This week: Part one of the Open Engagement conference 2013 series. Caroline Picard talks to Caire Doherty!
Claire Doherty is Director of Situations. Claire initiated Situations in 2003 following a ten-year period investigating new curatorial models beyond conventional exhibition-making at a range of art institutions including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Spike Island, Bristol and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool. Claire has worked with a diversity of artists including Lara Almarcegui, Uta Barth, Brian Catling, Phil Collins, Nathan Coley, Lara Favaretto, Ellen Gallagher, Joseph Grigely, Jeppe Hein, Susan Hiller, Mariele Neudecker, Cornelia Parker, Roman Ondak, Joao Penalva and Ivan and Heather Morison. She has advised a range of organisations as curatorial consultant including Tate, Site Gallery Sheffield and is author of the public art strategies for the University of Bristol and Bjorvika, Oslo Harbour.
In 2009, Claire was awarded a prestigiousÂ Paul Hamlyn Breakthrough AwardÂ as an outstanding cultural entrepreneur. Claire directedÂ One Day SculptureÂ in 2008-9 with David Cross, a year-long collaborative series of 20 commissioned, 24-hour public artworks across New Zealand. In 2010, she was Co-Curatorial Director ofÂ Wonders of WestonÂ for Weston-super-Mare.
Doherty lectures and publishes internationally. She is editor ofÂ Contemporary Art: From Studio to SituationÂ (Black Dog Publishing, 2004);Â Documents of Contemporary Art: SituationÂ (Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2009) and co-editor with David Cross ofÂ One Day SculptureÂ (Kerber, 2009), with Paul Oâ€™Neill,Â Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public ArtÂ (Valiz, 2011) and with Gerrie van Noord,Â Heather and Ivan Morison:Â Falling into PlaceÂ (Book Works, 2009). She was also an external advisory member of the Olympic Park Public Realm Advisory Committee and a Fellow of the RSA.
January 18, 2013 · Print This Article
I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here.Â I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.
Some changes should be apparent already â€” others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture Â that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers â€” those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that endÂ I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.
Here is something of a loose schedule:
Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien â€” writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.
Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and JoÃ£o FlorÃªncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).
On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau,Â Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.
ThursdaysÂ herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’sÂ Top 5 Weekend PicksÂ and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes GÃ¶ransson whose writing you can also find here.
Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.
WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.
My last note is this â€” there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.
Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is difficult then to delve into the past and exhume whole passages of injustice, especially when those passages operate inside of a system one believes to be good. In doing so, one must discuss the significance of trauma, peel back old wounds and attempt in some way to make peace. Or perhaps it isn’t about making peace at all. Perhaps it is instead about admitting and honoring discomfort, frustration and unhappiness, for while it is horrific to admit that there are cracks in the systems we employ, it is worse to gloss over or deny them. The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project (CTJM) addresses these issues directly, engaging a local history of police brutality to create a platform for public monuments and discourse.
Rather than cover up those horrific moments, CTJM seeks to uncover and air out the darker edges of our past and present, pulling them into focus with the help of survivors, artists, activists, community organizers and lawyers. Together, they invited proposals “for speculative ways to memorialize the torture cases,” in an attempt “to honor the individuals, families, and communities affected by torture, as well as address the obstruction of justice that has occurred in the aftermath.” That call was issued in 2011 and asked for anything from “from architecture to haiku, website to mural, community organization to performance, bronze plaque to large-scale memorial.â€
“Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture”Â is features 70 of those proposed monuments at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries. The exhibit is Â named after a particular torture device (the “black box”) that was used by Officer John Burge to coerce confessions from 1972-1991. Burge is responsible for as many as 200 incidents of torture, many of which involved electrical charges that shocked prisoners. Although legal routes had granted some success, many of the case advocates (lawyers, victims and activists alike) felt that the law was unable to offer adequate retribution. They turned to art. “Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture”Â is one aspect of that process. It is open until December 21st.
Complementing the theme of that exhibit, the Sullivan Galleries are hosting two additional shows: Laurie Jo Reynold’sÂ Tamms Year Ten Campaign Office,where Reynold’s has effectively installed a working office from which to advocate for the closing of Tamms: a “supermax” prison on the southern tip of Illinois. It opened in 2008, intended as a site for “super shock” treatment that would not extend beyond a year. Now, something like 1/3 of Tamm’s prisoners have been there, non-stop for a decade.”[Inmates] live in long-term isolationâ€”no phone calls, no communal activity, no contact visits. They are fed through a slot in the door. Prisoners at Tamms only leave their cell to shower or exercise which they are allowed to do, depending on their behavioral level, from zero to 7 times per week. Exercise is solitary, in a concrete pen.” Reynolds and her collaborators (including former inmates and inmate family members) also work to connect inmates to the outside world in some way â€” including, for instance, taking photographs of certain objects at the prisoners’ request. Requests include “the Masonic temple in DC”, “whatâ€™s left where the Robert Taylor Homes used to be”,Â ”a heartsick clown with a feather pen”, “my mom in front of a mansion with money and a Hummer”, “Michelle Obama planting vegetables in White House garden”, “any Muslim Mosque or Moorish Science Temple in Chicago or Mecca or Africa”, and “fallen autumn leaves (which we do not have access to in the â€œconcrete boxâ€ which is deemed a yard here)”. During their residency at the Sullivan Galleries, Tamms Year Ten continues their regime of activism while planning additional public programs.
Tirtza Even’sÂ Preview: An Assembly fromÂ Natural Life (work-in-progress),Â which Â describes itself as “aÂ feature-length documentary produced by SAIC faculty Tirtza Even alongside the legal efforts of the Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle. The work challenges the inequities in the juvenile justice system by telling the stories of several individuals sentenced to die in prison since youth. The project’s goal is to depict the experiences of these youths who receive the most severe sentences available for convicted adultsâ€”a sentence of ‘natural life’ or life without paroleâ€”against the contexts of social bias, neglect, apprehension, and alienation.”
It’s a tremendous line up with much to think about and discover and there are a few additional events on the horizon well worth checking out.
Saturday November 17Â Claire Pentecost will facilitate a conversation around Photo Requests from Solitary. Men housed at Tamms supermax prison were able to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined, and members of the public realized the pictures. Men formerly housed in Tamms, the family members of current inmates, and other special guests will be on hand to view the photos and respond to the project.
Thursday November 29 Kevin Coval, Darby Tillis, Achy Obejas, Gary Younge, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Krista Franklin and others present I AM A MEMORY: Chicago Writers Against Torture. This evening of readings and performances is dedicated to the survivors, their families, and their communities who endured unspeakable acts of torture at the hands of the Chicago Police.
Saturday December 15 brings the final program. A Film Festival Against Torture presents a daylong screening of three powerful films about torture, featuring discussions with the filmmakers: Peter Kuttner, Cyndi Moran, and Eric Scholl; Jackie Rivet-River and John Lyons; Ines Somer and Kathy Berger.
There was a family in our neighborhood growing up and they always had the very same standard, gray poodle. It was always called Cooper and in every one of the family’s Christmas cards, Cooper was present, represented at a variety of ages. You see because when one Cooper died, the family procured another, younger, gray poodle puppy, to whom they bestowed the same name. While each generation of Cooper possessed its own distinct characteristics â€” one more playful, another a nippy grump, another dedicated to one family member alone â€” over the course of time, and in the collective family memory, all Coopers blended together into an amalgam that was difficult to parse. People also clone pets (a more expensive means to the same end, perhaps) and here too an underlying question of “I”ness comes up which I find particularly interesting â€” especially when linking to last weeks’ interview with Mary Jane JacobÂ and ideas of the Buddhist non-self, or even before that, the possible identities of objects, as described byÂ JoÃ£o FlorÃªncio. To further investigate ideas of self, I asked Meredith Kooi, an old friend who recently moved to Atlanta in pursuit of Â a PhD.Â She is also the editor for Radius, an experimental radio platform based in Chicago and has a forthcoming paper in Contemporary Visual Studies ReaderÂ (Routledge). Her writing was also published inÂ ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media. We do not talk about the identities of others, however. Instead we talk about what constitutes the self and how autoimmune flare ups might discourage a cohesive understanding of “I.”
Caroline Picard: How do you conceive of the self? Is it singular?Â
Meredith Kooi: To answer your question, â€œHow do I conceive of the self?â€ I need to clarify that I am not referring to anything necessarily related to â€œidentity.â€ In a previous work of mine from 2008, a zine calledÂ Clearing the Clutter: Losing the Self to Greener Pastures, my introduction included a list many different ways I could name my identity. Â At the same time, I tried to distance myself from all of those identifyingÂ nouns. The piece fell short, though, because it did not address Â some sort of transcendental self, some sort of essential essence that each person is and has. At the time, I was highly influenced by yogic philosophies of self, accounts of a self are inclined toward the sacred. I can’t and don’t know how to deal with them particularly at this moment. Maybe I’m too ignorant and cynical, not enlightened.Â I am, however, intrigued by the view that the entire universe exists within the self; this might be related to the microbiome in some way. But at the same time, there are these binaries used to explain the workings of the world. I’m not so into these binaries exactly, even though there is the notion that these are constantly in interaction with each other and need each other to make a whole.
My particular interests in notions of the self for the past few years have stemmed from experiences of autoimmunity. An autoimmune disease is one in which the self, meaning the patient’s body, doesn’t recognize some part of itself. It treats that part as if though it were a nonself or not-self, as other material foreign to the body: bacteria, viruses, identified cancers, and etc. My interests in this experience lie in both the biological/physiological processes of the autoimmune disorder and the way the patient internalizes and describes this condition to herself. I ask: â€œWhen the body treats itself as if it were not itself and works to ‘destroy’ it, what can that mean for the patient’s understanding of self? Can there be an understanding of a whole, intact self?â€ These disorders have been historically psychologized and described as a result of not knowing oneself, one’s enemies or friends, and one’s role in the social order. This has led me to question broadly what is â€œselfâ€ and what is â€œotherâ€ in order to understand what these disorders have meant, mean presently, and can mean in the future.
The philosophical tradition of self and Other is rich and long; I am still working through a number of different schools of thought on the subject. I can’t just align my thoughts with any one particular approach. There are important aspects from each that Iâ€™ve adopted in order to gain a better understanding of self, Other, nonself concepts. Jacques Derrida’s writing on autoimmunity has been particularly influential for my thoughts on the relation between self and other, and leads me to wonder about the political nature of the autoimmune as it relates to theÂ im-possible: that which â€œmust remain (in a nonnegative fashion) foreign to the order of my possibilities, to the order of the ‘I can’ â€¦ of an unforeseeable coming of the other.â€ (Derrida,Â Rogues, 84). However, in this â€œevent,â€ what does it mean for the self to present itself to the self as the other (a mouthful I know); as the â€œirreducible and nonappropriable diffÃ©rance of the otherâ€? (Derrida,Â Rogues, 84) This formulation ultimately leads to questions of ethics and responsibility, which is also important to how I conceive of the self. And this kind of throws a complication into the mix of Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics perhaps: where the Other that confronts us as Other is really one’s own self. Though, I am not totally sure of this position, and won’t try to pretend that I am.
So, to answer your question in other words, no, I do not conceive of the self as singular, though this is not necessarily related to multiple identities or hybrid identities. I believe there is a multiplicity of selves inherent to the self, and I arrive at this through a consideration of autoimmunity and the practice of making images, photographs, that I believe have an autoimmune logic worked into them. This intersects with my interests in the artistic and philosophic tradition of mimesis as well, but maybe that is for another question!
CP:Â Can you give some examples of works that possess an autoimmune logic?
MK: One way I’ve been thinking about autoimmune logic is through what I call an â€œautoimmune aesthetic,â€ which in itself functions on multiple registers. Recently, I gave a conference paper titled â€œAn Autoimmune Aesthetic,â€ where I discussed the history of representations of disability, disability photography. The photographic work I am making currently comes out of that history. My photographic series titledÂ Blurs/BlearsÂ (2010-11) is trying to â€œrepresentâ€ autoimmunity without simply showing the audience an autoimmune body. Instead I’m aiming towards an affective register of autoimmunity through other spaces and objects, and I’m wondering whether a non-figurative image can in some way speak to the autoimmune condition. This would be one way of thinking about an autoimmune aesthetic: does the image itself have an autoimmune disorder? How does the content of the image express autoimmunity?
During an autoimmune flare, I argue the self and the body experience estrangement: the self from the self, the body from the body, the mind from the body, and etc. Strangely enough this has led me to Russian Formalism and Viktor Shklovsky’s concept ofÂ ostraneniye, or â€œdefamiliarization.â€ I hadn’t anticipated engaging in a formalist conversation at all, but in turning to abstraction in order to represent the disabled body, it seems like some of those ideas would be important. The form and structure of the work talking to each other in some way.
This is also extremely important to my ideas about mimesis â€“ the philosophical concept of imitation, representation, resemblance… I see the relation between the original and copy in a similar way to the self and nonself. In the making of this series of photographs, I paid attention to the relation between the series in terms of what could/would be called the â€œoriginalâ€ image and the methods by which I â€œimitated,â€ â€œcopied,â€ or â€œrepresentedâ€ it subsequently (excuse the scare quotes â€“ I guess I’m pointing to some sort of distrust I have with these words). However, I’m not sure I can even call the first photograph the original because the body, my own body, my previous photographs of my own body, may be the original (but then this is also a complicated statement to make since that previous work came out of my research on the British socialist-feminist photographer Jo Spence’s phototherapy work). This is another register of the autoimmune aesthetic: a particular attention to the mimetic activity of image-making that recognizes doubles within itself. I’m questioning whether the self experienced before an autoimmune flare or during remission is some sort of original self, both in terms of biology but also psychical understanding of one’s bodily and mental states. (Further complicating this notion, however, is the microbiome: the microorganisms that inhabit the human body. I like to think of the microbiome in terms of estrangement and the shower bottles that inhabit my space:Â Untitled #1,Â Blemish #1,Â #1). The process of making these images is important to my notions of autoimmunity, mimesis, and the connections I see between them. What tools from art, literature, and philosophy can we use to think about autoimmunity, the autoimmune body, and the autoimmune experience? Do we necessarily need to see bodies to understand an autoimmune affect? Is it all a question of biology?
However, with that said, the autoimmune aesthetic does not necessarily apply only to illness, the body, or even visual art. Political notions of immunity and general theories of subjectivity are also important to the autoimmune aesthetic and the understanding of this condition. Autoimmunity isn’t limited to the particular pathological occurrence in the body, and so thus, I don’t see its representation being limited to a picture of a body, my body.
To give an example of another work that has an autoimmune logic: the playÂ HelenÂ by Euripides. The interesting thing in this play for me is the double Helen; she was the one who actually went to Troy while the original Helen was cast off and didn’t go. I see the notion of the double in some way being related to the autoimmune and an autoimmune aesthetic as well. A double self perhaps. Or, Gertrude Stein’s â€œMelancthaâ€ in her bookÂ Three Lives. Literary texts have so far been my go-to in my formulations of an autoimmune aesthetic and the autoimmune writ large, and I attempt to take these ideas to image-making.
CP:Â That makes me think about time, too: like somehow the idea of self is not only fluid in the present, but must also fluctuate over time (what your autoimmune “flare up” seems to suggest). Do you then have to address the idea of continuity somehow? And consciousness? On the one hand you’re suggesting that an “I” exists, but that its bounds might fluctuate. Something endures, (“I”) but that that thing is very much tied up to an enduring consciousness/sense of self. How does that work, for instance, with Battle Star Galactica (to use a concrete example) where the robot recognizes itself as human, having no recollection of itself as a robot?
MK: Â Interesting that you mentionÂ Battlestar! (I forget if we’ve talked about it before…) I just worked on a paper titled â€œThe Cylon’s Body: Image, Imitation, Clone, Auto-antibodyâ€ that was about the figure of the Cylon, particularly Sharon â€œBoomerâ€/ â€œAthenaâ€ Valeri (in the Re-imagined Series: 2004-9), as a manifestation of a potential intersection between mimesis and autoimmunity. Obviously the show doesn’t explicitly bring up autoimmunity, but I see the fear of the hidden and dangerous internal body within the overall body of the Colonial Fleet as an auto-antibody â€“ a sort of â€œrogueâ€ antibody the immune system creates that targets the body’s own tissues.Â
The case of Boomer and Athena is interesting because through an act of violence â€” the shooting of Colonel Adama â€” Boomer discovers the nonself. This nonself doesn’t necessarily need toÂ changeÂ the already perceived self, but in the show, Boomer is cast as a terrorist and is predetermined as non-human, fully Cylon. Athena, on the other hand, knows she is Cylon, but decides to act â€œhuman,â€ thus conferring upon her the status of human; she is ultimately accepted as such when given the pilot call name Athena. The characters come into themselves through the relation to others; to quote Bakhtin (he’s on my mind a lot right now): â€œThe hero’s attitude toward himself is inseparably bound up with his attitude toward another, and with the attitude of another toward him. His consciousness of self is constantly perceived against the background of another’s consciousness of him – ‘I for myself’ against the background of ‘I for another’â€ (Bakhtin,Â Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 207). What becomes interesting for me here is the relation between â€œanotherâ€ and â€œnonself.â€ In the case of the two Sharons, the â€œI for myself,â€ the question of human or Cylon, is bound not only to their own attitudes about their status of human or machine, but the attitudes of the rest of the Fleet. This is not to say, however, that their status/selfhood isÂ determinedÂ by the rest of the Fleet.
This idea for me is also tied to Karen Barad’s, a feminist physicist-philosopher, notion ofÂ intra-action: that entities are co-constituted through theirÂ intra-actionÂ with each other, as opposed to anÂ interactionÂ which presupposes their already being discrete objects. This has resonance in the development and functioning of the immune system. Immunology has gone through major developments since it’s inception, and one idea that has been of focus is the recognition of self and the formation of antibodies: is it through the confrontation with the nonself that the self learns what it is, or is the self an already existing entity? How does this question translate to broader questions of selfhood? The relation is important, in terms of both biology and the broader conversation, but I don’t necessarily want to go so far as to say that the self doesn’t exist without the nonself, though I am floating this idea. I’m not so sure if the self is a vacuum or has an essence, and, to be honest, the idea terrifies me. Part of me wants to claim that the self is only constituted in discourse, or in power relations, or doesn’t really exist. Part of me would like to believe that there is a continuous self that has an essence. I think that both of these options, however, may be too simple (they may try to answer something essentially unanswerable).
The temporality of this identification/consciousness/awareness is also important. The event of the shooting of Adama, or the event of an autoimmune flare, is a particular assemblage in time and space that demands action, a response, an explanation, a conceptualization. My thoughts currently are that the noneself presents us with a radical other to ourselves that is really the product of our own selves and bodies. When our own biology can’t recognize itself, what can that mean for our self-definition? I’m not so sure I would use the word â€œfluidâ€ to describe the sense of â€œselfâ€ or self-definition I’m trying to get at; however, I do like the sense of movement that it suggests. The self and the relation of the self and the nonself is subject to time, but fluidity implies an easier transition between states; my focus as of late is violence and pain, which I wouldn’t claim is necessarily fluid … though maybe…
CP: I am struck by the appearance of a “hero” in our conversation. I can’t help feeling like there is something old fashioned about a hero â€” perhaps because the hero-as-archetype feels so fixed, a static (and singular, enduring) identity…even the way you talk about the body, you imply an active interior life that you’re trying to reconcile with a singular, external appearance/action. But you also mention the idea of an assemblage, and it seems to me the singular self could just as easily be framed that way: as a conglomerate. Isnâ€™t a â€œheroâ€ at odds with an assemblage?
MK: The idea of â€œheroâ€ I mentioned earlier is in the Bakhtinian sense of hero that he draws from Dostoevsky’s works. The hero isn’t a static entity created by the author; the hero herself/himself has a self-consciousness that exceeds the author’s intentions or power position. Think of the Underground Man inÂ Notes from UndergroundÂ in particular. Bakhtin writes inÂ Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics: â€œThe hero interests Dostoevsky not as some manifestation of reality that possesses fixed and specific socially typical or individually characteristic traits, nor as a specific profile assembled out of unambiguous and objective features which, taken together, answer the question ‘Who is he?’ No, the hero interests Dostoevsky as aÂ particularÂ point of view on the world and on oneself, as the position enabling a person to interpret and evaluate his own self and his surrounding reality. What is important to Dostoevsky is not how his hero appears in the world but first and foremost how the world appears to the hero, and how the hero appears to himselfâ€ (47).
This conception of the author/hero (character) relationship really intrigues me; I see this relation as a way to get at the autoimmune. Some of the prose writing I’ve been doing the past couple years or so tries to approach the dialogic relationship Bakhtin describes, or at least extreme self-consciousness. I’d say that Danielle Dutton’s prose novelÂ S P R A W LÂ does this as well. As for visual art… in some way Felix Gonzalez-Torres’sÂ Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)Â does this. There is obviously a dialogue occurring between the piece and the audience, but within itself, I think there is some sort of internal dialogue; perhaps a hyper-awareness of self, body, and consciousness. The relations between the body’s self and nonself is important to the piece too, especially in terms of the immune system’s functioning during the condition of AIDS (let me mention that in immune system discourse, AIDS is a very prevalent concern; one complicated aspect of my research is acknowledging this literature and condition, but not conflating the autoimmune with immune deficiency â€“ there are, of course, important political stakes and implications to address in this).
CP: I suddenly feel like we are talking about mortality: the absurdity of an end in being, how death-as-an-end is impossible to conceive. An autoimmunity flare up would be a parallel disruption perhaps, a kind of minideath, wherein the self cannot recognize itself. In that case, isn’t the discussion located in continuity?
MK: I agree with you that maybe conceptualizing the autoimmune flare as a â€œminideathâ€ could open up some space (interesting, too, how the â€œminideath,â€Â la petite mort, is used to describe orgasm – theÂ jouissanceÂ and the experience of losing oneself – which Roland Barthes talks about in terms of reading literature…). However, I also hesitate with the term â€œminideathâ€ if it is too dependent on notions of disruption. This would have a lot to do with the way death as an experience is conceptualized temporally: I don’t exactly want to place it within a continuity per se, but I also don’t want to categorize it as an ultimately disruptive event that separates time into discrete units (this would bring up issues of ghosts and specters, and I just don’t have the competence to deal with that at the moment). Though to me, continuity suggests that there is some essence that endures even through what would be called disruptions. I wouldn’t say this is exactly the case with how I’m trying to think about the configurations of self and nonself. If we think about that in terms of continuity, it seems that there would be a privileging of the self that is interrupted by the nonself, or vice versa, and I would rather not give one priority over the other. For me, the two are co-constituted and emerge through their intra-action.Â It is tricky to give this sort of movement continuity or linearity, though I realize that denying all continuity has its own important implications as well…
I feel that I haven’t been able to sufficiently describe what I mean by the relation of self and nonself. I myself am frustrated at this moment about the condition of autoimmunity. I have a desire to say it relates to Derrida’s notion ofÂ diffÃ©rance, but that term itself is, I think, so hard to deal with and I feel that there is a great potential to get stuck in some sort of tautology if I go there at this moment. How can we think about the autoimmune as a condition that is resistant to a synthesis of oppositions, and is in itself only difference? That is where all senses of continuity get lost on me and I fall into the nihilistic trap… which I don’t want to do. I’m neither trying to say that the self doesn’t exist, nor do I want to pronounce that it exists exactly…
The following interview with Mary Jane Jacob continues from the Art21 blog; you can read thatÂ here. Our conversation is filtered through the lens of two books,Â Buddha Mind in Contemporary ArtÂ andÂ Learning Mind: Experience into ArtÂ that Jacob co-edited withÂ Jacquelynn Baas. Those books were published by the University of California Press in 2004 and 2009 respectively. The third title in the series,Â Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Shaped Society,Â is due out through the University of Chicago Press this summer.
CP:Â One of the things that especially intrigues me about this connection (between Buddhism and contemporary art practice) is how it encourages a kind of anti-egotism, something that goes directly against the grain of our larger society. When so much about cultural production feels contingent on the legitimacy provided by recognition, monetary reward and public acclaim, it is difficult to comprehend an art practice that functions outside those expectations. I am particularly interested in what kinds of conversations arise between you and your students as you wrestle with this subject. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MJJ:Â Itâ€™s true that egotism, the get-all-you-can-help-yourself-ism of which you speak, is a prevailing strain of our society; we see it played out right now in the Republican primaries. But I would not like to call it â€œthe grain of larger societyâ€ because, at the same time, there is a lot of desire for change. It’s expressed in a rising consciousness for the need to care for the earth, for community well-being. Not everything points to self-serving-ness. This other strain possesses a sense of necessity and a lot of optimism. Many understand that this selflessness today is urgent to take into action. It also has something to say aboutÂ why art?Â I trust art in the social equation.
Among students it is in part a factor of their generation (young people embracing aspects of â€˜70s counterculture) and in part a value of art, and notably in the modern era. While modernism brought us the solo, superstar artist, there was another side. This is the story of modernism we are telling in upcoming bookÂ Chicago Makes Modern: the role of art that is beyond self for the benefit of the greater good, for the common cause. The severing of art and spirituality is a much-mistaken myth about modernism; take for instance the convictions of Malevich, Moholy-Nagy, Newman, Reinhardtâ€¦.
So for students who have their careers and lives ahead of themâ€”who have chosen art, not just because they possess skills and interests, but because they often share certain social values, and who have a desire to probe and create meaning, to realize themselves and to communicate to others through artâ€”the work that came through the â€œAwake: Art, Buddhism, and the Dimensions of Consciousnessâ€ program and which they can access through theÂ Buddha MindÂ book speaks to them. I have found students ready, really hungry, for this. And many Asian students at SAIC have conveyed to me how this has given them a new way to look at their culture, at something they took to be tradition and not modern; they have felt a sense of integration.
CP:Â Additionally there is a way in which you tackle the idea of consciousness (and of course philosophy) â€” ideas which are not often (as far as I can tell) discussed in tandem with artmaking. It reminds me of a very early essay in Learning Mind: Experience Into Art, where Danto describes Modernism as a movement to separate and parse painting from sculpture (p.20).Â
MJJ:Â It seems like you could also say the same of philosophy and art and religion and science â€” of course, these subjects bleed into art making, but they seem to me to be generally reserved for a kind of personal artist-talk expose. More often than not, I feel like there is an emphasis on the social implications of art work, how it can function politically, but here there is a suggestion that it can function philosophically as well, as kind of tenant of meaning…is that a fair understanding?
Itâ€™s great you bring up Arthur Danto because he is a writer and a friend who was very important to me in the early â€˜90s when I was trying to retool and find my way back to art and out of museums. What I love about Arthur is that he can write eruditely (he can cite and use so aptly references from all of Western culture) and at the same time bring it right down to street level (quoting an immigrant cab driver). He uses philosophy to understand our life now, and isnâ€™t that what philosophy was intended to be. He also sees art as a valuable, fundamental part of life; not all philosophers do. But one who did, John Dewey, we might say had an art philosophy of life.
Considering the respect these thinkers had for art, I think theyâ€™d agree that artists have a lot to sayâ€”in their art and in their words, through their works and livesâ€”that speaks to a larger realm of being. So I donâ€™t know that Iâ€™d see â€œpersonal artist-talkâ€ as â€œexposeâ€; Iâ€™d hope with the best of them offer insights. At least thatâ€™s how I look at it. Maybe thatâ€™s why I align more with artists than other arts-related professionals.
CP:Â There seems to be a natural progression between the extensive work you’ve done discussing art that takes place in the public sphere â€” the way that such projects challenge conventional hierarchical expectations about art’s place in society. Â This examination of Buddhism seems to access a different aspect of that same conversation, though one no less political. I am very curious about whether you feel like you address and incorporate Buddhism as a religion, with it’s varied and immense associative/historical past, or if it is more like a kind of philosophical metaphor. I feel like Buddhism somehow becomes a corollary example that, grafted onto an artistic practice would lend new (and iconoclastic) insight. Insight that is not *necessarily* contingent on one’s becoming a monk….
MJJ:Â Thanks for recognizing that the subject of Buddhism and art has something to do with my work in the expanded public art arena. I said at the beginning of this interview that some program officers in foundations criticized negatively my â€œorganicâ€ process of curating. However, during the early days of the â€œAwakeâ€ program a foundation president, who had greatly help find the program, came up to me at a session break and said, â€œI see how the Buddhism project relates to your work with the Spoleto Festival.â€ [I have worked for two decades on site-specific and community projects in Charleston South Carolina, starting with the exhibition â€œPlaces with a Pastâ€ in 1991.] I was astounded; I had been trying to come to terms with what , at that point, I felt more in my gut than my head.Â So it was amazing to hear these words, this perception from another.
With the Buddhism project we always made clear this was not about religion, not a cultural study either. It was to see what this wisdom tradition can tell us about the art experience in making and in viewing. This was a level of primary research for us as artists, curators, and educators. Some of what I took away was generosity (we see this as a mode of art practice today as well as in general in the way art is offered to others, including the notion of the gift), interdependence (and here I think of the intrinsic relationship of artists and audience, object and viewer), interconnection (this has a lot to say about our relationship to others and to the world), potentiality and the concept of â€œnot-emptyâ€ (the unknown, the creative space), non-attachment (the way art is a Â generative process), and the beginnerâ€™s mind (that something doesnâ€™t have to be wholly new and, in recognizing what came before us, we should neither possess the hubris that we are the first and unique, nor be deflated that everything has already been done; rather to possess the beginnerâ€™s mind is to take something into yourself, revitalize it by having it live within you, and with this, innovation is always possible).
So Buddhism is not â€œgraftedâ€ onto artistic practice. Instead, as I feel you mean when you say it can lead to â€œinsight,â€ Buddhism offers things consistent with the art process, and for some artists it can aid that process. So the next book in a couple of years from now (tentatively titledÂ Artway of Living) will continue this thread. On the one hand, it will deal with socially engaged artists, so the public art aspect remains. On the other, through artistsâ€™ firsthand narratives and, yes, their insights, it will dwell on questions at-once philosophical and practical: How can you sustain your art practice? How can you sustain your life as an artist? What is it to live the life of an artist? What is it to live your life as a work of art?