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Post–The Exception and the Rule

By Susy Bielak, Karen Mirza, Brad Butler, Yesomi Umolu We are about to tell you the story of a journey. An exploiter and two of the exploited are the travelers. Examine carefully the behavior of these people. Find it surprising though not unusual. Inexplicable though normal, incomprehensible though it is the rule – Bertolt Brecht, […]

By Susy Bielak, Karen Mirza, Brad Butler, Yesomi Umolu

We are about to tell you the story of a journey.
An exploiter and two of the exploited are the travelers.
Examine carefully the behavior of these people.
Find it surprising though not unusual.
Inexplicable though normal, incomprehensible though it is the rule

– Bertolt Brecht, extract from The Exception and the Rule

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Last Thursday night, in the midst of a blizzard, a collection of players and spect-actors created a forum in the Museum of Non Participation. Within the space of the gallery, we enacted a play, Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule, whose very subject was on trial.

Also, on trial, were these questions:

  • Where does power reside in the room?
  • Who gets to speak, and who is silenced?
  • Which facets of a narrative will come to light?

Within Brecht’s play , the “rule” implies a legal language or a directive, while the “exception” evokes being ungovernable or searching for an alternative to either the state or the free market. Together, they act as both a statement, that “the rule cannot exist without the exception,” and a question, as to what a state of exception might be. Through the story of a merchant and his servant, The Exception and the Rule explores themes of capitalism and economics, labor and hierarchy, legislation and state ideology, hiding and secrecy, and the lack of union rights.

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

As described in our prior post, a significant part of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s engagement at the Walker and in Minneapolis was working together with Twin Cities’ citizens to translate this play, using methods of Augosto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in a series of four day-long workshops. The performance—presented as a one-night only event–was the culmination of this immersive work. How do you take process-based practice and the intimate space of a closed workshop to the open and very public space of the gallery? These were the challenges and the risks at play as we presented our interpretation of the play to an audience of between 80 – 120 people.

                 7

I am the narrator
I am the translator
I am the transcriber

I am the one who bears witness
To the uncomfortable being of other
In that in-between space

Who holds the tension in this space?
Who has author(ity) here?

- Andrea Jenkins, extract from Deep Privilege

The audience, or spect-actors, were brought into the Rules of Engagement through the Games for Actors and Non Actors:

GameofActors

Within the performance, there were formal contradictions between flow and rupture. Ruptures came from literally breaking out of Brecht’s tale through freeze frames and Forum Theater. Through freeze frames, players and audience alike were able to pause and silence the performance in order to interject narratives/opinions/discontents from their own lives and experiences. In Forum Theater, a real event was enacted in which the spect-actors were invited to take up the position of the oprimido and re-imagine the scenario, in order to affect change.

co-erced, manipulated, guided, coaxed, rehearsed, coddled,
cajoled, nursed, pushed into…..forgetting a—l-l of that mess-s-s-ss-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s through …..

– Veronica Ochoa, extract from of 13 ……

There were tensions between image (Boal) and narrative (Brecht). Throughout the course of the performance, players cycled as readers made their way through the script. Multiple players voiced single characters, while, simultaneously, others generated improvisational tableaus (the body as phonetics). Both pushed against binaries, engaging the simultaneous roles as oppressors and oppressed.

In conclusion, we find ourselves in a contraction, in the space of having generated new modes of language, and acknowledging the limits of language. There’s an inability to find a means to speak to all of the registers on which this work operates–mute, voiced, gestural, political, social, personal, anguished, agent.

(nos)-otr@s *

A reconfiguration of nosotros, the Spanish for WE. There is nos, the subject “we”. This is the people with power [the oppressor, colonizer, privileged] contained with-in—– hyphenated —–yet in constant exchange with the other, el otro, the oppressed. I add the @ to have both-genders-in-one and in order to neutralize the masculine predominance that exists within the Spanish language.

– Rigoberto Lara Guzman

This can’t be the conclusion.

The performance—an ephemeral, manifold act—was, and is, experienced through a host of positions (of body, perspective, etc.). We acknowledge that this work can only be documented collectively. We invite you to join us in the process by adding to the comments stream below.

Happy Birthday, Merce Cunningham: We Hardly Knew Ye

“What is this indescribable event in a dancer’s life (when he loves dancing) that arises, given all the shit, the terrible hours of work, the grumbling and malaise of a company, the point-of-vertigo fatigue when he one day drops it all and dances…and some internal-infernal hook holds one at a peak for those few seconds, […]

“What is this indescribable event in a dancer’s life (when he loves dancing) that arises, given all the shit, the terrible hours of work, the grumbling and malaise of a company, the point-of-vertigo fatigue when he one day drops it all and dances…and some internal-infernal hook holds one at a peak for those few seconds, if you are extremely lucky, minutes.”—Merce Cunningham, from Other Animals: Drawings and Journals by Merce Cunningham

The secret inside of Merce Cunningham's cape for Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

The secret inside of Merce Cunningham’s cape for Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Today we salute Merce Cunningham with an extract of Deli Commedia (1985), one of his short dance films directed by Elliot Caplan.  The piece has hues of the physical comedy of Commedia dell’Arte theater, realized with the aid of pastel Reebok high tops and the worm.  Although the dance was originally paired with music by pianist Pat Richter, the segment here is a masterful blind date mash-up with Black Sabbath.  This is why we love Merce.  His invitation for us to embrace chance pairings allows for even the most unlikely unions to seem so right.  Merce and Ozzy Osbourne, the collaboration that nearly got away:

 

 

Stanford Makishi Visits the Interdisciplinary Work Group

Early on in our Interdisciplinary Work Group convenings, a fundamental question emerged: Is our focus solely concerned with collaborations that happen among artists, or are we also drawn to how the interdisciplinary could apply to our daily work as Walker Art Center staff members?  While our diverse range of IWG invited guests spoke to both […]

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L-R: WAC Senior Curator of Performing Arts Philip Bither, WAC Assistant Curator of Performing Arts Michèle Steinwald, WAC Associate Director of Public and Community Programs Susy Bielak, WAC Cunningham Research Fellow Abigail Sebaly, Asian Cultural Council Director of Programs and Deputy Director Stanford Makishi

Early on in our Interdisciplinary Work Group convenings, a fundamental question emerged: Is our focus solely concerned with collaborations that happen among artists, or are we also drawn to how the interdisciplinary could apply to our daily work as Walker Art Center staff members?  While our diverse range of IWG invited guests spoke to both types of exchange, it is important to note why this distinction came up.  One observation is that we cannot overlook the methods we use to facilitate and realize an interdisciplinary project.  In this case, the rules for engaging across disciplines are not solely the prerogatives of artists themselves.  Instead, as curators, designers, educators, and researchers, the techniques that we use to develop and support interdisciplinary projects must themselves be responsive to the dynamics of working among multiple fields and departments.  This may demand re-examining the language that we use to talk about a project, or re-thinking the pacing of the project’s timeline.  It may even require that we set up alternate physical workspaces in the building so that we can be closer to our collaborator colleagues.  Whether we are artists, or staff members of an arts institution (or both!), interdisciplinary work pushes us to reassess how we negotiate not only multiple practices and voices, but also a more fundamental series of human relationships.

For my IWG guest, I invited Stanford Makishi, who is currently the Director of Programs and Deputy Director of the Asian Cultural Council in New York.  As a former dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and now a high-level arts administrator, Makishi is familiar with interdisciplinary work from both artistic and administrative perspectives.  For his IWG presentation, Makishi was offered complete freedom on how to format his talk.  The resulting conversation was a fascinating biographical survey of the numerous transitions that have occurred in his own professional life.  Even though Makishi has had numerous shifts in his career, from editor to dancer to development director to program director, there is also a remarkable consistency to his approach: Do not diminish your opportunities by immediately rejecting an idea that may seem daunting or beyond your capabilities.  Work hard at a project, but do not be afraid to make a change if the project ultimately doesn’t fit your interests.  Do not shy away from unusual professional hybrids (such as being a professional dancer while also working in development).  In a leadership role, carefully weigh the individual strengths of your team and allow others around you to lift the group, even if this may sometimes mean sharing tasks that you would like to keep for yourself.  When fostering collaborations, try to understand and acknowledge the perspectives of the various partners, seeing the circumstances through their eyes.  Although these may seem like fairly universal, basic tenets to abide by, they have clearly served Makishi well throughout his career.

Writer Susannah Schouweiler was also on hand for Makishi’s visit, and chronicled our discussion in the following report.

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In late November, a group of Walker staff in the center’s “Interdisciplinary Work Group” – curators, artists, programmers, designers, researchers and educators – gathered to chat with polymath artist-turned-administrator Stanford Makishi, who had been invited by Cunningham Research Fellow Abigail Sebaly. As Makishi describes his hugely successful, wide-ranging career path, his work approach is distinguished by expansiveness, and an openness to change and unexpected possibility. At one point, he says, “I was at the right place at the right time, to have all these opportunities open up to me. These shifts didn’t happen by design. I’ve had many people open doors for me; one thing that was really important to me was saying ‘yes’ to everything.”

Makishi’s career is as much a story of friendships as it is one of individual accomplishment; because of this, it isn’t surprising that his leadership style emphasizes mentorship over competition. His experience across fields and disciplines has been varied, but it’s also taught him again and again that fruitful collaboration and felicitous creative partnerships often don’t just happen – particularly in the workplace, they’re fostered by someone and nurtured by a perceptive, responsive management ethos up top.

Background and career pivots:
Born and raised in Honolulu, Makishi is a natural interdisciplinarian: a Harvard Economics major who, upon graduation, turned to focus on a career in dance. He remembers, “When someone suggested that I might possibly be talented enough to be a professional dancer, I took that to heart and worked really hard. I happened to be in New York when what became the company of my dreams, the Trisha Brown Company, was holding auditions. I gravitated to the kind of work she did anyway, and had taken a bunch of classes taught by her company members while I continued to study ballet.  I auditioned for the company and got in, and I became good friends with Trisha.” After five or six years, he told her he was ready to transition out of the company. Makishi recalls, “Trisha asked me to stay on for another two years and devised this plan where I would, in that time, become the organization’s development director. That meant I gradually spent more and more time in the office, writing grant proposals and the rest, while I was still dancing. The transition was very strange – I was often going straight from rehearsal, still sweaty from dancing, to do paperwork in the office – but it was also organic.”

After working as the Trisha Brown’s development director for a year, and serving another short stint in the Proposals Department at Sotheby’s, Makishi was hired by the editorial department at Carnegie Hall. They brought him in as a marketing associate, but he quickly moved through the ranks, and in a few short years was offered a spot at the helm of the department; soon thereafter, he was offered the directorship of Creative Services for the whole organization.

He credits the expansive work ethos of the place, as much as his own initiative, for his rise: “It’s a tremendously warm environment filled with very talented people — a really great and generous place. My various positions there had so much to do with simply being present and willing.” At Carnegie Hall, his tasks included editing all the educational materials produced by the venue – including all the detailed materials for teachers and classrooms, programs; as a result, he worked with all the various departments, their executives and staff. “One colleague in particular, gave me access to all these meetings that I wouldn’t have otherwise been a part of,” he recalls, which gave him invaluable entry to all manner of areas of expertise, and afforded him a chance to speak on behalf of various interests in the organization at various times. “It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn.”

During his time at Carnegie Hall, he reconnected with Trisha Brown: “She asked if I would work on a project that involved staging a production [Winterreise, at the Paris Opera] with a lot of my old friends in the company. The offer was irresistible, given all I had going on at the time. But Carnegie Hall allowed me to accommodate rehearsals into my schedule.” And during that project, “there was a pianist who knew Mikhail Baryshnikov…”

And once again, those connections led to a career pivot: after a matter of months, Makishi took the lessons gleaned from his years at Carnegie Hall to take the reins at New York City’s new Baryshnikov Arts Center as Executive Director.  In his four years there, he established the center’s residency program, and ended up heading a major theater construction project and capital campaign.  As with so many things in the course of his career, Makishi said yes again, and set about learning, on the spot, what he’d need to pull the building project off and keep doors open at the same time.

And now, after stints as artistic director of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance series and serving on various boards for other organizations, Makishi spends much of his professional energy working on behalf of cultural cross-pollination between Asia and America as director of the Rockefeller-funded organization, the Asian Cultural Council, shepherding the professional development and creative growth of hundreds of individual artists across the globe by funding and facilitating intercultural study and travel.

Putting the interdisciplinary, collaborative workplace into practice:
Our conversation shifts back to modes of work – the practical business of operating within the teams of a larger organization, of leading and being led in various sorts of creative projects across disciplines. Bartholomew Ryan, a visual arts curator, asks Makishi,”By the time you got to the Baryshnikov Arts Center you had all these pockets of experience and also the opportunity to begin with a relatively blank slate, with a new organization. Based on all your experiences, what was the working culture you aimed to create and inculcate in your new team? How did you go about setting that up?”

Makishi responds:
“I had some really inspirational leaders — firm and warm. I also knew how horrible it was to be on the receiving end of a tyrant’s direction. I’d worked at a smaller organization, Trisha Brown, but also for very large organizations – Carnegie Hall, Sotheby’s. There were just five other staff members when I got to Baryshnikov Center, but I’d learned from Carnegie Hall how to divide work in ways that are really efficient. But, really, I just had to improvise. I looked to my experience at Carnegie Hall: I thought about the culture there, how I felt so loved and valued, and how it made me want to work really hard for the organization. I knew I wanted to recreate that in this other environment, even with the much smaller scale. We were stretched– our staff was small – and it was a challenge, because I didn’t want our mostly young staff to get used to the idea that they should be working until 1 in the morning (like I had at Sotheby’s), so I probably took on more than I should have on myself.”

Michèle Steinwald, a curator with the Walker’s Performing Arts department, follows up: “At Carnegie Hall, having all those streams of information come through you from all those departments, navigating all those various interests and points of view: As you considered the sort of work flow you’d institute at the new Baryshnikov Center, what was your strategy for avoiding the silo-ing that often happens in organizations?”

Makishi replies: “We did many things together at Baryshnikov Center, because we had to. We were all in one room together:  we all knew what the others were doing. With so few people, everyone very talented, we didn’t have specialists. At a place like Carnegie Hall, you tend to get very specialized – you go down one track for 20 years, your expertise became very niche.” With a small organization, where professional agility is not just desirable, but essential, the sort of silos of knowledge Steinwald refers to, he says, you just don’t have a chance to become entrenched, much less calcified as happens in much larger institutions.

Abi Sebaly, observes: “You mentioned that, at the Baryshnikov Center, you ended up taking on more of the work yourself to ease the pressure on staff members. As a manager now, how do you balance that willingness to take work on with a trust for your staff members, delegating those responsibilities and duties to them?”

“I love working – I love what I do,” Makishi says. “And it’s hard to give away the good parts, but it’s important to delegate – it’s a necessary part of developing a staff member, giving them a project that you know really well so you can be useful in that relationship [as they begin to learn the ropes].”

Strategies and tactics for collaboration:
Susy Bielak, from the Walker’s Education and Community Programs Department is interested in strategies for collaboration: “There is a system at play here at the Walker, some levels of specialization –on the spectrum, we’re somewhere in the middle of your experiences, it sounds like. Can you offer some insight on tactical collaborations? It sounds like you’ve had some beautiful mentorship – but what about those instances of working together where collaboration isn’t quite so natural, so easy.”

Makishi responds, “The residency programs I’ve worked in all champion natural collaborations, self-chosen collaborations, but I don’t think that’s the only way to work together. For myself, I’m very fond of matchmaking:  As a manager, I’ve occasionally put two people together who weren’t natural pairings, but where there was one person I thought would benefit tremendously – like medicine. Maybe, as a result, I needed to be a diplomat, when one of the pair drove the other crazy, but these could still be very useful partnerships.”

He says, as a leader in such situations, “it’s my role to see things through another’s eyes, to make the bridge. [Inculcating that sense of collaboration, even among unlikely partners, then] becomes a very gentle admonition to think a certain way, to empathize and try things from a new perspective.”

On the other hand, he says, “when two people naturally gravitate toward each other, I think one should take advantage of that, allow them to boost each other. But that kind of partnering is easy, isn’t it?” He says, for him, the strategy linchpin is in putting the right team in place from the beginning, selecting a complementary mix of qualities and working styles: “It’s important not to worry so much about hiring quickly, but hiring correctly. To put the right person in the right job, so that they love what they’re doing – so they’re just where they want to be.”

 

Open Call: The Exception and the Rule

Are you an artist with a foot in activism, a community organizer, or a small business owner? Are you someone who questions the status quo? Are you interested in uncovering structures of power and exclusion? Are you the exception and the rule? This spring, London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler present a collection of […]

Are you an artist with a foot in activism, a community organizer, or a small business owner?
Are you someone who questions the status quo?
Are you interested in uncovering structures of power and exclusion?
Are you the exception and the rule?

Brad Butler performing Act(ion) 000167, Blackwood Gallery, Toronto
Courtesy SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Center), Toronto and Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto Mississauga

This spring, London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler present a collection of film, text, and performed actions in the exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, on view in the Walker’s Medtronic Gallery from April 18 to July 14, 2013. As part of this project, Mirza and Butler are inviting local residents to workshop and stage one of Bertolt Brecht’s short “learning plays” The Exception and the Rule. The “rule” implies a legal language or a directive, while the “exception” evokes being ungovernable or searching for an alternative to either the state or the free market. Together, they act as both a statement, that “the rule cannot exist without the exception,” and a question, as to what a state of exception might be. Through the story of a merchant and his servant, The Exception and the Rule explores themes of capitalism and economics, labor and hierarchy, legislation and state ideology, hiding and secrecy, and the lack of union rights. The artists invite you to eat, talk, rehearse, and perform together in order to explore and enact how these themes play out in our daily lives, as well as to consider how these can be extended to the audience as active participants.

The Exception and the Rule is one of Brecht’s several Lehrstucke or teaching plays. Brecht himself translated the term as “learning play” intended to educate people primarily about socialist politics. Typically, this form of political theater privileges function above content and foregrounds collective teaching and learning through various modes of performance. It attempts to break down any division between author and audience through reflexive gestures that reveal the “mechanics of theater.” Through this and other plays, Brecht developed a way for non actors to learn through playing roles, adopting postures, getting rid of the divide between actors and audience, and focusing on process rather than a final project. Working in the same vein, Mirza and Butler encourage you to enter into the project with the spirit of mutual enrichment and collaboration, where personal experiences/expertise and collective interpretation ultimately converge in the public presentation of the play.

Dates and Times:

Friday April 5, 7–9 pm: Social evening with participants (optional)

Saturday April 6, 11–6 pm: Games for actors and non actors facilitated by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, based on Brazilian director Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, a tool for social change

Saturday April 7, 11–6 pm: Forum theater–development of the games method and thinking through the implication of the audience in the play

Saturday April 13, 11–6 pm: Close reading of The Exception and the Rule and development of characters

Sunday April 14, 11–6 pm: Voice work, performance and body choreography

Thursday April 18, 7 pm: Public presentation of The Exception and the Rule in the Walker’s Medtronic Gallery

We ask that applicants commit to being present for all sessions, your regular participation is essential for the group to work as a whole.

Apply Now!

To participate in the workshops and staging of the play, please fill in the short application form here, by Friday, February 8, 2013.

Applications are free and open to anyone, however registration will be limited to up to 10 individuals. Hospitality and a small stipend will be offered to the selected participants.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Yesomi Umolu or Susy Bielak

Olga Viso’s 2012 Highlights in Twin Cities Culture and Beyond

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my […]

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was.

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The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my new year at midnight January 1, 2012. It was an unforgettable night of great dance, poignant emotion, and heartfelt tribute to one of the great choreographers of our time.

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

The arrival of Jim Hodges’ boulders on the Walker’s green space commenced the spring season, creating a new destination for visitors atop the Walker’s hill. Hodges will be the subject of a retrospective at the Walker in 2014.


Philip Glass’ surprise solo piano performance in honor of Walker Director Emeritus Martin Friedman at Martin’s tribute organized by New York’s Madison Square Park Foundation. Glass was among an assembly of artists, including Chuck Close, Frank Stella, and Claes Oldenburg, who joined me and Whitney director Adam Weinberg in toasting Martin’s legacy.

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe’s unmonumental outdoor project for dOCUMENTA(13) in Karlsaue Park in Kassel, Germany stands out as one of the most potent public projects in recent memory. Huyghe’s commission embraced the themes of documenta like no other work in this sprawling international survey that happens every five years.

Still from Wim Wenders' Pina (2011)

Still from Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011)

The screening of Wim Wenders’ Pina inaugurated the Walker’s newly renovated Cinema and its new 3-D capabilities, made possible by a major gift from the Bentson Foundation.

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom’s project in which he repurposed benches in the public park across the street from Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Bakkom painted nearly 40 benches, each inspired by the color schemes of original art works from the MIA’s collection. Labels for individual works appear on each bench. Go explore!

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China’s Terracotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Legacy at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was one of the Twin Cities’ exhibition highlights this season–a beautifully designed exhibition with breathtaking objects and impressive scholarship.

OlgaWeiwei

My visit with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his Beijing studio to discuss ongoing work for a potential commission on the Walker campus.

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 3.57.55 PM

Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak’s rallying tweet during the world’s first Internet Cat Video Festival (and the Republican National Convention) that welcomed 10,000 people (and some celebrity cats) to the Walker’s Open Field.

lowercasep

“Lowercase P: Artists & Politics,” a series of interviews published on walkerart.org (edited by Paul Schmelzer) to coincide with the US presidential election cycle of 2012.

Jasper Johns' set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jasper Johns’ set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art hover above musicians performing a work by John Cage, December 2, 2012

Jasper John’s set design for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time (1968)–borrowed from the Walker’s collections–serving as the centerpiece of the current exhibition Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

rolu for rosemary

During its Open Field residency ROLU staged a reading of James Lee Byars’ 100 questions from The Black Book in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in memory of the Walker’s late librarian Rosemary Furtak and created in collaboration with MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey.

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

One of the most memorable and important shows I saw in 2012, Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde at the Museum of Modern Art–curated by Doryun Chong, it opened in November–brings fascinating new research to light. Walker audiences will recognize works by Tetsumi Kudo, Genpei Akasegawa, and artists from Gutai in this show that is a visual feast.

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (2012)

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s unforgettable world premiere of The Act of Killing at the Telluride Film Festival. This film forever re-imagines the form of documentary filmmaking by having the perpetrators of war crimes in Indonesia (now elderly) personally re-enact their stories for the camera.

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett's Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett’s Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Andy DuCett’s ambitious “Why we do this” project at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis created an interactive exhibition and stage set for public performance.

FireCliff 3: In the presence of Monster

Looking back on the evening of Thursday 30th May, when Minouk Lim in collaboration with Minneapolis-based choreographer Emily Johnson presented the performance FireCliff 3 in the Walker’s Burnet gallery, it is rather difficult to recall the intricacies of the piece. This is made ever more complex by the fact that I was privy to its […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Looking back on the evening of Thursday 30th May, when Minouk Lim in collaboration with Minneapolis-based choreographer Emily Johnson presented the performance FireCliff 3 in the Walker’s Burnet gallery, it is rather difficult to recall the intricacies of the piece. This is made ever more complex by the fact that I was privy to its development from concept to realization, so my thoughts are inevitably filled with successive impressions of it. For me, the performance exists as series of fragments of half finished and half completed movements, recollections of late night rehearsals and early morning Skype conversations, continuous reviews of scripted elements and sounds samples, all conflated with countless musings on the pragmatics of lighting, sound and crowd control. I suspect this is also how Lim and Johnson experienced that evening; as they stood at the crest of a figurative firecliff in the darkened gallery, ready to deliver for the first time to an expecting audience.

Despite my fuzzy memory, on the night, the work presented itself anew, and as I watched it unfold, certain elements that repeatedly came to the fore during the project’s gestation resonated once more. As such, in place of providing a play-by-play review of the performance, which will do it a great disservice, I offer a reading of it through the singularity of the word Monster. Yes, Monster. This particular noun came into Lim and Johnson’s joint vocabulary during the very early stages of their conversations, which were conducted via emails and Skype sessions given their relative distance from each other – being in Seoul and Minneapolis respectively. In an early correspondence Johnson writes about her explorations of “the ongoing creation of Monster” in a new choreography she was developing at the time.  Speaking about the menace of this at once real and imagined fiend, she conjured images of terror, fear, evil and destruction in relation to the natural world, socio-cultural relations and oneself.

Instinctively for some, Monster takes them back to childhood – to the creature under the bed (or in the wardrobe) that is a signifier of childhood fears and uncertainties about the world beyond the safe space of the bedroom. For others, Monster is the mythical being that populates old wives tales and urban legends. Ostensibly fictive, it often exists as a constructive coping mechanism in places that have faced real moments of trauma. Being from across the proverbial pond, the Monster to the north in Loch Ness is an international calling card for tourism to the region as well as a representation of belonging and shared belief (or skepticism) across the communities of those great isles. Even more menacing for some, in the complex realm of geopolitics, Monster poses a very real danger to real lives in the form of military action, seemingly dormant terrorist threats or even multilateral sanctions that purport to serve a greater good. For no matter what side of the geographical or ideological border you are on, the specter of war and conflict signal a very monstrous end.

Photo: Jenna Klein

All these strands converged poignantly in FireCliff 3, as Johnson’s scripted monologue and choreography returned the audience to the place of childhood memories and family interactions. In the haphazard yet formal gestures and poses of the five dancers, we witnessed the “feasting and dancing, talking and making things” of days gone by. Propelled into a space that narrated the ritualized effacement and remembering of the past, of time hurtling forward and receding back into personal consciousness, benign movements took on ominous tones. Surely we were not to trust the saccharine and homely landscapes Johnson’s choreographed bodies created, because beneath all this there lay palpable moments of loss, death and anxiety – Monster was indeed very present.

Photo: Jenna Klein

Likewise, as the narrative transitioned to Lim’s inner voice, we were brought within reach of the mental state of individuals and communities who live in the shadow of potentially monstrous neighbors. For the artist, this is most evident in the threat to the north of South Korea’s territorial boundaries. By extension, Lim’s script also articulated the dangers of seeking protection or release from the grip of Monster – and the ‘by any means necessary’ dictum that usually guides such desires. In this case, the rampant militarization of borders that has gripped her country in the name of maintaining the political impasse and the contingent relationship with western powers, particularly America, have in themselves become stifling facets of daily life. Lim summed this up beautifully when she uttered:

“I want to be part of you
I want to be chosen by you
I want to praise you and commit myself to you
I willingly show you the back of my neck”

On a broader level, Lim’s metaphor of vampirism and self sacrifice also extends to the quest for modernization and the compulsion to partake in capitalism’s global project that has gripped emerging economies in the late 20th century. This is has proven itself to be an ideal that consumes hearts, bodies and minds indiscriminately – a fact that Lim experiences firsthand living through rapid social and spatial change in contemporary Seoul. In touching on this very salient point, FireCliff 3 ultimately asks: ‘where do we to turn, when in an attempt for self preservation and progress, we succumb to Monster and end up replicating its features?’ This question lingered heavily in the air as the audience stared at their reflections and that of the infrared feed of the performance through the mirrored screen ahead of them. Thus begging the question, might we be able to turn to each other for emancipation?

Photo: Jenna Klein

If as the performance proceeded, there appeared to be no resolution to this conundrum, then this was certainly helped by sound director Byungjun Kwons’s fascinatingly anarchic soundtrack, which mixed sound samples from Korean Pop culture, Top 40 hits and traditional Korean instrumentals with aplomb. Under the weight of this aural onslaught, the performers oscillated between desperation and exhaustion. Similarly the assembled audience was caught in the belly of the beast unable to escape its raging tumult.

Nevertheless, amongst the darkness and melancholy, there was much light in the performance, both symbolically and literally. For essentially, both Lim and Johnson infer that when there is no one else to turn to, then courage must come from within. The kernel of this idea can be traced to earlier exchange between the collaborators, where Lim writes of conceiving “Monster as courage…who is not afraid of dying and darkness…” Sharing this sentiment, Johnson adds “Monster as flame of light, as courage to be reborn.”

Photo: Jenna Klein

At this point, it is important to mention the use of Lim’s wearable sculptures and Portable Keepers throughout the performance as it points to the possibility of countering the destructive forces of Monster. Constructed from scavenged industrial materials that are piled and pasted together, these objects at first sight appear to be of little use or import. But as the dancers go about carrying, holding, hugging and raising them aloft, contorting their bodies to the uneven forms, they take on a peculiar functionality.

At various junctions in the performance, the wearable sculptures become shields or appendages to the human frame, at other moments they are mere adornments –for a short while transforming into impromptu headdresses or jewelry. These vignettes gesture towards the overturning of fear and sorrow into direct action and resilience that often follows cataclysmic events of social change, political upheaval or natural disasters. Whether we consider the use of raw material as emergency shelters, or the shifting of social oppression into a revolutionary spirit or even the translation of acts of terror into an ethos of tolerance, Lim’s tactile sculptures embody the overwhelming ability of the human spirit to push through all costs. In the end, it is clear that Lim and Johnson encourage their protagonists and the audience alike to be consumed by the mess and mayhem of Monster – to emerge from within its bowels. Monster thus transposes into medium for constructive reawakening and rebirth.

Photo: Jenna Klein

Fittingly, the performance ends with Lim starkly describing the death of an unidentified lover, juxtaposed with a projection of her 2009 moving image work Portable Keeper. As the figure in the video carries a totem pole fashioned by Lim through the busy streets and construction sites of Seoul, the performers unravel and raise aloft a limp fishing net weighed down by latex. In this closing sketch, Lim and Johnson allude to the reclaiming of forgotten lives, memories, most importantly, a foreseeable future, that can be brought about after succumbing to and surviving the presence of Monster.

 

 

The Sculpture is Never Finished: An Interview with Vincent Fecteau

  It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new […]

 

Vincent Fecteau. Untitled, 2010, Walker Art Center

It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new aspects of its variegated surface, imperfect acrylic paint layers of uneasy hues, traces of papier mâché infrastructure, and range of casted shadows on the flat wall behind it. While Fecteau worked on this series of what he’s referred to as “360-degree sculptures,” each awkward wall-mounted shape consisted of an arduous exercise in not only confronting the limitations of sculpture but also in determining the state of completion for these challenging and indefinitive works.

In a recent interview, Fecteau discusses his sculptural practice. He talks about the development of his work in the Walker’s collection, what he’s working on now (an exhibition of his newest pieces just opened at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin), and the exciting impossibility of making art.

(more…)

Happy Birthday, John Cage: Do You Know This Cake?

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to […]

John Cage celebrating his birthday with an unidentified friend in Minneapolis, September 1982. Courtesy Walker Art Center.

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to Say Anything about Marcel, 1969, a series of screenprinted plexiglass plates (“plexigrams“) that Cage produced with Calvin Sumsion. The 70th birthday celebration also included music and dance performances, poetry readings, a symposium called John Cage: Art and Influence, and the masterful yin/yang cake pictured above. If you have further details on the story behind this cake, who produced it, or what it consisted of, please help our archive fill in the details.

 

 

Introducing Untitled (Blog)

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, focus our offerings, and give readers a better sense of what they’ll find inside. Don’t worry though, the name might have changed, but this is still the blog of the Visual Arts department, and we’re committed to using it to amplify and give insights into visual arts programming, exhibition making, and the Walker’s collections. The blog’s moniker, Untitled (Blog), is a play on the open-ended qualities of contemporary art, something we hope will be reflected in the nature and variety of postings in the coming years. Enjoy!

Amelia Jones on Marcel Duchamp

On November 29, 1994, art historian Amelia Jones gave a lecture at the Walker Art Center entitled, “The Duchampian Phallus.” Jones introduced her book, Postmodernism and the Engendering of Marcel Duchamp. Her critique of the “fetishization” of Marcel Duchamp offered an alternative view to the masculine-oriented sensibilities that pervaded modern art. The talk was presented […]

On November 29, 1994, art historian Amelia Jones gave a lecture at the Walker Art Center entitled, “The Duchampian Phallus.” Jones introduced her book, Postmodernism and the Engendering of Marcel Duchamp. Her critique of the “fetishization” of Marcel Duchamp offered an alternative view to the masculine-oriented sensibilities that pervaded modern art. The talk was presented in conjunction with the Walker’s exhibition Duchamp’s Leg. Below is an excerpt from the transcript, published today in recognition of the 125th anniversary of Duchamp’s birth.

Amelia Jones
The Duchampian Phallus

I’ve written a book entitled Postmodernism and the En-Gendering of Marcel Duchamp. This book attempts to make a critical intervention into dominant histories and theories of postmodernism and the visual arts. My book focuses almost exclusively on discursive constructions of Duchamp within United States texts about post-1960 art rather than on the work of artists who may have been influenced, jolted, inspired, pissed off, or tantalized by the work and persona of Marcel Duchamp.

I’d like to retrace very briefly here the arguments I make in the book, and then as seems appropriate for this forum address, what I see as a striking difference between constructions of Duchamp within United States art history and criticism and artists’ uses and abuses of Duchamp. In my book I point out that since the late 1960s a dominant and accepted account of postmodernism has developed, one that defines postmodernism as radically overthrowing modernism’s masculinist investment in genius and hierarchies of quality, and yet one that consistently invokes Marcel Duchamp, the French-turned-American Dadaist as the father of this postmodernism, in this way assigning him the phallus of postmodern authority. The central argument of my book is that this construction is self-contradictory and that it explicitly defines a male modernist as the paternal origin for a supposedly anti-modernist, anti-masculinist postmodernism.

I also argue that this construction closes down the highly charged eroticism that I feel Duchamp’s work so dramatically encourages in the interpretive exchange. It does this by ignoring the sexual aspects of his work and focusing exclusively on the institutional critique put into play by his readymades, and these of course are the mass-produced objects he selected from the world of things in the nineteen-tens and signed as art objects, so that the readymades are identified as indicative of his dislocation of modernism. I spend the first third of the book tracing the obsessive critical invocation of Duchamp as originary postmodernist, but the bulk of my text is more playful, attempting to reopen the circuits of desire closed down by the vast majority of Anglo-American art critical and historical texts referencing Duchamp.

To this end, I re-read Duchamp’s readymades as his performative self-display as a woman in the Rrose Sélavy photographs taken by Man Ray. And his final masterpiece, Étant Donnés, or Given: The Waterfall, The Illuminating Gas. And I’m not going to go into a detailed discussion of this piece here but I have a whole chapter in the book on the piece. These re-readings are explicitly feminist attempts to re-eroticize the interpretive field surrounding Duchamp and his works.

Man Ray. Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy (1920-21). Gelatin silver print. Image and sheet: 8 1/2 x 6 13/16 inches (21.6 x 17.3 cm) Mount: 9 x 7 3/16 inches (22.9 x 18.3 cm). Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

So why Duchamp as origin? Very briefly let me trace here the various historical reasons that might account for the fetishization of Duchamp in United States art discourses about postmodernism. American art practice and criticism in the 1940s and 50s are now seen to be epitomized by the figures of Jackson Pollock, the heroic genius of modernist painting’s last gasp, and Clement Greenberg, that now-infamous avatar of the transcendent abstract formalism linked with Pollock and his New York School colleagues. By the mid-1950s with the inspiration of counter-cultural anti-genius geniuses such as Merce Cunningham, the dancer, and John Cage, musician-poet-artist and friend of Duchamp, a younger generation of artists began to search for alternative avenues of expression in their work and self-presentational strategies. That is, artists such as Robert Rauschenberg who had worked with Cage at the Black Mountain School in North Carolina in the early 1950s; Jasper Johns and Allan Kaprow, linked to Duchamp through Cage’s classes at the New York New School, these artists began to produce non-formalist and specifically ironic or self-critical paintings, objects, and performances, some of which explicitly reference Duchamp, such as Jasper Johns’ According to What? of 1964, literally paraphrasing Duchamp’s 1959 Self-Portrait in Profile. So this is an example of the direct reference of Duchamp’s work.

Robert Rauschenberg. “Trophy II (For Teeny and Marcel Duchamp). 1960. oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, metal on canvas, drinking glass, metal chain, spoon, necktie. overall installed 90 x 118 x 5 inches. Photo: Walker Art Center

In this way these artists definitively distance themselves from the pretentious aesthetics and masculinist authorial politics of the Pollock – Greenberg tradition of high modernism. Johns in particular began collecting works by Duchamp during the 1950s, and both Johns and Rauschenberg, along with any number of other younger artists, had access to Duchamp’s works in bulk at the newly-acquired Arensberg collection in Philadelphia which was opened to the public in 1954; through the first monograph published on Duchamp by Robert Lebel in 1959; and through the widely attended retrospective of Duchamp’s works at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1963.

As an Americanized-to-exotic French artist whose roots extended into the racy and countercultural Dadaist period of French modernism, and whose dandified persona struck chords of great desire among art writers in this country, Duchamp was a perfect idol, mentor, inspiration for the younger generations of artists and desirists, whether consciously or not, opposing themselves beyond the histrionic genius identification and austere self-important aesthetics of Greenbergian modernism. Duchamp’s seeming ambiguity, his eroticism, which while rarely overtly acknowledged by United States critics and historians until recently, has clearly contributed to his seductive appeal and his unfixability [which] paradoxically became precisely those characteristics that encouraged these critics and historians to try their best to fix him in the genealogical firmament of contemporary American art.

Why the readymades? Why is it that the readymades became such a central part of this construction? Why, given the multiplicity of the Duchampian figure and [inaudible], have these discourses tended to reduce Duchamp to the function of the readymades? I tackled this question at some length in my book. Here I will just note briefly that borrowing from modern European cultural theory, influenced by Marxian and more specifically Frankfurt school theory, in the 1970s and 1980s the critical value system became dominant in the United States, one that privileged the readymades as originary gestures in the dislocation of the market politics of modernism. That is, as Frankfurt-school-influenced writer Peter Burger wrote in his Theory of the Avant Garde of 1974, the ready-made is a paradigmatic gesture of radically avant garde practice.

And, this is Peter Burger’s quote: “Duchamp’s provocation through the readymades not only unmasked the art market where the signature means more than the quality of the work. It radically questions the very principle of art and bourgeois society, according to which the individual is considered the creator of a work of art. By inserting the mass-produced into the art context, a gesture legitimated to the signature of the author, Duchamp negates the category of individual creation, undermining the bourgeois conception of genius.”

Now of course you should be noting a slight paradox here since Duchamp is then celebrated as a genius. In this way the readymades have come to function as iconic statements of avant garde resistance to the usually hidden market structures that give aesthetic value to, and take economic value from, high art. At the same time they have obviously been fully incorporated into structure, just as Duchamp who was celebrated as the radical critic of artistic genius, has come to be seen as the quintessential genius origin of postmodernism. I would hardly deny this conception of the readymade. This isn’t a question after all of the true meaning of Duchamp but rather an examination of how and why his meanings are constructed as they are. What interests me about this fixation on the readymades, however, is the myopia it entails, both in terms of the meanings of Duchamp’s works, among which I would include his persona as a performance of himself as author, and in terms of the history of contemporary art in general, with Duchamp simplistically reduced to the readymade, a gesture that hardly challenges the modernism implicit in art history. The discipline can continue to believe in and enforce its self-satisfied, ostensibly disinterested, and de-eroticized narratives of modern and postmodern art.

It is only through recognizing the eroticism of interpretation and eroticism again that I believe Duchamp’s works exacerbate, that its conservatism can be challenged. If my book makes any impact at all I hope it serves to emphasize the need to complicate our own assumptions as viewers and interpreters as well as makers of contemporary art about the ways in which those works are placed historically and given meaning. It behooves us if we are to privilege the postmodern as that which subverts or challenges modernism’s solipsistic self-importance, closed value systems, and investments in centered authorial genius. It behooves us to question our own investments – erotic, intellectual, and otherwise – in determining particular meanings for Duchamp’s as well as other artists’ works.

I should stress again that my argument in the book is taken against art critical and historical accounts of Duchamp’s influence in relation to United States postmodern art, not against the artists who have explored various aspects of the Duchampian project. My book in fact only discusses a few contemporary works and those are by a little-known group of French artists. As I think about Duchamp’s Leg or legacy in contemporary practice – l-e-g-s is the French word for legacy – it seems to me that artists have had far more subtle and multivalent relationships to Duchamp than art critics and historians. For the moment I’d like to look at some artistic projects that negotiate a range of issues raised by Duchamp’s art and public persona. This discussion will inevitably circle around phenomenological issues involving the body and the subjectivity of the artist, as this is my current book project which I’m writing at this moment.

Certain interesting gender-sex divides will arise in relation to these works negotiating Duchamp as well. And I think this is because Duchamp occupies a very different role for women feminist artists attempting to critique the masculinism of art discourse than he does for the majority of male artists who are forced to approach Duchamp’s phallus, his paternity, through a rather classic Oedipal relationship. And very briefly I think this approach marks the deeply sexual nature of our relationship to art and artists in general. It marks the impact of what I call in my book Duchamp’s seduction on our understanding of his work. As a seducer, Duchamp is the quintessential desired object but also the actively titillating subject who animates the field of discourse around his life and work.

Robert Morris, who became a prominent figure here on the avant garde art scene in the early sixties and is still an active artist, having been honored with a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, represents a seemingly clear-cut but ultimately I think complicated example of the difficulties faced by an artist attempting to negotiate what I’ve called here the Duchampian phallus. I’d like to engage just very briefly with a piece he has done that in my view most brilliantly negotiates the profound issues of meaning and subjectivity put into play by Duchamp, not just as author of the readymades but again as the seductive, complexly engendered author function.

This piece is called Eye Box from 1962. In this self-critical and ironic piece, Morris hides a picture of himself the male artist, self-assured but radically unveiled behind the hinged eye-shaped door of this modestly-sized box. It’s about 18 or 19 inches tall. As I argued Duchamp did with his self-presentation as Rrose Sélavy, Morris opens out and simultaneously inscribes the masculinism of the artist, parodying the modernist alignment of the male subject via the veiled but nonetheless unmistakably virile body of the male artist with the phallus of artistic authority. Presenting the artist directly unveiled, Eye Box is an aggressive refutation of the New York School’s unself-critical celebration of phallic prowess and masculine genius, as for example evidenced in the now-famous images of Pollock in action thrusting aggressively across and over his canvas.

Morris emphatically marks the way in which the male artist takes the position of the I, the centered artistic subject, who speaks the object as a work of art, as Duchamp’s signed [inaudible] did for the readymades. Morris’ smart filial relationship to Duchamp allows him to play with the phallus of artistic authorities, such that like Duchamp he can critique and get mileage out of the masculinist author-genius function at the same time. Several feminist artists have also grappled with Duchamp’s paternal influence, but to stress the point again I think their negotiation takes a different cast. Thus in 1976 in front of Duchamp’s Large Glass at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Hannah Wilke performed C’est la Vie Rrose, a feminist version of Duchamp’s notorious chess game with a naked Eve Babitz at the Pasadena Museum in 1963. And this, for those of you who know Duchamp studies, is a kind of thorn in the side of people who want to argue for his radicality in terms of gender issues. Here the identities of chess players are transformed. The author-artist in the Wilke piece is a female and it is she who is unclothed. The opponent is also female but dressed in a butch style with heavy leather jacket and closely cropped hair. A pointed comment on the overtly misogynist character of Duchamp’s image, Wilke presents the female nude as both author of and sexual object of both male and potentially butch or female desire within the piece.

Sherrie Levine has also negotiated the Duchampian function in pieces that interrogate both the readymades and more complexly the corporeal politics of The Large Glass. In Fountain: After Duchamp, 1991, she has reconstructed his infamous Fountain of 1917, a readymade urinal rotated and hung as a work of art. Levine reconstructs it in bronze, emphasizing the aesthetic exchange value of the mass-produced but now with the Duchampian reference, highly valued readymade object.

Sherrie Levine. Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P.) (1991). Bronze. overall 14.5 x 14.25 x 25 inches. Image: Walker Art Center

As Levine herself has noted, The Fountain now becomes a kind of gorgeous anthropomorphic sculpture, closer in appearance to Brancusi or Arp, and yet produced by a woman artist I think it intervenes rather aggressively into this masculine genealogy of modernist form.  In Levine’s untitled The Bachelors [indaudible] from 1989, Levine has fabricated in lovely white glass the bachelor molds that are sketched on the surface of Duchamp’s Large Glass. Placed horizontally in the vitrine, the bachelor lies helpless with legs spread, referencing Duchamp’s ownÉtants Donnés. Frozen in a display case, unable to hide from the probing gaze of the gallery goer. Levine literalizes Duchamp’s metaphoric narratives of the interrelationships among sex, desire, and aesthetic values.

Of course many others have also played with the Duchampian function. While male artists from Morris to Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons have explored and expanded upon the ironicized virility of the Duchampian author function to various effects, obviously very different effects, the majority of feminist artists interested in Duchamp have approached him through the readymades, but in such a way as to intersect these objects of institutional critique with an erotic politics of subjectivity, encouraged both through Duchamp’s own work and through the feminist movement. Maureen Connor, for example, reconstructs Duchamp’s readymade bottle rack piece of 1914, anthropomorphizing the menacing rack by making it life-sized, turning the prongs inward in this case, and by embellishing it with fabric or with cast body parts such as lungs.  In another piece by Levine called Penis, a rather unsubtle title, 1989, she again turns the prongs inward and constructs an explicitly feminist reply to Duchamp by marking the phallic pretension of the ostensibly neutral rack, and yet she does so by draping it with pink lace so it’s a kind of play on the masculine-feminine. Connor, like Morris I think, approaches Duchamp through deep questions of sex and of body subjectivity. In my view it is not only through the readymade as an isolated gesture of institutional critique that Duchamp and his postmodern admirers most dramatically intervene into modernism, but through this interrogation of authorial identity and subjectivity.

 

Installation view of Walker exhibition, Duchamp’s Leg (November 5, 1994-March 26, 1995).

I close the book by offering an alternative theory of postmodernism in the visual arts, one that argues per the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard that postmodernism always existed within the modern, hence the postmodernism of Duchamp’s readymade gesture which took place in the teens, the heyday of the modernist avant garde. But while postmodernism always existed within the modern, it has only in the last 25 or so years begun to emerge as the dominant discourse. In this way as [inaudible] has argued in relation to Duchamp, postmodernism is a performative function. It is the speaking of itself in relation to modernism. Thus when Robert Morris spoke himself as an ironicized male authorial I in 1962, he claimed an aspect of Duchamp for postmodernism. When Levine remade Duchamp’s Fountain, she reclaimed him too for postmodernism. I am speaking him here again as a formidable but if always equivocal force informing postmodern art and art history.

The whole point of all of this really is to argue that Duchamp has become what we, having related to his works and what we know of his authorial identity, make him to be. This is his leg. I am insisting here that his greatest gift to us has been his coy seductiveness, his simultaneous challenge of the phallus of artistic authority and obvious use of it to confirm his own indispensability to the practices of contemporary art. The interpreter’s relationship to the Duchampian phallus is one that implicates her or his desires and subjectivity in the determination of the work’s meanings. Our fascination with Duchamp and desire to fix him has to do precisely with the confusion and undecidability his works put into play. I will end then with an anti-phallic statement by Duchamp, quote: “A genius is not made by the mind itself. It is made by the onlooker. The public needs a top mind and makes it. Genius is an invention of man just like God.” Thank you.
Transcribed by Yvonne Bond.

Note: Images in this text were not those included in Jones’ lecture. They are inserted here for reference.

 

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