More whinemaking, fussnummering,
belletristic palaver from your friendly neighbourhood propagandists,
witches and shin-kickers. By Tessa Laird, with help from Gwynneth
Porter, Marc and Robby Herbst,
Mark von Schlegell, Chris
Kraus, Mat Gleason, Daniel
Malone, and Daniel J. Martinez.
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
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.
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).
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).
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
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