Veritable Echo Chamber

Urs Fischer Who’ s Afraid of Jasper Johns 2008

“Mr. Fischer had every square inch of the “Four Friends” show photographed: not only paintings, frames and their shadows, but also blank walls, windows, ceilings, views through various doorways and the gallery’s two guards. He then converted the images into trompe l’oeil wallpaper that, meticulously applied, lines the gallery with a same-size simulacrum of itself, which enables “Four Friends” to stay in place while a second show is installed on top of it… All this is a lot less obvious than it sounds. The oeil is really tromped in a veritable echo chamber of stylistic and generational clashes: real artworks “deface” real-looking copies of other works… With their play of copies and originals, Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer might mean to imply the triumph of appropriation art over 1980s painting. But then you realize that quite a bit of the visual firepower is coming from the works in, not on, the wallpaper. On top of the exhibition’s view of art as a continuing form of argument is a visceral reminder that art history’s books are never closed.” Roberta Smith on Urs Fischer, May 16, 2008.

Urs Fischer Untitled 2011

As we become more inured to our world of big data and replication, AI and VR, it’s more apparent that reality is becoming something – else. Urs Fischer replicates the world and uploads that information into objects and images. In nearly all of his work one can feel that the past, the captured memory of an event or a moment in time flows through the present work. The pit in the middle of the gallery. The full size images of the previous exhibition wallpapering the current one. The perfect duplicate wax portrait unravels its hyperreality when it melts back into its material. The squeezed clay blob is replicated into tremendous size reproducing the traces of the artist’s fingerprints. Each manufactured piece made from programs, each replicate from the lens. Where does reality exist in such a mutable environment? What is original? What is duplicate? Does it matter?

“Ultimately, as the objects and images I encounter in process in Fischer’s studio suggest, his chief mode of work is cross-pollination and hybridity. Fischer trained in photography at the Schule für Gestaltungin Zurich, the medium with which I would least associate him. But when one remembers photography’s origins in the camera obscura, and therefore its initial relationship to architecture and space rather than just a flat planar image, this unlikely relationship in Fischer’s work begins to make more sense. A case in point are his photographic wallpaper works, highly convincing trompe l’oeil reproductions of the exhibition space itself. The very first, VeRBal ascetIcIsM(2007), was originally featured in the group show “sequence 1: Painting and sculpture in the François Pinault collection” at Palazzo Grassi, where it pictured the gallery interiors as they had appeared during the previous show, including work by titans such as Richard Serra and Cy Twombly. A year later, aBstRact slaVeRY (2008) appeared in the exhibition “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” at Tony Shafrazi gallery, New York, reproducing not only the paintings by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat that had hung in the rooms only a month before but even the security guards who had stood beside them. In both exhibitions, additional works were hung on the walls, producing a palimpsest of past and present, fictive and real, two and three dimensions, image and object.” Nicholas Cullinan on Urs Fischer Parkett Magazine 2014.

Inquiry Notice

A gallery supervisor poses for a photograph between Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers,1888 (L) and Sunflowers, 1889 at the National Gallery in London January 24, 2014. 

If the existence of the copy challenges art history, it does so because in the place of a singularity, a unity, an entity of one, it raises the specter of a hydra-headed multiplicity that threatens to fracture and disperse that unity. We could take the shop practice of Paolo Veronese as an example. During his lifetime and for many years after his death, drawings and paintings in great number, objects which Veronese himself had never touched, were produced under his renowned signature. The unity “Paolo Veronese” is challenged by this fact, since his physical and conceptual singularity as the origin, or author, of his own work would seem, by this evidence, to be opened up to doubt. And given our discipline’s obsession with authorship, with the status of the creative individual – with his intentions, his conceptions, his inventions – this doubt cast on Veronese as absolute origin of his own work is not, to say the very least, welcome… 

…Two responses to this challenge are, as I have said, possible. The first is to shore up the discipline by, in this case, refining the procedures of connoisseurship so that finer and finer distinctions can be made between the genuine and the second-hand, between origin and copy. The second, and this was what this symposium was conceived of as addressing, is to wonder if the very category of original – whether the physical original, or the singular author as origin – if these very categories are themselves far more fragile and open to question than it had seemed. It would be, that is, to wonder if the attacks on the cluster of notions – origin, original, originality – mounted by current theory at work outside the boundaries of the discipline of art history need to be taken seriously by that discipline. It would be to consider if the analysis termed poststructuralist and currently important to other fields of the human sciences might not prove to be important to our own as well.” Rosalind Krauss Originality as Repetition October Vol. 37 (Summer, 1986).

Two images of Ross Bleckner’s “Sea and Mirror” from filings made to New York State Supreme Court by attorneys representing Mary Boone filed on Thursday October 27, 2016. Right: Exhibit B from a 1996 invitation to Gagosian Gallery’s Beverly Hill, Calif. location showing of Bleckner’s latest work. Left: Exhibit C, The piece owned by Alec Baldwin.

“First of all, I should have said this before, your Honor used the word counterfeit and that’s a word that comes is not a counterfeit. It is not a copy. It is not a fake. This is an original work of art from a very fine and very well-known and a very long standing artist, Ross Bleckner, and I think there is really no actual dispute about common themes when they’re interested in a theme at a given time. That’s why Monet had so many different versions of the Cathedral Rouen and the Water Lilies in his garden. That’s why there are so many images of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. And Ross Bleckner, as Mr. Baldwin, a Bleckner collector, clearly ought to know, I’m sure does know, works in series as well where he explores the same theme. If we looked at all of the other works produced at the same time as this, you would see marked similarities in the elements, the size, the color and so on and so forth.” Alec Baldwin v Mary Boone Gallery 654807/2016 Trial Transcript May 24, 2017

“Rodin also took advantage of the opportunities that multiplication afforded within a work, using the same figure in different positions: the inspiration for Three Faunesses (before 1896) was thus drawn from a figure Rodin employed four times on The Gates of Hell. Likewise, the male figures in The Three Shades (before 1886) were borrowed from Adam (1880-81, itself inspired by the pose of Michelangelo’s Slaves).The three identical figures, grouped around a central point, initially placed at the top of The Gates of Hell, were enlarged in 1904 to create a monumental independent group….”

“…Rodin’s innovativeness resided in the fact that this technique [casting] became a systematic part of his creative process. Thus for The Gates of Hell, Rodin made multiple plaster casts of figures or fragments of figures whose poses or modelling pleased him. Cast from the same original work modelled by Rodin, several of them appeared two or three times on the finished Gates, arranged in different positions so as to confer new attitudes and meanings upon them: Fugit Amor appeared twice, and later became an independent group (before 1887) , while one of the two figures comprised in this group turned into The Prodigal Son, a large-scale bronze of which was cast in 1905.” Musée Rodin Mulitples Fragments Assemblages.

Nothing Says Something: Mark Dagley’s Radical Structures – by Mike Zahn

Mark Dagley Installation at Spencer Brownstone 2018

The Black Stack

When Mark Dagley arrived in New York City on the cusp of the Eighties, a social transformation was underway. Economic change in the United States had been foreseen by Daniel Bell as bringing passage to a ‘postindustrial’ era, where the remote management of electronic information and creative agency would come to supplant the production of actual things.

In the artworld, painting was assumed dead, its relevance having faced challenges wrought by dubious critical fortunes and promising new media. Yet the improbable figures Dagley began fabricating soon after his start downtown were prescient, and of a time later recounted as when everything cracked open, with much happening since an elaboration of that freed by the breach.

By the end of the decade, following Bell’s assertion, the realm of analytical finance had become a massive space. It was built out of scratch, designed to facilitate ease of relegation and speed of transfer. Exchange-traded derivatives, collateralized loan obligations, credit default swaps, options on indices, mortgage-backed securities, and other concocted instruments were devised to orchestrate flows which mere convention couldn’t conduct. As risk increased, debt expunged the past and precluded the imagination of a future. Its tally constituted a foundational claim on which enterprise rested. Hypothetical imperatives were disregarded in pursuit of leveraged prerogatives.

With infinite growth an intrinsic paradox, this was, and still is, an untenable long-term gambit. It’s also something to keep in mind when facing the purported end of history, a vexed condition of fractured deferral noted as ‘hauntological’. Mark Dagley’s work mirrors this spirit in its restless manufacture and tactful movement, but more precisely it does so as an analogue of memory, uniquely struck in real time.

Mark Dagley Installation Spencer Brownstone 2018

And / Or “ – – ”

It would be a mistake to call the devices Mark Dagley has fashioned something they aren’t. How they appear may not be what they are. Each stratagem, intended to disclose a particular mood, warrants recognition of the purpose and ideation gone into it, the attitude and care the effort of its construction entails. Similarities to estimable precedents may cease there. Nonetheless, what Dagley does is interesting. Using the most matter-of-fact means, he drafts a layered diagram of symbol, icon, and index brought forth all as one, one as all, and all at once. This is a radical activity, fixing structure as its cynosure.

When abstraction is considered less as a term of positive value, more as one signifier among many, and prone to scrutiny as a contradiction which models economic goals, differential pressure is brought to bear upon how art is shaped. For instance, is it possible to address the proposition of Google as an object, or as a picture, with meaning communicated through the coupling of medium and form? Conversely, is Google but an idea? How would questions like these be answered? How would the answers look? Digitalization makes representation dispensable above the support of its logic and below the stretch of its surface. In this respect, what you see isn’t what you see. Mark Dagley’s work alludes to this binary order, without being of it as such.

Mark Dagley Vanishing Point 1994

Query By Example

Technical processes never actually banish gesture or intuition. Instead, computation imbues tactile characters with fresh clarity. In its most profound exposition, Mark Dagley’s work resists programmed limits, where output is nominally grasped as metaphoric rendering. In turn, the metonymic displacement initiated by software, which is usually bundled as a written service enabling visualization, access, and delivery, produces a subject in excess of itself. In refuting the status of common resource, this new subject migrates to the trans- disciplinary field of cybernetics, which is likely the true refuge of the avant-garde. Perspective and resolution become factors of quality, if not ethics.

Accordingly, an object that’s not an object isn’t nothing. As Jean Baudrillard noted, it’s the pure object, the object that is none, which doesn’t cease to beset us with its immanence. The apprehension of wood, cotton, brass, copper, enamel, cardboard, and resin, which are materials of commerce and also Dagley’s own, hazards the predicament of viewer and viewed bound in myopic obsession with one another. The subject mistakes the profile of the object for the object itself. In turn, the profile registers the trace of a fallacy, the image of a subject self-satisfied with its own reflection.

Artworks per se aren’t abstract. Mark Dagley’s certainly aren’t. If there’s something to be said here, it’s that.

Mike Zahn
February 12, 2018 Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

The New Order of Mike Zahn

Originally Posted on September 27, 2017 by kulturebite

“Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home
Oh, you’ve got green eyes
Oh, you’ve got blue eyes”
New Order

If an occult non-site has opened up beyond the sterile aesthetic strategy of appropriation art, Mike Zahn inhabits it as the sole occupant. Although appropriation art as practiced by Sturtevant, Levin, Bidlo and a few others offered us nothing assomething, in reality that something became nothing more than the institutional posturing of big ticket highly finished manufactured goods. Because these artists attempted to go beyond artistic originality itself to some uncharted area, they could never hold the concept of originality important, let alone sacred. It just wasn’t an issue. They always seemed to suggest in their work that unsatisfying and convoluted theoretical assumption that by not having an original artistic practice they were practicing originality. As it turns out, that uncharted area appropriation art discovered was never satisfactory. It was just another area now totally excepted by the very economy and exchange systems of the art world they all seemed to be implicitly critical of initially. It’s just strange to be left with the possibility that artists could archive or even surpass the notoriety of the very artists he or she was appropriating. This means going forward, there will be plenty of wall texts and additional information sheets encased in plastic explaining to viewers in contemporary art museums around the globe that the toilet as conceptual art they are looking at is not the toilet as conceptual art by the French artist Marcel Duchamp.

Mike Zahn’s recent exhibition entitled Adapter_Adapted & etc. now on view at Greenspon present seven recent works that reopen many of the above mentioned  propositions once in total vogue in the theoretical mainstream of art discourse. But this time thankfully it will be different. Where once repeated museum viewing, gallery visiting, glossy art books and trade magazines produced an abundance of source material for artists to copy, pilfer and steal, a new technological world view is totally upon us.

It is therefore still quite astonishing to walk into this gallery and find what seem to be two perfectly executed & identical Peter Halley paintings titled Adapter_Adapted  adjacent to two perfectly executed & identical “paint by number” paintings of Kittens.

One should know that for 10 years, Mike Zahn was Halley’s studio assistant. He has the complete technical understanding and facility to produce “Peter Halley” paintings. One could probably say Zahn himself actually painted the original Peter Halley painting this diptych is based on. Because he probably did. But this is not just post-appropriation, it is a doubling strategy and a superb example of aesthetic mimetic behavior. Humorously, his paint by numbers Kitty Cat paintings Oh It’s the Last Time/Oh It’s the Last Time which is based on the title of a New Order song references the subtle difference proposed by the song itself. That difference, “Oh, you’ve got green eyes, Oh, you’ve got blue eyes” Fuckin’ awesome.

Like Elaine Sturtevant’s early 80’s exhibition at White Columns on Spring St., Sherrie Levine’s Broad Stripes exhibition at Jay Gorney or the Bidlo Picasso exhibition at the Leo Castelli lower gallery (all exhibition I visited ) Zahn’s exhibition is in the same rarefied  league. His exhibition is a complex but subtle presentation of references referencing themselves well into infinity. From the large hot pink painting named after Walter Benjamin’s The Doctrine of the Similar text, to the doubling, tripleing and even quadrupling of the letter “A” found through out the gallery installation. I found it once & once again on a non-functioning neon light and adhesive vinyl wall work entitled BAGS. Again & again on small provisionally made workman’s wood ladder and yes, even again on small painting resting on a washcloth leaning against the wall. The entire exhibition is a discovery field.

If mimetic play opens up the possibility of occult readings, Zahn has re-energized the tattered and twisted sacred pathos which those early appropriation artists choose to ignore or were just too cool for school to acknowledge. And like all appearances of the sacred or the occult, this recent work functions as a contemporary simulacra for the realm of the ecstatic.

His 11 panel acrylic on canvas installation entitled The Faculty of Memesis is a selection of painted squares based on the available colors of the iPhone each surrounded by a white border.


It all seems to imply a Necronomicon paradox, ‘it’s not escapism if there’s no escape.’


                                                                                                               Mark Dagley 9/27/2017

The Memory of a Picture

Michel Majerus Left: MoM Block nr. 55 Right: o.t. (collaboration Nr. 8)  both 1999 – Matthew Marks Installation

“The mixed media works on display reveal Majerus’s references and interest in popular culture and art history. Using abstract subject matter, they incorporate graphics taken from youth subcultures as well as the commercial mainstream, creating works with elements easily recognizable by an international public.  His emphasis on the visual vocabulary of next-generation technology and the 1990s consumer culture has led him to exemplify best what artist historian Daniel Birnbaum means when he said “painting in the expanded field.” The phrase pointed to the various and new social spaces of the Information Age – areas that are hard to capture visually, but which Majerus has successfully merged within his abstract canvases.R. A. Procter on Michel Majerus show at Matthew Marks, 2000.

“There are always the two possibilities. One can look at a picture or look away. In any case it’s impossible to suppress the memory of a picture. That’s particularly the case with past or ephemeral things. There is always only one’s memory. A first encounter is the most beautiful encounter there is. Therefore the second encounter is haunted by the memory of the first. Despite the urge to see more images you wonder if it would be better simply to just reminisce about the first. With moving images that urge [to see more can] become a flowing story. There will follow on countless images as long as there’s a desire for acceleration [flow]. Whether these images are new ones or merely repetitions [these images] always play a major role [in our memory]. Generally, both [the new and the repetition] are equally significant.” Michel Majerus, 1997 Lecture.

(I’ve tried to make sense of google’s and my god awful translation of this statement, and I’ve tried to understand the continuity and the context of it – so please forgive my clumsy changes and edits…)

Michel Majerus Installation at Matthew Marks 2000

“… it [the internet] was a strangely new temporal experience that he had to express in his art. It’s almost like he was trying to translate that into something hopelessly old-fashioned—not oil on canvas, necessarily, but a painterly practice. How can you paint the Internet? What a ridiculous thing, but he did in a way. With every new project he was trying to grasp digitalized space and transport it to our physical space.Kurt McVey and Daniel Birnbaum on Michel Majerus, February 6, 2014.

“We tend to identify large, colorful surfaces filled with imagery and text as paintings, whether they are acrylic on canvas, lacquer on aluminum, or digital printing on synthetic fabric. We are likely to see them as paintings even if, like two of Majerus’s most monumental works, they cover the facade of the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale or, more unexpectedly, drape entirely Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. A student of Joseph Kosuth’s in Stuttgart in the early ’90s, Majerus, of course, did not believe in traditional disciplines defined in terms of material support, but one can perhaps see his art as actively grappling with issues of painting in a different way….”

“…perhaps one shouldn’t refer to Majerus as a painter after all, but rather emphasize the way in which his spatial ruptures and jarringly mismatched iconographies evince the crisis that’s engendered when the medium is so aggressively exposed to the visual production of today’s technologies. His critique of painting does not ultimately entrench it more firmly in its traditional areas of competence, but instead opens it up to tensions and conflicts it clearly can no longer handle. This is painting in the expanded field-or not even painting at all.Daniel Birnbaum on Michel Majerus Artforum Feb 2006.

Doubling Down on Painting

Rauschenberg Factum I & II 1957

KS “I feel strongly that David’s paintings in that show were not just the end of something but the beginning of something. You can see that in the painting he showed in the 1975 Whitney Biennial: this is a single painting with two panels and the second is a version of the first. So the first canvas is process that becomes a picture and the second one is almost all picture, or at least a very different kind of process—remembering rather than inventing.” CW “Exactly. Robert Rauschenberg’s Factum I and II [1957] play with that relationship, as do a lot of works by Jasper Johns.” Katy Siegel in conversation with Christopher Wool, Spring 2017.

The 70s was a difficult decade for painters in New York City. The successes and failures of the NY School and the Pop/Minimalist/Conceptualist schools in the 60s had left painting with very little room to move. Yet there were artists trying to work their way back into painting with questions of originality, process, reproduction and replication. For the 1975 Whitney David Reed presented #48 – against the advice of many of his friends and colleagues. It turned out that this painting was an outlier looking forward to the coming era of replication, repetition, duplication and imagery and how these things might be less about making a copy and more about one’s memory and how it colors one’s understanding of an image.

“The second canvas in the Whitney painting is not a “copy.”… The doubling is more an internal process. I am trying to remember in my body how the marks were made.” David Reed, 2016.

David Reed #48 1974 – 1975 Whitney Biennial – destroyed in 1976

“#48 is a single painting consisting of a pair of double canvases hung near each other. Each double canvas shows horizontal brush marks beginning on the left, and going across the seam between the canvases; there’s also a single vertical diagonal mark squeezed in on the right side. Chosen for the biennial by Marcia Tucker #48 was criticized by my friends, colleagues and supporters before and while it was up in the exhibition. I was told that I should convince Marcia to replace it with horizontal brushmarks, like #64 or #90. The criticism made me doubt the painting, but now I see that it was perhaps my strongest statement from this time. #48 was returned to my studio on March 25, 1975, and I destroyed it on March 12, 1976. It would be especially appropriate to repaint this painting since it is already, within itself, a repaint, the second double canvas being another version of the first.” David Reed Seen Again: Notes on Brushmark Paintings Painting Paintings 2016.

The Whole Elephant

Dave Chappelle photo by Lester Cohen 2017

“…Sometimes there’s something I really want to convey, and I get a little obsessive about it. So there’s that. It’s not that they’re not listening, but it’s like I’m trying to say this thing to them and they can’t hear me. Like, there were times when I was famous for things that became cumbersome. Half Baked was like that, where I had grown personally, and when I would go onstage, people would scream out shit from that movie. Or like, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” And I’d just be like, “Listen to what I’m saying, listen to what I’m saying.” It was frustrating—like I was being victimized by my work. I think it’s a Miles Davis quote where he says you spend the early part of your career trying to chase your influences, and the second half trying to get away from ’em…

“… I have said some very witty, razor-sharp shit in conversations or even, like, offhandedly onstage. Some of ’em I don’t even want to repeat. They were funny, but I just know that sometimes the things that scare you the most or make you want to cry the most or are the most tragic are the things you just gravitate to or address in a comedic context, partially because you shouldn’t. That shit’s dangerous. You know, you fuck up a lot doing that. But it’s exciting when it works, and it’s exciting to kind of just watch someone try. The short answer is, yeah, I’ve laughed at shit that I feel guilty about or made jokes about things that I felt guilty or ethically uneasy about after the fact.” Dave Chappelle in conversation with Mark Anthony Green, November 12, 2014.

There’s no one else quite like Dave Chappelle. In the matter of an hour he can upend every expectation and every comfortable and unacknowledged thought you’ve ever carried in your head about who you are, what you experience and how those things create reality. Dave’s “return” to the public eye in 2017 was groundbreaking, exciting and thought provoking. For some his work is controversial, for others just pure comedy. I think Dave is an American philosopher, a devastating thinker and a marvelous teacher. That he manages to do these things, create a different reality for all of us on such a high level during a Netflix standup special makes his work all the more mesmerizing.

“… the reason that I bring that up tonight [Emmett Till’s murder] and why it’s relevant now, is because less than a year ago, the woman that he allegedly whistled at… admitted on her deathbed… that she lied in her court testimony. And you can imagine, when we read that shit, we was like, “Ooh! You lying-ass, bitch.” [I] was furious — that was my initial reaction. And initial reactions, we all learned as we get older, are often wrong or more often incomplete. They call this phenomenon “standing too close to an elephant.” The analogy being that if you stand too close to an elephant, you can’t see the elephant. All you see is its penis-like skin. You gotta step back and give it a better look. And on stepping back and thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that it must have been very difficult for this woman to tell a truth that heinous about herself at any point in her life. Even the very end. And I was grateful that she had the courage to tell it before she left this world. Because it’s an important truth and we needed to know. And I said to myself, “Well, thank you for telling the truth… you lying-ass bitch.” And then time goes on, and then after time, you can kind of see the whole elephant. And it’s humbling. ‘Cause you realize that this woman lied and that lie caused a murder. But that murder set in motion a sequence of events that made my wonderful life possible. That made this very night possible. How could this be? That this lie could make the world a better place? It’s maddening.” Dave Chapelle Equanimity 2017.

Do Something Exciting

David Bowie Blackstar 2016

“Never play to the gallery… but you never learn that until much later on… never work for other people…. Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you’ve felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society… I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produced their worst work when they do that. And the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being and go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” David Bowie, 1997.

The most complete artist that I’ve carried through my life has been David Bowie. In the 90s David was entering middle age and instead of laying back and holding the line he came alive. He showed us all what it meant to challenge oneself, to challenge stereotypes about artists, art and culture. He changed his music. He painted. He got involved with the Art World in a big way – not only as a collector and artist, but as a publisher of Modern Painters magazine which became instrumental in presenting new artists and ideas. He was a force of nature. And David’s last act before he left us was a stunning finale – Blackstar pushed the boundaries and left us with a new challenge to be better artists – yet again.

Now it’s subgroups and genres. It’s hip-hop. It’s girl power. It’s a communal kind of thing. It’s about a community. It’s becoming more and more about the audience, because the point of having somebody who lead the forces has disappeared because the vocabulary of rock is too well known. [That vocabulary] is a currency that is not…. It’s not devoid of meaning anymore, but it’s certainly only a conveyor of information. It’s not a conveyor of rebellion, and the internet has taken on that, as I said. So, I find that a terribly exciting area…”

“…So from my standpoint being an artist, I like to see what the new construction is between artist and audience. There is a breakdown personified by the rave culture of the last few years where the audience is at least as important as who’s playing at the rave. It’s almost as if the artist is there to accompany what the audience are doing and that feeling is very much permeating music and permeating the internet.  [Until the mid 70s] we were still living under the guise of a single and absolute created society – where there were known truths and known lies and there was no duplicity or pluralism about the things that we believed in. That started to break down rapidly in the 70s [with] the idea of a duality in the way we live. There are always two, three, four, five sides to every question – the singularity disappeared. And that I believe has produced such a medium as the internet which absolutely establishes and shows us that we are living in total fragmentation…

“…I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we are actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying… I’m talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so “in simpatico” it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about. It’s happening in every form. It’s happening in visual art. The breakthroughs in the early part of the century with people like Duchamp were so prescient in what they were doing and putting down. The idea that a piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it and add their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is about.David Bowie in conversation with Jeremy Paxton, 1999.

See The World

“I’m really only interested in technology that is about pictures. I’m interested in anything that makes a picture. I was always interested in photography because it makes a picture. And even fax machines, when I found out you could make a picture if you did them right. There’s no such thing as a bad printing machine. So long as it prints, it’s doing something. If you feed the right things into it, the right things will come out of it. I’ve always gone into anything technological. I’m convinced that technology and art go together—and always have, for centuries. I pointed that out in Secret Knowledge [Hockney’s 2001 book positing that artists like Caravaggio and Da Vinci used lenses and optics to create their paintings]. I think it began in about 1420. What the art historians had forgotten is that in Chinese, Japanese, Persian, and Indian art, they never painted shadows. Why did they paint shadows in European art? Shadows are because of optics. Optics need shadows and strong light. Strong light makes the deepest shadows. It took me a few years to realize fully that the art historians didn’t grasp that. There are a lot of interesting new things, ideas, pictures.” David Hockney in conversation with Michael Govan, November 5, 2013.

In the early 2000s David Hockney turned the history of art upside down. It was an exciting and energizing moment. And these ideas came into view just as the internet began to manipulate and change our culture, our economics and our societies. One thing fed into the other. For many of us Hockney’s Secret Knowledge opened up new questions concerning representation, understanding and the reality of vision. It also changed our ideas about technology and art and the shared histories of those things. Fascinating. 

David Hockney Barry Humphries 2015

“A two-dimensional surface can easily be copied in two dimensions. It’s three dimensions that are hard to get onto two. That involves making a lot of decisions. You have to stylize it or something, interpret it. You’ve got to accept the flat surface. Not try and pretend it’s not there. Doesn’t that mean that we learn how to get used to pictures and interpret them? And isn’t that one reason why we are fascinated by pictures? I certainly am. I’ve always believed that pictures make us see the world. Without them, I’m not sure what anybody would see. A lot of people think they know what the world looks like because they’ve seen it on television. But if you are deeply fascinated by what the world really looks like, you are forced to be very interested in any way of making a picture that you come across….” David Hockney in conversation with Martin Gayford.

We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories, therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There’s no objective vision ever – ever.”  David Hockney in conversation with Martin Gayford, August 16, 2016.

Ask Difficult Questions

David Shields  Tin House 2017

“But let’s be honest. Ninety-five percent of novels published do that relatively traditional novelistic thing. I’m just trying to argue that genre is a minimum security prison. The moment you are wrapped comfortably within genre, whether a romantic comedy, a sitcom, or a novel, or a sonnet, I find it’s rare that you are doing work that is congruent with how people are actually living now and how they are actually thinking. Alice Fulton has a great essay on this: we have moved from formal verse, to free verse, to fractal verse—Newton, to Einstein, to quantum physics.” David Shields in conversation with Sean Carman, March 7, 2013.

David Shields changed the game or maybe began a new one. The problem for us is that we still don’t know which game we’re playing. The rules change right before our eyes everyday. And that’s how our post-post-whatever era works. What is truth? What is Real? Can we be sure of either? David wants an avant-garde to figure it out and make us uncomfortable when comfort is all we seem to want. His manifesto Reality Hunger is actually a manual on how to do it. Break with tradition or at least the “tradition” that gets rammed down our throats 24-7-365 on the internet. Throw the brick through the fucking glass. Find the shards of the world lying at your feet and use them to make a different reality. 

“I’m certainly very interested in this liminal space. My ideal reader is not going to be a quote-spotter or a cite-sifter. I very much want the reader to experience a certain vertigo when reading the book—is this Shields? Is it Chung? Is it some odd combination of the two? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it all of us? Just as a work of fiction might be based heavily on quotation (Finnegans Wake, anyone? Joyce said he’d be happy to go down to posterity as scissors-and-paste man), so, too, might a work of nonfiction. I want to claim for nonfiction the same license and freedoms as fiction writers and visual artists have done for centuries. So, too, just as I’m arguing for confusion as to who is talking—me or Sonny RollinsI want to argue for the excitement of work that slips the bonds of genre. The two arguments overlap: when we are in doubt, we are alive. I want work that defies genre, and I want work the author of which and the provenance of which is debatable, that is to say not fixed, that is to say alive.” David Shield in conversation with Sonya Chung, February 10,2010.

“As I work on a project, typically a book-length essay, I try to ask myself, what puts the reader at the most extreme point of discomfiture? And what puts, I hope in some small ways, the culture under scrutiny? Obviously this is all in some way metaphorical. I live in a Western capitalist First World democracy, so the level of my risk would be different from the level of somebody who might be under the threat of state arrest or torture, but the books of mine I’m most proud of, the books of mine that seem to me to have the best staying power for myself or some readers, or I hope possibly the culture, are the books that manage to do exactly that: ask difficult questions of myself and ask troublesome questions as well for the reader. I think that too many of my colleagues are comfortable producing work that in my view yields a kind of smooth ride or soporific bath or easy entertainment. [Franz Kafka says] “A book must be the axe to break the frozen sea within.” Every student’s work, every colleague’s work I read, my own drafts I read, films I admire, books I read; the works I admire the most – from Heraclitus to Sarah Manguso – are by people who in my view risk the most.” David Shields in conversation with Gabriel Packard, November 30, 2017