The God Apollo and symbolism

How do people rationalise a myth with the physical evidence before their eyes? The fact that there is no resemblance between the sun and chariot? How do you get from a globe to a chariot? What leap of imagination is that? Does this show a fundamental disconnect between Latin belief and the world? Gods not as physically present in the world as they are described, but as a manifestation of phenomena – two versions. You have the physical phenomena and then there is the mythical explanation for such phenomena, essentially an invisible world with little direct relation. We say ‘Apollo rides across the sky in a flaming chariot’ without ever trying to explain the physical phenomena – or is it just that this is sufficient? With sign and symbol in the 18th century and later there is an understanding that an idea is almost mirrored in reality? It’s not a great leap from one to the other. I’m thinking about allegory.

At some point it departs from what we see, takes on a parallel life of its own. Things happen, we explain them, we allegorise them, and the allegories have their own internal mechanisms, their own realities, which do not coincide with the reasons for which they were chosen in the first place and that cause them to drift away from the original source. They become metaphors, neither visually nor theoretically consistent or congruent.

Originally drafted: 2007/08/27

DICA: Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art review

DICA: Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art

DICA curated by Michael Yuen and Yam Lau. First outing, 4 August 2009 in a local market area away from the 798 Art District.

A review? How can you review art on a donkey? What is this venue which turns the gallery inside-out, taking the works on a tour of the local area, carried by an animal characterised in popular mythology as a strong but stubborn worker?

I want to see the donkey travelling, Michael described his trip from the stable to 798 as quite magical. The travelling suggests the possibility of getting lost, losing its audience even. Maybe it works better without its audience, who is its audience anyway? The art community who turned up are not really its audience, but they in themselves serve as a point of attraction, an exotic crowd. If the audience is the locals, why? Because the donkey is normal for that kind of area in Beijing, it has been chosen to blend in with the context, not to be about its strangeness as an attraction, but promoting some kind of normality. The donkey, and by extension the institute, displays “steadfast oblivion” – in some way divorced from any audience, it is a worker here, it comes to perform its task and leaves.

So here I am still obsessing about the donkey and not touching upon the videos being shown on its back, perhaps just proving my own position as part of the art world, and probably not the donkey’s audience after all.

In order to get some answers, I’m interviewing Michael this week, and will post extracts from that chat to this blog.

Koons and decoration

Reposting a statement by Jeff Koons, originally quoted on LACMA’s blog1:

‘Statuary’ presents a panoramic view of society: on one side there is Louis XIV and on the other side there is Bob Hope. If you put art in the hands of the monarch it will reflect his ego and eventually become decorative. If you put art in the hands of the masses, it will reflect mass ego and eventually become decorative. If you put art in the hands of Jeff Koons it will reflect my ego and eventually become decorative.2

I think that deserves more attention. So, the impact of ego necessarily shifts art into decoration? Koons seems to be putting forward the King’s and the Masses’ (and by extension—immodestly/self-deprecatingly?—his own) as kinds of absolutist egos, egos in some final, bloated, cancerous state, smothering (“reflecting”) all, and leaving decoration in its wake. But what is decorative? Shininess does not necessarily mean decoration, after all. The pieces illustrated on the blog article go beyond decoration precisely through the attention Koons brings to them by presenting them as decoration. Strange: he asks us to consider them as decoration, and by doing so immediately undoes that very quality in the object. Not strange, typical of Koons.

  1. The LACMA Blog: Echoes of Louis XIV. Retrieved 2009/08/25.
  2. —The Jeff Koons Handbook (London: Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 1992), p. 76.