[-empyre-] Art, Representation, Communication

Maria Damon damon001 at umn.edu
Wed Nov 28 02:31:49 EST 2012

I would be very interested to know if people have references to a 
subject one could loosely call the "poetics of debt"-- a colleague and I 
are trying to assemble a panel for a conf next year.

On 11/26/12 11:59 PM, paulina aroch wrote:
> _Art, Representation, Communication_
>  For this week's discussion of risk on /empyre_soft_skinned_space/, we 
> would like to pose some questions about the relationship between risk, 
> representation and communication. Is it possible to aesthetically 
> represent risk, understood either as a foreseeable and thus 
> anticipated event or, conversely, as a more abstract, imagined 
> scenario? And, if so, what are the potential implications and 
> responsibilities that such a representation might bear, whether 
> political, social, ethical, or otherwise? Insofar as risk corresponds 
> to a future tense (something will or will not happen), and 
> representation, by definition, adheres to a logic of "afterness"---are 
> the terms themselves conceptually and categorically incompatible? 
> Conversely, precisely because risk depends on imagining something that 
> has yet to come, in what ways could we say that it always needs a 
> system of representation to make such an imagining legible and 
> meaningful? In other words, in what ways might risk, in order to be 
> understood, depend on representational systems? Reciprocally, what 
> might representation, understood as an "after-the-fact" practice bring 
> to bear on contemporary conceptions of risk?
> In what ways might representation serve as a constructive tool for 
> bridging---rather than widening--- the divide between risks that 
> remain in the sphere of potentiality and those effectively realized? 
> Thinking of new communication and transportation technologies as the 
> condition of possibility for neoliberalism, and communication itself 
> as both a valued commodity and a hyper-inflated trope in today's 
> world, what is the relation between representation and communication 
> in art? And how is the communication/representation of risk modified 
> by those conditions?
> The images presented here (see attachments) gesture toward not an 
> anticipation of an event, but rather the time of ongoing risk 
> (revolution) and the time of aftermath (disaster). We offer readings 
> of two different images by two different artists, operating in 
> different mediums, cultural contexts, and geographies. The first, a 
> photograph of graffiti images, features an intriguing arrangement of 
> artistic responses to social protest and political turmoil in a shared 
> space in Cairo ("Tank vs. Biker"); the second, an image from a 
> photographic series of graffiti texts written by victims of a common 
> natural disaster in New Orleans("Destroy this Memory").
> *1. "Tank vs. Biker"*
> "Tank vs. Biker" is a graffiti piece sprayed on a street of Cairo in 
> the context of the Arab Spring; while some hold it to be anonymous, 
> other sources attribute it to Ganzeer. I first came across the image 
> at a lecture that another Egyptian street artist, Bahia Shehab, gave 
> on September 22, 2012 at Cornell. Shehab showed a chronological 
> photographic account of how this wall had been successively occupied 
> by a series of different artists, mostly anonymous to each other yet 
> in dialogue through the public space of this wall. The authorities 
> also participated in the dialogue, by selectively black-spraying some 
> of the elements that were successively incorporated into this virtual 
> public landscape. (The image you see in attachment is at the earliest 
> stages of the graffiti interaction, which Ganzeer inaugurated. For a 
> video account of the wall's posterior stages see Shehab's TED lecture 
> at http://www.ted.com/talks/bahia_shehab_a_thousand_times_no.html)
> Shehab's account of the risks involved for graffiti artists under the 
> present conditions in Egypt is twofold. On the one hand, there is the 
> risk of getting caught in the act and being arrested by the police. On 
> the other hand, there is, at least for Shehab herself, the persistent 
> risk of publicly recognizing her art as hers, of claiming authority 
> over the illegal action in Western public forums. The risk might be 
> worth taking since only by acknowledging the position from where she 
> speaks can Shehab communicate the information that concerns her and 
> which is also a major public concern. Yet there is a second reason: 
> authorial claim is perhaps the sine qua non for art to be able to 
> participate in the circuits of aesthetic and economic value production 
> in the global art market. Shehab needs to own her art if she is to 
> make a living as an artist.
> The catachrestic encounter between superimposed values in the same act 
> of authorship calls for considering the question of how risk might be 
> configured differently from the perspective of the global periphery. 
> Furthermore, I wonder how we can understand risk from the "periphery," 
> not only in the sense established by world-systems theory, but also in 
> the disciplinary sense. In what ways do these graffiti artists 
> question academic imaginations of risk? Against what kind of concept 
> is risk being defined in the social sciences? And in the arts? What 
> notions of stability unfold? How does stability -- as a condition of 
> understanding or as a desire -- mark the narratives of the core 
> geographical and disciplinary areas from where risk itself is imagined?
> Since early on risk was imagined as a thing of the sea. We can think 
> of Gaspar Mairal's ongoing investigation into the word's first 
> appearance in maritime insurance contracts in the Mediterranean and 
> its dissemination in association with the overseas realities of the 
> New World. Risk as belonging to a seascape is an image that takes a 
> strong hold over the Elizabethan imagination: think of the role and 
> meaning of the sea and particularly of ships in Shakespearean plays 
> such as /The Merchant of Venice/. But if the ship is paradigmatic 
> figure of risk for a mercantilist society whose (imagination of) 
> wealth pivots around the colonies, what trope organizes our 
> imagination of risk in neoliberal times? What is the paradigmatic 
> transportation/communication technology evoking a mode of capitalist 
> accumulation with a logic and an aesthetics entirely different from 
> that of mercantilism? Ganzeer portrays a tank and a bicycle, 
> represented on a one to one scale, face to face. Can we imagine the 
> tank as the mode of transportation that is to open a new horizon for 
> capital in the very particular ways it has done so, at the global 
> periphery, since Santiago de Chile, 1973? In other words, is the tank 
> to neoliberalism what the ship was to the mercantilist world? And can 
> we think of the realistic mode of representation of this graffiti art 
> as risking exile from the global circuits of aesthetic value 
> production? What is the risk involved for art when its aim -- distant 
> from both the "the means is the message" precept that characterizes 
> modernism and the hyperinflation of the means as such that 
> characterizes postmodernism -- seems to be simply the message?
> Paulina Aroch p.aroch at cornell.edu <mailto:p.aroch at cornell.edu>
> *2. "Destroy this Memory"
> *
> To say that Hurricane Katrina was a tremendous disaster, the effects 
> of which are still largely unfathomable and the response to which is 
> still largely unconscionable, is an understatement. Interestingly, it 
> is perhaps the word "failure"---and not "risk"---that first comes to 
> mind when remembering the devastation caused by Katrina along the Gulf 
> Coast in August 2005. There were basic infrastructure failures 
> resulting in the collapse of multiple floodwalls and levees 
> surrounding New Orleans, where the greatest damage occurred, 
> submerging over 80% of the city under water. There were rescue and 
> response failures, state and government support failures, evacuation 
> failures, and perhaps at the root of all these, there were systems and 
> communication failures. In fact, few disagree that regarding 
> communication, the Bush administration's response---both with 
> preparations beforehand and relief efforts after the storm hit--- was 
> unequivocally a double failure of public health and public affairs.
> Much of the news coverage of the disaster offered images that evoked 
> the feeling of failure as well. Many of us likely remember the 
> dramatic scenes of the overcrowded Superdome, the mesmerizing aerial 
> shots of the fallen levees, listless in their watery graves, or 
> pictures of residential wreckage---uprooted trees, toppled cars, and 
> ravaged houses. In the weeks after the hurricane, internationally 
> acclaimed photojournalist, Richard Misrach (/Desert Cantos, Cancer 
> Alley, Petrochemical America/) traveled to New Orleans, where he began 
> taking photographs of Katrina's aftermath. In this process, he took 
> "field notes" with a small point-and-shoot camera, the contents of 
> which would later prove to contain dozens of hidden treasures that 
> would become a project all on their own. Hundreds of the locations 
> that he shot as a note-taking strategy for mapping both the disaster's 
> pathways and his own photographic trajectory contained textual traces 
> of human survival. These traces took the form of writing. Graffiti 
> messages became testimonials indicating the number of dead or alive, 
> phone numbers, and an array of emotional expressions: rage, fear, 
> love, and sadness. As he developed these photos, Misrach realized that 
> the messaging pattern shifted from practical information (i.e. names 
> of those who had been abandoned or rescued) to larger existential 
> questions centered on trauma, memory, and survival (i.e. "what now?"). 
> Some victims wrote messages of faith and recovery, such as the textual 
> inscription on the plywood scraps featured in the photograph included 
> here, small fragments of hope among the trashed landscape. The 
> accumulation of these graffiti messages by Misrach meant that they 
> would become art, eventually published in a book and exhibited in 
> museums. But many of the messages had a much simpler purpose: they 
> were meant to inform their future readers of who had survived and who 
> had not. As a response to a catastrophic event, these texts 
> communicated something visceral and real that was being threatened to 
> disappear as the floodwaters remained: "I am here."  Equally moving 
> were those messages that indicated that no one was present (either due 
> to death or evacuation), yet nonetheless promised a return harbored in 
> messages of belief and solidarity: "we will rebuild."
> If Rene Magritte's paradigmatic representation of a pipe entitled 
> "This is not a Pipe" played, through intermediality, with 
> representation as such, then how might we think of Misrach's project, 
> where intermediality traces the impossible yet actual transition from 
> representation as communication to representation as art? Does the 
> photographic register risk the erasure of the pragmatic dimension of 
> the primordial semiotic act in the face of trauma and, with it, the 
> erasure of trauma itself? Does this artistic act succeed in turning 
> trauma---understood as that which cannot be put into words---into a 
> dialogic counterpoint? Or does it foreclose that possibility by 
> emptying communication out of the picture, transforming the message 
> into a referentless trace and allowing trauma, as the direct impact of 
> the real, unmediated by the symbolic, to take over the space of 
> representation as a whole? When natural disaster strikes the social 
> order in the form of trauma, when risk control fails, is communication 
> itself at risk of erasure?
>  Patty Keller pkeller at cornell.edu <mailto:pkeller at cornell.edu>
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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