RE: [-empyre-] on meaningful articulations : strategies
On whether, as Nato worries, "the image remains but the socail value shrivels up."
In the context of performance for a moment, a brief story.
Ed, you mention your work in Chicago:
This developing counter culture is really all that has been interesting to
me in the states and has inspired many projects.. For the last three years
we ran a neat space in chicago and found ourselves as part of a national
movement of sorts where spaces have become important nodes in activity of
I performed Naxsmash/Memoires of a Cyborg at Select Media in Chicago, one of your project/events , in November 2003.. Maybe you remember. It was in the middle of "buddy", (I think:)) , a space where people were totally milling around, drinking talking loudly etc. Late in the evening a band performed, and because their performance use of space was conventional (placement at end of room, facing audinece, amps, speakers,etc) people 'knew' what to do with that. However, not the case when I did an installation / performance (video/transparent scrims/performance action) piece just in the middle of everybody. I thought it was a pretty old school piece in style, very seventies, and thought that people would gather around and watch, more or less politely, while going on talking and drinking. I hoped that they would find the piece disturbing and provocative. How provocative, it turned out -- Suddenly one woman got really close to me and started yelling at me, saying, what the f=--k do you think you are doing here. A really intense harangue, and she got really almost inside the performance itself, she certainly penetrated the tactical zone around my work (within maybe 12 inches of my face). Close enought that my heart started racing, the adrenalin alrealy pumping a lot because of the performance, went sky high as she got well within the body threat zone, though she did not touch me. I just kept on with the piece: it seemed to feel if anything more powerful than fear of being hurt, or of humiliation.
Was it super upsetting to have something 'art' like going on in the middle of what she could have thought was a sort of a clubbing space? Disrupting a smooth social space: I was rough and she wanted no surprises. She challenged me specifically: who do you think you are messing with this space? Her attack brought out the question of what was 'really' that space?
How an embodied practice in a public space sets off many sparks: you dont know what the teaching is until you seek to act on resonant matters. Who knows what the many levels of social meaning were going on simultaneously that night at Buddy's. Surely, many, not all planned by Select Media, and purposefully so. I dove into the mesh of levels like a fish through a dark water. I moved along, staying on task: this created some kind of presence apparently to which there were at least two reactions, total indifference and intense reactivity. This was a teaching , a radical pedagogy -- back to me: I become the student, i learn from this performance. It had not occured to me that "Naxsmash" would encounter resistance, like some alien object. Do artists dream of serving up some teaching to others, to the 'audience'? Nevertheless, " audience " is wild. It does not go where one wishes it to go. It will not absorb the lessons. It resists. In so doing the audience is taking on the presence of the work of art, literally, making something of the work. I doubt that image remains ever without 'social value" , still, the more multvalency and disruption I can bring to the construction of image, the more possiblities for multiple meaning-paths for others to take up. More is more.
From: Nato Thompson <NThompson@massmoca.org>
Sent: Nov 9, 2005 4:31 PM
To: soft_skinned_space <firstname.lastname@example.org>, soft_skinned_space <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: [-empyre-] on meaningful articulations : strategies
Maybe my position sounded too reactive. I wasn't actually referring to your position on Fallen Fruit that way. I realize that the connection could easily have been made and I apologize. I was more reporting on what had been discussed in Chicago.
I actually agree with you in part. I am not completely familiar with the fallen fruit project in total, but it seems reasonable that building in an ability to retain financial solvency can be a reasonable method for continuing a project.
yes, critique is absolutely valuable. I just sometimes feel that the left lives in a world of critique to compensate for our powerlessness. But I understand that you are pressing these issues in a productive way.
I guess one of the ways I think of trying to figure out a project's 'effectiveness' is based on the 'social resonance' of a particular project. If a project can lead to empowering someone to actually do something, that is great. I guess a lot of concern about the whitney biennial is only that we feel these places are just vacuous spaces where only the image of the project survives, but the radical pedagogical value goes unused. I think in many instances of co-optation, that is exactly what happens. The image remains but the social value shrivels up. I may be more moderate on whether or not good things come from the whitney biennial. I mean it really depends on the project. the whitney gets a lot of visitors. This reaches a lot of people. Who knows?
But on a more counter cultural level, its best to have projects participating in a community of resistance. This also means producing spaces where people can react to, build upon and work on the social implications of the work that we are producing. It means developing alternative systems of distribution, considering the educational or pedagogic value of our practice on multiple levels and finally, truly strategizing on who our audience is and how best to reach them.
And in terms of settling on terms as marc has advocated: what terms should we discuss. I'm ready to play the game.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org on behalf of christina ulke
Sent: Wed 11/9/2005 6:41 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] on meaningful articulations : strategies
I find it funny that you perceive my critique as mean spirited. If we
cannot critique within our own community - where can we?
'Fallen Fruit' was brought as an example because of its use of marketing
strategies and the cultural engine around their project. The question I was
trying to raise - maybe "commodification" doesn't have to mean "selling
out". Maybe it can be a useful tool. There are many other examples of
projects using commodification as a strategy for their counter-cultural
agendas (e.g. RtMark, the Yes Man, Natalie Bookchin's and Jacqueline Stevens
agora-x-change http://www.agoraxchange.org ).
I don't think your equation of commodification=corruption is true.
Doesn't the fact that we have a difficult time addressing this topic on
this forum call for more discourse?
"2. Critique is a useful function, but if not contextuaized inside a
community who want to grow, it is just mean spirited. The quest for calling
out who is co-opting and who is commodifying and who is selling out, can
often be a screen for one's own career or social frustration. I have seen
more than a few times the use of the term co-opt applied to projects only
because they attempt to retain a reasonable socially gratifying level of
recognition. The witch hunt for self serving art projects can lead to more
ill will than productive politics. So, I'm always curious about the approach
to politics of calling out the corrupt among us. I realize I work in an
institution where I feel somewhat complicit in a form of
institutionalization. I'm ok with that. I think MASS MoCA can be helpful to
some projects and not to others. There is some sense of contradiction that
is tricky to navigate. I am also aware that producing counter-structures is
often times more fruitful than the figuring out who is, and isn't truly down
with the cause.
I often think we internalize the values of the marketplace by consistently
retaining the avant-guare as new product placement. That under the veil of
market critique, we are harboring our personal product, that is our
subjectivity. This is problematic. Often the language of capitalist critique
is used as a cover for our own ego. That happens... I swear. "
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of christina ulke
Sent: Sunday, November 06, 2005 4:52 AM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] on meaningful articulations : strategies
Robby - i tend to disagree with you, I think art does have the power to
change people's perception of things and give us a very complex experience
of reality. Art can indeed be effective in the traditional art world.
But how do you measure effectivity?
I think one problem that stands in the way of having a serious discourse in
the gallery/museum system is the 'branding' of the individual artist/artist
group/ project and - along with it- the need for "product"[artist=product]
Take for example 'Fallen Fruit'; a project that was published in our 3rd
issue as one of the art projects
" FALLEN FRUIT began as an artist's project for The Journal of Aesthetics
and Protest in Los Angeles; it was a mapping of all the 'public fruit' in
our neighborhood in Los Angeles. We believe that fruit planted on private
property which overhangs public space should be public property and created
this project to encourage people both to harvest and plant public fruit. The
project is a rnse to accelerating urbanization and the loss of people's
capacity to produce their own foods, as well as issues around grassroots
community activism, social welfare and social responsibility "
I wonder - what started out as a "confined" art project is now an art
collective/cultural machine driving its own advertisement campaign with
spin-off projects in NY, shwag, events etc.
I would argue that Fallen Fruit is an example of a project that is in the
process of commodifing/branding itself; the question is -is this sort of
production around the artwork an example of an"embodied" practice? Or is it
an example of an effective marketing strategy in order to get the
project into the Whitney Biennale? Or is this commodification even
necessary to be effective?
>I am very skeptical that Art, and artists when articulated as
>individual practitioners, abstracted from a political, social, or
>cultural base, can have an actual effect here
>While Fish Story is a solid and even innovative practice of documentary
>photography- it, like Sekula's practice- becomes a stand in for the
>real in the capitalist art marketplace, as he is bandied about as the
>last standing Marxist in contemporary art
> along the lines of Kenneth's questions, i'm also interested in the
> engagement with criticality as an "embodied" practice (to use Brian's
> this is what i've seen as part of the journal's project (not to say
> that for everyone else, of course). at some point, we have to evaluate
> the state of embodiment. is the materialization of a given discourse
> just producing books and conferences?
i've been thinking about de Certeau's use of "tactics" v
> "strategy" in relation to the militaristic use of those concepts...
> (thanks to a recent discussion with the center for tactical magic) a
> lot of critically engaged practice has put much faith in the notion of
> tactics as a reactionary form of practice, whether of the direct
> action kind, or the unconscious everyday method of coping. but i'm
> wondering if it's not important now to develop notions of strategy...
> what would a "strategical media" look like? this is what i've seen as
> part of the journal's project (not to say that for everyone else, of
> course). at some point, we have to evaluate the state of embodiment.
> is the materialization of a given discourse just producing books and
> conferences? or is it interfacing with life in other ways? i certainly
> am not saying i know how to evaluate this (if it's even possible) but
> it seems the questions would have to be raised. as to the question
> about where commodification (fetishism) is happening... i think there
> are multiple ways that one could site that. certainly the publishing
> system, and what's been called the "academic-military-entertainment
> complex" on other lists recently... best,
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