I see you, American, yearning for a less polarized electorate, for parties that are pragmatic, a public sphere less riven by ideology, a president with less power—I hear how you name these things, with a hopeful quiver in your voice, democracy. Continue reading
In On Kawara’s pedagogy, everything that happens happens today, but no particular today. Habitation institutes a pedagogy of patience, of desire without possessiveness. Everything that happens happens for the learner, but no particular learner. Can there be progression without development? Exploring this question as a question of aesthetics and pedagogy, Kawara’s Pure Consciousness, an offshoot of his more famous Date Paintings, intimates a pedagogy of habitation, of merely living with. Of sidling encounter.
All analyses of art might be analyses of relationality, where form distends in time, in encounter, at some distance from an author, but never severed from it—might be, if it weren’t for the fact that questions of relationality often get cleaved in two along disciplinary lines: there are those who pay attention to form, and those who pay attention to reception (with those who focus on process not usually sparking across that gap). Form seems to name something in the work, thus intrinsic, sequestered, unsullied (see Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects, 2014, for the most extreme articulation of this claim). Reception seems to name something that comes after, more social, more muddled, therefore necessarily less formal. Formalism seems, in this sense, to name the practice of eschewing reception, where reception is often reduced to something flat and empirical like experience (see Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry v.17, n.4, 1991). We need, now and probably always, a concept that connects those realms of discourse, that sees them, not just polemically but historically, as having never been untethered. Continue reading
“When something makes the scene too fast it’s gotta be minor.”
Clement Greenberg, Painters Painting
Jess Collins (known simply as Jess) was a multi-media artist with a penchant for the personal. His work is deeply hermetic, addressed to an audience of intimates, and seemingly untroubled by its wider role in the history of art. A suspicion of publicity is typical of the scene with which Jess was associated: the so-called “San Francisco Renaissance,” a largely literary movement identified with poets such as a Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Kenneth Rexroth. At the center of this scene stood Jess and Duncan, his husband, who pulled a large and interdisciplinary group of artists into their orbit. Jess’s diverse body of work—which includes expressionist paintings, illustrated books of poetry and children’s stories done in collaboration with friends, “paste-ups” (montages that take a cue from Max Ernst) and his well-known “Tricky Cad” series (an absurdist, cut-and-paste intervention into the Dick Tracy comic strip)—is filled with a personal iconography that often extends no further than the scene in which he lived and the man with whom he shared his life.
The last few decades have been great for mass culture. Intellectuals used to describe popular music, for instance, as “the sphere that mummifies the vulgarized and decaying remnants of romantic individualism.” They used to claim that consumers “behave like children. Again and again and with stubborn malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served.” Today, we’re more likely to point out that fans use their agency to negotiate with their favorite shows, songs and films, to analyze how, in those negotiations, they resist late capitalism. University syllabi include Star Wars, Harry Potter, and hip-hop, while professors write books about Bob Dylan, film noir, or sci-fi. Television, once exclusively ‘mass,’ is in a golden age: the best realist art of the 21st century, in America at least, is still The Wire; the best political satire, Veep. The most important critical opinions now belong not to New Yorker book reviewers, but to amazon customers. The latest Penguin Classic is Morrissey’s biography.
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.
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: