Glamour is a dangerous thing

August 20, 2003 at 10:48 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

I was 29 when I saw Francesca Woodman’s retrospective at Wellesley College in 1986. Her allusions weren’t exactly foreign — they actually felt familiar — yet I felt unhinged by them. As an art historian familiar with Surrealism, I was completely used to images made by men that essentially spoke to men even as they professed Woman as their subject. But here I felt that Woodman addressed me, as a female viewer, in that exact same familiar language, but she positioned me in a completely different space. I didn’t know where to stand. The images were smothering and occupied every common-place (every place to stand) with a kind of alienating and enthralling alterity.

Bellmer, Doll

I couldn’t help but compare her work mentally to Surrealists from the 1930s and 40s, especially to Hans Bellmer. His Poupees — “Dolls” — can make a viewer squirm, but with a bit of study, one quickly learns to deal with Bellmer’s aesthetic. It derives from years of brutalization at the hands of his militaristic father, for example; it’s a sort of externalization of a psychoanalytical process; it was a necessary step in getting the male psyche out of its prison house of language, logic, paternal restraint, taboo, and into the realm of dream, liberation, revolutionary freedom. And all that. To whit:

Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body by Sue Taylor. “…The Surrealist fascination with automata, especially the uncanny dread produced by their dubious animate/inanimate status, prepared the way for the enthusiastic reception in France of Bellmer’s doll. His stated preoccupation with little girls as subjects for his art, moreover, coincided with the Surrealist idealization of the femme-enfant, a muse whose association with dual realms of alterity, femininity and childhood, inspired male artists in their self-styled revolt against the forces of the rational.” –Sue Taylor…

But what was Woodman up to, spilling the beans like that? And what was it that did in the end make her work so different from Bellmer’s? She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1958. But in 1981 she committed suicide by leaping from her Lower East Side loft window. On a par with self-inflicted fatal gunshot wounds, this is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular ways of doing yourself in. Essays hint at larger facts, but leave them unexplored: no one wants to touch the personal psychology. Francesca Woodman was born in Denver, Colorado (April 3rd 1958) After the publication of “Some Disordered Interior Geometries” she committed suicide in New York on January 19th 1981. She was not yet 23. The essays accompanying the 1986 exhibition, as well as those that followed subsequently, vehemently denied any connection to Surrealism or to Bellmer. It was imperative to see Woodman as unconnected to old-style European psychosis, to psychology, and to anything as trite as a Surrealism not utterly dictated by the latter-day followers of Bataille and Lacan. No one in the art history world dared to say that perhaps Francesca Woodman had personal demons, that she was disturbed. Her suicide was incidental and a bothersome psychological fact that had to be passed over in favour of her feminism and post-modernity. Maybe theory killed her. It was a family acquaintance of the Woodmans, a poet named Peter Davison, not another New York artist or art historian, who managed an essay that hinted at the person behind the photographs in a May 2000 Atlantic Monthly article, Girl, Seeming to Disappear. Davison’s article moves toward illuminating the person and the art.
Another (male) reviewer, clearly conservative, heckles Woodman in a 1999 New Statesman article, but then adds a nasty aside that paradoxically points to a useful angle:

An unspecified catalogue editor confirms, perhaps unintentionally, in a terse, non-committal biography, what I suspected the moment I saw Woodman’s frankly outlandish output: that what she really wished to be was a fashion photographer or some kind of photojournalist, but that she was torn between pursuing this goal and wanting to be the model in the pictures, the subject of the reportage, too: “She put together portfolios that she sent to a number of fashion photographers, among them Deborah Turbeville, whose work she had admired for some time, [but] her solicitations did not lead anywhere.”

Deborah Turbeville, Christmas

If you know Turbeville’s work — perhaps remember it from 1970s and 80s issues of Vogue — you’ll know that it was famous for combining decay, decadence, obsessive anorexia, otherworldly beauty, and above all unspeakable, unutterable glamour. Her pictures conveyed desire unto death. Very pretty. And perhaps that was the aesthetic that Woodman was exploring, an aesthetic at the heart of fashion and at the heart of fashion’s appeal to women: self-annihilation in the service of consumer recreation.

Negative Dialectics, personal

August 19, 2003 at 10:41 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

There is a room in my house that’s supposed to be mine. It’s small, yet it has potential. But since we moved last November and until now, it’s had dumperitis: everything which hasn’t yet found a permanent place elsewhere in the house has found its way into that room. Recently, I took action, …by dumping everything into the hallway instead. This emptied the room, and I’m now trying to make the space work for me.

Unfortunately, I got stuck just now by leafing through a binder that contains historical ephemera and incriminating evidence of various failed undertakings. There’s my birth certificate on which my mother’s “maiden” name is misspelled. There’s a picture from a 1980s newspaper, showing all the Jugendstil apartment houses slated for demolition on Duesseldorf’s Berger-Allee (I was born at home, in an apartment at 1 Berger-Allee). The article consists of one large picture of the street facade, and a short caption that the houses are to be demolished to make way for more Mannesmann A.G., now Vodafone, highrises on that street. (Looking around online, however, I see that the Stadt- or City-Museum of Duesseldorf is at 2 Berger-Allee, and that 1 Berger-Allee houses an art gallery that calls itself the Statt-Museum — the “Instead” Museum. Perhaps the buildings weren’t razed after all?)

There are various report cards — the binder makes no sense and spills its contents without pattern: my first report card from grade school in Germany; my assorted report cards from Canadian schools; every report card is from a different school in a different neighbourhood; my honours certificate from Grade 7, which I received during an evening ceremony that my parents didn’t attend, although in that particular year they came to some sort of parent-teacher meeting, which was the one time they set foot in any of the schools I went to. My miserable graduation report card, issued in January three weeks after my 17th birthday (we had a semester system and I finished early), which I brought home just before my parents announced they had sold their house and were moving into a one-bedroom apartment: the not-so-subtle hint. The report was signed by Mr. Williams, a history teacher whom some called Dead Fred. He wasn’t particularly animated. He was British. But I remember very distinctly that he thought I was so bright, and how disappointed he was that I always showed up high, if I showed up at all. Just how bad was it, anyway, if they made plans to move behind my back, and basically gave me 4 weeks notice to find a job and an apartment? Let’s see, job experience to date, accrued during summer vacations: delivering prescriptions for Aaronson’s Drug Store; working on construction sites; wearing a mermaid outfit and playing hostess-guide at the incredibly awful Undersea Gardens in Victoria; waitressing at the Empress Hotel. Ok, waitressing it is. Just not the breakfast shift, please.

But then the binder reveals the pictures: many cellophane sleeves filled with negatives, along with sheets of contacts, showing various sculpture projects. At 19 I used to be one of Robert Jacobsen‘s students at the Munich Art Academy, but I didn’t make it there. Too much booze, too much fcuking around, too much, too tough, I couldn’t cut it. Robert was an anarchist and a huge monster with a huge heart, a Dane who trolled through Munich when he felt like it, when he wasn’t in Aarhus or Copenhagen or Paris or Provence, and who otherwise utterly abandoned his class to their own devices: pedagogy through neglect. Until he came into town, then everyone would get drunk. Except Robert: he didn’t drink anymore because he had dissolved his liver years ago, but he loved watching everyone else make fools of themselves. All of his students were desperados, people on the edge willing to put up with abuse for the sake of their art, whatever that meant. Or a weekend trip to one of his places in Denmark. And they were all, except for one, years older than I was, and able to carry themselves with a bit more savvy. I lasted for three years, one year short of my diploma. Just quit. Left. Fled into theory: Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin. The notion of making art seemed like so much crap, like fodder for the culture industry, but now I look at the pictures of those half-baked projects, and I realize that the culture industry was just half the problem. I was the other half. Culture industry is alive and well and kicking. And I’m not, because I stubbornly refused to relinquish the notion that non-participation would make a difference. I’m not at all sure at this point whether it does or doesn’t. There is certainly no dearth of people who will take your place if you don’t participate, and in the end it’s a question of what you feel comfortable with, individually. If you can live with being a jerk, then that’s what you’ll do. If you have a major chip on your moral armour, then you’ll walk with a limp. Best, I suppose, if you can play, because it is some kind of weird game in the end.

The hallway is a mess now. Have to continue cleaning up that room.


August 18, 2003 at 9:52 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

In case the reader noticed that I changed the name on the front page from “weblog” to “post studio” last week: it signifies my enthusiasm for various kinds of art practices that can be termed “post studio,” in the sense of “beyond, after, outside of” the studio (i.e., beyond cloistered practice). Open practice, mixed practice, unexpected practice. One example would be the Chicago group Temporary Services. Theirs is a service art or post studio art.

But the weather is wonderful, as usual

August 18, 2003 at 9:22 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on But the weather is wonderful, as usual

Fcuk. Julie on Perpetualkarma uses this word occasionally — I first saw it in London on t-shirts made by ‘French Connection United Kingdom,’ but she means it in the sense of you-know-what — and it sums up perfectly what I feel right about now. fcuk. Just like that.

* haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while
* have my Eternal Recurrence with the 13-times-per-year inevitable (which will end with menopause and never RETURN again — there!, another proof!)
* have more than a few doubts about this whole blogly thing. I mean, wtf? And am showing my disrespect for the non-existant reader by posting a crypticism not worth the pixels required of a computer screen.

The only thing that pleases my language nodes at this downtrodden time is the fact that fcuk sounds like “fuh-cuck,” which sounds like verkackt, which is the explosively onomatopeic word for excremental, excreted upon, full of dung. Same in German as in Yiddish, except sometimes spelled fakakt (or variants thereof) in the latter.

See you next Tuesday. Fcuk, that would be tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll be up for it.

Fresh laundry

August 16, 2003 at 9:08 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Two weeks more or less until Betsy Burke’s latest book is released!

Way to go, BB — I’ve pre-ordered my copy!

A Natural History of Entropy, or, How to Refute Eternal Recurrence

August 15, 2003 at 10:27 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

I’ve been reading Jorge Luis Borges lately, and was blown away by his 1934 essay, “The Doctrine of Cycles.” Since this is my blog and I can post anything I want, I’m going to write about it. Too bad if anyone thinks it’s too esoteric or too long. First, I don’t know whether I should feel encouraged or defeated by Borges’s laconic refutation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of Eternal Recurrence. For one thing, it’s achieved at the price of the universe’s eventual death. But for another, I’m with Borges on this, even though it is an almost scary and nearly friendless argument that he makes to demolish Nietzsche. First, Borges considers infinity, and calls on mathematics in the person of Georg Cantor to explain why Nietzsche is wrong. Cantor’s “heroic theory of sets” (Borges) proves that in an infinity of atoms, nothing need ever “return”:

The series of natural numbers is very orderly, that is, the terms that form it are consecutive: 28 precedes 29 and follows 27. The series of points in space (or of instants in time) cannot be ordered in the same way: no number has a successor or an immediate predecessor. It is like a series of fractions arranged in order of magnitude. What number will we count after 1/2? Not 51/100, because 101/200 is closer; not 101/200, because 201/400 is closer; not 201/400, because … According to Cantor, the same thing happens with points. We can always interpose more of them, in infinite numbers. Therefore we must try not to conceive of decreasing sizes. Each point is ‘already’ the final degree of an infinite subdivision.
The clash between Cantor’s lovely game and Zarathrustra’s lovely game is fatal to Zarathrustra. If the universe consists of an infinite number of terms, it is rigourously capable of an infinite number of combinations — and the need for a Recurrence is done away with. There remains its mere possibility, which can be calculated as zero. (p.117)

But it’s Borges’s closing argument, calling on the theory of entropy to demolish “eternal recurrence,” which is most convincing, and simultaneously awesome:

Heat and light are no more than forms of energy. It suffices to project a light onto a black surface to convert it into heat. Heat, however, will never return to the form of light. This inoffensive or insipid-seeming proof annuls the ‘circular labyrinth’ of the Eternal Return.
The first law of thermodynamics declares that the energy of the universe is constant; the second, that this energy tends toward isolation and disorder, though its total quantity does not decrease. This gradual disintegration of the forces that make up the universe is entropy. Once maximum entropy is reached, once different temperatures have been equalized, once any action of one body on another has been neutralized (or compensated for), the world will be a random assemblage of atoms. In the deep center of the stars, this difficult, mortal equilibrium has been achieved. By dint of constant interchange, the whole universe will reach it, and will be warm and dead.

Light is gradually lost in the form of heat; the universe, minute by minute, is becoming invisible. It grows more inconstant, as well. At some point, it will no longer be anything but heat: an equilibrium of immobile, evenly distributed heat. Then it will have died. (p.122)

With that, Borges shows that entropy refutes Nietzsche’s doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.
Somewhere inbetween these two arguments, he seems to suggest that mono- and atheism are the only two respectable positions that an intellectual can take in regard to religion. Philosophers and theologians before Nietzsche postulated theories of Eternal Recurrence, and St. Augustine, Borges points out, refuted “so abominable a doctrine” for “the gaudy futility of this wheel” and for “the ridiculousness of the Logos dying on the cross like an acrobat in an interminable sequence of performances.” (p.118) St. Augustine derides the Stoics and Pythagoreans who theorize Eternal Recurrence as “worthless revolutions and affirms that Jesus is the straight path that allows us to flee from the circular labyrinth of such deceptions.” (ibid.)
But where does Borges come to rest? He doesn’t. Here’s his closing paragraph:

A final uncertainty, this one of a metaphysical order. If Zarathrustra’s hypothesis is accepted, I do not fully understand how two identical processes keep from agglomerating into one. Is mere succession, verified by no one, enough? Without a special archangel to keep track, what does it mean that we are going through the thirteen thousand five hundred and fourteenth cycle and not the first in the series or number three hundred twenty-two to the two thousandth power? Nothing, in practice — which is no impairment to the thinker. Nothing, for the intellect — which is serious indeed.

If we stop differentiating, then as intellectuals we’re dead. Eternally.


August 14, 2003 at 11:17 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Grid

“We all pay the price when we’re interconnected. There’s no way of avoiding that because all the jurisdictions in the northeastern part of North America interchange power.” Officials said late Thursday they were particularly concerned about a potentially dangerous surge once power was restored that could cause further blackouts as far as Manitoba and the American Midwest.

Maybe the woman in this picture is phoning ET to ask whose bright idea it was to create such a huge interconnected system in the first place.

Conrad Atkinson

August 14, 2003 at 10:56 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Conrad Atkinson

This is a story that Conrad Atkinson tells: “[S]omeone asked me to say something about culture, and I told them about an incident that occurred when I was in Moscow for the second time, in 1991. I was a guest of Moscow News [the English-language weekly newspaper of Moscow], so I got all the scoops and knew immediately what was going on. This was August 1991: There were barricades across the city, people were killed in street fighting during the coup. Boris Yeltsin was in the basement of the Russian White House that night. Nobody knew what was happening because of the ongoing coup waged by the Russian generals. Yeltsin wanted to listen to some music, so he went through his CDs, picked one out, and put it on. He didn’t play Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, or Russian folk songs. No, the CD he chose was ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ by Elvis Presley. It’s a true story. Later that night, Yeltsin’s aides were phoning around the world asking for endorsement and for condemnation of the coup. They didn’t ring George Bush senior, they didn’t call John Major: they asked for Mick Jagger.

This is for me the postmodern moment, with its mixture of cultures and traditions. After this anecdote you could say that you can never know when you’re going to need culture, you never know where culture is going, you never know where culture will come from, you never know what culture is going to look like, and you never know what culture is going to do.”

– from Antony Hudek, “Excavating the Body Politic: An Interview with Conrad Atkinson,” Art Journal vol.62 nr. 2 (Summer 2003), p.14.

The Lovelump

August 13, 2003 at 8:52 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

British Columbia it seems is tying if not starting to beat out Ontario as a high tech centre. Most of the action is in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver region), and much of it is also focussed on biomedical research (via UBC especially). It therefore seems fitting that one of the Canadian winners of Adbusters’ memefest 2003 should come from Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art & Design: EroTech, a satire devoted to the brave new future of intimacy enhancement. In the manner of, “Just wait till I get through with you.”

« Previous PageNext Page »

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds.