Archive for July, 2013

Images for Summer

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

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Paolo making filmmusik for the Grand Hotel Locarno, August 2013

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Roe Ethridge, Studio with Red Bag, 2009

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Where Am I

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

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Recent Interview: CK

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

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From Mousse, Issue 39:

It’s Very Sad, Really: Chris Kraus and Quinn Latimer in Conversation about Art Writing, the Orphaning and Migration of the Humanities, and (No) Information

Quinn Latimer: Last fall I was in Zurich at a restaurant with some friends and I saw Summer of Hate, which had just been published, sticking out of someone’s bag. I pulled it out and read the blurb on the back, and was immediately struck by this line (I paraphrase): “He was highly intelligent but he had no information.” I loved the weird terseness of it, but also that idea and its sound: “No information.” It reminded me of the names of the (already retrograde) punk bands I saw growing up in Southern California, their abruptness and negation. After I read the novel a few months later, that line still stayed with me and I wondered why. So much of the visual art that surrounds me is concerned with access to and the circulation of information. Networking, circuitry, reception, participation, collaboration. It’s exhausting—and often contentless. And this well-traveled and circulated vacancy has very much to do with class and privilege, I think. In your formulation, then, this idea of “no information” could stand in for that exhaustion, that lack of content, that privilege. It could almost be a political statement: a statement of opposition. What are your thoughts about this? Your book posits the experience of your female protagonist, a privileged cultural producer exhausted with her context, against that of her male lover, a thoughtful working-class ex-felon who was the subject of the line I liked so much.

Chris Kraus: People mean such different things by “information.” The kind you’re talking about sounds like dataflow—disembodied information that does not relate to any continuity or experience. But to the third-century Gnostics, “information” was a kind of interpersonal historical memory. In Summer of Hate, when Catt observes that Paul has “no information,” she means he has no politics, no culture—no way of seeing his experience as anything but singular. And she’s the opposite. Her favorite experiences are the ones that remind her of other experiences, not necessarily her own, but ones that she’s experienced through culture.

QL: Ah, that’s interesting. Not only how information can mean such different things to different people, but how we each weight it. I guess the kind of information I am talking about—the kind on which so many operations of the contemporary art world seems to depend, as content and as infrastructure—is actually the opposite of the “disembodied information” that you describe. Instead, the information I am thinking of seems completely dependent on experience and trafficking within the art world community—at the expense of privacy or depth of experience. Information just becomes the vacuous exchange of networking, as opposed to something more material. So I don’t mean to glorify the singularity or lack of connection to anything larger in which to place one’s experience, as you draw in your character of Paul, but there is something interesting there. It’s the current privileging of participation and collaboration and networking over autonomy and singularity and privacy, which in actually feels quite disingenuous, particularly in the art market, since true participation is actually unreachable.

CK:  Yes, exactly—true participation in these situations is unreachable! It sounds like you’re alluding to certain participant or social-practice projects and groups that can’t possibly do what they say they are going to. You can’t “create a community,” and finally these projects will circulate in the art world, where they still need to resonate deeply in some way as poetic gestures. John Kelsey wrote about this beautifully in his Artforum essay last Fall. Recalling Relational Aesthetics in the ’90s, he wrote: “[C]ommunity declared itself a medium at the very moment that it was laying itself open to displacements it could never survive.” And he goes on to observe: “The mutation of the artist continued to follow its irrevocable logic until we eventually arrived at the fully wireless, fully precarious, Adderall-enhanced, manic-depressive, post- or hyperrelational figure who is more networked than ever but who presently exhibits signs of panic and disgust with a speed of connection that we can no longer either choose or escape.” I agree with that totally.

QL: But do you think that this archetypal contemporary artist figure that he alludes to is actually panicked or disgusted with their wireless, hyperrelational state? Not pleased? It sometimes looks or feels more like manic, cheery participation or totally opaque, automatic malaise…

CK: Yeah, I guess it depends on the person. It’s hard for me to believe how gladly people sign on for this “open office” situation—where you don’t even have your own desk, much less a door. I would find that unbearable.

QL: As a writer who often presents my work within the contemporary art world, I wondered what you—a filmmaker and writer who has long presented your works within this context—think is gained by the migration of so many disparate mediums into the visual art arena. How do you think media not traditional to the contemporary art field—film, literature, philosophy—changes when presented within its context, and why do you think so many writers, filmmakers, and philosophers, among others, are finding themselves working here? What is the incentive, the profit? (I note the irony of using those monetary terms, particularly for writers in the art world, who see no actual profit.) Do you see this as something new—a result of the current, impoverished states of the more demarcated worlds of other creative forms—or no? Why might a writer, like yourself, choose to operate here?

CK: Though I’m no longer a filmmaker—I made my last film, Gravity and Grace, in 1996 before I started writing—it’s ironic that the audience I craved when those films were being made has arrived two decades later, in the art world. But this, my own experience, isn’t really what I was referring to in Where Art Belongs and “Kelly Lake Store” when I wrote about documentary and independent film migrating into the art world. The distribution channels for those kinds of films do not exist any more. As the culture industry becomes increasingly hegemonic, with just several films or bands or books promoted heavily each season, all kinds of disciplines have migrated into the art world. Which is good, because there’s a great need for a more diverse culture to exist, but in some ways bad, because the object itself loses some of its autonomy and power. Bernadette Corporation’s film Get Rid of Yourself, for example, worked well in the art world, but could also equally—and differently—have worked as “cinema” had it been made ten or twenty years ago. The work that Sylvere Lotringer, Hedi El Kholti, and I do with Semiotexte has been a way of proposing different traditions, ways of living, that are philosophically and aesthetically coherent but exist outside the mainstream. And, of course, much of our audience is in the art world.

QL: What are some of those different traditions and ways of living that you specifically, and perhaps you and Lotringer and El Kholti collectively, have been proposing with Semiotexte? Can you be more explicit?

CK: Sure. But first, Semiotexte has never described itself as a collective. Sylvere was very clear about that when he began Semiotexte in the mid-1970s, and that’s probably why it’s survived such a long time. Semiotexte is an independent press co-edited by the three of us. And the projects attract other collaborators. If you look at the list over the years, we’ve published dozens of titles. And in a certain sense, all of them—from Burroughs and Baudrillard, to Foucault and Firestone, to Myles and Von Schlegell, to Wojnarowcz, Arcade, Michelle Tea, Abdellah Taia, Bifo, and Tony Duvert—propose different models of living. I mean, that’s pretty much the criteria. It’s a highly curated list. We don’t publish a book unless at least one of us finds it vital. Hedi El Kholti also edits the magazine Animal Shelter. Each of the issues so far is a subtle manifesto, not for any particular agenda, but for desires and tendencies that seem present among disparate people.

QL: Summer of Hate seems to explore different models and modes of living in the US, though ones that are not necessarily chosen but dictated by one’s economic class or circumstances. Money—its lack or motivating force—seems like a subtext of many of your writings, actually. In the art world, money is often spoken about but only in the context of the market and the highest economic echelon. The class system as a system, and the lower rungs of it, on which most of us exist, are often ignored—though rarely by you. How do you think this might be addressed by others in the art world? I’ve noticed your interest in Sean Monahan and Chris Glazek’s debt pamphlet, and Thomas Gorney’s “Rolling Jubilee” project…

CK: I’m writing about Jason Rhoades’s work for a survey show at ICA Philadelphia, and I’m really struck by the breadth of his culture and influences. So, I’m kind of stalking his influences, and one of his favorite movies was Carwash, which I just watched this week; it’s a movie about underclass culture, not in a pious outsider way, but full of jokes about racial stereotypes, class, etc. I mean, nobody should do anything in art, but it’s very refreshing when a few people with less than upper-middleclass backgrounds slip through. That’s part of the charm of Mike Kelley’s work. And Julie Beckers’s as well—she is a contemporary of Jason Rhoades. Really any work that lends itself to true observation and looks outside the bubble…

QL: In “Art Writing,” a recent unpublished essay of yours that you sent me a few months ago, you wrote: “How does one write about visual art that’s not really visual? I think there’s an analogy here: the form known as ‘art writing’—a form that, at least as represented by credentialed graduate programs, has metastasized in the last several years—could be to ‘art criticism’ what these participant or para-artistic projects are to material art works. Or [..] it could be that this writing itself […] is yet another orphaned humanities form that’s migrated into the ever-more-amorphous realm of the ‘art world.’” I am interested in this orphaning and migration of various humanities forms. How do you think the idea and practice of the “humanities” changes when it enters the contemporary art realm?

CK: Ah, it’s very sad, really.  Like Foucault being taught in a graduate program by someone whose entire expertise was that he once interviewed him! All of these disciplines being drastically reduced and simplified. Like the way universities have combined autonomous language departments into one bloc, “Language and Literature.” On the other hand, the art world has been very hospitable to less commercial forms of fiction, music, film, and culture in general. Even political activism. It seems like this dovetails with something you were saying about this kind of “vacuous networking”—when everything’s thrown together this way, these forms and activities lose some of their power. This is a problem, but not necessarily the end of the story. In the same essay, I described the ways that Sean Monahan and Chris Glazek’s debt pamphlet, and Thomas Gorney’s “Rolling Jubilee” project have found of capitalizing on, or working effectively, in this situation. The goal of “Rolling Jubilee” is to buy 9M of bundled student loan and medical debt for 500K and then forgive it. Projects like these circulate within the art world, but do the same job as countercultural activists in the 1960s and ’70s. The problem is not how to avoid or manage debt, but to reveal the whole structure of the debt-system, and free people of the individual guilt and shame that goes with it.

QL: I loved something you pointed out in that same essay about how when an atypical work of contemporary art, a film or a book, enters the art world, it “becomes less an autonomous act—a thing hurled into the culture—and more like an artifact, a branded product, viewed through the career of the artist.” It’s true: In the art world, the emphasis is often placed on the body of work or the artist’s practice, while in other creative industries, each work is treated as something discreet that either succeeds or fails, determining the larger career. So the art world can feel like a creative refuge, where ideas, not just works, have continuity and resonance. Yet the flipside is the darker question you pose: “Why would young people enter a studio art program to become teachers and translators, novelists, archivists, and small business owners? Clearly, it is because these activities have become so degraded and negligible within the culture that the only chance for them to appear is within contemporary art’s coded-yet-infinitely malleable discourse.” What do you mean by “appear”? Does “appearance” equal “performance” here? Doesn’t a student going to art school to write a novel take on the appearance of a performer, of performing this role of the “novelist”? How does that change the work that results?

CK: You could be right. Then again, some of the novels I’ve read at art schools and institutes really are … novels. Tom McCarthy began his career in the art world largely because he hadn’t found a niche yet in the literary world, which has become more and more conservative and doctrinaire. The thing is about the art world, there’s a very receptive, highly informed audience there. It’s as if all the intelligence has migrated there. There’s no longer an identifiable ‘counter-culture,’ but there’s any art world. Someone who’s moved to do something like literacy tutoring, open education, translation … if there’s any ideal, or any larger vision behind that desire, the art world has become the context where that vision will be perceived. To go to work for a non-profit would be social and intellectual suicide! It’s a curious phenomenon … as the “hegemony of empire” expands and annihilates so many forms of cultural life, the art world becomes more elastic and picks up the slack.

Summer Jam / State of Terror

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

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Critic’s Notebook: Out of Order

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

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Yes, I resubscribed to the New Yorker. Now back to my childhood game of tearing out the pictures.