Tag Archives: book club

Latour, The Field, Duchamp

Spring 2016 was a busy time at ART&CRITIQUE! We launched two new events the [GALLERY TOUR] and the [STUDIO CRIT] and we hatched new plans. For more details please read on.

[SYMPOSIUM]#5 Latour: On Actor Network Theory, 11 March 2016

Lloyd, John Uri & Curtis Gates Lloyd [1884] Plate XXIII. A fresh rhizome of Cimicifuga racemosa. In Drugs and Medicines of North America. Cincinnati: Lloyd & Lloyd.
Lloyd, John Uri & Curtis Gates Lloyd [1884] Plate XXIII. A fresh rhizome of Cimicifuga racemosa. In Drugs and Medicines of North America. Cincinnati: Lloyd & Lloyd.

The discussion of Bruno Latour’s essay On Actor Network Theory (1990) was chaired by Johanna Kwiat. Johanna animated this difficult text and provided several imaginative routes into its many folds. She summed up the discussion by pointing out that “Latour invites us to think in terms of associations / connections, which don’t need to be qualified as ‘social’, ‘natural’, or ‘technological'”. For Johanna this has the consequence of unsettling “humans or/and human networks [from] their traditionally privileged position”, inviting us to “question the Cartesian legacy (modernism as we understand it), and that in itself is a bonus of reading this text”.

[GALLERYTOUR]#1 From Hoxton to Mile End, 19 March 2016
Chris Alton [2016] Under the Shade I Flourish. Installation view at xero, kline & coma, London 2016.
Chris Alton [2016] Under the Shade I Flourish. Installation view at xero, kline & coma, London 2016.

In March we launched the first [GALLERYTOUR] which took us from Hoxton to Mile End. We visited xero, kline & coma to see Chris Alton’s exhibition Under the Shade I Flourish. Blending fact and fiction in an installation comprised of video, posters, music and diagrams, Alton sets up a compelling account of the ill-fated blues-band Trident. The video documentary centres around the figure of Michael Ashcroft, the band’s manager and former Conservative party member, peer and tax exile who has been been at the centre of several political and financial controversies. The documentary chases up a series of ostensibly inconsequential clues in a futile attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of the band members in the Bermuda Triangle, a metaphor for British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies that function as tax havens, a “cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide”.* If you missed this exhibition you can see it at Lewisham Arthouse from 17-22 May 2016.

The next stop was Cell Project Space for Iain Ball’s installation Praseodymium Intracrine Signal Aggregate, the ninth in his Rare Earth Sculpture series. Ball’s installation engages with the paranoia induced by sustained surveillance. Despite the obvious connections that we were able to make, we couldn’t work out how the different components of the installation – the sculpture, the camera and the monitors – were interacting. The final stop on the tour was at Chisenhale Gallery to see Park McArthur’s exhibition Poly. This installation was composed of plinths along one side of the room bearing found objects that reference the body (condoms, latex gloves, oxygen masks, heel cushions, elbow braces). On the wall hung two sheets of paper soaked with super-absorbent polymer, electric heaters were placed around the edges of the room and three massive blocks of black acoustic foam were wedged into a corner. Like sarcophagi stored in a museum basement these monumental black blocks skewed our sense of balance in this rather empty room. The air felt dry, as though all the moist air was being sucked out by the black blocks. We were not sure whether this was a physical perception or a conceptual one. One of the plinths carried a stack of redacted photocopies of a letter notifying users of the closure of the Independent Living Fund. This was an uncomfortable place, it reminded us that the politics of austerity are having an unequal effect on society by targeting groups that are least able to resist.

*Doe, John (2016). The Revolution Will Be Digitized. Statement issued by the source of the Panama Papers on Thursday 5 May 2016. For more details see Shane, Scott and Eric Lipton (2016). Panama Papers Source Offers to Aid Inquiries if Exempt From Punishment. New York Times, 6 May 2016.

[STUDIOCRIT]#1 Maria Christoforatou: Displacement, 20 March 2016
Maria Christoforatou [2009] Collapsed. Metal strips, dimensions variable.
Maria Christoforatou [2009] Collapsed. Metal strips, dimensions variable.

At the launch of the new [STUDIOCRIT] event series we explored concepts of displacement, home and the unhomely with Maria Christoforatou.

Maria’s work explores the emotional and physical dimensions of belonging via the concept of “home”, suggesting that ideas of home are nostalgically associated with imagined authenticity rather than lived experience. It is therefore a concern with identity that lies at the root of her project. To read more about Maria’s work and the studio crit please visit the event review or the event page.

Maria Christoforatou: Displacement. Studio Crit #1. The Field New Cross, 20 April 2016. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
Maria Christoforatou: Displacement. Studio Crit #1. The Field New Cross, 20 April 2016. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.

Maria’s studio crit highlighted a common interest in the concepts of home, (dis)location, identity and urbanity so we’re on the lookout for a venue to organise an exhibition around these themes. If you’re interested in collaborating either as an artist, writer, curator or editor please get in touch.

If you would like to show your work at a Studio Crit from June 2016 onwards please visit the page to read the guidelines and get in touch with a preferred date so we can start planning. The Studio Crit is a good opportunity to set some goals for your work and it takes time to organise and promote, so we need to work towards it. The purpose of a studio crit is to visit an artist’s studio for a structured viewing and discussion of the work.

[SYMPOSIUM]#6 Duchamp: The Creative Act, 8 April 2016
Marcel Duchamp [1914] Pharmacie.
Marcel Duchamp [1914] Pharmacie.

On Friday 8 April we discussed Marcel Duchamp’s paper The Creative Act (1957). Many thanks to F.D. for chairing the discussion and Penelope Kupfer, who fulfilled the role of respondent.

F.D. contextualised the 1957 Convention of the American Federation of Arts where Duchamp delivered this paper, providing a great deal of intricate background information and a set of questions to facilitate the discussion. The discussion centred on questions relating to the role of the artist as “mediumistic being” in juxtaposition to the mediating role of the spectator who “brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications”. We discussed Duchamp’s use of the mysterious terms transubstantiation, transmutation, aesthetic osmosis and especially his concept of the personal ‘art coefficient’.

Sketch of the personal 'art coefficient' by Stephen Bennett.
Sketch of the personal ‘art coefficient’ by Stephen Bennett.

Stephen Bennett made a diagram of how the ‘art coefficient’ works which helped us visualise the process. We wrapped up with responses to F.D.’s question on whether “found images can be considered readymades” by focusing on Pharmacie (1914). This is probably Duchamp’s first assisted readymade or appropriated found image, a technique that the Situationists would later call détournement.

Richard Burger and the Symposiastes at The Field Kitchen, 13 April 2016
Springtime at The Field, 385 Queens Road, New Cross, London SE14 5HD.
Springtime at The Field, 385 Queens Road, New Cross, London SE14 5HD.

On Wednesday 13 April, regular participants of the book club ran the Field Kitchen, a collaborative meal prepared every Wednesday evening at The Field, New Cross. Richard Burger cooked an exquisite pasta dish with peas, beans and sage, topped with pepper cheese and accompanied by a delicious home-made white wine from Greece.

Join us on Wednesdays for a home-cooked meal, catch up with some familiar faces, meet new people, help us cook and support this experimental community space. Food is served at 7:30pm, it’s pay what you can and the income goes towards expenses for the running and maintenance of the Field. If you would like to help out, setup is from 6pm and there’s always something to do until everything is cleared up at the end of the evening. You can also volunteer to cook by adding your name to the list on the wall.

[GALLERYTOUR]#2 From Whitechapel to Liverpool Street, 30 April 2016

On Saturday 30 April the group visited the Whitechapel to see Parallel I-IV, a video installation by Harun Farocki and Imprint 93, an exhibition of prints from the 1990s by then lesser-known contemporaries of the YBAs. The next and final stop was at Raven Row to see Channa Horwitz, a neglected and excluded artist in her own time. This exhibition has been compared to the current exhibition of a similarly neglected female artist, Hilma af Klint at the Serpentine.

We’re visiting the Serpentine next Saturday 14 May on [GALLERYTOUR]#3. But first up is [SYMPOSIUM]#7 on Friday 13 May where we will be discussing a review of Tate Triennial 3 (2006) by Brian Sewell. This session will be chaired by Richard Lloyd-Jones.

All [ART&CRITIQUE] events and free and inclusive so please feel free to invite your friends or bring them along. The London Event Calendar is jam-packed with exhibitions, events, courses and deadlines. Browse some of these below or follow [ART&CRITIQUE] on Twitter or Facebook for irregular event updates.

Reading and/or Looking

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, flier.In February’s [SYMPOSIUM] we discussed Roland Barthes’ influential essay The Death of the Author (1977). Many thanks to everyone for their contributions to a very productive event. It was great to see everyone again and to welcome some new faces. A special thanks to Henrietta Ross for leading, chairing and summarising the discussion.

Henrietta got us off to a great start by suggesting three broad thematic approaches with the questions: What is an author? What is a text? and What is a reader? She also suggested that we address the question: What does the text mean? Adding that we might want to contest the terms of this question in light of Barthes’ own resistance to fixed meaning. And finally, she suggested that we might want to discuss the roles of the critic, of ideology and of literature.

We addressed all of these issues, maintaining some consistency with each term but also skipping back and forth between them. We questioned the difference between an author, a writer and a scriptor in Barthes’ terms, and came to the conclusion that beyond the “authority” of the Author, and the “performance” of the narrator, there was ambiguity around these terms. We also briefly alluded to the “author function”, which Barthes introduces in Authors and Writers (1960) and Foucault takes up in What is an Author? (1969). We adhered to a structuralist definition of a text as any cultural artefact that can be “read” and interpreted, we therefore discussed artworks as texts and stopped to ponder whether a scientific article could also be considered a text in this light, or whether Barthes was only referring to literary texts. We discussed Barthes’ premise that readers bring the text to life by reading it “here and now” as Johanna pointed out, thereby interpreting the text in a multitude and variety of different ways, and we were left with the vivid image of tiny reader-maggots feasting on the Author’s dead body. We didn’t address the question of how we construct meaning per se, and we might want to come back to this in the future. We also discussed the role of the maligned critic, who fixes or determines the meaning of a text authoritatively in public forums, referring to exhibition display texts as examples. We will have a chance to return to this subject when we discuss Brian Sewell’s review Tate Triennial 3 (2006), which will be led by Richard Lloyd-Jones in May.

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 February 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 February 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.

We briefly addressed the question of ideology by considering the question of whether there is a need for a determinate meaning, and why, despite the influence and verity of Barthes’ premise that meaning is constructed subjectively and constantly shifting, there is nevertheless a general consensus on the meaning of texts? We posited peer pressure and the natural social tendency we have for consensus or sameness.

Henrietta summed up the discussion elegantly with a prescient observation on the topic of ideology, in her own words:

“…while I found the discussion of the role of the author in the production of texts such as works of art interesting, for me what is most engaging about Barthes’, and wider post-structuralist ideas, is their implications for ideologies. And the possibility of considering ideologies, alongside ‘image, music, [art]’ etc, as ‘texts’. In Mythologies Barthes discussed a wide range of activities: from drinking wine to wrestling, as cultural texts which have a role in creating ideologies. The ideas he discusses with regard to authorship in The death of the author suggest that the reader might not just be key to the understanding or the creation of meaning in writing (for example) but also ideologies. This suggests a concept of ideologies or hegemonies not as top-down, one-way or imposed narratives, but something that a wide variety of actors are involved and complicit in establishing and sustaining. While this might be a concept that is discussed or suggested by a variety of social theorists or philosophers I think the way in which Barthes and other post-structuralists come to this position through the consideration of linguistic theory and semiotics is interesting.” (Ross, 2016)

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 Feb 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 Feb 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.

The jury is out on whether we would like to come back to the subject of ideology in the future. We could approach it via Louis Althusser’s “state apparatuses”, Antonio Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony” or a range of other approaches.

A feature by Dave Beech titled On Critique in the February 2016 issue of Art Monthly is relevant to the discussion we had about whether artworks can in fact be “read” and creates a link between Barthes and the texts by Marcel Duchamp and Brian Sewell that we will be discussing in April and May.

Beech begins by addressing his early critical writing and goes on to discuss the tension between looking at and reading about art. Beech shares the discomfort that many artists have with the idea of “reading” artworks, he sees it as a “misreading of CS Pierce or a misapplication of Ferdinand Saussure’s linguistics to non-linguistic material” (Beech, 2016, p. 7). I am similarly resistant to the idea that an artwork can be broken down to a code or a set of rules, like a language. Language is not merely a series of words that must be deciphered, language is governed by syntactical and grammatical rules. Although poets might play around with these rules, artists’ materials are not primarily linguistic. Artists may indeed think in linguistic terms about their work but they also think in terms of images, shapes, colours, pressures, textures, qualities, quantities, equivalences, oppositions and so on. All these values are governed by diverse and conflicting rules once we free them from narrowly aesthetic definitions. Do artists always think in narrowly aesthetic or art-historical categories? Do viewers approach art from narrowly aesthetic or art-historical perspectives? Artists, viewers and critics bring all kinds of other approaches and discourses into their engagement with art (personal experience, science, mysticism, critical theory, etc).

Wittgenstein claimed that we cannot conceive of something that we do not have the language to describe:

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Wittgenstein, 1922, p. 74)

This is true to an extent; the structure of our language (its ideology) limits the kinds of thoughts we can have – to come full circle to what Henrietta said about ideology. When Derrida refers to language as a structure that both makes possible and limits play (Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, 1966), he is talking about language as ideology. The concept of ideology in Marxist thought articulates the relation between culture and political economy. Ideology is a naturalised framework of assumptions about the world that we internalise. In Althusser’s words, ideology does not constitute “the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals”, it constitutes the “imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live” (Althusser, 1971, p. 165). For Althusser, ideological state apparatuses are the material manifestations of ideology in practices and institutions. Language is arguably the primary social institution, it makes possible but limits the freedom of the agents who use it.

But I disagree with Wittgenstein, on the basis that if we could express everything that we conceive, perceive and feel in words, then we would have no need for art. Wittgenstein’s assertion also suggests that we can think of nothing that someone else has not thought of and named already. But we evidently can and do have original and unique thoughts and we don’t use language for all of them (how we articulate them and whether we reject them out of habit are different questions, Arthur Koestler goes into this in The Act of Creation, 1964).

I am reluctant to admit that artworks follow rules but, apart from rare exceptions, they generally do and this has grave consequences for my argument against Wittgenstein above and my faith in the liberating power of art. Wittgenstein says that if we change the rules of a game, we change the game (Wittgenstein, 1968). When an artist breaks the rules, art is redefined in the process. But evidently that doesn’t happen very often, instead there’s a fashionable shift now and then in the general sameness that is paraded in galleries and museums all over the world, until the next novelty comes along to spread the sameness.

The other reason that Beech offers for taking issue with “reading” artworks involves what he calls a “process of prolonged looking”, which he finds “inadequate for the works that engaged [him] the most” (Beech, 2016, p. 7). He finds that thinking and reading about these artworks in their absence is a better way to understand them. This is the main crux of his argument and I thought it might be interesting to debate it because looking and observing is generally considered a cornerstone in visual arts education – even in art schools that shun the discipline of drawing – and what about photography and film-making? I reckon that thinking and reading about artworks in their absence is certainly a good way of learning new things and generating ideas of your own – which brings us back full circle to the death of the author. Beech uses artworks as an inspiration and starting point for his own writing – so maybe this article is about how to generate critique and not about how to look at art after all, something he admits in his introduction:

“When I began writing, reviewing exhibitions in London in the 1990s, I was immediately struck by the contrast between my initial impressions of an exhibition and what I came to say about the work. Not always, but often enough to cause concern, in the time it took me to write about art my response shifted from enjoyment to disapproval. The practice of writing turned me from a consumer into a judge.” (Beech, 2016, p. 5)

Bibliography

Althusser, Louis (1971). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. In Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 128-194.

Barthes, Roland (1977). The Death of the Author. In Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana, pp. 142-148.

Barthes, Roland (1993). Authors and Writers. In A Barthes Reader, Susan Sontag ed. New York: Vintage, pp. 185-193.

Beech, Dave (2016). On Critique. Art Monthly, February 2016, pp. 5-8.

Derrida, Jacques (2005/1996). Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences. In Writing and Difference. London: Routlege, pp. 353-354.

Foucault, Michel (1977). What is an Author? In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Donald F. Bouchard ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 113-138.

Koestler, Arthur (1975). The Act of Creation. London: Picador.

Ross, Henrietta (2016). Personal communication, 16 Feb 2016.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922). Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. London: Kegan.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1968). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

Food for Thought

First page of An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant, Berlinische Monatsschrift. Dec 1784, pp. 481-494.
First page of An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant, Berlinische Monatsschrift. Dec 1784, pp. 481-494.

We launched the [SYMPOSIUM] book club on 13 November 2015 with a discussion of Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay An Answer to the Question What Is Enlightenment? We considered Kant’s early modernist utopian ideas, recognising that they are built into the fabric of our everyday lives; from the institution of free speech, the conventions of professional practice and public discussion, to the role of critique and the responsibilities of the individual in society. Using Kant’s criteria, we addressed the question: Do we live in an Enlightened society? Considering the wars, atrocities and escalating violence since 1784, we asked whether Enlightenment ideals have had a regressive effect on modern individuals and social structures, a question that Adorno and Horkheimer take up in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). We skirted a question regarding the consequences of Kant’s thesis for art education, and we might want to come back to this question later.

Also in our first meeting, we began a discussion about how the group will function and we made a number of decisions. We found a name for the club and we decided that we would meet on every second Friday of each month from 6pm – 8:30pm. We also selected the text for our next meeting.

Omar Joseph Nasser Khoury [2011] Silk Thread Martyrs. Ccollection of 22 garments, each unique. Embroidered, fabric, coloured and dyed by hand using natural materials (indigo, tea).
Omar Joseph Nasser Khoury [2011] Silk Thread Martyrs. Ccollection of 22 garments, each unique. Embroidered, fabric, coloured and dyed by hand using natural materials (indigo, tea).

[SYMPOSIUM] #2 took place on 11 December 2015 with Writing against Culture (1991) by feminist anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod. This discussion was led by designer Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury who is currently studying for an MA in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths. Abu-Lughod couples feminism with post-colonialism to address the pitfalls of anthropological methods of research and analysis, which often construct generalised and over-simplified assumptions based on cultural difference. Abu-Lughod proposes strategies of “writing against culture” to counter ethnographic accounts which present culture as something that is static, discrete, homogeneous and coherent, ignoring the cross-over between societies, social and cultural change, subjectivity and everyday contradictions. Omar provided an introduction to the text and a context for us to think through these ideas by discussing his collaboration with a group of Palestinian refugee embroiderers at INAASH, Beirut. Despite (or because) of this grounding, the text proved quite challenging due to the sheer breadth, complexity and slipperiness of the concepts that Abu-Lughod extracts and skilfully connects. Once again we came to the conclusion that what we agree on in theory is very difficult to apply in practice, and that we have a long way to go before we can align intentions and outcomes – largely due to broader social, economic and political circumstances. In this case, it might be helpful to consider the recent surge of projects that privilege cooperative ways of working, alternative economies, and ethical sourcing of raw materials or energy (Transition Network, Remakery, Institute of Network Cultures). Socially-engaged or participatory projects initiated by artists and collectives such as Suzanne Lacy, Ellie Harrison, Wochenklausur and Assemble have also developed collaborative models for social change. Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces: The Role of Dialogue in Socially-Engaged Art (2005) provides a theoretical perspective on this together with a discussion of case studies. There are also various forms of institutional support and funding for these projects (Situations, Robin Hood Coop and Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund, which will generate funding for activist art through renewable energy).

Sherrie Levine [1980] Untitled (After Edward Weston). Gelatin silver print.
Sherrie Levine [1980] Untitled (After Edward Weston). Gelatin silver print.

Continuing with with similar themes, [SYMPOSIUM] #3 took place on 8 January 2016 with The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism (1983) by Craig Owens. Owens explores the intersection of the feminist critique of patriarchy and the postmodernist critique of representation, in search for a way to conceive difference without opposition. His starting point is a definition of postmodernism as a crisis of the cultural hegemony of the west. For Owens postmodern cultural production is characterised by pluralism and indifference, with consequences for our sense of cultural identity. Owens considers the absence of discussions of sexual difference from postmodern texts alongside corresponding feminist and artistic critiques of representation. From the outset we encountered in practice what Craig Owens means by The Discourse of Others, as our situated identities informed our nuanced interpretations of the text. We read some passages closely, stopping to discuss definitions and examples of the various concepts that Owens weaves into his argument (postmodernsim, pluralism). We focused on his insistence that critics ought to address (sexual) difference, and we evaluated the dilemmas he sets up in the reading and interpretation of art. We examined the possibility that if we consider the artists’ (sexual, ethnic, class) identity as a defining element in our reading of the work, this may produce another kind of master discourse or essentialist reading of the work. We came to the conclusion that all these different perspectives can coexist simultaneously, sometimes giving way to others as subsequent experiences modify our viewpoint.

[BOOKCLUB] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author Friday, 12 February 2016, 6:00-8:30pm.This sets us up for The Death of the Author (1977) by Roland Barthes at [SYMPOSIUM] #04 on 12 February 2016. Led by Henrietta Ross, this session will consider the reader, context, authority and authenticity, focusing on the essays’ influence on a contemporary understanding of cultural production and the role of the individual with in it. For more details please visit the [SYMPOSIUM] page.

There were no new proposals, which is a relief as we already have 7 pages of them and we ran out of time before we could discuss Studio Crits and Gallery Tours. We will address these topics and select texts for April-June at next month’s meeting.

THE FIELD KITCHEN

Ratatouille and pasta with wine at the Field Kitchen, 20 Jan 2016. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
Ratatouille and pasta with wine at the Field Kitchen, 20 Jan 2016. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.

In December 2015 and January 2016 we helped out at the Field Kitchen, a collaborative meal prepared every Wednesday evening at The Field. Richard cooked a delicious ratatouille with pasta. Highlights included Toby’s squash and apricot tagine with pomegranate seeds, Florence’s red veggie curry with rose shortcake for dessert, Dales’ fiery bean and sweet potato chili and Isobel’s subtle squash curry with aromatic rice.

If you’re free and hungry on a Wednesday evening pop into The Field for a home-cooked meal and good company. Food is served at 7:30pm, it’s pay what you can and the income goes towards expenses for the running and maintenance of the Field. If you would like to help out, setup is from 6pm and there’s always something to do until everything is cleared up at the end of the evening. You can also volunteer to cook by adding your name to the list on the wall.

[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB

[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB

The SYMPOSIUM book club was a monthly open-access reading group for artists, researchers and anyone interested in the intersections between art practice and critical theory. Everyone was welcome to propose a text and facilitate the reading group.

Continue reading [SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB