Back Burner

I’ve been doing some reading and research for the next reality post which I hope to have up soon. But in the meantime I came across some things that I found interesting about issues of sexuality and gender in our electronic reality. I’m not quite sure what to do with these links yet, if anything, but I thought you, Henri readers, might enjoy thinking about and discussing the implications of these thinkers’ ideas.

The first is from the 2009 TED conference. Cindy Gallop made a short presentation that went viral almost immediately, and has since popped up sporadically. In it she details the generational differences in sexual practices, and how “access” to internet porn has changed how we might engage in intimate connections. I will warn you that the language and the discussion is extremely frank. SO if you’re squeamish – stay away.

The second thing was this article in Mute magazine entitled Fear of Flesh: An Anatomy of Modern Frigidity by Laurie Penny. This article details how the age old sexual prohibitions continue at a faster and more virulent pace in the corporatized electronic reality. The critique is sharp, direct and heart breaking.

“What is at play here is a horror of flesh: a rubberised capitalist repugnance for flesh and the intimacy of human sexuality. Modern censors are necessarily misled about the nature of consumer frigidity, because their complicity is a necessary part of the trick: the strategic alienation of sexual consumers from their erotic selves relies precisely on censorship to blur the distinction between sexual intimacy and erotic capital, only one of which can be mass-produced. Such a joyless vision of eroticism only looks edgy and exciting because young people have nothing else to work with. A new model of corporate puritanism is on the march, and what is being censored on all sides is precisely Baudrillard’s ‘evocation of the body’. This emotional censorship is deeply traumatic.”

Finally there is an article in the Times by Camille Paglia entitled “No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class.”

“The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.”

All of these critiques are directed, ultimately, at our electronic culture and the programs that run through it. Intimacy is quickly going the way of privacy and we’re replacing it with something else….What are your thoughts about these issues of sexuality and intimacy? How do they manifest in your art, in your life?

reality_machine art

“After dinner they looked at the photographs which Durieu has been kind enough to send me. I persuaded them to try an experiment that I made quite by chance a couple of days ago. After examining the photographs of nude models, some of whom were poor physical specimens, with parts of the body overdeveloped – not very beautiful to look at – I showed them some engravings by Marcantonio. We felt repelled, indeed almost disgusted, by the inaccuracy, mannerism and lack of naturalness, in spite of the excellence of style. It is his only admirable quality, but we were incapable of admiring it at that particular moment. As a matter of fact, if some genius were to use dagguerrotype as it should be used he could reach untold heights. Above all, when you look at these engravings, the admitted masterpieces of the Italian School that have exhausted the admiration of every painter, you realize the truth of Poussin’s remark that ‘compared with the Antique, Raphael was an ass.’ Up to the present, this machine-made art has done us nothing but harm: it spoils the masterpieces for us, without being able to satisfy us completely.” The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

In this pleasant evening in the mid 1800s we are seeing artists discussing the difference between Mannerism and a new reality. The lens won the day. Unlike Delacroix and his friends we are not discovering photography and the power of the lens. We have lived with it in our everyday lives. EVERYTHING is filtered through it. As you stand at the cash machine, make your way through the airport, drive your car down the street, live on a block, upload into the programmed internet – EVERYTHING is being captured and replicated, categorized and indexed. We have all become data – data searching for other data. For instance if I’m doing research and I search on google for X – am I any different than a programmed spider looking for information – am I not also pulling information, classifying and categorizing as I go. My research, once posted, will also be part of that giant index. And somehow, for me, that removes a piece of my humanity. I am a program in the vast program – I’m not Mark, I’m not real and that bugs me, makes me viral. At first the promise of internet programming was that it would mirror and replicate the outside world, “bricks and mortar” as it was called. But like all machines, they can not work efficiently if they actually copy the way things work in the “real world.” They must work like machines. A car does not have legs, an airplane does not flap its wings and the internet does not actually see, think or remember. We are immersed in the ground and we adapt quickly to its “reality.” From the beginning of our Postmodern age we began to confuse the reality of our electronic extensions with the reality of our fleshy existence. Today we are not confused. We expect life to run like a program and look like a picture – Postmodern life is a program.

Dehumanization Part 1 from Kimberly Butler on Vimeo.

I found this wonderful series of videos by Kimberly Butler that discusses many of the issues that we’re facing and we’ve been discussing here on Henri. McLuhan comes up quite a bit in each of these discussions. Obviously, he was prescient about the effects of electronic media – and he wasn’t afraid to take the logic of his discussion as far as it would go. What I’ve found to be truly fascinating in his work was the idea of the tetrad. “The tetrad is a means of examining the effects on society of any technology/medium (put another way: a means of explaining the social processes underlying the adoption of a technology/medium) by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously.” The final stage of this process is always a reversal, usually at the point of medium over saturation. The reversal then redefines and reincorporates the old processes that were supplanted by the ascendancy of that very medium. If we use the tetrad in our own POMO art world we can see that the retrieval and reversal of Postmodern mannerism has begun to take place, and we are starting to see a swell of some new ideas on the horizon. For example – the emphasis on “reality” as seen, as experienced is part of that retrieval. It takes us away from the all-encompassing ground and takes us into the rising subject. The reexamination of certain Modernist academic techniques – like the drippy brush stroke and our reliance and surety of the primacy of Greenbergian literalness. A reconsideration of the ubiquity of Postmodern provisional painting, and a deep refutation of the mannered use of Modernist flatness, Duchampian inconsequence, Warholian replication and Neo-Surrealist nihilism. Many of us are experimenting just as Delacroix did in his day.

What we are talking about is reality, not in the program, but through the program – what comes out on the other side. How do we see after our eye has become a lens – do we understand things only through that machine, are we forever tied to that program, is that the reality? Or is there something else, something deeper that we might need to learn, to retrieve and reverse. Something that will allow us to move beyond the program, beyond Modernism and Postmodernism into the new century. I keep thinking of Georgina’s quote – “We are our own devil.” And for me that means we must question, transgress and risk.

reality will continue…

Bad Painting

Paul Corio, painter and theorist at No Hassle at the Castle has revived his series on Bad Painting, and I highly recommend you check it out! The essays are really succinct and give us a sharp critique of institutional “rebellion.” The painter Dennis Bellone has written a marvelous comment to the last Bad Painting post which Paul then featured in a new post. Another great discussion on painting, Postmodernism and the art world in general. Good job fellas!


“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.” Vincent Van Gogh

“Only the suspect artist starts from art; the true artist draws his material elsewhere: from himself. There’s only one thing worse than boredom — the fear of boredom — and it’s this fear I experience every time I open a novel. I have no use for the hero’s life, don’t attend to it, don’t even believe in it. The genre, having squandered its substance, no longer has an object. The character is dying out; the plot, too. It’s no accident that the only novels deserving of interest today are those in which, once the universe is disbanded, nothing happens — e.g., Tristram Shandy, Notes from Underground, Camus’s The Fall, Thomas Bern hard’s Correction, Duras’s The Lover, Barry Hannah’s Boomerang.”
David Shields, 611 Reality Hunger

“Today, when we can eat Tex-Mex with chopsticks while listening to reggae and watching a YouTube rebroadcast of the Berlin Wall’s fall—i.e., when damn near everything presents itself as familiar—it’s not a surprise that some of today’s most ambitious art is going about trying to make the familiar strange. In so doing, in reimagining what human life might truly be like over there across the chasms of illusion, mediation, demographics, marketing, imago, and appearance, artists are paradoxically trying to restore what’s taken for “real” to three whole dimensions, to reconstruct a univocally round world out of disparate streams of flat sights.”
Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstacy of Influence

“The lack of general historical life also means that individual life as yet has no history. The pseudo-events that vie for attention in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those who are informed about them; and in any case they are soon forgotten due to their increasingly frenetic replacement at every pulsation of the spectacular machinery. Conversely, what is really lived has no relation to the society’s official version of irreversible time, and conflicts with the pseudocyclical rhythm of that time’s consumable by-products. This individual experience of a disconnected everyday life remains without language, without concepts, and without critical access to its own past, which has nowhere been recorded. Uncommunicated, misunderstood and forgotten, it is smothered by the spectacle’s false memory of the unmemorable.” Guy Debord, 157 Society of the Spectacle

“A one-hour episode of reality TV can take as long as sixteen hours to film. The shots where judges like myself give mean looks to the artists before pronouncing decisions on their work last something like three seconds onscreen, but require fifteen minutes of us all staring at one another. (The cameras have to be moved around and positioned so each person can be filmed.)”
Jerry Saltz, “Work of Art Recap: Harsh Reality”

“Now, this triumph of the idea of art over art itself, and, with the ready-made, the triumph of the idea of the object over the object itself are but an aspect of an immense feed-back, of an instant recycling of all events and images in the visual universe and to the realm of media. But also our intellectual and political life, our actions and our thoughts are affected by this automatic selfrefraction. Everywhere the process of image-feedback (“retour-image”)induces everything to focus on itself, to duplicate itself in advance, cutting short the process of representation – a phenomenon particularly noticeable in the field of photo-graphy, where very few images, be it a face, an event, a human being or a landscape, escape that image-feedback. Most of our images mask themselves with a con-text, a culture, a meaning, an idea of themselves and this leads to a kind of blindness described by Sanchez FERLOSIO (a spanish essayist): ” There is a terrible form of blindness, which allows you to look at things and not to see them. Time before, we did not look at things, we just saw them. Today all is wrapped in duplicity, no impulse is pure and direct. That is how the countryside has become a landscape, that is to say a representation of itself … Wherever I set my eyes, I see that terrible scenery that people glorify under the name of landscape ” It is our faculty of perception itself, our immediate sensibility that have been aestheticized. Sight, hearing, touch, feeling, all our senses have become aesthetic in the worst, the most banal sense of the term. And any new vision can be born only out of a radical deconstruction of this image-feedback, a resolution of this process of countertransfer that obstructs our vision, in order to reinstate the world in its radical illusion – its original state indeed, for the world itself is actually without return, without screen, without selfreflection. This process of reduplication, of cyclical confusion with our own image must be clearly distinguished from our mirror-relation, where on the contrary we take distance from our own image and enter within an open process of alienation and alterity. The mirror, the glance, the gaze, the scene open up to a tranfer, eventually to a poetic transfer, to a whole culture of the metaphor which is quite the opposite of that visual and aesthetic enclosure.”
Jean Baudrillard Integral Reality

It is as if I was to take my eye, to throw it away, and still be able to see. Video is originally a de-corporation, a disqualification of the sensorial organs which are replaced by machines…The eye and the hand are replaced by the data glove, the body is replaced by a data suit, sex is replaced by cybersex. All the qualities of the body are transferred to the machine…We haven’t adjusted yet, we are forgetting our body, we are losing it. This is an accident of the body, a de-corporation. The body is torn and disintegrated.
Paul Virilio Cyberwar, God And Television

Today, one often hears that the art of our time functions increasingly in the same way as design, and to a certain extent this is true. But the ultimate problem of design concerns not how I design the world outside, but how I design myself—or, rather, how I deal with the way in which the world designs me. Today, this has become a general, all-pervasive problem with which everyone—and not just politicians, movie stars, and celebrities—is confronted. Today, everyone is subjected to an aesthetic evaluation—everyone is required to take aesthetic responsibility for his or her appearance in the world, for his or her self-design. Where it was once a privilege and a burden for the chosen few, in our time self-design has come to be the mass cultural practice par excellence. The virtual space of the Internet is primarily an arena in which MyFace and MySpace are permanently designed and redesigned to be presented on YouTube—and vice versa. But likewise in the real—or, let’s say, analog—world, one is expected to be responsible for the image that he or she presents to the gaze of others. It could even be said that self-design is a practice that unites artist and audience alike in the most radical way: though not everyone produces artworks, everyone is an artwork. At the same time, everyone is expected to be his or her own author.
Boris Groys Self-Design and Aesthetic Responsibility

In my experience, you always think you know what you’re doing; you always think you can explain, but you always discover, years later, that you didn’t and you couldn’t. This leads me to suspect that the principal function of human reason is to rationalize what your lizard brain demands of you. That’s my idea. Art and writing come from somewhere down around the lizard brain. It’s a much more peculiar activity than we like to think it is. The problems arise when we try to domesticate the practice, to pretend that it’s a normal human activity and that “everybody’s creative.” They’re not.
Dave Hickey Interview

A few ideas to think about. Reality will continue….

reality_drawn further in

The other day I was reminded of the way Postmodern excess continues to hum blithely beneath the thin veneer of our everyday realities. I was standing among a group of folks waiting for the crosswalk sign to change. Another ordinary moment in the city, but in this case, there were two straggling SUVs traveling at a high rate of speed trying to beat the light. Like most impatient NYC drivers in “the box” they were determined to make it through the intersection before the people clogged the crosswalks. The “walk” signs had already lit up giving the pedestrians the all clear, and immediately, the people around me poured into the street. The two automobiles nearly mowed down at least 15 people – it was like watching a horror movie’s inevitable plot unfold. A barrage of four letter words ensued, and a lot of outraged pedestrians stomped across the street.

When I finally had crossed the street I was feeling a bit on edge, and I began to really think about what had just occurred. It seemed to me that both the drivers and pedestrians paid more attention to the “reality” of the signs than to the reality of the situation and the surroundings. For the drivers the visual world outside the window is easily ignored in the womb/cocoon of the automobile cockpit. Let’s face it, these days, a car interior may as well be a Vegas Lounge – touch screen monitors, programs, onstar, cel phone service, climate control, speed control, blind spot video monitors, entertainment panels, HD-LCD touch screens, GPS systems, electronic comfort adjustment, etc – the only thing missing is a stripper pole. And to top that off, drivers develop a weird disconnect between the personal spaces of their car interiors and the public spaces of the potentially violent machine itself. Pedestrians are hardly any better. Those people in the crosswalks were mesmerized by the media light show on display in Times Square. Many of them were chatting on phones or texting on blackberrys. Not one of them paid attention to the fact that a couple of tons of speeding metal was headed straight toward them. But what really seemed to irk this crowd most was that the “reality” implied by the “walk sign” had, suddenly and emphatically, been called into question. In our world of untethered electronic consciousness mediated signs have come to define and direct our experience of reality, and as such, we expect the physical world to adhere to these signs. We believe the reality of the text, the ubiquity and certainty of the sign over physical visual experience. In layman’s terms our beliefs are stronger than our eyes.

In a recent post on Japanese art we briefly discussed the fact that most contemporary artists have settled into a kind of academic somnambulism in their approach to drawing. I thought I’d concentrate a bit on this topic, because radical visual exploration through drawing has always been the first foundation of great painting. But today, our drawing remains mired in the academic practices of the 20th Century.

It’s been my experience that many artists today “see” no further back than the 1950s. If we look to anything “older” we immediately go blind. Sure, we pay lip service to the geezers Matisse and Picasso, but we act as if their accomplishments are set in stone, their art an exception and indifferent to our times. If we go back to the once radical Impressionists we see them as bourgeois makers of Kitchen Calendar schlock (I beg to differ – check out the compositions in Monet’s late work!) If we go further back, we tend to treat the Venetian painters as if they were mere decorators of a quaint and expensive tourist destination. We are so self absorbed and myopic that we can not for the life of us find anything “real” in what these artists might have to offer – nor can we find a way to use their legacies to make anything truly NEW. Our references are brittle and insular, our appropriations are narrow and shallow.

For example, I was speaking with a painter the other day that claimed that Matisse could not draw. Bald-faced. Unrepentant. Granted, this artist is a realist using lens-based programs to make his work, but c’mon man, what the fuck? You can’t be serious? His contention was that it didn’t look like reality. I pointed out to him that “reality” as he saw it, came through a lens and his computer – Matisse didn’t need a prophylactic to define “reality” – he worked it bareback so-to-speak. (OK, it got a bit heated.) I prefer my encounters with “reality” to be unprotected visions. Another artist I know has been to Venice three times without seeing the work in the Scuola di San Rocco. No curiosity at all. But for now let’s just concentrate on abstraction and drawing.

Modernism emphasized the way an artwork was made – process and materials. From the first half of the 20th Century – Matisse all the way through the AbEx painters – the ground and the process became the focus of any interaction and declaration. “The resulting work often emphasizes the physical act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work or concern of its artist.” It was a way around, a way under the vast wall of Western visual history. American artists, especially, found that by rephrasing the question about what painting could be, they could ignore the weight of visual history and begin again. This is a very American thing to do – we’re good at ignoring consequences while we take a bow for figuring out how to slice the Gordian Knot. We constantly “cheat” the “real world” in just this way – steroids in sports, financial statements on Wall Street, environmental disaster estimations, military incursions, government regulations and Presidential elections. We are great at shifting the ground beneath your feet. Which brings us to “American type” painting at the end of Modernism, and with it, we began the first truly American theoretical art movement – Postmodernism.

Since the 1960s Postmodernism has institutionalized and fetishized the processes and practices of Modernism. And this institutionalization is defined, mostly, through the manipulation of context – the constantly shifting ground that quickly submerges any rising visual subject. In this regard POMO is all about references and revisionism – interpretation of an appropriation. But before I get lost once again in these larger issues, let’s get back to drawing. There are a couple of styles of drawing that seem to predominate in POMO, but I’ll concentrate on the one that I learned and the one I continue to see a lot of. It is also a style of drawing that I put aside in favor of something different. That style is based on the working of the drawing – lots of smearing, erasing and re-drawing. This is by now an academic feature in universities the world over. For example:

Now in this drawing Matisse was still engaging the rising subject, the thing in itself. The model posed before him and he would draw, redraw, erase, and smear, trying to get at an emotional connection to the subject through his vision. Matisse was trying to process the connection between hand and eye in order to come to understand and abstract the rising subject. He searches for a line, pushing and pulling it back and forth, until finally, he has worn a path around the reality he is engaging. He is looking for a composition, for a truth in what he sees and what he draws. He wants the eye to move over the subject, engage with it understand that it is separate and real. Matisse and the early Modernists were hanging on to the idea that the drawing process is connected to the rising subject, the visual world outside of themselves. Or as I discovered the other day on that corner – the world of speeding cars, sweating bodies and awkward moments.

Later this process would become the focus of the AbEx painters, and I’ve chosen DeKooning’s work to make the point. Here the rising subject is already an abstraction, a totem. It is not a specific woman in the world, seen and made into an abstraction, but it is an idea of a woman made material through process. This idea was revelatory for American painters and offered a way out, hemmed in as they were, by the visual dictates of the Scylla and Charybdis of Modernist painting – Matisse and Picasso. Painters found that they could not challenge them directly, there was no room to maneuver past their experimentations. Instead they had to up the ante, move away from the visual world. Painting and drawing became more about process – the ground. The arena won out as the visual world slipped away. Matisse’s tentative lines and fearless reformations of outward visual reality are now, in DeKooning’s work, shot through with a persuasive belief in materials, physicality and process.

Postmodernism doesn’t engage in the physical world in the same way. We accept the uploaded image, the media image as our totemic reality. In our “reality” Shrek is as real to us as the Venus of Villandorf was to a Paleolithic crotch grabber. The rising subject doesn’t interest us, but the constant flow of information does. We exist in the ground, in the processes of abstraction. We look no further than the surface of things because everything we know is always already known – we live in a Corporate World of Signs. We no longer process our images as DeKooning did, we aesthetisize them – we “treat” them. We add “finish” value to the media image. We inflate its worth in just this way. We are beyond engaging with the image itself or finding a new meaning in or for the image. We know what it means. We merely provide a more desirable context in which to present it. We alter the ground. We focus the process. For instance in Joyce Pensato’s image we have a banal cartoon character removed from its media/graphic presentation and given the Postmodernist contextual treatment.

“Cartoons depend so much on their own plastic surface, and this is something Pensato vigorously takes on, using the eraser as a tool in its own right to transform any semblance of plasticity or sheen. Her palette of pastels and charcoal is limited, another push against the full fluorescent spectrum of cartoons. The figures are reduced down to what could be thought of as their “essence,” if cartoons had essence, and then pushed outward again by Pensato’s strong hand: Homer ’08 has the eyes, bald pate, and mouth recognizable to watchers of The Simpsons, but the texture and surface of the piece is all about painting and its visual engagement.”

Once again this process is about adding value, customizing a graphic image through physical engagement, mark making and burnishing the ground – trying to bring about reality through the sign and the system. This is not about vision, or visual interaction, but about the fetishization of Modernist processes through Postmodernist contextualization – the assertion of self through an avatar, a sign. In this Postmodern action the subject and the ground are treated as the same thing, folded one into the other. The drive of the piece is to enhance and exemplify its physical embellishments – the paper, the materials, the process. The context of the image is changed from Pop culture meta-character to Fine Art critique. But nowhere in this transformation is there an outward engagement with other, with the world outside the various Modernist theoretical/material techniques and the abstract sign.

Now I bring this up, yet again, because lately, there have been a number of articles discussing the end of Postmodernism. I find this all a bit hip and specious mainly because THERE HAS BEEN NO DIRECT AND SUSTAINED CRITIQUE IN OUR ART WORLD ABOUT HOW POSTMODERNISM WORKS AND WHAT IT DOES. Nor has there been any NEW theoretical advancement either in opposition to Modernism (outside of the POMO critique) or Postmodernism itself. A lot of folks seem content to point out that we have new technologies – computers, internet 2.0 and interactivity – and make the claim that these new technologies have moved us into a new type of theoretical critique. The problem for me is that even with the new technologies we remain tied to a way of thinking, a way of “not seeing” that doesn’t allow us to use these new technologies in a different way, to “think different.” And again I have to make the case for vision, for the way we use our eyes and the way we interpret what we see. We must look beyond the world of signs and define our reality outside of the lens programs.

In this video I was intrigued by the line – “…drawing laid the foundation for a new world of art.” The rebirth of drawing and painting began with a different kind of visual engagement. For centuries religion, a system, a program, had limited the scope and practice of how artists saw and experienced their work. Their works served the dictates of the church until Giotto began to fill those abstractions with the life of his time. Faces began to become more “real,” spaces began to flow in time and light moved across the surfaces of things. We started to see the world around us instead of the systems in front of us. The floodgates were opened for new expressivity, new ideas and a new reality, and an old way of seeing life began to take shape in a new way. And for this crew, it all began with the intimacy of drawing, of moving the hand along with the eye. Reality is what wakes us up, breaks our view of the signs guiding our interpretations, and it reminds us, that we are indeed, alive! To make an end to this long and looping post I’ll leave you with one of my favorite movie quotes of all time from Blade Runner – “I want more life…fucker!”

MOMA has an excellent resource of drawings online. Check out the link and study the Postmodern age!