Blogs Untitled (Blog) Nisa Mackie

Nisa Mackie is Director and Curator of Education and Public programs at the Walker Art Center. Prior to this she headed up education and public programs at the Biennale of Sydney.

A Reflection on Dinner with Andrea Büttner & Friends

Recently I was recalling a dinner party that was held on the occasion of the opening of Andrea Büttner’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. Like many dinner parties, the November 2015 event was a convivial situation staged to celebrate an occasion (the exhibition launch), but also to provide a social platform for connection and […]

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view Andrea Büttner. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Recently I was recalling a dinner party that was held on the occasion of the opening of Andrea Büttner’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. Like many dinner parties, the November 2015 event was a convivial situation staged to celebrate an occasion (the exhibition launch), but also to provide a social platform for connection and understanding. Each course was punctuated by remarks—presented in their entirety in the following posts—delivered by curator Lars Bang Larsen, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

The dinner was open to anyone—which informed a motley crew of gallerists, curators, academics, out of town visitors, artists, and the public (both the committed and curious). This echoed Büttner’s co-mingling of “high” and “low,” where she pulls her images and references from a range of sources, from anonymous content found on the internet to the categorically “in”—validated by academia or aesthetic theory.

A half year on, I contacted Andrea to find out what has stayed with her from that moment.

On 22 November 2015, the Walker staged a public dinner connected to the launch of your solo exhibition. What do you recall from that evening?

It was the third day of the private views, the third evening, the third dinner. It was beautiful because it was a response to the exhibition on so many levels. Lars Bang Larsen, Fionn Meade, Keren Gorodeisky, and Elijah Ferrian each gave thoughtful speeches on my practice: Elijah spoke about foraging, Keren gave a paper on my illustration of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, a work on display in the show. Lars spoke about appropriation, and Fionn finished the evening with a jubilatory speech on JA/Yes, on affirmation as a mode of criticality and being. What I recall most is the joy of the response to a show—a very silent cultural form in the end—a gestalt. A form of feast and reflection that served as a way of holding the exhibition and overcoming the strangeness of the private view. As a cultural form, the private view can be pretty awkward for artists: the work is already completed, nothing much happens, nothing is performed to channel anxiety and concentration and give a meaning to the temporality and the sociality of the gathering.

This is not the first time that programming connected to a showing of your work has taken the form of a dinner. What were those other events, and did they differ in format or content?

At Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt I organized a dinner with speeches for a solo exhibition in 2013. It was the first time that I have done this. At MMK the dinner was an integral part of the exhibition, which dealt with notions of poverty in art history and centered on an installation of tables. These tables were both real tables, for the dinner, which was a symposion like in Plato’s texts: drinks, food, philosophy. At the same time they were display furniture for research I have done on the iconography of poverty.

At the MMK, the dinner was an integral part of the exhibition and shaped the installation, allowing me to think about display. At the Walker, the dinner was part of the programming, and it complemented the exhibition in a meaningful way. It allowed one to think of private views as a specific type of durational performance.

Noting that in your work you have explored notions of vulnerability and shame, interestingly—perhaps also ironically—you allowed yourself to be subject to a moment that awkwardly combined both the dynamics of invitation and display… 

You are right, it is important to think about the sociality of art as a moment of display and thus vulnerability at the same time. There is still much to discover within this potential. And it is important that vulnerability is contagious: both the person delivering the speech and the person the speech is about are exposed. But they share this moment in friendship.

I love speeches for that reason. If they are good speeches—if they are generous and if they have something to say—the exposure is mitigated. In this regard the generous and meaningful speeches are like art. They transmit a vulnerable moment and hold it, while at the same time giving form to it. I think the Russian toast is exemplary in that way.

Remarks: Lars Bang Larsen on Andrea Büttner (1 + 1: a simple premise, or an idiotic riff)

The following remarks were delivered by art historian, independent curator, and writer Lars Bang Larsen at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: exhibition curator Fionn Meade, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast […]

The following remarks were delivered by art historian, independent curator, and writer Lars Bang Larsen at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: exhibition curator Fionn Meade, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

Andrea once told me how the Swiss artist Dieter Roth at some point in the 20th century defined the work of art: One makes a work of art, Roth said, by putting one thing on top of another. An object on top of a pedestal, color on a canvas, figure on ground.

(Parenthetically, Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968) was originally was originally titled One Plus One, but that is another story.)

An example of this one thing plus another in the work of Andrea would be Diamantenstuhl (Diamond chair), (2011) that consists of a rough brown diamond that sits on top of a plastic chair. Diamond on chair: art work.

Optimized-Diamond Chair 2011

Andrea Büttner, Diamentenstuhl (Diamond Chair), 2011. Image courtesy Artspace San Antonio

In her show at the Walker we can also think of the two versions of moss presented there, one digital and one natural. Or the way that Büttner the artist places her work on top of that of Kant the philosopher.

But of course things don’t add up that easily. To talk about the art work as one thing plus another is also way of saying that things are never just 1:1. This is definitely the case with Andrea’s work. It always looks pretty simple and straightforward, no bull—ohne Scheisse, as they say—but there is always more to her work than meets the eye. And what’s so wonderful about it is how it makes us see with our own two eyes again.

Some aspects of Andrea’s work—her woodcuts for instance—spell tradition and craftsmanship but she is not that kind of maker. In fact she doesn’t “do” a lot in the conventional sense that artists do. As much as a doer, really, she is a borrower, a channeling medium, somebody who makes versions of existing images, recombines art history, and employs the voices of other people.

You can call her an appropriation artist. All of culture is the palette of the appropriation artist, who also works in the 1+1 way by taking over objects and introducing them into works of art. These objects can be pre-existing ones, or even existing works of art that are treated as things. We can think of Sherrie Levine’s wonderful piece over at the Walker, Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P), 1991 in which she has remade Duchamp’s urinal as a contemporary urinal cast in bronze. Here Levine in a sense puts her 1991 remake on top of Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain, as a layering of versions of an art work that lacks an original.

The appropriation artist isn’t committed to any single medium, but picks and chooses between things that culture has already produced, and she moves them around between different contexts and frameworks. The appropriation artist is concerned with art as a sign, and she traffics in difference. The appropriationist is a ventriloquist: she lets an existing object talk, but with a voice that she lends to it.

The appropriation art from the 1980s and’90s was impersonal, de-subjectified. There is nobody “behind” Sherrie Levine’s urinal. When we see a work by Levine or Jeff Koons we don’t go, “Oh, this is just so Jeff. I hear Jeff’s voice so clearly in this. What Jeff wants to express here is this and that.” There’s none of that. In this sense appropriation is not 1+1, it is 0+1; because the artist here takes a certain pleasure in being a nobody, a blank. In the work of Koons or Levine, it is in a sense a question of who has chosen who; is it the artist who chose the object, or in fact the object that chose the artist and thereby makes the artist become someone?

Andrea’s style of appropriation, on the other hand, is anything but blank or smooth. It is dirty and sticky. Her question seems to be: “Well, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice—given who I am, which is not my mistake—do I have a choice to make art about something else than German philosophy, about my fascination with nuns, about my mobile phone and the other mundane stuff that surrounds me?”

In her work Andrea in a sense is more than she does. She gives us small clues about who she is: She is a German woman. She is a sister and a daughter. She has some kind of affiliation with Catholicism. She likes to do things with her hands. She has certain political ideas. She is a contrarian who likes to swim upstream and go against the grain. At the same time, as we never really get to know who she is, her biography is leaking a bit into her work, always just enough to introduce opacity. She would of course never present herself as the full-bodied artistic genius, as the chosen one. Instead, the version of Andrea that we get to know through her work is always half a person—half artist and half amateur, half part professional and half part laywoman, half part private person, half part public persona.

So when an artist makes work by putting one thing on top of another, the one thing plus another never equals two. Instead you break open each of the things as they previously existed. When they are together they form a conspicuous ensemble, a combination that is new but at the same time stands out as suspended or even broken—because it breaks down functions, rules, conventions, and so on. To add one thing to another to break things down, split them into fractions in order to try and get the proportions right.

One makes a work of art by putting one thing on top of another. We can speculate that there was a dirty joke in there for Dieter Roth, the old womanizer. To beget art. I seem to remember that Andrea also knows a good one about a nun, a Wurst, and the holy ghost.

In any case, the two constituent parts of the art work can also indicate a becoming-many, a multitude. This concerns how Andrea’s work, apart from being aware of itself as art, also has a strong social dimension. Not in the sense that she sets out to fashion utopia from whole cloth, but that she shows ways of being together that arises out of the gaps that divide people from one another in everyday life. We can think of how the Rastafarians define their community; they never say “we,” but “I and I” – “I and I,” 1+1….+1+1+1+1. This idea of a collective existence that takes difference into account, and whose qualities are up to us to define, is something that I think resonates strongly in the work of Andrea—and the special way that it is self-effacing and performative, radical and gestural, fundamental and elusive.

I and I: raise our glasses—cheers to Andrea!

Remarks: In Praise of “JA!”

The following remarks were delivered by Fionn Meade, artistic director at the Walker Art Center, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen,Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah […]

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner. Photo: Gene Pittman

The following remarks were delivered by Fionn Meade, artistic director at the Walker Art Center, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen,Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

To start off my toast this evening, I want to acknowledge the moss garden that we’ve brought into being over the past months and that now marks the entry to Andrea’s exhibition. I’d like to offer a tribute to its “bold little beauty” as written by the American poet Emily Dickinson within a poem sequence dedicated to Nature and published as it were almost 120 years ago in 1896.

Nature

Pink, small, and punctual,
Aromatic, low,
Covert in April,
Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,
Known by the knoll,
Next to the robin,
In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,
Bedecked with thee,
Nature foreswears
Antiquity.

—Emily Dickinson

 

It is fittingly a leap year that we are in as we gather on a cold November night to celebrate Andrea’s exhibition at the Walker, her first solo exhibition in the United States. More specifically, on February 29, 2016, in what will still feel like winter, we will have our leap year moment, a punctual hole in the calendar during the run of the show. As we are here together, I invite us to think through this addition beyond the usual calendar and toast to this “pink, small, and punctual” fact of the year ahead, time that leaps from the earth askew and revitalizing, just the right imbalance to remind us to keep meaning and direct communication at the fore over the upcoming seasons.

Let us toast to this extra time that keeps us seasonal, that keeps us with and close to what Emily Dickinson aptly describes as the bold little beauty we should all hope to be bedecked with!

And so these remarks on “JA” take permission from Andrea’s embrace of the word “JA (YES)” at regular moments in her work. The “JA” of this evening asks us to leap from one thing to another and celebrate the linking with such permission, allowing a space in between, the kind of in between permission that Andrea asks of each of us regularly in her work, the permission to leap and connect, to encounter both difficult and warm things, and to accept both.

Andrea is not afraid of history and brings a readiness equally to both the tactile surface of her material choices, sharp and reduced compositions, and to the concentric rings of research and questioning that characterize many of her projects. I can readily attest that Andrea is not afraid of being and experience, and to be at large in the world. To be ‘at large’ is a phrase I’ve been thinking about during Andrea’s presence over the past two weeks leading up to the opening of her exhibition. From the enfolding gesture of the blue fabric walls that now ring Burnet Gallery, to the enlarged smear and stain of “desire/search/knowledge” within her new enlarged smartphone etchings, to the exposed gesture of the moss garden to the white walls and terrazzo floors of the Walker galleries,  a garden with no space for withdrawal, no moisture. Throughout the exhibition, the arms of each work are open to and facing each other with clear lines and difference.

And yet these ‘”at large” confident gestures also remind of the equally strange word “largesse,” the state of giving away, divestment, and a willing letting go. I would say that the largesse of Andrea’s work is in its imprinted overlaps, gaps, and in between spaces and low conversations. Moments of true respite meet moments of real doubt, emerging forms of order and index meet gestures of release and falling down. In between there is “largesse.” And so a further fragment of poetry, as we need to be reminded of the largesse of the pebble that Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert writes of when he proclaims:

Pebbles cannot be tamed
To the end they will look at us
With a calm and clear eye.

And of the stone that Herbert’s compatriot the poet Czeslaw Milosz gives for us to consider as a counterpoint and host, “known by the knoll,” as Dickinson says:

“We should not think of our past as definitely settled, for we are not a stone or a tree. My past changes every minute according to the meaning given it now, in this moment.”

And this response to the stone and pebble that cannot be tamed by the human eye is the “JA” of life that Andrea so regularly reminds us of. This is the “JA” of being and experience, and the threaded connection that exists and must be traced between forms of life, forms of thinking, and forms of feeling. When Andrea herself writes that: “Shame marks the threshold of visual representation and might at the same time be impossible to represent. Shame means that we resist what we desire,” she puts us squarely in experience, and challenges us to respond with a series of “JA” moments, acceptance and acuity, the specificity demanded of living and thinking as equal demands, the enigmatic move around negation toward something more affirming that approaches an admixture of divestment and acceptance.

Indeed, as Milosz continues in his musing: “What is this enigmatic impulse that does not allow one to settle down in the achieved, the finished? It is a quest for reality.” For reality does not leave us with a no, but with something else, with the “JA” sequence of being and experience. Andrea challenges us to pay attention and be present with what we show and what we hide, what we expose and what we veil, to be ventriloquist, and adopt other voices, other genders, other life forms in our quest for reality. Indeed, to bring these into close contact with each other, to allow for shared experience and research to be imprinted by each other. And so I hope you will indulge one more ventriloquist gesture as I read part of a passage from one of the great “JA” detours in all of literature, the close of Irish novelist James Joyce’s Ulysses, also invoked by a leap year and the skip and jump of divestment, and the breathing in and exhale of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.

“… yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that  was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him  because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I  gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer  first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of  Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all  birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of  the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish  girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and  the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street  and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep  and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts  of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white  and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old  windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops  half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman  going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson  sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the  queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine  and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I  put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me  under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my  eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I  put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Untitled (JA), 2012 Woodcut on paper from Kabul Portfolio (detail), 2012 © Andrea Büttner, VG

Andrea Büttner, Untitled (JA), 2012
Woodcut on paper from Kabul Portfolio (detail), 2012 © Andrea Büttner, VG

Remarks: Keren Gorodeisky on Andrea Büttner and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment

The following remarks were delivered by Keren Gorodeisky, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian. […]

Bilder in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement)” (2014

Visitor’s to Andrea Büttner (Nov. 21, 2015–April 10, 2016) view Bilder in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement), 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman

The following remarks were delivered by Keren Gorodeisky, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

There are many prima facie reasons to think that Andrea Büttner’s work is as far from Immanuel Kant’s philosophy as can be. For one thing, Kant has for many years been regarded as interested mainly in natural beauty and its judgment, while discussing art and its criticism merely as an afterthought. Why should an artist, particularly one who is so versed and interested in the history of art as Büttner is, turn to Kant? Why not engage with, say, Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, given that they are standardly considered to contain as much art criticism as they contain philosophy? Moreover, one of the characteristic marks of Kant’s oeuvre is systematicity. Not only did he propose a systematic philosophy that claims to unify diverse aspects of human life—the knowledge-seeking, the practical and the aesthetic spheres of human life—but he also instilled the very idea that systematicity is a value. One might think that this is precisely one of the values that are put in question in Andrea’s work, by her use of diverse media and techniques such as woodcut printing, video, photography, fabrics, clay, borrowing, and commenting, among others, and by reflecting on diverse contents such as the organic life of a moss, shame, art, philosophy, convent life, and poverty. Rather than a systematic system, this multiplicity may constitute what the German Romantic philosopher and critic Friedrich Schlegel sympathetically called a “system without a system”: a system that challenges the ambition to systematize as much as it complicates conventional dualities and distinctions.

One may wonder, then, how a systematic philosopher who—it is widely thought—merely pays a lip service to art can meet the artist whose work often devotes itself to humility and to the unassuming life of such organisms as a moss; and if they can meet, where would the meeting point be? Since actuality entails possibility, the two clearly can meet because they actually do. Andrea Büttner meets Immanuel Kant in the gorgeous book, Immanuel Kant, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, a book compiled, indeed made by, Büttner (and thus authored by whom? By Büttner? By Kant?)[1] They meet in this book that, rather than merely questions, also displays love, attentiveness and great efforts at understanding Kant’s work, word, and world; a world, which through the lens of Büttner’s work, is seen to be both his and ours, alien and familiar all at once.

Perhaps, then, first impressions are just that—impressions or mere seemings. Perhaps the dualities with which I opened these remarks—dualities between art and natural beauty, systematicity and the lack thereof—are to be suspended or overcome, just like the many dualities that Büttner’s work challenges. Here is one way of thinking about their suspension. In recent years, more and more philosophers have acknowledged that art and art criticism may be as important to Kant as natural beauty and its judgment. There is a growing consensus that the order of his “Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment”—an order that starts with a discussion of natural beauty and its judgment and only then moves to art—is merely an order of exposition rather than an order of priority, an order required for a perspicuous grasp of the phenomena but one that does not privilege natural over artistic beauty.

There is also no reason to think that the systematic ambitions of Kant’s philosophy leave no room for disruption, heterogeneity, and conflict—for a system without a system; nor that they come at the price of humility. The core of Kant’s critical turn in philosophy—roughly, the view that knowledge and science are possible only insofar as we keep them within the bounds of human reason—can only be viewed as a call for humility. The inclusion of art and aesthetic appreciation within his overall system, as a central aspect of human life alongside knowledge, science, morality and religion, suggests that, not unlike Büttner’s work, his system also includes heterogeneity and even conflict. It may be seen as posing a challenge to the long philosophical tradition, stemming from Plato, of thinking of aesthetics and art as marginal, as an outcast, particularly in comparison to knowledge and morality.

A challenge to conventional dualities is also part of Kant’s picture of aesthetics, his view of art and his understanding of judgment. On Kant’s view, aesthetic appreciation includes a necessary tension and duality. It is based on a paradox inasmuch as it is both subjective and universal. On the one hand, aesthetic appreciation is subjective insofar as it is based on feeling. To properly judge a work to be great or an object beautiful, one must express one’s liking for it. When it comes to art and beauty, Kant tells us, judgment, approval, and responsiveness to value are a matter of feeling. At the same time, unlike judgments based on sensory feelings—for example, judgments about pains or the taste of the palate—aesthetic appreciation is also universal. It makes a claim on the agreement of others. When I make an aesthetic judgment—for example, when I evaluate a work as poor or great—I demand that others appreciate the object just as I do and share my feeling for it. Though based on feeling, aesthetic appreciation is never fully passive or merely sensory, but is itself a form of judgment: a feeling judgment or a judging feeling. This is not only Kant’s way of poking at the alleged opposition between subjectivity and universality, but also Kant’s challenge to a conventional picture of judgment. If Kant is right, judgment could not be understood as the act of applying a concept to a sensory given or as the expression of a belief about a fact. Judgment, he suggests, may be as affective as it may be intellectual and imaginative. While some judgments articulate beliefs, and some articulate intentions to act, other judgments—particularly, aesthetic judgments—express feelings. The feeling expressed by aesthetic appreciation—the feeling that is aesthetic judgment—is not merely sensory, brute, or passively drawn from us, but a feeling that always already involves understanding. As many of Büttner’s works suggest, aesthetic judgment, as Kant understands it, requires an attempt to understand, even though no concept, assumption or knowledge with which the judge comes to the work can constitute proper understanding. Judging beauty and art requires attentiveness, slowing down, and willingness to be challenged, and even confused by the work.

Making art, like appreciating it, is also paradoxical, according to Kant: it is both free and lawful. Making art never merely follows principles of production, never merely applies the laws of a tradition or a genre and is never fully governed by the concept of what a thing is supposed to be. (For what concept would that be? Of a work of art? A painting? A realistic painting? Or the concept of a specific artist, such as Andrea Büttner?) And yet, art is not lawless, arbitrary, devoid of any connection to (or a break with) traditions, genres, and concepts. Art is active and skillful and yet receptive and accepting. It is, or should be, Kant holds, open to surprises, to nature beyond individual agency.

Like Kant’s aesthetic theory, Büttner’s Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment—or as we, Kantians, like to call it, Kant’s third Critique—is also a kind of system without a system, a heterogeneous unity of challenged dualities. Introducing the beautiful book, Büttner claims that the pictures she placed alongside the text have always been there. They belong to the text, invoked by Kant himself, by the very language that he uses. And they are. These pictures are Kant’s as they are Buttner’s. And yet, many of them would have been inconceivable to Kant: scenes of food street culture in Asia taken from the internet; a 2014 photograph of a living room, furnished by mid-century modern furniture pieces that are mainly covered by sheets and blankets, taken from a personal blog; a 2004 DreamHack LAN party taken from Wikimedia Commons; 2014 drawings by Andea Büttner; and many more. The pictures, unified indeed as they are as pictures that belong to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, come from diverse sources—from Kant’s archives and books, from other artists, like Goya, Diego Rivera, Rosellini, and the contemporary artist David Raymond Conroy, as well as from the internet, from Wikimedia Commons, from personal blogs and more. They are made, they are borrowed, they are reproduced. But they are pictures of the text—“of” in the sense of belonging, not in the sense of being about it. These images emerge from the text, comment on it, bring it to light, make it explicit, while, as Büttner once said about criticism, also cover it.

In the same preface to the book, Büttner endorses yet another duality. Some of the pictures, she says, support the text, the passages that they are paired with, while others disturb or disrupt it. She offers no further explanation of the support or the disruption, but the pictures do; more precisely, they offer one explanation of this duality and then challenge it. Or so I will claim in what follows.

At least on the surface, finding the disruptive pictures is a challenging task. You might think that pictures like the 2004 DreamHack LAN party—a party of video games from Wikimedia Commons—and of a food street vendor in Asia taken from the internet can only disrupt a philosophical text from the 18th century. But do they?  Büttner pairs the picture of the video game party to, or rather she finds it in Kant’s discussion of, “games that involve no interest beyond that of making time pass unnoticed” (Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 5:306).[2] The Asian food street vendors are invoked by Kant’s recollection of an anecdote in a book about France, an anecdote about “the Iroquois sachem that nothing in Paris pleased him better than the cook-shops” (CPJ, 5:204). Are these examples of supporting or disturbing pictures?

Perhaps better candidates for disruption are a picture of the facade of a Dior store, from a fashion blog, and the 2011 work of the artist David Raymond Conroy, titled Sometimes I Wish I Could just Disappear—a picture of a gilded, decorated mirror, leaning on a pile of cushions and reflecting a high wooden ceiling and a camera held by a lone hand, as if dismembered from the whole body of the unseen photographer. The relation of the former—the Dior picture—to the passage with which it is paired is at best oblique, for the passage argues, “The highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which everyone must produce in himself, and in accordance with which he must judge everything that is an object of taste” (CPJ, 5:232). Perhaps the picture of Dior is meant to disrupt Kant’s discussion of what he regards as the highest archetype of beauty, the beauty of a human being as the only beautiful object who is completely free, determining its own ends through reason? But perhaps it is meant to support Kant’s thought here, the thought that genuine taste requires that each person judge on her own, independently of accepted cultural and social archetypes of taste, like Dior? Conroy’s work too might disturb Kant’s way of connecting art with spirit, but it might also support the passage where Büttner finds it—a passage about objects presented as artworks that are lacking in spirit, if spirit might stand here for the artist’s own agency, the agency that is both in and lacking from Conroy’s work, the agency that Conroy both wishes to remove from his own work and is incapable of removing. (Think here too about Andrea’s wish to let the work fall down.)

On the surface, the placement of a photograph of a horse where Kant speaks about the beauty of a horse, a photograph of a roman sculpture of Doryphoros where Kant speaks of the beauty of the human figure and diagram of a flower from a 1763 book where Kant speaks of the beauty of a rose seem representative of the supporting group of pictures. But are they? Many of the pictures in the book seem to function similarly with relation to the parts of the text with which they are paired—pictures of birds where Kant speaks of beautiful birds and of palaces where he speaks of beautiful palaces. These pictures are literal, perhaps overly literal. In their literalness, they are, I believe, disrupting as much as they are supporting. They disrupt in a myriad ways. For one, most of the pictures in the book are pictures of Kant’s visual examples, not of his arguments, disrupting his main claims, pausing the process of reconstructing the argument for the sake of visually imagining. Does a diagram of a rose support Kant’s claim that the beauty of a rose makes a claim on everyone’s own satisfaction? Does it bring to light this complex thought about the value of art and beauty, its difference from other values, like goodness and truth, the demand it makes on its appreciator and the kind of responsiveness that it calls for?

In one respect, it is exactly in their literalness, in their visual insistence, that these pictures disturb more than support the passages they display. And yet it is exactly in their disruption that they also support those passages, discussions, and arguments. For they slow us down just as required for judgment. They do not allow us to go on. They force us to dwell on the arguments as well as on the pictures and the examples, to explore their connections. These pictures prevent us from taking these examples, the pictures, to be mere examples, mere visual decorations or instruments in the service of promoting the arguments. They challenge the distinction between a claim and an image, between reason and perceptual imagination. They suggest that Kant’s arguments are not made merely in the service of establishing conclusions, philosophical views, ideas. Rather, when we slow down and dwell—when we judge—we see how these arguments and their conclusions are part of a complete world, which is both rational and visual, just as it is both Kant’s and ours.

As in her other works, and as in Kant’s aesthetics, here too, then, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment she made, Andrea Büttner invokes a duality—between supporting and disrupting—in order both to reinforce and to challenge it. Displaying Kant’s pictures both to support and to disrupt the text—to support by means of disrupting and to disrupt by mean of supporting—Büttner’s work, once again, challenges her audience, slowing it down. And insofar as she makes us more reflective by making us more visually perceptive and more imaginative, she is doing philosophy by means of making art and making art by means of doing philosophy. For that, we should all thank her.

Notes

[1] Andrea Büttner, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Hamburg: Felix Meiner/Museum Ludwig, 2014).

[2] Citations from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment will appear with the abbreviation CPJ, followed by the volume and page number of the Akademie Ausgabe: Kants gesammelte Schriften, hrsg. von der Königlisch Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Ak] (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902-).

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