Tag Archives: art speak

PARASITES, CANT, SHALLOWNESS

21 Aug

Joseph Devlin’s book from 1910, How to Speak and Write Correctly, is like many similar books in that much of its advice still has relevance and is still ignored by (or unknown to) many people who describe themselves as writers or work as writers but are not worthy of the term except in the most literal sense.

“Don’t imagine that a college education is necessary to success as a writer. Far from it. Some of our college men are dead-heads, drones, parasites on the body social, not alone useless to the world but to themselves. A person may be so ornamental that he is valueless from any other standpoint. As a general rule ornamental things serve but little purpose. A man may know so much of everything that he knows little of anything… Cant is the language of a certain class — the peculiar phraseology or dialect of a certain craft, trade or profession, and is not readily understood save by the initiated of such craft, trade or profession. It may be correct, according to the rules of grammar, but it is not universal; it is confined to certain parts and localities and is only intelligible to those for whom it is intended… Words of “learned length and thundering sound” should be avoided on all possible occasions. They proclaim shallowness of intellect and vanity of mind.”

WINNING THE WAR, LOSING THE BATTLES

27 May

twisters

On Monday of this week I was thinking– with some satisfaction and serenity– that for some time I’d seen nothing but reasonable, factual press releases in plain English and artist statements that actually made sense. Perhaps the day would soon come when I would no longer have any material for Artbollocks Theatre? No. Come Wednesday morning, I see this:

There is no mediation that is lossless—an output is never the pure transmission of a source—but always as much the distance it has travelled, the things it has come in contact with or bounced with or off. She is interested in the consistency of distances that can be traced through an arbitrary sense of material precision: utilising water, viscosity, synthetic carpets, electricity, surface tension, stray socks and chewing gum. This consistency, at times imperceptible and at times palpable, is what the artist describes as “something that I find in my sculptural vocabulary—an extra-linguistic or non-verbal modulation of content—articulating the impurities of a medium or assemblage.” […]

Literally caught in between melting and being repurposed, several hundred meters of gutted sheaths are compressed into dense lumps of immaterial distance. Contextualized by both recent and earlier works, the exhibition will consider sculpture as a medium of storage, transmission and reception.

A translation of the last paragraph is that she’s melted a load of old plastic cables into lumps. This is not me editorialising, by the way. Here is a publicity image of the “art work” associated with the verbiage quoted above:

may27_arko_img

Have you tried unplugging it, leaving it for a few seconds, then plugging it back in?

Yes, it’s made of communication cables, but that doesn’t make it a consideration of “sculpture as a medium of storage, transmission and reception” any more than making an art work out of cake is considering birthdays, aging and parenthood. It can be that, but there’s a pathetic schoolgirl literalism in claiming an art work is about something just because it’s made from things associated with the subject. Even if it is a consideration of anything, perhaps as an artist you could actually have some courage and commit to saying something about the subject and instead of just limply, meekly considering it? It’s toxic, weird and also entirely fitting that so many contemporary artists claim to be considering things because considering things without coming any nearer to an answer is not at all profound and the majority of contemporary artists are neither capable of nor truly interested in profundity. They just like the idea of being thought of as profound, which is very different from being so and much harder. I consider what I’m having for lunch or whether it’s worth waiting for the next train after I just missed one, or if I should get the bus instead. Note that even in these extremely banal examples I actually come to a conclusion. Consideration without conclusion is noodling or daydreaming, at best.

And several hours previously– arriving unwelcome in the middle of the night like a drunk or a stalker– this double-decker of nonsense about two simultaneous solo exhibitions by another two artists:

Her work is located in the meeting of sculpture, video installation and performance and is characterized by an acute study of the relationship of the body to space, closely linked with her utilization of digital technologies (often including, for example: projectors, scanners, action cameras, and drones). The videos, which play a central role in her work, consist of filmed actions (mostly featuring Vogel herself), documentations of her own installations and collages from her archive of images. These videos then become part of her sculptural constructions where dimensional space, decor and the corporeal merge into an organically woven structure. She treats the projectors and the other technical equipment as active protagonists: for example, by removing their casings or by suspending them in unexpected ways, thus revealing their fragility and somatic character. Ultimately, she creates a hybrid form in which her relationship to space, object, technology and machine is displayed in a dynamic field of motion, from the process of its development to the self-reflective treatment of her own work.

In English: She films herself because herself is the most interesting subject she can think of, and she takes the cases off the projectors. In the interest of relative brevity I’ll just note in passing that this monolithic paragraph is riddled with bad writing and unexamined assumptions: Why and how is her study acute? Space is always dimensional. An active protagonist has to be active and a protagonist, and a protagonist is by definition active anyway; simply doing something unusual with a piece of equipment does not necessarily make it either active or a protagonist. And so on.

This body-studying (YAAAAAAWN) artist shares the gallery with an artist who is, yep, another one adopting the tiresome pretence that he is “undertaking an investigation”:

Of particular interest in Binet’s work is his perception of the painting as an “integrative object.” This process of integration—the inclusion into a larger whole—occurs during the work’s installation; Binet actively considers the walls and conditions of the surrounding exhibition space, initiating a working process based on its specifics. Everything taking place within the space shapes the exhibition. A canvas can bend and be embedded in a stair railing. A continuous line spray-painted over the surface of a wall and onto a canvas extends a painting into space. With this direct and equal treatment of both painting and place, the work becomes inseparable from its surroundings, existing only in this very moment and in its specific spatial arrangement.

English translation: He goes over the edges of his paintings, some of which are not rectangular. Oh, didn’t you know that paintings don’t have to be rectangular? Ha ha Stupid U, artist moar intelligectual than U.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit making Artbollocks Theatre.

lloyd_bridges_airplane_looks_like_i_picked_the_wrong_week_to_quit_sniffing_glue_mccroskey

ARTBOLLOCKS THEATRE: DOG LOVERS SPECIAL

4 May

doge

Dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism. All real! Oh how I wish they weren’t. In this super special edition with added PERFORMANCE ART that will make Marina admit defeat, pack her money bags and retire at last:

Q: Does your promotional material and critical text need to have any relation to or mention of what is actually in the exhibition?

A: Apparently not. Just write about looking at a dog in a sort of vaguely prose poem that reads like some stoned high school kid’s notebook scribbles. Apart from listing the names of the artists and mentioning that it’s an MA degree show, there is no mention whatsoever of what we might see, what’s interesting about it, what media the artists are working in, or why we might want to go. So it’s not just a horrible, pretentious piece of writing, it’s also a complete failure in terms of promotion and as a way of documenting or describing the exhibition for those of us (i.e. 99% of us) who will never see it.

In keeping with the bogus stoner profundity of the text, I made some impromptu, dog-related interpretive performance art that you can also “enjoy” in this video.

They face off in the room. He looks into her eyes and she looks into his. She sees him looking at her looking at him looking at her looking at him looking at her and she feels self-conscious so focuses on the detail. The brown that pretends to be black and the nostril that pretends to be still. She tries not to blink, but it’s hard work. She blinks.

She tries to maintain the kind of eye contact you might have when your eyeballs don’t actually touch. But with or without contact, the in-between-ness remains, even if it is only as membranous liquid or coagulated tears or the crust that separates wet from dry. The space between prevails with an unknown exchange rate. She wonders how long they would have to touch before they would conglomerate…or was the still, stale air of judgment and opinion already mattering between them.

She looks again, imagining a bird’s eye view and a hind sight too. She tries to allow the image to surprise her: tiny hairs and the space behind the ears and the eyelid twitch and the nervous tick.

Is this what an encounter feels like? I try to find words to say but this moment escapes language. Are you, too, intoxicated with life? It all rises viscously around us, like an ocean storm and meaty tiptoes and a packet of midnight howls.

Are we feeling something together? Are we becoming something and then meaning something and then all the magic sensations in our bodily pits…We dance on the threshold of a primal immediacy, and weigh each other against the wild and untamed. A half sunken waltz to an ensemble of smells, crystallizing endlessly between offering and protecting ourselves.

Still I wonder if my vision is stubbornly dogged, or worse, dogmatic. Tell me if I am seeing you or just an actor performing the real you.

What does he stand for? What have I made him stand for? He sits but his size is not reduced…broad shoulders and square jaw.

I want to sing to him but he stands. And lifts a leg. In lieu of mine, he is suddenly estranged from this romantic fiction. He flees with his fleas and his nervous tick too. A diagonal escape into his own self-referential future, going blind, making me invisible as he madly gnaws at his own tale.

His trace is brutal, and yet the space has shifted. And in the end, making art and meeting a dog can be much the same thing.

ThisIsDog

ARTBOLLOCKS THEATRE S3E5: AURATIC

8 Apr

“HI K8, H8 UR WORK”

Dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism. All real, all serious, all horribly written. I apologise in advance for any foreign or jargon words that I accidentally pronounced correctly. This time, at a gallery in Graz (Austria):

An artist “resists artisanal virtuosity” which I think may be someone being polite about the artist being quite crap at all the things she’s chosen to do as part of her art practice.

Another artist is a painter who apparently ignores colours and the canvas, which takes some doing when not ignoring colours and the canvas is pretty much your entire job description as a painter.

The third artist’s works in wood are impossible to distinguish from ordinary bits of wood that are not art, except they are art. All clear? Good.

You can play along with your Artbollocks Bingo card, and you can watch more Artbollocks Theatre here on the blog or on my Vimeo channel.

First thing’s first: I usually make a point of not looking at any work by the artists mentioned (negatively) here for two main reasons. Reason one is that the artists and galleries who write these kinds of nonsense texts need to either learn that 99% of people who read their statements will see little or nothing of the exhibition or the artist’s work, and therefore write in a way that makes sense in this context… or they need to stop deliberately relying upon the fact that 99% of people won’t see the work because it gives them carte blanche to make insupportable claims for the art and for the artist.

The second reason is that– despite how ugly it undoubtedly feels to be told that your carefully wrought artist statement is sheer bollocks– I usually try to kick the ball and not the player. In other words, to criticise the writing and bad impression it gives of the artist rather than directly attacking them as a person. This would usually be futile, presumptuous and a waste of good venom anyway since I don’t know them.

However, I’m really tempted to break this rule right now because the first artist is a grown woman who chooses to go by the name of “K8”, i.e. and presumably because Kate or Katherine seemed less cool and urban to her for some reason probably best dealt with in private, not in an art gallery. Artists who give themselves stupid names really fucking get up my nose. This was a tiresome and immediately recognisable cliché of the Shoreditch Twat, Marais Moron or Williamsburg Wanker when Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris lampooned it on their Channel 4 show Nathan Barley ten frigging years ago. See 15peter20, below. Guess what? It’s still unforgivably precious and irritating now. That means you too, Marvin Gaye Chesspiece or whatever you’re calling yourself this week. Grow up.

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15peter20

8nyw8y, K8, if U evr see me 0ut + 8b0ut, 1nstea6 of t8lk1ng 2 U, 1’11 c0mmun1c8te w1th U 1n 8n 8ppr0pr18 m8nner by sen61ng U th1s fr0m meye f0ne:

╭∩╮(-_-)╭∩╮

That’s two middle fingers, by the way, not a very contented man with his face between two small penises.

Her works of art garner performative energy from various fields and studies, frequently from the area of fashion, for example, and generally from current forms of representation and modi of self-presentation in digital-based social networks. In the process, she avoids committing herself to a single artistic medium, eludes artisanal virtuosity in photography, sculpture, and video, and produces as if drawing on a gigantic maelstrom of self-documentation and fashionable, queer-visionary transformation of identity.

In a video work designated as “Outfitumentary” by the artist, which is shown in the exhibition in condensed excerpts, she has been documenting her opulent and frenzied changes of clothing since 2001, along with the related signal change within a lesbian subculture and projections of yearning in general. This documentation of a quest for self-invention and the critical examination of identity-seeking and related mediatic breaches lead the fashion items being worn in front of the camera to lose significance. Also evident is the act of refocusing on the artist herself as immersed in perpetual change and the similarly shifting sites of self-documentation playing out here. This high-velocity switching of roles and the concurrent societal pressure to cultivate and express one’s image is one of the themes long explored by Hardy. This aims to challenge the role of the artist, along with the authentic embodiment of this role, within veritable capitalist systems of reproduction and the formatting of the self manifesting there. In her unconventional, artistic elaborations, which take the form of sculpture, light boxes, or photographs, Hardy is likewise concerned with lending visibility to emancipatory means and potentials.

So, she likes dressing up and showing off, which could be performance art but could also just be dressing up and showing off like several million other women and men who do “high velocity switching of roles”, “self documentation” and various takes on “societal pressure” on YouTube, but whose actions are deemed below the level of Fine Art. What is “performative energy” and how does one gather it? “Eludes artisanal virtuosity in photography, sculpture, and video” is probably a hilarious euphemism for “her work looks really bad, but, um… we’re gonna say it’s deliberate, OK?” I’ve seen this excuse a lot, right up to the Venice biennale. The artists are always resisting hegemonic ideas, questioning conventional modes of representation and whatnot. They’re never just presenting bad work because they can’t (or can’t be bothered to) do any better, or because they’ve never shaken the sneering undergraduate pose that being good at anything or serious about anything is uncool, nor indeed the sneering undergraduate notion that being thought of as cool matters at all in the long run. Not that most contemporary artists have a long run.

As for the lesbian signal change, I fear this is just a highfalutin way of saying K8 has changed her look over the years and she likes trying on new clothes. Which most of us do, but most of us aren’t claiming it’s art. One would hope that in the days of “check your privilege” we wouldn’t still be seeing any one curator (or lesbian) claiming to represent a whole “subculture”, even if they believe that they own it in some way, as is strongly implied by her “lending” it. To throw back at them a word that I’m sure the curator of this exhibition would like, saying anybody represents all lesbians and has the right to “lend” them emancipation is very “othering” (i.e. retrograde, sexist, offensive and putting up unhelpful barriers), not to mention being an example of exactly the kind of arrogant, belligerent intra- and extra-community “signal” policing that makes life more difficult for homosexual people who don’t fit with some other folks’ idea of how they should be “emancipated” and reifies homophobic prejudices that they “know” what a lesbian or a gay man looks and acts like.

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INTERPRETATION MATTERS

31 Mar

A BOOK THAT “CHALLENGES YOUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS” OR “INTERROGATES ACCEPTED NOTIONS” OF ART LANGUAGE

Front-cover-Media-1024x680

In addition to making fun of the atrocious, pretentious writing that artists and galleries sometimes issue in the name of art, I also work more constructively and (slightly) less cruelly with people and organisations to improve the quality of their writing and public communications. One such project is Dany Louise’s Interpretation Matters, funded by Arts Council England… so, in case anybody was wondering, ACE are at the very least tacitly concerned about bad gallery writing and gibberish artist statements too. I’ve been working with Dany on the Interpretation Matters project over the past year or so, conducting workshop sessions with venue staff and the public. I’ve contributed an essay to the accompanying book, which is out now.

It also features:

  • Artists Emily Speed, David Blandy and Richard Wilson.
  • Penelope Curtis, formerly of Tate Britain and soon to be director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.
  • Curators Lewis Biggs, Omar Kholeif and Gerardo Mosquera
  • … and more!™
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