notes about dealing with franko-b’s I Miss You!

A friend introduced me to the work of Franko-b and I’ve put off posting about it as I’m unsure about my reactions to it.

Wait, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. I know what my immediate reaction was. What’s taken time has been trying to put that reaction into words and work out it’s relevance.

On the one hand, I’m not good with blood, so inevitably I found the video of I Miss You! quite difficult to watch. On the other, I get a vicarious thrill from the whole practice of cutting and blood-letting, in the same way that I find many types of body modification attractive.

While watching this video I couldn’t help thinking about the beauty of the way the video was distorted by the compression – when it’s viewed full-screen especially it created abstract washes of golden colour, with regions of smooth colour gradients merging into more detailed, pixelated areas.

I was considering capturing some of the footage and isolating those parts as a work of art in itself. I thought that this would serve as a new piece of work to show my reaction to Franko-b’s work. But then I thought, hold on, why would I want to do this? Is this just me avoiding my real issues with the piece?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Gertrude, III.ii)

My reaction to the footage, and my subsequent ways of dealing with it, gives me away. Blood-letting causes a visceral reaction on my part, I would go so far as to say a revulsion, and my coping strategy is to transfer my attention away from that aspect of what is being shown to an aspect of the video that I am comfortable with, in this case the aesthetic of the semi-random pixel effects. This sounds like trauma to me, but I am not well versed in its extensive history, so wouldn’t like to trivialise the subject. The following comes from a text that I happen to have just read, but I should go back to the primary sources, whatever they may be:

…trauma can be experienced in at least two ways: as a memory that one cannot integrate into one’s own experience, and as a catastrophic knowledge that one cannot communicate to others.

Avital Ronell, “Haunted TV” Artforum, 31, 1 (September 1992), pp. 70–3.

And here I am being completely distracted from the work itself by my own reactions to it. Have I nothing to say about the piece or the artist in themselves? I should consider whether this an intended effect of the work*. Can I judge the work separately from it’s effect on me? Can I/Should I be objective about it?

The work asserted the body as a site for the representation of pain and fear, intrinsic to the human condition.

* This point reminds me of another of Franko-b’s works Why Are You Here (Aktion 893)

Art/non-Art…

Conversation with a paraSITE(maker) and Ruminations on Art

These are valid points, but for me the biggest difference between Art and Activism is Audience. I couldn’t care less what people want to include in their definition of ‘Art’, because it doesn’t mean that I have to think that it’s good art. Rather, I’m more interested in why someone wants their work to be considered art. When activism is called art, it changes who talks about it, who reads about it, who thinks about it. It also creates expectations for aesthetic creativity as well as a dialogue with the history of art. This has advantages and disadvantages, of course, but it certainly changes the dynamic of what can be accomplished.

What I’m getting at (slowly, and in a round-about way, I know) is that the defining characteristic of all Art is that it creates new experience. Even though an artist such as Matisse was not a political artist, he was attempting to facilitate new visual experience by creating new visual images. This new visual experience can then lead to changes in society (the goal of political art) whether intended by the artist or not. Perhaps the main difference between ‘art for art’s sake’ and ‘art with a purpose’ is that ‘art with a purpose’ takes a more active role in what it affects.

The first paragraph makes a point similar to one I was trying to make when I worked with Peter Fend as part of my degree show years ago. The above is much better expressed and the corollary in the second paragraph quoted is a hopeful proposition. I can’t remember what I concluded from my work with Peter, I think I was more or less throwing the ball back into his court.

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a blank canvas

Johannes Meinhardt, Painting as Empty Space: Allan McCollum’s Subversion of the Last Painting

A picture which only stands for painting can, however, be used as a surrogate, a proxy for any other possible picture. lt can assume the place of a painting within a framework or an institution; it then functions as a vacant space, an ersatz which keeps the place of a painting vacant and thus allows its absence to be perceived.

Such ‘ersatz’-paintings are analytic instruments to be used within the socially existing places and institutions of art to demonstrate the functioning of the context…

…McCollum’s “Surrogates on Location” (as of 1981/82). These works are made of photos showing TV scenes or magazine photos in which “Surrogates” appear in the decor of the scene, somewhere in the background, as a sign of cultivatedness and as social or class-specific distinction.

By entering the economic cycle of exchange as an exchangeable vehicle of value, it no longer shows itself as painting, as visible work. Instead it reveals its social surface as a sign which it codes as a rare, valuable good.

They allude to Marcel Duchamp’s subversive strategies at the point where they ostentatiously create a noticeable opposition between the basic fulfillment of the expectations given in a specific situation, governed by the context, the institution, and the disappointment, the lack.

‘boredom’

“The Text is a little like a score of this new kind: it solicits from the reader a practical collaboration.… The reduction of reading to consumption is obviously responsible for the ‘boredom’ many feel in the presence of the modern (‘unreadable’) text, the avant-garde film or painting: to be bored means one cannot produce the text, play it, release it, make it go

Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, trans. R. Howard (New York: Hill & Wang, 1986) p. 63.

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Mark Vallen: ‘Abstract Art & The Cultural Cold War’

Mark Vallen, Abstract Art & The Cultural Cold War, which is a reposting of a review of the book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders, precipitated by the Sam Francis show at Leslie Sacks Fine Art in Los Angeles.

For those who still regard art as being above politics consider the following. …

It seems to me that there is always a political dimension to Art, whether it is expressly dealt with in the work or not. An artist should be aware of the situation that their work enters and how it fits into and affects that situation. And that is a consideration of politics.

I think Mark’s main points in this piece are that the Abstract Expressionist movement was used by the CIA in its prosecution of the Cold War, the artists concerned were or should have been aware of this; as a consequence the involvement of the CIA in this way led to the eclipsing of figurative work from then on.

These artists were the embodiment of an iconoclastic and fiery individualism, but their artworks contained a total absence of recognizable subject matter, not to mention overt politics.

… realist painters languished in obscurity. It is a travesty the art world has not fully recovered from, and to this day elite opinion favors nonrepresentational over realistic artworks.

Mark’s opinion is that this is a bad thing. He is a figurative painter who addresses political issues head on in his work, and this piece shows that he sees any other method of art practice as wrong.

I like many of the artists that the CIA promoted, and tend not to like figurative works. I think that a piece of Art’s political life is in many cases less about its content, form, technique or physical attributes and more about it’s received meaning, and by that I believe that the audiences’ reception of the work gives it its’ political and social position.

And that’s not to say that a work shouldn’t deal directly with political or social subject matter, just that that’s not the only way to make a point.

Dale Chihuly at Kew Gardens

Yesterday, I visited the Dale Chihuly installation in Kew Gardens in West London. I should be able to post some photos tomorrow.

First impressions:

I think they’re really ugly. Not a fan. Some of the installations work well, and are well sited, but that doesn’t make up for their general yuckiness (sorry, can’t think of another word at this point).

UPDATE: The Photos