Friday, December 31, 2010

Witness the Last Man

Francis vs Bob

2011 is to the future what twenty-two is to adolescence. In the roll call of millennial benchmarks 1999 was thirteen,  the year we finally become teenagers (and we could finally party like it was Prince had promised us we would). Stanley Kubrick made 2001 a far more adult benchmark, it was more akin to a sixteenth birthday, we got our drivers licence, but we were becoming aware that this future/adult thing was happening right now. 2008 turned out to be our like an eighteen,  it was the year we voted (yes we can). 2010 was the year Aurthur C lark promised we would make contact, it was our twenty-one, the final benchmark of our transition to future-present adulthood, and we all needed a drink. 2011 is our twenty-two because that is the first birthday in which there is no great benchmark to look forward to. It's first year of the rest of your life. Welcome to the future, the end of benchmarks, the end of history. It sounds grim, but it actually isn't, it a really good thing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 5): Abstract Art Is A Technology.

Fat Bastard: end of third day of installation.
(Return to Part 4)
As a participant in an exhibition of abstract 'generative' art called abstrakt - Abstrakt, I spent nine days installing, and had a lot of time to think about the work of the other artists in the show, most of whom used or addressed the crumbling edge of digital technology, and almost all of whom evoked for me the flatfooted logic of the last great wave of abstract art, 1960s era minimalism. My work is sometimes describes as post-minimalist. I like to describe it as post-Star Wars-minimalism, but not because it's high-tech. My art is not-at-all-crumbling edge; I use no advanced technology, my design and fabrication is entirely analog, but by the time I became aware of abstraction, Modernism had been recast as the Deathstar and destroyed. Abstract artist of my generation are "late-adopters." Late adopter is a term usually reserved for technologies. My decision to take up abstraction in the mid-1990s was because abstraction is not a style, that the difference between abstract art and earlier art is not a difference in quality, it is a difference in kind. But it has only been as I've been thinking about exactly what technology is that it occurred to me that the difference is the difference between a very old technology and a relatively new one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 4): Sympathetic Summary

Fat Bastard: end of second day of installation.
(Return to Part 3)

It occurred to me as I was talking to a friend about this series of posts that I had failed to explain how I knew about Kevin Kelly and why I knew to pick up What Technology Wants. I first became aware of Kelly when he wrote a very positive piece about my essay, Star Wars: A New Heap, a couple years ago (that didn't suck at all). Since then I have become addicted to the Longnow seminar series he curates (sorry Joanne) with Stewart Brand. So I had a good sense of who Kelly's intellectual footprint before I picked up his latest book. Kelly is unabashedly pro science and technology. It is a position I find attractive but also makes me squirm. I am at once a believer in the positive long term role of science and technology (I agree with Kelly they give us choices), but deeply ambivalent when it comes to the damage being done by the consumer capitalist economy. I believe terms for contemporary conditions that begin with the "post" or "late" are premature at best, deceptive at worst.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 3): Hitchhiking in Flatland

Fat Bastard: end of first day of installation (2010)
(Return to Part 2)

When I was 16 I hitchhiked from Chicago to New York during what turned out to be the worst cold-snap to hit the East Coast in 90 years. That sucked. It was an ill advised decision, made on the spur of the moment, by a much different version of myself (he was a bit prettier). In addition to returning home with walking pneumonia, I had developed a very restless thumb. Perhaps because I started riding the Chicago mass transit system in middle school (which was very near Cabrini Greene), traveling among strangers in circumstances most people would find dangerous was old hat. What I discovered on that first trip was that hitchhiking was safer than the 1980s era El. Add to that I was a  bit of a risk taker as a boy. My mother has told me she was relieved that at sixteen I showed so little interest in getting a drivers licence, but she would have much preferred I had done that instead of hitching. I think hitching was a safer choice for me. As it is I didn't get my licence until I was 24. I hitchhiked instead. The reason had nothing to do with risk or driving my ma nuts, I kept at it because I really liked the people I met.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 2): Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Back.

Fat Bastard: Initial Condition (three large polystyrene blocks arranged symmetrically)
(Return to Part 1
The relationship between technology and the contemporary art world is a fraught one. While genuine excitement surround projects that use powerful computer programs or novel CNC fabrication techniques and art history can be unrolled as a series of technologies, most historians, curators, collectors and artists are best described as late-adopters, if not out right non-adopters. I myself am a somewhat imperfect example (it's complicated). I began my career by apprenticing myself to a Luddite. The system of master/apprentice is itself a relic of the Middle Ages, it was abandon by the mainstream as form of art education way before the guy I apprenticed to was born - but he was a Luddite, so I lucked out. It turned out to be an ideal pedagogical format for me, not only to learn lost wax plaster investment bronze casting-- a technology that is over 5000 years old--but also a chance to get my bearings in the world. When I began my apprenticeship I was a wastrel truant case from Chicago. I had just barely graduated high-school with a very low D grade point average, that had its beginnings in primary school. College was not an option, and even if it had been, it probably would have been a waste of time and money. As unconventional as it was, my apprenticeship was my first taste of academic success of any kind (I wish I could have started it at 9 instead of 19).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 1): I Want To Be A Verb

Fat Bastard (2010), 11’ X 14’ X 14’

My favorite essay by my favorite artist is Robert Smithson’s 1969 Towards The Development of an Air Terminal Site. It’s not a piece that gets a lot of attention from academics or other artists - so part of my affection for it is that I have it somewhat to myself. It is a great, if sprawling, totally confounding, think piece loosely dealing with the intersection of art and technology. In it Smithson proposes looking at the relationship of an air terminal and the aircraft it hangs below in order to “find a whole new sets of values.” The existing set of values attached to high technology of flight he wanted to see past were “a rationalism that supposes truths--such as nature, progress, and speed.” In the same essay he suggest looking at a dam construction site as “an abstract work of art that vanishes as it develops.” Each moment, he suggests, is a “discrete stage” in a series. But Smithson admits that that functionless wall will cease being a work of art when it becomes "a utility." (Incidentally, it is the essay that sparked this blog - in it Smithson also uncannily predicts the faceted aerodynamics of the stealth bomber and the crystalline shapes of the space ships in Star Wars. It is a bad-ass piece of writing.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Work of Art

Work of Art's Jerry Saltz & Zoolander's David Bowie both acting as arbiter elegantiae

The hopefuls were lining up this past weekend outside the Brooklyn Museum to audition for season two of Bravo's long-form game-show reality-esque drama Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. According to the art critic Jerry Saltz, who participated in season one of the show as a celebrity judge, for him the program was never intended to reflect the “real art world,”  it was about opening art criticism to a wider audience:
German sculptor Joseph Beuys famously said, “Everyone is an artist.” I wondered if all of our interconnectivity and social networking also made everyone a critic. For me, criticism is a way of showing respect for art; I wanted to share that respect with a large audience and see if it would reciprocate.
I take him at his word. I am a fan of Jerry's but I didn't watch a single episode of season one, and even avoided reading articles and blog posts about the show. I did this not because the show didn't reflect the "real art world," that is after all a very tall order, I did it because at first it seemed everyone seemed to be watching the show. What's the point of being an artist if you do what everybody else is doing? But my contrarian knee-jerk turned to real discomfort as I began to hear about the show. I found the concept of challenges and elimination rounds disrespectful to my small place within the art world. I make art for a living and it bummed me out to have to a museum I love (the Brooklyn Museum has a world class collection and suffers a farm team reputation largely because of its unfortunate proximity to the Modern and the Met) and a critic I really like (Jerry is seriously one of my personal favorites) using young artists as unpaid fodder for a game-show.
I am writing this now because I'm a contrarian and everyone else is done loving and hating Work of Art - everyone but my brother-in-law, Steve Mesler, who is an art fabricator and blogs about art for Huffinton Post, and is one of my closest friends. He has repeatedly defended the show in conversation. He found the artists on the show supportive of one another and pressed me to consider how badly they were being treated not just by snarky bloggers but by Bravo. He and I have a long history of stupid bets and endless arguments, but also of pushing one another to do better. When he told me he planned to video interviews of the kids on line last weekend it got me wondering what constellation of events it would take to get me to watch season two with him. I'll do it but I have one condition: That the producers follow Jerry Saltz's suggestions and hired Christian Viveros-Faune and Bill Powhida to be on the show. Those changes guarantee more reality TV drama and fun than an open bar on the Jersey Shore.
Bill Powhida, Zoolander, Billy Zane and Christian Viveros-Faune



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flavin Sabers

The intersection of art geek and Star Wars geek feels at times vanishingly small. But my friend, the architect Otto Ruano makes me feel much less alone. Above is a detail of the new nameplate image. It is a recreation in digitally rendered lightsabers of the minimalist artist, Dan Flavin's florecent light fixture installation - the nominal three (to William of Ockham), from 1963 (pictured below).
A few months ago otto and I spent a couple days working through Flavin's catalog raisonne and plotting out every piece he ever made as digitally rendered light sabers. I am lucky to have a few good friends who share my odd ball combinations of interests, and luckier still to have one as tallented and as fun to work with as Otto.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why is there no misogyny on Star Trek? (Dick 5.1)

Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek crew; The men of Mad Men.

The short answer is: Because it takes place in the future.
My friend Joanne McNeil wrote a fuller answer on her blog Tomorrow's Museum"There are no sexist men in the 21st century, only stupid men.I read Joanne's post on the heels of posting a piece about my "girl phone" and a very confusing argument I had about feminism recently. It also coincided with some recent stuff I read on the subject of manhood now, and as it is remembered on Mad Men.
For the record, I love carrying a "girl phone." Even as my nephew makes fun of it, I like him to see that I have carried it for three years in spite of the ribbing I receive from him and my other friends. I don't spend a lot of energy 'transgressing gender roles' - its not my bag, but I admire those that do. I am very aware of how much courage it takes for a young man or woman to tell their parents they are trans-gender, and enormous sympathy for parent's struggling to come to terms with that new reality. These are people who have stepped off the map of the known world, they are exploring the future. I have no sympathy meanwhile for the pantsless men celebrated in last winter's Superbowl ads. These over grown boys are stuck in the past. Madison Avenue's answer to the prospect of a world of men without chests are men without pants.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick; Dick, Dick, Dick." - Part 5: Pocket Furniture

Tom Lennon as Officer Dangle; anonymous photo of an organ grinder and his monkey (1892)
(Return to Part 4) While still in high school the comic actor Tom Lennon wrote a short earnest play about looking through his girlfriend's shoes. He believed that all you need to know about a person you can learn from the shoes they own. That idea, that the objects we are most intimate with explain us better than we can explain ourselves, impressed me. Twenty years later I think about Tom's play surprisingly often, usually when I am looking at my own small (but well loved) collection of shoes, but also when I am loading and unloading my pockets, which is something I enjoy doing. I like sorting through the miscellany that finds its way into my pockets over the length of a day; the expected coins, bits of receipts, small tools and orphaned machine screws - as well as the occasional surprise - a bar napkin with a phone number (sweet), a sea shell (doesn't seem like me even to me), even an old subway token not to long ago (I have no idea). But I also enjoy the handling the small collection things I have intentionally assembled over the years. The three things that I carry with me every day: a slotted steel slung key ring I found at the MoMA design store, a folded stainless money clip with a sleeve just big enough to hold a couple credit cards and an ID, and my cell phone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick; Dick, Dick, Dick." - Part 4: The Erotic life of Objects


Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (1512); Shell Silverstein, My Beard (1974)
(Return to Part 3)
Humans were naked for a very long time (we have probably always been shy in comparison to other primates - unusual in our desire to mate privately, but typical in our interest in watching others copulate). Predating cloths it appears our species long enjoyed a peculiar variety of accoutrement. In Bill Bryson's book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, he tells a story that confounds the anthropologist Ian Tatersall:
Sometime about a million and a half years ago, some forgotten genius of the hominid world did an unexpected thing. He (or very possibly her) took one stone and carefully used it to shape another. The result was a simple teardrop-shaped hand-axe, but it was the world's first piece of advanced technology.
It was so superior to existing tools that soon others were following the inventor's lead and making hand-axes of their own. Eventually whole societies existed that seemed to do little else. "They made them in their thousands," says Ian Tattersall. "There are some places in Africa where you literally can't move without stepping on them. It's strange because they are quite intensive objects to make. It was as if they made them for the sheer pleasure of it."
From a shelf in his sunny workroom Tattersall took down an enormous cast, perhaps half a metre long and 20 centimeters wide at its widest point, and handed it to me. It was shaped like a spearhead, but one the size of a stepping stone. As a fiberglass cast it weighed only a few ounces, but the original, which was found in Tanzania, weighed 11 kilograms. "It was completely useless as a tool," Tattersall said "It would have taken two people to lift it adequately and even then it would have been exhausting to try to pound anything with it."
'What was it used for then?'
Tattersall gave me a genial shrug, pleased at the mystery of it. "No idea. It must have had some symbolic importance, but we can only guess what.'"
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (1512); Shell Silverstein, The Giving Tree (1964)

This means that over a million years before we began to speak, we were carving stone for the sheer joy of it. Physical, not linguistic, dexterity is therefor at the root of our humanity. Among all the species on earth only spiders have invested as heavily as homo sapien sapiens in fine-sensory motor control. But as Tattersall explains, these things were the Humvee of stone tools, taking two individuals to even lift the thing. A mechanic once broke the news to me that my car would never run again by blunting telling me: "Its art." Over a million years before automobiles became stand-ins for our status (or lack there of) it seems humans were already over compensating. Because these were "completely useless as a tool" so its not a stretch to further assume they are the very first examples of George Kubler's "useless objects" - art.

The heroic evolutionary story I grew up with was that we were hunter/tool makers like the spiders, but it appears that we more closely resemble the domestic preening of bowery birds than the deadly engineering of arachnids. As an artist I find this idea particularly attractive. Turns out the nursery of our species was a sculpture studio not a munitions factory. But beyond professional self-justification, I also find it agrees with my own experience of the curious brand of pleasure I receive from the things I am most intimate with - the erotic life of objects if you will.

The pleasure I get from things often surprises me. It often comes to mind when I find myself am putting away my shoes, tidy up my bookshelf or unloading my pockets at the end of the day. The pleasure I sometimes experience in relation to the object I live with most intimately is not unlike what I feel when I am looking at myself in the mirror: always interesting, but mysterious. Who can say why our own reflection makes for such compelling viewing? Like most people I really enjoy looking at beautiful people. I don't find myself to be particularly handsome, but all the same, just like most every other human on the planet I am fascinated with my reflection. It is much the same with the things I am most intimate with. I have no illusion that they are valuable to anyone else (I don't own that kind of stuff), but I am really happy to have them.
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (1512); Shell Silverstein, The Giving Tree (1964)

My favorite pillow is a dense heavy under stuffed thing. I have had for as long as I can remember. My mom used to play a cat-and mouse game on hot summer days. As a very little boy I figured out that if I put my pillow in the freezer, it would stay ice cold long enough for me to get to sleep (I still love a cold pillow). I remember my mom repeatedly busting me; explaining that it was not sanitary to put a pillow in with food. I can't blame her, it is a particularly gross pillow, but I love it, and the game of freezer-pillow-cat-and-mouse only ended when I moved out on my own and got my own freezer. There is obvious nostalgic (a term originally used to describe mental illness that suits this particular relationship perfectly) value to an object like my pillow that partly explains my attachment to it. In my defense however, it worth saying that every lover who has shared my bed has both teased me about it but also fought me for it.

Lincoln was right to hold those over 40 responsible for their faces, but even babies can be judged by the things they love. The same is obviously true about our species. (Continue Reading Part 5)
Shell Silverstein, The Giving Tree (1964); detail of recent Tree of Life

Saturday, September 11, 2010

World Trade Center 1995, Eid 2010

John Powers, untitled block  arrangement (1995)

I woke up this morning to the names of the dead being read on the local NPR station - I was shocked how deeply this annual ritual continues to move me. This year the anniversary coincides with the Muslim celebration of Eid, and is marred by a bigoted protest against a proposal to build a Mosque and cultural center two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. I found the photo posted above recently and had planned to post it without comment first thing this morning, but instead ended up spending a beautiful clear day in front of my computer writing and thinking about the attacks, the shameful war against Iraq that was made in their wake, and the recent protests that have shocked and shamed me, but mostly what it means to me to be a New Yorker.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

“Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick; Dick, Dick, Dick.” - Part 3 "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!"


Peter Jackson's, Lord of The Rings (2001)
(Return to Part 2)Despite the fact that I was never a Tolken fan - or even much into fantasy, I saw Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, on opening night in in Imax. I went because a couple of my close friends at the time were long time fans of the books. For the most part I had great time, although I remember thinking that if they didn't leave Rivendale soon I might puke celtic knots, and I could have done with a few less tears (those Hobbits love a good cry). Clearly a lot of the film was not aimed at my hard-edged scifi self. My Tolken fan-boy friends meanwhile were hugely pleased, and after the film wanted only to discuss Jackson's fidelity to the source material. I caused no end of annoyance when I hijacked the post-cinema conversation by insisting that the elephantine Cave Troll had been rendered with an enormous swinging cock: "How could you miss it?" I wanted to know, "It was as big as a God damn Hobbit!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

“Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick; Dick, Dick, Dick.” - Part 2: Mapplethorpe


Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Bourgeois ( 1982), Terrae Motus - Dennis with Flowers, (1983)
(Return to Part 1)

The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is most famous for his impropriety, which is not entirely fair. He was part of a generation that brought B&W chemical photography into the mainstream of the art world (color and digital prints would come later). He will forever be remembered however for being one of the first to introduce hard-core S&M to the general public.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

“Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick; Dick, Dick, Dick.” - Part 1: Michelangelo & Rodin

Michelangelo, David (1504); Greg Mottola's Superbad, (2008)
At a party I attended during high school, someone had brought a porn film. It was a mixed crowd, in the mid-1980s, VHS had made porn a lot easier to get your hands on, but it was still relatively rare. I remember the boys and girls were all uncomfortable, no one wanted to be mistaken for a prude, but no one wanted to seem too interested either. One of the older, more confident guys at the party pointed out that the guy in the movie had a really ugly dick. One of the younger, cockier wits was right there with the question: “How many dicks have you seen?” “One,” answered the senior without hesitation, “and it’s beautiful.” Beauty is not the sorts of thing men normally brag about when talking about their dicks – usually size is all that matters.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Architecture of Inception: Combat Archaeologies



Combat Archaeology


In a discussion of the methods he laid out in his book, The Archaeology of Knowledge, the French philosopher Michel Foucault admitted:




A nightmare has haunted me me since my childhood: I am looking at a text that I can't read, or only a tiny part of it is decipherable. I pretend to read it, aware that I am inventing; then suddenly the text is completely scrambled, I can no longer read anything or even invent it, my throat tightens and I wake up. 
I can't read in my dreams, words are always garbled, but I don't experience the confusion as a nightmare - it is always a fun discovery that makes me aware that I am sleeping. But then, Foucault was a writer, and I'm a sculptor. Tellingly my most crushing childhood nightmare was nothing more than disassociated shapes and colors. The horror came because there was something monstrous about the scale of things - as if you were to look down at your fingernail and suddenly realize it was a mile thick. Christopher Nolan's Inception seems to occupy the territory that precedes the horror (both mine and Foucault's). Nolan is using the logic of dreams to build his narrative, more than their expressions. In the film dreams are deeply constructed spaces - they are architecture. The architecture of the film is stacked and collapsed layers of logic.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Star Wars Highbrow: Thesis Antithesis Synthesis


Joshua Glenn's final revision of my Star Wars Klein group diagram 


Above is another variant on my Star Wars Klein Group Diagram. I heard from HiLoBrow.com's Joshua Glenn. turns out the first version of his Star Wars Semiotic Square I posted was pretty close to the mark, but I got some things mixed up. I left that first version up but guided by his corrections here is the final "fully functional" Joshua Glenn Star Wars Semiotic Square
In addition to describing the square above Glenn's original post also discussed his choices for the cardinal points at some length in terms of a "highbrow-lowbrow-middlebrow-nobrow-hilobrow schema." It is a scheme he has charted elsewhere, admitting that "aesthetic and lifestyle choices aren't entirely independent of social class." Until I read Glenn's criticism it hadn't consciously occurred to me to think about lowbrow vs highbrow in any systematic way. I suppose if I thought about it at all, I figured that what I have been doing with my Star Wars & Modernism project is some sort of highbrow take on a lowbrow film, or a lowbrow take on highbrow art and architecture. In his post however  Glenn calls Star Wars "George Lucas’ attempt to cobble together a middlebrow entertainment following Joseph Campbell’s template" and calls Lucas himself a sentimental middlebrow. Once he brought it to my attention, it made perfect sense, lowbrow is not the term of derision, middlebrow is. Posting on the middlebrow (Farting in Church) wet my appetite. The term turns out to be so loaded with connotations, not just of social class, but ideas about cultural and racial superiority left over from the waning years of the age of imperialism, and Star Wars is the perfect vehicle to unpack the biases shadowing the judgement of both high and low.
A  diagram I made according to Joshua Glenn "highbrow-lowbrow-middlebrow-nobrow-hilobrow schema."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Towards The Development of a Terminal Site: Artist's Statements

"It's a Trap!"

I spent the morning working on a couple applications. One was for the Guggenheim's YouTube show. I decided to submit the short test I did with the help of my digital animation friend Teddy Gage Spiral Jedi. I misread the instructions on the submission. I thought they wanted a thousand words - turns out they only allowed a thousand characters (spaces included). Rather than throw away 4,447 carefully arranged characters I thought I would use them as a post, but I have a reservation. I am always interested to read artist writing, but I very seldom enjoy reading artist statements. They tend to sound bloated and pretentious - my own included - it's the nature of the beast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Farting in Church: Charting the Middlebrow

Dante Alighieri, Robert Morris, Venti III (1983)

Anyone who has ever attempted to read Dante's Divine Comedy knows all the fun stuff is in the first book - The Inferno. Hell as turns is hilarious, full of sex, lies, farting and the most cruelly scatological punishments imaginable (as I remember there was a lot more bathroom humor than blood spatter) I battered my way through the holier-than-thou geographies of Purgatory, but was stopped cold by the the totally ponderous descriptions of Paradise. 

If the Modernist had designed the universe (that finally was their goal), Paradise would be just as ponderous, but the ranks of singing angels (or whatever, I really didn't read much of that book at all) would be replaced by the clean utilitarian lines that Mies van der Rohe championed as less is more and Robert Venturi mocked as 'less is a bore.'

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In The Future We Will Speak With Pleasure

Over heard as I was entering the Subway:

A beautiful young couple (17 max), him crowding her towards the wall, her defiant but pleased.

Him: Yes you is.
Her: No I am not.
Him: Yes your are.
Her: No, I ain't.

Tonight: Livestream screening and discussion of Episodes 2 & 4 of the Artist Commentary

Clare Brew, Jedi Powers (2010)

Tonight at 8PM NYC time I am screening two episodes of my Artist Commentary, Star Wars and Modernism, and giving a talk with the composer/artist  R Luke Dubois, who is scoring the series.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Crisis in Criticism: Star Wars is not Literature, it is an Object.

Look how sad Luke is; critics need to sort out a better way to decide what lowbrow media they will consider with the precincts of highbrow scholarship.


Joshua Glenn recently posted an interesting critical response to my Star Wars Klein group diagram (which you can see above) on his website HiLoBrow. I explained my original diagram in a post titled  Rosalind Krauss is a Jedi, and Glenn's response is called Star Wars Semiotics. The titles themselves signal two very different approaches to the same problem. Glenn admits to being “wary of structuralist heuristic devices” but dives right in, and does a great job reworking my diagram along more the more orthodox literary model used by Fredric Jameson (who uses the term “Greimas or Semiotic Square”). In my post I likewise freely admit my own limits, which after reading Glenn's post are clearly far more limiting than his (kinda bums me out that Glenn didn't find time to explain what the terms "complex" and "neuter" indicate). So it's not surprising Glenn believes his Star Wars Semiotic Square improves on mine. In the interest of intellectual good will I did my best to answer his requests that “Someone good at drawing or Photoshop should send me a diagram…” I’m not especially good at either, but I've done my best:


Star Wars Semiotic Square according to Joshua Glenn (plus or minus my best effort - turns out the Sith are really hard to draw)

Glenn's post is good natured and whip smart - but he's dead wrong. While he is no doubt the superior semiotician (even if his heart is not fully committed to structuralist heuristic devices, his brain is clearly able to wale away unaffected) and I can't hope to outsmart the guy, mine is the better diagram. The reason is that he is diagramming the film as literature, and I am diagramming it as an object. His is the more conventional reading of Star Wars, but mine is the more revealing and interesting of the two perspectives. Glenn's post deserves a rebuttal - and his while his critique has not made me revise my position, it has mad me aware that it needs to be clarified. But before I revisit the reasoning behind my diagram I want to address the convention approach of film as literature. What I find most interesting about the difference between Glenn's diagram and my own is how quickly the difference manifests itself. His is peopled by characters - stormtroopers, droids, and non-human aliens - mine is constructed out of places and things - ships, farms, and space terminals. This is a telling difference.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Killing Fields (Part 4/4): Rosalind Krauss is Dead



Valerie Jaudon, Yazoo City (1975); Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk (1963); Valerie Jaudon, installation photo (1977)

The feminist art historian Anna Chave is critical of Michel Foucault's idea of power and it is not hard to imagine why. For most of history, in most peoples minds power has been almost wholly associated with the masculine - up to and including Chaves own historic moment. For instance, in his widely read 1972 book Ways of Seeing, John Berger began an essay on the female nude in the European oil painting tradition as follows: 
According to usage an convention which are at last being questioned but by no means been overcome, the social presence of woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence... By contrast, a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her... One might simplify by saying men act and women appear. Men Look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
Judging by his tone, Berger seems to have sincerely believed he was outside the "usage and convention" he was commenting on, but all the same he comes across as very much a man of his time, when he writes, "If a woman makes a good joke this is an example of how she treats the joker in herself and accordingly of how she as a joker-woman would like to be treated by others. Only a man can make a good joke for its own sake."

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Killing Fields (Part 3/4): Killing Rosalind Krauss

Death and the Maiden: Rosalind Krauss, Ingmar Bergman,s The Seventh Seal, Clement Greenberg


The reason Clement Greenberg was inconsistent on the subject of sculpture is because in constructing his formalist theories he had conceptually painted himself into a corner. He insisted that the ideas in  Modernist Painting were never intended to be prescriptive, but he had successfully mapped a generation worth of artistic production, starting with Frank Stella's black painting (which he evidently didn't much like), right up through to the minimalist (who he down right disliked), and dribbling out among the earth artists (those guys were totally formalists - see PMD 2/3). That is no small achievement, even accounting for the mixed results (in Greenberg's opinion). His rejection of minimalism wasn't arbitrary - he clearly hoped to extend his influence for another decade or two.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Killing Fields (Part 2/4): Killing Clement Greenberg


Mary Miss, Perimeter/Pavilion/Decoys (1978), Rosalind Krauss, Kline Group Diagram (1979)

Just as artists had "entered a situation the logical conditions of which can no longer be described as modernist," some time in the late sixties and early seventies, so too had Rosalind Krauss. her Klein group diagram elegantly signaled two things: that she was orienting her thought by means of the "undecidable" mix of intellectual disciplines that was just beginning to coalesce at the time; but more importantly, the diagram was a visual rebuttal to the modernist theoretical framework that had dominated the New York art world for decades. Like the cartoonist Thomas Nast lampooning Boss Tweed, Krauss constructed a visual tool that her constituents could easily understand, but Krauss's target was the modernist critic Clement Greenberg. Like Tweed, Greenberg might have yelped, "Let's stop them damned pictures, I don't care so much what the papers write about—my constituents can't read—but damn it, they can see pictures." In all probability however, Greenberg may have never understood that his most important constituents were artists, or how effective Krauss's diagram would turn out to be in undoing his legacy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Killing Fields (Part 1/4): Killing Modernism



Anne Truitt, Southern Elegy (1964), Rosalind Krauss, Incomplete Klein Group Diagram (1979)

At the Sculpture Center’s panel, Expanded. Exploded, Collapsed? held this past April in celebration of the 31st anniversary of Rosalind Krauss's essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field (I did not ask, but one wonders what they will do for the 53rd jubilee), the sculptor Josiah McElheny playfully quoted some anonymous snark (almost certainly Michael Fried) as saying, “We all just discovered Klein groups at the time, we thought the essay was just to show she knew how to use them.” Never mind how dismissive this is of Krauss’s intellect; it ignores how effective Krauss’s use of the Kline group diagram was. The curator Fionn Meade's introduction to the panel focused on what was left out of the the Field (civil rights as monument, the Judson Group as sculpture, Joseph Beuys as persona non grata) but made clear that even thirty years later the Expanded Field, no matter how imperfect, remains a "hinge" between the modern and postmodern. Krauss's diagram of the Expanded Field was machine built to kill and bury Modernism:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Comic Books are Dead II: Seduction of the Innocent

Thích Quảng Đức (1962); Howard the Duck


I should have grown up with a pile of moldering golden age comic books at my bedside, but because comic books had become a collector's item I grew up looking at them in glass display cases. The first comic book store I can remember was a young guy named Rick who had taken over a single glass display case at the used book store up the street from my mom's house. Rick kind of looked like Mick Jagger. He couldn't have been too much older than me at the time, probably still in his teens, but he was easily past the crucial six years mark. His counter top display would eventually become a really big comic book store - I can remember at least three increasingly larger shops at different locations over the years. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Painting Must Die (Part 3/3): The Final Solution

Frank Stella, Detail of notes for Pratt Lecture (1960); Tony Smith, Die (1962)

When Rosalind Krauss wrote that sculpture was "a historically bounded category not a universal one" her aim was to establish territory for the new art work that had developed out of minimalist "practice." She was not however being entirely honest intellectually. If she had been, she would acknowledged the full dept minimalist art and post-minimalist art owed to painting. She would not have defined sculpture in terms of "artistic practices" - an expanded, but still finite field. If Krauss had been totally honest she would have been forced to consider sculpture in terms of a much larger field, artistic reception - an admittedly far more difficult set of relationships to chart within a Klein group.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Painting Must Die (Part 2/3): Framed.


Laocoön and His Sons (160-20 BCE), Frank Stella, Newburgh (1995) 

As counter-intuitive as it is to think of sculpture as painting, that is in fact the steady state; the status quo, not the exception. In her book, Passages in Modern Sculpture, Rosalind Krauss quotes the the 19th Century theorist Adolf von Hildebrand, who writes:
All separate judgements of depth enter into a unitary, all-inclusive judgement of depth. So that ultimately the entire richness of a figure's form stands before us as a backward continuation of one simple plane, whenever this is not the case the unitary pictorial effect of the figure is lost.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Painting Must Die (Part 1/3): Backing into Murder


Frank Stella, Hyena Stomp (1962), Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970)

Barnet Newman's quip that, "sculpture is what you bump into when you back up to see a painting,” has become a cliche no self respecting art historian would quote. So it's a curious pleasure to find it in Rosalind Krauss's essay, Sculpture in the Expanded Field. (It's like coming across a knock knock joke in a Walter Benjamin essay.) Like all humor, Newman's joke is funny because it is a little cruel, and it is cruel because there's some truth to it (one of my pieces was damaged that way once - my friends all laughed). As a sculptor it is painful to admit this, but by all accounts, for most of history, painting has driven art. That’s why we discuss the death of painting, and (almost) never the death of sculpture. The harsh truth is, no one much cares if sculpture dies because sculpture is thought of as a kind of painting; a parasitic twin carved in stone.