Caught Between the Privatized Marriage Market and the Corporatized Labor Market: the Zero-Sum Binary of the (Failed) American Dream?

November 12, 2013 · Print This Article

 Guest post by Virginia Konchan

Cultural treatments of what Jeffrey Eugenides (qua Austen) termed the “marriage plot” of fiction include post-romantic polemics (Laura Kipnis’ 2004 Against Love), arguments for and against biological and gender essentialism, chick lit and post-feminist writings, and queer and trans literature (as well as post-9/11 and world literatures reframing the metaphor of war as between cultures and races, rather than genders).   Keeping pace with the culture industry’s manufacture of fantasy, Hollywood continues to churn out variations on the theme of marriage, whether representative, in the US, of market demand and actual statistics, or not, in reality TV (The Bachelor; Wife Swap) and, in film, such as the 2013 rom-com Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess (an adaptation of Shannon Hale’s novel, based off Pride and Prejudice, about a British resort recreating the Austen era, to fuel the obsession that every woman’s platonic double—Mr. Darcy, aloof yet smoldering with passion—awaits us just around the corner).

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The timelessness of the marriage plot is today played out against the backdrop of radically transitive labor conditions for women, as the bar for accreditation (an industry’s “terminal degree” or minimum standard of experience) are continually raised, in a post-manufacturing, service, and what Sarah Kendizor calls a “post-employment” economy, sealing the neo-pilgrim passage (noir version) from a welfare to a fully corporatized (i.e. neoliberal) state.

Today’s resurgence of Darwinian logic, manifest in neo-Gladiator survivalist narratives such as The Hunger Games, undergirds global capitalism, with the exception of independently-owned businesses or careers (internally funded or reliant on patrons, philanthropy, and trustees).  A women who chooses to entreprenurialize (work independently, start a business or brand, freelance) adjusts not only to the rollercoaster cash flow, as Whitney Johnson, who left Merrill Lynch to co-found Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, points out, while the recent global downturn fuels the American DIY rhetoric of entrepreneurial activity, such ‘independence’ isn’t always volitional:  layoffs abound, and, despite soft stats of “productivity gains,” job creation does not.  “Approximately 43 million people, or roughly 35%-40% of the private workforce in the U.S., are currently doing some type of contingent work; this number is expected to grow to 65-70 million within the decade, well ahead of the 1% rate at which the labor force is growing,” Johnson notes, citing research from MBO Partners’ State of Independence in America report, about “independent” U.S. laborers (an individual working 15+ hours per week whether as a freelancer, contractor, or owner of a micro-business):  “Stripping out the c. 25 million people who are working part-time and are potentially under-employed, MBO calculates there are currently about 17 million independents,” a statistic expected to increase to 23 million by 2017, based on a 6.3% per year growth rate, that could easily swell to over 30+ million in the next decade as large and small corporations, as well as the government, continue to employ contingent labor (40% of the workforce is defined currently as contingent labor; that number is expected to rise).

Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, is Woody Allen’s 44th feature film:  his protagonist, Jasmine neé Jeanette, is a divorced socialite whose husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, after amassing millions the Bernie Madoff scandal, is caught, jailed, and commits suicide.  This female lead differs radically (in her labor situation and social rôle) from the female ingénue of Annie Hall, the irascible Diane Keaton.

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Jasmine struggles to accept her functional unemployment (she has virtually no job skills in a market where you can buy goods, but not survive, on credit) after her divorce, arriving on her working-class stepsister, Ginger’s, doorstep in the Mission District of San Francisco with an equipage of Louis Vuitton luggage, perfectly-coiffed hair, and a desire to begin again (but not before polishing off several stiff martinis with Grey Goose).  The conversation Jasmine has with Ginger about her prospects, post-Hal are nothing short of comedic:  I was always good at design, she muses, and decides to take a day job as an assistant in a dental office to pay for online classes in interior decorating, a revelation of subdued hilarity echoing that of Aunt Bernie in George Saunders’ story “Sea Oak,” who, resurrecting from the dead, answers the call to neoliberal entrepreneurialism by directing male strippers.  Her advice, to evolve from sex work to a white collar career:  “Go show your cock! [ . . . ] That is the first part of Phase One.   After we get the new place, that’s the end of the first part of Phase Two.  You’ll still show your cock, but only three days a week. Because you’ll start community college.  Pre-law. Pre-law is best. You’ll be a whiz. You ain’t dumb.”

Jasmine’s painful labor skills assessment doesn’t stop her from catching the eye of a new money tycoon with coastal property.  She meets her second alluring husband prospect, played by Peter Sarsgaard, at a party—impressed by her Chanel digs, he asks her out, and she proceeds to play the part of a successful businesswoman to a hilt, offering to design his new home.  The following scene has them antiquing together, before looking at engagement rings.  The prize, if we follow the moral logic of Blue Jasmine (the rhetoric of American democracy) goes not necessarily to the hardest worker (Calvinism), smartest entrepreneur (meritocracy) or most monied sophisticate (philistine aristocracy), but the best con-man—or woman—the artful, or artless, swindler with a heart of gold.

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Jasmine’s life, seen within Western cinematic (independent and mainstream) representations of women from David Lynch’s doppelgangers, to besties escaping, by driving their car off a cliff, abusive spouses——Thelma and Louise—or for Madame Bovary,  what Jonathan Franzen calls “married person’s (i.e. false) consciousness,” reflects the fact that in today’s contemporary novel, cinema, and pop culture, our “heroines” have more choices, but they are still often scripted, between the dangerous fiction of a woman that has, or does, it all (cinematized in 2011 feature film I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker), and the neo-confessional celebrity spectacle of a woman such as Gaga, who bares her struggles publically, usually receiving social grace upon delivering the now-ubiquitous message that celebrities (and royals) are people too.

Whether broadcasting happy-go-lucky debauchery (Chelsea Handler), sexscapades (Paris Hilton), gold-digging (Anna Nicole Simpson), infidelity (Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock), domestic violence (Rhianna, Halle Berry), addiction (Lindsay Lohan), or the everyday travails common to all women (childbearing, weight gain, marriage, divorce, and illness), in the public eye:  the more seemingly human the portrayal (Kate Middleton taking her time—two weeks—as reported in the media, to return to a size O, post-George), the more love from the public, despite the most basic incongruity of all:  celebrities and royals, unlike the average consumer of their self-representations, aren’t forced to work a 9-5 job, or any job, beyond performing, to survive.

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Never has the anti-logic of the privatization movement been more relevant as an extended metaphor, to domestic security—not for our homeland, but for women.  The rule of the market (liberating free or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government—the state—no matter how much social damage this causes), and, internationally, NAFTA, has resulted in widespread wage reduction, de-unionization, the elimination of workers’ rights, no price controls, slashed public expenditure for social services:  deregulation, in short, of all protections (environmental, commercial, financial) allowing citizens a basic standard of protection beyond the right to file a lawsuit (after one’s non-codified, and thus nonexistent, rights have been violated).  This state of non-rule leaves subjects or those without job skills vulnerable to market vicissitudes (governmental rule by the nation’s media conglomerates—i.e., the 1%) backed, as we know, by International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

 

Today, women receiving federal aid for supporting a child are cut off if living with or married to a man in the States, penalizing a working class woman’s desire to raise a child with the child’s father or other male figure, and making a two-family income, albeit with one income from Uncle Sam, an impossibility, and raising the question of how far we’ve come, as a gender, from being literal chattel or objects of tokenistic exchange (decried by Engels in his 1884 The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State) and today, when the  insecurity of all formerly stable institutions, including marriage and the family, underscores the fact that the market is the new head of state for Western women, just as the husband continues to be in many Islamic cultures, usurping law (husbands are allowed to beat their wives and children as long as they don’t leave any physical marks, an Islamic court in the United Arab Emirates ruled in 2010), to say nothing of ongoing cultural epidemics of sexual violence, domestic abuse, public stonings, factory labor, sex trafficking, and labor exploitation, keeping women, worldwide, in a dangerous existential (i.e. labor) situation.

 

In short, the stress of financial survival, in neoliberal America, trumps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for men as well as women (the latter camp still on the outskirts of legal personhood, the Equal Rights Amendment not having yet passed).  The inequity of our child care and maternity leave policies are the source of international shame, women aren’t being hired for executive positions, with obvious exceptions (New Zealand, Grenada, Barbados, and Andorra all have or have had female heads of state), and despite puncture holes in “the new glass ceiling” (the illusion that we occupy a DIY, may the best man win, meritocracy, innocent of structural inequities, as evidenced in Huff-Po writer Jeannette Cajide’s endorsement of her boss Mark’s neoliberal quip:  “If you want to overcome sexism and racism, be the best!”) continues.   The Count by VIDA, documentaries such as Miss Representation, and other reports on the dearth of authorial and executive parity between men and women in the U.S. workplace underscore the facts:  but while the “new glass ceiling” for women may indeed be prevailing, media-driven misogyny, and a restructuring of service economy jobs, even in senior positions, or internalized and externalized locked doors to design, IT, and engineering fields, the fact remains that, as Gail Becker said in the Huffington Post, “firsts” set a precedent that can then be modeled for other women, as relationship and cultural standards (equality and freedom from abuse, violence, and intimidation), codified laws, and hiring authorities.  “Frankly, I look forward to the end of that necessary prepositional clause — a time when we don’t need to define someone by the barrier they broke.  But until that day, my commas are standing by, ready to remember those who helped tear away barriers for me.”   As a New Yorker cartoon character put it to her husband:  “I prefer the illusion of safety to the appearance of privacy”:  reality, however painful, lying in wait beyond the illusory binary, for women, of marriage-cum-financial survival and self-fulfillment through career (Harlequin romance plots aside).

 

A neoliberal economy puts all subjects, particularly those whose commodity has historically been domestic labor or the sale of their flesh, in a precarious position, forced to choose between wage labor, sex labor, an unsalaried, uncontracted job in a helping profession, or, if lucky (possessing liquid capital or loan accreditation), entrepreneurial activity.  As Jasmine discovered before it was too late, women not independently wealthy must labor to survive, like men, either in a career or in a form of domestic or sexual service, to a husband, family or both.

 

What’s needed now are not just rooms, but salaries of our own, in careers that don’t bottom out upon our advancement, and domestic partnerships that don’t bottom out when the human commodity (the wife) reaches her shelf life in consumer capitalism (i.e. mature age).  “Should Sancho Panza, Oroonoko, Moll Flanders, Frankenstein’s monster, Queenqueg, Tom, Lily Bart, Josef K.., Lolita, and Om, in A Fine Balance, really have no say in their own fates?” asks Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, broadening the live question, apropos to the health care crisis in America, of whether being able to cultivate the means to acquire needs, to echo Marx, let alone pursue one’s teleological ends without bearing the stamp of manufacture from a husband, or suffering, in silence, an exploitative labor situation, is a privilege, or a right.

 

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Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, her criticism in Workplace:  A Journal for Academic Labor, Quarterly Conversation, Barzakh Magazine, and Boston Review, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly and Joyland, among other places.  The recipient of grants and fellowships to Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Ox-Bow, and Vermont Studio Center, Virginia is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary.  Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Week in Review: Flamingo Power

November 10, 2013 · Print This Article

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This week on the podcast: Duncan, Richard, and Jason Dunda talk to a cast of thousands led by Jen Delos Reyes!
Jen Delos Reyes is an artist originally from Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Her research interests include the history of socially engaged art, group work, band dynamics, folk music, and artists’ social roles. Hear it all right here.

If you want to revisit costume convos again, Jeriah Hildwine discusses the dress of personas in every day (art) life:

Of course Halloween has just come and gone, and that is the first thing most people think of when they hear the word “costume.” Costume, though, plays an important role in many aspects of life, including art. The word costume can be used to refer to any article of clothing or manner of dress. Usually, though, it implies something outside of the everyday. Depictions of historical costume is an important aspect of art history, whether it is the significance of the color of the Virgin Mary’s dress in an icon, the meaning of the steel gorget in a Rembrandt portrait (e.g. the one hanging in the Art Institute), or the absolutely pippin’ fur collar in Albrecht Durer’s later self portrait (as well as that prison striped number with the lace on sleeves in his earlier one).

Best Use of Your Arm as a Prop Award

Best Use of Your Arm as a Prop Award

Get the skinny on art happenings of late via Edition #18 of Dana Bassett’s “What’s the T?” with costume awards and much much more…. 

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New dispatch from Bloomington, Indiana courtesy of August Evans. Evans writes about  Bobcat Goldthwait‘s recent visit to IA, and the connections between Goldwait’s film, God Bless America, and Lolita:

I was reminded of this particular exchange during the Q&A session following the film, when Goldthwait, in response to a question as to his rationale behind casting Barr as Roxy, said, “When she came in to read, she didn’t play it too vampy. Other actresses were sexy, coquettish, doing the Lolita thing. Tara was wearing overalls.”

"Talk to the Wall,"  Work by Chiara Galimberti at Julius Caesar.

“Talk to the Wall,”
Work by Chiara Galimberti at Julius Caesar.

Stephanie Burke’s Top 5!

Tacita Dean, The Life and Death of St Bruno, from The Russian Ending, 2001.

Tacita Dean, The Life and Death of St Bruno, from The Russian Ending, 2001.

Monica Westin interviewed Dieter Roelstraete about his latest curatorial project; it opened this Friday at the MCA:

Only the second exhibition at the MCA organized by Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete, The Way of the Shovel, opening tomorrow, takes as its basis Roelstraete’s ongoing observations about the centrality of the language of archaeology, archive, and history to art discourse over recent years. Spanning a wide grouping of artists and mediums (though, not surprisingly, focused in particular on photography and video), the show is ambitious conceptually as well, attempting to cover work that challenges histories, creates its own alternate histories (with starting points ranging from Robert Smithson to histories of Chicago), and takes up the tools and practices of archaeology both metaphorically and literally. I spoke with Roelstraete the week before the show opened about the archaeological imaginary, artistic research, Freud, and 9/11. 

(c) Joe Lovelock

(c) Joe Lovelock

Mark Sheering wrote about where Fish Mongery and contemporary art intersect:

To respond to the art world with a fish may be a surrealist gesture. But to respond with an entire fish counter, complete with fishmongers in white boots, ice and creative displays of the seafood itself, is surely pushing the 20th century genre to breaking point. Such is the effect of the so-called Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery, spotted in public at Sluice Art Fair, London, late October. Amidst the plentiful art for sale, the wares at CIRF included a scrambling pile of langoustine and a sinister-looking hake chewing on a lemon. The artist behind the project is Sam Curtis who came to fishmongery by chance in 2006. A part time MFA at prestigious art school Goldsmiths necessitated finding work. By strange twist of fate, he found an opening on the fish counter at luxury department store Harrods.

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We closed the week out with a list of endless opportunities — this one leaned heavy on teaching positions, though there is also a travel grant and a call for papers about European culture.

 

Endless Opportunities : Jobs, Papers and Travel Grants

November 9, 2013 · Print This Article

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1. School Director and Professor of Art, Art History, or Graphic Design at Portland State University. Review of applications begins December 1, 2013; position is open until finalists are identified. 

The School of Art and Design in the College of the Arts at Portland State University invites applications for a Director of the School and Professor in any one of the fields of Art Practices, Art History, or Graphic Design. This is a tenured, 1.0 FTE, 12-month position, commencing fall 2014. The Director will provide creative leadership and vision as well as administrative oversight for a burgeoning School of 20 full-time and 70 part-time faculty, 32 M.F.A. students, and approximately 1100 undergraduate majors, while supervising 4 full-time and 7 part-time support staff and administering a budget of over $4 million. Comprised of Art Practices, Art History, and Graphic Design, the School seeks a dynamic Director to build cohesion among these areas; spearhead program assessment and strategic long-term planning initiatives; manage resources and, working with the Dean of the College of the Arts, help obtain additional resources; enhance facilities and/or improve ways to utilize current facilities; and represent the School energetically within the larger cultural community. Recently grown from a Department of Art, the School is poised to expand the unique potential of its interdisciplinary opportunities as well as possibilities for continuing community engagement. more info here. 

2a/2b. Colgate University seeks Art Historian and Studio Art, Photography Professor:

a. Art Historian—Kindler Chair in Global Contemporary Art: Full-time, Associate or Full Professor, tenure track

Develop and teach an array of undergraduate courses in transnational and global art and art institutions since 1970 in a coordinated art history and studio department. The candidate’s research focus should be relevant to the shifting terrain of contemporary art and in particular to the interaction of aesthetic and cultural ideals across boundaries. Regular teaching contributions include an annual course in the development of art and theory since 1960 as well as participation in all levels of the curriculum. Responsibilities also include senior thesis advising and participation in Colgate’s interdisciplinary programs, including the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum. Five-course load. Colgate’s planned Center for Art and Culture will offer important opportunities for pedagogical, curatorial, and scholarly collaboration…go here for details

b. Studio Art, Photographer. Full-time tenure-track position at the assistant professor level in the Department of Art & Art History, beginning fall term 2014.

Teach beginning and advanced courses in photography as a studio practice within a joint studio and art history department equipped with both analog and digital facilities. Additional responsibilities include annual participation in the introductory studio course that spans theory and practice across artistic media, annual supervision of senior projects, periodic supervision of the department’s senior project sequence in studio art, and regular contributions to Colgate’s interdisciplinary programs, including the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum. The candidate is responsible for oversight of the photography facilities. Completion of the MFA is expected prior to or shortly after the date of hire. Five course load. Information here.

3. Open Books Seeks Teaching Artists for ReadThenWrite: 

We’re looking for experienced educators to join our team as Teaching Artists for our ReadThenWrite program in the winter and spring of 2014. Teaching Artists will facilitate 8-12 week reading, writing, and publishing instruction for teens at schools across Chicago. Interested candidates should view the job descriptionand RSVP for the December 5th info session.

4.  Journal of European Popular Culture 6.1 (late 2014) : Call for Papers on Gender and Sexuality in European Popular Culture

The field of gender and sexuality studies in European popular culture is, unsurprisingly, vast, yet research is often focused on Anglophone culture, encompassing the UK and North America, rather than taking a more trans-European approach. In an increasingly globalised society we consider that there is a need for discussion of Anglophone and non-Anglophone European popular texts to be infiltrated into British academic work.

This special issue of the Journal of European Popular Culture, due to be published in late 2014, will provide a timely snapshot of the rigorous and exciting scholarship currently being undertaken in Europe which deals with the widely relevant and popular field of gender and sexuality.

We invite articles (max 6000 words) exploring any aspect of gender and sexuality in any form of European popular culture, including but not limited to:

  • Queerness in popular culture
  • Transgenderism in popular culture
  • Sexualisation in popular culture
  • The body in popular culture
  • Historical approaches to popular gender and sexuality
  • Masculinity in popular culture
  • European sex media
  • Sex education in popular culture
  • Religious approaches to gender and sexuality
  • Gender, sexuality and race/ethnicity
  • Sexuality on the internet
  • Feminism in/and popular culture
  • Gender, sexuality and language
  • Gender, sexuality and power

Please send 100-200 word abstracts to genderandsex.jpec@gmail.com by 15 December. Ensure you include your full name and affiliation (if relevant), along with a brief (100-200 word) biography. Full chapters will be due by 1 March 2014.

5. Word Riot: Travel Grant Applications - 

Word Riot Inc. will award travel grants ranging from $100 to $500 to small press writers on a quarterly basis.
The number of grants and the amount awarded each quarter will depend on the quality and thoroughness of the applications received. A minimum of one grant of at least $100 will be awarded each quarter. Preference will be given to applicants who extend the reach of the arts to under-served populations by participating in readings or literary events in those communities. Deadline: Nov. 15, 2013 go here for details

The Centre For Innovative and Radical Fishmongery

November 8, 2013 · Print This Article

(c) Joe Lovelock

(c) Joe Lovelock

To respond to the art world with a fish may be a surrealist gesture. But to respond with an entire fish counter, complete with fishmongers in white boots, ice and creative displays of the seafood itself, is surely pushing the 20th century genre to breaking point.

Such is the effect of the so-called Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery, spotted in public at Sluice Art Fair, London, late October. Amidst the plentiful art for sale, the wares at CIRF included a scrambling pile of langoustine and a sinister-looking hake chewing on a lemon.

The artist behind the project is Sam Curtis who came to fishmongery by chance in 2006. A part time MFA at prestigious art school Goldsmiths necessitated finding work. By strange twist of fate, he found an opening on the fish counter at luxury department store Harrods.

“I decided to kill two birds with one stone,” he tells me when we catch up via phone. “I was under a lot of pressure to make work and earn at the same time, so I turned the day job into a studio, into a springboard, a platform for creating new projects.”

Curtis took his fishmongery skills back to successful crits at Goldsmiths. “I called it working in stealth mode, an undercover residency where my employer and my colleagues weren’t aware of the things that I was doing, what I was taking from the job, until the end,” he says.

After leaving this post, the artist blew his cover. “It was hard for them to grasp, in a way,” he says of his erstwhile colleagues, and equally hard to get their heads round was the film Curtis went on to make about them, “about their creativity and how they potentially see themselves as artists”.

“There’s a performative aspect to it,” says the artist of his former trade, and, “There is a lot of theatre there,” he says of his former workplace. But he now sees his installation at Sluice as a conceptual piece, and one he hopes to be able to tour.

“Fish are different all round the country,” he explains, adding that he hopes to collaborate with more fishmongers and artists alike. Pre CIRF, in 2011 he completed a residency in a fish shop in Penzance, Cornwall. There are clearly openings for artists working with fish.

But his new project is nothing if not inclusive. For the London art fair, Curtis invited half a dozen visiting artists to make their own displays. He can now add their ideas to the ever growing repertoire: “They created displays that I would never have done,” he admits.

And with an art fair audience already primed for excitement, Curtis can claim reactions of genuine surprise towards his intervention at Sluice. With plenty of conversation about fish, there was also an interest in day jobs in general and ways in which they can be creative.

Curtis says that artists and creative types are highly prone to disappointment in the realities of working life: “Your expectations aren’t really fulfilled quite often, because you might have more glamorous ideals about what being an artist is.”

By contrast, the fish-loving artist also says: “I’m interested in treating life as an artwork. Hence the turning of day job into a residency. I think if you can inject creativity into the more banal parts of your life, you’re more likely to become fulfilled.”

“I’ve always played on the fact you can insert your practice into your day job, no matter how far detached away from art that job is.” But even Curtis has his moments of doubt, having recently taken on a new full time job, he admits to being “slightly scared” about losing time for his art.

“As to what the best day jobs are, I don’t know,” he says, having tried working in a gallery and not liking the experience. “I prefer being quite far away from the art world.”

The trick is surely to become Innovative and Radical in everything you do, be that showing fish alongside video or giving away seafood at an art fair. “In terms of fishmongery and the radicalization of fishmongery I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet,” says Curtis. CIRF is clearly going after the big, ocean-going game.

Sam Curtis and the Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery are represented by Division of Labour and were seen at Sluice Art Fair.

The Archaeological Imaginary: an interview with Dieter Roelstraete

November 7, 2013 · Print This Article

Only the second exhibition at the MCA organized by Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete, The Way of the Shovel, opening tomorrow, takes as its basis Roelstraete’s ongoing observations about the centrality of the language of archaeology, archive, and history to art discourse over recent years. Spanning a wide grouping of artists and mediums (though, not surprisingly, focused in particular on photography and video), the show is ambitious conceptually as well, attempting to cover work that challenges histories, creates its own alternate histories (with starting points ranging from Robert Smithson to histories of Chicago), and takes up the tools and practices of archaeology both metaphorically and literally. I spoke with Roelstraete the week before the show opened about the archaeological imaginary, artistic research, Freud, and 9/11. 

 

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Derek Brunen, Plot (production still), 2007.

The Way of the Shovel brings together a few different academic disciplines and methodologies that the artists in this exhibition either participate in or explicitly challenge, particularly history and archaeology. How literally or metaphorically are you thinking about archaeology here in theory and practice? What is the “archaeological imaginary” that guides the show?  

DR: Well, first of all, I’m using archaeology in both senses, because it would be extremely dull to consider archaeology only in a literal way. The roots of the project lie in an essay I wrote in 2009 called “The Way of the Shovel” in e-flux, which is the basis for the catalog essay for the show. It was a piece I wrote when I was still living and working in Europe, so it is a little determined by the European context, but when I came here (not to my surprise) I discovered this was not just a European affliction, but a global phenomenon. My observation was that there is a quite persuasive interest in history – historiography, archival research, returning, recycling, and so forth– among a growing population of contemporary artists; and that many artists use the language of digging for explaining their work. Excavating, uncovering, discovering, digging, mining– these terms also mined geological vocabulary. My theories for why this metaphor was in intense use in a fairly substantial number of artists is in the essay. By “archaeological imaginary,” I mean this phenomenon of the dig, which covers the whole gamut of uses of the language of archaeological in artistic practice, from the most metaphorical to the most literal and scientific. Mark Dion is an example of an artist in the show who collapses those two terms.

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Tacita Dean, The Life and Death of St Bruno, from The Russian Ending, 2001.

I’ve observed increased attention being paid to the concept of “artistic research” recently in many different scenes: in arts writing/criticism, in the increased number and types of publications for artists presenting research, and in funding for artists who explicitly understand their practice to be research-based, particularly those artists who collaborate with different kinds of academics. What is your sense of the current place of “artistic research” as a concept? When does an artistic practice “count” as a research practice, particularly a historical research practice as in this exhibition? How can artists perform research in ways that other researchers (like archaeologists and historians) cannot? 

DR: It’s relevant here that I am a philosopher by training, not an art historian, so I’m quite sympathetic to idea that art is some kind of an embodied form of theorizing. I’m interested in that access, and in tandem with this interest in history, I’ve also observed that in the last ten to fifteen years the rhetoric of art has been rephrased in broad terms using the language of research. And of course an awful lot of things are being done under the name of research. I really appreciate the ambition of artists to think of themselves as not just working with forms and ornaments, but also with information. I also have a strong attachment to the notion of the avant-garde and the idea that art is some kind of “other” research, an alternative knowledge, not in the spiritual sense of a fifth dimension or something like that, but really the knowledge of the marginalized, the overlooked, forgotten, and downtrodden. But while I’m interested in the critical charge of art’s claim to be some kind of research, the whole discussion of artistic research is a huge one that is also based in the academization of art in recent years. There’s increasing pressure on students to present what they do as some kind of intellectual enterprise, which has its own advantages and disadvantages.

 

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Steve Rowell, Points of Presence, 2010-ongoing.

Speaking of “other” research: the archive, as a collection of capillary, primary, everyday documents, is often understood to be a powerful institution for disrupting or destabilizing dominant narratives. How does the archive function in The Way of the Shovel?

DR: Well, the archive itself is a kind of excavation site, one of the many kinds of things that serve as an excavation site in this show. One of the smaller exhibitions within the exhibition is devoted to Freud, who collected antiquities and always thought of psychoanalysis in archaeological terms– for example, the excavation of trauma. Along these lines, we can think of the archive as site of mining… another site that in the last ten years has become hugely appealing to artists of all types and backgrounds. Again, the reasons for this phenomenon are manifold. One of the theories that underlies the show is the notion that the present has been so depressing that it’s actually interesting to dwell in the past. In the last ten years there has been a huge upsurge of interest in the history of artistic modernism, not just modernist forms but also modernist ideals. That also figures deeply in the show.

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Stan Douglas, MacLeod’s, 2006.

 

You’ve spoken a lot about the last decade of artistic production. 9/11 seems to be an important historical anchor for the show. Do you see 9/11 as the end of a particular era, as some theorists do? Is this date important because you think ideology has changed since then– or art, or both? The concept of the “end of history” seems relevant here.

DR: I don’t want the dates to be too historically present here, but the milestones of the chronology of the show is first, the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, and the events of 9/11 at the other end. The fall of the Wall and the subsequent collapse of the USSR created a mythology that we were living at the end of history, as in Fukuyama’s essay celebrating the triumph of liberal democracy and putting forth the idea that we would all consequently live in some state of ahistorical bliss. This was the dominant mood of the 1990s in the West until 9/11, the day we woke up and realized that history has not come to an end, and that we are always going to be its subjects and subjected to it. The results of that particular moment continue to this day and created a dark period in world history. I’m thinking of the moment back in 2003 when around the world millions and millions of people took to the streets to protest impending invasion of Iraq, and the invasion happened within a few weeks nonetheless. Right then and there maybe a lot of artists thought to themselves, “I don’t want to live in this present.” They might rather look back, though not necessarily to any kind of golden age. This is completely hypothesis on my part, but it provides a bit core argument of the show in terms of explaining the return to history among artists. This wasn’t an intense interest in the dominant artists of the 1990s; for Matthew Barney, the relational aesthetics artists, and so forth, history was not such a big deal. Today it is much more so, and this has to do in part with the realization that the past is not such a distant country.