Cracks

Yesterday was a day of nudging reminders and grudging to-do lists. The upshot of all this mundane ephemera has been a new focus in the studio. As a good friend of mine said yesterday – it’s time to get out and about mate. So let’s see where that will lead and I’ll keep you updated as I go.

The wonderous Michael Zahn forwarded on to me a couple of articles discussing the end of Postmodernism, and I thought I’d share them with you as well. The first is by Duncan Alexander on Fan Culture. The premise is that with more individuals participating in specific (online) fan groups dedicated to specific types of cultural activities new forms of art will emerge out of the plurality. “As the transition from a standardized popular culture to a fandom culture has occurred, fine art has wavered between supporting one or the other. Because of Postmodern art’s current obsession with its endgame, it loses its ability to examine culture because it becomes its own fandom.”

In the Endgame of Postmodernism Matthew Nash sees an exhausted Postmodernism feeding on itself. “Words, as ideas spoken, can have their power inverted through the subversion of reflection, distorted into new meaning by a change of tone or context. Art of the Postmodern era has increasingly relied on this strategy, and here the telling signs of the endgame of Postmodernism begin to betray themselves.”

What we are beginning to see in the artistic community is a sustained critique and outcry against the Postmodern monolith. What will come next, what can we do? Exciting things to consider!

Buchel-ed Up

Wow! Lots of legal stuff going on these days. Buchel’s case against Mass MOCA was reversed in the appellate courts. Donn Zaretsky mentions the decision as a win for artists. “The Court forcefully held that VARA applies to unfinished works, and clearly rejected Mass MoCA’s “contention … that the unfinished installation might constitute a joint work of Büchel and the Museum.” A good day for artists’ rights.” Martin at Anaba also gives us another fantastically linked history of the case. Martin you are the MAN – fantastic research! I don’t know where you find the time and energy to do all the heavy work that you do – amazing!

VARA exclusively grants authors of works that fall under the protection of the Act the following rights
right to claim authorship
right to prevent the use of one’s name on any work the author did not create
right to prevent use of one’s name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation
right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author’s honor or reputation

(OK, I’m having fun with the NYPost style headlines – you’ll just have to deal…)

Winter Doldrums

It is deader than dead here in NYC – as far as art goes. The biggest story this month has been that some poor woman accidently fell into an early Picasso at the MET, and now, everyone seems to have an opinion on how to fix the painting. I’ll tell you the truth it isn’t one of my favorite Picassos so I don’t really have an opinion. A linen patch on the back side and a bit of unobtrusive cosmetic work on the front (if needed) and presto! Right now there are restoration experts dropping bricks about that last bit, but really, it ain’t rocket science. As for the woman who fell into the painting, she must be mortified. I mean put yourself in her position. A day at the MET, a tour of the galleries with some docent prattling on about the works, a few pithy bits about how rough the artists were living, no lunch, nothing to drink, legs are heavy, the room starts to sway a bit, and the next thing you know, your elbow went through the Picasso. Awful! I also don’t believe for one auction house minute that a painting considered this important would suddenly lose half its value. Tear or no, the painting’s irreplaceable and as far as I know, the MET has no intention of selling the work – EVER. I guess the auction houses will just have to deal with the fact that some commissions will never come their way.

Then there’s the real estate conceptualism about to happen at the Guggy. Tino Sehgal has determined that a tabula rasa Guggy, white cube on steroids, would be a grand statement at a time when millions of Americans have left their homes empty as they lost their jobs. The idea of a major art museum cleared to the bare walls sounds like yet another sensitive project for the people. Supposedly something’s set to happen in the space – I haven’t a clue, but I loved this bit of art jargoning in the press release:

“Sehgal’s singular practice has been shaped by his formative studies in dance and economics, while using the museum and related institutions—galleries, art fairs, and private collections—as its arena.” What they don’t tell you is if his formative studies were Jazz, Tap or Classical Economics – Milton Friedman in tights. If any of you can make sense of the rest of the Press Release maybe you could enlighten us. I mean what, exactly, does this mean? “He considers visual art to be a microcosm of our economic reality, as both center on identical conditions: the production of goods and their subsequent circulation. Sehgal seeks to reconfigure these conditions by producing meaning and value through a transformation of actions rather than solid materials.” I think this means he prefers the stage to the studio. And on top of that I never considered that I was making “goods” when I finished a painting – I guess it’s all about context. As for the show, I’ll go for the Pina Bausch in Costco kinda thing. Who knows, we all might get to walk out with some circulating goods!

We are about to begin our series on Reality shortly and I’ve been looking for some interesting angles. I thought this clip was interesting simply because of the fact that “reality” is being discussed in one of the most unrealistic films I’ve ever seen. It’s almost as if the “reality” of this film bends and blends into the “reality” of the other films discussed – it’s pure Postmodern context and critique in that sense. The simulacrum is the basis for “fact,” and we are left with nothing but the idea that narrative and film are the basis for a “reality.” Add to that the tropes of photographic “reality” – the blurring of space as the lens refocuses – the TV screen fuzz that places another context on the image – the breaks in the edit that allow us to focus on the deliberate symbolic actions of the character (clipping and lighting the cigar etc.) It’s all designed to convince us that what we are seeing is “real,” that these characters are, indeed, part of our existence. Reality? – stay tuned!

TFU – Fairey Dust

That’s right – Totally Fucked Up. OK, I went for the NYPost kind of headline, but I couldnt resist.  Shepard Fairey is facing a bit more trouble with his case. Donn Zaretsky at the Art Law Blog (fantastic blog for real world issues in the art  world) has been following the case, and it seems that Shepard’s problems just got a bit more hairy. Now, instead of a civil suit, he’ll have to deal with the state of California and a grand jury. The other day when we posted about this we knew things would get tough with the civil suit, but we weren’t looking at criminal charges then. Ouch! His lawyer must have dropped a brick when – “Following today’s hearing, the AP published a report stating that the judge revealed the grand jury probe in a handwritten note denying a request by a Fairey attorney that a hearing relating to a copyright lawsuit be closed.” Handwritten by the judge – talk about TFU!  The copyright case which was specious and vindictive at best, would have been easily won by Fairey if he hadn’t freaked out and covered his tracks with “misrepresentations” and “misstatements” (legal terms for prevarications.) Now his problems are in overdrive for a lot of reasons not related to the use of the image. And if you’re prone to good conspiratorial stuff, there may be a political urge behind going after the guy that created an iconic image of the man who unseated the Republican government. I hope Shepard gets himself a really good litigator – he’s going to need one. In the meantime maybe he’ll be able to settle with the AP and put that part of the case behind him. We wish Shepard all the best and hope for a quick end to all of this bullshit. As for the rest of us remember this bit of wisdom Ice Cube imparted to one and all, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself!”

”Credibility is probably the most significant issue,” the judge said. ”Credibility is a very important factor and you can’t go into credibility without going into the destruction of evidence.”

Another Adjustment to Reality

IN our recent Color Series (which we will continue throughout this year) there was a lot of discussion about Reality. And I thought that this might be something to explore as we move forward into 2010. Maybe 21st Century abstract painting can become a new “realist” movement? How great would that be? Anyway, I thought that we could explore some issues that keep arising about “reality” – what is real, what isn’t, what defines it, what suspends it – all those sorts of things. So, let’s begin with this piece by Doug Glanville, a former major league basball player, whose career was impacted by the “steroids of 99.” I think that this is a straight forward account of some distinctions between what one believes or wants to believe and what is real or seems to be real. The further parts of his discussion are the moral and ethical implications of the choices that one makes – what becomes real as one chooses, and how long those realities may or may not last. Reality it seems is constantly in flux, always shifting beneath our feet, and what we believe to be real, may indeed, prove to be a lie, and conversely, what we do not see or experience as real, very well may be.

“…the problem is, too many players made a different choice than McGwire did in the face of similar situations. I can’t claim to know exactly what he was going through during the time he decided to take steroids, but I am confident that there were other players who dealt with the same challenges and played clean.”

Shepard-izing Precedent

Over at the Art Law Blog Donn Zaretsky has been keeping an eye out for the Shepard Fairey fair use case with the AP. It seems Shepard has not been very forthcoming with his use of sources in his most famous artwork. And on top of that he has done his level best to cover his tracks while keeping his lawyers in the dark. So, what should have been a case easily tried and more than likely won by Fairey, has become a giant clusterfuck that may be a game changer for the concept of fair use. When concepts of law start down one path and then take a turn down another, original issues of law become clouded and murky. This means that those who follow this decision will have to be VERY SPECIFIC about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and to whom they did it to. Courts in the US have VERY LITTLE PATIENCE for bullshit, and if you’re caught bullshitting, well, let’s just say your chances of being taken seriously will be diminished. Truth in court, and in life for that matter, will always set you free – whether you win or lose. Of course, never volunteer, always wait until you’re asked, and then, be as specific and brief as possible. Hell, that’s just the way it is in court, and that’s what your lawyer will tell you.

Culture Monster figured it would be appropriate to ask Fairey to respond to a line from Bob Dylan’s song, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” — “To live outside the law you must be honest.”
Ain’t that the truth?

Brawndo Corporation Simply Bought the FDA…

And the FCC. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/us/politics/22scotus.html?hp

“Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.”

It’s official – the corporations can now buy the government.
I guess the debate over issues of conflicts of interest in the Art World has just been made redundant.

Middle Aged Prats

I have been wondering why there’s such an aversion to the middle aged. Most of my life, I have to admit, anything approaching middle age instantly set off my stink eye. I’m sure a few years on the couch will unwind this, but for now, I thought I’d discuss it publicly. As I approach my middle years I’ve been trying to look at myself through that very same stink eye in the hope that I might learn something beneficial about myself. The big question that keeps coming up is why do I see so many of the middle aged as douche bags and twats. I certainly don’t want to fall into either or both of those categories (hopefully I haven’t achieved those dubious distinctions already, or maybe, I’m just fooling myself.) Though in all honesty, anyone at any age can be either or both, a douche bag or a twat I mean. Nor do I want to see my aging friends and loved ones in that light either, though at times, I have and I do. But really, it seems in these middle years, there are so many of us that wind up shoving our heads up our arses. I have always wondered why ANYONE would want to become THAT kind of human being – I certainly don’t. Now, I bring this up for a few reasons, and if you are nowhere near middle age or you’re smugly comfortable with what you’ve become, then fuck off and do something daring. However, for the rest of us, well, we’re going to have a somewhat adult conversation about this.

The first thing that started me writing this post about the middle aged was a recent discussion on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook. The commenters had come up with a list of artists who should be shown at PS1 or some such (fuck all, what do I know I’m half asleep most of the time – I guess it’s the onslaught of dementia) and apparently they came up with a list of artists “over the age of 45-50 years old,” whatever that meant. Jerry then wanted a younger league table. I thought about this for a while and wondered what the difference would be aside from the age criteria. These days it’s getting more and more difficult to tell the older artists from the younger ones strictly by looking at their work. Case in point is the recent Jesus exhibit at the NUMU that promoted the fact that it was about YOUTH. Now to my eye a lot of the work in the show looked very much like work I’d seen throughout the last 10 or 15 years. I guess this is what Dave Hickey meant by style change – there has been none. We haven’t seen something “young” in that sense for quite a while. And maybe that’s part of the problem. We keep looking to the young to shape us, to change us and maybe, maybe, it should be the other way around. Maybe it’s up to us “get young.” Anyway, aside from a slightly fresher looking crowd, what would the grand difference really be to Jerry’s league table? The problem with “youth” in this sense, and for that matter, the middle aged, is the fact that Postmodernism is the only theoretical structure that anyone sees, and there are not many of us who seem willing to directly confront this issue in their work. It’s far easier to pretend that rebellion is built into the program, that freedom is already a done deal, that we are free to express ourselves just like everyone else. And who can blame them? To confront that monolith is not just throwing over theoretical or aesthetic issues. It’s also about the fact that money, corporate, institutional and academic keeps propping the system up and rewarding those that fall into line with the body politic. Now the simple solution would be to choke off the money, but even if this “solution” were possible, POMO goes deeper still. Postmodernism guides the way our society works. Its theoretics are built into the WAY programs work and programs run the world – business, politics and culture. Postmodernism is the ghost in the machine and a vicious, unforgiving poltergeist it is too. So back to my point -if the young are not making anything new, anything different than the middle aged, then who the fuck should care whether the artists are young or old?

Then I read an article by Charlie Finch promoting his middle aged artist friends – for Christ’s sake, it’s actually entitled that way. Now Charlie has always made a point of age and he has a preference for the young, female and fetching both in terms of art and artists. To my eye his aesthetic is a bit conservative, but always specific. He also has made a point about our physical, celebrity obsessed art business, and how in the last 3 decades the art world has become much more aligned to that sort of culture. Charlie understands the nature of this beast, and I don’t think he really likes it very much, but cest la vie. The thing about Charlie that I admire is he’s uncompromising about his truth. His writing over the last year has been exemplary, sharp and at times touching, and aside from the throw down with Hickey, Charlie has been right on point most of the time. I think he should start to put together (curate, I mean) some shows on his own, old and young, break free a bit, get physical. Now I say this because of something Dave Hickey (Charlie’s nemesis I think) said in his SVA speech that rang like a bell in my head. He said, at a certain point in the 90s, he decided to get young. Now this is something to hear from an old man. I took it to mean something deeper. Our culture now thinks like the middle aged, that we have let our minds atrophy and grown self-satisfied with our own tautologies. We’ve let our vision go blurry and we’ve let ourselves be convinced by our own voices – OK maybe I’m on a roll, but so what. In that sense we are all middle aged. Hell, don’t take my word for it, watch a Lady GaGa video and drown in the endless repetition of every Pop music business trope known to mankind – talk about the glorification of the sacrosanct.

It’s always the possibilities for change that seem to get limited as we age (look at all the hand wringing and lapel tearing being done today over the loss of a senate seat.) Maybe the middle years are those clichéd years of conservative ideas and the consolidation of power we all expect them to be. For example, this past weekend I went to see Eddie Izzard at Madison Square Garden thinking that I was in for a treat, a comedic tour-de-force. After the pretentious opening of laser lights and a video montage of his upcoming documentary (available for sale on the web) he appeared through a doorway in a fake stone wall like Jesus emerging from his tomb, the air throbbing with MOR rock and roll. The stage has 3 giant screens pumping his 5-foot-whatever-inch frame up to the size of Zeus himself, and he actually says in a Wizard of Oz kind of moment – you don’t have to look at me, look at the screen – or something to that effect. What we got after all that build up and blow up was a middle-aged poseur still doing the same act he had scripted in the early naughts – Wizard of Oz indeed. Later, I went to look at the trailer on the web to see what that was all about. It is the typical story of the ambitious outsider who suffers for his art trying to make it in the big time. The story ends with success and happily ever after. But the ever after, it seems, is this interminable middle period of regurgitation, consolidation and self satisfied repositioning, or as it’s known in ever day parlance, filling the form. Once in the club you become the club. All of the questioning, the pushing at boundaries, the testing of limits has now been set aside for the massaging of an ego, the power of adulation and the “rightness” of one’s success. What I left the show thinking was the original anger, the drive, the rebellion that drove Eddie to success was not about anything larger than a cry for acceptance rather than charge for change.

In George Carlin’s book Last Words he’s talking about the awards and honors that came his way later in life. He attended a gathering in Aspen, where he was being honored with some other comedians and SNL alums, when he began to realize something:

“It’s just movie talk, yuppie talk. Nothing stuff and still not a glance or word. And I’m realizing that this group of people, who were once considered radical and revolutionary, has become another fucking Hollywood celebrity club. The Lorne Club. That their chitchat is a modern version of the fraudulent showbiz crap I was expected to do forty years ago in Mike Douglas’s gazebo.” And later – “The larger the group, the more toxic, the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all a part of it, because you’ve lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that’s bigger than you are and that controls you.”

And I think you can take George’s quotes and use them to describe the Middle Aged Art World in a nutshell. Dave said in his speech “Care is Control” and the making of art is “controlled” like it has never been before. Today’s POMO art world is a fucking celebrity club of glad-handing, back patting bullshitters.

I have come to want a different experience, in fact, I expect a different experience both here online and in my studio. I have destroyed more work than I care to remember simply because it reminded me of something else, or something that wasn’t me. As for the larger, outward issues of shows and careers, the truth is I have a great deal of trouble reconciling what I believe with what is on offer. I don’t want to cozy up to the professional art world, I want a different art world. I only tell you this because I’ve turned away a few opportunities to show. I really do want something else and the “younger version” of myself would have found this ridiculous. In the end I’m going to have to do things my own way because I’m hoping to get young like Dave Hickey. I want to tell my truth like Charlie. I want to growl like George Carlin. But mostly I want to never experience that douche bag fear that most folks in their middle years wind up living with, and when I do have to come face to face with it, (because we all do) I want to have the courage to be uncompromising about my disdain for it, I want to always remember to “get young.” OK so this geezer rant is done and you can go about doing what it was that you were doing. But we’ll continue to chip away at the Postmodern Art world on Henri, and I will continue chipping away in my studio. I guess what I’m saying is that as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to settle, to become part of the club. I don’t want acceptance, I want change. Whether that’s possible doesn’t matter, it’s my intention that matters. That’s my public resolution for the next decade as my “youth” slips away.

David Shields – Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

Like most things these days I came across David Shield’s work through links and links of links. June Underwood mentioned a Zadie Smith article that mentioned David’s work in a comment, and I was off to the races. Reality or “finding reality” has been an issue in the studio and we’ve discussed the implications of “reality” in a number of posts. Once I had read a few articles about David’s work I was hooked – Rene Zellwegger to his Tom Cruise (He had me at Reality!) His forthcoming book entitled Reality Hunger: A Manifesto is just that. The book doesn’t work the way we have come to expect our “reality,” our media infused, computer programmed world to work. It twists our expectations and then issues a call to arms. Once you’ve read the book you’ll find a new resolve to go deeper into your work, into yourself. It’s as bracing as a brick through a plate-glass window.

Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.

The book itself is worked through in two ways. The first is a direct challenge to the “institutional” idea of appropriation as both homage and reference. Now this is complicated because David accepts that we exist in our Postmodern era, and appropriation is part of the theoretical backbone of everyday Postmodern practice, just like cars in the 50s and television in the 60s and computers in the 90s. He has arranged his book as a collection of aphorisms, ideas, thoughts, quotations, etc., then culled them into thematic chapters. Each chapter is directed towards a specific idea about writing, about art and life. Some of the appropriations are word for word, some have been modified through his own thought processes, and some are half-remembered things that may or may not be original. These are all mixed in and guided by his voice, his thought, his memory. But unlike most contemporary appropriation, here it’s used it to guide meaning connected to an interior process, a process of feeling. This use of appropriation is something we haven’t seen for a while. It is a way for an artist to access memory, access one’s own history through the larger public culture – a “found object” becomes something personal when it’s internalized rather than referenced, when it’s coveted rather than displayed. Appropriation is transgressive when it’s stolen and woven into one’s personality, when it becomes part of one’s life. This kind of specific cultural transgression can make personal expression dangerous to behold and that gets one excited. David “steals” the way Titian stole from Giorgone, Picasso stole from Velazquez, or Matisse stole from Cezanne. In this sense to appropriate means that something new is coming into being, something unfamiliar from the comfortably known. Unlike Postmodern practice which continuously displays its references, footnotes its borrowings or re-presents a representation in an attempt to circumvent meaning, responsibility and progress, David asks us to actually make this found and stolen culture our own, make it part of our expression and our life – to actually use it to make something we haven’t experienced before, something for the 21st Century!

Which brings us to the second and more important (at least to my mind) part of the book. Reality. For the first time in quite a long time an artist turns away from the contrived reality of institutional practice and programmed certainty. David began to change his work when he realized he could no longer write fiction or read novels. Like a few of us in the art world he began to see the contrived and mannered production that was beginning to appear in our culture. The “well-made novel” had taken over the literary world in the same way that the “well-made painting” had taken over the art world. There has been a kind of certainty, a formulaic rulebook that set the basic tone and structure for every act of professional art being made. In our world this contrived reality is called Mannerism. David began to question the processes of fiction by looking inward to his own existence. Reality was a far more complicated and interesting idea. One’s own memory is where nothing is made up, but everything is interpreted. There are no rules, there are only memories, feelings, experiences. How those things are formed and relayed becomes the interesting part of making art. By starting with himself he wasn’t making things up, just relaying them – simple, direct and true. He also describes the disconnect between the culture as it’s formed around us and our natural lived experience. The disconnect between the two, our culture and our life, is huge, disturbing, and exciting, and that is where David was determined to relate his life. The blur – as he has entitled one of his chapters, is that ambiguous area where we determine our own fictions and realities.

Postmodernism’s catchphrase has been “desire.” Today we are lost in a world of desire and many of us have begun to look for a new way through. Our culture remains abstract, unfulfilled, nebulous and we hunger for something more. David Shields calls it Reality.

At least that’s my misreading. I wrote to David in the hopes that he would answer some questions and make it a bit clearer for us. He was extremely kind and generous with me and our discussion follows:

MS: The first [question] has to do with appropriation. In the art world we’ve been dealing with issues of authorship for quiet a while – at least since Duchamp’s Urinal at the beginning of the 20th Century. Duchamp’s challenge was about the nature of art. He hadn’t conceived the piece nor had he made it, he found the piece and claimed it as his own – it was art because he, the artist, chose it. This is the basic found object lesson we have all learned since. But today there is a further issue of copyrights, trademarks – which layers a corporate/legal problem over the creative/aesthetic one.

DS: I think that’s a good summary; it’s amazing how behind the curve the literary arts are. Reality Hunger is in many ways my attempt to bring contemporary writing up to date in this regard.

MS: Since Warhol the art world has become transfixed with the idea of replication, where appropriation – guided by lenses and programs – reproduces everything “exactly” in any form into any other form (for instance, a replication of a Harley Davidson motorcycle using salt as the building material.) Baudrillard in the late 60s and early 70s declared that culture/society had become a simulacrum and that there was no longer an original, a reality to base our perceptions on – the replication, the program had become our reality. In the art world we understand the implication of this idea of a replication from a replication – we view media within media – (the original no longer exists.) We appropriate directly, but we move it to another form hoping to skirt the economic issues. We customize it (with color or materials – we enlarge it or shrink it – we change it from one medium to another – etc) and re-present the representation – but unfortunately, we do not change the nature of the appropriated form, we do not question the simulated reality of the work we use.

DS: I, too, was heavily influenced by Baudrillard as well.

MS: Now if I’ve read your work correctly you use appropriation a bit differently. I believe that for you the appropriation is a way to get at a more personal expression of your own existence. You aren’t necessarily discussing the nature of “art” or “authorship”, but the nature of your own reactions to the things that you’ve seen or read or experienced, those things that you encounter and the impression they’ve made. You use them because they express something of you.

DS: I think you’ve captured something very true here, Mark. In a strange way there is something oddly “sincere” about my appropriation. All of these passages are eerily my own. I’ve edited them in such a way and positioned them in such a way that they have become my own or at least all of ours. That is surely one of the points of the book,or targets of the book. The book began with a course I taught in self-reflexive documentary film. I clipped hundreds if not thousands of lines that I loved and I put all of these into an enormous notebook, and this notebook became the “course packet” for the course, as I wanted to explain year in and year out to graduate fiction writers what it was I found so exciting about self-reflexive documentary film and also about literary essay. Over time, the packet got edited down more tightly, but it was important to me to leave off who wrote what. Some stuff I wrote, and other stuff I edited heavily. A lot of it was heavily combined. It was all very sincere in a way. The crucial gesture was putting the passages into thematic groupings—otherwise known as chapters—and then editing each chapter and each passage within an inch of its life. Editing is to me writing. I feel more like a film editor than I do a writer. My creative act was to find these passages, edit them radically, and then order them, and thematize them. All that being said, I would still say that I am indeed discussing the nature of art and authorship. I forget if you have the early DIY galleys, without citation, or the later galleys, with citation, but it’s crucial to me to see the connection between my argument about genre and the book’s gesture of appropriation. In each case, I’m trying to argue for the importance of unknowing.

MS: I may be way off, but when I was reading your book I felt as if I was reading someone’s notebook, a kind of diary or a sketchbook. It was very structured, there was a concise direction, similar to the way an artist makes notes in a sketchbook about what’s been seen, what sounds right, what feels right, images collected etc. Reality Hunger felt like I was rummaging through, say, Matisse’s letters with drawings and notes about what he was trying to accomplish, sketches, colors, found things pasted in the book, ideas stumbled on – that sort of thing. There was a consciousness driving the appropriation, something deeper and involving, and it was compelling.

DS: Reality Hunger weds the question of appropriation to the question of authorial ambiguity and generic slippage. This technique shadows the entire book. Most readers will spot only a handful of the most obvious quotations, suspect that a lot of the paragraphs are quotations (even when they can’t quite place them), and come to regard the first-person singular whenever they meet it as a floating, umbrella self, sheltering simultaneously one voice (“my own”) and multiple voices. The possibility that every word in the book might be quotation and not “original” to the author should very nicely and suitably arise. This continuous uncertainty or constant ambiguity is meant to be both unsettling and exciting, making the reader feel on his or her own pulse the dubiety of the first-person pronoun: it’s Shields (you thought it was); no, it’s not, it’s Leiris; no, in an important sense, it’s neither. The book’s best reader isn’t going to be a quote-spotter but somebody who grasps and relishes the ambiguous authorship of the text.

The whole argument of the book is to put reality within quadruple quotation marks. Reality here isn’t straightforward or easily accessible; It’s slippery, evasive. Just as authorship is ambiguous, knowledge is dubious, and truth is unknown or at the very least relative. The crucial, yoking gesture of the book is to wed ambiguity of the provenance of quotation with ambiguity of the question of genre—fiction, nonfiction, the lure and blur of the real. Art, not to mention life, now seems to happen primarily in liminal spaces, edited, quoted and quoted again and recontextualized, re-placed, collaged, stitched together. The book argues this idea passionately; it also needs to embody it.

MS: The second has to do with the idea of Reality itself. Every quote points back to an interiority of experience.

DS: Really? Every quote? Many, of course, but surely not every one.
(to Henri readers – OK, I was excited and I overshot – what can I say, I’m human…)

MS: I kept coming back to a physical state, a need to feel something and express that feeling. For instance, you say that you cannot read fiction any longer. The mechanisms are too apparent, the ‘art’ of it too readily understandable and expected. You make the case that reality, what we remember, is not a record but an experience. So what you read, see, hear in our saturated culture is poured through your viewpoint, and that is where you must find your voice. You don’t make things up necessarily, but interpret what happened creating a context for a personal interpretation, or as a friend of mine used to say, the primacy of fleshy memory.

Can you explain what this idea of physical experience is, how its connected to memory? Why do you think, after years of Postmodern “desire” we are now looking for something else? Why hunger? What is it that you feel we are missing? And how did that manifest in your work?

DS: These are great questions, Mark. Not sure I have the answers. Not sure how consciously I’ve worked out the answers. The book was written without a scholar’s logic, but rather with a writer’s intuitive impulses. I basically wanted to figure out and explain and convey why fiction no longer holds my interest, with very few exceptions. That is, doesn’t interest me as a writer or reader or teacher. Physical experience? I’m not sure I’m anymore convinced that we can touch the physical than Baudrillard was. I’m not a naïve proponent of reality. I know reality takes place within multiple frames and lenses. The imperfection of memory is crucial to me, though. Composition is to me a fiction-making operation. Memory is a dream machine. Thus, there is in my view no real distinction between memory and imagination; they overlap nearly completely. I’m all for desire,but the hunger for reality is a feeling that in the very best work the writer is actively gesturing toward some sort of “real life.” Now, of course, this real life is something of a fiction or a construct, but the very fact that the work is trying to get to the real makes the work far more interesting to me, because by virtue of framing itself as a work of nonfiction, and doing so in an epistemologically and ontologically sophisticated way, it raises questions in a serious vein and in a risky mode about the very nature of memory, of the self, of knowledge, of self-knowledge, of other-knowledge. As I say in the book,
What I want to do is take the banality of nonfiction (the literalness of “facts,” “truth,” “reality”), turn that banality inside out, and thereby make nonfiction a staging area for the investigation of any claim of facts and truth, an extremely rich theater for investigating the most serious epistemological questions. The lyric essay is the literary form that gives the writer the best opportunity for rigorous investigation, because its theater is the world (the mind contemplating the world) and offers no consoling dream-world, no exit door.

MS: Finally, the visual arts have been stagnating through the last decade. The economics of it took precedence as it did in the larger economy. It’s almost as if we became a new Rococo generation – expensive visual art made for a select group of very wealthy and specific individuals. Artists approached their work like they were in a “profession” one that promised a good salary, health care etc. Like the well-made novel, we had the well-made painting. You suggest that we find again the gap between art and life. This is something Rauschenberg was famous for saying in the 1950’s. Though today, I think that gap is not in the same place and we have different things to consider.

DS: Interesting connections between the well-made painting-novel and carrerist art world.

MS: How does memory play into the idea of the “blur” as you call it? How does culture exist in this blur and what part of memory must be involved? Where do you begin to draw the material from yourself?

DS: See above re: memory and blur. Re: how culture and memory form a blur, I’m tempted to again quote from the work, from my friend Brian Christian, who says, I’m finding it harder to just “write.” The seeking and sculpting of found text or sound have become my primary “artistic” function. Actually generating that text or music seems increasingly difficult. Lately I’ll sit down with a blank pad and feel like I really have to dig down deep to get my own voice to come out over the “sample choir.” It’s a very strange feeling, like a conductor trying to sing over the orchestra, and is, I believe, a fairly new one for artists.
That to me is central. How do I draw the material from myself? I guess I’d say I don’t. I draw the myself from a thousand different sources, and from my edit, my juxtaposition, my framing, and my thematizing, I say something that is “true” to myself and the culture, that is provocative in its angled attack.

David’s book will be out on February 23, 2010. It is a game changer not only for authors, but for artists of all kind. We Postmodern denizens of the art world would do well to “misread” it as deeply as we can.
“The questions Reality Hunger explores—the bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the real—play out constantly all around us. Think of the now endless controversy surrounding the provenance and authenticity of the “real”: A Million Little Pieces, the Obama “Hope” poster, the sequel to The Catcher in the Rye, Robert Capa’s “The Falling Soldier” photograph, the boy who wasn’t in the balloon. Reality Hunger is a rigorous and radical attempt to reframe how we think about “truthiness,” literary license, quotation, appropriation.”
I highly recommend you find a copy and add it to your collection!

Opening Fever (mine)

I tried to go to my friend Mark Wiener’s group show opening at Danese Gallery last evening. Mark was especially jazzed about the show because it included a lot of other wonderful artists, which is probably why it was packed. The line to get in the building snaked out the door and down the block. Granted there were a number of artists in the show, but the length of the line seemed a bit strange. I have to admit, I’m not very good at dealing with crowds in small spaces, and I thought that this didn’t bode well for my claustrophobic inclinations.  I had to bag on the experience, and I felt badly for doing so, but six floors up, a crowded room full of artists, and one overcrowded/overworked elevator/stairwell just creeped me out.  I emailed Mark today to apologize, and he wrote back that the elevator had broken down with 10 people caught inside. Now this may not be any big thing for you, but for me, to have been one of those 10 poor souls, would have been a defining experience… I felt like I dodged a bullet.

Going to openings is something we’re all supposed to do. It’s part of the artist’s job description here in NYC. Sometimes it’s great, especially if your friends are enjoying themselves. But I can tell you it’s a fucking drag if you can’t deal with the teeming hordes that pack some of these places. I’ll go to an after party if I get invited, but if that gets packed too, I’ll be gone in no time. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this with you, I mean, who gives a damn, really? Chalk this up to an artist’s whinging on about nothing at all…. my apologies!