COLLEGE—Final Presentation

The Spring term has just ended and we now have a month to finish our essays, after which my day-to-day involvement in the Diploma will be over and all that remains will be to get the results.

Last week we gave our final group presentation to our colleagues and tutors. We were asked to “build a presentation around a topic” rather than an artwork or exhibition and we chose to concentrate on the subject of “performativity” with reference to speech-act theory and the work of J L Austin, as well as it’s applications in gender theory of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray and Rebecca Schneider. Along the way we brought in Foucault, Debord and Jorge Luis Borges as indicators of the transference (or failure thereof) of meaning through language.

Our piece took the form of three re-presentations of a series of statements recorded during the Core course and Lab sessions over the previous few weeks. These were initially decontextualised and re-contextualised into a short conversation between the members of our group, using the fragments to discuss (as best we could with the available material) the nature of performativity and illustrate it with some examples, and supply responses to the issues raised.

For the second part we replayed the original sound excerpts, reverting to the original source material, as it were, and following the same ‘script’ as used in the first part, thus partially recreating the original context for them while making clear their problematic nature in their new situations.

Finally, the audience was invited to take the floor and create a further version of the piece, sometimes reading their own lines or lines spoken by others.

The mark we get for this will count as 50% of the total mark for our Core course, and the Core course is one third of the overall mark for the Diploma.

I now have to complete a 4,000 word essay for the Core course, two 4,000 word essays for the Philosophy and… course and one 8,000 word essay for the Framing Art course. Lots of work to do.

The marks are back already for the presentation. Our group got 85 out of 100! That amounts to an A+. Superb! Well done us.

CREATIVE JOURNAL—George Baker—The State of Institutional Critique

Some might say that in the transformed conditions of the present [Institutional Critique] has become an academic exercise, a genre, or worse, a style. Completely recuperated. This is undoubtedly true of certain cases. But such a judgment rests on an understanding of avant-gardism that is no longer operative, perhaps no longer desirable. And the contemporary situation doesn’t obviate all communicative, critical practices. There are significant ways in which work formerly known as Institutional Critique has been transformed and thus continued in the present. (Baker, 2001, p.220)

  • BAKER, George (2001). Round Table: The Present Conditions of Art Criticism. In October vol.100 (Spring). pp.200–228.

CREATIVE JOURNAL—RCA MA in Curating Contemporary Art

I’ve yet to visit this show myself, so the following may seem quite harsh given I have no personal experience of the projects, but these are just my initial thoughts, reflecting a review and information from the show’s website.

Apropos my continuing investigations into (the state of) institutional critique, I came cross a review of the RCA MA in Curating Contemporary Art, entitled Various Small Fires. The review was posted on Art Reviews’ mySpace blog, by James Westcott (aside: I have a real problem with the fact that mySpace layouts look awful in the Safari browser, to the extent that I think it reflects really badly on any site using this service. But getting back to my original subject . . .).

Towards the end of his review, James Westcott critically contrasts this set of fledgling curators’ efforts with those of previous graduates of the course. And not only their peers but also other artists who have worked in the same space or with the same ‘material’.

Initially, though, he makes the connection with Yves Klein’s Le Vide, the empty gallery as void as object to be displayed, undoubtedly a seminal piece for the practice of institutional critique, and one which the present set of curators are perhaps being unfairly compared to. I don’t think there’s much to gain using Klein as a point of comparison for any recent curators, especially given the actual content of the current RCA degree show. While you can’t get away from the knowledge of Klein’s act, there’s been so much water under the bridge since then that I don’t think it’s possible to extricate these current examples from every other influence that has appeared since Klein.

The introduction to the show from the RCA website aligns itself with a practice very much concerned with the physical spaces involved:

The exhibition hinges on the use of the galleries’ architecture and what emerges through the bare coexistence of the different artworks. Another concern of ours has been to expose the galleries’ interior architecture . . . 1

And as Westcott highlights, this is an ambivalent solution:

Reacting to the given space is an elegant solution to the potential organizational and aesthetic problems of a group of curators (all of them with something to say and something to prove) putting together a group show. But it is just that: a solution, a kind of expedience, rather than a demonstration of inspiration, or an assertion of something.2

I also wonder how this is in any way radical? The obvious rejoinder to that question would be, why should it be radical at all, and what would ‘radical’ look like in this context?

The “bare coexistence” mentioned in the introduction to the website just seems to be a license absolving the curators of any requirement to assert their own presence with the works they’ve picked – although that’s perhaps not what one would want anyway, it’s a common complaint to say that the curator has hijacked a particular show of another artist’s works.

Well, perhaps this license allows them the freedom to depart from any over-bearing structure of narrative and theme, but where does that leave us? I’m left wondering what this adds to discourses which took place in the 90’s, which dealt with apparently similar concerns?

Must find out more . . .

  1. RCA (2007). Various Small Fires. In Royal College of Art: Curating Contemporary Art [Internet]. Available from <> [Accessed 19 March 2007]
  2. WESTCOTT, James (2007). Various Small Fires at the RCA (with video footage). In ArtReview: blog. Available from <> [Accessed 19 March 2007]

CREATIVE JOURNAL—Daniel Buren—Institutional Critique?

In the course of researching my essay on Daniel Buren, I’ve come across an interesting, and somewhat confusing, statement by Jean-François Lyotard regarding Buren’s works, and their place in the genre of institutional critique.

In ‘The Pragmatic of Works’, an piece from 1979 published in the journal October, Lyotard states:

We would be mistaken to assume that the metapragmatic function of contemporary works of art is the critique of ideological superstructures, the calling into question of institutions, and other critical strategies of that order. (Lyotard, 1979, p.65)

He then claims that Buren ‘once held such a position . . .’ (Lyotard, 1979) and as an indication of this change, Lyotard then quotes the following by Buren:

The work in progress has the ambition, not of fitting in more or less adequately with the game, nor even of contradicting it, but of abolishing its rules by playing with them, and playing another game, on another or the same ground, as a dissident. (Buren, 1977, p.73)


In this article Lyotard defines pragmatics as being a set of effects corresponding to Wittgenstein’s language games. Although pragmatics apply equally to any form of symbolic communication, for art this means the effects of the ‘game of visible forms.’ Interpretation (of an artwork, for instance) is one effect of this game.

Alluding to some conceptual art practice, with particular reference to Art & Language, he goes on to characterise a work which is its own interpretation, ‘presenting the effect of the work as the work.’ Looked at another way, he conceives of a work which is ‘reduced to its own effect’ and which thereby becomes ‘it’s own interpretation.’

Lyotard sees Buren’s art as the ‘exposition of a hidden pragmatic of art, veiled by the context of exposition.’ So context, what I would normally take as the subject of institutional critique, is here posited as the mask of the artwork’s pragmatic. The subject of the artwork is then this unveiling process, its method and the result of that method. The context is purely a side-show (or distraction?) in relation to this process, which is the metapragmatic function of the piece.

Institutional Critique

So what does this mean for institutional critique? Can the category still help us to understand Buren’s work? Is it a concept that can be applied to any, some or all of his works?

Buren’s work is classed as ‘experimentation with the pragmatic condition of the work: on the reverse side of the canvas, its material and moral supports, the artistic confines of the museum and gallery, and what Buren calls the cultural limits.’

One might expect work produced to this specification to be within the limits of institutional critique, but I think what Lyotard is suggesting is that Buren’s work is an indirect movement, for which a critique of an institution is a concomitant result but not the primary function of the work:

The function of the work of art, therefore, is not reconciliation, enlightenment, or veracity, but the invention of another language game, another artifice.

Lyotard sees the works as a ‘refinement of the strategies that give efficacy to the work of art’ by using the pragmatics of art, the veiling of its pragmatics in this case, as it’s own pragmatic and hence Buren’s pieces have a paradoxical tendency—at their most effective—to disappear.

‘. . . artists today are engaged not in the deconstruction of significations but in extending the limits of sense perception: making visible (or audible) what now goes unobserved, through the alteration of sense data, perception itself.’

This statement seems to be Lyotard attempting to recuperate traditional values of sensory gratification for conceptual art, even if this means that the term ‘sensory’ must be adjusted to accommodate these works. But I think that’s a rather a limited interpretation of his words.


That was a very confused post, and didn’t really go anywhere. The subtleties of this argument are just out of reach to me at the moment. Posting about it here has helped me start to get to grips with the matter and I’ll be pursuing it further when I write the essay.

  • Buren, Daniel (1977). Reboundings. trans. Philippe Hunt. Brussels: Daled & Gevaert.
  • Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). The Pragmatic of Works. In October, vol.10 (Autumn). pp.59–67.

Jean Baudrillard dies

RIP Jean Baudrillard.

Baudrillard was the first philosopher that I got really excited about. While I was doing my BA in Fine Art I was attracted by his concept of the precession of simulacra and it’s consequences. Leaving aside his theory, the book ‘Simulations’ has held a special place on my bookshelf ever since.