Friday, February 26, 2010

Negotiating Meaning in The Radicant Take 2

"Claire Bishop has recently interrogated the claims of democratization made for this model, charging Nicolas Bourriaud as a formalist in that he posits the generic principles of open-endedness and participation as ends in and of themselves, failing to attend to what she calls the “quality” of the activities catalyzed by an artist such Rikrit Tiravanija: “what Tiravanija cooks, how and for whom are less important to Bourriaud than the fact that he gives away the results for free.”1 This results in a claim for social engagement unburdened by political specificity and institutional self-criticality that “rest[s] too comfortably within an ideal of subjectivity as whole and community as immanent togetherness.”2 "(Exerpt taken from Indirect Action: Questioning Neo-Situationism, by Yates McKee. Found at

What is Neo-Situationism? I'm not sure. But my brief reading of the interview cited above leads me to belief that it shares many common threads with Bourriaud's call for radicantity, with one key addition; the inclusion of the multicultural insistence on subjectivity found in postmodern thought. McKee brings up a valid point in the above exerpt; he brings our attention to Bourriaud's insistance on the act rather than the result. The "what Tiravanija cooks, how and for whom" is just as important, if not more, than the fact that he gives out the results of his labors for free-- after all, there is a great deal of precedent of this type of artistic activity; giving out pieces of the art itself, the act of which becomes the art. Felix Gonzalez-Torres is an example of an artist who used these techniques in the late 80's and early 90's. With this in mind, I am left wondering if Bourriaud considers the who how and what of Tiravanija's work to be examples of Radicantity, or if it is simply the where and when that he considers relevant to his discussion.

Untitled (portrait of Ross in LA), 1991
Felix Gonzalez-Torres
175 lbs Fruit Flasher Candy, size variable

"Working as a team since 1995, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have tried to challenge the homogenizing forces of globalization by empowering local communities to articulate a diverse range of creative voices." -- International Center of Photography

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla's work (mentioned by Bourriaud on page 89) is used as an example of what the author referrs to as the "precarious aesthetic"- work built not to last but to reinterpret the endless piles of detritus that are the aftermath of our consumption based society.
Does this shift in artistic focus also imply that contemporary art values process over finished product? After all, the work of Allora and Calzadilla does not seem to fit into the category of 'finished'-- it is only the camera's documentation that defines it loosely as such. But if the work is in fact the physical footprints in the sand, then if I were to wear one of their altered shoes and add my marks to the composition, the piece would not be any more finished or unfinished- it would simply be altered. In contemporary art, can we ever claim that our work is finished? Or is it simply in an ever changing state of becoming?


Recreating the compositions of traditional Dutch still life paintings, London-based photographer Ori Gersht captures these scenes of flowers and fruit in the act of exploding. This work seems to have a fascinating parallel to Bourriaud's 'iconography of the precarious world'. While Gersht does not employ the type of visual language that Bourriaud seems most devoted to (these flowers are not mass produced disposable items in the same way that plastic cups and tennis shoes are), he does channel the feeling of violent fragility so prevalent in contemporary existence. This leads me to question how exactly the 'aesthetics of precariousness' can be defined. Could the traditional Dutch still life painters have a claim in this territory? After all, their work was a confrontation of our own mortality; is this the vital component of Bourriaud's prized aesthetic?

On page 102, Bourriaud claims that a new kind of artist has emerged, labelling them 'semionauts'. He defines a semionaunt as "a creator of paths in a landscape of signs". I find this to be a compelling notion, particularly in the wake of so many artists who re-produce post-produced items. Yet in considering Bourriaud's claims, I can't help but wonder if these artists are doing more than simply forging paths, whether they are in fact producing new signs through their artistic practice. For example, in the Museum of Art and Design's recent exhibition, Second Lives : Remixing the Ordinary, artists have taken post production items and used them to create new structures. Borris Bally's Brave #2 is a neckpiece made entirely of gun triggers. By comparing the structure of Native American tribal wear and the significance of guns in inner city life, a connection is made between two disparate cultures that does not simply translate one to the other or create a path between them, it combines them into a new sign.

Robert Rauschenberg, Charlene, 1954, Combine painting.

Bourriaud points to Rauschenberg as the precedent for the artist as semionaut.
On page 107, Bourriaud askes the poignant question, "How can one become the explorer of a world now covered by satellites, a world whose every millimeter is now registered and surveyed?" In the following paragraphs, he goes on to answer himself, implying that one can be an explorer in a well-charted world by mixing reality with imagination and fiction. Huyghe is used as an an example of such an explorer. Of him, Bourriaud states the "Imagination and fiction enable Huyghe to open up free spaces in the real geography he traverses."

In this section Bourriaud cites the work of many artists who use the act of travelling the world as their form of expression, and the journey as the work of art. Despite my misgivings, I am not willing to traverse the murky territory of whether such work is art-- I do wonder, however, why such actions are best understood through the lens of art. Why do the artists in question insist on labelling their activities as art, and displaying the remnants of their voyage in white gallery space? This seems ineffectual to me. If, as Melik Ohanian states, the work is about "the experience of exploration more than the image of exploration," then why even attempt to translate the experience to a larger audience? Such presentation seems unnatural and against the very object of the work.

Artists Mentioned in The Radicant, Take 2

Black Pussy, installation in Los Angeles, CA
Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio


"art as the exaltation of instability" (p.87)

Rikrit Tiravanija


Exhibited at Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Summer 2001


Gabriel Orozco
Yogurt Caps

Monday, February 22, 2010

Artists Mentioned in The Radicant

Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle Wheel, 1951

" "I was quite happy to feel like (an uprooted person)," Marcel Duchamp confessed at the end of his life, "precisely because I was afraid of being influenced by my roots. I wanted to get away from that. When I was in the USA I had no roots at all because I was born in Europe. So it was easy, I was bathing in a calm sea where I could swim free. You can't swim freely when you get tangled up in roots." " (p.50)

Nathan Coley, The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, 2004

Mentioned on page 59. Here he harnasses the power of these specific church's histories by recreating them in detail and placing them in the same space.

Gerard Byrne, Case Study: Loch Ness (Some possibilities and problems), 2001-2008
"...brings fragments of our history back to life by embodying them" (p.59)

Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, (1897-98).

Bourriaud claims that Gauguin "did not exploit the cultural context in which he settled." (p.64). This is highly debatable, and I personally disagree with this statement intensely. Gaugin was searching for the 'other,' and though he did indeed speak out for native sovereignty, he was still an orientalist. He was searching for a purer, simpler culture where he could get away from French society.

Eugene Delacroix (p.64)

In Darcy Grimaldo-Girgsby's book, Extremities. Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France, exoticism in colonial France is examined at length. Through her discerning gaze, the work of Delacroix and his contemporaries is passed through the lens of subliminal desire. French society enthusiastically embraced north African culture as 'the other' so that their liminal desires could be infused into a culture they knew little about. The specifics of 'the other' were unimportant; North African cultures were used as a mirror through which the French could begin to understand their own fears and desires. In this way, they could experience that which they simultaneously feared and desired without claiming it as their own. Delacroix's monumental painting, The Death of Sardanapalus, done in 1827 illustrates this point to perfection.

Jean-Leon Gerome was another 18th c French artist whose orientalist works showcased liminal desires.
Jean-Leon Gerome, Moorish Bath, 1870

Although Shepard Fairey is not mentioned in The Radicant, I believe that his work serves as an example of the radicant spirit.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Negotiating Meaning in The Radicant

Bourriaud claims that "the postmodern aesthetic is born of the extinction of political radicalism...". He emphasizes this with the idea that "...the merchandise that art produces is style. Style, defined as a collection of visual identifying marks that are infinitely manipulable: Piet Mondrian reduced to a motif, Joseph Beuys without the revolution..."

This quote, taken from page 48 of The Radicant, reminded me of a trip that my room mates and I took to Yale fall semester. We stopped at a McDonald's on the way, and while waiting in line, I noticed a familiar style of painting on the walls. Rothco ripoffs adorned the walls next to the bathrooms, with ketchup stains on their dingy frames. This seems to be the aesthetic of postmodernism as Bourriaud sees it. While the co-opting of such charged, revolutionary works to adorn the walls of a transitory 'non-place' is disturbing at best, horrific at worst, I do not believe that this supports the conclusion that the postmodern aesthetic revolves around style and is devoid of revolution. The rise of postmodernism coincided with the proliferation of many social movements that were dissatisfied with the purported universalism of modernism. Feminist art in particular was full of revolution, and that revolution burst from the picture plane in the form of installation, sculpture and video art. I wonder at Bourriaud's justification for this broad dismissal of all art since 1970; what is it he is trying to prove?

On page 51-52 of The Radicant, Bourriaud compares radicantism with the growth of ivy. Of this type of growth he states that "the radicant can, without injury, cut itself off from its first roots and reacclimate itself. There is no single origin, but rather successive, simultaneous, or alternating acts of enrooting. While radical artists sought to return to an original place, radicant artists take to the road, and they do so without having any place to return to. Their universe contains neither origin nor end, except for those they decide to establish themselves"

I am intrigued by the type of growth this supposes; that artists can grow from stimulation of many different kinds, and from very disparate sources. However, I am also very skeptical of his valorization of this kind of creation over all others. While his simile is very romantic and full of possibility, it implies that radicants only pull from the the topsoil; there is no deeper knowledge of the cultures from which they appropriate. I think that where symbols are used, the artist should have a thorough understanding of their context and history; this knowledge is important for deliberate design.

On page 53, Bourriaud goes on to claim that altermodernity is in part based on the end of medium-specific practices, and that the true radicant pulls from many different disciplines, never confining themselves to one medium, and that this necessarily will lead to the end of any tendencies to exclude "certain fields from the realm of art." According to Bourriaud, "nothing could be more alien to than a mode of thought based on disciplines, on the specificity of the medium- a sedentary notion if ever there was one, and one that amounts to cultivating one's field." Through his tone, it is clear that Bourriaud has nothing but distain for those who waste their time cultivating their field. Yet cultivation leads to innovation, and it is innovation that Bourriad is most interested in. Is he not excluding the creative processes and practices of a large group of artists while simultaneously claiming that altermodernity is non-exclusionary? This paradox seems ominous to me. The idea of "cultivating one's field" implies gaining mastery over materials and techniques tied to that field. From Bourriaud's description, radicantity seems to eschew the value of mastery all together.

At several points in the book, Bourriaud concerns himself with defining a purpose or field of study for artistic practice. This often leads to huge sections of artistic inquiry being passed over or their validity denied entirely. For a theory of 21st century art, such exclusionary thinking is remarkably closed-minded. On page 54 he launches into one of his efforts to define art. He claims that, "for radicants, " not defined as an essence to be perpetuated...but rather as a gaseous substance capable of filling up the most disparate human activities before once again solidifying in the form that makes it visible as such: the work. The adjective gaseous is only frightening for those who see art as identical with its regime of institutional visibility. Just like the word 'immaterial', it is only pejorative for those who don't know how to see." Besides being thoroughly disgusted by his pedantic tone, I take issue with his inability to find value in any art that does not conform to his collage-style ideal. What does he mean by the "...those who see art as identical with its regime of institutional visibility"? Is he referring to those who see the object as the ultimate art rather than the idea?

On page 58, Bourriaud begins to explore the idea of place, and its connection with loci of power. Using the Coca-Cola corporation as an example, he posits that "Coca-cola is without a location; by contrast, every bottle of Chateau Eyquem contains a history based on a particular territory. That history, however, turns out to be mobile: it comes with the bottle, which is a portable sample of the region. The moment human groups lose all living contact with representation is the abstract moment by which capitalism consolidates its holdings."

I was interested, but ultimately confused by this statement. The place-lessness of Coca-Cola seems to be exactly what he valorizes in radicant art. He clarifies somewhat with the following statement; "The new powers have no location. They manifest themselves in time. Coca-Cola's power is based on the repetition of its name by advertising, which is the new architecture of power. How can the Bastille be stormed if it is protean and invisible?"

The capitalist symbols of power are here compared to the Bastille, the prison that symbolized France's dictatorial monarchy through the 18th century. If capitalist power is the new Bastille, Bourriaud seems to imply that radicant art is our defense against such power. In order to take back our liberties, we must combat with creation of a new sort. This made me think of attempts to reclaim public space, such as the OBEY sticker campaign, begun in 1989 by Shepard Fairey, which he claimed to be "an experiment in phenomenology" aimed at "reawakening a sense of wonder about one's environment." This is an idea that I am excited by; using the language of advertising to subvert the power that corporations have over our mental and physical space.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rewriting Modernity

Bourriaud claims that "the historical task of this early twenty-first century rewrite modernity...not to start at zero or to find oneself encumbered by the storehouse of history, but to inventory and select, to use and download." (93).

This approach demands a certain amount of eclecticism, mixing the past and the present. How does this relate to Lyotard's assertion that "if artists give into the eclecticism of consumption, they serve the interests of the techno-scientific and post industrial world and shirk their critical duties."? (92).

I believe that Lyotard's vision of contemporary art is somewhat grim; he does not trust the artist to be able to appropriate the language of his/her time in the service of a greater conceptual goal. From the multiculturalism of the altermodern, hybridity has become the new norm, and in order to be relevant, it could be argued that artists need to adapt their techniques to represent their times.

Gunilla Klingberg, Cosmic Matter, scaffolding, printed tape, high-polished metal. Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, 2009

Context and appropriation

On the last page of his book, Bourriaud suggests to his audience that "...artists reactivate forms by inhabiting them..." and that "...instead of prostrating ourselves before works of the past, we can use them. <...> works can propose scenarios and art can be a form of using the world, an endless negotiation between points of view" (94).

While I love the idea that art is a negotiation between viewer, author, and context, Bourriaud seems to suggest that art should be judged by how many references it makes, and that the quality of a work lies not in its uniqueness but in its context. I am troubled by this, although I can hardly articulate why.

Some of the most enduring works have been created not by a collage of contexts, but by a singular vision taken from the mind of a single person. It seems wrong to me to assume, as Bourriaud does with his insistance on reactivation, that art is an act of social resistance. Not all art is subversive, and as Postproduction comes to its conclusion, Bourriaud pushes with ever greater insistence that art has become an activist platform, and that work with the most cultural and social appropriations is the most effective. There is an eschewal of tradition and craftsmanship inherent in this point of view that seems deeply flawed.

Jenny Holzer, Untitled, Installation, Venice, 2003

Investing in Fashion and Media

Bourriaud claims that "...the contemporary work of art does not position itself as the termination point of the 'creative process' (a finished product to be contemplated) but as a site of navigation, a portal, a generator of activities." (Bourriaud, 19).

I have several questions about this comment:

-Does this negate the meaning of 'finished' in contemporary art? Does art in this genre not occupy a discrete point in time/space?

-If this is true, then wouldn't the most pure work of postproduction art be one in which the artist merely sets the stage for interactions between others, doing as little as possible to interfere? And wouldn't this, by extension, negate their status as artist? Wouldn't the title of artist then be shared equally by all those participating in the action?

The images below are of Rudolf Stingel's 2007 installation at the MCA Chicago, where he covered all the walls with foam and tinfoil, then allowed people to mark the walls as they saw fit. The MCA wrote the following of his installation, "Asking the viewer to participate in his work, Stingel examines this collaborative act which involves first the making of the artwork and then the perception of the finished artwork. This exploration is intended to demystify both the process of creating art and the idea of art."

Rudolf Stingel, 2007, Installation in the foyer of the MCA Chicago

Thoughts on The Use of Product

"Appropriation is indeed the first stage of postproduction." So begins Bourriaud's section entitled
The Use of the Product from Marcel Duchamp to Jeff Koons. I found this section to be particularly poignant for its examination of the role of the consumer in the art world. Bourriaud claims the "The artist consumes the world in place of the viewer, and for him." (27). While I am intrigued by the idea that the artist has become the consumer of and in her own work, it does not seem possible to me to cut out the consumption that the viewer of any artwork takes part in. How is it possible to consume the world for the viewer? In viewing the work, is the audience not participating in another form of consumption of that same scene?

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (I shop therefore I am)
111" by 113"
photographic silkscreen/vinyl

Thoughts on The Flea Market

In the section of Bourriaud's
Postproduction entitled The Flea Market: The Dominant Art Form of the Nineties, Bourriaud makes mention of sculptor Jason Rhoades. Of Rhoade's piece, Perfect World, he remarks "The space of the work is urban space, traversed at a certain speed: the objects that endure are therefore necessarily enormous or reduced to the size of the car's interior, which takes on the role of an optical tool allowing one to select forms." (Bourriaud, 30). I am particularly interested in the the role of the car as an optical tool-- especially when compared to other man made optical tools such as cameras. Yet while I find this comment compelling, I question the qualitative difference between selection and creation. Although I was unable to find adequate images of Perfect World, I was able to find images of other pieces by Rhoades, such as Broken Audio Tour. I feel that work concerning itself only with raw selection rather than reinterpretation, is less interesting and of less artistic merit than work by artists who use such objects as building blocks rather than final products. A good example of an artist who uses objects as building blocks is Sarah Sze, a sculptor who uses a vast array of commercial materials to create intricate worlds.

Sarah Sze, Boesky 1, Mixed Media, 2005

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Images from artists mentioned in Anton Vidokle's article in October 130

Example of Russian constructivism:

El Lissitzky
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge

Great interview between Anton Vidokle and Martha Rosler in Art in America

My favorite quote from Rosler:
"Art can serve as a condenser of complex matters into symbolic narratives, and a catalytic node for discussion and organizing. It allows for the further germination of ideas though themes that remained unmined or require a more contemporary view. "
Interesting.... so these images were appropriated from Madani's photo archive, but Kaatari remains the 'author' of the piece.

Two Boys Posing with Gevaert Film Advertisement. Saida 1966

Response to Walter Benjamin Reading

Q: What is the "Aura" of a work of art?

A: According to Benjamin, Aura springs from the work's "original use value," and it quantified by the work's "uniqueness," which provides the viewer with an authentic experience. The Aura of a work of art is only present in the original, meaning that by Benjamin's definition, some art is necessarily excluded from posessing Aura (those works which have no original object and are reproductions of themselves). Benjamin further posits that the "uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition." Although Benjamin never gives a direct definition of Aura, his clues encourage extrapolation. We can assume that, according to his definition, Aura increases exponentially over time, bridges past to present, and is dependent on context. The latter can be inferred from Benjamin's connection between Aura and the cultural history of the society from whence the object sprang.

Q: In Benjamin's mind, what effects did mechanical reproduction, such as film and the camera/photography, have on a viewer's perception of art?

A: In Benjamin's view, reproduction meant the death of Aura. A work of art that has no original (such as a photograph-- endlessly reproducible from the negative) has no Aura. He was a firm believer in the power of the original, presumably due to the presence of the artist's hand. In his seminal article, Benjamin notes that the public has had a progressive response towards film, while the general reception of contemporary fine art has been reactionary. This is directly related to the camera's ability to present the audience with a more direct representation of real life. Painting and sculpture, on the other hand, experienced a great shift towards abstraction at the dawn of the 20th century, and were therefor not as easily accessible (both physically and conceptually) to the general public. Benjamin claims that this shift in art was made not only out of a spirit of exploration, but as a defense mechanism; artists began spouting the ideals of 'art for art's sake' in order to "deny the the social function of art" so that they would not be usurped by the advent of the camera. While this shift has lead to the proliferation of many different artistic movements, it has also cut fine art off from the common man, and made it a more intellectual activity.

Q:What is meant by the passage: "For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual."

A: Benjamin's use of the word 'ritual' is curious, but he seems to equate it with the social function of art. Historically, art has been used as a social signifier, an historic document, or a record of cultural mythologies (I would include religious art in this latter category). With the birth of the camera, artists were no longer chained to representation; the camera is capable of recording form, light and shadow more faithfully than the artist. With this new technology, artists could begin to paint abstractly, and the resulting artwork began to take on a more expansive, exploratory feel.

Q:What mechanically or otherwise reproductive processes are changing the face of art today?

A: The proliferation of technology has begun to dramatically shift the face of art. Unlike the turn of the last century, however, the locus of the art world has shifted from the canvas to the screen, from the studio to the everyday environment. Video, Auto cad, laser printing, 3d printing, gaming, online social networks, 3d movies, and mobile technology are just a few of the technologies that have shaped the face of the art world over the last thirty years.