Let me start with a quote from Artblog Comments
:Now, if consciousness and selfhood derive not from a single coherent source such as a soul, but from many scattered sources, for me to allow my current idea of who "I" am to determine what my work will and won't be is at the very least restrictive. Better in my estimation to let the impulse to create and my responses to the results instruct me on what this "I" truly consists of, its boundaries and its true nature.
. How can such a simple idea be so slippery? I think that the problems with truth are all in where you put your perceiving organism. It's a problem of vectors, and Bill illuminates this by thinking about the source of consciousness, and his lovely assertion that the vectors moving between the creator and the creating are going the wrong way. We are accustomed in western culture to looking at consciousness as an inside-outside problem, and to think that it's a matter of getting our insides out for all the world to see.
Caspar David Friedrich, Prehistoric Tomb in the Snow
, 1807, shamelessly lifted from the Getty's websiteJoel
and I were talking about this at the Getty, where there is currently a weird little show juxtaposing Caspar David Friedrich and Gerhard Richter. Of course, Friedrich is supporting the dominant paradigm here. His paintings are sublime because he takes what's inside and throws it outside, through his eyes, onto what he sees in the landscape. So if you were going to draw vector lines to understand the truth of a Friedrich painting, you would draw two lines going from his "soul" inside him, out his eyeballs, into the world, where they then coat everything he sees in his sense of self. In other words, each Friedrich is an outside
that is full of his insides
. We know this paradigm--it is a staple of expressionism. And I would argue that we have not rejected this relationship between the artist's inside and outside, but we do think that it's more ironic. After all, Friedrich's truth is not my truth, and who does he think he is to speak for me, that Dead White Motherfucker?
Kendell Carter, Hommie
, 2006, shamelessly lifted from the Hammer's website
There is much contemporary art that still shadowboxes that basic inside-to-outside paradigm, but to much less thrilling effect because it's not about truth anymore--rather, it's about truth's absence. Kendell Carter's artist-as-consumer installation at the Hammer is not offering a new set of vectors as much as it's shortening the lines. He sees design, hiphop culture, breakdancing, ikea, graffitti and bling, and he is therefore a part of its commodification. So his insides still move out into the world, and they still take what is external to the artist and infect it with meaning, but the meaning isn't about truth.
And this makes sense, because we know that Friedrich and Pollock were both living a kind of arrogant lie, right? That this is not a good way to find truth, right? But I would argue that it might be more fun and more powerful to find new avenues toward truth instead of issuing an ironic statement about the lying nature of this relationship.
Carter is smart with his eyes, and he knows that looking at things gives them values that shift from context to context, from class to class. And that's what Hommie/Homey
is about--it's about presenting signifiers from different kinds of people together, with a big handful of hiphop and graffitti over the whole thing. Carter's statement is loud and clear:
"I feel bad about the commodification of hiphop/graffitti/breakdancing culture, and yet I am a part of that act of commodification because here I am, self-conciously, in a museum, and I see that."
And yes. Carter is right, but it lands with a thud. What's the larger point? Where is the redemption? Why am I standing here?
I stood in Carter's installation for a long time because the obligatory video verite
included some really fun breakdancing footage. And I kept thinking to myself, you know, I am a skinny little white girl from the whitest town on the planet and everything, but I can't help but think that Carter should be watching the breakdancers and ditching the design fetish. Design is part of that taking over the external world with your eyes paradigm that Friedrich represents for a few more paragraphs, and Carter obviously knows that this is a dead end. But the breakdancers are doing something else entirely. They are throwing out if-then statements about the relationship between their bodies and the sidewalk, and in doing so they are finding a thousand tiny truths about gravity and their own biology, and how they can bend and break these rules of physics and physical embodiment. What they are doing is powerful.
Like Bill Gusky, the breakdancers are switching the vectors. Instead of looking out into the world and attempting to grab and hold and own and conquer, because we know that's a dead end, they are letting the world (the floor, really) hit them and responding. And in that constant adjustment, they are finding more than what we previously thought was possible.
Um... and I would call the results from that process of infinite adjustment a large set of tiny truths that are beholden to no individual because they came from without and not from within.
Gerhard Richter, Wald (892-1)
, 2005, shamelessly lifted from the Getty's website
Okay, back to the Getty. The Friedrich paintings were juxtaposed with Richter paintings. And yeah. This seemed awfully random to me as well. But if you sit down and really look at the show, the vectors become quite clear. Richter, like Carter's breakdancers, is moving from the outside in. His work is consistently about these kinds of small truth, about the truth paint contains when subjected to a negotiating process, about the truth of a photograph, the truth of images. Perhaps Gusky would say that Richter is not restricting himself to talking about himself, that he would rather be a conduit through which experiments about the nature of reality pass.