May 2003
volume 1, issue 2


KRITIK!!! [2]

A few months ago, I was reading Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe’s Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime. There’s no less appropriate reading for a bus in L. A. (try reading instead Sesshu Foster’s book of poetry City Terrace Field Manual, it’s angry angry angry and painfully beautiful too). As I tried to ingest Gilbert-Rolfe’s inedible sentences about glamour and the technological sublime, I realized that either I, or the world, had changed. I remember once being able to idly fondle the pages of Vogue and lose myself in its surficiality – wealth and fashion were sensual pleasures to be enjoyed, if only from a voyeuristic remove. Now I can’t even bring myself to pull the Angelino magazine, which gets delivered free to my work, from its clear plastic wrapper. “‘Tis the season for glamour” is writ across the thigh of some cadaverous heroine I’d rather not emulate. Nothing that the magazine itemizes (from “Luxury Journeys to Mexico” to “A Fabulous Fete at the Viceroy”) interests me, and I know that the ads for Rolexes and diamonds and beamers will leave me more disinterested than disaffected, because they all exist in a vacuum of denial with an aesthetic value of less than zero. This super-vacuity does not manage to transcend itself like some kind of Zen koan of replete nothingness. It is simply lacking in a way that I, for all my faults, will never be.

Perhaps my own aesthetics amount to nothing more than a niche that isn’t catered to by Angelino, but still gets caught out by cooperative publications, collective boutiques, developing world handcrafts and so on…(I’m an “alterna-consumer” as recently outed by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (5)). I’ll admit, though, that I was unprepared for the brutal co-option of the aesthetics of protest in Diesel’s latest ad campaign. Their “wacky fun in the sun” campaigns have given way to pasty youths rioting in black and white reportage photos, poster-boys and gals of the new season’s discontent. I don’t mind aesthetic poaching, but what irritates me is the ludicrous statements these model protesters are championing – “We need more green traffic lights!” “Marry young!” and other such pointless drivel which of course ends up belittling real issues.
The art world flirts with both the world of vacuous glamour and the world of righteous protest, and sometimes I can’t forgive its fickle ways. Sure, I have a fairly low tolerance threshold for woodblock prints of atomic blasts, or poorly executed altarpieces to “My Exotic Heritage,” but I can honestly say that on an aesthetic level, the most excitement I’ve had lately has been on anti-war demonstrations. The candle-light vigil on Hollywood and Highland on a Saturday night in December was like a miniature carnival that exploded in the faces of zomboid shoppers. I found myself dancing for joy – for not being dead yet, body or soul. This act of criticizing the state that subjugates others and holds me complicit is currently the most positive, creative act I can think of. We are living in the Kali Yuga and only the vehement recitation of your mantra/manifesto will keep the demons at bay.

Gwynneth Porter

Editor of LOG Illustrated, New Zealand

I have long disliked authoritative gestures as I don't think anyone can ever really know anything much with regards looking at art or the world with certainty, so I tend to just go for observations and owned subjective readings. I also think that most writing tends to be so much more about the author anyway so I tend to send this up a bit as I find criticism and a lot of other cultural productions to be comic (most things humans do with seriousness are pretty funny, albeit often black humor).

Does the critic have any kind of "responsibility" towards art or towards the public?

Nope, except that if you can do something like write or make art and people will enjoy it I think one [should, just so that there are always things for us to do (I am hopelessly dependent on words and writing so the idea that there might not be anything for me to read fills me full of such dread I find myself encouraging people to add to the stockpile...). Fundamentally, I do believe in full disclosure as a way of sharing truth and empowering the truth and the collective unconscious (Jung is the man).

Daniel Malone

Artist, New Zealand

Isn’t tagging just ego-centric posturing, one of the worst qualities of humans/animals, like a dog pissing on a lamppost – alpha male activity. What would you say to counter that?

I won't say nothing 2 counter that. Don't dis the animal. Do the dog! Without this becoming animal there is no dissent, tagging on one level is that alpha male activity of pissing against a lamppost, and as you point out 'that ego bullshit' can also be seen as part of criticism, why? Because if you take a position on something you consciously mark out yr territory as a subject, you position yourself, and increasingly your position is what's at stake. If u don't stake a position, you don't take a position. That's the ugly truth and the truth should be ugly, not beauty in the eye of the beholder, graffiti is ugly precisely because its not put there for the eye of the beholder, it should be ugly, it’s not art, it’s not advertising, actually it’s not even "Criticism" and all the (increasing) attempts to behold it as such (including those done by those who do the graffiti) are simply attempts to subsume it into the so-called status quo. To understand it, tame it and even like it. That's not graffiti. The thing I like about graffiti is the fact that that 'ego' u talk about resists translation into any form of currency, least of all 'capital' unless it becomes one of those other things.

Mark von Schlegell

Critic, Los Angeles, Editor of The Rambler

It's a strange time, culturally speaking. To my mind, Matthew Arnold's call for the critic "to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas" remains valid and necessary. Western art has found itself in a position where it depends on criticism and writing more than ever before to create historical continuity in a field that tends to be fragmented and often perplexing. Artists today depend on ideas and rely, in part, on criticism to help define and trace their achievements. That said, today's art criticism threatens to devolve into a monotonous publicity and marketing of individual artists. If one wants to bring in ideas and connections and theories etc. one's welcome to, but one tends to be published and distributed because of the names positively dropped and the works illustrated. It's important that the critic (who tastes so little of the perks he or she helps generate for others) resists this trend. "What is more insidious than any censorship," the sometime censor T. S. Elliot once said, "is the steady influence which operates silently in any mass society organized for profit, for the depression of standards of art and culture."

There are readers all through the art world eager for honest, thoughtful criticism. We tend to look to publications these days not as forums of ideas but for revealing the current shape of art world power-positioning, yet an authentic work of criticism, when it appears, can function with more immediacy and authority than ever. The 100th anniversary edition of October Magazine was dedicated to the proposition that thoughtful criticism is obsolete. It was interesting that this particular issue was the most readable and challenging in years. Criticism gains freedom and honesty from a perceived obsolescence.

Theory, when it's printed, is practice. As we enter an age of religious atrocity, it's natural that early Enlightenment methodology should resurface. The Rambler takes its title from a semi-anonymous 18th-century Grub Street publication, one of many such sheets that littered the streets of London in those days. It's an attempt to reach back to an Enlightenment in its youth - wherein a tiny intellectual trickle (I recommend Blanford Parker's Triumph of Augustan Poetics on this) was able to enter the stream of public reality without recourse to any power but that of its own press. "Reason" obviously, philosophically, is a political posture - a symbol of individual power in a silencing, psychotic world. When reactionaries adopt it to preserve false histories and consolidate oligarchic power, terrible troubles ensue. The Rambler includes a healthy dose of science fiction as both acknowledgment of the claim possible futures hold on our generation and as satire of our own quasi-libertarian reactionism.

With the Rambler, we fantasize that the smallest, semi-anonymous, most localized collaborative publication can help generate wars of ideas, fictional trends, perpetrations of hoaxes, attacks in print, geo-political shiftings, the foundings of rival newspapers and schools who stand for something, etc. In other words, make it of actual consequence again, as we fantasize it used to be in the early Enlightenment, to write, to make art, to be alive. By presenting popular fictions beside art criticism, political analysis beside raw complaint, and giving ourselves the individual respect that only writers can give to other writers, we hope to gain energy and novelty by collapsing market-imposed, disciplinary boundaries. In its de-categorizing potential, contemporary Art culture remains, in many senses, wide open. Our first issue called for the resignation of George Bush. We hoped to be one among a series of such gestures and found ourselves relatively alone, even somewhat frightened and paranoid. But our artist readers appreciated the gesture -- eager to perceive their own place in a world larger than the contemporary machinations of a peculiar, elusive economy. Art needs to reach out to the "outside" world, for its own sake as much as for the sake of the "outside" world itself which has looked to it for moral and political initiative in the past.

In America today rights to free speech are in jeopardy; non-violent citizens are getting picked off in Home Depot parking-lots and professors shot in class rooms, while an abandoned, over-sported environment radically deteriorates. We artists and writers are a part of that America and our lives may not be so long. It's not so difficult, we've discovered, to make something cheap, something honest and awakening (advertisement and image-free) for people to read.
(For the interested reader, copies are available free at Diannepreuss gallery, Chung King Road, Chinatown).

Chris Kraus
Writer, Los Angeles

Yeah. Well. Let's talk about art. Nowhere is the meaning and the value of a thing as arbitrary and up for grabs as in the contemporary art world. The modernists complained that postmodernism ruined the experiential thrill of looking at art. The rules of the game had been changed: i.e., the 'integrity' of the artwork was no longer innate. Looking at art became more a matter of placing the work in an art-critical discourse and lineage. Its success or its failure was now determined by the artist's ability to position her work in that discourse and lineage. To make new work was to produce the next card in the card-game of critical discourse. The modernists complained about the endless self-referentiality of that. Towards this end, artists went back to school, became schooled in these discourses. But now, it's no longer even about that. What it is, is, where'd you go to school and who are you friends with? These are the factors that really determine who, coming up now, will show, and what we deem to be "interesting." Thousands of people paint landscapes: what makes David Corty's work particularly "important" and "interesting" is how he arrived at it: via the prestigious neo-conceptual MFA program at UCLA. So what we are seeing isn't just (imaginatively conceived and beautifully executed, which they are) skies and landscapes painted in watercolor: we're seeing the improbable decision of a young conceptually-trained artist to paint landscapes at all, and we admire the boldness of that. When I write about art, I like to say what I see. Both inside and out of the picture. And sometimes it helps to disclose where I am when I'm looking, what kind of thinking and feeling the artwork engenders. The very arbitrariness of art's value demands this. We need to say what we see. Within the very occluded atmosphere of art-critical discourse, direct first-person speech often comes off like a novelty act: a personal mission to appraise the emperor's new clothes.

1 | 2 | 3 | next >