Unconscious Transmission: The Generation "Gap"
Abstracts of a conversation with the artist
When style no longer determines the materiality or look of an art object (no longer determines that there will be an object), the end product is not one. It is a scene of contingent desires, demands, analyses, inquiries, reflections. In this project there were objects, but they almost disappeared from view. This meant that in relation to a work that questioned definitions of individual and group, the spectator's gaze sought to land elsewhere, and in spite of this, it sometimes could not avoid finding the work. As the artist, I was camouflaged by the pre-existing work which my project addressed. The documentary photograph that I framed was hidden by the clear piece of glass that it documented. In Enlarged from the Catalogue . . . meaning is located in that which is normally considered to be extra to the art object: the brochure made available on the reception desk next to the gallery catalogue, the words next to the number identifying the photograph on the wall (CATALOGUE AVAILABLE), the responses of gallery employees to questions about the missing work, the circulation between elements, between designated private and public spaces of the gallery, etc. The framed image (the apparent object) itself gave nothing away. The categorical assumption of center and periphery was disturbed.
And what is the stake of the womanartist in this? In the project, the hierarchical separation of the aesthetic and its record are resisted. But the Imaginary coherence of the term womanartist is challenged. As a cultural object of desire, the artist is still accommodated as philosopher, stud, poet, clown . . . What happens when the woman artist negotiates these roles? What positions can be fashioned? The woman will always benefit from a questioning of the term audience, from a less homogeneous definition of group, or for example nation, because her interests are among those most camouflaged by the generic. But camouflage not only obscures, it also provides cover for movement. As a strategy, camouflage allows for critical maneuvers within accepted aesthetics, with the desired risk being that such movements will undo the very camouflage that makes them possible.
"I proposed for my contribution that each piece of glass that was used in the exhibition for protection and display be measured, and that their total lengths and widths be computed and averaged. The result was a 14 inch-by-14 inch glass square, which was attached to the wall at eye level with four finishing nails. The piece of glass was thus installed as the other works. . . My work framed a 14 inch-by-14 inch section of the wall. The surface of the glass reflected light and was thus distinguishable from the matte white wall surface. The four finishing nails holding the glass square against the wall were also clearly visible. . . The work did not claim attention for itself as an object, but rather as a device whereby modes of presentation and their constituent elements could be analyzed, ranging from the architectural container, to the glass which normally protects and frames the work, to the nails used to support the glass, to the wall, the white backdrop for the works of art."
Excerpted from Michael Asher Writings 1973-1983 on Works 1969-1979
Enlarged from the catalogue: Michael Asher Writings 1973-1983 On Works 1969-1979 (The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1983), 1990
Photograph under glass, each 14" x 14", text (sizes variable).
"Ms Kolbowski has rephotographed Asher's catalogue reproduction, replicated it to nearly the exact size (in her reproduction the edges of his glass can be seen) and added similar framing materials on the wall of the S. Bitter-Larkin Gallery and provided, as a subtext, her own typeset commentary. The commentary raises questions about the philosophical underpinnings of definitions of the individual and the group, and the social manifestations of such definitions... Of Asher's model, she says: 'It was a commentary on the non-neutrality of scale and presentational format, a commentary that is very specific to it's period, the seventies, when seen as a part of a certain kind of conceptual inquiry. In a somewhat perverse reaction to the title of this show, New Directions, I wanted to take something from the past, have it speak to and about that period. But I also wanted to bring it into the present by having my contribution exist not only on the wall in its barely-there documentary form, but also as an extended discussion in the form of a text and, of course, in the exhibition catalogue. It raises questions about the concept of the individual in relation to the group, in both general and specific senses, of newness,' of 'direction,' of issues surrounding how group shows are situated in the economics of the art world today as opposed to the context of a student/faculty show, for example, of the viewer as an ' individual ' or a ' group. '
Excerpted from New Directions (catalogue)
I proposed for my contribution that the photograph documenting Asher's glass on the wall be rephotographed from his catalogue and mounted on the wall with similar framing materials (i.e. "attached to the wall at eye level with four finishing nails" . . . ). I also proposed that a number of "texts" be installed in relation to this element, and indicated-in the relatively specific style of catalogue prose-what these texts consisted of. But this was a fiction of a work created in advance to meet the demands of the catalogue production deadline, and the gallery's desire for advance information suitable for distribution . Because no pool of previously finished work existed from which a curator could choose an individual object to become a part of a group exposition, and because my approach to group shows often involves a slow absorption of small details, an imaginary work was authenticated through linguistic and institutional conventions .
The nature of the work to be included is as yet undetermined, 1990.
Dimensions and materials contingent on context.
My "direction" was not linear, it circulated in and out of the developing "support" materials of such productions: the catalogue, curatorial and gallery attitudes, i.e. decisions taken with regard to identificatory conventions, such as labels, wall numbers, checklists, press releases, catalogue illustrations, essays, graphics, etc. Faced with actually producing the work, I had to come up with something that was tailored to meet the description of the " real" work contained in the catalogue essay and checklist. I made a decision to frame the photograph, produce a catalogue/brochure and include lettering on the wall. This created a discrepancy between the physical aspect of the work and the measurements and materials description of the checklist and the essay. A greater discrepancy became evident after I set about to write the "commentary" element of the work which, I was quoted as saying, "raises questions about the concept of the individual in relation to the group, in both general and specific senses, of 'newness,' of 'direction,' of issues surrounding how group shows are situated in the economics of the art world today as opposed to the context of a student/faculty show...of the viewer as an 'individual' or a 'group'."
I proposed for my contribution to quote Thomas Jefferson on the responsibility of the state for the individual (in an attempt to point to the contradiction between current ideological moves to abjure government responsibility for the individual and, for example, the legacy of Jefferson's philosophical justifications of the state's role in the equal distribution of property). But the more I read, the more I came up against the weight of historical overlays and changes. Would I have to write a catalogue "essay" to establish an interaction between Jefferson's use of John Locke's philosophy of the individual and later psychoanalytic conceptions of the subject, or the entrenchment and permutations of capitalism and its creation of another "I"? And how would I be able to speak-in an affirmative sense-through the voice of one of the "founding fathers"?
I proposed for my contribution to discuss the growth of the group show genre as a displacement of growing social anxiety about the relationship of the individual to the group (nation, community, neighborhood) in the sense that group shows project a harmonious arrangement of individuals where harmony may not exist, or in the sense that they address viewers as individuals when they also belong to overlapping groups. (This is aside from the fact that the genre meets the current demands of the marketplace.) But, as a friend pointed out, perhaps the significance of these group shows is not a growth in numbers, but rather, their facilitation of a curatorial/institutional recuperation of the neutral white box of the liberal humanist exhibition space in place of a more overtly critical stance?
And if I articulated such questions would I have stepped outside of the field of artistic practice?
Subscribe to Lacanian Ink click here.