4 Apr

ArtBTheatreTitleMore dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism every week, except when I don’t do them every week. This time we’re going to demystify the inflated artist person. Look, we just are, OK? Don’t ask me how.

I seriously doubt that anybody could tell from the text what (if anything) the press release pertained to or was meant to promote, so I’ll have to explicitly say that it was a group exhibition in Vienna at the end of 2013. We all missed it. What a shame.

Play Artbollocks Bingo!

Keep watching after the credit to see all ten of the takes that were required before I could correctly say “a critique of institutional structures of authorship or their representational politics of normative gender roles and ethnicity.” This is a perfect opportunity for me to air out one of my favourite quotes about writing and its relationship to the voice. While working on one of the Star Wars films, Harrison Ford had an outburst at George Lucas about the latter’s apparent inability to write dialogue for humans: “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”

The same goes here. Even if your writing is only meant to live on the page, if a person can’t say it aloud then it will also be nigh impossible even to read silently. In this regard you should also remember that in (Western) antiquity, those few who could read at all would read any lengthy text aloud. It was considered weird and rather suspect when early theologians and philosophers started reading books silently in their heads. Writing should always be readable in the abstract and in the physiological, literal senses of the word. You may recall the phrase “writer’s voice”, usually related to the necessity of finding it. It doesn’t just mean finding a readable, unique version of yourself in your writing. It also means don’t be the page-based equivalent of the person whose droning voice and endless, unpunctuated monologues make others lose the will to live.

“I could go on about critiques of institutional structures of authorship or their representational politics of normative gender roles and ethnicity, but I’m probably boring you.”

There are many reasons why artists appear as fictive persons or anonymously in a collective and create narratives situated between fiction and reality: as reference to gaps or blind spots in an otherwise discursively safeguarded canon, as a critique of institutional structures of authorship or their representational politics of normative gender roles and ethnicity, as protection from political persecution, and, last, not least, to demystify the inflated figure of the artist person.

What is a “discursively safeguarded canon” anyway? I think the writer may be confusing “discursive” with “discussion” by using the former as an adjective form of the latter, which it isn’t. Discursive means either departing from the subject– from the Latin verb discurrere, to go quickly to and fro– or secondarily it means proceding in a manner relating to discourse. It’s not a synonym for discourse. So is the canon safeguarded by talking about it? How would that work? Would the canon cease to exist if we didn’t talk about it? Or, using the first definition of the word “discursive”, is the canon conversely safeguarded by not talking about the subject or content of canons? Again, how would that work? In a factual text, no sentence should permit two diametrically opposed interpretations. If you’re writing a novel, a poem or a religious tract, ambiguity and double entendre can be thought provoking. In factual prose it’s just confusing.

Cannon-IMG_1780The whole concept of anybody apart from (powerless) nerds on a fan site vehemently defending a “canon” is also ridiculously adolescent, suggesting as it does that there’s some shadowy council of cape-swishing canon-keepers who are deliberately thwarting outside voices. The depressing but boring truth is that absolutely no conspiracy is required in order for minority viewpoints and practices to be excluded from art and from everywhere else. It just happens because conformity is silently, thoughtlessly policed by every single one of us, in one way or another. Not that this is any reason to passively accept oppression or exclusion, but there’s no secret cabal dedicated to safeguarding culture, suppressing your art or ruining your life.

Inflated artist persons.

Being an inflated artist person looks fun, actually.

This paragraph also seems to be seriously suggesting that an artist pretending to be some kind of wacky character has magical protection from political persecution or “normative” society’s disdain for them. Any artist who truly believes this has got a nasty shock (and probably a baton to the head, or worse) coming to them if they’re ever unfortunate enough to be caught up in a coup, a civil war, or even a legal street protest in a supposedly democratic Western country. Get real.

Collective authorship is currently situated on the fault lines of a deconstructed, postmodern concept of the subject and the anarcho-activist forms of resistance and critique of capitalism that may (and must) be organized collectively. These formations also refer to issues of virtual identities and the phantasms of their respective security policies. Narrative and documentary evidence still seems to be central to the construction of alternative identities and the camouflaging of their fictitiousness when it comes to revealing the claim to truth of both historicizing discourses and canonical formations in art history: historiography and memory can be reconstructed and reevaluated this way.

Providing evidence while camouflaging fictitiousness while revealing truth? Who the what now? My head hurts. As for “situated on the fault lines”, ooh you’re all so daring, with the planet itself bucking and tearing beneath the brave and anarchic artist wearing a wig or a box on their head and being a fictive person.

In this respect the exhibition attempts to trace several questions: Does the ‘death of the author’ go hand in hand with the rebirth of the audience or the reinvention of artistic sovereignty? Is the desire to contest authenticity and to form collective authorship a means to resist the post-Fordist pressure of individualization? The artist-subject seems to depend on splitting up by means of the aforementioned strategies of camouflage and disguise in order to ‘survive,’ as he/she already has to play so many roles and fill so many gaps in today’s capitalist society.

Stop tracing the questions! It’s cheating. The third one isn’t a question at all, so there aren’t “several”, only two. Neither of them are interesting or necessary questions, anyway. In the previous paragraph they were tacitly celebrating anarchism and activism, but now apparently having to be an individual is an intolerable “post-Fordist” imposition. Make your mind up.


  1. Alistair 16/04/2014 at 11:31 AM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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