Friday, 27 November 2009

Roland Bathes: The Death of the Author

The last line of Bathes text is 'the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author' and it is the reader referred to in the first half of this sentence that this essay really focuses on NOT a call for the annihilation of the author referenced in the second (French theorist tend to utilise bombastic leading statements to grab the readers attention and shock them out of complacent common sense readings i.e ‘The Gulf War Did not Take Place’ Jean Baudrillard or ‘There is nothing outside the text’ Jaques Derrida). Having said that it is not difficult to see why a flamboyant celebrity theorist such a Barthes would promote the role of interpreter over the role of producer. When published in 1968 the standard academic approach to literature in French academia at the time was based on the presupposition that there was a real, singlar, and fixed meaning to a piece of literature and that this singular meaning was the one intended by an author who was fully conscious of this meaning and his (it was usually a ‘his’) reasons for producing such meaning. It was the readers role simply to unearth what this meaning was. To destabilize the above can be seen as a radical gesture given the time and context (though it had been somewhat predated in less ostentatius terms by Wimsatt and Beardsley’s essay ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ published in the United States in 1946). Barthes key points are:

• The idea of authorship is inherently unstable (a text always appropriates previous texts)
• The idea of an author is inherently unstable (the 'self' is a site of permanent flux)
• Authorial intentionality does not define meaning
• An authors personal history is not the key to understanding a text
• The
re is not a fixed true meaning hidden in a text waiting to be discovered
• The reader is the ultimate arbiter of meaning

These central ideas espoused by Barthes during this period were a general feature of all post-structuralist critique and were actually pushed further by Derrida. The idea that a texts meaning is never entirely fixed so is therefore open to multiple readings was not just a comment on authorship but ultimately an anti-theological attack on the idea of authority (author-ity) itself (this position can be traced back to Nietzsche’s
Death of God and is part of the general distrust towards meta-narratives that came to be known as post-modernism following the carnage of the second world war. This in turn lead to the vulnerability of theory to the charge of the type of nihilism and moral relativism that has lead to the emergence of religious fundamentalism). This position was the critical orthodoxy of the day by the 1980’s with the rise of critical theory and cultural studies in both Anglo-American academia and contemporary art discourse. It was then fashionable to dismiss the idea of universal values as hegemonic often leading to simplistic declerations such as ‘there is no such thing as truth’ and knee-jerk dismissals of any actual position being take as being authoritarian or even totalitarian. This line of argument taken to its absurd yet logical conclusion views the espousal of human rights as an act of fascism!

By the 90's in the context of contemporary fine art practice positions that challenged these assumptions became of interest whereby the simple restatement of these assumptions themselves was not. One of the reasons curator/critic Nicholas Bourriaud, for instance, rose to prominence was that at the time of writing the essays they came to be published as Relational Aesthetics in the 1990’s contemporary art had reached a point of postmodern inertia therefore it was seen as a refreshingly radical act to be taking an ideological position by promoting work that had a social (and unapologetic) agenda. Theory itself also began to look at a returned to direct political engagement and a return to universal or even transcendental values in the works of, for instance,
Badiou, Zizek and late Derrida. The artworks that have provoked the most passionate and engaged critical engagement in the last 15 years or so are works that contain a level of explicit social intentionality with various degrees of tension between the polarities of didacticism and openness. Artist who have produced such committed pieces include Jeremy Deller, Santiago Sierra, and Mark Wallinger all of whom have not been afraid to take a position (though this does not necessarily negate a level of ambiguity or even ambivalence in the works) and artist-writers such as Liam Gillick, Dave Beech have to a degree wrestled the agenda from non-practicng critics and theorist with practices that demonstrate a reflective awareness, socio-political engagement and an embracement of authorial responsibility. The days of Marcel Duchamp’s dumb painter are over.

PS.This text has been appropriated and re-posted at the Madame Pickwick Art Blog without attribution to me - how ironic…

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Abam Curtis: It Felt Like A Kiss

I found Adam Curtis's new work incredibly disappointing. Unlike with all Curtis's previous works I did not learn anything new of significance. This was essentially a series of now bland a clichéd infobites such as that the CIA tried to kill Castro with an exploding cigar, Rock Hudson was Gay, and Sadam Hussein was backed by America. If any of this was news to you you must have been hiding under a rock for the past 20 years. There where a few interesting titbits such as a Sadam Hussein propaganda film that glorified his roll in Bathist take over of Iraq being edited by Terence Young the director of a couple of the James Bond movies but so what? There was also some good archive clips such as a Vietnam vet confessing to American war crimes but this film had nothing of great interest to say other than that the utopian vision America presented of itself in the post-war years wasn't all it seemed and that America's covert foreign policy saw the CIA get up no good but this is hardly front page news. While a shorter version of this film was shown as part of an installation at the recent Manchester International Festival and that as a visceral experience it may have worked entirely differently in that context Curtis has specifically chosen to release (and re-cut) this version online and it fails completely to live up too previous works such as The Power of Nightmares, The Trap and, his most important work, the amazing The Century of the Self. All of these are widely available online and in providing socio-political histories of the 20th century they allow us to see just how we got to where we are today. The original Reithian remit of the BBC was to educate, inform and entertain: these three works do this.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Jeff Koons at the Serpentine

What I enjoy with Koons is his ability to continuously reside on the razors edge of celebration/critique of the banalities of capitalism and how by making his products so sickly (and slickly) sweet and attractive he implicates the viewer (or at least this viewer). He does so with such bold and unapologetic, American, bright eyed, can-do, optimism contrasted to the that grim icon of greed and stupidity that can be said to be, at least to some extent, our British equivalent. It would be a mistake to view Koons' artworks as existing separately from Koons *The Artist* persona as he embodies the great tradition of artist as charlatan/showman/shaman/genius(?) (Duchamp, Dali, Klein, Manzoni, Creed et al) that imbues all his product(ions). I particularly like the doubt brought forth by the genius/charlatan opposition at play as it destabilises the the very concept of genius which I feel is an unhealthy one. It would appear that in art this role emerged with modernity and the 'Death of Painting' in the age of mechanical reproduction. This *tradition* was previously embodied by scientists in the 18 century (think of 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' by Joseph Wright of Derby) and previous to that medicine men, witch doctors and the like. In art at least this charlatan/showman/shamen proves his 'genius' when in an the ultimate act of alchemy he (and it is always a he) turns shit in to gold (or at least dollar) exposing the absurd farce that is late Capitalism.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Santiago Sierra

'In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles' said Guy Debord in Society of the Spectacle (1967). With scenes in Sacha Baron Cohen's new film including a realty show judge using a Mexican person as seating and one of Michael Jackson's sisters eating sushi off the naked bodies of workmen we have evidence, if it were ever needed, of how all art however 'critical' eventually gets co-opted by advanced capitalism into mainstream entertainment and sold back to the masses. By choosing Mexican workers Cohen appears to be acknowledging his appropriation of previous works by the Mexican based artist Santiago Sierra where the low paid are humiliated for money - reflecting back to the generally comfortable (Bourgeois???) middle class viewers of artworks the essence of Capitalism - where human beings become commodified objects and like all objects have their price.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

On Beauty

I recently attended a talk at the Whitechapel Gallery featuring Dave Beech in conversation with Julian Stallabrass to launch 'On Beauty' a new anthology of writings on the subject edited by Beech. From the conversation it appeared that the conception of *beauty* under discussion was that which is considered visually pleasing/attractive/uplifting (or not as the case(s) may be) so the framing of the discussion appeared to privilege an ocularcentric perspective from the get go. I wondered if the conversation could have been directly transposed to the sonic field or for that matter the olfactory, gustatory or somesthetic? Or how about the beauty of a mathematical equation or friendship? This may have thrown light on the subjective/socially inscribed conundrum. Stallenbraus observed that a lot of writing on beauty is 'bullshit' if so I feel this may be due to the ineffable nature of the subject, maybe talking of beauty is much like describing the nature of God or explaining why a joke is funny. Maybe the real problem with beauty in art is that though we may enjoy it (a work made to be deliberately beautiful), and there is nothing wrong with that, it may ultimately be a distraction/hindrance to the experience of beauty as it perpetuates the idea that beauty is contained in 'things' and that these things exist outside of us.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dub and NYC

Just finished reading Michael E Veal's fantastic Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. What is so impressive is how many perspectives Veal manages to approach the subject from in such a relatively short space (338pp) i.e the social, political, aesthetic, technical, religious, historical, economic and cultural. Along the way contextualising dub in relation to the theories of, among others, Jameson, Deleuze & Barthes. Among the most interesting ideas Veal suggests are dub's fragmented narratives as a response to the collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of the African diaspora and dub's privileging of space and absence providing a meditative insight into the divine. I particularly enjoyed the comparison between dub and classical Japanese music by way of wabi-sabi and Zen Buddhism. This may all make the book appear rather dry and academic and though it is certainly is both academic and scholarly in the best sense of the terms it is also clearly written by a fan and enthusiast (also in the best sense of the terms) meaning that as well as being intellectual and thorough it is always interesting and engaging. Along with the theories and histories of dub and it's influence on other genres you get the low-down on all the leading players such as King Tubby, Prince Jammy and Lee 'Scratch' Perry. My only criticism is an underplaying of the Jamaican/NYC connection. I don't feel it is an exaggeration to state that the birth of Hip Hop resulted directly from the recontextualization of the Jamaican Dub format - outdoor Sound System, DJ Toasting (Rapping) and the stripping down of records to their essential of drum and bass elements - to NYC and applied to funk as opposed to reggae by Jamaican emerge Kool DJ Herc in the late 70's. House and garage (emerging form Chicago as well as NYC) where also born of stripping down to the essentials of drum and bass of, in this case, disco records. Francois Kevorkian has attributed Larry Levan, resident of the legendary Paradise Garage, of bringing the dub sensibility to disco. If you listen to the early raw house and garage 45s by the likes of Adonis (Marshall Jefferson), Raze and Phuture at 33rpm what you hear is essentially electro dub reggae - flying symbol and all. By underplaying this vital connection I feel dubs influence may have been done a slight disservice especially when there is quite a lot about such less paradigm shifting genres such as trip hop and minimal house which are really just sub genres. I would like to have seen an exploration of the liminal post-disco/proto-house period when writer/producers such as Daryl Payne and Paul Simpson started releasing dub mixes on the flip side of vocal versions - the first time this had happened outside of the reggae context. It would also have been nice to read about dub inspired projects such as Levan's NYC Peech Boys or the Padlock ep featuring a disco/funk/soul/reggae supergroup comprising Gwen Guthrie, Wally Badarou, Daryl Thompson and Sly and Robbie mixed by Levan which I feel is the greatest dub (not dub) album of all time. Anyway, this aside, Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae is along with Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner's Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music the most informative and engaging book about music I have ever read and I highly recommend that you do too if you have any interest in not only dub but hip-hop, house, d'n'b, grime, dubstep or whatever - none would exist but for dub.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Roni Horn

If Roni Horn was an ice cream what flavour ice cream would Roni Horn be? Though Horn's work is often spoke of in terms of identity and memory the experience of walking around her recent show at Tate Modern was essentially visceral. Ice, water and Iceland are recurrent motifs in her work and even when her subjects are bathed in light it is the cold light of day rather than a melting Mediterranean heat. Her use of doubling in photographs, sculptures and drawings with minute differences between pairs casts a light on the space opened up between them. It is this cool, sublime, ethereal space that is ultimately the real art object. The discreetly differentiated pairs that it emerges from are ultimately it's frame in the same way that the physical space is the art object created by the threads in a Fred Sanback installation. If Roni Horn was an ice cream Roni horn would be an ice flavour ice cream.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ornette Coleman: Meltdown

Ornette Coleman is going to be curating this year's Meltdown festival at The Southbank. This is a fantastic choice!!! - so much better than another faded pop star. 78 year old Coleman is still vital today, I was lucky enough to see him play at the Royal Festival Hall last year and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Plastic saxophone wielding Free Jazz pioneer Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come not only reinvented Jazz but re-imagined what music can be. If you have never heard Coleman play it at times feels like being blasted in the face by sandpaper, cats on heat scratching each others eyes out and garbage trucks colliding but always in a good way... always in a very, VERY good way.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sound & Traffic

John Cage talks here about the nature of sound and listening. I was reminded of this clip a few days ago when sat in front of this screen on a warm night like this experiencing the sounds outside my window. The sirens of two police cars in hot pursuit - two notes and glissando going in and out of sync as the distance between the cars alternated between getting slightly nearer and slightly further apart. This created a fluid merging and dissolving effect similar to Steve Reich's use of phasing but with a fluid pulse; plus the Doppler effect as the tones smoothly shifted in comparison to the distance between the cars. This in turn reminded me of the turntablist technique of mixing with pure sine wave records using only the turntables pitch control to vary this otherwise constant tone - a technique first deployed in Cage's 'Imaginary Landscape No.1' composition of 1939. Everything begins and ends with John Cage.

Friday, 3 April 2009

More Brilliant than the Sun

I am currenntly 're-reading' Kodwo Eshun's More Brilliant than the sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction which explores the black music/technology/sci-fi interface. The term 'explored' is particularly apt with Eshun as this is not a dry academic thesis, nor a piece of (oxymoronic) 'music journalism', whereby music and/or its history and surrounding culture becomes the object viewed from some pseudo-authoritative POV. Eshun writes from inside the sounds he is physically immersed in - transcribing what he hears in synaesthesiastic maelstrom of hyperbolic neologism and Baudrillardian postmodernism. 'Re-reading' implies I have read and have started to read again but this would be a bizzare book to read from beggining to end. It is a book to jump in and out of at random - to read from start to finish such a book would be as absurd as listening to your entire music collection alphabetically. It is text as sensurial experience - a transcendental experience Roland Barthes would would have described as BLISS. If writing about music IS like dancing to architecture this is text as performance, linguistic gymnastics and Krumping!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Summer of Riots

So the arrival of G20 saw the first riot (okay quasi-riot) of what promises to be a summer of unrest in this green and pleasant land. As this may be the first wave of major rioting since the 80's it will be interesting to see how the 24 hour news coverage that we now have will not only cover the riots (lots of hanging around waiting for 'something' to happen I would imagine) but, and more importantly, how it will actually effect the nature of the rioting itself. Tom Wolfe wrote a nice scene elucidating the symbiotic relationship between protest and press coverage in Bonfire of the Vanities. The pic above is a video capture for the BBC's 24 hour news channel and shows an RBS bank being attacked by two protesters/rioters/looters/soap dodgers(revolutionaries?) while what appeared to be around 50 photographers photographed, and that was from the BBC camera's POV so presumably there would have been another 50 or so on this side. So a ratio of 100 camera men to two rioters??? What will be interesting this summer is that most of the footage that ends up in the public domain will have been shot by members of the public and/or the rioters themselves. As sites such as google video and youtube exist to make a profit via advertising it would be interesting to see what targeted advertising could appear next to such footage. Interesting times ahead...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Chilled Funk

I have posted a new episode of my podcast. It is a mixtape called Chilled Funk and is a chilled out funky soul mix featuring hippy, folky, country and jazzy flavours featuring mainly records I picked up and played out while DJing in New York around 2003. Enjoy!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Three Exhibitions

This week I saw Altermodern curated by Nicolas Bourriaud at Tate Britain, and Annette Messager's retrospective Messengers and Mark Wallinger's The Russian Linesman both at the Hayward.

Altermodern's premise is fairly vague based around a state of post-post-modernity being defined by globalisation, increased communication, travel, migration, multiculturalism and identity which is all, to be honest, pretty much a given. It is hard to think of any contemporary artist who's work doesn't in some way touch on one or more of these topics. So despite claims to the contrary there really is no 'Big Idea' here from the man who brought us 'Relational Aesthetics'. So what of the actual show and the actual work? Its layout is, somewhat surprisingly, a bit of jumble not that dissimilar to a good degree show despite themed sections which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Thus we have lots of jarring juxtapositions between the slick and minimal such as Walead Beshty's glass cubes and the hand painted folksiness of Bob and Roberta Smith's texts. In general I was very surprised by how Sensation!(sic) a lot of the work was being, in essence, empty spectacle. There was quite a bit of the kind of tack you would expect to see in a Damien Hirst or Charles Saatchi curated show. I am though being a little harsh here as there is some very good stuff such as Loris Gréaud vibrating floor based on his brain waves and some fun to be had with such works as a nuclear mushroom cloud made of kitchen utensals and a giant accordion! In short there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of stuff. All of it was, to deploy Douglas Huebler's phrase, more or less interesting. Does this 'Altermodern' world of ours really call out for most of it? Probably not...

Annette Messager's show is great fun - the highlights being large scale kinetic installations using air to inflate and deflate organic shapes that evoke, either implicitly or explicitly, the sexual organs, and the pieces using stuffed animals, sometimes de-stuffed, often coming to mechanical (half)life. It made me smile evoking a slightly soiled and sinister version of Sesame Street - and everyone loves Sesame Street! Tip: Don't read the small texts next to the works they turn the actual pieces into nothing more than literal illustrations of very pedestrian ideas - closing off the work and killing the joke.

Wallinger's The Russian Linesman's premise is almost as all encompassing as Bourriad's but the extreme diversity of the works selected, ranging from a William Blake painting to Aernouts Mik's video installation of unused footage from the then conflict ridden former Yugoslavia, does reflect Wallengers eclecticaly catholic tastes . My three favourite pieces, Monika Sosnowska's Corridor, Fred Sandback's string arrangements and Sturtavents door ajar, are all minimal/conceptual (as one might expect) and play in the space between phenomenology and metaphysics - the gap between how we experience the world and the world as it is. In the spirit of Wallinger's sporting allusion in the title of the exhibition the final scores are:

Bourriaud - 6 out of 10
Messager - 8 out of 10
Wallinger - 8 out of 10

My First Podcast

Here is a link to my first audio podcast. It is a short funky, dubby, house mix produced on the fly in Ableton live. It uses a lot of brass instrumentation (hence the name) processed through the expansive use of a delay filter. Though house/disco this mix is primarily influenced by the early Dub pioneers King Tubby, Prince Jammy and particularly, Scientist. The artwork I am *appropriating* here is by Tim Rollins and KOS and is from the Amerika series. Enjoy...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Bank Of America's corporate cover of U2's one.

Brilliant!!! A couple of Bank of America slimeballs cover U2's One. How fitting and so much better than the soulless piety and pseudo-authenticity of Bono et als turgid corporate rock original. Let us never forget Bono’s involvement with ‘Red’ that ugly apology for consumerist greed brought to you in conjunction with that well known paragon of virtue, altruism and social justice… American Express. Let us also not forget how the lead singer of this corporate money making machine berated the Irish government for not giving enough of it's budget to foreign aid while moving U2s own tax affairs from the already extremely low tax rates of Ireland to a tax shelter in Holland. It would be a kindness to describe this man as too thick to see the incongruity between these two positions but a more accurate word is would probably be hypocrite

Thursday, 29 January 2009

No water, no good.

My Boiler is leaking and flooded the down stairs apartment. So now my water has been turned off. This is not good.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

On that which is uninteresting.

I have nothing interesting to say. What would it mean if I did have? Would an objective appraisal of *interestingness*, or otherwise, be possible? If I did have something interesting to say why would I want to share it. Would the fact that I had shared it make it more or less interesting? If I had something interesting to say but refused to say it that would, I believe, be interesting in and of itself and what ever it was that I was choosing not to say would not have to compete with its own absence. So what is the drive the drives people to share what they think is interesting with others when by sharing it that have, to a certain degree, negated its interestingness.