Art Theory Confessional

July 12, 2013 · Print This Article

 

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Guest Post by Faye Kahn

Every Sternberg/Semiotext(e)/Verso volume with Yale Design School layout is an impenetrable brick of ostensible magic that’s going to save the human race. I really think this for a range of 10 minutes to 10 years per book. Yet even though I have been reading October every day for three years on every NYC Transit route there was only one time I was ever confronted about it & the guy was laughing!  Still, the mystery of the text is irresistible, though after chatting with other arts writers, there seems to be a concern about the future of art criticism; that it’s not as integral a part of the structure & motivational force of the art world as it used to be, & furthermore, there is confusion in identifying an audience. The source of this anxiety is varied & not everyone subscribes to it. Still, through my personal experience with theory I can understand why a frustration exists, both for authors & audience.

Slowness

It’s difficult to read art theory & criticism. It’s impossible for me to know how other people interpret text, but as an a person of average intelligence I can describe a sensation of mental aimlessness & meandering when trying to parse an uphill paragraph. Putting on blinders & focusing intently on the words the I gradually collect rewarding instances of realization & perspective. This is enough of a carrot to keep me reading. Still, the going is slow. Theory is slow, the contemporary is fast: it’s entirely possible that this is the final conclusion. Like most professional fields, the barrier of slowness is a mental hazing method but the rewards here don’t seem to pay off enough for large-scale generation-defying fraternities. However, if it’s true that it’s losing connection or usefulness to its own field, the effort can start to seem myopic.

Barnett Newman famously said that “aesthetics is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds.” Birds are not only not interested in ornithology but they are incapable of being interested in it. Such a terse reading of that quote might be a little unforgiving, but it’s interesting to revisit this notion from late-Modernist times today in regards to the perceived identity crisis of art writing. All artists are certainly not unaware of it, but it is easier today to be an artist without a knowledge or involvement in traditional art theoretical discourse. Faster modes of communication than text (images) are more conducive to conversation today.  The image response, as the most expedient & accurate modes of communicating quickly, is a much more handy tool. ASCII, Unicode, & Emoji: day to day communication is condensed (& the phrase “hard to follow” now refers to twitter), alienating the dry over-enunciated walls of text that make up theoretical contributions.

Art-Theory-Genre-Art

As Hal Foster points out, during ArtForum’s heyday in the 60s & 70s,”late-modernist criticism made fine distinctions on which the fate of art was thought to depend—the difference, say, between a ‘deductive structure’ by Frank Stella and a “specific object” by Donald Judd—and often it presented these differences as absolute.”[1] This necessity for theoretical discussion is not totally absent today- but art dependent on by critical analysis has become a genre of sorts. Boris Groys says that

“A work of art is traditionally understood as something that wholly embodies art[…]When we go to an art exhibition we generally assume that whatever is there on display–paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos, readymades, or installations, must be art. The individual artworks can of course in one way or another make reference to things that they are not, maybe to real-world objects or to certain political issues, but they are not thought to refer to art itself, because they themselves are art. However, this traditional assumption has proven to be increasingly misleading. Besides finding works of art, present-day art spaces also confront us with the documentation of art.” [2]

Although Groys is referring to the position of the artwork in the exhibition space as the documentation of the art itself, the statement is haunted by the situation of an exhibition space with placeholder artworks that function solely as referents to outside documentation & unstable explanations to be determined by later analysis. Movement away from aesthetic to conceptual merit is now common practice, though certainly more in some cases than others. Aesthetic attractiveness is more often seen now as a measure or capability of capitalist valuation of the object rather than an agent for a deeper social commentary or revolution. Thus, birds interested in ornithology & birds uninterested.

***

Lately I have found art theory exhaustingly cynical. I suppose the word “criticism” has a lot to do with this, however much of it seems to only a self-serving end. Often as a reader I approach the text with wonder & leave it feeling like a fluorescent light has been turned on to reveal all pleasant things have poisonous blemishes. A person can only take so much of this before becoming fed up or hopeless or annoyed that something prescient about how to live life is being ignored because the art community is busy circle-jerking to their exclusive & privileged (negative) perspectives on the world. That said, art theory ensconces beautiful ideas within its heavy labyrinthine walls of referential grandiloquent & excessively punctuated & footnoted jargon (“International Art English”?), & somehow this keeps me (us?) going. However, more & more, it has been exceedingly reassuring to go to the exhibition & realize that art has been growing & still grows around you when you & intellectuals aren’t looking.

 

H. FAYE KAHN is a freelance animator in NYC &  a free-format radio DJ at listener-sponsored WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. She resides in Brooklyn, NY & holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from Rhode Island School of Design. 

 

1.  Foster, Hal. “Critical Condition,” Artforum International, Sep2012, Vol. 51 Issue 1, p147-148

2. Groys, Boris. e-flux, December 2009, Issue 11, p1-11




EDITION #5

March 18, 2013 · Print This Article

MCA programming edgier than a basement party in Pilsen

In her recent AFC review, Robin Deluzen wrote that the MCA is “on a roll” and What’s the T? couldn’t agree more.

This Tuesday will mark the opening of Jason Lazurus’ much anticipated and hotly discussed 12×12 BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works Exhibition. The exhibition appears to actually be three in one and has more programming than Michigan Avenue has drunk people on St. Patricks Day. The schedule includes (but is not limited to) signs for strolling, piano performances, a gif film screening (April 18th at Gene Siskel Film Center/ Conversations the Edge), and sign-making tutorials. The exhibition(s) and performances will be on view through June 18th.

Next Tuesday, March 26th, Chicago’s White/Light will be performing with [freaking] Kim Gordon. The only thing more exciting would be a Sonic Youth secret reunion show, but WTT? isn’t complaining. Tickets are free (!), but space is limited. Get our your camping gear out, this will be one for the ages.

As if all that and a bag of chips wasn’t enough, Oak Park natives, Tavi Gevinson and Jonah Ansell will be at the museum on April 23rd to discuss their work on the animated short, Cadaver. No offense Jonah Ansell, but OMG TAVI! The event includes a screening of the short and a discussion with Gevinson and Ansell moderated by Heidi Reitmaier, the MCA’s Beatrice C. Mayer Director of Education.

Oak Park Suburbanites, Gevinson and Ansell

Reading is Fundamental

Local band Fish proves e-cigs still trending. Image courtesy of The Foundation for Jiggles.

Local bands play music at bar

If you’ve ever walked by The Mutiny, you’ve probably noticed the “Bands Wanted” notice prominently displayed in their front window. If you’ve ever actually been inside the Fullerton Ave bar, you probably know why.

Regardless, a consortium of artists from The Hills to The West Pilsen Sculpture Garden have somehow managed to further expand their practices and are now “with the band, man.” The innocuously named “Chicago Music CDs showcase / CD release party” promises to be a glorious happening of music and stuff.

The show will feature “emerging new chicago music and experimental performance talent” such as FREE THE UNIVERSE (members of Fish, New Capital, Auditor), Fish (members of FREE THE UNIVERSE, Auditor), Ghosts (members of My Bad) and My Bad (members of Ghosts), amongst other bands no one has ever heard of because they probably didn’t exist until this show.

At least it’s free.

Thursday, March 28th at 8PM. The Mutiny 2428 N Western Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60647.

Michelle Obama has bangs!

Brandon Alvendia’s Sofa King What?

Show was worth the trek to Bridgeport. His practice invigorates others and that’s what’s important.

Header image is a detail shot of Heather Mekkelson‘s recent installation at +medicine cabinet in Bridgeport, near Sofa King.

‘The Alley’

SMALLTIME ARCHIPHILE:

The Fireside Bowl

‘Over the line’ and ‘Hey motherfucker, we’re that Spic band’ aren’t two expressions you might simultaneously hear unless you like The Big Lebowski and Los Crudos. But you may have heard it at some point in the 1990s while bowling your mediocre 104, eating a pizza and watching an iconic hardcore punk show at Fireside Bowl. Seldom do you get the productive slippage between national slacker pastime and radical teenage angst that would have been a mainstay at Fireside. This modern gem modularly clad in red-and-white metal tile façade, symmetrically planned with bowling on one end and horizontal circulation on the other, activating corner spaces where the action happened – stage left and bar right – looks more like a Firestone than a punk bowling alley.

Los Crudos show, 1999

Beginning with its 40 ft signage that is part pop-advertising, part surrealist call-to-bowl, Fireside’s modernism plays out in typical plan, allowing basic front-to-back bowling to occur next to stage dives, dog piles and circle pits in a circulatory space no wider than 15 ft – folding slow-paced sport and high-energy hardcore into the same form. Sporting seedy bar décor and MS-DOS-like scoring machines, Fireside’s ability to transport you to a time you never experienced is uncanny. Built in the 1940s, no doubt typified by modernist aesthetic leanings, Fireside is a monument to simplicity of a pre-digital era, where you could’ve killed two birds – bowling and slamdancing – with one roll.

Night shot of Fireside facade

Fireside still has shows, although not as iconic or plentiful as this show list from the mid 90s. Take a gander, go to Logan Square and be a shitty bowler, while this building still exists between eras, pastimes and subcultures, easily annihilating any validity to cosmic bowling.

The Fireside is located at 2646 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647.

Alvendia and Sofa King proprietor Christopher Smith speaking with a visotor at the opening.


Comfort Station regains will to comfort

The much-beloved Logan Square Comfort Station is much-missed during the winter months when the tiny art shelter is too cold to host their usually full schedule of exhibitions, screenings and musical performances. As a result of actual community effort, the 1915 structure is embarking on a much needed and environmentally friendly weatherproofing, funded in part by a Kickstarter and in-partnership with Logan Square business, Biofoam, a sustainable insulation company.

Limited Edition Print by Sonnenzimmer available through contribution to LSCS Kickstarter Campaign.

Not only will the Comfort Station get a physical makeover, their programming returns on Saturday, April 6th* with the exhibition “Sounds from the second floor: Isak Applin and Adam Ekberg”. What’s the T? has also heard rumors of a brand new website and more new programs for the Station’s 2013 Season.

Comfort Station Logan Square has impressively reached their Kickstarter goal with over a week to go, but if you donate now you still have a chance to get the most Logan of Squares tote bag possible and your name on a list alongside Chicago art luminaries and trendsetters (this reporter included).

* Which is, thankfully, not in conflict with the April 7th two-hour Mad Men Season 6 premiere.