I would use records, skipping records and things like that. Later, instead of using tapes, I started to use the actual records. I used them like an instrument, and could adapt my playing to a live situation, it allowed for a lot more freedom and spontaneity than tapes.

Seliger: It seems that from the start your work has always had a lot to do with collage, both in performance and with the objects.

Marclay: Yes. I've always used found objects, images and sounds, and collaged them together, and tried to create something new and different with what was available. To be totally original and start from scratch always seemed futile. I was more interested in taking something that existed and was part of my surroundings, to cut it up, twist it, turn it into something different; appropriating it and making it mine through manipulations and juxtapositions.

Seliger: Would you say that's more related to a Fluxus attitude or an appropriation strategy that became dominant in the 1980s?

Marclay: I think that sensitivity came from early on, even before I was interested in Fluxus artists and others using found objects. I've always been very interested in Duchamp and his idea of the ready-made and using mundane things. It didn't come from the appropriation strategy of the 1980s. In a way I think that when appropriation hit the art world, it was also very strong in the music world because of hip hop. That parallel interested me. Richard Prince and GrandMaster Flash were doing the same thing in the early eighties, but with different media. Appropriation is now such a standard thing in music with digital sampling technology.

Seliger: In an interview that you did for the Wexner Art Center, you stated with regard to the records: "I destroy, I scratch, I act against the fragility of the record in order to free the music from its captivity." It seems that the idea of change and time is a dominant thread that runs through your work. On the one hand one might think that by making a static visual object, you are interested in a retrieval or preservation of that thing, but in the performances you break the records or abuse them.

Marclay: The performances are time-based activities, in which I react to the objectification of music. Making an object, a sculpture, might seem contradictory because there's always that sense of preservation. I'm making something that might remain. But when I make objects it's more about change; altering the initial purpose of something in order to extract a new meaning. Change is the creative impulse. For instance, with these new Body Mixes, I combine several record covers in order to underscore that which we take for granted. The seductive covers are mutated into grotesque creatures. I point the finger at certain advertising methods, but I am also interested in a relation between the physical and the mechanical. We have always tried to give objects a human quality. We project on them a body scale, a texture, shape that resemble us. We give machines — or see in them — anthropomorphic qualities. The machine is an extension of the human body and the record is a mechanical object.

Seliger: What's interesting about these assemblages is that the record covers span a pretty broad period of time, from the 1960s through the 1980s, and during this time the whole notion of seduction and how to sell something has become a lot more sophisticated.

Marclay: We are not always aware of how we are being manipulated by the advertising techniques. They may now use more subliminal techniques, but ultimately sex has always been a big seller.

Seliger: In a sense I'd say that the marketing strategy that's typified by Michael Jackson's Bad album is distinctly different from that 1960s-looking Don Giovanni, which is combined with Highway Chile's Rockarama. Is your interest mainly visual or critical? I almost get the feeling that you're as interested in the narrative/discursive possibilities as you are in the figurative combinations.

Marclay: In every period the same kinds of mechanisms appear, and that becomes visible because I've mixed things from all these different times. What sells a classical record is not necessarily sex, but a more subtle patriarchal stereotype. The men on these covers are in control, directing with their hands in the foreground. On the other hand, the women are often shown with their backs to the camera, showing off their legs, looking over their shoulder. It's always a more vulnerable position. The same imagery appears in very different styles of music. The juxtapositions are a mix and match kind of process, it's like making a puzzle and I'm looking for the matching part. The juxtaposition of two different styles or periods is not so systematic. In that sense the initial choice is limited by the visual possibilities of what works or fits; so there is this incidental/accidental juxtaposition.
Within that framework, I still have many choices — I can find a different torso for these legs, but this one seemed to work because of the completely different styles of music, or the combination of the titles. The titles are sometimes very important. They become part of a poetic narrative.

Seliger: Would you say that it's more of an intuitive or a systematic process?

Marclay: Both. I forced myself to mix the genders. If I have female legs, then the torso will have to be male. It's a limitation in the process. The result can be intuitive as well, because of the many choices available. I'm not necessarily representing these bodies from a defined, gendered perspective. I want them to be either mixed gender or genderless or ambiguous, and that's a process that is used in advertising all the time. But my ambiguity is more grotesque, the seduction is disrupted. If I made a collage, say, of just female parts, then I would be playing the same game as advertisers. I had to be aware of that process and distance myself from it.

Seliger: With these pieces and perhaps the three-dimensional ones that preceded them, like the Skin Mixes, it seems like a big step away from some of your earlier work that had been more formally motivated. Pieces like Tape Fall, The Beatles, or the cubes of melted records were very distilled.

Marclay: In a way the new work has as many formal qualities, it is very graphic and colorful, but that's because the material used has those qualities. It's the only kind of serial work that I've ever made, besides the cover collages. In general I tend to work on one piece at a time, but because there were so many possible variations I was sort of forced to keep doing them, and follow their playfulness. The series for me is one piece with various components.

Seliger: I guess what I'm asking is whether there was a specific decision to make them more socially explicit?

Marclay: Perhaps that quality is more apparent here, but it follows a similar critical theme that comes up in my earlier work as well — the commodification of music, how music has become a salable object. I've done it with performances and with the objects. I'm trying to be critical of the whole music industry and the packaging plays a major role. I'm trying to make the recording process more apparent. We're so used to listening to music through recordings, it's a given, that's primarily how we experience music now. The live aspect is minimized. Other works might appear to be more contemplative or minimal, but they were motivated, in part, by the same desire to critique the music industry.
These pieces are dealing with more delicate issues, sex and music, and the question of political correctness. It's a very gray area. Some people see the work as critical, others see it as fun and playful and colorful, surreal or crazy. The seductive covers are turned into grotesque figures, some disturbing, others humorous. The advertising strategies are made visible forcing us to examine these covers more closely. Sex is not a new selling device, it is so old and common that we take it for granted. The woman's body is used everywhere. The woman on the packaging becomes the packaging, the flesh becomes a protective envelope, a protective skin for the record. There is a strange reversal of shape and sexual associations. The record is round, a feminine shape, the cover is square, masculine. But the cover is also the envelope, a slit that encloses the record. I wanted to blur the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, and also the distinction between music stars, idols, and the truncated and commodified bodies of un-known models.
The body is becoming more and more central to the sale of music through rock videos. The body is center stage, allowing a more physical identification by the consumer. The twelve-inch square of the old record cover allowed for an almost life-size representation of body parts. The head was the most common illustration, a teenager could kiss the face of her or his idol, a surrogate face, a life-size portrait. With compact discs you can't do that anymore, so in a sense the video compensates for that lack of advertising space.

Seliger: Along with being critical of the commodification of music, I'm wondering if by implication you're also involved with the art object as a commodity.

Marclay: Not specifically, but the art object is condemned to the same fate. Artists' activities, even those considered marginal and noncommercial, are being commodified by the art market. But these days everything ends up being salable, one way or another. Art like music today is inseparable from money.

Seliger: What is the relationship of your work to the Dada or Surreal object?

Marclay: It's very hard to dissociate oneself from art history, and often I've appropriated formal or stylistic devices to make my work. It tries to be original in content rather than form. People tend to think of the accidental juxtapositions in Surreal terms. But they are also very Cagean or Duchampian. It's hard to limit them to any one source, but I like to think that there is a tradition in art and that these are part of that tradition. People have tended to explain my work through visual association to older art, they drop names constantly and draw endless connections, but I use the process of appropriation as a device to make something that can be understood as an art object and can be accessed more easily. It is almost like a decoy.
For me the relation to Surrealism is more subtle and has to do with the erotic quality of machines as explored by certain artists such as Duchamp, Max Ernst or Picabia. The mechanical quality of the record is still very present for me. The turntable is a perfect machine célibataire in the Duchampian sense.

Seliger: The way that these albums are stitched together brings to mind Warhol's photo assemblages. I thought there was an interesting connection between the idea of repetition and time, and how that was somehow subtly alluded to perhaps through the stitching to Warhol, who in our time is the supreme icon of repetition and mechanical reproduction.

Marclay: I don't mind that association at all, because this whole body of work and some of the things that preceded it were triggered by Warhol's cover for the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album. I did another piece that had covers held together with zippers that were sewn on; I also stitched "sound sheets" together in the past. That's when I got started using a sewing machine, but to me the sewing here implied stitching in the medical sense. I wanted these body parts to be stitched together as a Frankenstein monster. I had that image in mind. I made another piece that was sewn roughly by hand. The repetitive aspect that you were talking about is also reinforced by the fact that these covers are not unique, and when you refer to Warhol it makes them more related to photography. I stitched them rather than glued them because I wanted them to exist in a three-dimensional field, I wanted them to have a presence that I don't think would be the same if they were glued. I wanted them to be record covers and not just photographs, I wanted them to be objects. The stitching more aggressively forced things together and the bond is visible.

Seliger: The way they're stitched together almost brings to mind that a disaster has occurred. The quantity of them makes them into a crowd, and maybe some horrific accident has happened and all these different parts have been stitched together.

Marclay: There is an implied violence in photography because of its cropping quality. Photog-raphy is about stealing, displacing, chopping up. The camera is a sharp weapon. Like sound recording, photography is a mechanical device that tries to simulate life. The recording and the photograph, both incomplete reproductions of nature, come together as record/ album to reinforce each other in their illusion. Like the "Charmin' Chatty" doll, the record is inside the body. You pull a string and it speaks. It's an aural accompaniment to the visual appearance. If you only saw one of the Body Mix pieces, it would have less of an impact, you might think, oh, what a nice coincidence! But when you see so many you have to wonder, what is going on here? Patterns begin to emerge. The amount of crotches and breasts and legs makes them almost so unoriginal and formulaic. The newer albums, like Michael Jackson's Bad, are more ambiguous or subliminal. It's not so obvious, but his hand is on his zipper — he finally unzipped it in the new video — and he's wearing a lot of make-up but, at the same time, he's trying to look very macho. There's a lot of bondage imagery. He is playing with his own gender identity. That confusion is used as a seduction device.

Seliger: To what degree are you simply presenting the imagery, and to what degree do you feel that you're commenting on it? Through the sheer volume and variety, you're presenting a lot of information.

Marclay: The restructured presentation is the commentary. But I don't want to limit the work to just being a critique of the advertising process. These found objects also bring back a whole picture book of memories from our collective past — images and sounds, or rather memories of sounds, not only a collective memory but a very personal one, unique to each viewer, associations that the remembered music might conjure up. I am not just presenting a collection of legs and arms or whatever, but in combining them I'm making fun of this fetishization, twisting it, and through humorous juxtapositions I hope the viewer can distance herself or himself from the initial relation to the commercial object. It is like comedy; while laughing, you can say things that are very pointed.

Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.

Above copied from:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

After Sherrie Levine, Jeanne Siegel

A Promethean thief or an immoralist confiscator, Sherrie Levine challenges art at its matrix of model and originality.

For the past eight years Sherrie Levine has dealt with appropriated imagery. Her first confiscations were collages. She cut pictures out of books and magazines and glued them onto mats. Since then she has made copies of photographs after Elliot Porter, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Alexander Rodchenko; drawings after Willem de Kooning, Egon Schiele, and Kasimir Malevich; watercolors after Mondrian, Matisse, El Lissitzky, and Léger, to name a few.

After the initial shock of discovering the artist's audacity in quoting and mounting famous artists' works, the question becomes: what then? Does her magnetism rest merely in the paradox of originality through copies? Does she recast the principle of the copy in a new and contemporary light? Why does she choose only male artists to copy? How does she view her own work and the considerable rhetoric that has gathered around it?

Jeanne Siegel: You were educated at the University of Wisconsin. How did this influence your direction, if indeed it did at all?

Sherrie Levine: I think growing up in the Midwest certainly did. I grew up in St. Louis and I went to school in Wisconsin for eight years. I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees there. Having the feeling of somehow being outside of the mainstream of the art world had a lot to do with my feelings about art. Seeing everything through magazines and books- I got a lot of my sense of what art looked like in terms of surface and finish.

JS: One feature that serves as a clue is the way you preserve in the way the faint tints or discolorations that were the result of the photoprinting or reproductive process. This distinguishes it from the original. So you were conscious of the notion of a secondary source from the start.

SL: Yes. It was the Sixties. I was in college and a minimal painter and Minimal art looked even flatter in magazines. I felt that my work was becoming very mannerist and empty for me. I began to use photography as a way of introducing representational imagery into my work.

JS: It seems significant that you received your graduate degree in photo-printmaking.

SL: I was interested in the idea of multiple images and mechanical reproduction. I did a lot of commercial art for money from the time I was in college until very recently.

JS: Do you see that as an influence also?

SL: I think it had a lot to do with it. I was really interested in how they dealt with the idea of originality. If they wanted an image, they'd just take it. It was never an issue of morality; it was always an issuee of utility. There was no sense that images belonged to anybody; all images were in the public domain and as an artist I found that very liberating.

JS: There are specific methods that commercial artists use, for example, tracing.

SL: And the use of copy cameras.

JS: It occurred to me that your process of working from prints is somewhat like the custom popular in the 17th century of copying a painting to make a print. What the print artist did was to remain true to the composition and poses of the figures, but they didn't nessarily hold to the original expression on people's faces. They thought of the print as being slightly original. In other words, it stepped away to become something new.

SL: I think that copies and prints were the main way of distributing images at that time, before photography.

JS: The Caravaggio exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum focuses the idea of copying in another way. An original Caravaggio is mounted next to a copy or to works that have been attributed to Caravaggio. The exhibition reflects the modern need for uniqueness, whereas at that time one commissioned a copy of a master because one loved the painting or because a pious patron might want an image of John the Baptist.

SL: So much of our sense of art history is based on copies, fakes, and forgeries. I just read The Caravaggio Conspiracy, a book about art theft and forgery written by an investigative reporter. While he's looking for a stolen Caravaggio painting, he comes across an incredible amount of forged art. There's always been a lot of it around. Some entire museum collections are forgeries.

JS: My point is that in the 16th century a copy was not necessarily frowned upon. People respected copies.

SL: I think it was a different relationship to history at that time. It was more like an Oriental belief in tradition. You strove to be fully mature in your tradition. Originality was not an issue. I think that's where modernism was a real break.

JS: In the process of copying from an original painting to make a print, the size is reduced. This seems to have some connection to your work.

SL: In most cases it is reduced from the original but maintains the size of the book plate. Maintaining a uniform format has a democratizing effect on the images that I like. The watercolors and drawings are traced out of books onto ll-by-14-inch pieces of paper. The paintings are easel-size on 20-by-24-inch boards.

The pictures I make are really ghosts of ghosts; their relationship to the original images is tertiary, i.e., three or four times removed. By the time a picture becomes a bookplate it's already been rephotographed several times. When I started doing this work, I wanted to make a picture which contradicted itself. I wanted to put a picture on top of a picture so that there are times when both pictures disappear and other times when they're both manifest; that vibration is basically what the work's about for me-that space in the middle where there's no picture.

JS: Can you elaborate on what originality means to you?

SL: It's not that I don't think that the word originality means anything or has no meaning. I just think it's gotten a very narrow meaning lately. What I think about in terms of my work is broadening the definitions of the word "original." I think of originality as a trope. There is no such thing as an ahistorical activity (I mean history in terms of one's personal history, too).

JS: What about the idea behind the introduction of your hand? This came about when you stopped copying photographs and began to draw "de Koonings."

SL: A lot of the most sophisticated psychoanalytic and feminist critiques about art and film posit the supremacy of the visual over all our other senses in a patriarchal society. I think a lot of what's alienating and oppressive about our media culture is its voyeuristic aspect. It's ironic that most of this theory that is applied to art has been mainly in support of photographic work. There seems to be a denial of the rest of the body- In art, the hand becomes the metonymical symbol for the body.

JS: There is something in the work that suggests that you thoroughly enjoy this hand work. It's visceral on occasion.

SL: Oh yes. There's no other reason to do it. For me, art's basically about pleasure. I'm not saying there's no pleasure in making or looking at photography, but there are definitely some different kinds of pleasure in making and looking at painting.

JS: Can you see this process of copying from a print as a manifestation of the recent revival of craft?

SL: I wouldn't want to deny that. I think a lot of people see this evidence of the body as antidotal to an overmechanized culture.

JS: Do you concentrate on matching? Do you investigate and reconstruct the original colors?

SL: I give it a couple of shots if necessary. I stop when the color works with what I've already got on my page. I don't make it a photo-realist activity because that's mechanistic again and then I'm back where I started. I'm trying not to be tyrannized by the original jmage. What I'm really interested in is constructing my relationship to the image.

JS: Does your choice of artist or particular work of that artist have any relation to this question of craft?

SL: Painting very complex images would become drudgery for me, and I have no interest in that.

JS: In titling your works After Kasimir Malevich or After Egon Schiele you are alluding to an accepted earlier convention in art- one which flowered in the Baroque period and continued into the 19th century. Viewed historically, you could say that during the Renaissance Vasari established a canon of greatness which was adhered to by later generations. Is there a parallel to this pattern in that you chose the so-called heroes from earlier Modernism?

SL: There is. I think about it a lot in psychological terms. I mean, in an Oedipal way, about the authority of the father and the authority of the father's desire. My work is so much about desire and its triangular nature. Desire is always mediated through someone else's desire.

JS: And this is why the someone else that you appropriate is always male?

SL: A lot of what my work has been about since the beginning has been realizing the difficulties of situating myself in the art world as a woman, because the art world is so much an arena for the celebration of male desire.

JS: So his desire becomes yours in order to make this explicit? Then it's in the nature of a critique, really.

SL: I prefer the word "analysis." Somebody recently referred to my watercolors as position papers. One thing I'd like to make clear is that I make the things I want to make. The language and the rhet- oric come afterward when I attempt to describe to myself and to other people what I've done, but I'm not making the art to make a point or to illustrate a theory. I'm making the picture I want to look at which is what I think everybody does. The desire comes first,

JS: Egon Schiele could be considered a possible exception to your choices of "greats." How did that come about?

SL: I haven't done this just in relationship to the history books, although obviously they form everybody's ideas about what's important. It's also been about my own personal relationship to this work, and Schiele is somebody who's been important to me.

JS: Why?

SL: There is something in his eroticism that strikes a chord. Partly it's the self-conscious representation of his own narcissism. I don't want to say too much on this topic. A girl's gotta keep some secrets.

JS: There seems to exist a kind of contradiction. Does your attitude have something in common with Lichtenstein's? Although he parodied the Abstract-Expressionist brushstroke, he said he liked it.

SL: It's a dialectical relationship, I think, which is the kind of relationship one has to authority. That's where the irony in the work is located. But the parody is not in relationship to the original; it's in how I perceive the original.

JS: In discussing the history of the changing approach to the object in the 20th century, particularly in relation to its uniqueness and originality, Suzi Gablik {Has Modernism Failed?) mentions your duplications of photographs of famous photographers. This follows a discussion of Rauschenberg's Erased Drawing of de Kooning's. It seemed to me that in a way you are doing the reverse of what Rauschenberg did: whereas he wipes it out, you are putting it back, albeit in another form.

SL: A lot of people do see my work as an erasure. I think the people it offends most imagine it's an erasure,
JS: In what sense?

SL: In the sense that it's a screen memory-a memory that blocks a more primal memory.

JS: What was your reaction to Gablik's analysis of your intentions and her conclusions? I quote: "Levine lays no claim to traditional notions of 'creativity.' By willfully refusing to acknowledge any difference between the originals and her own reproductions, she is addressing her work in a subversive way to the current mass cult for collecting photographs, and their absorption into the art market as one more expensive commodity. Obviously ideas like these are successful as a negation of commodity-oriented culture. Only until commodity culture succeeds in accommodating even these 'pirated' creations and turning them into yet another saleable item within the framework of institutionalized art-world distribution ... at which point they become more parasitic than critical, feeding on the very system they are meant to criticize."

SL: My works were never intended to be anything but commodities. It's taken a while for the work to sell but it has always been my hope that it would, and that it would wind up in collections and in museums. You know, money talks but it don't sing.
The work is in a dialectical relationship to the notion of originality. Originality was always something I was thinking about, but there's also the idea of ownership and property. Lawrence Weiner has this nice quote about wanting to make. a art that makes us think about our relationship to the material world. That's something that I feel very close to. It's not that I'm trying to deny that people own things. That isn't even the point. The point isthat people want to own things, which is more interesting to me. What does it mean to own something, and, stranger still, what does it mean to own n an image?

JS: Do you believe that viewers outeide of the inner circle of the art world know what it is?

SL: There's a lot of irony in this problem because when I first started making this work I thought that anybody could understand it. It didn't seem elitist to me at all. Any thoughtful person could understand that a picture of a picture was a strange object. I still think it's true that anybody can understand the work- Some people think they're not understanding it, that there's something that they don't know about, and that's when they feel deceiyed or betrayed. A picture of a picture is a strange thing and it brings up lots of contradictions; it seems to me that anybody can understand that. Obviously not everybody likes it.

JS: Some of the people who look at it might not even know the original, so they don't have a basis of comparison.

SL: I don't mind that. People enjoy or don't enjoy the pictures that I make. My pictures have other relationships than their relationship to me. I like to think that it's complex work and it can be appreciated on a lot of levels, or not appreciated on a lot of levels. For one thing, I think this work is very funny. I'm always surprised when people apologize to me for thinking it's funny. I want the work to be funny, but that doesn't mean I'm not serious.

JS: The practice of copying another existing artwork is often identified with the formative years of an artist. Are you connected to that or is it just coincidental?

SL: No; I've thought about it a lot, especially when I think of what I want to do next. I realize that this was something that I needed to do. It's interesting to me because I never consciously thought of myself as a student or apprentice, but I realize that it's a step that I wanted to take. I'm not in any way demeaning the work or saying that it's immature. But the irony to me is that people were so worried about what I would do next and it's been so generative for me.

JS: Could you discuss some of those developments generated by the use of the copy? For example, in the 1917 show (Nature Morte Gallery, October 1984), you coupled works by two artists that gave them a meaning beyond their showing separately.

SL: My appropriated images have been dealing with the Modernists and their ideas, a lot of which were Utopian. This summer when I was doing drawings by both Malevich and Schiele, I started to realize that the dates all circulated around 1917. It was amazing to me that these two extremely radical and yet seemingly mutually ex- clusive activities could be going on at the same time. I thought it might make sense to show Schiele's erotic drawings with Malevich's Suprematist works. [This was discussed earlier in an unpublished interview with Cindy Carr.]

JS: So this represented a comment on your part on the naive optimism in art's capacity to change political systems?

SL: When I began this work I was thinking about my relationship to the Utopian ideas expressed by the Modernists. We no longer have the naive optimism in art's capacity to change political systems- an aspiration that many Modernist projects shared. As Post-Modernists we find that simple faith very moving, but our relationship to that simplicity is necessarily complex.

JS: In the more recent Repetitions show (Hunter College Art Gallery, March 1985), you used another strategy. You repeated six pencil drawings of an identical composition by Malevich.

SL: When Maurice Berger, the curator, told me he was doing a show called Repetitions and wanted me to be in it, I was very excited because I had been thinking about doing a piece where an image was repeated several times. Repetition's implied in the work anyway (i.e., if you can make one copy, then you can make any number of them). So I thought this was a perfect opportunity to repeat an image six times.

JS: Also, you now seem to be anxious to keep works together in a group that previously you showed singly. This is true of the works in the current Whitney Biennial.

SL: People have been loathe to discuss the work iconographically for some reason. Last month I was talking to the writer Howard Singerman who lives in Los Angeles; he was saying that people tend to look at the work as if it starts at the frame and goes out, as opposed to looking at the picture from the frame in. What he meant was that we've become so sensitized to context that we sometimes just see the picture as a hole in the wall. In fact, they are pictures.
They're very complicated pictures, but they can be read iconographically. The images in the 1917 show are crosses and people masturbating. Most people who have written about the work have either ignored or denied the iconographic content.

I think a lot of people seem to get lost in the gap and think that there's no picture there, when in fact there are two pictures there.

JS: Coming back to appropriation again, how do you feel that you differ, for example, from Andy Warhol, to whom you have expressed an affinity?

SL: There's an emptiness in Warhol's work that's always been very interesting to me because of that vibration I was talking about. There are three spaces: the original image, his image, and then a space in between, a sort of Zen emptiness- an oblivion in his work that's always been very interesting for me.

JS: Your choices of images are quite different from his.

SL: Yes, although I often think that Warhol chooses images that loves, which is what makes the work much less nasty than it might be, and that's important to me, too.

JS: A few months ago you were invited to show in an exhibition Production Re: Production, which dealt explicitly with appropition and you refused to participate. Why?

SL: I never aspired to belong to a school of appropriators. "Appropriation" is a label that makes me cringe because it's come to signify a polemic; as an artist, I don't like to think of myself as a polemicist.

I think I've softened a lot since I first started talking about this work. I should make it clear that I don't think art should be any one thing- my work only has meaning in relationship to everyone else's project. It has no meaning in isolation, and on the level of desire everyone's project is different. I believe that one of the most important advances that feminist artists and writers have made has in establishing the possibility of difference, the possibility of a plurality of voices and gazes. It's important to me that my work be situated in the totality of contemporary artmaking. I'm not trying to supplant anything; my work is in addition. The idea is to broaden the discussion, not to narrow it.

JS: In the process of becoming recognized, you have been grouped with certain artists referred to as "deconstructors." In what way do you separate yourself from them?

SL: I may have a more traditional relationship to art. I grew in St. Louis which has a very beautiful museum that I loved going to as a child. Although I have a conflicted relationship to art world institutions and culture industries, I do love art and modernist art in particular.

JS: Your work has triggered a good deal of rhetoric. I am interested in your response to some of the ideas that have been articulated. One, which we have already touched on briefly, is the role of the Oedipus complex as stated by Lacan. In an article on Lacan and Freud (The Massachusetts Review, Summer, 1979), Neal H. Bruss says: "For Lacan,'it is the resolution of the Oedipus complex which reduces the infinitude of potential desires and linguistic choices to a manageable system; it does so by initiating the child into a third order, the 'Symbolic,' the code of language and custom by which, the larger community operates. Lacan takes the Oedipal resolution as a parable like the mirror stage, justified by Freud's own recognition that it could be reached without the child having actually witnessed a primal scene. Lacan's parablistic reading of the Oedipal complex for example, does not exclude female children from the Oedipal role. ..."

SL: That's why I've been so interested in critiques of Freud and Lacan by feminists like Jacqueline Rose and Juliet Mitchell, because they show us a way to have ideas about feminine desire. They talk about how culture creates an indivisible bond between gender and sexuality, a bond which becomes a yoke, a bond which is even more complex in the case of femininity.

JS: You have expressed interest in Jean Baudrillard's critiques. According to Craig Owens (Art & Social Change, U.S.A., April, 1983), Baudrillard argued that power is no longer exercised exclusively or even primarily through control of the means of production, but through control of the means of representation: the code. What was needed, then, was a critique of representation, but one free from a productivist bias. Owens concludes, "It was such a critique that new group of artists set out to provide." As you were included included in this group, please comment.

SL: This writing exposed the indignity of speaking for others. Like most women, I'd gotten pretty tired of being depicted and represented by men.

JS: A year ago, when asked whether you anticipated a change in your work away from working "after" other artists, you responded by saying that this was really your desire at the moment. "I'm making the pictures I want to look at," you said, which implied that were not thinking about any change. How do you feel now?

SL: I'm in a transitional period right now. I'm thinking of making more kinds of choices ... I guess I'm reluctant to speak about it too much yet.

originaly published in: ARTS Magazine, Summer 1985

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Meaningless Work, Walter De Maria

Meaningless work is obviously the most important and significant art form today. The aesthetic feeling given by meaningless work can not be described exactly because it varies with each individual doing the work. Meaningless work is honest. Meaningless work will be enjoyed and hated by intellectuals - though they should understand it. Meaningless work can not be sold in art galleries or win prizes in museums - though old fasion records of meaningless work (most all paintings) do partake in these indignities. Like ordinary work, meaningless work can make you sweat if you do it long enough. By meaningless work I simply mean work which does not make money or accomplish a conventional purpose. For instance putting wooden blocks from one box to another, then putting them back to the original box, back and forth, back and forth etc., is a fine example of meaningless work. Or digging a hole, then covering it is another example. Filing letters in a filing cabinet could be considered meaningless work, only if one were not considered a secretary, and if one scattered the file on the floor periodically so that one didn't get any feeling of accomplishment. Digging in the garden is not meaningless work. Weight lifting, though monotonous, is not meaningless work in its aesthetic since because it will give you muscles and you know it. Caution should be taken that the work chosen should not be too pleasurable, lest pleasure becomes the purpose of the work. Hence, sex, though rhythmix, can not stictly be called meaningless - though I'm sure many people consider it so.

Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today. This concept is not a joke. Try some meaningless work in the privacy of your own room. In fact, to be fully understood, meaningless work should be done alone or else it becomes entertainment for others and the reaction or lack of reaction of the art lover to the meaningless work can not honestly be felt.

Meaningless work can contan all of the best qualities of old art forms such as painting, writing, etc. It can make you feel and think about yourself, the outside world, morality, reality, unconsciousness, nature, history, time, philosophy, nothing at all, politics, etc. without the limitations of the old art forms.

Meaningless work is individual in nature and it can be done in any form and over any span of time - from one second up to the limits of exhaustion. It can be done fast or slow or both. Rhythmically or not. It can be done anywhere in any weather conditions. Clothing, if any, is left to the individual. Whether the meaningless work, as an art form, is meaningless, in the ordinary sense of that term, is of course up to the individual. Meaningless work is the new way to tell who is square.
Get to work

March, 1960

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

For an Engaged Knowledge [ Pour un savoir engage ] by Pierre Bourdieu

If it’s important, not to say necessary, that a certain number of independent researchers associate themselves with social movements, it’s because we are confronted with a politics of globalisation. (I mean a “politics of globalisation”, I’m not talking of “globalisation” as if it was a question of a natural process.) This politics, largely, operates in secret, in its production and its diffusion. And it’s already a full research task that is needed to spot it before it has been put into effect. It follows that this politics has effects which one could foresee thanks to the resources of social science, but which, in the short term, are still invisible to most people. Another characteristic of this politics – it is partly the product of researchers themselves. The question being to know if those who anticipate from their scientific knowledge the dire consequences of this politics can and ought to stay silent. Or if there isn’t in that a sort of failure to help people in danger. If it’s true that the planet is threatened by
grave calamities, don’t those who believe they know about those calamities in advance have a duty to emerge from the reserve which scholars have traditionally imposed upon themselves?
There is in the mind of most educated people, especially in social science, a dichotomy which seems to me entirely baneful: the dichotomy between scholarship and commitment [both in English, NC] – between those who devote themselves to scientific work, performed according to scholarly methods and aimed at other scholars, and those who are engaged and who take their scholarship to the outside world. The opposition is artificial and, in fact, you have to be an independent scholar, who works in accordance with the rules of scholarship [in English] to be able to produce an engaged scholarship, that is a ‘scholarship with commitment’ [in English].
To be a truly engaged scholar, you must be legitimately engaged, engaged in knowledge. And this knowledge is not acquired except by the work of scholarship, undertaken according to the rules of the scholarly community. Put another way, we have to get over a number of obstacles that are in our heads and that have a way of authorising us to give up: starting with the scholar who locks
himself up in his ivory tower. The dichotomy between scholarship and commitment [in English] confirms the researcher in his good conscience, because he receives the approval of the scientific community. It’s as if scholars believed themselves to be scholars twice over because they make nothing of their science. But in the case of biologists, that may be criminal. It’s equally serious in the case of criminologists. This reserve, this flight into purity, has very serious social consequences. Should people like me, paid by the State to do research, guard the resources of their research zealously for their colleagues? It is absolutely fundamental to submit what one believes is a discovery first to the criticism of one’s colleagues, but why reserve to them the collective achievement and control of knowledge?
It seems to me that the researcher has no choice: if he has the conviction that there is a
correlation between neoliberal politics and the rates of delinquency, a correlation between neoliberal politics and the rates of criminality, a correlation between neoliberal politics and all the signs of what Durkheim would have called ‘anomie’, how can he not say so? Not only is there nothing to reproach him with if he speaks up, but one ought to congratulate him (I am perhaps apologising for my own position) . . .
Now, what is this social movement researcher going to do? First, he shouldn’t go and give lessons – as certain organic intellectuals did, who, not being able to impose their wares on the scientific market, where the competition is stiff, went to make intellectuals among the non-intellectuals, while saying that the intellectual didn’t exist. The researcher is neither a prophet nor a guru. He must discover a new rule, which is very difficult: he must listen, he must research and discover; he must try to help organisations who are dedicated to the mission – less and less strongly, unfortunately, and that includes the trade unions – of resisting neoliberal politics; he must give himself the talk of helping them acquire their tools. In particular the tools to combat the symbolic power exercised by the ‘experts’ engaged by the large multinational corporations. One must call things by their name. [a few sentences on education edited out] Researchers can also do something newer and more difficult: encourage the appearance of organisational conditions for the collective production of the will to discover a political project and, secondly, the organisational conditions for the intended success of such a political project: which will obviously be a collective project. After all, the constituent assembly of 1789 and the Philadelphia Assembly were composed of people like you and me . . . who discovered democratic structures. In the same way, today, one must invent things . . . Of course, one might say: “there are parliaments, a European confederation of unions, all sorts of institutions which are mandated to do this”. I am not going to make a formal demonstration here, but one should insist that this is not what they are doing. One must create conditions which are favourable to the invention [of that political project, NC]. One must help to remove the obstacles to its invention; obstacles which are in part present in the social movement charged with removing them – notably the unions.
Can one be optimistic? I think that one can speak in terms of reasonable chances of success, one could say that now is a fateful moment [kairos in Greek], an opportune moment. When we were in discussions around 1995, we had in common not being listened to and being taken for mad. The people who, like Cassandra, announced catastrophes, they got mocked, journalists attacked them and they were insulted. Now, a little less so. Why? Because work has been accomplished. There has been Seattle and a whole series of demonstrations. And then, the consequences of neoliberal politics – which we had foreseen abstractly – have begun to be visible. And people now understand . . . Even the most narrow and obstinate journalist knows that a corporation which doesn’t make 15% profits goes bust. The most catastrophic prophecies of the prophets of doom (who were simply better informed than the rest) are beginning to be realised. It’s not too soon. But it’s not yet too late. For this is only the beginning, the catastrophes have hardly begun. . . .
A European social movement, in my view, has no chance of being effective unless it brings together three elements: unions, social movement, and researchers – on the condition, of course, that it integrates them, rather than merely juxtaposing them. I was saying yesterday to some trade unionists that between the social movements and the unionists in all European countries there is a profound difference regarding both contents and means of action. Social movements have brought into existence political objectives that the trade unions and parties had abandoned, or forgotten, or repressed.
In particular the methods of personal action: the actors of the social movement return to symbolic practice, a symbolic practice that depends, in part, on the personal engagement of those who demonstrate: a personal engagement which is also a bodily engagement. It’s necessary to take risks. It’s not a matter of walking arm in arm as the trade unionists traditionally did on the 1st of May. It’s necessary to perform actions, occupations, and so on. Which demands both imagination and courage. But I want to say this also: Beware, no union-phobia. There’s a logic of trade union displays which must be understood. Why is it that I speak to unionists of things that are close to the social movements’ view of themselves and speak to social movements of things that are close to trade unionists’ view of themselves? Because it’s only through each of these groups seeing themselves as it sees others that one can overcome the divisions which help weaken groups already very weak. The resistance movement to neoliberal politics is globally very weak, and it is weakened by its divisions: it’s a motor vehicle that wastes 80% of its energy in heat, that is in the form of tensions, frictions, conflict etc. A motor which could go much faster and further if . . .
The obstacles to creating a unified European social movement are of several kinds. They are linguistic obstacles, which are very important, for example the communication between unions and social movement – bosses and management speak foreign languages, unionists and militants much less. Because of this fact, the internationalisation of social movements and unions is made difficult. So there are obstacles tied to habit, to ways of thought, and the force of social structures, organisational structures. What can be the role of researchers in this? That of working towards a collective discovery of the collective structures of invention which will give birth to a new social movement, that is, one with new contents, new goals, and new international means of action.

Translation © Nick Couldry 2002
Original French text © Pierre Bourdieu and Le Monde Diplomatique 2002.

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