Aesthetics for the Undead

Spring 2018

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Depths and Possibilities — Activist Art (a review)

Review of Gregory Sholette’s Delirium and Resistance: Art and the Crisis of Capitalism. Forward by Lucy R. Lippard. Ed. by Kim Charnley. London: Pluto Press, 2017.

Delirium and Resistance is an abstract title, inscribed on an abstract book cover. The restless reader might hastily judge it as just one more theoretical tome in the vast sea of perspectives on crises in art today. But appearances are deceiving. Gregory Sholette’s new book intends to splash cold water in the face of aesthetic narcosis. It’s like Alice came upon a mushroom marked “Eat Me” that, when consumed, eradicated Wonderland, or at least made it into a house of cards observable from the outside. Some of us might not want to awaken from our opioid aesthetics (our neoliberal delirium) or embrace the possibility of change, hobbled as we are by our addictedness and fear. The author aims to open our eyes, and, when we do, it is remarkable how invigorating our new acuity turns out to be.

Delirium and Resistance (henceforth D&R) is a book of essays Sholette wrote over about twenty years (from 1997 to 2016), but covering movements going back to the 1980s, with references to the 1960s. The book is divided into three sections: “Art World,” “Cities Without Souls,” and “Resistance”—respectively, these deal with art today as a supreme capitalist enterprise, the paradox of artists vs. gentrification in cities, and, finally, the efflorescence of social practice amid a bare art world. D&R builds on the author’s signature concept of artistic dark matter: the ninety-nine percent who support the art industry with tuition, fees, dues, purchases of art materials, and debt, and through their own unremunerated artistic efforts—all amounting to a “missing mass,” while a tiny number of artists and artworks meet with material success.

In making itself known through multitudes of extra-institutional activities, this dark matter ironically illuminates the fully financial phenomenon that is art today—a system of bare art, to use a term borrowed from Giorgio Agamben’s “bare life,” the reduction of life to mere subsistence devoid of agency. With bare art, art is stripped of its rhetorical high ground, its secrets about ineffability, and its charmed lifestyle. It materializes as pure capital. In Sholette’s eyes, we are currently witnessing a fermentation of dark matter activity, a critical moment in which dark matter is becoming visible, even chic, as museums and other art institutions scramble to embrace social practice of all stripes, from performance art to community advocacy and even commonplace activities like cooking.

So, resistance is endangered by the hallucinatory bounties of capitalism, but the bloated system might be reaching a tipping point. Sholette believes that it is, and, if anything is to be gained, we must engage with the efforts of the past, an archive of mostly un- or under-theorized activity, as a resource.

What makes the book significant is not only Sholette’s theoretical acumen, but also his authenticity. Like an emancipated Alice, his perspective draws from both within and without. As an activist and professor of art, Sholette has taken part in a number of key activist art groups since the 1980s, (PAD/D, REPOHistory, Gulf Labor Coalition, and, with Olga Kopenkina, the Ukrainian Imaginary Archive, IA). He witnessed first-hand the disruptions of the streets with Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, events that involved artists self-exiled from the art world. D&R’s essays were written at different moments in the past decades of activist art in “an attempt at formulating a broader thesis about art as resistance.” (151) That resistance, though atomized in thousands of particular contexts, relentlessly moves its aggregate mass towards liberation from anaesthetizing aesthetics, and eventually, perhaps optimistically, to cracking the code of capitalism itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Wall Quilts” Bring the Feminist Art Tradition to the Land of Georgia O’Keeffe

This summer I met up with artist Sabra Moore at Angelina’s Restaurant, with the big chili pepper sign, on Fairview Street just by the Rio Grande in Española. We were about to tour the district elementary schools where she has been working to create permanent tile mosaics created from individual paintings by the school children throughout the rural area.  (read more – pdf attached)  Ryan-Moore

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Judy Natal Gave Some Pointers to My Students

IMG_0792Students in my Art & Environment class at LSU are getting some ideas on how to approach local communities with environmental hazards. They are tasked with creating social practice projects (and writing analyses of their own works) in Louisiana communities with toxic leaks or waste dumps. We are working with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN)!  https://leanweb.org/

Judy Natal is a Chicago-based artist and photography professor at Columbia College Chicago. Her photographs and videos have been exhibited internationally and are in permanent collections around the world. An Archive of her papers, lectures, writings, research and photographs has been established at The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art and she has received numerous commissions and awards including a Fulbright Travel Grant, Illinois Arts Council, Polaroid Grants and New York Foundation for the Arts Photography Fellowships. Author of EarthWords and Neon Boneyard Las Vegas A-Z, Natal’s photographs explore the visual and textual narratives of landscape. She’s held artist residencies that have taken her to Iceland, the Robotics Institute, Joshua Tree National Park, and in Arizona at Biosphere 2, where she founded an artist residency. Her newest project addressing global warming, The Weather Diaries, has brought her to Iceland and the Faroe Islands – the project works to bring immediacy to the dramatic weather events we are witnessing around the globe

The Holy Dress

The exhibition Coded Couture at Pratt Institute gallery in New York is a great exploration of what is becoming a bigger field–the thoughtful investigation and interrogation of what “wearable technology” is actually capable of. Melissa Coleman’s mind-blowing Holy Dress (with Joachim Rotteveel and Leoni Smelt) is a dress as a gilded cage that delivers a jolt–literally an electric shock–to its wearer based a process of creating narratives monitored by lie detector technology embedded in the piece. Wow. Pain and pleasure.

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The electrical  charge of this “overdress” creates little light flashes across the dress that my iPhone camera can’t capture. On the mannequin, a programmed array of flashes runs. We have to imagine the shocks.

Art History and the Environment

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Just finished teaching a new course on art and the environment (an art history/contemporary art course). (See courses page for syllabus).10501743_945970768811874_1449745246498666413_n

The course subtitle was “Changing Views of Landscape” and we examined the very meaning of the term “landscape”– a term that has long-standing aesthetic subtexts — and landscape painting and photography, which have informed our expectations for our environment.

We read historical texts that contributed to the formation of our landscape ideas by writers like Uvedale Price, Richard Payne Knight, Henry David Thoreau, John Brinkerhoff Jackson, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and all the rest, and explored recent movements like deep ecology and eco-terroism. The overarching perspective from the present were the ecological writings of philosopher Timothy Morton, especially his book Hyperobjects (U. Minn. 2013)

Students used historical, aesthetic, and ethical discussions to ground their own community-engagement projects addressing clean air and water issues and how people deal with them.  Below are some links to the class projects.

Environmental Justice Now

https://www.facebook.com/environmentaljusticenow/

WAC Water

https://wacwater.wordpress.com/

Losing Louisiana: A Memorial Service for New Orleans

https://www.facebook.com/losinglouisiana/

Breathe225

https://www.facebook.com/breathe225

Meeting Kate Hartman’s Monarch

At the Lively Objects Opening, Museum of Vancouver @ISEA2015

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It was worn by Boris Kourtoukov of the Social Body Lab http://socialbodylab.com

Monarch is a harness with wing-like shoulder enhancements that render the wearer more fearsome. The structures expand and contract in response to sensors on the arm reading muscle movement so they mimic a “fight or flight” posturing.  It is an example of an expressive wearable that addresses human interactions and public display, not just (like so much wearable tech) online communication and consumption.

The True Cost of Fast Fashion–and Fashion Tech?

Video on fast fashion’s human and environmental costs.  If link fails, search            take part.com/true cost.

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http://www.takepart.com/true-cost?cmpid=tpsales-eileenfisher&spMailingID=11930034&spUserID=ODI5NjIwOTQ3NTUS1&spJobID=503994677&spReportId=NTAzOTk0Njc3S0

Environmental concerns: if we add the toxic flows from fast fashion to the ones from all our tech fashion (thrown away devices etc), what does that add up to?

Interview with Diffus Design about Wearable Technology Design Concepts

Diffus Design–Michel Guglielmi and Hanne-Louise Johannsen, is based in Copenhagen. It concerns itself with bringing together technology and traditional crafts.

Interview can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/10033103/Interview_with_Diffus_Design_Michel_Guglielmi_and_Hanne-Louise_Johannsen

Read about their Design Strategies here:

http://www.diffus.dk/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Diffus%20strategies%202013.pdf