By Katerina Papazissi

Τετάρτη, 22 Μαΐου 2013

Δευτέρα, 1 Απριλίου 2013

Ach Alma Manetro - Is it a great work of art?

Ach Alma Manetro is a decollage, or torn-poser work by Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Villegle made (or rather presented) in 1949.

The practice of the decollage artists was to raid the streets of Paris (or Rome) and collect pieces of torn billboard posters, which they presented as they found them, sometimes together with the support on which they were glued, or by subsequently mounting them on canvas with minimum adjustment. Sometimes they presented the works in the streets rather than in a gallery.
I am generally fascinated by the images created by torn posters around the city. I photograph them and I  also collect posters in order to make artworks from them myself (with a lot of adjustments).
In discovering the decollage artists of the late 40s and 50s, I was therefore once more confronted with an image which I particulary like. However, the problem was that it seemed to me that as soon as one had seen a torn-poster (affiche laceree), one had seen it all. There is no big difference between a torn poster of today and a torn poster of then. Moreover, I could not easily accept them as art. A curious fact, I know. How can you be fascinated by something and still not accept it as art. Well I think it has to do with my belief that an artwork is not the presentation of a reality, but a transformation of reality. These seemed to be mere documents of reality. Not creations.
Reading about this work has made me reflect more deeply on whether it can potentially not be merely an interesting, even striking picture, but also a great work of art. Which in turn made me think some more about what the heck is a great work of art. Here we go.

Ach Alma Manetro is  a great work of art because it is the complete and perfect solution to the artistic problems and questions of the day.
Which were the circumstances and artistic problems of the city of Paris in late 1940?
1. World War II. The artists had a living memory of and wanted to speak about an environment
 devastated by war.
2. The restoration and rebuilding of cities was under way, and this restoration brought with it a new form of urban life, organized around consumerism and advertising culture. The way out of the strife of the war was proposed as the ability to consume better and ever- newer products.
3. Advertising takes on a huge part of public space. Large advertising posters are hung on billboards, forming atttitudes, guiding the world. The critique of advertising from the part of artists, the critics of the images of reality, is a must.
4. The artists had already seen the american Abstract Expressionist works, were familiar with the idea of Action Painting and the view of the canvas as an arena on which to act.
5. However, the particular circumstances of Europe, with its profound historicity, precluded mere gestural abstraction, with no deeper underlying meaning.
6. The artists were born in the city of the Surrealists and shared their ideas about uniting art and life, as well as imagination and reality and the idea of making the street the locus of the Magnificent.
7. The artists shared the Dadaists' and (especially) Surrealists' questioning of the idea of the artist as  a genius. They wanted to develop more collective forms of creation.
8. The question was how to overcome the alienation which is the result of life in the modern city.

The discovery of decollage epitomizes all these requirements of the artists of the time.  The torn poster is first and foremost an image that speaks about a rupture, a dislocation, even dismemeberment. It resembles a war zone. It is also an object created over time by the actions of anonymous passers-by as well as by the effects of the weather. Not by an individual artist. It gives us the image of an action, but we do not know whose action.  No glory to the creator here. Moreover, Ach Alma Manetro in particular  is not even the discovery of one creator. Two persons have discovered this together and presented it as a pair.  The object was furthermore situated in the street. The continuous layering and tearing of the posters speak about a process of decay as well as creation, which ultimately creates an image of the passage of time in the realm of the urban environment. A kind of history of the city. It shows the relationship between degraded public space and radiant advertising space. The torn poster deconstructs language and communication, and at the same time proposes a new form of communication. It is therefore a critique of advertising. Advertising language is still there for the audience to see and ponder on its effects.  It is in this sense the continuation of the project of the futurists and dadaists. The torn posters speak about the possibility of disalienation via the acceptance, understanding, manipulation and communication of the very products of this alienation.
Therefore, a found object (objet trouve) is the artwork par excellence of the time. No creator needed, no adjustment required, no artistic standards set or fulfilled. An art object is discovered, collected and presented as such. A ready-made.
Still have to persuade myself on this possibility, while my creation-greedy self moans.
On the other hand, what this work does not create is a transformation of reality. Of course, this was not the point for the artists. They wanted us to see reality in a different way. Anyway a transformation has already taken place, as the posters got changed by the actions of the passers by and the weather. However, at least for me, this remains an unanswered question, a thorn in the argument on whether Ach Alma Manetro is  a great work of art.

p.s. Weeks after writing this post, I have come across a very interesting interview of Herbert Marcuse, in 1978. Marcuse says about the avant garde.
''Art in its radical forms—the present day avant-garde, for example: I would say yes, it is art. But the question is to what extent aesthetic criteria can be applied to some manifestations of avant-garde art. I had a long discussion on that here with the Visual Arts department two or three years ago. There was an exhibit that simply reproduced a garage sale. That wouldn't do because it just isn't art; it's a repetition of the given reality. It does not have the transcendence and dissociation which in my view are essential for art.''
Very clearly put...

Σάββατο, 30 Μαρτίου 2013

On double space B. Karel Teige.

I came across this artist while studying for the collage class I am teaching (Surrealism). I found an interesting parallel between my ideas and his, when it comes to the question of the boundary between the inside and the outside, body and space. His collages from the late 40s epitomize the union of internal and external, phantasy and reality.
Karel Teige was born on 13 December (another interesting parallel, I was born on the 14th!) 1900 in Prague. He represented the Chech avant-garde movement and was a photographer, typewriter and graphic artist. He was also a theorist of the arts and architecture.
After joining the surrealist movement in 1934 and until his death from a heart attack in 1951 he created about 400 collages. In these he puts together photographs of female bodies and photographs of landscapes, trees and interiors. This is done in such a way so that the bodily forms seem to emerge from the natural or domestic spaces.  The result is an eroticised space, populated by what seem to be enormous statues of female goddesses.
Like this picture below that I particularly like. I can imagine it as a 3-d sculpture.!

Looking at his pictures on the internet I came across an interesting site that presents his collages in the context of  a discussion about the milieu. 
There I read that Isaac Newton defined the milieu as the fluid, and as the  intermediary between two bodies.  Pascal as the median situation, a  fluid of suspension, a life environment. 
The fluid in this case seems to be the boundary between the body and its space. The milieu is the world that is created in this transgression of boundaries. A world made possible in art. I like this possibility of art practice. 
 The body emerges from space, like a giant flower or tree. It is not separated from space but merges with it. Is born from it, with it. However, its enormous size prevents it from being contained by space. Its seems that they mutually contain each other. A second aspect of the accepted relationship between body and space is thus changed. 
 Fluidity is finally down to the very essence of the above form, which is a female torso as well as an inverted penis. 

Kollaz 353, 1948

Similarly in the collage above. The woman emerges from the tree, as the tree emerges from the earth, forming a new entity, a woman-tree. The two formerly separate entities are merged into one, preserving   their different characteristics while losing their separate identity. Merged in infinite Oneness. 

Which brings us to the concept of the subjectile, by Antonin Artaud (still reading the entry in the site above). The subjectile is neither object nor subject, neither inside nor outside, neither above nor below but rather both. The subjectile is between two places. An interval. A double.
Artaud describes how his body is in a state of fusion with objects. Thus objects, acquiring bodily qualities, are also capable of sensations.  Seeing the collage below in this context is particularly interested. 

323, 1946
This is a woman-house, a kind of building or rather wall since it contains a window. This window creates a space where inside and outside lose their meaning. Since there is no longer an inside, therefore nor an outside. 

In this  final one, the body is frozen. Like a building would be in cold weather. 
The body thus becomes a space to inhabit, to enter. 

Looking up 'subjectile' I came across an artist's (Tim Long)  Phd thesis on the notion which I am about to read. Thank you internet.

On the whole, Teige's work seems to me to create a space where one can think about the possibility of a union of phantasy and reality, body and space, nature and the city, Eros and Civilization. It is what Herbert Marcuse refers to when he speaks about 'the truth of the Great Refusal', which is preserved by fantasy. This Great Refusal is the refusal to accept as given the alienation of man from nature, the limitations on freedom and happiness which result from humanity's adherence to reason, and its raison d'etre, the performance principle. In Marcuse's words " In the realm of phantasy, the unreasonable images of freedom become rational, and the lower depth of the instinctual gratification assumes a new dignity."( in Eros and Civilization, p.160)
More from Marcuse soon.   

Σάββατο, 2 Μαρτίου 2013

Picasso's Man with pipe 1915 and the representation of a representation.

While looking at the painting 'Man with Pipe', 1915, by Pablo Picasso, an alternative interpretation occurred to me. What Picasso has created is in fact a painting of an idea about a painting.
Of course, I am not totally familiar with writings on the subject and it is possible that somebody has already put forward such an argument. Nevertheless here it is.
Let's first look at the painting. We see some parts of a man's body. Half of his head and hat, his right arm and his left hand, holding a cigar. Other elements include parts of his jacket and vest, as well as abstract areas of plain colour and dots.  There are also elements depicting parts of a chair and elements that refer to parts of a room. The different painting styles co-exist, in classic Picasso style.
The composition forms a sort of irregular triangle, from top to bottom.
I see one dark blue rectangle cutting the head in two at the top ,  and a brown form in the shape of a greek π at the bottom-center. I see these two elements as the edges of an easle. The rest of the elements can be seen as parts of dismantled paintings, one of them being the painting of a man with a pipe, others perhaps being paintings of a chair, a painting of the  room, and abstract paintings. In my mind, these  fragments  of paintings are reassembled to form a three dimensional picture with irregular edges, supported by the easel that breaks out of the frame of a standard easel painting.  The picture is thus opened up to the space around it. It is opened up perhaps to the real (in the painting) man with pipe, the representation thus merging with the represented.
We can take this further.  If we take the form in the upper right corner to be a keyhole, what we are witnessing is a sneak view of a painter's mind.
Picasso has thus painted his idea of a painting. By confining it to two dimensions, making an easel picture out of it, he preserved the status of this as an idea.  It is not reality, but a construction of reality. Even, a construction of a construction of a constructed reality. (!) Picasso has painted an infinite space.
Perhaps the π  shape stands for man-with-a-pipe's legs, but to me, the easel explanation is much more interesting.

Παρασκευή, 25 Ιανουαρίου 2013

Just came across a very interesting and inspiring exhibition!

It is called 'Photography into Sculpture' and is an exploration of the sculptural and three dimensional uses of photographs by artists and photographers. Interesting to see some of my experiments were taken up in the 70s, especially by Robert Heineken, whose work I will soon have to review here!
Check it out.!

Δευτέρα, 7 Ιανουαρίου 2013

On Double space part A.
Victor Burgin

Victor Burgin, The Bridge. 1984.

Victor Burgin is an english conceptual artist, writer and photographer. He studied painting at the Royal College of Art from 1962 to 1965 and philosophy and fine art at Yale University from 1965 to 1967. His work combines photographs  and printed texts to reveal  what lies behind processes of looking.
In this post, I looked at his work from the 80s. 
His position is that of a male subject. In his body of work 'The Bridge' he juxtaposes images of bridges, man-made constructions and water, as well as images from Art depicting females in the water. The birth of Venus, the death of Ophelia. 
I find this picture very interesting, in its juxtaposition of the man-made and the natural, activity and passivity, movement and stasis. It reveals the contents of our imaginary with respect to the categories male and female. 
In his article on Burgin, theorist Paul Smith writes of the way the bridge, the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge works. 
"It is offered both as a geographic or topographic signifier and as an imaginary one. That is, it acts as a kind of two-way object, a projection of the imaginary into worldly space and an introjection of the material world to become a marker of psychical space". 
It is this double space that interests me. The merging of the inside and the outside. The contents of the imaginary, and the contents of the external world. Dualistic dichotomies between in and out, existence and non existence, male and female, etc, are man-made constructions. Abstractions that fail to account for what is. I see reality as continuous becoming. The world may consist of opposites but it is finally one. We are trapped into this binary way of conceiving things, what Smith calls a linguistic doublet, unable to see the essence of things, the primordial affinity of everything. 
Art is a way of seeing things differently, bringing together the inside and the outside. 

Victor Burgin 

The above image speaks again of a double spae. There is the space of the viewer (and of the woman performer) but also the space of the viewer's gaze, situated in the mirror at the back. Real space  and imaginary space. The woman looks away from the mirror, which makes us see only her back. She therefore cannot share the image of herself. 

Victor Burgin

In this image, Burgin puts a photograph of a city on a tapestry laden wall, again creating a double space. There seems to be an opening or window on the wall, giving view to a city, reversing the situation where we take the larger context to be the city, and what is contained within it to be the house. Here the house contains the city.  It also makes me aware of the egoistic need to contain, to possess. To feel more powerful than one really is, by acquiring possession of. This feeling is strengthened by the wooden frame, reminiscent of classic paintings, which are again something desirable to possess. 


Wikipedia.Victor Burgin.

Paul Smith "On Victor Burgin"

Δευτέρα, 3 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Introducing Mark Bradford.

The devil is beating his wife, 2003.

Across 110th street, 2008
The work of this artist inspired me to start making large scale collages mixing printed advertisements with paint. He therefore deserves an introduction.
Mark is based in the United States (where else?).  In particular, in Los Angeles.
His monumental compositions mix billboard advertisements with paint, resembling giant maps. His materials are found on the street, making his work a kind of street art made by a studio based artist. His relationship to the french 'Decollage' group (Francois Dufrene, Raymond Hains, Mimmo Rotella, Jacques de la Villegle) is apparent, although in Mark's case the work is composed so that it becomes something other than merely a record of the process of the accumulation and destruction of urban posters. Not reality, but a transformation of reality is what he is interested in.
In the resulting compositions, what I find particularly fascinating is the look of a city struck by natural disaster.

Much has been written about his work. For example, the racial issues raised or the mixing of popular culture with high art. What is interesting for me however, is considering his work in the light of what  Frederic Jameson defines as an aesthetic of cognitive mapping in his  "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism".
In this text, Jameson argues for a kind of art that will raise spatial issues as its fundamental organizing concern. This is in response to the increasing alienation felt in the postmodern city, where people are unable to map in their heads the space in which they live in , or  the sociopolitical totality that organizes and shapes this urban space as an experience.
Moreover, this results in a difficulty to connect private experience to the experience of the city and the difficulty to internalize or make one's own, the problems of our cities or the information about our world provided by intermediary authorities, such as the politicians and the media.
We are not actors in the space we live in, and therefore we are alienated from this space. Disalienation, for Jameson, means "the practical reconquest of a sense of place, plus the construction or reconstruction of place. An articulated ensemble which the individual subject can map and remap along the moments of mobile, alternative trajectories".
Works like Bradfrord's, work towards disalienation, if only in play.  This happens because by collecting, reassembling and restructuring mass media images which make up the public communication of the city, this information is personalized. By appropriation and creation, the role of the passive city-dweller who cannot act to change his/her circumstances is overturned in the artist's case and questioned for everyone.

Mark Bradford's site is really interesting. I have particularly enjoyed the option of zooming in to his works.

Jameson, F. Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991. Available in

 Finally, some more images

Noah's Third Day, 2007.
Orbit, 2007.

May Heaven preserve you from Dangers and Assassins,