[-empyre-] Art, Representation, Communication
emo57 at cornell.edu
Wed Nov 28 14:33:20 EST 2012
I like your employment of the figures/devices/machines "ship" and "tank." I would like to add "drone" in light of the drone attacks in Pakistan and the drone patrolling of the Canada/US/Mexico borders. Here's an interesting link on drone and robotic weapons:
Robotic Weapons: <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/27/us/ROBOT.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=ab1>
For Derrida etc. the trace is always under erasure, constituted by erasure, n'est-ce pas?
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Maria Damon [damon001 at umn.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 10:31 AM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Art, Representation, Communication
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 at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
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