openset-special-issue-logo-1-smA Cluster of Essays
edited by Kris Cohen and Christa Noel Robbins

The Persistence of Form: Introduction – Christa Noel Robbins and Kris Cohen |  Beyond Formaldehyde: An Interview with Lauren Berlant – Kris Cohen and Christa Noel Robbins |  Andrew Raffo Dewar on Form – Andrew Raffo Dewar |  Form-as-Movement – Michele Matteini |  Daniel Morgan on Form – Daniel Morgan |  A brief and provisional rumination on a Black Form – Matthew Metzger |  Form Fatigue? – Anahid Nersessian |  The Persistence of Formalism – Scott C. Richmond |  Michael Robbins on Form – Michael Robbins |  Dash Shaw on Form – Dash Shaw |  Religion and Narrative Form – John Paul Spiro |  Digital Form and the Human – Janine Utell |  The Historicity of Form: Challenges Posed by Wolf Vostell’s Concrete Traffic – Lisa Zaher

The Persistence of Form: Introduction


In his “Forms” entry for Marxism and Literature Raymond Williams distinguishes between two senses of form. One has to do with the identification and description of “available forms” and their attendant “rules,” the other with the “active making of forms,” a “shaping impulse” by which forms of expression, of sociality, of being in the world more generally become identifiable as forms. “Form,” Williams concludes, “thus spans a whole range from the external and superficial to the essential and determining.”[1]

Continue reading

Beyond Formaldehyde, An Interview with Lauren Berlant

conducted by Kris Cohen (KC) and Christa Noel Robbins (CR)

Question 1 You said in the lead up to this interview that you’re writing a lot about form right now. What’s driving that interest in form? Why now?

I always feel stupid in front of “why now” questions, because they seem to presume a shared “now” and, you know, I don’t think we can presume that, since I think of the present as an effect of mediation, a time-genre giving form to an affective sense that gains traction through circulation. I have always written about form: the nation form, the couple form, the form of life… Think of Formica, a laminate that appears as a single hard substance so stable it can be cut to order. Continue reading

Form Fatigue?

Anahid Nersessian

There’s a famous crack about formalism in Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution: “Having counted the adjectives, and weighed the lines, and measured the rhythms, a Formalist either stops silent with the expression of a man who does not know what to do with himself, or throws out an unexpected generalization which contains five per cent of Formalism and ninety-five per cent of the most uncritical intuition.”

Continue reading

Propped not Supported

cooley-installation-view Pinceman Viallat

Installation view of Pinceman and Viallat. Cooley Gallery. Nov. 40 – Dec. 14, 2014.

People like to complain that the Supports/Surfaces group isn’t well enough known in America. This could mean that critics, certain critics, think their art is good enough to have warranted more attention, and probably attention from the presumptive big names: MoMA, Met, Walker, etc. They might also have in mind a historical point: the fact that the members of Supports/Surfaces were highly influenced by certain North American figures (Olitski, Greenberg, Noland, McLuhan) and so could be complaining that there is a kind of genealogy being erased when, say, Color Field painters are shown while Support/Surfaces are neglected. I have a feeling they tend not to mean that the group has benefitted from their existence outside of the limelight, although some do speculate that the “freshness” of the works today might have something to do with how infrequently they’ve been seen. Continue reading

Dear Kris: a graph of words

Nearly 20 years ago I was roommates with Open Set contributor Kris Cohen. He went on to be a professor of art history; I ended up in San Francisco as a programmer for startups. This is an age, though, where technologists freely borrow from anthropology, art, and design, and when art and culture are shaped in part by technology and technology’s economic effects. Whenever we see each other, which is too rarely, we have excellent conversations, ones where we examine topics of common interest from perspectives (and using vocabularies) that are often very different. This is the first of a series of letters that I hope will interest both him and Open Set readers.

Dear Kris:

The other day I got my bee in a bonnet about something that I thought would interest you: an easy way to try to look at the cultural balance between men’s and women’s voices. Perhaps you’ll find a way to apply the technique to some of your work. And if not, at least I’ll get to complain about how hard good graphs are to make.

It started with an article in The Guardian’s data journalism blog. They were looking at the frequency of various phrases over time in the New York Times. They had several graphs showing how often particular phrases were used in articles each year, like “Brooklyn” vs “Manhattan” or “Britain” vs “France”. This is the one that really struck me:

NY Times Continue reading