Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse
Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse
Cirrus Gallery 542 S. Alameda Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 05 / 19 / 2012 - 07 / 07 / 2012 Director Jean Milant Curated by Biddy Tran Catalog Design Seth Weiner
Figure (01) Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse. Installation View, Cirrus Gallery. 2012
Biddy Tran Introduction. 2012
Brice Bischoff Bronson Caves. 2010 - 2012
Anoka Faruquee Vermicular. 2010
Nikhil Murthy More With More. 2010
Biddy Tran Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/Lincoln). 2009
Javier Proenza Thermal Receipt Self-Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011). 2011
Zach Kleyn I Am the One Iâ€™ve Been Waiting For. 2012
Karina Nimmerfall The Glass House. 2012
Seth Lower Diamonds Are Forever. 2010 -2012
Claudia Slanar Digital Melancholy. 2012
Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse. 2012 6
00 Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the AntiDigital Impulse is a group exhibition exploring the paradoxical anti-digital impulse and its relationship to the human desire and nostalgia for the “authentic” and the “real.” Despite the proliferation of digital technology and a cultural dependence on digital reproduction and interfacing, there exists a lingering anti-digital impulse - one inextricably tied to presumptions about what is “real and/or authentic”, and what is “fake and/or inauthentic.” These presumptions seem defined by an anthropocentric and narcissistic logic. The anti-digital impulse points to nostalgia for the trace of human presence, and the discomfort toward its erasure. In the series of cibachrome prints, Bronson Caves (Figs. 0304), Brice Bischoff inserts his own body in a performance within a historically mediated and fabricated space that exists solely as a medium for the construction and performance of fictive histories. Playing out an earnest but narcissistic desire to extend the caves’ narrative by becoming a part of it, Bischoff literally becomes an apparition in the photographs—a ghostly imprint on the Bronson Caves. The anti-digital impulse is implicit in the manner of production: an analog process using not a standard SLR digital camera, but a traditional and physically cumbersome 4x5 large format camera, which Bischoff laborious carried up to the caves to set up at a precise moment for the necessary lighting conditions. The old-fashioned cibachromatic process, by which these seemingly digitalized images were made, alludes to the value of manual labor, and underscores the fetishization of the human hand and nostalgia for traditional processes in our digital culture. There is an obsession in our culture with seeing ourselves and our world reflected in something else. While millions are spent to satisfy a cultural fascination with using binary code to reconstruct or imitate the real and the analog (e.g. CGI cinematic effects, Second Life, Facebook, etc.), Anoka Faruqee’s paintings do the oppo-
site. In the painting entitled Vermicular (Fig. 05), we are made aware of the artist’s painstakingly diligent attempt, and failure, to manually mimic the perfection of digital binary code. Faruqee uses a single module (an asterisk from Islamic tile design) as a pixel that varies only in size, painting it by hand thousands of times to generate something that appears at first glance (especially from a distance) to be a highly pixelated computer-generated image. The evident labor and slight imprecision of each mark call attention to themselves and their failed attempt at the kind of perfection only possible with machine and digital processes (see Fig. 06). These unapologetic imperfections are the unmistakable mark of a human, and boldly propose that beauty lies in the attempt, and the process, rather than in the result.
While there is a cultural fascination with virtual realities, there is also an undeniable repulsion toward conflating computer simulations with the “real.” Karina Nimmerfall’s digitally constructed tableau, The Glass House (Representation) (Fig. 19), refers not only to the discrepancies between idealized living and actual living in Modernist architecture, but also the recoding of Modernist architecture in pop-cultural and cinematic representations as spaces of evil and sin. It’s sleek lines and clean geometry essentially remove all traces of the human hand and presence. The tableau elicits discomfort specifically because of its erasure of all human presence, as well as its obvious digital appearance and employment of the same coded information and graphic data file systems used in video gaming systems. The concept for this curatorial project stemmed initially from questions regarding authenticity and historic representation and mediation that arose while using Google image search in my own research on the origins of the United States and American culture. The more obvious problem of discrepancies between representation and actuality evolved into broader issues regarding the new realities that spring from missing or lost information, as well as the ways
Biddy Tran. Introduction. 2012 8
00 in which we define or value what is authentic or inauthentic. Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/Lincoln) (Figs. 10-11) is my attempt to direct attention to the inadequacies of both digital and analogue representations of history and culture. The broken analogue slide projection of my drawing of web-distorted images of Massasoit and Lincoln suggests the necessity of humility involved in all representational processes, because they inevitably support a specific subject position. While postmodern theory has shattered notions of a definitive history, we continue to seek truth and meaning in the events of the past, often assigning meaning when there seems to be none. One of the questions I wished to raise in the exhibition is whether this impulse to discover uniqueness and monolithic meaning is ultimately a narcissistic endeavor to affirm one’s own sense of importance or uniqueness. Diamonds are thought to be unique and are prized for their authenticity and rarity. Jewelry, and especially diamonds, is a cultural means of defining one’s identity and stature. Ironically, commercial representations of diamonds are manipulated digitally through a labor-intensive process to add false information and remove the blemishes that make them unique. The diamonds then, are mere imagined projections of desire and stature; the representations appear more perfect, authentic, and desirable than the “real” thing. Comprised of several series of photographs and a video that draw attention to such manipulations, Seth Lower’s installation, Diamonds are Forever (Figs. 2023) simultaneously addresses the narcissism behind the consumer’s desire for authenticity and performs it through a dryly humorous, critically perceptive and self-conscious narrative that borders on self-obsession. In Nikhil Murthy’s video, More with More (Figs. 07-09), the juxtaposition of the still lives of 17th century Dutch painter Jan de Heem with the rap music of ‘Lil Wayne speaks precisely of the narcissism and amour propre of capitalist consumer culture, presenting a kind of test
on the viewer’s ability to resist participating in that culture. The lo-res digital video and comical herky jerky editing devalues and literally diminishes the craftsmanship of De Heem’s own close-to-real representations of wealth. Since a projection is something that cannot be held or possessed, the viewer is doubly denied the pleasure of identifying with the narcissistic subject position introduced in De Heem’s paintings. Yet the monumental size, blaring volume and editing of the video demands a more visceral and less critical dynamic between the viewer and the work that is at once intimidating and inviting. The synchronization of ‘Lil Wayne’s outrageously braggadocious music with the quick cuts and gimmicky transitions between De Heem’s paintings produces the effect of a music video, with flashing and pulsating frames that create a dance club atmosphere in the gallery space. One is caught between the formal antagonism and criticality of the video and instinctually giving in to the beat of ‘Lil Wayne’s “blinding bling” and other narcissistic fantasies. The exhibition features two works that specifically address issues surrounding the construction of identity. The three-year long performance in which Zach Kleyn led over a hundred people (including his most intimate colleagues) to believe in the existence of his twin brother, Zan, questions the inauthenticity or unreality of what is simulated or imagined. If enough people genuinely believe in something, it becomes a reality difficult to undo. Kleyn’s employment of an alter-ego to rewrite his own history, and to account for a history for which he is ashamed, performs the myth of Narcissus. His alter-ego embodies the admirable qualities Kleyn feels he himself lacks, and by performing as his own identical twin, he becomes that which he is infatuated with. The performance culminates and ends in a confessional and cathartic conversation between Kleyn and his twin, printed in a letterpress book entitled I Am The One I’ve Been Waiting For (Figs. 15-18). That Kleyn chose to reveal and apologize for this deception
through the beautiful packaging of a signed letterpress book points to the cultural value of such crafted objects by both the artist and the recipients of the package; they now own a piece of him, and are therefore expected to forgive his duplicity. His signature is the stamp of authenticity, and the letterpress text the gift and apology. While Kleyn’s simulation of an identity is completely fabricated, Javier Proenza’s automated time-based performance, Thermal Receipt Self-Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011) (Figs.12-14) presents an identity that is constructed of 100% fact. The indiscriminate digital documentation of his purchases (since the first quarter of the 2011 fiscal year) produces a truthful and objective representation of his spending habits and discloses personal information that reveals a complex human persona. Looking at the loop of receipts in the first few minutes of the automated performance, one learns that he is a serious soccer player, buys pads of drawing paper, eats healthy organic food from Trader Joes while also consuming an inordinate amount of candy and beer (usually a combination of chocolate, gummies and Sapporo) and has recently required surgery, complete with an accompanying course of powerful antibiotics and painkillers. Yet the receipts, which are printed continuously on top of one another on a loop of thermal receipt paper, eventually obfuscate the artist’s identity. As more information is revealed, the less it is legible. The simultaneous disclosure and erasure of data suggests the artist’s attempt to deny the modern marketplace ownership of his identity and subvert the authority of the hard data that claims to define him. Aside from the gestures implied in setting up the piece, nowhere is the artist’s hand evident. The analog drawing produced by the end of the performance is created entirely by digital information. Even the sculptural elements of the piece (disposable chopsticks, tripod, table) are records of Proenza’s spending. We are left to redefine the parameters of representational authenticity. While the accuracy of a computer
generated representation of an identity strictly based on purchases might seem unsettling, it is also a cue to ask why we are repelled by it. Throughout the show, a formal and conceptual thread of revealing/concealing runs through each work. What is ostensibly real or authentic overlaps, becomes, or reveals what is simulated, and vice versa. The real and the fake are at constant interplay, pointing to an ambivalence and schizophrenic position toward the anti-digital impulse and digital or binary logic. With each passing decade, the distinction between digital and analog media has become increasingly irrelevant in the field of the arts due to the technological advancements that have enabled digital processes to imitate, produce, and/or reproduce the “real” with astonishing detail and accuracy. However, information is inevitably lost with each generation of reproduction, and in a culture that communicates primarily through sound-bytes and information compression, preserving the integrity of that first generation has in many cases become insignificant and irrelevant. The question at stake then is not found in the debate centering on quality or technical superiority of one process over the other, but rather what these processes tell us about ourselves. While we may understand that the “real” physically and semiotically changes with time, we seem to long for and expect stasis – the security and simplicity of binary logic. - Biddy Tran 2012
Biddy Tran. Introduction. 2012 10
Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse. 2012 12
Figure (02) Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse. Installation View, Cirrus Gallery. 2012
The Bronson Caves are located in Los Angelesâ€™ Griffith Park and are famous as a stage set to countless motion pictures and television shows. The caves are actually man made and were originally a rock quarry during the early 1900â€™s used to lay streets for an expanding Los Angeles. A hundred years of filmmaking has occurred at the caves imaging events from explosions and gun fights to the discovery of cave paintings. Reflecting on this history, the caves are documented on various formats and film stocks over time as an unchanging landscape amidst a chaotic specter of fictional realities.
2010 - 2012
In the series of photographs titled Bronson Caves, the caves served as a stage set yet again. I performed actions for the camera with massive sheets of colored paper. Since a longexposure photograph was produced rather than a motion picture, the papers were recorded as voluminous, glowing colors. The materiality of the rainbowed forms, emerging from the mouth of the cave, dancing about the canyon, and bubbling up from the ground, are based solely in the photographic process, and can only be experienced when viewing the final photographic prints. If a visitor to the caves were to accidently stumble upon my performance they would only see a mass of crumbled colored paper draped awkwardly over a man moving/dancing to a camera positioned on a tripod. The goal of these performances was to create sculptural, photographic objects that interacted with the history and architecture of the caves.
F F Brice Bischoff. Bronson Caves. 2010 - 2012 16
Figure (03) Brice Bischoff. Bronson Caves #6. C-Print, 38” x 48”, Edition of 5. 2010
Figure (04) Brice Bischoff. Bronson Caves #23. C-Print, 48” x 38”, Edition of 5. 2010
Q U E E
How do you know a thing? Because you can quote something, because you can “google” and read it about it, do you really know that thing? Just because we’ve seen Islamic tile designs, do we understand how they work? The philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell named two types of knowledge: knowledge by description (knowing the rules of mathematics or grammar, for example) and knowledge by acquaintance (knowing how to perform the rules via experience). We live in a culture that privileges description. My gestures in the shape of six pointed asterisks or three pointed tripods derive from Islamic tile geometry. Many people ask about the role of Islamic patterns in my work, expecting a kind of cultural posturing. Yes, I am second generation Bangladeshi-American with an Islamic heritage. Yes, I grew up around patterns in embroidery, rugs, and saris. My interest in Pattern painting came from looking at Persian and Moghul miniatures, although I came to those via Matisse. So why isn’t the use of Islamic geometry in my work more obvious or iconic? Because Islamic geometry is in itself willfully anti-iconic, whether developed in antithesis to Christian icons, in adherence to the historical ban on images, or as mathematical perfection describing weightless, infinite space. Where else would one turn to for such highly evolved and distilled tessellations? I turned to them because of their ability to yield geometry through painterly and calligraphic mark making. Because someone centuries ago spent a good amount of time playing with a ruler and a compass, I can lift from that tradition a kind of readymade handmade pixel. Those experiments were indeed the mathematical forerunners of current digital technology. I’m not interested in merely quoting or “describing” these forms, forever suspending them in their historical moment. I use them in the present tense for what they are and what they can become. My handmade modules build an illusion of light and dimension. By mixing multitudes of subtle and discreet color gradients, I create
the illusion of translucent pours or light hitting a surface. In late 2008, I made a painting that shifted the spirit of the work. The painting (Green C-Curve) was the simple studio discovery of combining a color fade with a scale distortion. By painting the gestures freehand, on subtly increasing curves, the work is improvisational and more pleasurable to make and to look at: each gesture now intentional, its shape constantly shifting to reveal some stubborn logic.
Before I begin a painting, there is always some geometry problem that is just beyond my conceptual grasp: how to make my modules get smaller, how to make them converge to a center point, how to reconcile a seam between two curves. Only through embodied experience, do I come up with a “solution” and this new knowledge also leads to a deeper awareness of growth patterns in nature and corresponding mathematics. The distortion in my recent paintings refers to the undulating space of op art or computer modeling, but unlike these conventions they are not mapped mathematically, rather filtered through the scale of the painting in relation to my own body. In earlier works, I likened the mapping of “spontaneous” pours of paint to the process of a scientist analyzing the flow of sediment on the bottom of a river or ocean. But now, I mimic the river as much as the scientist. The idea of component parts in my work is also the basis of technology. The use of modular color and shape mimics the often absurd fragmentation of experience inherent in our human attempts to control and replicate. My works are about the biases of human ambition. But my paintings are not slick (though they often appear so in reproduction); they expose their making: a slight topography of paint, a drip, a translucent pink, a ground color peeking through, an overlap or mis-registration. My painting practice is akin to drawing in that I do not allow for any editing. I work across the surface, once and only once. This exposure emphasizes their humanity.
Anoka Faruquee. Vermicular. 2010 22
Figure (05) Anoka Faruquee. Vermicular. Acrylic on Linen, 56.25” x 51.25”. 2010
Figure (06) Anoka Faruquee. Vermicular. (Detail) Acrylic on Linen, 56.25” x 51.25”. 2010
This video combines the paintings of Jan de Heem with the music of Lil’ Wayne, specifically de Heem’s still lives and the Lil’ Wayne song “Loud Pipes”. The paintings of de Heem are generally called “fancy” still lives from the Baroque period in the Netherlands. They consist of sumptuous food, elaborate floral bouquets and other signs of luxury. The early music of Lil’ Wayne contains very similar subject matter such as cars, bling, expensive champagne and money. These works both focus on depictions of exotic and expensive goods. At first they would seem to share a celebratory view of their historic moments. In the case of de Heem it was the beginning of capitalism and the creation of the Bourgeois class in the Netherlands. Similarly, the music of Lil’ Wayne reflects the culture of pre-9/11 United States, a moment that Francis Fukuyama referred to as “The End of History” to signify liberal democracy’s victory over all other forms of human organization. A closer look at these works would reveal a less positive view of these historic moments. Additionally, both these works take different views in regards to the relationship between objects and the self. De Heem’s paintings consist of unnatural fantasies that could not exist. In an effort to critique the apparent abundance of capitalism, fruits and flowers from different seasons were represented together as natural. Also, images of skulls, broken dishes and dead animals were seen as allegorical symbols of Christian wariness of greed and pride. De Heem’s works express an anxiety with unrestrained consumption, a feeling that if we continue down
a materialist path we will come to be defined by the objects we own and create rather than our spiritual nature. This anxiety continues today. Daily we are reminded that our lifestyle is financially and environmentally unsustainable and the only solution is a self-imposed asceticism or austerity. Our very selves are in peril from the objects we create.
MORE WITH MORE
Lil’ Wayne’s music denies this desire for asceticism. It mocks our anxiety of overabundance. Whether discussing creative uses of champagne (“I use Cristal to lubricate rubbers”) or cars that do not exist (“Mercedes-Benz 700 V-14”), the songs are dismissive of the notion that the things that humans produce will be our doom, or that we must do without. Additionally, Lil’ Wayne’s music is skeptical that we will come to be defined by our possessions. Over and over, luxury objects are shown to actually shield the self from the gaze of others such as diamonds that will “blind” you or car window tint that prevents others from seeing you1. The music draws an important distinction between the self and the objects we create2. More With More combines these two disparate artistic traditions in order to create an object that is antagonistic to the viewer. This artwork cannot be judged objectively from a distance; neither is it a fetish that validates the viewer’s subjectivity3. This work does something different. The formal aspects of the piece combined with the disparate subject matter create a work that pushes back against the viewer. It forms a subjectivity that the viewer cannot identify with. By doing this, the viewer engages with a work that does not directly relate to the viewer’s self.
This is an extensive theme within rap music. Its high point occurs with 2Pac’s album “All Eyez on Me” with songs such as “Picture me Rolling” and “U Can’t See Me” among others which deny the viewers ability to see the rapper. 1
I am indebted to Michael W. Clune’s book American Literature and the Free Market for his unique and insightful critique of rap. 2
Hal Foster’s Design and Crime discusses these two types of artistic objects and their social and historical implications in detail. 3
Nikhil Murthy. More With More. 2010 28
Figure (07) Nikhil Murthy. More With More. (Video Still) Video with Sound, Dimensions Variable, Edition of 10. 2010
Figure (08) Nikhil Murthy. More With More. (Video Still) Video with Sound, Dimensions Variable, Edition of 10. 2010
Figure (09) Nikhil Murthy. More With More. (Video Still) Video with Sound, Dimensions Variable, Edition of 10. 2010
Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/ Lincoln) is a large-scale analogue slide projection of a 16” x 19” graphite on paper drawing of Massasoit (sachem of the Wampanoag tribe in the early 17th century) and Abraham Lincoln (16th president of the United States). The slide projector itself is a malfunctioning Vivitar model from the late 1980s with a broken autofocus mechanism that continually struggles to focus the slide, causing the image to rhythmically shift in and out of focus. At its most blurred point, the projector blurs and merges the faces of Massasoit and Lincoln into one. The blurred conflation of the two faces becomes a loaded Rorschach test—viewers perceive the face they wish to see or the one with which they are most familiar. Since Massasoit has been all but erased from mainstream U.S history, what viewers inevitably see is the blurred but iconic face of Lincoln. At its sharpest focal point, the image reveals itself to be the slide documentation of a drawing. The drawing consists of graphite on paper, and is my own manual reproduction of a digital montage of heavily pixelated lo-res images of the two aforementioned men. I found these images using Google Image Search. Using photo-editing software, I digitally spliced the two images together to produce the interlaced final image.
The broken slide projector is a literalization of the manner in which information is lost or fabricated through mediation and representation. The digital montage provides a comparable amount of representational space to two equally significant leaders. Though both men were crucial in the development of the U.S, Massasoit continues to be severely underrepresented in current public consciousness. The drawing of the digital montage is a gestural admission of my own subjectivity.
UNTITLED (BROKEN PROJECTION OF MASSASOIT/LINCOLN)
Lincoln’s position on the emancipation of slaves, and Massasoit’s central role in the salvation of the Mayflower pilgrims, are both remarkably misrepresented and celebrated as heroic acts of compassion and righteousness. Because no documented likeness of Massasoit was made during his lifetime, it is expected that viewers will not recognize his face. By interlacing his face with Lincoln’s, I wish to draw the viewer’s attention not only to Massasoit’s historic underrepresentation, but to the similarities between the complex decisions both men made that have fundamentally shaped the fabric of U.S identity.
Biddy Tran. Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/Lincoln). 2009 36
Figure (10) Biddy Tran. Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/Lincoln). Broken Slide Projector, Slide of Drawing.Dimensions Variable. 2009
Figure (11) Biddy Tran. Untitled (Broken Projection of Massasoit/Lincoln). Broken Slide Projector, Slide of Drawing.Dimensions Variable. 2009
Thermal Receipt Self Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011) is an automated time-based performance that deals with my consumer identity. Using a thermal receipt printer, which is typically found in retail stores, I print one receipt per cycle, in chronological order onto a loop of thermal paper that feeds back into the machine for the next record of purchase. The printer head marks the thermal paper with heat, and throughout the process the image that emerges continues to change in shape and density. Text becomes obscured or emphasized as it overlaps, but eventually most of the information is lost. The performance ends when every receipt I have collected since the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 has filled the loop, and what remains is a mechanical drawing made up of my needs and desires and their subsequent paper trail.
THERMAL RECEIPT PRINTER (SELF-PORTRAIT)
The information shown in the piece is among the most valuable about me in the modern marketplace. Every purchase made with a debit or credit card is automatically linked to my name and billing address, then sold to third parties who compile the data into a profile from which other details about me can be extrapolated. This profile, while incomplete, is accurate in that it is based on how I use money, a limited resource, and to distort it with misinformation I would have to buy things I neither want nor need. In this self portrait, I exploit my position as the source of this compiled persona to include receipts, such as those generated by cash purchases, that cannot be linked to me by data miners, making a print out of the most complete collection of my shopping data available. During the performance I reveal all of the information, while still keeping most of it concealed, and in attempting to profit directly from its sale, I claim ownership of my own consumer identity.
Javier Proenza. Thermal Receipt Printer (Self-Portrait). 2011 42
Figure (12) Javier Proenza. Thermal Receipt Self-Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011). Thermal Receipt Printer, Thermal Paper, Table, Light Stand, Chopsticks. Dimension Variable. 2011
Figure (13) Javier Proenza. Thermal Receipt Self-Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011). (Detail) Thermal Receipt Printer, Thermal Paper, Table, Light Stand, Chopsticks. Dimensions Variable. 2011
Figure (14) Javier Proenza. Thermal Receipt Self-Portrait (Fiscal Year 2011). (Detail) Thermal Receipt Printer, Thermal Paper, Table, Light Stand, Chopsticks. Dimension Variable. 2011
07 I AM THE ONE I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
- Clarice Lispector, from Stream of Life
Over the holiday break during my first year at CalArts, I decided that I was an identical twin. The choice to become a twin came from an arduous internal struggle: how do I reconcile the conservative Evangelical Christian culture in which I was raised with being a contemporary artist? I was an immigrant between ideologies, and the answer was suddenly clear and simple: I am not one person, I am two.
“To create a being from oneself is something very serious. I’m creating myself. And walking in complete darkness in search of ourselves is what we do. [. . .] That’s why I ask you questions and why there will be so many of them. Because I am a question.”
My Doppelgänger was a celebrated liar, approaching our new twin identity with the conviction and belief of a fresh religious convert. He lied with sincerity, as if he truly believed the fiction we had constructed. He was able to introduce the concept that he was an identical twin in casual conversation, as if the listener had forgotten this important aspect to his identity – “I’ve never told you about my brother?” My colleagues in art school soon became familiar with the details of my brother’s life, our relationship, and our collection of entertaining ‘twin’ stories. This undocumented performance and series of video works spanned three years. Playing the parts of both detective and victim, my twin and I repeatedly returned to the scene of the crime: the early intersection of religious dogma and my supposed “true self.” The purposeful fracturing of my identity became a tool for investigating the ways in which ideologies weave themselves into the tapestry of a human personality. As we dug deeper, a central recurring question emerged: Is it possible to locate oneself, and if not, what are the implications? I Am The One I’ve Been Waiting For is a letterpress book that documents a conversation in which my brother realizes that he is only a character, a fabrication, an artwork. The project as letterpress was important because it emphasized the creation of the book as a kind of penitence for the act of lying and involving my colleagues and friends in a complicated threeyear performance. I printed as many editions as there were people involved, and gave them away as gifts.
Zach Kleyn. I Am the One I’ve Been Waiting For. 2012 52
Figure (15) Zach Kleyn with New Byzantium Press. I Am The One I’ve Been Waiting For. (Installation View) 8”X8”, 18 Page Unbound Artist Book, Letterpress On Paper, Edition 149/150. 2012
Figure (16) Zach Kleyn with New Byzantium Press. I Am The One I’ve Been Waiting For. (Detail) 8”X8”, 18 Page Unbound Artist Book, Letterpress On Paper, Edition 149/150. 2012
Figure (17) Zach Kleyn with New Byzantium Press. I Am The One Iâ€™ve Been Waiting For. (Detail) 2012
Figure (18) Zach Kleyn with New Byzantium Press. I Am The One I’ve Been Waiting For. (Detail) 8”X8”, 18 Page Unbound Artist Book, Letterpress On Paper, Edition 149/150. 2012
E R F A
THE GLASS HOUSE
A nearly static tableau displays a luxurious hillside residence. Its foreground presents the rippling surface of a private swimming pool. In the distance and out beyond the hillside residence are the twinkling lights of a major metropolitan area. And the point of view of this digital creation: is it the perspective of a secret onlooker, observing this digital house from the far side of the pool, halfway obscured in the night time hours by landscaped floral architecture? In the center of this computer generated view, trapped between the voyeur’s vantage point and the twinkling lights of the city, sloping glass walls hold the furnishings of privilege. This is a lifestyle of minimal design and exquisite taste, a virtual establishing shot from somewhere that looks like Hollywood. In a standard film or television production it would now be time to cut to the three-quarter shot—the Le plan américain, or “The American Shot”—for the initial presentation of a primary character. Or perhaps it would announce the brief arrival of a secondary and quickly expendable cast member: that temporary performer destined to die early; the tragic figure that always ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, a figure having existed for decades in our collective memory as the necessary fuel for the ensuing plot. In Karina Nimmerfall’s 21st century tableau these characters will never appear. Neither the primary lead, nor the tertiary extra: that background jogger on the way to nowhere. This poolside image presents solely a vacant ground of visual recreation, an architectural forensic scene consisting of virtual cinematic memories and clichés. With this image, in addition to the disappearance of actors, one also finds that any human connection brought about by the use of celluloid film has vanished as well. The work is also however not created with any help from the glossy surface predominantly found in currently popular high definition modes of production. It even avoids the stilted
crisp focus of standard video broadcast systems, those formats normally used in network television. Here the viewer is presented instead with a computer generated panorama. It is an image produced not with traditional cinematic methods, a view never seen through the lens of any camera system. It is constructed of coded information and graphic data file systems. This is the technique most recognized from video gaming systems and 3D modeling programs.
In connection to the current techniques of 3D modeling, it can be hypothesized that perhaps Nimmerfall aims to vacate the image of as much human emotion as possible, solely to display and present with as little distraction as is necessary, the visual arrangement of cinematic compositions and their strategies. In the same way that architects now use 3D modeling to understand scale, site and geometry, here the modeling of filmic compositions lays bare the artifice of their creation and planning. This abyss of virtual space contains no direct human connection. It arrests solely the planning of space involved in cinematic set design. The structure of Nimmerfall’s empty digital residence in the virtual hills is manifest by a collage of clichéd cinematic tropes and architectural shapes used continually to promote vacant morality and bad character. In reality— as in the tenets of modernist and most contemporary architectural planning—these photogenic architectural locations, so often used in cinematic productions, should have been the spaces of light and air, of harmonious spiritual living. In cinema this belief system was somehow flipped on its head. Simple living became synonymous with immorality and sinfulness. Just choose any cinema thriller. Watch the film and see who resides where. Compare the spaces of good and evil. It’s a funny game where honest people live cozy lifestyles and the minimalist villains own homes where stairways often have no handrails. Patterned Recognition On Karina Nimmerfall’s The Glass House (Representational)
Karina Nimmerfall. The Glass House. 2012 62
Figure (19) Karina Nimmerfall. The Glass House. (Video Still) Single Channel Video. 2012
In August, 2010 I was offered a photo retouching job with a high-end watch and jewelry dealer in downtown Los Angeles. My daily tasks included photographing diamonds, rings, and watches, and using editing software to remove blemishes and backgrounds or to paint in false information. In the process of working there I began to collect and formulate images and texts based on my experiences. The builtin meaning of much of this work was informed by the location of the showroom itself, near Pershing Square, coincidentally housed within the same high-rise bank building as the immigration courtrooms for the greater Los Angeles area. Most of the photographs included in the project were generated or borrowed from the archive of images that I created for the companyâ€™s inventory and website, including images of combined or manipulated merchandise that existed only in digital, or imagined, formats. Several parts of the project speak of access and visibility within the office, for example Blind Spots, which documents parts of the office that fall off the grid of security surveillance, and Key Card, an enlarged image of my personal access card, which I later dropped down the elevator shaft, effectively locking myself out of the showroom, and Floor Piece--a partial recreation of the companyâ€™s foyer space, which leads into the showroom but can only be accessed by key card or by being manually buzzed in. The text-based video Diamonds are Forever transcribes various experiences relating to the job, including conversations overheard in the elevator, conflicts or routines within the office, and encounters in Pershing Square. Removals features altered jewelry images that were created by accident, as aesthetic outcomes of failed keyboard shortcuts during the editing process. Similarly, Erased Rauschenberg deals with the act of removing or altering visual information; in this case the company purchased a ring previously owned by Robert Rauschenberg, which I photographed and then deleted.
2010 - 2012
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
Seth Lower. Diamonds Are Forever. 2010 -2012 66
Figure (20) Seth Lower. Diamonds Are Forever. (Installation View) Installation with video and photographs. Dimensions Variable. 2011
a pillow of dreams and charcoal.
Figure (21) Seth Lower. Diamonds Are Forever (Erased Rauschenberg). Installation with video and photographs. Dimensions Variable. 2011
Figure (22) Seth Lower. Diamonds Are Forever (Blind Spots I-V). Installation with video and photographs. Dimensions Variable. 2011
Figure (23) Seth Lower. Diamonds Are Forever (Removal III). Installation with video and photographs. Dimensions Variable. 2011
When did we forget to notice in the midst of all our artistic production that our “vita activa” is dominated by the spatio-temporal layout of capitalist production? That our personal relationships are permeated by the economic principles of competition and constant growth, regardless of the nature of capital? We are working too much. Especially as part of the “creative class,” as art workers and cultural laborers in the broadest sense, we are so willing, almost desperate even, to give up our needs and eventually our rights to recover from labor time, from parts of the day and night that are happily spent working. When were we fooled about the fact that inspiration and passion involve hard work most of the time and are equally exploitable in this production cycle? We are exhausted at this point, tired of networking, hustling, and making money to survive. Our creative machine-minds are working on such a high speed that we cannot count on much more than a piston seizure. We are increasingly craving “authentic” experiences like meditating in monasteries, making music, and spending time in countries far away and seemingly untouched by industrialization. In our spare time we are so over-stimulated that we cannot fall asleep anymore without drugs. We adopt hobbies (though they are no longer called this) that our mothers would have disdained as chores. If we do not already have an artistic practice, we look for one. We believe there is an artisan in every one of us, because this satisfies our narcissistic and nostalgic desire to find a sense of home in our un-homely world.
society to one based on communication and the production of knowledge, from the workers’ struggle against labor to the workers’ struggle to maintain their work, and from alienation to estrangement of the soul. But what makes his analysis so different from other theories and reflections about post-Fordist labor, affective labor, precarious labor, and about multitudes and commons, is that he pleads for a new model of consciousness, for a different form of becoming (post)human that can no longer be dominated by Western rationalism and humanism. Berardi positions the soul at the center of his analysis, saying that it is “the vital breath that converts biological matter into an animated body.”2 It was central to the Marxist concept of alienation and estrangement that was believed to be the driving force behind the workers’ struggles in the 1960s and 70s and their attempt to build human relationships again. Then, as a result of the shift in the parameters of industrial labor during the next decades, a new type of cognitive work eventually created a new form of alienation, the “enslavement of the soul,”3 in which not only every particle of time and physical but also mental activity became dedicated to the capitalist production cycle. Thereby, the soul has become the main target of the post-Fordist modes of production of value through their incorporation of our vital affects and desires. One of the consequences is a new relation between manual and cognitive labor, their levels of specialization, and their identificatorial potential as “high tech workers tend to consider labor as the most essential part in their lives, the most specific and personalized.”4
In his 2009 book published on the psychopathological impact of post-Fordist labor, The Soul At Work, subtitled From Alienation to Autonomy, media theorist Franco “Bifo” Berardi1 traces the transformation from post-industrial
One can now argue alongside a feminist critique about the discussion on precarious labor relations: This shift to immaterial labor (which works towards the overthrowing of capitalist exploitation and produces information, ideas,
DIGITAL MELANCHOLIA (or why we should not work at all)
I wrote this text following Berardi’s arguments and analyses in The Soul at Work while trying to relate them to a very particular field of work. That is why I quote him so often. My reflections might now be mere thought-provoking impulses, but I hope they will become more. Moreover, I think this book is extremely important to understand our current cultural, social and economic transformations. It is sharp in its analyses, often utterly depressing but with a reassuring poetic sensibility. 2 Berardi, The Soul At Work, Semiotext(e) 2009, p. 21. 3 Ibid., p. 23. 4 Ibid., p.76. 1
Claudia Slanar. Digital Melancholia (or why we should not work at all). 2012 78
and knowledge) has taken place in only one part of the world. Industrial and manual labor and its repressive forces, on the other hand, have been outsourced and practically rendered invisible.5 But Berardi’s argument is not linked to historic materialism when he asks, “What is happening in the domain of cognitive labor? Why does this kind of worker value labor as the most interesting part of his or her life and therefore no longer opposes the prolongation of the working day but is actually ready to lengthen it out of personal choice and will?”6 For him this almost paradoxical reversal from the promises of increasing amounts of leisure time in the 1970s to the restructuring process and shift from the secondary to the tertiary economic sector that was able to bundle our creative desires and energies, occurs with a loss of pleasure in everyday life, in human relations as well as communication.7 This “eros” of everyday life is transferred to the workplace “that provides narcissistic reinforcement.”8 Diedrich Diederichsen calls this “eros” “intensities,”9 or an intensity of life that has been significant for youth and youth culture but is perceived as lost during adulthood as well as corrupted by the new forms of capitalism. “Intensity, wastefulness,” former markers of anti-bourgeois desires, artistic intervention, and even revolution, are now the imperative of artists as entrepreneurs--the “creative class” that “allegedly leads a life that is as creatively intensive as it is economically productive and successful.”10 “Passion” has become the buzzword that has to be the driving force behind working in a bank, designing a marketing campaign, managing somebody’s schedule, serving food, or repairing a car.”11 We prefer to follow these passions and rhythms over boring 9 to 5 jobs, but have forgotten that these are no longer our own rhythms but those of “Semiocapitalism,” as Berardi calls it. We have now knowingly entered a deal whose diabolical nature Diederichsen exposes in this monologue of the conditioned subject,
“I forsake any possibility of projecting myself as a private self, independent from my work, ultimately also renouncing any chance at negotiation, codetermination, or living the conflict of interest between capital and labor, and instead project myself as a holistic total self that is identical to my work. (…) All the miserable humiliations I suffer, as well as the successes (…) are pushed as far as possible into the (…) realm of psychology–of emotional experience. I agree to talk about them in the language and imagery of a widespread narcissism and its models and stereotypes, as events taking place between me and myself, between I and the self. ” 12
This Mephistophelian pact cannot be won. This does not only sound exhausting, it is exhausting. Midlife-crises are turned into quarterlife-crises, and the libidinal structure of teenage life is prolonged perfectly meeting our time’s desire for an ever-youthful body/image. “You Better Work!”13 Artists and cultural workers have been the role-models for the promotion of this new type of affective labor as s/he constantly creates, invests passion and inspiration, invents her/ himself in line with that narcissistic desire for self-realization. Once the warrantors for antibourgeois “intensities,” they now belong to the “creative industries” whose managerial philosophies tell us that failure is never a structural problem, yet another chance to work on ourselves and that every creative impulse can be transformed into a service. No starving artists anymore, just so many one-wo/man businesses! But when it comes to the actual economic value of artistic labor, and its remuneration (business set aside) the role-model is probably not so marketable anymore. A strange collision occurs because artistic work is situated in the quite nebulous realm of admirable and sought
See Silvia Federici, “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Perspective,“ 2008, http://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/ precarious-labor-a-feminist-viewpoint/, retrieved on May 11th, 2012. 6 Berardi 2009, p. 79. 7 Berardi 2009, p.80. 8 Ibid. 9 Diederichsen follows Lyotard in his definition of intensity. See Diedrich Diederichsen, “People of Intensity, People of Power: The Nietzsche Economy,“ in: Aranda/Kuan/Vidokle (eds.), Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, eflux 2011, p. 18. 10 Ibid., p. 20. 5
after existential features like inspiration or talent, while it is denied any importance on a macro-economic level. As a result, this kind of work is either unpaid or, at one point, it becomes ridiculously priced and doesn’t reflect the actual time and effort put into it anymore. Maybe that is why nobody wants to talk about art work in these terms; it simply is not as far away from Fordist and post-Fordist exploits as we would like to believe. Artist Hito Steyerl claims that political art doesn’t like discussing its own modes of operation and production: “One could even say that the politics of art are the blind spot of much contemporary art.”14 She argues for an expansion of institutional critique as “art production takes on a different and extended role within post-democratic globalization (…) and affects this reality precisely because it is entangled into all of its aspects. It’s messy, embedded, troubled, irresistible, (…) and politics resides within its production, its distribution, and its reception.”15 Still, to even discuss labor conditions in an art context is almost as frowned upon as to directly ask someone to define their ethnicity. If a show is about work then it’s almost exclusively about someone else’s exploitation, most conveniently dislocated to other parts of the world. The rejection of any traces of manual industrial labor on our mass produced goods meets with the readiness to see these conditions only in a very aestheticized context. However, after being prodded, most artists and curators will admit that they work at a restaurant, do art handling, graphic design for a marketing company, or teach (when they are lucky) to earn their living, or they do one internship after another, hoping to get “a foot in the door,” and are supported by their parents. Some of us will claim that they live from the existential minimum but are fine with it because working less for money leaves them more time to work on their art. We do our art
and cultural work during the time when we don’t have to work for money, which means in our leisure time, and we do it for free. Like a hobby, we could say--but what a bad word! Hobby-ists, hobby-artists, hobby-curators. Because they lack the institutional standing, they will be faced with decreasing funds for their projects, or none at all. A solution would be to devalue the status of labor in our society, to radically re-define the relation between work/ time, value and remuneration, and to guarantee a minimum living wage for everyone.
DIGITAL MELANCHOLIA (or why we should not work at all)
Narcissism is an omni-present reference in the various discourses about current post-Fordist labor conditions. Franco Berardi explains the resulting phenomenon of the over-stimulation of our narcissistic energies in historic as well as psychosocial terms: propelled by the neoliberalist ideology that glorifies the market and its “natural” abilities to regulate itself as long as competition allows for the free flow of demand and supply, a bundling of desire and self-realization as productive forces happened in the 1990s. After a period of re-structuring, financial markets were consolidated and increasingly globalized, which eventually lead to an economic boom, also due to technological developments.16 Networks (intranet, internet, www), digital realities, simulations, and mobile technologies have accelerated the flow of information and communication while becoming increasingly constant prostheses to our bodies and minds. As Berardi puts it, “info-workers [of the cognitariat, A.N.] can (…) be described as craftsmen, since they invest their knowledge and creativity in the process of producing networks.”17 But these networks, the more complex and flexible they are, are highly precarious, producing “anxiety, incertitude and constant change”18 among their subjects. Fuelled by competition and aggressive energy, the exuberance and constant euphoria of these over-stimulated markets and minds of the 90s had to come to an end; the previous mania has turned into panic as “the anticipa-
This strange desire for passion even permeates professions where there was never a doubt about the personal “investment.” A series of banners to promote the new conductor of the L.A. philharmonics, Gustavo Dudamel, in 2009/10, did not only show him in dramatic poses but also carried these slogans: Pasión, Electrico, or Vibrante. Though these play into the obvious clichés of Southern Americans being naturally more passionate and lively, these traits seem to be a prerequisite to the profession. Whereas stoicism and apathy would never see the same sort of theatrical representation. 12 Diederichsen 2011, p. 27. 13 RuPaul, Supermodel, 1993. 14 Hito Steyerl, “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Postdemocracy,“ in: Aranda/Kuan/Vidokle (eds.), Are You Working Too Much? e-flux 2011, p. 35. 15 Ibid., p. 36. 16 See Berardi 2009, p.96ff. 17 Berardi 2009, p. 86. 11
Claudia Slanar. Digital Melancholia (or why we should not work at all). 2012 80
tion of a depressive breakdown, of mental confusion and disactivation.”19 This eventually happened with the burst of the dot.com bubble. In this aftershock, our depression and melancholy confronts us with the absence of meaning, an existential nothingness. As such this is not a new phenomenon. In a reflection on Albrecht Dürer’s famous and enigmatic etching MELENCOLIA-I from 1514, philosopher Ernst Bloch states that melancholy is “the state of anxiety that is the touching of a potential abyss without even having a ground that breaks the fall.” He further notes that “it [the etching] depicts stupor, whereas desperation is staring opened in an endless now: Thus, Dürer’s ‘Melencolia’ is the invaluable document of negative amazement, precisely without hell and magic….”20 Melancholy in the Freudian sense21 is caused by the loss of a desired object that cannot be resolved (as it can be in mourning). The libidinal energy, together with an unconscious ambivalence towards this object, is turned into a narcissistic regression which then causes the ego to debase and rage against itself. Another characteristic for Freud, is its tendency to transform into mania, creating alternating intervals of states with opposite symptoms. If we have entered this phase, what is our lost object? Do we need to reconcile the split ego with its judging conscience according to Freud? Or are we looking for the delusional wholeness of the representation of the I that has been lost? In any case, depression seems to be the flipside, the neglected dark side of hyper-stimulation, competition and the neo-liberal economy. Exhaustion, fatigue, even apathy are its symptoms, as is the refusal of communication, of engagement with the “outside” and ultimately, to work on becoming ourselves. The desired object has not only been replaced by the economically sanctified love for our self-image but also by the libidinal cathexis of objects that can virtually reproduce themselves infinitely. Again, this not only sounds exhausting but this
environment is thick, dense, overpopulated with signs and floating signifiers, and to put it in one word, chaotic! “There is chaos when the world starts spinning too fast for our mind to appreciate its forms and meaning. There is chaos once the flows are too intense for our capacity to elaborate emotionally.” 22
As we look for consistency, we are but too easily tempted to simplify complexities, to stay in ready-made tracks, to think in a binary logic when–and I am following “Bifo” Berardi again–it is a new consciousness that we need; new epistemes, new paradigms, new models of perception that help us cope with this chaos.23 We can no longer obsess over whether we are aesthetically and culturally still dealing with modernism, post-modernist conditions, or are past all these things already; we have to think beyond. There is ambivalence in both depression and chaos as they imply their own overcoming, through embracing their conditions. “It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy,” state Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in 199124, suggesting this “new” path. Of particular importance to Berardi is Guattari’s last book Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, in which he returns to the question of subjectivity, asking, “how do we work for its liberation, that is, for its re-singularization?”25 “Chaosmosis,” Guattari argues, helps us to process these rapid flows, and the velocities we are put under mentally and physically without reducing their complexities. “Concepts, artistic forms, and friendship,”26 make it possible to go beyond the abyss of the existential absence of meaning we face in depression. Art transforms the chaos into sensible particles, into chaotic, neuronal, intelligible architectures. “Art struggles with chaos but it does so in order to render it sensory.”27
Berardi 2009, p. 86.. Ibid., p. 98. 20 Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Cambridge/Mass 1986, p. 295. 21 Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,“ first published in 1915. 22 Berardi 2009, p. 125 23 See Berardi’s introduction, p. 21-25. 24 Deleuze/Guattari, What is philosophy?, Columbia Univ. Press 1994, quoted in Berardi, p. 127. 25 Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis, Indiana Univ. Press 1995, p. 135. 26 Berardi 2009, p. 126.
Art is part of processes that create “refrains,”28 relatable rhythms and melodies. Not accidentally named after this musical element, these refrains are temporalities attuned to the potential singularization of the individual, yet at the same time sensible for others. Therapy and art are for Guattari processes that instill cure in our chaos-induced depression. Not in a normalizing and leveling way, they can shift our focus away from a narcissistic ego-fixation to empathy, and to a “happy singularization” that is open to the other and the self.29 This may sound confusing, even like hallucinogenic-induced visions, and of course we can read them simply as thought experiments. But if we take them literally and look around we might discover that we are already in the midst of these developments, especially when we produce art or engage with art. Art is a “temporary organizer of chaos, a fragile architect of shared happiness and a common map of the imaginary,”30 and when we create, think, and share ideas and thoughts about it with others, we treat it exactly as this. This leaves us happy, sometimes angry and dissatisfied, but we cannot stop engaging, as it is the only thing that “makes sense” for us, the only thing that helps us over the abyss without forgetting its everlasting presence. Our consciousness is altered through these ideas and encounters and they leave their chaosmotic imprint in our collective minds. Relational art, and the current rise of art as social practice both point to this complex of lost empathy and everyday-life’s “eros” and the search for a new, a different refrain. Unfortunately it often gets trapped in its own unreflected narcissisms, or in the confusion about the Avant-Garde’s desire to conjoin life and art that has turned out to be so easily exploitable by capitalist accumulation as well.
But it is also as simple as this: “A singularity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content”31 –an old painting with a new song; a pair of chopsticks attached to a printer; the almost infinitely painted repetition of a traditional ornament; an empty pool; a nonchalantly erased image of a very expensive object; a painful personal narrative; a colorful emanation in a cave; the fading importance of Western rationalism embodied in an oscillating icon–can already trigger, map and deterritorialize the formation of subjectivities. That is why we cannot settle for art that is creating hyper-stimulation, reflecting either our chaotic state or helping us to temporarily escape it. We have to look for art that is exposing its politics not camouflaging it. We don’t want to be soothed by art that presents us with easy answers and messages. Therapy is winded, painful, and often happens in increments so little they cannot be perceived until they have already effected change. If we follow a radical re-thought of human, post-human and non-human relations, we have to look for art as an almost magical practice that creates new perceptions, new imaginaries, and helps us in the process of living with/in the chaos. And we have to start now.
Thanks to Biddy Tran and Nate Schulman for remarks, and Seth Weiner for his incredibly conditional support.
Deleuze/Guattari, What is philosophy?, Columbia Univ. Press 1994, quoted in Berardi, p. 127. Guattari 1995, p. 110. Ibid., p. 9ff. 30 Berardi 2009, p. 135. 31 Guattari 1995, p.18.
Claudia Slanar. Digital Melancholia (or why we should not work at all). 2012 82
Special thanks to the participating artists for donating their time, energy and work to the exhibition.
Cirrus Gallery 542 S. Alameda Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 05 / 19 / 2012 - 07 / 07 / 2012
Seth Weiner Claudia Slanar Jean Milant Jay Erker John Mills Biddy Tran Emma Echenique Francisco Proenza Andrea Proenza Kenny Sutton Nader Sobhan Bill Maguire Christina Valentine Adam Feldmeth Andy Weymouth Dave Jones David Ball Indrani Murthy Nihal Murthy Megin Debin Jera Foster-Fell
cirrus editions ltd. ÂŠ 2012
Catalog for Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse exhibition at Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles. The show took place in...
Published on Jul 6, 2012
Catalog for Narcissism, the Real, the Fake and the Anti-Digital Impulse exhibition at Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles. The show took place in...