Author: Baldwin/Ramsden  
Posted: 20.01.2003; 22:15:58
Topic: Question 6
Msg #: 636 (in response to 428)
Prev/Next: 635/637
Reads: 64430

I OK, Thomas – I see in 6/24 that you don’t like/are not interested in Homes from Homes I and II, Now, it would be not at all ‘professional’ to attempt to persuade you that you should indeed like it, et. I think that a word or two may be offered in defence of this museum-machine. The first thing to say, perhaps, is that you are right. The work consists of paintings/drawings, texts and other coloured things. This is appropriate, as what we travestied, copied, miniaturised etc., etc., in these works are themselves such things. Travesty and its cognates is an (initially) asymmetrical relation that depends upon the aspected likeness of what is travestied to what travesties it. I say ‘initially’ asymmetrical as in fact the relation can turn quasi ‘symmetrical’. The initial target of a travesty (or copy or etc.) can in certain ciscumstances reverse things – refuse the role of object travestied and travesty back via one of its hitherto unseen aspects. And so on.

The objective of the work was among other things, to create such possible circumstances of symmetry, and thus to create a disorder or a new order that might bear upon any attempted historical view – retrospect – of Art & Language work.

Another aim for the work was that it came as close as it could to a refusal of – or a malingering difficulty for – the museology of contemporary art presumption: that the institution provides context. Of course, it does, but the relations that compose the structure of the work are such that at least to raise the question what are the limits of (our) work’s capacities to be self-contextualising?

A 3rd premise for this work was that images of all of its components should work as switches or windows for an index work in the form of a CD-rom. This was a CD whose documents could be downloaded, printed, etc., by anyone with access to the CD-rom. Furthermore, it seemed entirely possible that downloaded material could be changed an worked upon in at least two ways: (a) that the ‘external’ relations of this material could be changed or, (b) that its ‘internal’ properties could be altered. (a)®(b) and (b)®(a) in most cases. The simplistic example I gave you of colour changes in e.g., an image of flesh coloured glass to green, say, is only one among many that are possible. Modifications notwithstanding, I think it is clear that the number of pathways available with the CD as it stands is huge and that these may not be simply empty narratives.

(Your correspondents do not seem very well informed about this work to say the least. Indeed, there is something worryingly closed and uninterestingly perspectival about the bulk of it.)

Now, as to our returning to the studio. What is a studio? Where should we work? We have written extensively on this matter. Here is a short rehearsal. The 1970s did not see, as we had hoped, a development of artistic discourse such that co-operation, corrigibility, sociality might flourish, but merely a sidling of the artistic closer to management: public spectacle and the petetration-of-the-space with all the attendant drivel. Well, not only drivel, but emotivistic manipulation and other symptoms of barbarism. This was the mid 1970s. What we also witnessed, particularly in New York, was a growing throng of more or less useless Art & Languagists, possessed of all the charm of suburban converts to a U.S. pressure group who squabbled to take turns as the harbingers of half-baked political virtue. We ended these troubles and sought a place to work. We did not give up the conversation. We did not abandon that vestige of modernism that sees virtue in the pursuit of improvement – or at least transformation – in a material tradition and the development of art works possessed of some degree of internal complexity.

Some of this implies resistance to co-option and some of it implies the conditions of what it is to have work to do.

Beware the fetishization of the text, it may turn out not to be a text at all but something horribly intent on its own reification.

…And apropos 6/17: consider the following example: The Portraits of V.I.Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock were originally intended to meet the public as photographic or electronic reproductions of paintings that had been chopped up into A4 chunks. We found, however, that in showing the paintings qua paintings and thereby invoking the near unmediated cultural weltanschauung of big New York celebrity action painting we could increase the vividness of the contradiction implied in the title and in the aporetics of their actual appearance.

II I’m going to try and make sense of some of this stuff in question 6.

One place to start maybe is with what Michael Baldwin wrote on indexing in 6/2. (That) ‘it was a project inaugurated on the conviction that a (necessarily) complex internal discourse was perhaps the main condition of resistance to institutional power’. That starts us off by opposing internal detail to institutional power, some corrigible inside to some corrigible outside. It goes without saying that this is not a formula, that this is an account of something to be worked on and at, made, changed, won, lost. Its circumstances, its material possibilities, its problems change. It’s ongoing work – still. Such a project may be written, painted, drawn, it may use ‘interactive digital media’, it may be sculpted, etc. These are forms of work that have their past, their future, transformable by the index.

You have an inside and an outside to the index. It may seem a bit odd to bring this up like this. But I’m doing so in the light of some of the puzzling things said about ‘the rural and the cosmopolitan’, and about ‘globalisation’. I’m not at all sure whether the line about ‘the rural and the cosmopolitan’ is supposed to be sympathetic or not, supposed to be a kind of metaphor for the indexing or not. The remarks (6/15) on globalisation I am sure about. They are meant to point out Art & Language’s ‘disengagement’. There’s no way to answer accusations like this except by a description of work. We are all bombarded with wacky cultural materials, different kinds of junk, distributed, context-less (often) without any recognisable sense of being and place. This seems to go some way toward describing what we’ve got to work with. It seems to touch upon some of the materials of globalisation. This is both lame and grandiose.

A lot of the stuff written in question 6 points to material reality being dissolved by virtual technologies and this sounds like the same dematerialised futurology of old concept art. We’ve got to be robust not puristic. The continuing indexing projects of Art & Language are robust. This is the legacy of Conceptual Art, a morale of learning, laughter and amateurish-ness. This is what causes the disarray of professional boundaries, not the overviews of cultural studies however sceptical and ‘deviant’. This is not post-modernism (6/20) either. It isn’t the decorum remaining after scavenging for and juxtaposing images, texts, etc.

6/4 is right, the continuing indexing project is vulnerable but wrong in that it was unsustainable. It continues as a series of essays in a cosmos of problems. Is this another way to approach the thing that’s bothering me: ‘the ruralist idyll’ as opposed to the virtues of cosmopolitanism? ‘Ruralism’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ seems a bit antique. Is 6/4 saying that cosmopolitanism describes a pernicious liberal culture, a hegemony which recognises actions (etc.) insofar as they further the universalisation or democratisation (or export?) of such culture? Is it saying that this includes whole sections of university and polytechnic life, media, the artworld, etc? Is it saying that Art & Language behaves sometimes with all the awkward insanity of a small nation state in face of the barbaric march of journalism-and-management-as-normality? Is this what it’s saying? Things are penetrated by errors and illusions and errors and illusions are in turn produced. That’s the risk of essayistic and discursive work. We do not seek to transcend in the work (etc.) the condition of these problems. We have been accused of ‘disengagement’. That’s the sort of thing said by people who look around for something culturally urgent (like globalisation), and somehow associate ‘their’ work with it and therefore become ‘engaged’. We have written before about this calculating trick that makes work ‘meaningful’ and, heaven help us, ‘relevant’.

6/12 is right: Michael and Mel seem to be asking ‘Where do problems come from?’ And right again in that there are tasks and assignments. There are details to be addressed here which often puts us closer to the class of technicians as opposed to the class of cultural managers. Cultural managers talk nothing but bureaucratic trivia and engage in the redistribution of headline after headline. This seems to be an escape from problems no matter how ‘engaged’ they are. The instability of categories, genres even, like ‘painting’ and ‘interactive digital culture’ simply cannot be relied upon. They may be masks or masks on masks or masks concealing faces identical to the masks. But these are the materials with which to make sense of the present. (See the silly remarks about painting, 6/17.)

In 6/15 Thomas grinds on with his zietgeist of digital conditions. There is here much that is thoughtful and rewarding for sure. It seems obvious, and it’s been pointed out by C.Gere in ‘Digital Culture’(and by Art & Language, passim), that there is a tendency with net artists to engage in a fast-forward reprise of post-war avant-garde strategies ranging from Fluxus to mail art to Conceptual art, etc. Art & Language indexing, Blurting in AL Online is maybe part of that reprise. Such strategies, as we know, have also been reprised by all sorts of younger artists but within the pervasive so-called media-scape such strategies seem like self advertising and their critical life is journalism. We all know that the imperatives of perpetual novelty and manufactured transgression are marketable commodities. Something has happened between Blurting in AL and Blurting in AL Online. Where this leaves the net artists reprise of older avant gardistic strategies remains to be seen. We are accused 6/15 of ‘retreating from a criticism of the digital conditions of globalisation’ yet such a conditions informs much of the technical and theoretical constraints on what we do. This accusation looks like purism to me, not even software vs. hardware, but purism. What did David Harvey say: if you want to be cosmopolitan then study geography, because you should at least know about the cosmos. We’re studying geography and you are cosmopolitan. OK. We’ll meet somewhere maybe when we find out that the digital conditions of globalisation don’t just mean sorting out your intentions on the software of your computer.

And it’s the return or the ‘retreat to the studio’ again. And it’s the Art & Language ‘romance with painting’ again. Painting’s a way of making representations, sometimes quickly and easily like drawing and colouring in with pencils. Sometimes we are interested in the special properties of painting. Sometimes we are interested in the virtual complexities of representation whether it be in painting or not. The paintings are paintings and not-paintings. Sometimes we’re interested in the fact that painting’s a bit hopeless and embarrassing and a bit low-tech. What we’re not interested in are progressivistic condemnations of things like painting, inasmuch as such condemnations and the categories condemned are functions of the hygiene fantasies of the digital zeitgeist. The ritualistic sound of the cultural smart-talk that networks around professionalised boundaries is deafening –ugh.

Let’s try and join-up some thinking on ‘taste’ and conceptual art. It might not be that conceptual art left the modernist decorum to engage in ‘politics’ and radical-as-fuck activism. It might not be that this ‘taste’ is restricted to the conceptual art (modernist) bit. It might however be the rather less comfortable thought that the same taste covered both bits, the activist bit as well. And it might have been the same taste and it may even belong now to the futurology of activism and hacktivism or whatever and this taste might be nothing more than obsessive hand-washing by now –ugh again. This better not be the narrative from Concept art to net art. Is it?

Being engaged in a romance with painting 6/17. Just what ‘painting’ would that be? Would it be big blank paintings in expensive museums or small objects hanging on domestic walls? What? What’s disapproved of? 6/26 is right, there are a lot of possible fractural relations here in ‘painting’. There are modalities of all sorts in representation. It’s puzzling and interesting to make things to look at. It seems an ordinary area to work with a lot to do. The problem of fakes and parodies and copies are complex, modal, fractural possibilities. They were not born and did not die nor do they belong exclusively to the simulation and appropriation art of the 1980s(6/27). And this kind of ‘malingering’ (or something) was a characteristic of old concept art and of other works like the ‘Portraits of V.I. Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock’.

If we clung to a sort of metaphysical belief in the authenticity of painting and sought to protect this from a culture of contingency then perhaps there would be a point to the charge of ‘romance’. But painting has its modalities. These are embedded in essayistic and discursive circumstances and are open. Some of the recent journalism concerning the show we have just had at the Lisson Gallery seemed to accuse us of 1) being too clever 2)not being clever enough; 1) being bureaucratic 2) not being bureaucratic enough 1)being dry 2)not being dry enough etc., etc. The point being that there are ruptures in what we do which are left open and corrigible. This is discursive work. Art & Language (


Last update: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 6:58:58 PM.