Friday, November 21, 2008

Guy Debord and the Situationists, Peter Marshall

Book Excerpt

The other great important libertarian group which came to prominence during the May-June events in France in 1968 were the Situationists.

They originated in a small band of avante-garde artists and intellectuals influenced by Dada, Surrealism and Lettrism. The post-war Lettrist International, which sought to fuse poetry and music and transform the urban landscape, was a direct forerunner of the group who founded the magazine Situationiste Internationale in 1957. At first, they were principally concerned with the "suppression of art", that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. Like the Lettrists, they were against work and for complete divertissement. Under capitalism, the creativity of most people had become diverted and stifled, and society had been divided into actors and spectators, producers and consumers. The Situationists therefore wanted a different kind of revolution: they wanted the imagination, not a group of men, to seize power, and poetry and art to be made by all. Enough! they declared. To hell with work, to hell with boredom! Create and construct an eternal festival.

At first, the movement was mainly made up of artists, of whom Asger Jorn was the most prominent. From 1962, the Situationists increasingly applied their critique not only in culture but to all aspects of capitalist society. Guy Debord emerged as the most important figure: he had been involved in the Lettrist International, and had made several films, including Hurlements en faveur de Sade (1952). Inspired by the libertarian journal Socialisme ou Barbarie, the Situationists rediscovered the history of the anarchist movement, particularly during the period of the First International, and drew inspiration from Spain, Kronstadt, and the Makhnovists. They described the USSR as a capitalist bureaucracy, and advocated workers' councils. But they were not entirely anarchist in orientation and retained elements of Marxism, especially through Henri Lefebvre's critique of the alienation of everyday life. They believed that the revolutionary movement in advanced capitalist countries should be led by an "enlarged proletariat" which would include the majority of waged laborers. In addition, although they claimed to want neither disciples nor a leadership, they remained an elitist vanguard group who dealt with differences by expelling the dissenting minority. They looked to a world-wide proletarian revolution to bring about the maximum pleasure.

At the end of 1967, Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem in The Revolution of Everyday Life presented the most elaborate expositions of Situationist theory which had a widespread influence in France during the 1968 student rebellion. [NOTE: Anarchy magazine has been including a chapter per issue of Vaneigem's book -- currently up to chapter 16, "The Fascination of Time". -- Ken] Many of the most famous slogans which were scribbled on the walls of Paris were taken from their theses, such as FREE THE PASSIONS, NEVER WORK, LIVE WITHOUT DEAD TIME. Members of the Situationist International (SI) co-operated with the enragés from Nanterre University in the Occupations COmmittee of the Sorbonne, an assembly held in permanent session. On 17 May, the Committee sent the following telegram to the Communist Party of the USSR:


Groups of enragés in Strasbourg, Nantes and Boudreaux were also inspired by the Situationists and attempted to "organize chaos" on the campuses. The active thinkers however never numbered much more than a dozen.

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world:

The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt." What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

At the same time, while modern technology has ended natural alienation (the struggle for survival against nature), social alienation in the form of a hierarchy of masters and slaves has continued. People are treated like passive objects, not active subjects. After degrading being into having, the society of the spectacle has further transformed having into merely appearing. The result is an appalling contrast between cultural poverty and economic wealth, between what is and what could be. "Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation," Vaneigem asks, "entails the risk of dying of boredom?"

The way out of the Situationists was not to wait for a distant revolution but to reinvent everyday life here and now. To transform the perception of the world and to change the structure of society is the same thing. By liberating oneself, one changed power relations and therefore transformed society. They therefore tried to construct situations which disrupt the ordinary and normal in order to jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking and acting. [Hardly an original idea, spanning from Leary-style LSD use to zen, etc. -- Ken.] In place of petrified life, they sought the dérive (with its flow of acts and encounters) and détournement (rerouting events and images). They supported vandalism, wildcat strikes and sabotage as a way of destroying the manufactured spectacle and commodity economy. Such gestures of refusal were considered signs of creativity. The role of the SI was to make clear to the masses what they were already implicitly doing. In this way, they wished to act as catalysts within the revolutionary process. Once the revolution was underway, the SI would disappear as a group.

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.

As for the basic unit of the future society, they recommended workers' councils by which they meant "sovereign rank-and-file assemblies, in the enterprises and the neighborhoods". As with the communes of the anarcho-communists, the councils would practice a form of direct democracy and make and execute all the key decisions affecting everyday life. Delegates would be mandated and recallable. The councils would then federate locally, nationally and internationally.

In their call for the "concrete transcendence of the State and of every kind of alienating collectivity" and in their vision of communist society the Situationists come closest to the anarchists. They not only referred to Bakunin for their attack on authoritarian structures and bureaucracy, but Debord argued that "anarchism had led in 1936 [in Spain] to a social revolution and to a rough sketch, the most advanced ever, of proletarian power." The Situationists differ however from traditional anarchism in their elitism as an exclusive group and in their overriding concern with coherence of theory and practice. In their narrow insistence on the proletariat as the sole revolutionary class, they overlooked the revolutionary potential of other social groups, especially the students. They also denied that they were "spontaneists" like the 22 March Movement and rejected the "ideology" of anarchism in so far as it was allegedly another restrictive ideology imposed on the workers.

Despite the acuteness of their critique of modern capitalism, the Situationists mistakenly took a temporary economic boom in post-war France for a permanent trend in capitalist societies. Their belief in economic abundance now seems wildly optimistic; not only underproduction but also underconsumption continue in advanced industrial societies. In many parts of the globe, especially in the southern hemisphere, so-called "natural alienation", let alone social alienation, has yet to be overcome. Nevertheless, for all their weaknesses, the Situationists have undoubtedly enriched anarchist theory by their critique of modern culture, their celebration of creativity, and their stress on the immediate transformation of everyday life. Although the SI group disbanded in 1972 after bitter wrangling over tactics, their ideas have continued to have widespread influence in anarchist and feminist circles and inspired, at times almost subconsciously it seemed, much of the style and content of punk rock.

copied from:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Robert Watts: The Complete Postage Stamp Sheets, 1961-1986, John Held Jr.

There can be considerable argument on who created the first artist postage stamp. The Dada artist Raoul Hausmann, associated with the Berlin Dada group, affixed a self-portrait postage stamp to a postcard in 1919. Yves Klein, the French Nouveaux Réaliste painter and conceptualist, negotiated a payment with a Parisian postal clerk in 1957, enabling him to mail an exhibition invitation with a special stamp of blue. Jas. Felter, the Canadian curator, who organized the first artist postage stamp exhibition in the mid-seventies, has proposed that German artist Karl Schwesig, a prisoner in Gurs internment camp in unoccupied Vichy, France, who drew in colored ink on the blank perforated margins of an actual postage stamp sheet in 1941, be considered the originator of the form.

Whatever the final determination on this matter, if indeed there can be one, there is no denying the fact that in 1961 Robert Watts designed a perforated block of fifteen stamps combining popular and erotic imagery. In so doing, he became the first artist to create a sheet of postage stamps within a fine arts context.

While Hausman, Klein, and Schwag, shared fleeting and isolated moments within the grasp of this newly emerging genre, it was Robert Watts, a member of the Fluxus group, who maintained a sustained productivity with both the creation of artist postage stamps and various other postal items throughout his career.1

Although several of Watts' postal creations pre-date his participation in Fluxus, much of his work in this area was created while an active contributor to Fluxus events and publications. The impact of Fluxus on contemporary Mail Art has been profound, manifesting itself in a variety of ways.

Michael Crane, the author of Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network Of International Postal Art Activity, writes in an essay, Fluxpostings: Fluxus and the Mail Art Phenomenon, that, "The impact of Fluxus on Mail Art was not entirely coincidental. Fluxus members were spread around the earth. The mails became an important means to meet organizational needs. Most of the Fluxus artists initiated or carried on an activity paralleling Mail Art among themselves, friends and collaborators. The mails allowed these artists to exchange scores, notes, instructions, as well as graphic works and 'unobjects' for exhibitions, reproductions (e.g. multiples) or publications."

After detailing the postal activities of Ken Friedman, Dick Higgins, Ben Vautier, and Robert Filliou, Crane mentions that, "Daniel Spoerri, the late Robert Watts, Nam June Paik, and Mieko Shiomi are other major forces of Fluxus, who used the mails extensively. Their publications, rubber stamps, individual mailings, postage-like stamps, and more, are now treasured."

"To art in general, Fluxus played a transformative role. For Mail Art in particular, Fluxus provided the most significant and lasting influence from the recent past. Not only did the Fluxus artists participate directly, they created models that became evolutionary processes and systems that formed the field as we know it."2 One of these models was the new artistic format of postage stamp sheets. Watts' first issue was the Safe Post/K.U.K.Feldpost/Jock Post stamp sheet of 1961. This was followed in speedy procession by Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost (1962), Yamflug/5 Post 5 and Blink in 1963, followed by Fluxpost 17/17 in 1964.

Other Fluxus figures following Watts' lead on the creation of artist postage stamp sheets include George Maciunas and Ken Friedman. Flux maestro Maciunas created two sheets later in his life; Fluxpost (Aging Men) in 1975, and Fluxpost (Smiles) in 1978.

Ken Friedman, a fellow Fluxus collaborator, published a sheet for the Jas. Felter curated exhibition, Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images, which opened at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1974, and traveled internationally. Watts participated in this exhibition along with 35 artists and 7 artists' groups from 9 countries. Shortly after this the field exploded, especially within the international Mail Art community, where artists postage stamps joined rubber stamp art, postcards, publications, and photocopy art, as important genres within the field.

Watts' postal activities were not limited to the production of postage stamp sheets. His initial use of postal imagery pre-dated his involvement in Fluxus. His first works with postage stamps harken back to his youth. He was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1923. By ten years of age, he was maintaining a postal album. Sara Seagull, a later production assistant, asserts that, "His stamp album...well worn and well filled, concentrated heavily on American stamps. (It yields the ghost of a stamp hinge on the page from Austria where the K.U.K. Feldpost was selected for its border design.)"3

As an adult, Watts attended the University of Louisville, where he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1944. After his graduation in 1946, he served as an engineering officer aboard aircraft carriers in the United States Navy. Switching fields, he moved to New York City, first attending the Art Students League in 1948, and later Columbia University, where he received a degree in Art History in 1951. His major fields of study were Precolumbian and Non-Western art. After a brief teaching stint at the Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn, New York, Watts secured a position as Professor of Art at Douglass College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. He held this position for thirty-one years.

During the fifties at Rutgers University, Watts was a colleague of Roy Lichtenstein and Allan Kaprow. Although not directly influenced by the pair, nevertheless, Watt's artistic career shared many similar concerns.

Lichtenstein went on to become one of the premier Pop artists of the era. Watts also worked in this area. Indeed, he even went so far as attempt to copyright the words Pop Art, "thereby taking the term off the market and preventing its use, perhaps in anticipation of its extensive use as a marketing label on a variety of products."4 He was unsuccessful in this since the term had already attained the status of generic usage.

He participated in Pop Art shows such as the Martha Jackson Gallery's New Forms, New Media exhibition in 1960; the Popular Image exhibition at the Washington Gallery of Art in 1963; and the 1964 American Supermarket exhibition at New York's Bianchini Gallery, which also featured Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselman.

In 1964, he exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery, home of many leading figures in Pop Art, in the show, Introducing: Richard Artschwager, Christo, Alex Hay and Robert Watts. Years later, on the occasion of a posthumous retrospective at the same gallery in 1990, Castelli reminisced that, "Their work obviously related to that of the Pop artists that I had discovered a few years before...Watts' chromed objects closely related to Johns' cast beer cans and flashlights, for instance. The 1964 exhibition also included Watts' sculpture of plaster cast loaves of bread on shelves. That work, in particular, I think of as one of his most important inventions. I'm also particularly fond of the chrome eggs and egg carton in my own collection which will appear in this show. The public will be surprised that an artist -so promising at such an early date- did not receive through the years the appreciation he deserved."5

In addition to the works cited by Castelli, as an artist dealing with the artifacts of his age, Watts was equally praised for his works in neon and altered readymades. The fact that he did not receive the worldly acclaim bestowed on his fellow Pop contemporaries, has as much say about his own take on the situation as the temperament of the public.

Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, writes in the 1990 Castelli exhibition catalog that, "First of all it seems necessary to understand that Robert Watts' relative isolation was voluntary: rather than following the published advice of his friend Allan Kaprow who advocated an affirmative art when suggesting that from the early 1960's onwards the artist would have to become a 'man of the world' Robert Watts seems to have followed Duchamp's prognosis that the artist of the future '...would have to work underground.'"

"To become a 'man of the world' (the 'artworld' that is) in the late 1950's and early 1960's, would increasingly require adjustments within the definition of the artist's role, social function and in the production and distribution of artistic goods and it seems that Robert Watts and many of his friends (like George Brecht and peers like Al Hansen and Ray Johnson) were unwilling or unable to comply with these internal structural alterations of the identity of the avantgarde artist."6

Watts found his niche in the security of a teaching position, which allowed him to pursue his own priorities without the pressure of producing for the artmarket. It should not be construed, however, that Watts hid himself away from the artworld, rather he was an exemplarily educator, as well known in the field of art education as he was in avant-garde circles, in which in was also an active participant.

Larry Miller, a student of Watts in the sixties, and currently an administrator of Watts' Studio Archive, writes that, "Watt's role as a teacher was of considerable importance and influence. He was an activist who was responsible for successfully founding the 'Experimental Workshop,' which sought to break down the standard barriers between media and associated concepts. The period between 1957 and 1970 at Rutgers was especially fertile with a number of Rutgers students and associates who were notable figures (Samaras, Segal, Whitman, Sonnier, etc.). Watts brought in many artists from new York as visitors to the program, including people associated with Fluxus and kindred forms (Maciunas, Paik, Charlotte Moorman)..."

"Like other artists who were also influential teachers on particular generations, (Kaprow and Baldesarri, for example), Watt's energies spent as an educator can be considered as an outgrowth of his expanded philosophy of the holistic purposes of art as a communicative process."6a

Watts also found support from his friendships in Fluxus, a loosely knit art movement formed around George Maciunas, which gathered many of the important vanguard artists of the time, and whose attempts at alternative distribution of advanced art has had a profound effect on the whole of contemporary art.

Fluxus also organized festivals incorporating new music, performances, and installation, which resembled the "happenings" popularized by Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, and others. Watts was often a participant in these Fluxfests.

Henry Flynt writes that, "In 1962, while employed by the US Army in Wiesbaden, Germany, Maciunas elaborated his project of becoming the impresario of post-Cage and neo-Dada art. He began mailing proposals for post-Cage concerts and for the publication of annual anthologies and various artists' complete works."

"At the same time that Maciunas was circulating these proposals, Wolf Vostell began décollage; and the mail art 'Yam Festival' took place in the New York area...Beginning in May 1963, Brecht and Watts put on the public 'Yam Festival' a festival of post-Cage work in New York...In mid-1963, Maciunas wrote to Watts from Europe, begging Watts not to continue 'Yam' separately from Fluxus. Maciunas was desperate to unite the whole post-Cage movement under his command."7

Whether the Yam Festival can be considered part of Fluxus is a matter of interpretation, but it is undisputed that this was an action of Watts and his friend George Brecht conceived in the manner of a postal "happening." In The Times Literary Supplement, Thursday, August 6, 1964, Watts writes about the circumstances leading to the Yam Festival.

"I consider Yam Lecture a chain of events arranged in such a way that the sequence is quite random, no performance exactly like any other, with changing performers, costumers, actions, sounds, words, images, and so on. The 'structure' is such that it is very flexible (nearly non-existent) and permits inclusion of anything one wished to do and any possible future changes. It is a loose and open thing. The audience puts it together the way it wishes or not at all."

"Similar ideas were at work in Yam Festival which George Brecht and I carried out last year. In effect this was a mailing to an audience, sometimes randomly chosen, of an assortment of things. Some were event cards similar to the above; others were objects, food, pencils, soap, photos, actions, words, facts, statements, declarations, puzzles, etc. Certain ones were by subscription. One might say this way of working is a way or manner of calling attention to what one wishes to talk about; or it is a way of talking about it. Or it is a way to hold up for scrutiny a range of material that ordinarily is not so directly useful for art or has not yet been so considered."
"Some might say it is possible in this way to suggest the relationships among many things, or the nonrelatedness of all things, or some other formalistic thinking or theory. Others may feel this is a formal means to cope with or deal with many diverse thoughts, feelings, attitudes and subjects. For me, I am pleased that I can as easily say something about trees as about autos, about birds as about persons. The whole universe of observable phenomena (or even more?) can be considered as useful, helpful, worthy, or at least there."

"There is not the problem as there is in painting or other conventional forms, say, where one feels he must make rational formal decisions about what to include or exclude, how this goes with that, what space or color should this and that have, etc. One might argue, however, that these problems are and always have been the proper concern of art and artists. Traditionally this is true, is accepted a priori, and indicates the limiting bonds of tradition, defines what art has been."

"In recent times some artists, and not only visual artists but dancers, film makers, and others, have been testing out their thoughts and ideas in their own domain as seen against out recent experience with events, environments, and happenings. It will probably be possible for painters to change the nature of painting if they so wish. I presume it is being done this very minute. It is also possible to invent new forms, new methods, to deal with new ideas. I presume this also is occurring."8

In an interview conducted with fellow Fluxus collaborator Robin Page, George Brecht elaborates on the Yam Festival. Brecht's reminiscences provide an excellent insight into the collaboration that went on among the New York metropolitan area cultural community of the time.George Brecht: ...The Yam Festival was an on-going series of objects and performances Bob Watts and I put together. We used to have lunch together. He was teaching at Douglass College at the time, and I was working at Personal Products, the other side of New Brunswick. We got along very well together...

Robin Page: Was he a scientist too?

George Brecht: He was a former engineer turned artist and teaching art. He came out of engineering and I came out of chemistry. When I saw his work once at Douglass College I thought Wow Yeah! So I kinda sought him out. I had a show on of some of my things then in New Brunswick, so I wanted to make a special effort, first, to meet him, second to see more of his work, and third to egotistically invite him to see my marvellous work. (Laughter).

We met each other, became good friends and arranged to meet once a week for lunch at a Howard Johnson's which was at the corner of the road that leads to Douglass College and the road that leads to the Personal Products Corporation research laboratory. It was during one of these lunch discussions that we cooked up the Yam Festival. Bob Whitman had been invited somehow to get some people together to do something in Princeton, and in turn had invited us. The thing never came off, but we wanted a title...and somehow came up with Yam Festival. Anyway, we made all kinds of objects; Bob made some yam pencils, I remember, I made a map of Si-yam...We gave or sent or sold these objects to different people. The Yam Festival lasted, oh, maybe a couple of years...

Robin Page: The Yam Festival lasted two years?

George Brecht: Did it?

Robin Page: That's what you said.

George Brecht: Oh, yes, well it was a continuing thing. It all started with this performance we were supposed to do and we tried to find...a title for it. Anyway, after doing these objects and events for a while we realized May was coming up and that May was 'yam' spelled backwards. We decided to do a program of events to cover the whole month. We invited everybody to take part. There were street, subway, all kinds of events. The Kornblee and Smolin Galleries lent space too and got the programs printed that Bob and I had flung together, and we were off. During the month there was a Kaprow happening at George Segal's farm...then there was YAMDAY. The idea was to make a very long performance, to keep things going. Everybody who wanted to could contribute...9

I dwell on the Yam Festival in order to show that Watts, while isolated by his teaching duties in New Brunswick, was fully capable of an extended collaboration with his artistic colleagues in New York, which prepared him perfectly for his future adventures in Fluxus. In this mix of collaboration, Watts continued to participate in a number of postal activities. Most of these were brought under the rubric of Fluxus, as Maciunas was not only anxious for these contemporary activities to bear the Fluxus imprint but willing to actively assist artists with the production of their publications and objects. Again, George Brecht's remarks on Maciunas' resourcefulness substantially echo Watts' attitude.

"So this guy turned up, and if you had things to be printed he could get them printed. It's pretty hard in East Brunswick to get good offset printing. It's not impossible, but it's not so easy, and since I'm very lazy, it was a relief to find somebody who could take the burden off my hands. So there was this guy Maciunas, a Lithuanian or Bulgarian, or somehow a refugee or whatever -beautifully dressed- 'astonishing-looking' would be a better adjective. He was able somehow to carry the whole thing on, without my having to go 57 miles to find a printer."10

Over the years Maciunas produced a number of postal items designed by Watts, including event cards, stamp sheets, fluxkits, a photo-laminated desk blotter, envelopes, stationary, and postcards. Although the two collaborators seemed to possess different temperaments, they sustained a friendship and productive working relationship until Maciunas' passing in 1978.

Ken Freidman writes well of this dichotomy in the personalities of Watts and Maciunas. "What made Fluxus interesting was the way in which the many and several artists were each able to establish an individual tone while creating a spirit of collegial experiment. Watts' humor was dry and subtle, typical of the New Yorker cartoons he loved so well. Even so, he became one of the closest colleagues of George Maciunas, whose tastes ran to Spike Jones, vaudeville blackout and a raunchy bathroom humor poised halfway between the farting contests of the Zen onasteries and the toilet humor of British television comedy. In temper, Watts was reticent, and a bit aloof, much like Alison Knowles, yet in his work, he created astonishing objects that are now seen to be important stepping stones to much of the 'new irony' characteristic of the young New York art scene today, an art as relentlessly social in its tone as Watts was personally distant from the art world."11

Larry Miller, takes a different approach in assessing Watts' character. "Watts has been variously described as being 'distant,' 'aloof,' and 'enigmatic.' While these terms may be applicable, it should not be taken to imply a philosophical position of apathy, indifference or insensitivity. his background as a mechanical engineer lends some understanding of his disposition to careful analysis of form and process, while his scholarly interests in primitive art and culture is informative as regards his keen powers of observation on matters of modern culture and the natural environment - often subjects in his work. Watt's style as a teacher and as a conversationalist may have tended toward the minimal, but his remarks were usually of great probative value and near to the essence of the matter." 11a

The relationship between the two men was cemented when Maciunas was confined to a New York hospital bed in March of 1963, and Watts began an extended correspondence with him. To cheer his ailing friend, Watts sent a series of event cards intending to raise Maciunas' spirits. After his recovery, Maciunas included some of these event cards in the multiple Fluxus 1.

Perhaps the most tangible evidence of the ongoing relationship between the two occurred when Watts and Maciunas teamed up with a third partner, the businessman Herman Fine, to found Implosions Inc., a company intended to become a financially self-sustaining, and cash generating, arm of Fluxus. In fact, Implosions was envisioned as becoming a "cash cow" for Fluxus, which was to become a division, or subsidiary of the financially solvent parent company. Reasonably priced items that could be inexpensively mass produced and distributed outside of art channels were planned for, with several actually realized. One such item was the stick-on temporary tattoo, a hot consumer good thirty years ahead of its time, but unsuccessful in its own era (much like Fluxus itself). Another Implosions, Inc. product, packaged in plastic and bearing a lapel reading AFFIXIATIONS, was a sheet of Fluxpost/17-17.

Robert Watts' first postage stamp sheet was the Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jock Post issue of 1961. In the following year, he created a stamp sheet using similar borders with different interior imagery (for our purposes, we can title this Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost [1962]) Following this, he created Yamflug/5 Post 5 (1963), Blink (1963) and Fluxpost 17/17 (1964). After a twenty-year lapse in issuing a new stamp sheet, he began production again with Airmail Luna (1984), and Commemorative FBI Most Wanted (1986). Re-strikes of Blink and Safepost were also issued in the eighties.

Drawing on his early interests in philately, Watts designed his first postage stamp sheet in 1961. Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost is composed of thirty individual stamps, printed red on white gummed paper. They are not pinhole perforated (round) like the post office, rather they are rouletted, slashed or scored as if by a sewing wheel. The sheet is composed of three rows across, each 26.8 cm long. The vertical height of the sheet in 9.8 cm.

The top row is made up of ten stamps all of the same design. These depict the actor W. C. Fields in top hat peering down at a hand of cards he is holding. The top of the stamp reads, Safe Post. The initials U and S are located in the bottom corners, and the number one is spelled out between them in the bottom center.

The second and third rows of the stamp sheet are each composed of two different stamps, K.U.K. Feldpost and Jockpost. The border of K.U.K Feldpost is based on an Austrian stamp design. The center of the stamp features the torso of a woman from just below the neck to her upper thighs. The border contains the numeral 4 in the bottom corners. Jockpost features a pair of breasts and two bottle tops. The numeral 3 is in each of the two bottom corners. The stamps are printed positive and some reversed, or negative. There are two K.U.K. Feldpost (negative) on the second row. On the third row we find two Jockpost (negative).

The second and third rows, like the first, contain ten stamps. The second row from the left is composed of: K.U.K Feldpost (negative), Jockpost (negative), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), K.U.K. Feldpost (negative), Jockpost (positive), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive).

The third row is composed of: Jockpost (positive), Jockpost (negative), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), Jockpost (negative), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), and Jockpost (positive).

In Fluxus etc./Addenda 1, we can find some clues to the production of the stamp sheet. One is "an image of W. C. Fields cut from a newspaper and mou nted on matboard. The artist made a drawing from this pose which is used in (Safepost/K.U.K Feldpost/Jockpost)."12 We know then the source of at least one of the images, and that it was an artist rendering from a source originating from the popular culture of the time.

Fluxus etc./Addenda 1, which is essentially a checklist of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection of Fluxus works, also pictures four antiquarian postage stamps used as elements in the work of Watts. One of them bears the K.U.K. Feldpost insignia and the same left and right border art as the stamp used in Safepost/K.U.K Feldpost/Jockpost stamp sheet. Watts, then, was drawing from his knowledge of philately in the creation of his early postage stamp sheets.13

Second, we are privy to the method of production, as Watt left behind a photostatic positive for the postage stamp sheet, composed of 15 individual photostatic positives and negatives mounted on wood and framed..." On the back in signed "Watts 61/Stamps/1st Ed."14

This photostatic positive of 15 stamps, was repeated again to make the full sheet. We can see in the final product, that while the top row remains the same, the second and third rows repeat themselves after the first five stamps across. Therefore, each of the two sections of the second row begin with a K.U.K Feldpost (negative). Likewise, the third row contains two Jockpost (negative), each occurring in the second stamp of the five stamp set.

In Watts' second postage stamp sheet created the following year, Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost (1962), he uses the same borders as the previous sheet, but inserts different graphics. In fact, the sheet was probably created from the same model as the sheet from the previous year, but in this issue only half of the sheet is used: there are now 15 stamps instead of the original 30. There are still three rows down, but in this new issue there are now 5 stamps across instead of the 10 the year before. The top row is composed of 5 Safepost stamps; the second row contains the K.U.K. Feldpost (negative), Jockpost (positive), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), and K.U.K. Feldpost (positive); and the third row contains Jockpost (positive), Jockpost (negative), K.U.K. Feldpost (positive), Jockpost (positive), and K.U.K. Feldpost (positive). These are the same configurations as the stamp sheet of the previous year.

In Safepost, the image of W. C. Fields is discarded. Instead, Watts has collaged erotic imagery with items of popular culture. These items include a pair of pliers, swim fins, and what appears to be an ice cream scoop. Different numerals are inserted into the bottom corners of the Jockpost stamp. In the issue of the year before there had been a 3 in the two bottom corners. In the new issue, one of the 3's remained, joined by 5, 7, 10, and one stamp reading 9 in the left bottom corner, and 8 on the right side.

Again, as in the previous year's issue, several of the stamps were printed in reverse (K.U.K Feldpost one time in the second row, and Jockpost once in the third row). The sheet, measuring 11.6 x 14.1 cm, was printed in black, on glossy white gummed and rouletted. There are several variants. Other editions are printed green on white and blue on white.

In 1963 Watts published his Yamflug/5 Post 5 postage stamp sheet to coincide with the Yam Festival activities he was coordinating with George Brecht. They were subsequently used in stamp dispenser machines and packaged for Implosions, his joint business venture with Maciunas.

The sheet is composed of 100 stamps with ten across and ten down. The word Yamflug runs across the top of the individual stamps. The bottom of the stamp has the numeral 5 in the left and right corners, and between them is the word Post. Yamflug is left white with parallel lines running between the letters. Post is printed black behind a graph-like pattern. The bottom right hand margin bears the plate number 25W070630. Although originally printed green on white gummed paper, there are also variants of dark red on white, pink on white, and dark blue on white.

Fluxus Addenda 1 includes a reproduction of the original collage and drawing for the border of Yamflug/5 Post 5, which measures 21.2 x 18.1 cm.15 In its original form, the left and right borders can be clearly made out. This is not true when the stamp has been reduced to fit in the format of the postage stamp sheet. But in the original, one can clearly make out female portraits that Watts clipped from a magazine of women advertising for dates with men.

Watts then prepared two collages of fifty stamps each, which were then fit together to form the original artwork for the entire sheet. The first collage consisted of 50 photostatic borders, with the central images collaged and drawn. The second collage consisted of 25 photostatic borders with original handwork for the central images, and an additional 25 stamps that were previously photostated.

The central images for Yamflug/5 Post 5 are portraits of both men and women. Some are taken from photographs, others from engravings and drawings. Some are collaged, and in one instance (ninth row, eight across) a woman is wearing a saucepan for a hat. Although there are occasional uses of nudity (first row, eight across; and tenth row, ten across), there is little of the pornographic content found in the stamp sheets of the two previous years. As noted previously, the left and right border of the stamps, composed of women seeking dates, are indistinguishable in this reduction from the original size.

The manner of stamp separation for Yamflug/5 Post 5 differ from the two previous sheets as well. In this issue, the sheet is perforated (in the manner of regular United States postage stamps) rather then rouletted as Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost and Safe Post/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost (1962).

The top and side borders of the sheet are not perforated, although the bottom is between the last row of stamps and the plate block. Therefore, the entire first row, and the first and last stamps in rows 2-10 are only perforated on three sides.
In 1964, Watts published his fourth postage stamp sheet in four years. His former experience with the medium culminated in producing one of the masterpieces of his career: Fluxpost/17-17. He had sharpened his production techniques since his first encounter with the postage stamp format.

Previous to Fluxpost/17-17, his borders were blurred or lost in the reductive process between original composition and final completion. In Yamflug/5 Post 5, the borders bear no resemblance to what was initially intended. The borders of Fluxpost/17-17, on the other hand, are sharp and more closely follow Watts' original conception.

The central images of the 100 different stamps on the sheet are also more visually intelligible. The almost childlike compulsion to shock his audience with crude erotic imagery, so dominant in the first two works, and carried forth in Yamflug/5 Post 5, is muted in Fluxpost/17-17.15a There is a pleasing mix of the abstract and figurative from sources as diverse as photography, drawing, and engraving. The ground of Fluxpost/17-17 is better conceived then Yamflug/ 5 Post 5, muddied by the reprographic halftone dots lingering in the background. Fluxpost/17-17, on the other hand, seems to leap out at the viewer, be it in it's black and white, or blue and white printing.

The original paste-up for Fluxpost/ 17-17 is in the Darlene Domel Collection, San Francisco, California. Upon close examination it yields the following information. Many of the images that contain faces have been photostated. They are of a similar color, come from half-tone reproduction, and most telling, have a glossy sheen to them.

The photostatic images that I can identify include: Row one (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8). Row two (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10). Row three (1, 2, [3]16 , 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Row four (1, 2, [3], 4, 5, 7, 8, 10). Row five (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, [10]). Row six (2, 3, 4, 5, [6], 7, [8]). Row seven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, [8], [9]). Row eight 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Row nine (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, [9], [10]). Row ten (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, [9], [10].

Engraved images from their original source are found in the following positions: Row 1 (7, 9, 10). Row two (6, 9). Row Three (10). Row four (6, 10). Row five (5, 9). Row six ([10]). Row nine (8, 10). Row ten (6).

Row six (9) is left blank. But there is a residue of glue indicating the possibility of there having been an image there at one time. The fact that 13 images are currently missing from the original collage shows that Watt's adhering technique was not entirely successful, perhaps not even from the beginning. The blank stamp may not just have been a whim on Watts' part, but a necessity from unsuccessful mounting, whose unexpected effect he decided to incorporate into the final product. If so, it is entirely within keeping of a Post-Cage Flux aesthetic.

It is obvious that Yamflug/5 Post 5 prefigured Fluxpost/17-17. There is a singular border design common to the 100 postage stamps, all with different center designs, arranged in a sheet of ten rows containing ten stamps each. Fluxpost 17/17, like Yamflug/5 Post 5, has a plate number in the lower right hand corner. And like all masterpieces, which tend to have a somehow presage the future, the plate block number reads DIY12W70640, portending the DIY, or Do-It-Yourself generation of the late eighties and nineties.

Fluxpost/17-17 is perforated more symmetrically then the previous years issue. Whereas Yamflug/5 Post 5 lacked a top line of perforation, Fl uxpost/17-17 is better situated on the page allowing for a balanced look. Watts had secured a successful method of production and the integrated look he has sought for his work in the genre. And then for some inexplicable reason, he discontinued his production of postage stamps for the next twenty years.

His foray back into the field was an especially impressive one. Airmail Luna, published in 1984, is one of the finest looking artist postage stamp sheets ever produced. The 10 7/8 x 8 ¼ inch composition is laid out in ten rows consisting of five stamps apiece. Each stamp bears the inscription Airmail Luna 1984 in black lettering on the bottom portion of the stamp.

The first and last rows of the sheet are entirely blue, except for the black lettering previously described. The deep blue pigment is not unlike the I.K.B (International Klein Blue) used by Yves Klein in the creation of his Blue Stamp in 1957. The other stamps on rows two through nine bear at least some part of the lunar design that spreads from the middle of the sheet toward, but not to, the edges.

The moon is silver and white with craters and other apparent lunar features. Like Yamflug/5 Post 5 and Fluxpost/17-17 issues, Airmail Luna bears a plate number (19WO40840). Unlike the previously cited issues, it is signed in the plate (R. Watts '84), a practice Watts would henceforth repeat.

The most unusual feature about Airmail Luna is its "allover" feature. This is the only postage stamp sheet Watts would produce that departed from the standard postage stamp sheet format of identical, or nearly identical stamps, gathered in a grid format.

Watts' next stamp sheet was Blink produced in 1986. This is an 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet of stamps with 63 individual stamps, all bearing the same image. It is printed brown on tan paper, and is rouletted in the same style as Watt's earlier Safe Post/KU.K. Feldpost/Jockpost stamp sheets. The work is also signed in the plate and bears the margin number Ow19631/12/86, referring one assumes to the fact that the image was first produced in 1963 and subsequently modified in 1986.

The image was produced anonymously with Alison Knowles and George Brecht for a 1963 exhibition at Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles. Forty-one of the images were silk-screened by Knowles and presented along with a model, Lette Eisenhauer, who modeled the image on clothing.

In a phone conversation I had with Alison Knowles on January 11, 1996, she explained that the three-tiered work was a collective undertaking, with each artist responsible for a certain section. The top section was done by Watts and represents a Balinese wedding. George Brecht contributed the word BLINK, that breaks up the field. The three scissors, their blades opened, closed, and fully extended, were created by Alison Knowles.
Blink was first issued in 1963 by Watts as an imperforate sheet of stamps. That is, there are no perforations of any kind between the images. Sara Seagull in a phone conversation with me in January 1996 stated that these were often cut up and used as stamps. But with no perforations, and no philatelic traces, such as distinguishing denomination or issuing agency, placing this earlier issue of Blink into Watts' postage stamp oeuvre is contentious.

Watts created another stamp sheet in 1986, Commemorative FBI Most Wanted. It consists of fifty stamps in five rows of ten stamps across. It is printed black ink on gummed goldenrod (or yellow) paper. The photographic images are taken from FBI Most Wanted posters, commonly found in United States Post Office buildings. Each stamp depicts a different fugitive with a pair of fingerprints to the left of the portrait. To the top and bottom of the stamp, one finds a hand-drawn gun. To the right of each portrait FBI Most Wanted is written vertically. The 100 guns on the sheet are all from a common source, perhaps drawn by Watts himself. The sheet titled, Commemorative FBI most wanted, is given the plate number O2w10a86tO, and is signed Robert Watts 86.

Although Commemorative FBI most wanted appears nothing like his earlier Yamflug/5 Post 5 and Fluxpost/17-17 issues, the newer work is related in that it is composed of found images from sources in popular culture. Watts, therefore, continued his interest in Pop, late into his career, just two years before his death in 1988.
During the eighties, Watts, in the manner of the Blink stamp, continued to issue additional stamp sheets based on his previous designs. Sara Seagull states that, "He issued restrikes and compilations during the 1980s. This was in part to satisfy the demand from patrons and collectors,and partly to satisfy his curiosity about using different ink colors."17 Three sheets were produced based on his Safepost/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost issues of 1961 and 1962. One such sheet is composed of 40 images of W.C. Fields in four rows of 10 stamps each, all in magenta. It is the same image as used in the 1961 issue, but has become muddied. The Safe Post logo, which graced the top of the image, has been obliterated in a wash of magenta. The U and S found in the bottom left and right corners are also less distinct then the original. The perforations are like those of the original, scored rather then the more conventional pin-hole perforations. To the left of the horizontal sheet, is Watts' signature in the plate, and the number 0W9-1961n12-8-86. As in the Blink stamp, this appears to signify that the work was originally created in 1961, and re-struck December 8, 1986.

Another sheet of similar appearance is also constructed from the Safepost/K.U.K. Feldpost/Jockpost issue of 1961. In this re-strike, the image of W.C. Fields (Safepost), is joined by the same K.U.K. Feldpost and Jockpost images of the original sheet. There are six horizontal rows of ten stamps each.

The first row is composed entirely of Safepost stamps depicting W. C. Fields.

The second and third rows contain K.U.K Feldpost and Jockpost issues in unique configurations.

The fourth row again is composed of the Safepost stamps.

The fifth and sixth rows again contain K.U.K Feldpost and Jockpost stamps in unique configurations with no apparent internal order. They possess, as do the second and third rows, both negative and positive images of the stamps. This repeats the same technique Watts used in the original issue of 1961.

Watts' final restrike from the sixties produced in the eighties, is a composite sheet using elements from Safepost, K.U.K Feldpost, Jockpost (1962). The quality of the sheet is, again, a degradation of the original, more indistinguishable and muddied. While the original 1962 stamp sheet contained 15 stamps and measured 5 ½ x 4 ½ inches, the re-strike from the eighties is composed of 60 stamps and measures 10 7/8 x 7 7/8 inches.
In essence, the re-strike is doubled from the original. Instead of a single row of 5 unique Safepost images, there are now two rows of 10 stamps across, 1-5 remain in the same order as the original, and then are repeated in positions 6-10.

The next four rows are composed of K.U.K. Feldpost and Jockpost stamps in exactly the same configuration as the original 1962 sheet, but doubled as in the previous two rows. The sheet, like the other restrikes, are offset printed. This particular sheet is printed in turquoise. A plate number appears in the margins to the left of the sheet bearing the inscription, 04 w 019062, cluing us to the original issue date. Watts' signature is signed in the plate without a date accompanying it.

Over the years, Watts' postage stamp sheets have been shown in exhibitions of Pop Art, Fluxus, Minimal Art, Serial Art, Mail Art, and Artist Postage Stamps. They are a perfect expression of various art tendencies central to the era in which they were created.

Watt's postage stamp sheets have had a continuing life since his death in 1988. In 1993, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, organized the exhibition, In the Spirit of Fluxus, which subsequently traveled both nationally (The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts, Columbus, Ohio; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and internationally (Fundació Antoni Tápies, Barcelona, Spain). A popular feature of the exhibition was the dispensing of Watts' postage stamps from a modified U. S. government postage stamp machine. In addition the Walker Art Center produced a sheet of stamps compiled from Safepost/K.U.K Feldpost/Jockpost (1961 and 1962), Yamflug/5 Post 5, Fluxpost/17-17, and Commemorative FBI Most Wanted. The sheet was sold throughout the duration of the touring exhibition.

The stamp sheet is copyrighted 1993 by the Robert Watts Studio Archive. Sara Seagull and Larry Miller, who were both students of Watts in the sixties, have done much to perpetuate Watts' memory and work.
The ever increasing popularity of the postage stamp format can be linked in part to the unending information the format is capable of conveying. It is both a conceptual and visual art medium. The fact that it parodies official postal authority has great significance to the many mail artists that create within the format. Indeed, there have been many instances, where artists, including Watts, have tested the postal system in an attempt to have their works "authenticated" by the government.

Within the mail art genre, where works are often of a conceptual nature and not primarily constructed for the sake of appearance, the artist postage stamp sheet is often a much sought after item, because it is one of the few products within the network composed with design qualities in mind. This is one reason why there are so many shows featuring artist postage stamps. Whenever an established museum decides to exhibit Mail Art, they often turn to the genre of artist postage stamps, because they convey the social, pol itical, and personal concerns of the artists, as well as their artistic merits. Exhibitions at the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Postal Museums of France and Switzerland, have featured artist postage stamp sheets to great effect.

Central to any exhibition, and to any history of the medium of artist postage stamp sheets, is the inclusion of Robert Watts' philatelic oeuvre. He is the pioneer of the field. Watts' stamp sheets are an integral part of Mail Art's lore and a cornerstone of it's evolving history.

John Held, Jr.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Media Connection: The future is under construction, Gianni Romano

The exhibition “Media Connection" begins with a screening, in the dark. In the film a man approaches a screen, space is annulled by the surrounding darkness, we see only the silhouette of the man who slowly moves toward a screen placed at a slight angle. Suddenly the man climbs through the screen as if it were a window, lingering on the sill before leaping into the void. Francis Alÿs made the short "The Thief" for use as a screensaver, available for downloading from the website of the Dia Center for the Arts of New York. In the site the image is joined by thirteen screens on which the visitor can click to read thirteen comments and quotes on perspective: from Leon Battista Alberti to Bill Gates. The idea itself of a screensaver is an antiquated one, utilized only for decorative purposes; but the screensaver reminds us of the computers of the first generation, whose monitors required the movement of images to avoid fixed pixels from burning the surface. The idea of perspective also seemed antiquated for a long time, at least in aesthetic terms. The project by Francis Alÿs puts the spotlight back on a very old question: are we really certain that the old perspective system developed by Leon Battista Alberti has become useless in the multimedia era? Yet most of our computers function thanks to a program called Windows, and have the task of making us familiar with the world of bits: an interface that makes virtual space intelligible, just as perspective helps in the intelligible representation of reality.

In spite of the digital revolution and the Internet, today we still use computers by relying on a symbolic system that favors a widespread use of metaphors. Terms like icon, desktop, net, surfer, keyboard, bookmark, domain, navigate are words we have borrowed from our past, from our culture.

While it is true that when we speak of technology today we are referring to a field in which technological evolution is more rapid than linguistic evolution, we ought to be pragmatic about the noteworthy growth of metaphors in a new environment. Man has always come to grips with new developments by making use of familiar imagery. For the artist, on the other hand, the future is always, necessarily under construction.

Between "global groove" and "technologie galopante"

In the first sentence of "Neuromancer" – “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" – William Gibson conveys the image of a hypertechnological future that doesn't, however, correspond to an idea of perfection. The masters of the cyberpunk genre have repeatedly described characters whose bodies are enhanced by high-tech parts, although these technological prostheses almost never seem to truly improve their functioning. In fact, these writers – like artists – have used dysfunctions, gaps, errors, accidents to write their wondrous tales. One of the tasks of science fiction is to project the ambitions, but also the fears and doubts, of the present into an imaginary future. It is in this gap between the possible and the impossible, this crack between seduction and dissatisfaction, that many artists insert their experiments. If the problem of "Johnny Mnemonic" is to remove a synthetic memory slot from his brain, Gary Hill ("Crux", 1983) attaches five video cameras to his body to record his absence, but above all they record his gaze. Art somehow filters, a priori, the information overload; even an imperfect future simply increases its critical vision.

At the Fluxus Festival, held at the Städtische Museum of Wiesbaden in 1962, an absence opened the way for unexpected cooperation, confirming the fact that Fluxus is more a mental state than an artistic discipline. Before the series of concerts of John Cage five violinists were missing. Artists present at the event who, naturally, had never touched a violin immediately replaced them. The artists were George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Benjamin Patterson, Wolf Vostell and Nam June Paik.

In 1965 the Rockefeller Foundation gave Nam June Paik a Sony Portapak (the first portable half-inch video camera), enabling the artist to experiment with a new machine. "Moon is the oldest TV" is an installation by Nam June Paik dated 1976, reproducing the lunar phases on multiple monitors. With "La città piange" (The City Cries) Nam June Paik made a series of works on Italian cities; the technological image creates a contrast with the picture postcard image of the Bel Paese, bathing it in (electronic) acid rain. The title of the video "Global Groove" (1973) makes open reference to the "global village" of Marshall McLuhan, as the Korean artist rejects the media guru's optimism regarding the cultural contribution of television, fearing the standardization caused by the dominance of commercial TV. "Groove" means "channel", "path", but also "routine". One of the opening phrases warns: "This is a glimpse of a new world when you will be able to switch on every TV channel in the world and TV guides will be as thick as the Manhattan telephone book”. Thus "Global Groove" anticipated remote control zapping, music as a non-verbal language and soundtrack of his performances with Charlotte Moorman, the overload of frenetic images composed thanks to the visual and musical editing abilities of the author. Music and sound correspond to the dematerialization of the work pursued by the minimalists and conceptual artists of that period. Many artists, in the years to follow, have openly expressed their interest in music, from the rock bands of Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon and Tony Oursler to that of Pipilotti Rist, the videoclips of Doug Aitken, the minimal sound installations of Ceal Floyer, the concerts of Carsten Nicolai... probably because music reflects a need, bearing a great resemblance to an environment that has never materialized but which, in the 1990s, makes its presence felt.

At the end of the Fifties another accident prompted Wolf Vostell to reflect on the concept of "décoll/age". Reading Le Figaro, Vostell noticed a story about an airplane that crashed during take-off (décollage). Hence the idea of the collages, newspaper clippings combined with painting, photos, pastels and found objects that formed the basis for a profusion of different styles and media. Unlike Mimmo Rotella and Raymond Hains, the German artist applied the concept of décoll/age to the spaces where performances took place. With Wolf Vostell, the poetics of Marcel Duchamp of the objet trouvé is expanded to the point where "art equals life – life equals art”, a concept which, in 1958, lay behind the happening "Das Theater ist auf der Strasse" (Theatre happens on the street), which took place in Paris (Passage de la Tour) and was composed of pieces of automobiles and televisions used as sculptures.

In the attempt to return to a concrete vision of the world the Nouveaux Réalistes – united by Pierre Restany with the manifesto of 27 October 1960 – also utilized mass-market objects and products. To "reveal the marvelous through the ordinary" Jean Tinguely dismantled them and renamed them "meta-machines", Daniel Spoerri and Arman accumulated them, Mimmo Rotella stole advertising images from the walls of cities. "L'art fonctionnel": this is how Tinguely wryly defined his useless machines, vehicles for his satire of the irrationality of a civilization enslaved by technology. An attitude reflected by Jacques Tati in his construction of the character of Monsieur Hulot in "Playtime" (1968).

While in the United States artists made use of machines that in the wake of the economic boom began to be everyday presences, the Nouveau Réalisme was possible thanks to the economic and social transformations that changed the European scene in the Sixties. The passage from the rural realities of the first half of the 20th century to the postwar reconstruction led to a new landscape in which industry and technology were a part of everyday reality, and our image-bank was extended, for the first time, beyond the confines of the planet... "c'était l'époque de la technologie galopante, le défi de l'aventure de l'espace et puis un grand optimisme au niveau des ressources énergétiques de la planète". (Pierre Restany)

From Prime Time to Real Time

If prime time isn't seen as real time it is because artists are distrustful by nature, but also because they began to wonder about the relationship between reality and the instruments of representation. Bertrand Lavier, for example, utilizes traditional artistic methods in a craftsmanlike way, painting everyday useful objects and covering them with acrylic brushstrokes. The titles of the works of Bertrand Lavier often correspond to the trademarks of the objects, so that to some extent reality coincides with its representation.

Similarly, the twenty-seven Exposures in Real Time Franco Vaccari has realized in thirty years of work happen thanks to the interaction of the audience, which has the opportunity to take part in the mechanism of the exposure itself. After having provided the development criteria, the artist steps back and everything happens independently, through the intervention of the spectator-participants who become an integral part of the work. But it was not until the first experiments with web art that the spectator could become, to a certain extent, the raw material for the construction of an artwork. The author of "Photography and the technological unconscious" presented the "Exposure in Real Time n. 4" at the Venice Biennial in 1972. The subtitle of the work is "Leave a photographic trace of your passage on these walls". By this point photography was a popular language, and in cities it was easy to find automatic photo machines for quick ID pictures: Vaccari installed one such machine in an empty space, inviting the spectator to fill the space with his own image. On the morning of June 6th, in real time, Vaccari displayed the strip of photos with his face, the first of thousands.

Piero Gilardi, on the other hand, adds a spatial dimension to interaction in specially created environments. "I believe that our life is deeply characterized and revolutionized by technology, though we still do not have the cultural tools to understand how much the world has changed because of it" (Piero Gilardi). The first exhibition of Piero Gilardi was entitled "Machines for the future". It was in 1963 and the artist from Turin worked on the concept of utopian architecture, bringing models of habitation cells to the gallery, along with hyper-rational urban structures, machines for discussion, for artificial reproduction... pseudo-scientific models that attempted to preview the reality of a society completely rationalized thanks to cybernetics. Architecture as a social and not merely aesthetic commitment, a choice that was to lead Gilardi to do street theater in front of the gates of FIAT (with Michelangelo Pistoletto) and later to abandon artistic production to follow other life paths. But in the Eighties interest in the influence of technology on everyday life brought Gilardi back to the scene, and he made many interactive installations where the focus is on the consequences at an individual level, rather than on the machines in themselves.

During this same period the approach of artists to new technologies led to a definitive widening of formal practices. Twenty years earlier Fluxus had identified the mass media as the most detrimental ideological vehicle, encouraging its artists to express themselves with the widest range of forms of mass culture: TV, film, photography, newspapers, commercial products... To go forward with the process of the dematerialization of the work, the conceptual artists often made use of photography and video. At the end of the Seventies other artists were developing these dynamics, constructing a modus operandi which was to mold postmodern practice. A practice characterized by the use of citations and borrowings of forms already filtered by the mass communications media, with the aim of revealing the mechanisms of seduction of the image. The famous phrase of McLuhan, "the medium is the message", was seen as a threat in those years.

Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger utilize language – truisms, aphorisms – in a frontal manner, often displaying the words in the street using posters or electronic signs. Among the European artists, Antoni Muntadas is one of the most active in the critical investigation of the concealed ideologies spread by the media. The non-functioning televisions used as sculptures by Nam June Paik return in an installation by Muntadas in 1981, "La Television": a darkened screen is hung on the wall, and eighty images taken from advertising and newspaper headlines are projected onto it, while a song by Enzo Jannacci (very popular in Italy because it has been utilized as the theme song for a the television show of Fabio Fazio "Quelli che il calcio") warns us against the soporific powers of television.

While up to this point artistic production has been critical of technology and its machines, an inversion of the trend began to take place, becoming even more pronounced in the Nineties, when the focus shifted from a public pane to a more intimate, personal level. After an initial infatuation with technology Gary Hill, for example, utilizes video and video installations to investigate presence and absence, communication and aphasia. In "Incidence of Catastrophe" (1987-88) the artist is nude in front of the gigantic pages of an open book, threatened from behind by a strange cane (the prosthesis of a video camera). "Incidence of Catastrophe was the first work in which I used Blanchot's texts. It had very much to do with pushing to the forefront the physicality of consciousness. The clash between sight and words is very important, I really think it sort of analyzes the crisis of everything” (Gary Hill).

This crisis leads the artist to analyze the fracture between word and vision, to continuously quote in his works (through voiceovers, transcriptions of texts, pages of books or the books themselves inserted as symbolic objects in high-tech sculptures) authors like Bateson, Blanchot, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Guattari...

With the end of the era of movements in art, the art scene proceeds toward a slow decentralization of its economic and cultural interests. With the flagging of the impulse of de-construction, the need is felt to verify subjective or identity issues, and we see dynamics that do without any direct confrontation with the media.

Certain works by Tony Oursler reflect attention to the effects of the media and the impact of technology on the individual. Oursler, thanks to a particular use of video, seems to shift the accent from a critique of the public context to a theater of phantasmagoric microstories that aim at pushing our psychological buttons. He dissects the body (often his dummies are presented only as heads animated by projections) as well as the psyche. The contrast between inanimate puppets and the movement of the images thrusts us into a symbolic theatrical context in which streams of consciousness are staged, altered states to which it is hard not to react. Having decided to ignore prime time and to decipher real time, artists seem to fine new energy in the creation of an “other” space.

Check it out now the funk soul brother

Like other artists of this generation, Tony Oursler often mentions the influence of television and theme channels like MTV in his texts and interviews. The artist finds himself absorbing the cultural hybridization set in motion by the entertainment society; he is fascinated by it and would like to compete with the finest products of the popular culture that surrounds him. At the same time, he tends to resist the impositions of the mass media, the speed of an information that seems to measure everything only in terms of quantity. Halfway through the Nineties all the forums on art of the first Internet groupings (but also events like DEAF, Dutch Electronic Art Festival, or films like "Johnny Mnemonic") focused on the need to combat the first signals of digital conformism, to propose an art that would still be a public occasion for social reflection.

"The art world" says Doug Aitken "is constantly in competition with other media such as music, television or film, which are far more popular, but which are mostly lacking in one crucial thing: content”. Doug Aitken still lives in Los Angeles, his native city. The generation of images will always be grateful to him for having directed memorable videos like "The Rockafeller Skank" (Fat Boy Slim, 1998), while art lovers admire him for having enriched video art with a decisive expansion of the visual space. The artist installs multiple screens, as if the different parts of a work were the result of a sculptural, spatial editing, designed together with the images to be projected. The urban peripheries in which Aitken sets his "non-stories", the strong colors that characterize all his screenable production (composed, in turn, of overlappings, dissolves, speed shifts), are already significant contexts in themselves, backgrounds for chronicles of desolation and isolation, places that have lost their social function and in which any communication seems difficult or impossible.

So we mustn't assume that a generation of artists weaned on videogames and MTV won't feel the need to investigate and analyze dynamics that can only be suffered elsewhere. While with Aitken we witness the difficulties of our "funk soul brother", with Jordan Crandall body and machine reach the point of fusion. His characters seem like humans in flight from an inevitable cyborg fate: "Drive" (1998-2000) and "Heatseeking" (2000) are episodic films in which the aesthetics of the videoclip mingles with those of the serial and of wartime news coverage. The landscape Crandall presents us with (thanks to a noteworthy talent for editing and a capacity to stylistically mix digital and analog materials) remains fragmentary, but it is extraordinarily effective in communicating both the discomfort and the will to resist of persons submerged in the technological horizon. A repertoire of fragments of our past and present, a potent metaphor for the heterogeneity of our cultural panorama.

The image generation is convinced that media should be used without worrying about their specific properties. It is an art that invites us to look beyond the aesthetic, formal expression; no artist, for example, falls into the trap of outlining a “media” aesthetic. Further confirmation of the fact that the medium is not the message, but also that the artwork, with its increased percentage of reproducibility, is definitively divorced from its "aura", as Walter Benjamin predicted. In 1994 the first works begin to appear on the Internet; in this new environment formal issues no longer make sense and the entire discourse is shifted toward interaction with the audience, which contributes to the distribution and completion of the work. The Internet is a concentrate of the characteristics of other media... telephony, photography, television. So is it a coincidence that in recent years the scene is full of artists who use different media? Francis Alÿs is one of the most evident examples, but we should also mention Carsten Nicolai, Gabriel Orozco, Maurizio Cattelan, Elke Krystufek, Ceal Floyer, Eva Marisaldi...

Installation, video, photography, drawing, performance are the artistic practices Eva Marisaldi adapts, case by case, to her investigation, aimed at the analysis of norms and conventions of communication and an annotation of the conflicts involved. According to the Bolognese artist "many questions have no answer", but this doesn't stop her from continuing to ask, nor does it make her abandon an attitude of hope regarding the act of communication. Many of her works, especially the installations and performances, seem to be unexpressed attempts in pursuit of new spaces in which the media image is completely filtered, and where attention is already a result in itself, already an experience.

The works of Ceal Floyer are at times so discreet they run the risk of not catching your attention. The work reminds us of minimalist and conceptual hypotheses but – as has happened with other artists in recent years, like Charles Ray, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Tom Friedman – all that remains is a vague formal memory, while the discourse has shifted elsewhere. The work of Ceal Floyer, therefore, is not apparent: a pail in the middle of a space, fingers crossed in the darkness, a lightbulb shining in an empty room, sheets of paper with colored marks... a drop that continues, invisibly, to hammer. Repetition, as a minimalist paradigm, now becomes a metaphor for the passing of time.

The videos by Bianco & Valente "Untitled" (1998) and "Welcome X" (1998) can also be interpreted as non-referential spaces. The process of extreme manipulation to which the couple subjects the images (always shot directly, never borrowed from other sources) obtains an effect of complete estrangement. As if the real and the virtual coincided. As if the manipulation, though done with a computer, were aimed at de-digitalizing and slowing down a reality we no longer recognize as our own. The image generation, therefore, knows that the television emits light that doesn't illuminate.

In the video "Nata nel '63" (Born in '63, 1996) Grazia Toderi puts a doll in front of a television set where we see the images of the conquest of the Moon. The doll turns, "it has its own independent, slow and constant orbit" (Toderi). The media image is restored to the audience as an icon of the past, countered by a continuous, repetitive movement. The doll clutches a red ball in its hands... the doll is a universe in itself. The more recognizable the visual references, the more we lose touch with the coordinates of the place where all this happens: bubbles suggest the idea of a glass ball, a place of fantasy, i.e. virtual. Recollection and memory fix and slow real time (presented to us, in "Nata nel '63", in the guise of “prime time”), as opposed to its acceleration by the digital. We are offered glimpses of spaces of escape.

In the era of special effects, perhaps another device for slowing everything down is darkness. The "Counter Gadgets" of Tatsuo Miyajima shows us numbers in scattered order, turning on and off at random, at times creating shadow zones. Everything changes, everything returns... "All things are in flux and nothing is permanent". Among these numbers zero never appears, but it is precisely its absence that provokes the turning off of all the other numbers: its absence, that is, doesn't mean that the zero doesn't exist, just as it doesn't mean that death doesn't exist. Life and death, 0 and 1, as the two poles between which the space of experience unfolds. "When I began my work, personal computers were in their infancy and interpersonal connectivity was a gleam in the eyes of a small number of wizards, nerds, and technophilosophers." (Tatsuo Miyajima) In the eternal continuity staged by Miyajima matter disappears, only numbers are granted the possibility of representation. Markos Novak had warned us of this, when he wrote “There are no objects in cyberspace...”

Things that think

Yet at times objects return to make their presence felt. Last year Bianco & Valente disassembled a computer, depriving it of its look (Breathless, 2000), just as Tinguely had done with the radio a few decades earlier. The nude machine still functions perfectly, but all its processing power is utilized to recite nursery rhymes.

In "Soft City" (1998) Botto & Bruno haven't dismantled their teddy bear, but they prevent it from being able to see. With his face to the ground, he can do nothing but listen to music, only a sound remains as a coordinate of a world he no longer recognizes. In a video from the same period, "Good Times for a Change" (1998), another teddy bear is observed by the camera while listening to music in one of the usual monochromatic periphery zones of Botto & Bruno. This time the attitude is positive; maybe it is time for a change. The technique utilized is a digital reworking of the glorious single gauge: the individual frames follow in succession thanks to a rapid cross-fade, that leaves only the briefest glimpse of the moment of passage from one image to the next. With "Nothing's Gonna Change My World", another video in 1999, things get complicated once again: this time the teddy bear is enthusiastic, he even jumps on the turntable, participating in the music and the spinning movement. But the fun cannot last; the speed makes the animal fall, and he lies on the ground.

Matthew McCaslin fills space with domestic objects: they are turned on, they function, but we can't understand for what purpose. The electrical wires that make the machines work are visible, often they hamper our progress, giving the impression of being too large for their modest function. In "When Things Start to Think" Neil Gershenfeld narrates the early years of the Media Lab at M.I.T. in Boston, and the need for the researchers to immediately recognize “that content transcends its physical representation”. Taken one by one the everyday objects of Matthew McCaslin mean nothing, but when grouped they create an image parallel to the electronic network we only see in its traces. The low-tech image of the works suggest a reconsidering of the relationship between nature and culture, a dichotomy confirmed by the video images that accompany the machines.

Between quick time and real time

Shortly before artists began to explore the new virtual spaces, in his "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace" (1991) Marcos Novak wrote about the possibility of inventing new conceptual architectures that would bear witness to the decentralization of artistic expression, leading to new collaborations between the artist and the viewer. Although, as we have seen, forms of relation were already the focus of much research starting in the Sixties, it was not until the advent of web art that the works could become definitively "open". Less than ten years after the appearance of the first works on the Internet, today we can observe a profusion of web art, and also of fashion phenomena.

Not all works on the web should necessarily be seen on the web. At the end of the Eighties Wolfgang Staehle abandoned his work as a sculptor and moved to New York to lay the groundwork for "The Thing", one of the first websites known to the public, a veritable “digital foundry” (to borrow the definition of Benjamin Weil for Adaweb, another website born in the same period), a meeting place for artists, theorists and enthusiasts of the new frontier. This web pioneer never stopped working as an artist, viewing "The Thing" as an experiment in social sculpture, as in the work of Beuys. In 1999 Staehle opened a website in which you see nothing but the Empire State Building and a clock that marks the time. This is "Empire 24/7", watching the building 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Here Staehle performs an operation that is the opposite of the burgeoning voyeurism of the webcams; he controls rather than being controlled, and aims this attention not at a corporate or institutional symbol, but at a tourist fetish. The enlargement of this image in artspaces, rather than inside the computer screen, gives it further connotations. At first glance, in fact, the enlarged image of the famous skyscraper gives the impression of a projected picture: the enlargement gives it fixity of a photographic nature, revealing its true nature only to those who patiently watch and wait.

In "The Plague of Fantasies" (1997) Slavoj Zizek describes cyberspace as a “frictionless flow of images". Axel Stockburger has just shown a work entitled "Most Wanted" at the Secession in Vienna: like the numbers of Tatsuo Miyajima, thousands of logos appear and disappear frenetically on and from the black screen. They are the images our computer conceals in its cache after navigation in the Internet. Whereas a few years ago people feared the progressive digitalization of capitalism, Stockburger seems to find it gratifying; but the images race at such a speed that at soon as we think we've recognized a familiar logo it is already dissolved in the darkness, or in the colors of another logo. If corporate identity is still contained in symbols, might our capacity to recognize them in the infinite flow of images not be a way of taking control of the reality around us? Once the borderline between process and finished work has been erased, won't the method take on greater importance in the new digital architectures? The words of Markos Novak might come in handy at this point: "There are no objects in cyberspace, only collections of attributes given names by travelers, and thus assembled for temporary use, only to be automatically dismantled again when their usefulness is over, unless they are used again within a short time-span".

"Polar" (2000) is a project resulting from the collaboration of Carsten Nicolai and Marko Peljhan. Nicolai processes images and sounds in his installations, gives live performances and paints refined minimal canvases. Marko Peljhan, on the other hand, is interested in the area of telecommunications, the intercepting of sound waves and their mapping. "Polar" is based on the duality of two opposite poles (+ and -), within whose confines the spectators are invited to enter an unfamiliar, amorphous environment which is the space of information, to attempt to relate this space to visible, tactile or audible elements. With "Polar" the entire space becomes the content of the art; each of us is called upon to collect images and sounds, but also temperatures, examples of gravity. The resulting collection is then inserted in an online database and accompanied by seven key words that allow the data collection to relate to other databases on the Internet. The idea for the project came to the artists from their recollection of "Solaris" (196l), a novel by Stanislaw Lem which Andrej Tarkovskij made into a film ten years later. In this story the ocean of the planet Solaris reflects human emotions, fears and desires. It is formless material that establishes a relation with man's capacity to gather and form ideas. Thus we realize that every form and method of knowledge is merely transitory, ready to be replaced by new software.

What is evident today, for example, is that science (like art) has changed its attitude regarding indeterminacy, accepting its complexity but also countering it with the omnipresence of the transitory nature of things and methods. Nevertheless the indeterminacy principle is not a nihilist principle, just as the frontal approach to technology of a part of the artists of the 20th century was not the chic side of a Luddite trend. Indeterminacy permits complexity to develop, and art thrives on complexity: both proclaim that there is no “a priori” order of things, that often man finds it more convenient to propose old solutions for new problems, just as technology proposes new tools for old problems. Art has accustomed us to shuffling the cards of the situation, and the Internet has permitted pre-existing media to communicate with one another. Today we know that the future is always under construction.

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