The New Issue of Rebus is out! For those of you who don’t know but ought to, Rebus is an online journal of art history and theory organized and published by doctoral students out of the University of Essex, UK. I’ve been a fan of Rebus since I was first made aware of it last spring. I was struck by the straightforward agenda of sharing ideas. Which, under normal circumstances, are rarely read or disseminated much beyond their academic system. To a certain extent I think Rebus mediates the gaps between those dust-collecting hardbound dissertations lining the shelves of collegiate libraries next to the esoteric journals published within any field of study which a requisite level of specificity to necessitate doctoral study and the casual contemporary art writing consumer. Put another way, I dig the accessibility of this journal. So Rebus issue 4 is hot off the presses and is edited by Dr. Matthew Bowman and Dr. Stephen Moonie. I’ve been so very lucky, as Dr. Bowman agreed to my idea that he share some of his thoughts on the journal and on his specific interests within the scope of critical theory. I particularly enjoy his interest in time as an under investigated element in art history, theory and criticism, most probably to do with my own personal interest in mitigated meaning and ways of understanding experience. Check out the new issue
The following is a short, simple and earnest interview with Dr. Matthew Bowman.
JG- Would you share a bit about yourself for our lovely readers, for introductions?
MB-I originally completed my degree in fine art, but soon comprehended my preference was to write about art rather than produce my own. I wrote my MA dissertation on Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, arguing that its processes of reproduction functioned as open-ended conditions of displacement which are immanently temporal, a manifestation of Duchamp’s fascination with “delay.” My PhD research took a different tack, analyzing the October journal. I focused mostly upon the journal’s early years (1976-1981), years which virtually transformed the face of art-critical discourse. Rather than give a straightforward historical account of October, however, I elected to argue that the journal in those years fundamentally reconfigures our comprehension of medium-specificity by pointing to the way artworks, especially after “the crux of minimalism,” reinvent the medium. Of course, early October perceives itself as rejecting the question of medium-specificity as a modernist issue, but I contend there are resources within October that encourage us to reconsider what a medium is, and how it operates within an expanded field. I completed my dissertation October and the Expanded Field of Art and Criticism in 2008. At present I’m lecturing part-time in contextual studies at Colchester Institute, and working in the History of Art department as well as Arts on 5 at the University of Essex. Between these activities I co-edit Rebus: A Journal of Art History and Theory.
JG- The editors of rebus have been Jenna Actaboski, Iris Balija, Dr. Matthew Bowman, Lucy Bradnock, Dr. Stephen Moonie. How did you come together, and where did the idea for the project/publication come from?
MB- Rebus stems from a one-day conference, titled “Allegorical Impulses,” organized by Iris Balija, Lucy Bradnock, Beth Williamson, and I on the subject of allegory held at the University of Essex (June 2007). Margaret Iversen received research funding for the purpose of inviting postgraduate students to organize a conference. All four of us were doctoral candidates, all engaged mostly in postwar art and criticism, and so made a good team. Through Iris’s research on Broodthaers and my work on October we settled on the topic of allegory. Our speakers came from outside and within the University. Howard Caygill was our keynote speaker. The papers were very impressive, so we decided to set up Rebus as a means of publishing the conference proceedings.
We felt early on, however, that we wanted Rebus to be more than a single issue and realized that this can be an ongoing project managed by doctoral students in the History of Art department here, and a vital showcase for the diversity and strength of research carried out in the department. The editorial board is intentionally fluid; Stephen Moonie joined us for the third issue while Beth moved to the external advisory board. For the fourth issue Lucy (now in Los Angeles at the Getty) has joined the external board, while Zanna Gilbert and Natasha Adamou become co-editors.
JG- What would you say Rebus is trying to achieve by making these articles, essays and papers available to the public?
MB-The journal is primarily about creating space for a younger or emerging generation of art historians, critics, and curators to explore issues within the visual arts. Rebus’s interests are wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, encompassing any facet of art and visual culture. Not only do we hope that our contributors gain experience with processes of editing and publication, but that the articles we publish initiate dialogue between scholars, artists, and students working in different institutions across the globe. By publishing online and without commercial considerations we aim to reach as broad an audience as possible.
JG- Is there a particular aspect o this new issue of Rebus you are excited about?
MB- What I’m especially pleased with for the fourth issue is its internationalism. Our contributors are writing from North America, Israel, Canada, Switzerland, and here in England. Topics range freely between twentieth-century Japanese avant-garde art, Dutch painting, French Surrealism, North American graphic-painting, Israeli postminimalism, “Latin American” conceptualism, and European institutional critique. I like to think that this reflects a growing international recognition for Rebus, which I sincerely hope will continue as I feel that will facilitate the intercontinental dialogue I dream of. And I’m just genuinely excited to learn what other people are writing and researching about.
For me, this creates a firm ground for the development of Rebus. The journal will continue publishing twice a year (June and December), with issue 5 collating papers from a postgraduate conference on aesthetics and photography held Summer 2009 at the University of Essex and organized by Margaret Iversen and Wolfgang Brückle with Iris; the conference brought together postgraduates from England and Europe. In that respect, Rebus 5 will be a sequel to the current issue (vol. 32, no. 5) of Art History, edited by Margaret with Diarmuid Costello, which looks at photography after conceptual art. (The fact that issue 5 is our photography issue is not, I swear, an attempt by me to copy the fifth issue of October. I’m not quite that obsessed with October. Honest.) Issue 6 will probably be non-themed, open to a spectrum of contributions. My book-obsession would like to see an anthology of Rebus essays published sometime in the future—maybe, Rebus: The First Decade?
JG- Tell me a little of your interest in time as an under-explored terrain of the Art Historical wilderness. Pretty please.
MB-Partly because of the legacy of Hegel’s philosophy and aesthetics, art history as a discipline was constructed with an inbuilt fascination with issues of temporality and historicity as constitutive elements of artworks and periods. Interestingly, the temporal models formulated by Wölfflin, Riegl, and Warburg were largely non-linear, non-hierarchical, and disjunctive; with the emergence of Panofsky in the 1920s an the 1930s these models became largely simplified and displaced by a linear conception of historical distance; this strikes me as being curious because figures like Freud, Heidegger, and Benjamin are also reconceptualizing our understanding of time in the same period, so there is a missed dialogue there. Secondly, I think we art historians are still largely saddled with a Panofskian framing of historical time, and this is incongruent with other temporal structures artworks might embody—especially insofar as we have grown accustomed since the 1960s to the idea of artworks as functioning within or foregrounding alternative temporalities; although, this is something being addressed lately by the likes of Georges Didi-Huberman and Christopher Wood. My project is something of an experiment in some respects: I’m wondering if a sensitivity to the specific temporal structures of given artworks can somehow lead us to rethink how art history and criticism conceptualizes its interconnections with temporality and historicity. Do art criticism and art history as discourses differ due to how they frame historicity? With time-based media prominent in artistic practice, then do we need to perform a new understanding of temporality in art-historical methodologies? If we break from Panofskian historical distance, then would that lead to a palpable change in art history as a discipline? Right now, I’m intrigued by what seems like an increasing emphasis upon the category of the “contemporary”—or in some quarters, the “altermodern” proposed by Bourriaud and used by Hardt and Negri in Commonwealth-as a periodizing (or anti-periodizing?) concept succeeding postmodernism, and the growth of courses teaching “contemporary art history.”
An enormous heartfelt thanks to Dr. Matthew Bowman as well as all of the many others involved with Rebus who make it possible for us to access and share these fantastic ideas with each other.
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