Lara Croft

Lara Croft in her new manifestation per Tomb Raider

This week the wonderful Popcritic Anita Sarkeesian posted her latest in a series of videos, Tropes vs. Women, exploring the history, ideology, and gender-directed mechanics/narratives of the video game.  Luxuriously insightful, aboundingly knowledgeable, historically intriguing, and with the marvelous quality of being huggingly accessible, the series looks at the history of the video game and the gender mechanics which informed the medium from its early formulations up to the present moment.   A Gamer herself Sakeesian interrogates the ideology of the video game as she sees a viable critique of the media becoming a means to free the trajectory gaming for the future of the medium and for the gamers themselves.

A love letter with an edge.

Here is the first in the series, but take a look at her site Feminist Frequency for the rest, and other perceptive videos on popculture and feminism:

However, since this crowdfunded series had even begun , Sarkeesian had been attacked by the most misogynist amonst us with even a limited access to the internet. The newest video in the series, as opposed to tappering off in the fog of time, has triggered even more abuse from those who see themselves as owners of our words, culture and institutions. From the Verge: “Since the project launched on Kickstarter way back in 2012, the gaming community has been treated to an incessant, deeply paranoid campaign against Tropes vs. Women generally and Sarkeesian personally….now, she’s apparently spent the night with friends after contacting law enforcement about “some very scary threats” against her and her family. She’s published a page of extremely violent sexual threats from the person who apparently drove her to call the police; in it, the user mentions the location of her apartment and threatens to kill her parents, who the user names and claims to be able to find.”

Abuse like this is meant firstly towards the individual person, but further this type of abuse is meant to intimidate an entire section of the (systematically disenfranchised)  populace, i.e.women. This abuse is a vast and immeasurable pressure displayed to the outside, and typically already disempowered, group to vacate the public sphere. This exclusion from the public sphere of the already disenfranchised is a further means towards eliminating its voice and a mechanism to leaving only the privileged to determine public space of conversation and ideas.  Though I would mostly like this post to focus on the great body of work Sarkeesian (and the two other women below) is developing, it is important to lend our voice to those abused in the public sphere for both thier protection and to show that the terroism of abuse will never push those of less priviledge from the public conversation and political discourse.

Colosseum, mid-16th century. Italian school. Published by Antonio Lafréri (French, ca. 1512–1577

Colosseum, mid-16th century. Italian school. Published by Antonio Lafréri (French, ca. 1512–1577

 

Classist Scholar, Mary Beard, also a focus of this misoginist abuse, looks at small public space alloted to the culturally and politically disenfranchised populace of Ancient Rome in the Games of the Colleseum.  Beard looks at the popculture venue of ancient Rome, the Games as played out in the Colosseum,  and how it, though minimally, was a Space of interactions and cultural education for all of the living populace of Rome.

Rebecca Mead, in the New Yorker looks at Beards discussion about the historical pressures of exclusion towards the disenfranchised (again, women here) recently on BBC : In February, Mary Beard, a classics professor at the University of Cambridge, gave a lecture at the British Museum titled “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!” With amiable indignation, she explored the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients. Her speech, which was filmed by the BBC, was learned but accessible—a tone that she has regularly displayed on British television, as the host of popular documentaries about Pompeii and Rome. She began her talk with the first recorded instance of a man telling a woman that “her voice is not to be heard in public”: Telemachus informing his mother, Penelope, that “speech will be the business of men” and sending her upstairs to her weaving. Beard progressed to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Tereus rapes Philomela & then cuts out her tongue so that she cannot denounce him. Beard alighted on Queen Elizabeth and Sojourner Truth before arriving at Jacqui Oatley, a BBC soccer commentator repeatedly mocked by men who were convinced that a woman couldn’t possibly understand the sport. A columnist for The Spectator, Beard noted, currently runs an annual competition to name the “most stupid woman” to appear on the current-affairs show “Question Time.”

Finally, Beard arrived at the contemporary chorus of Twitter trolls and online commenters. “The more I’ve looked at the details of the threats and the insults that women are on the receiving end of, the more some of them seem to fit into the old patterns of prejudice and assumption that I have been talking about,” she said. “It doesn’t much matter what line of argument you take as a woman. If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it.” Such online interjections—“ ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain”—often contain threats of violence, a “predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder, and so forth.” She mildly reported one tweet that had been directed at her: “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it.”…

“to see and be seen” by lawrence weiner 1972

“to see and be seen” Lawrence Weiner 1972

In the Slam poem “Fantastic Breasts and Where To Find Them”,  Brenna Twohy shows us a personal world which is an argument for the understandings of feminism to give equality and humanity to the world. Like Beard and Sareeskian, Twohy uses popculture and shows us that when we explore and critique that which is presented by the culture it becomes a means to free and enable all of us.

Katrin von Maltzahn, Buchenbetrachter, 2000

Katrin von Maltzahn, Buchenbetrachter, 2000 (yes, the actual catalogue)

With ascendency of the idea of the theory of the death of the author, during the postmodern milieu, a idea came to hold sway in the art world that the location (and, therefore, “creation” and “activity”) of the artwork resided in the audiences unfolding of meaning in the artwork and not “placement” of meaning into the object of art by the artist. This theoretical position maintained that the artobject internal-to-itself was a quantity of brute material (“work” in Barthes terminology) after leaving the studio and only could be activated in its process as art-piece by engagement in the social as personified by spectator and public (“text” for Barthes). The conceptual stance of “participation theory” where the audience created the meaning of the work, conjoined with the idea of the death of the author where the textual/social “spoke through the creator” (both in Foucault and Barthes), dislodged the author as primary meaning constructor of the text and artwork. This theoretical ground was granted further strength in the conception of intersubjectivity which found meanings only validated in interactions of subjectivites (individuals) within the social which generated knowledge(s) as opposed to mere idiosyncratic beliefs (individual subjective systems without acceptance within the Social public sphere).

The brute artobject (now divested of meaning after leaving the studio) as “thing” could only be reactivated as a meaning producer within the social settings which the curator and exhibition space devised. As no meaning is present within (meaningless) brute matter, or is outside of the social context where meanings are decided upon, the curator would necessarily need to 1) select characteristics of the artpiece, 2) a system which related the “works” of art together, and, therefore, 3) a discourse which would place the artpieces in a meaning system. Where in participation theory the spectator (usually in this theory) was the embodiment of meaning actuator, in actuality the three tier system of the curator-as-producer came to be seen as being the mechanism and medium by which meaning was actually created within the artpiece and was in the providence of the curator almost solely . As the exhibition context is never neutral, and the indications of what to “see” are laid out in the relations of work detail the meaning(s) of the unspeaking raw artpiece in the exhibition (only certain characteristics of each artpiece is underlined in the exhibition and others are ignored), the curator must be aware of this art-function and recognize that they are primary to the meaning construction of the artobject.

documenta119_v-contentgross

This theory came to be dubbed the Curatorial Auteur Theory, as first propounded in “the exhibitionist” magazine and was discussed in relation to film theory by editor Jens Hoffman (http://the-exhibitionist.com/auteur-theory-of-curating/ ). As Boris Groys, noting the theatrical foundations of the theory, argues for the point of the Curator as Art Substantiator :

“At least since the 1960s, artists have created installations in order to demonstrate their personal practices of selection. These installations, however, have been nothing other than exhibitions curated by artists, in which objects by others may be – and are – represented as well as objects by the artist.  . . .  In short, once the identification between creation and selection has been established, the roles of the artist and of the curator also became identical. A distinction between the (curated) exhibition and the (artistic) installation is still commonly made, but it is essentially obsolete.

“Today we can no longer speak of the authorial autonomy of the artist because he or she, from the beginning, is involved in collaborative, collective, institutionalized, productive practice (p. 94). Today (i.e. since Duchamp, the roles of the curator and the artist equivalent in that the ready-made equated the acts of creation and selection) authorship is no longer singular but a “multiple authorship“akin to that of a film, a theatrical production or a concert.”

(“Multiple Authorship“,Barbara Vanderlinden and Elena Filipovic (eds.), The Manifesta Decade: Debates on Contemporary Exhibitions and Biennials 2006)

Harald Szeemann, the curator of Documenta 5, center left with handup.

Harald Szeemann, the curator of Documenta 5 in 1972, is perhaps the prototypical auteur curator and is often referred to as the “first of the urcurators” (after this Documenta all curators names where highlighted regarding the show) going on to posit that ” curatorial function posits the curator as a visionary, and the exhibition as their medium.”            (Clair Bishop explores this role in “What is a Curator?” http://idea.ro/revista/?q=en/node/41&articol=468).

Daniel Buren, finding this reassessment of the studio vs. the exhibition space interesting, reflected at the time of the Documenta V, that the relocation of the Curatorial function as Artproducer was groundbreaking. Buren noted at the time, regard Szeeman’s realignment of the creator function of the curator,: “Documenta is characteristic, in a way. As are almost all exhibitions. But it’s very visible here. Harald Szeeman is the artist who has created this enormous painting, which happens to be the exhibition itself.“)

buren

Daniel Buren, Allegro Vivace 2011, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden

Interestingly enough many contemporary practioners of art, like Liam Gillick, concur with this notion of imbuing the curator with more recognition regarding the creation of the art piece. This distinction of curator and artist as meaning producer of the artwork, according to these artists, should be transcended as all binaries are artificial constraints on the meaning production of an artwork, which are a limiting device imposed on the social to limit the open interrogation of the entirety of meanings that are possible to the artwork. As Gillick notes regarding the artist and the curator, the studio and the exhibition space… “there is an assumed separation of roles here that does not exist in the most productive projects now and has not done for many years.”          (http://www.e-flux.com/projects/next_doc/l_gillick.html).

Liam Gillick, Rescinded Production, 2008

Liam Gillick, Rescinded Production, 2008

 Hal Foster notes the problematic of the curator auteur model and links it to a narrowing down of alternative possibilities of meaning construction related to the singular discourse of the curatorial voice and the power replications of ideology reflected in institutions. As he notes: “the institution may overshadow the work that it otherwise highlights: it becomes the spectacle, it collects the cultural capital, and the director-curator becomes the star.”  ( http://www.variant.org.uk/3texts/Hal_Foster.html ), as does Robert Storr who calls this inversion a Cultural Schizophrenia as lately as 2005 :

It is the dovetailing of Beuys’ cultural populism with perverse variants of Roland Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ discourse that has given rise to the present schizophrenic situation, where, it is said, art engenders itself within its sign system through the ‘agency’ of ‘producers’, but critics and curators increasingly expect to be acknowledged as unique creative thinkers, and honored with appropriate billing.

Hans Dieter Huber has termed this recalibration of the functioning of the production of the artobject from artist to curator a discursive event signified as “Semantic descent” for the artist within the curated show. “the artist’s stylistic autonomy has been confiscated and he has slipped a rung lower. The ‘semantic ascent’ of the curator accompanies the ‘semantic descent’ of the artist and his work.” (http://www.hgb-leipzig.de/artnine/huber/writings/curators.html).

robert morris letter

Robert Morris Letter to Harald Szeemann, 1972

Robert Morris, maybe the first to tackle the idea of curator as artist, was to directly confront the vision of Szeeman when he complained about being dismissed in the circulation of meaning construction of the artwork and therefore withdrew his pieces from the Documenta V show where they were meant to be exhibited . Due to what Morris saw as the usurpation of meanings which the artist may implant within the artpiece by the curator, who would be the source of definition what the artobject was, Morris emphatically stated in his letter of withdrawal: “I do not wish to have my work used to illustrate misguided sociological principles or outmoded art historical categories.”

John Baldessari

Also, in reaction to this regarding and placement of the Curator as art creator, John Baldessari went further in this critique of the direction of Curatorial Auteur Theory (which though initiated by Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5 exhibition was now embraced by a slew of curators in the postmodernist milieu) and argued that the Curator As Artist Ideology was a means of positioning the artist themselves as mere brute material divesting them of agency and intention (meaning): “Curators seemingly want to be artists. Architects want to be artists. I don’t know if this is an unhealthy trend or not. What disturbs me is a growing tendency for artists to be used as art materials, like paint, canvas, etc. I am uneasy about being used as an ingredient for an exhibition recipe, i.e., to illustrate a curator’s thesis. A logical extreme of this point of view would be for me to be included in an exhibition entitled “Artists Over 6 Feet 6 Inches”, since I am 6’7”. Does this have anything to do with the work I do? It’s sandpapering the edges off of art to make it fit a recipe.”(http://www.e-flux.com/projects/next_doc/).

Eli Bornowsky, Untitled, 2008, gouache on paper

Eli Bornowsky, Untitled, 2008, gouache on paper

Even within the era of afterpostmodernism (as the question of where knowledge is created (individual or society) and how meaning is related to the brute material of the object still lingers large within the artworld) this question of curator as artist still haunts the abode of the exhibition. We can find evidence with examples such as Eli Bornowsky, who curated the exhibition, After Finitude (2013), which was meant to” “rather than having a theme or investigating ideas about exhibitions, institutions, or histories, I gave my responsibility to the experience of art in general, and to my artistic practice as an abstract painter in particular”.  This Exhibition, as critic Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte, notes “essentially boils down to an agenda of furthering his own practice, using the exhibition as an artistic medium.” The review “Interrogating the ‘Artist-Curator-as-Artist’ in After Finitude” can be read here: http://decoymagazine.ca/interrogating-the-artist-curator-as-artist-in-after-finitude/.

The Curatorial Auteur Theory, though downgraded as problematic by the majority of practioners of art and most engaged curators,is one not so easily dismissed (in both its theortical formulation and thought-experiment aspects) as it plies and resonates at the unsettled core ideas about how we think of art. Art as a medium or critique of meaning and one which is both an immobile mere thing and unresolved place of the idea. One that engages both the individual and the society, but strives to give open flight in a society which curtails meanings to the “correct one”. Contemplating the relation of Artist/Curator, Studio/Exhibition, Object/Meaning requires that we see what multitudes of the functions of art entail (Beautiful/Distasteful, Thought/Thing, Provocative/Sublime, etc.) and how the objects of art disappear into the artless (and back again).

Robert Morris, House of Vetti II, 1983

Robert Morris, House of Vetti II, 1983

More of Curatorial Auteur Theory is explored in the book Paul O Neill The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), and Anton Vidokle’s Art Without Artists? 2010 (http://www.e-flux.com/journal/art-without-artists/).

with short Bibliography on Matter and Art below

Template-1, 001, by Ai Weiwei  2007

Template-1, 001, by Ai Weiwei 2007

After the recession of the postmodern period, materiality began to reassert itself as a fruitful theoretical idea which was not constrained entirely by language and which formed a world based solely upon textuality. This meant a re-evaluation of the idea of the Language-construction of all experience, perception and “the real”; and a questioning of the pronouncements of Saussure, and its strong iterations by Derrida, regarding the (total) textual composition of the world and all of its aspects. Primarily three focuses came to be developed in the after-postmodern milieu (approximately 1995 to the present day), to counter the strong constructivist theory of the postmodern era (approximately late 60’s to mid-90’s), and to reinsert materiality/reality into the play of theoretical consideration. These were: Perception, Sensation, and Affect. Materiality became evident in these three concepts outside of the totality of textuality of all events and objects and was seen, in the after-postmodern, as a means for the material or the eventual to disrupt the representational cultural (and subjective) systems which socially formed language (and its textuality) as contained and perpetuated. For the postmodernist thinker, as individuals can only think about the world through the linguistic, there was no means to connect (or perceive) to the world directly (or in the strong postmodern view no reality actually behind our words), and, therefore, there was only a world which was textually formulated to give the representation of reality. The after-postmodern thinker, however, came to reject this idea as they saw some aspects of immediate sensation and abrupt affect which could not be translated into, or actually escaped, the textual while still having some effect to inform a individuals considerations of the world (even as a social network).

Kazimir Malevich  black and red square 1915

Modernisms Search for a Language of Art (Painting)          Kazimir Malevich black and red square 1915

However, unlike the modernist position on materiality, the after-postmodernist idea of materiality/reality incorporated the strong and fundamental idea of multiplicity as lodged into the real. This was a very important turning point in the concept of matter as now reality is posited as existing before human experience and its linguistic systems, but this pre-existent reality operates to create multiple worlds from the same matter (or the differing “aspect” presented by the material/object). Now, though reality is seen as existent, it is incessantly various and therefore had many differing language systems which was possible to satisfactorily apply to it.

Whereas the modernist followed the idea of a singular real world (the world can only be one way with one best way of speaking of it, see Plato’s theory of Forms and Aristotle’s “excluded middle” argument*) with the modernist attempting to generate a single and correct language for detailing this stable real world (being the one way the world “is”), the after-postmodern viewpoint considers the real as generating multiple aspects of the world simultaneously and continuously productively (For the after-post the “is” is a “many” and not the “one” of the modernists or Platonists), thusly we will see the finite and the infinite continually conflate in the field of art.

Hilma af Klint Svanen (The Svan), No. 17  1915

Hilma af Klint Svanen (The Svan), No. 17 1915                    Perfect Language of the Absolute

These three alternations of systems between language and the world were clear in its meaning for Art and its Practitioners. The Modernist attempted a correct language of their medium which would correspond to the important reality of the world. The Postmodernist attempted an analysis of the representational systems of the culture and its over-scripting of the individual in society through its construction of reality only within the textual. While the after-postmodernist came to attempt an exploration of the multiple meanings, divergent knowledge constructions, and the manifest interplay of the compossible (the multiple, even contradictory, existences) which plays out on an imminent, though diffuse, reality.

As no singular system could elaborate the continually divergent aspects of the real, this multiplicity within the real caused a Fragmentation of Art Theory which came to imprint the new art system of the 21st century. These include a diverse set of theories as Visibility Theory, In-between Theory, Gift Theory, Affect Theory, Performativity Theory,  Participation Theory, and, of course, Archive theory. Each of these theoretical systems theory come to each be seen as divergent, but adequate, systems of knowledge production for art and each was seen as interesting for the elaboration of a theory of Multiple meanings/existences of the Material. Artistic endeavor came to investigate how each of these theories came to give a placement to foundation of an art practice outside of exclusive representationality, and how the theories could detail the production of meaning outside single unified systems while simultaneously detailing aspects of reality.

Cindy ShermanUntitled #465. 2008

Postmodern critique of the representational                                Cindy Sherman   Untitled #465. 2008

Within this period Jacques Ranciere and Alain Badiou have become important to the conceptualization of an after-postmodern as both try to compose a Multiplicity theory whilst keeping a world fuzzily separate from total Subjectivity and over determined textual (language) construction of the world in their writings, as well separating themselves from the strict postmodern position regarding the unattainably of the real. These two thinkers, as signposts of an after-postmodernist, accept some form of materiality of the world but regard it as “processes” (“event” of Badiou) or as “aspects” (“distribution of the sensible” of Ranciere) which yield a real which is not singular but many.

Both Jacques Ranciere (Aesthetics and its Discontents, The Ignorant School Master) and Alain Badiou (Handbook of Inaesthetics, Being and Event) argue for a ambiguous matter existing separately in the world which is a ground for multiple meaning constructions (under constant movement). This coupling of the Real/Materiality with Multiplicity is fundamental to the after-postmodernist positioning.

Thomas Hirschhorn. Cavemanman, 2002

After-postmodern’s matter, meanings, and the multiple real                                       Thomas Hirschhorn. Cavemanman, 2002

 

Some texts which may help to explore the attitudes of the after-postmodern take on matter and the search for meanings of the real can be found in the following set of writings on Materiality and Art:

Boris Eichenbaun

Theory of the Formal Method (1926)

We speak and may speak only about theoretical principles suggested to us not by this or that ready-made methodology, but by the examination of specific material in its specific context”

Martin Heidegger

the Thing (1935)

The Origin of the Work of Art (1935)

“But even the much vaunted aesthetic experience cannot get around the thingly aspect of the art work.”

Luce Irigaray

The Sex which is Not One (1977)

“…more than other senses, the eye objectifies and masters. It sets at a distance, maintains the distance. In our culture, the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch, hearing, has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations…the moment the look dominates, the body loses its materiality”

Arthur Danto.

Philosophizing Art (2001)

” The most striking contribution to have been made to our understanding of art by the art world itself has been the generation of objects, ones in every manifest regard like perfectly ordinary objects, things like bottle racks, snow shovels, Brillo boxes, and beds. We are (1) to regard these “things” as artworks, and not as the mere real objects from which they are indiscernible; and (2) to be able to say what difference it makes that they should be artworks and not mere real things. Indeed, I regard the matter of furnishing answers to these questions the central issue in the philosophy of art.”

Gilles Deleuze

What is Philosophy (1994)

“Sensations, percepts and affects, are beings whose validity lies in themselves and exceeds any lived being. They could be said to exist in the absence of man because man, as he is caught in stone, on the canvas, or by words, is himself a compound of percepts and affects. The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself”

Brian Mazzumi

The Autonomy of Affect (1995)

Affects are virtual synaesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them.”

Graham Harman              (founder of Object Oriented Ontology)

The Speculative Turn : Continental Materialism and Realism (2011)

” Art  and  design  seem  to  me  to  be  at  the  front  lines  of  the  struggle  as  well,  just  like  philosophy.  (There lies) the  tension  between  real  objects  (which  forever  withdraw  from  view)  and  their accessible  surfaces  (which  do  not),  or  between  real  objects  and  their  real  and  apparent qualities,  or  between  accessible  images  and  both  their  real  and  apparent  qualities.”  

edited by Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman   (this book is a selection of important essays on Object Oriented Ontology and is open source. That is: free (pdf) and on the web!)

Karen Barad

Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter  (2003)

“A performative understanding of discursive practices challenges the representation list belief in the power of words to represent preexisting things. Performativity, properly construed, is not an invitation to turn everything (including material bodies) into words; on the contrary, performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real.”

Pussy Riot Releases a new single called “Putin Lights Up the Fires” some days after being sentenced to prison for two years regarding their “Religious Hooliganism”.  The Guardian takes the song and edits it with footage from the performance which became the focus of the show trail: Check out the video/Song here.

From the NYT regarding the two year sentence for Pussy Riot: V:  “Russian Band Given 2-Year Term for Stunt Deriding Putin

A Moscow judge handed down stiff prison sentences of two years on Friday afternoon for three young women who staged a protest against Vladimir V. Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February and whose jailing and trial on hooliganism charges have generated worldwide criticism of constraints on political speech in Russia

While a guilty verdict against the three women, members of a band called Pussy Riot, was widely expected, suspense had built over how severe a punishment they would receive. Prosecutors had demanded three-year prison terms, but President Putin had weighed in on the side of leniency. …

The case has become a touchstone in the political conflict that began in Russia after disputed parliamentary elections last December. That is partly because of the sympathetic appearance of the defendants — two are mothers of young children — partly because their group uses music to carry its message, and because it has pitted them against a united power-structure: the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

As the judge read the lengthy verdict, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered outside the courthouse and shouted, “Free Pussy Riot!” …

Near the start of the highly anticipated proceedings, the judge said that Pussy Riot’s so-called punk prayer in Moscow’s main cathedral had amounted to the crime of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. She repeated that charge on Friday in her verdict. Because the women acted as a group, the maximum sentence under the law is seven years in prison….

As the trial opened, the women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alyokhina, 24 — apologized, saying they had never intended to offend the Orthodox Church but rather sought to make a political statement against Mr. Putin and against the church patriarch, Kirill I, for supporting Mr. Putin in his campaign for a third term as president.

And the the powerful closing statement of Yekaterina Samutsevich at the last day of the trial:

The fact that Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of our powers that be was already clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyaev took over as head of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be used openly as a flashy setting for the politics of the security services, which are the main source of power [in Russia].

Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetics? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, national corporations, or his menacing police system, or his own obedient judiciary system. It may be that the tough, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more convincing, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the helm. It was here that the need arose to make use of the aesthetics of the Orthodox religion, historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

How did he succeed in doing this? After all, we still have a secular state, and shouldn’t any intersection of the religious and political spheres be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society? Here, apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of Orthodox aesthetics in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had the aura of a lost history, of something crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture. The authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss and present their new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project which has little to do with a genuine concern for preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.

It was also fairly logical that the Russian Orthodox Church, which has long had a mystical connection with power, emerged as this project’s principal executor in the media. Moreover, it was also agreed that the Russian Orthodox Church, unlike the Soviet era, when the church opposed, above all, the crudeness of the authorities towards history itself, should also confront all baleful manifestations of contemporary mass culture, with its concept of diversity and tolerance.

Read the whole thing definitely

Futher links:

Pussy Riot prove the only professionals in sight, Guardian

Videos to see Pussy Riot and Supporting venues/actions/people

Nearly five months after being detained and held in prison for the poignant and scathing performance of an anti-Putin “punk prayer” inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, three members of the seven member Art Performance/punk band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich went on trial (Monday July 30, 2012).

The politically motivated “Punk Prayer” (modelled after the moleben, a prayer of supplication or intercession prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary) was a performance piece carried out by the members of pussy riot through a short occupation of the front of cathedral (note: this was not during a service!), and the performance of a frenetic musical setpiece, to underline the problematic ties between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church.  Explaining the intent of the political action the three in a public statement noted that though they had no intention of insulting Russian Orthodoxy, which forms the largest religious group of the country, the performance was to highlight the repressive and manipulative ties coupling the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill, with Putin and his bid for election.

Pussy Riot, “Putin Prayer” Performance 2012

“Our goal was to bring attention to Father Kirill’s public statements that the Orthodox must vote for Putin,” Alyokhina’s court statement explained. And she further collapsed the notion of reglious hooiganism by noting :. “I’m Orthodox but hold different political views and my question is: how am I to be?….”I thought the church loved its children. It turns out the church only loves those children who believe in Putin.”

Tolokonnikova’s letter to the court (read out to the court via their attorney in the case, Violetta Volkova) went on to explain the action as “just reacting to what’s happening in our country, and (we) use punk performances to express the opinion and mood of a rather large amount of people,”

Yekaterina Samutsevich’s statement to the court went directly to the point and noted that the continued detention and trial against herself and those members of Pussy Riot on trail were in fact the perpetuation of a larger campaign staged by the authorities to reduce ordinary citizenry’s viability and potentuality for direct political activity. “I see it as the start of a campaign of authoritative repressive measures aimed at reducing citizens’ political activity and instilling the sense of fear among citizens actively involved in politics.”

Video of “Putin Prayer” Intervention/Performance, Pussy Riot, 2012

 Text of: PUNK MOLEBEN – VIRGIN MARY PUT PUTIN AWAY

(chorus)
O Virgin Mother of God, put Putin away
Рut Putin away, put Putin away
(end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness
Women must give birth and love

Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

(chorus)
O Virgin Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist
(end chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

(Chorus)
O Virgin Mother of God, put Putin away
Рut Putin away, put Putin away
(end chorus)

Since their arrest in March these three members have been held in captivity by the Russian Authorities.  The three incarcerated members have been  acknowledged to be political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (SPP) and  Amnesty International, in an open letter, have recognized them to be prisoners of conscience due to the overt severity of the response of the Russian authorities regarding both their incarceration since the arrests (which will be extended to January 2013 per this writing) and the possibility of a seven year jail term if found guilty of the charges.  Pen International (a group defending freedom of expression) has called for the release of the members of Pussy Riot, and has sent an open letter to Putin supporting the three on trail and the political expression of the performance.

Some Sites to visit!

You can see FreeMuses call for a free and open Trail for the members of Pussy Riot at the site, all that is banned is desired, here.

The Guardian’s editoral question about authoritarian leaders and the persecution of Pussy Riot here.

Feministing’s Jos has a brief summary of the start of the trial and some more quotes from the members at their site here.

And, naturally the Free Pussy Riot Site, lots of interesting things here, including who supports the group and the members on trail.

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Update:

On the third day of the Pussy Riot trial in Russian a slew of articles have been published in the press about the consequences and indications about the trial for the power structure of contemporary russia.  Below are a number of links about issues exposed by the trail, but first a few comments layed out by Vsevolod Chaplin , top official and spokesman for the Eastern Orthodox Church, to the Guardian yesterday regarding “God’s judgement” (not the state or legal systems) on Pussy Riot and their protest:

Forgiving the act (Pussy Riot members, at the first day of the trial, apologized for any hurt religious feelings regarding the performance, and clarified that they only meant the act to underline the patriarch’s use of the church to legitimize Putin while denouncing those against him. Two weeks before Pussy Riot’s performance, and the election, the head of the church stated that the Putin era was “a miracle of God”): “Their words had a double meaning, Any acceptance of a mistake is a step in the right direction. But they also insulted the patriarch, who is a symbol of the church. For me, as a priest and a Christian, what’s important is that a sin was committed, that many people were hurt by these actions.”

What the “Punk Prayer” called for and why we shouldn’t like it: “When symbols are overthrown, and others are put in their stead, people want to say: we’ve taken power here. All these acts around symbols are attempts to redistribute power.”

What the Church wants us to know (and what the Pussy Riot performance came to show):  “For the Orthodox believer, like for Muslims, of course the authorities and the church are understood as one thing, Our ideal is the unity of the church and the authorities, and unity of the people and the authorities.”

Separation of Powers (we don’t need no stinking separation of powers): “I think attempts in the west to separate the spiritual sphere and secular sphere is a historical mistake”

And So what did we find out from the  first days of the Girl Riot Trial? “… the point of the trial is not to establish guilt or innocence, or even to elicit an apology or an admission from the accused. The point is to show that the women are “other”. Which is why the judge asked one of the witnesses whether the accused “crossed themselves in the manner that all citizens do”.                     The Guardian begins to note what the action means for Russia’s future.New Hope for Russia? The Legal System and The Russian State. Grrrl Riot and Pussy Riot as political act.

BBC talks about the Debate engendered by the Trail and Incarcerations

Sydney Brownstone at Mother Jones gives a summary and explanation of what is at stake.

Follow a great share of stories regarding the unfolding debate and trail at RIA Novosti ‘s English news site here

Liminal Rights, Aloyse Blair and Janelle Pietrzak, 2012

Since 1992 the concept of Inbetween has been of importance to the art world. This theory is not to be considered a boundary notion which implies an outside/inside and movement towards progressive action, but a space where the action of otherness and intersubjectivity occur (and this action is always open and continually unfolding).  As the subject is necessarily constructed by interactions, (i.e. the other and fluid self, continual reassessments between object and subject, and the tentativeness of being demonstrating instead a necessitative constant becoming), it becomes quite impossible to locate absolutely fixed ideas or completely unchanging individuals.  This fluidity, which seems to be intrinsic to any consideration of the social, material or individuals, indicates that it is of fundamental consequence to look critically at the space of the inbetween.
The notion of inbetween, as well as positing multiplicity and variability as the underlying consideration of the real, attempts to divine how to develop a suspension of normative ideals and social hierarchies (these hierarchies have an institutional/power stake in these ideologies) which keep these static social systems operational and circumvent open dialogues outside of these (pre)arrangements . Because of this the theory was a means and clarion call for social and (inter)personal equality where actual communication can take place between individuals. Social hierarchies must be divested in order that unimpeded communication, between free and equal participants of the community, can take place.

The concept of Inbetween was a seen by its adherents as a comprehensive methodology to explicate the field of the constructed individual in the nexus of multiplicity and the plurality of formulations of the world.

Inbetween as a category of ideas has come under many divergent titles (for instance, as the Third Space, or the Liminal) and, along with the Four thinkers developing this concept below, many additional thinkers were to mine the field of this endeavor. Included in looking at this idea are: Habermas’s thinking of the Public Sphere (pdf), Deleuzes assessments of Becoming and the Virtual, and Ranciere’s Dissent (to name just a few).

(Note: This post is one Section elaborating Theories of Contemporary Art After the Post-Modern.  See the list of theories with brief explanations here.)

 “A Life in BTween” Charlie White, 2012

Victor Turner
For Turner the Inbetween or liminal space is a physical place where the community allows a subject to experience a openness to the interpretation of individuality and the social in order to engage with others in a open dialogue and entertain the possibility of actualized interpersonal perspectives . Turner’s liminality is a realized time and place of withdrawal from normalized modes of social action, and allows for the communal (for those in the inbetween) scrutiny for central values and axioms of the culture where it occurs
During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants and the hierarchy and structuring mechanisms of social class, are de-emphasized and abandoned: ‘The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous’. Due to this suspension of normative social structure and the containment of dialogic possibility a  communitas is formed which is based on shared humanity and pre-social equality . ‘”Communitas”…has positive values associated with it; good fellowship, spontaneity, warm contact…unhierarchised, undifferentiated social relations
Without a social attempt to stabilize the space of the liminal the place of inbetween will collapse and the individual will be reinserted into a hierarchy where social interactions are truncated by disparate qualifications of subjectivities However for Turner it is possible to construct a spatial harbor for  liminal communities to exist and define a social structure of equal subjectivity and full communication between subjects. This actualized space of open dialogue was termed by Turner the “normative communitas” and is one which a society can realize if attended too.

Best essay to see this,
Victor Turner Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage.

Saul Melman, Best of All Possible Worlds, 2011

Homi K Bhabha
What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.
It is in the emergence of the interstices – the overlap and displacement of domains of difference – that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated.
Political empowerment, and the enlargement of the multiculturalist cause, come from posing questions of solidarity and community from the interstitial perspective. Social differences are not simply given to experience through an already authenticated cultural tradition; they are the signs of the emergence of community envisaged as a project – at once a vision and a construction – that takes you ‘beyond’ yourself in order to return, in a spirit of revision and reconstruction, to the political conditions of the present

From the introduction of,
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture

Halim Al-Karim, Hidden Doll, 2008

Michel Foucault
This small essay, where Foucault defines a alternative human geography of place, looks at a number of problematized spaces which have the means to indicate the possibilities to create open and non-hegemonic conditionals for interaction. The space of the Heterotope allows the manifestation of the actuality of otherness, and therefore details the conglomeration and individuation of subjectivities outside of normative social binaries (which overly construct the individual and make interaction and dialogue impossible) such as Same/different here/there, Material/thought.  These spaces indicate a possibility of interaction between subjects which are outside the normative constraints of the social and its spaces.

Though Foucault delves into the hidden meanings of these places, and how the fixed ideological and hierarchical structure of society must displace these spaces to the periphery in order to contain them, the essay ends (spoiler alert), with a conclusion instigated by these sites, which calls for a complete freedom of subjective creation and social motion.

Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces 1967

Zhang Dali, Chinese Offspring, 2003 to 2005

Hannah Arendt

In the Human Condition Hannah Arendt develops three spheres of human existence. The Third sphere, the Sphere of Action, is where speech and endeavor take place and is where humans are meant to manifest their equality in plurality and newness. As Arendt notes:

Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men…corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world. While all aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics, this plurality is specifically the condition – not only theconditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam – of all political life .”

Each individual is unique and can bring new and original concepts to the social in the sphere of action.  How every only in the midst of others and the intersubjective interactions between subjects is action meaningful.   Action would be meaningless in the void of other subjects. and so give meaning to it. The meaning of any action along with how the individual gains identity by their action (which is also speech activity) in only established in the context of the play of individual and intersubjective plurality.  The presence of others to individual actions creates meanings and defines (though continually changing throughout all actions) individuals and the social simultaneously. The communicative, creative and disclosing nature of action is connected to the interplay of physical Action and speech action, and the personal and intersubjective interpretations.  Because of this Openness is the means and necessity of Action:

…freedom…is actually the reason that men live together in political organizations at all. Without it, political life as such would be meaningless. The raison d’être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action.”

Because of this the human condition exists as an inbetween site of individual action to speech, and subjective denotation to intersubjective consideration, within a plural and open field of interactions.

Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition 1958 (pdf, entire text)

Who comprises the most famous of the Chinese Art Explosion which is being noticed by the west?  The following is a register of 10 artists who have come to the notice of the international art world with a oh-so-brief intro to the contemporary historical background.

Wang Guangyi, Campbells Soup, 2006

After the walking back, in 1985, of The Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, the art world in China saw a boom in creative endeavors and explorations.  Titled the 85 Movement by its members, this vitalistic outburst of artistic activity held sway until the Chinese government initiated a set of reorganizations to weaken “bourgeois liberalism,” (1987) targeting both new political and cultural endeavors which the regime felt were to inclined to the vague materialisms of liberal thinking. In 1988, this campaign against bourgeois liberalism was ended, and China experienced a tentative resurrection of an avant-garde type of artistic and cultural practice. After the effects of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, a clamp- down occurred towards individual expressive actions and,  along with commercial pressures for the artist to produce lucrative item of purchase, forms of experimental artistic production in China was impeded and confined. However isolated in the Academy were pockets of influence from the 85 movement which found release in 1991 with a number of international exhibitions of artists from this milieu (shows included- “The Exceptional Passage”, at the Fukuoka Museum in Japan and “I Don’t Want to Play Cards with Cézanne” and Other Works: Selections from the Chinese “New Wave” and “Avant-Garde” Art of the Eighties”, at the Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, California). The tenor of cultural liberalization, and its begrudging acceptance by the Chinese state,  resulted in the following years (1992) symposium  “Artistic Creation in the New Period”, held in Xishan, a suburb of Beijing, which looked at this art production and its conceptual basis. Included in this meeting were many who were to come to prominence as artists of their era, including Shui Tianzhong, Liu Xiaochun, Gao Minglu, Li Xianting, Shao Dazhen, and Yi Ying.  The first nationwide exhibition of the new exploratory art since the post-Tiananmen pressures, the “Guangzhou First Oil Painting Biennial, opened 1992 in Guangzhou. The exhibition was internally sanctioned and conceived under official agencies of the regime and was meant to encourage the inflation and recognition value of Chinese contemporary art in the domestic and international markets. From this moment to the present the experimental aspects of contemporary art (and artists) have had an ingrained, if problematic, relation to the Chinese state.

(Note:  Due to vast gender inequalities prevalent in the nature of both the western and eastern art worlds (as with the cultural apparatus in this regard as well) this list contains mostly male artists.  However we have begun to see a smattering of female artists begin to come out of the Chinese art worlds only recently, and even a few exhibitions of their work given over to their work.  A later post will look at a selection of these women artist! Good stuff.)

Ai Weiwei, Documenta 12 Installation, Template, 2007

Ai Weiwei

At the moment one of the most well know and notorious of contemporary artists within the Chinese State, Ai Weiwei’s work continually expounds the intersections of normalized iconography and re-conceptual imaginings.  Using an immense and complex instance of divergent mediums – from Photography, architecture, installation sculpture to performance art – many of Ai’s works attempt to dismount the ideology of icons, cultural positioning and social vestiges through the humor of critique and application of interrogation.  His work often is directed to actively contest symbolic Chinese sites, and the sites of Chinese symbols, with wittily politicized actions, signs, mediums and gestures. His pivotal work on the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium was gesturally withdrawn by him as a critique of the Chinese Communist Party.

Ai Weiwei was a son the renowned poet Ai Qing who fell from Mao Zedong’s favor and, due to this; Ai spent his seminal years of youth in a Xinjiang labor camp as part of his father’s political reassessment and re-education. This disturbing incident informs much of the direction of influence to Ai’s work which is founded on a directly political stylistics and strong governmental critique.

See Ai Weiwei hompage here.

Yue Minjun, Hat Series – Armed Forces, 2005

Yue Minjun
Considered the most famous contemporary artist, Yue Minjun’s exploratory self-portraits are well-known for their stringently bemused sarcasm and teetering intensity of institutional skepticism. Working in a caustic surrealistic style which has been dubbed Chinese “cynical realism”, Yue Minjun nonetheless rejects the underlying connection his work has with this “movement”. The signature and exaggerated “laughing bark” is both prominent and prevalent throughout the execution of most of Yue’s work and become a means to detail a disquieting disconnection between the overly gleeful facial (and redundant) expressions and the  unsettling content combined with the desperate scenes they elucidate. (His work Execution, set a record for the most costly Chinese contemporary artwork sold to date coming in to around 5.9 million USD.)

See Ye Minjun page at the Saatchi Gallery.

Cai Guoqiang, Fallen Blossoms 2009

Cai Guo-Qiang

Using the excessive pyrotechnics of display and spectacle Cai began his concerns of excess and awe after moving to Japan. His most famous of “detonation happenings”, from which his most obvious notice from the international community was incurred, was the fireworks spectacle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Though still working in Japan Cai garners his multitude of visualizations from an array of Chinese iconography and concepts and his current production includes sculpture and painting. His frequent assessments of his own work are steadily political and have made him and his productions a controversial item within his homeland.

See Cai Guo-Qiang’s homepage here.

Zhang Xiaogang, Big Family 1998 (from Bloodline Series)

Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang is looked upon as a fundamental integrator of symbolist portraiture, everyday surrealist, and tonal field painter working within the Chinese context. Using unspecified and anonymous portraits of families and individuals, which draw heavily upon inspiration from, both, the emblematic generic family snapshot and Mao era family photo portraits, Zhang works with the collectivist Chinese character and the unsettled encounters with a painterly European field and international individualistic ideology. His signature conceptual, and painterly, stylistics is the use of reoccurant facial features within familial ties to represent an uneasy and expressionless collectivism submerging the individual with the flat detail of color to denote eruption of a miniscule individuality.  The Portraiture work, which is reminiscent of standardized studio photos  and detailed primarily in a dispersive gray leaking to nebulous black and white, is disrupted by locations of color carefully alluding to the turmoil of the expressive subjective countering both the surface of painterly sameness and contained guise of the group.

See Zhang Xiaogang’s Website here, or his description at Saatchi Gallery here.

Zhang Huan, 1/2, 1998

Zhang Huan

Beginning his artistic career as a performance artist and photographer in Beijing Zhang used his exposed body as the frail testing site for explorations of the milieu and the uncontrollable circumstances of the human. Zhang’s more recent work explores the conglomerate of people and how this infuses and alters the world around them.   Zhang’s use of human physical presence is used in a number of recent works including his intriguing To Raise the Water Level in a Fish Pond by One Meter  where he photographed the displacement of water though the partial submersion of  40 migrant workers.

See Zhang Huan’s Webpages here. Or Zhang’s Altered States site at the Asia Society which has many quotes from the Artist.

Fang Lijun, Untitled 2, 2005

Fang Lijun
One of the prominent members of china’s “cynical realism” movement, Fang’s signature imagery of the bald repetitive figure was settled upon in his early paintings and would find home throughout his work until very recently. Fang’s work explores the philosophical and political dilemma continually at play between the elaboration of the individual and the mechanisms of the collective (which is shared by the majority of the “cynical realist” painters).

A runthrough of Fang Lijun’s Cynical Realism by Ben Davidson at Beijing Scene.  Or An Assesment of Fang Lijun at Artzine (Chinese contemporary Art)

Wang Guangyi, Swatch, 2006

Wang Guangyi
Recognized figure within the  “political pop” movement of China (Initiated by influences of the American Pop movement in the 80’s, and though small comparatively to other movements within China, members include – Yu Youhan, Li Shan, Liu Dahong, Feng Zhengjie, Zeng Hao, and Li Bangyao), Wang Guangyi reinvests the definitive propaganda posters of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) with the compulsive advertising imagery of the commodity culture to illuminate the capitalist containments of the post-industrial era . His Great Criticism series, was a means for Wang to incorporate the graphic display of Western marketing logos with the cultural display of the defined and idealized Chinese soldier/worker. The integration of images, collectivist propaganda and empty branding icon, gave a lilting and comic critique to the unlikely convergence of controlled uniformity emanating from Mao-era iconographic propaganda melded (and ideologically intersecting) with the relentless western advertising.

See Escape into Life’s short portrait of Wang Guangyi with many examples of work. Art Asia Pacific does a good synopsis of the direction of Guangyi’s work in “Reasoning with Idols”.

Gu Wenda, China Monument, Temple of Heaven 1998

Gu Wenda
A contemporaneous leader of the ’85 Movement (1985 was a seminal year for the development of the Chinese art production. The Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, 1983(see Wendy Larson’s excellent essay “Realism, Modernism and the Anti-spiritual Pollution Campaign in China”, pdf), had been ended against “western style liberalism. Released from the restraints of the Pollution Campaign, multitudinous new art and numerous art groups expanded across many and divergent mediums –literature, dance, music, visual art, film. This historical art phenomenon came to be known as the ’85 Movement).  Originally working within woodcarving and traditional Chinese calligraphy in an attempt to simplify the Chinese language (The process of simplifying Chinese characters was officially started in 1950, the year after the People’s Republic of China was founded. The final list of simplified characters and radicals was published in 1956, though work continues and is debated*). , Gu later began to import cross discipline imagery to his work in the midst of the explosions initiated by the 85 wave of arts. Visiting the United States in 1987 Gu became engrossed in the entanglement of humans within the mechanism of globalism and how a art my resist the conformity of commodification of the subject. Using the locale of the body to create his art Gu hopes to confront the contested tyranny of the normal by producing worked based from the body and its products. (See the United Nations Project created via human hair).

See Gu Wenda’s site.  Or Artzine’s synopsis of Gu’s work.

Zeng Fanzhi,Mask Series No 19 2011

Zeng Fanzhi
At first sight, Zeng Fanzhi’s work may be classed with the “cynical realism” movement. However, his use of a pensive reflective existential iconography wanders beyond the “cynical realists” questionings of the collectivist and the social/political, and instead moves distinctly towards an confrontation of the  individuality of the isolated (and isolated) person captured in a emphatically unresolved emotional display.  Daily emotive incidents formulate the elements of his work and the shared human confrontations of the solitary individual are his focus. Zeng’s work presents a simplistic and almost kitschy attack on painterly surface, with clashing scale and ambiguous depths, to look at the mute isolation and confrontational seclusion which confronts the ubiquitous urban dwellers of the global age.

Saatchi’s profile of Zeng Fanzhi.  And Artzine’s profile.

Zhang Dali, Demolition, Forbidden City Beijing 1998

Zhang Dali
Urban activist and Graffiti artist Zhang Dali is most known for his multitude of divergent self-portraits created through action and spray-painting onto the decaying structure of thousands of abandoned and crumbling structures in Beijing. A critique of the direction of urbanism and controlled capitalism of the new regime these portraits became an inscription of individual loss and submersion in the development and destruction of the elderly by the careening mobility of the new, but questionably dispersed, political economy. (see also: his work, Chinese Offspring (2003-5) with full life Resin figures of migrant workers displayed upside down connoting the tenuousness of the unrecognized individual within the nation-state.)

Artzine’s profile.

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* After the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, the government began an institutionally sanction simplification of Chinese characters. In 1950, the Education Department of the Chinese Republic compiled the first of its registration forms for simplified characters. In 1951, the first comprehensive list of simplified Chinese characters was published, which included 555 characters. 1956 saw the officially published The Plan for Simplifying Chinese Characters in the state-run paper the Peoples Daily (The paper is an organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC)). In 1964 The Glossary of Simplified Characters, was published which included 2,261 complicated characters and 2,235 simplified characters.

acrackedmoon, over at Requires only that you Hate, takes a metaphoric sledgehammer to the Southern Vampire Mystery (Sookie Stackhouse) novels of Charlaine Harris which follow the adventures of a odd telepathic waitress in a world where Vampires have “outed” themselves to the world. In four scathing parts Acrackedmoon performs a no holds bared rundown of the novels and the inherent undisguised racism, misogyny and just plain bad writing to be found there. As the writer puts it at the onset of the series:

Let’s start off with this: while it’s possible to like things that are problematic, I genuinely don’t understand what there is to like about these books. Is it the shitty writing? Is it the misogyny? Is it the jingoism? Is it the rampant, raging, explicit and relentless racism?

I’m not talking about the show, which I understand is slightly less racist than the books. This isn’t some “reading too much into it” thing; this isn’t even social justice crusading stuff. The racism in these books is absolutely obvious, undeniable, and constant. There is nothing redeeming in these books. There’s nothing good about them. All they do is confirm that barely-literate fiction that affirms and endorses popular bigotries will enjoy great popularity and commercial success.

From Dead To Worse: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Charlize Theron as Evil Queen

Ruby Soup with Pearl Juice’s Maaretta looks at two contemporary pop products and details the incessant voice of stereotypes strumming through the narrative products.

The supposed re-evaluation of the Snow White myth in current filmic recountings is devastated in this detailed look at Forgotten Progress:”Snow White And The Huntsman” Reinforces Gender Stereotypes Despite Claims of the active feminine heroine.

As the author notes: “Many movies fail to portray women and men in an enlightened way, but few fail to do so in such a dishonest and outright depressingly hilarious way as “Snow White and The Huntsman”. The characters of Snow White, The Huntsman and the Evil Queen serves up a messy stew of old tired caricatures of the genders and asks us to savor it as feminist cuisine extraordinaire. In the midst of this muddle of narrative flavors the film serves up a few side dishes of antagonists so stupid that their fall is unquestionable and a mini-course of plot-related questions hanging unattended to.”

Desperate Housewives in original cast shot

And with a poignant glance at a show which many felt attached to because of the multiplicity of diverse characters formed around a singular grouping of women,  Maaretta confronts the cheerless truth of An Ending Not So Well: Three Unfortunate Plot Events In The Final Season Of “Desperate Housewives”.

Anita Sarkeesian over at her website Feminist Frequency looks at a number of persistent and continually erupting Tropes regarding Women in the products of Hollywood:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl,  Women in Refrigerators,   The Smurfette Principle,  The Evil Demon Seductress,  The Mystical Pregnancy, and The Straw Feminist.

The six video explorations, with transcripts included at the site, were done in collaboration with Bitch Magazine and form an enlightening and insightful look at popular cultures management of the feminine.

 

Sarkeesian’s next big venture in this regard is her kickstarter (where money is donated to help fund long term work outside of the culture industry) project Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  Check it out the detailed layout of the project and help her along in this ambitious program. Try to help if you can.

 

Lara Croft and wii controls

Along the digital game divide of the gendered gaze Charlie Brooker, over at the Guardian, ponders how sometimes it’s hard to be a woman especially when you are made out of pixels.  A mischievous glance at the boys thinking about the digital woman (with focus on Ms. Packman and Laura Croft), with a veiled, but supportive, shout out to Ms. Sarkeesian who is delicately identified as “a female culture critic”.

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Peggy Ahwesh, Still from “She Puppet” 2001

Update I: How could I forget?:

The diverse and eclectic experimental film/video artist Peggy Ahwesh, who came to prominence with the  groundshattering film study of the construction of the female subjectivity in“From Romance to Ritual” (1985), uses the gaming action of Lara Croft (Ahwesh captured video while playing through the game) to analyze the image as the borderguards of thought in her 2001 series “She Puppet”.   Croft is redefined in the non-linear captures of the video game quest (with a entrancing voice-over) to both illuminate and undermine the curtailing ideological gradiants of the feminine in the dominant Sign systems of Cultural Imagery.  The Video piece is in its entirety below, and can be seen also at her video postings. Definitely take a look!

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Update II: What?

In the new redesign of Tomb Raider video game executive producer Ron Rosenberg  announced that in order to make Lara Croft less inclined to be objectified as a sex object  her character will become a potential victim of rape. Rosenberg elaborated on the scenario to be included, which is founded on a number of “island scavengers” attempting sexual assault on the Iconic Gaming Heroine, as a advancement of her character because “She is literally turned into a cornered animal. It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

Trailer of Tomb Raider gameplay 2012

Alyssa Rosenberg, over at Think Progress, has an open letter to those who told her that this is what they’ve been waiting for: “In last week’s conversation about the fact that Lara Croft will be threatened with sexual assault in the latest release of Tomb Raider, commenter Yitzhak Ben-Moshe wondered “One wonders how many sick puppies will let it go and watch the rape happen. Disgusting.” No sooner had he said that than two people showed up in the feed to validate his fears. “As long as you get to watch Lara Croft get raped uncensored, I’ll pre-order the special edition right now,” wrote Jordan Cunningham. “I been wanting to see that foe nearly a decade.” And Eric Ericsson chimed in “Rape in my tomb raider? Oh boy, I cannot wait to raid her tomb.This letter is to them.”

Movie Poster and Colors since 1914

Vijay Pandurangan gives us a breakdown of colors used in movie posters by the year beginning in 1914.  Visit the site to get the specifics year to year!

“The movies whose posters I analysed “cover a good range of genres. Perhaps the colors say less about how movie posters’ colors as a whole and color trends, than they do about how genres of movies have evolved. For example, there are more action/thriller/sci-fi [films] than there were 50-70 years ago, which might have something to do with the increase in darker, more ‘masculine’ shades.”

Urban Fantasy, 2009. Zhang Xianyong

Paul and Rene ponder, over at Feministe, where the mothers have disappeared to in contemporary Urban Fantasy Fiction (the genre which embeddes supernatural entities into modern living settings).

”Just because Urban Fantasy is largely produced by women and consumed by women does not mean that it is free of sexism and misogyny. When it comes to motherhood, a role that most women will one day assume, it is hardly surprising that within the genre most examples are highly problematic — when they appear at all.

The lack of representation of motherhood is so extreme that the viewer is forced to ask is, “where are the mothers?”. It seems like such an odd question, because you’d expect most characters, like most people, to have a mother lurking around somewhere; especially since most of the heroines in these stories are young women or even teenagers. Search as we might, the mothers are conspicuous by their absence.”

Check out the rest, or just visit Paul and Rene at Fangs for Fantasy

Yohji Yamamota, Bride, 1998

Michael Braithwaite over at Bitch Media gives some thoughts on the wedding dress as social signifier and its ideological import in his short essay Bridal Party: Pomp, Power, and the Myth of Virginity

“Historically, weddings have been the ritualistic symbols of the exchange of property and the unification of power, and so brides from particularly wealthy families used their dresses as a way to show off their socioeconomic status.”

For more broad background information:  Check out Ohio State University’s site of the Wedding Dress Tradition (exhibition of “Wedding Traditions” from Early Victorian times to the Present) which has a overview of the Apparel and Meanings.

And for A Social History of the Men’s Suit, see here!

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Construction Chart #1, 1975

From the 80’s to approximately the mid’90’s art was attempting a working through of ideas propounded by the integration of a number of issues (deconstruction, originality, subjectivities, otherness, mediation) into the matrix of Postmodernism.  After the mid 90’s however a re-evaluation of several notions of postmodernism were either directly confronted and resisted, or altered and elaborated, to accommodate problematics of the systems that the integrated theory of postmodernism implied and the art produced within this project entailed.  Thinking and practices which came to have a large influence in art practice and theory of the last 10 years can be put down to:

Relational Aesthetics (Sometimes known as Participation theory, or Post-production theory) – though a bit circumscribed by Nicolas Borriaud’s thinking (who brought this notion to its 21st century position with his books Relational Aesthetics (pdf) and PostProduction (pdf)), this theory is a elaboration of the trajectory of thinking about the spectator being pivotal or primary to the creation of the individual art-work.  Begun by the Russian formalists in their notion of “making strange” to the viewer and ending with a social elaboration art postulated by the concept of Postproduction (Borriaud’s idea that art was produced in engagement with the work):  The core idea, with some leeway between the many thinkers’* who embraced this notion, is the artwork is only activated, or becomes, art through the  intervention of the viewer.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled 1992

Inbetween theory – sometimes called Liminal or Third Space theory this direction of thinking continues the elaboration of our endlessly negotiated spaces and the social construction of reality and temporal subjectivity(s) which the postmodern moment instigated.  Intersubjectivity  is underscored as the activity which forms the representational systems which “transparently” (which means for these thinkers what society and language decide and is placed by social agreement as real) detail conceptual categories (objects and structure of the world) which are accepted as forming the world. This view wishes to highlight the activities which are compounded to construct personal awareness through the social negotiations. Underlining of the constructive aspect of society, the notion of the liminal attempts to make apparent the arbitrary, and hierarchically static, state of the system with the result being a conscious criticality of the individual towards the over-determined social arrangement.  This suspension, which constitutes the residence of the aware subject in a third space, creates the possibility of alternative and resistive sites to the normative evaluations which a society imposes upon system, ideas, and individual. Thinkers include Victor Turner (liminal), Homi Bhabha (third space (pdf) in the book The Location of Culture), and, gathering a renewed interest in the artworld, Hannah Arendt (The sphere of activity in the book The Human Condition)

Gift Theory – was to postulate an alternative circulation of the art object and discuss the notion of “cultural capital”.  In opposition to a market idea of the art object and the ideas gathered around the object in its monetary routes, Gift theory spoke of the circulations of non-reciprocal giving which the art object had and was carried out between itself and members of a social viewing group.  Culture Capital was the accumulation of ideas formed by the viewers and growing as discussion accrued and abounded around the object.  This alternative capital was to be a system of freely flowing ideas outside of the market and accumulation of monetary capital, and was to be see as a fundamental crux to understanding a culture and determining what it was.  Marcel MaussPierre-Félix Bourdieu and Georges Bataille are mainstay thinkers about this idea, but tied to this idea strongly was the concept of excess and flow (Nietzsche and Deleuze), as the ideas around the art object are continually expanding, forming and shifting within the culture, and so need be incorporated into this theoretical model.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Secession, 2008

Archive theory – the collection and organization of objects/image as a socially organized and constrained system was explored in this thinking. This direction of thought looked at the ideas we have of the world and how the archive is formed to reflect these ideas and contain them.  As the (1) Archive limits and constrains possible readings, (2) lays out explicit and implicit rules for what and how things fit into the archive, and (3) organizes how subjects are to conceptualize the aspect of the world the archive documents; thinking regarding the archive was a method to destabilize this in order to construct alternative archives and discursive potential.   This theory had ascendance in the art world from 2002 till approximately 2008 (Hal Foster, Foucault’s and Derrida’s thinking in this regard), and is now having a rebirth in interest, and its implications, in the contemporary art world.

Marina Abramovic, Freeing the Voice

Performativity Theory – This theory set has a diverse set of thinkers and art practioners behind it and therefore, though important, is more theoretically diverse than the preceding models.  Though initiated in art thinking by the theory of Judith Butler who conceived of this within a “after” post-structuralist feminism (The binary concepts of masculine-feminine should be abandoned for a purely performative construction of personhood (pdf-Gender Trouble) which is continual and never-ending) , Interactive, Performance, and Process Art had an earlier formative influence on this movement.  Performativity theory has as a core issue the integration of plurality and uninterrupted performance to produce individuals and ideas.  As each unique performance instigates drift (unless the performance is motivated to be repeatedly normative) transgression of theoretical and material boundaries (both must be performed constantly) will be incessantly encountered and detailed.  Awareness and confrontation of the continuous performance of both subjects and ideologies displays the underlying non-hierarchies and instabilities of which the world is formed and becomes a platform for interrogating experience and the self.

Sarah Charlesworth Figures, 1983

Affect theory – This is the most recent inclination in art practice and theory is used to supersede the constraint and rejection that postmodernism placed on “presence” and “immediate experience”. This notion conceives of an affective response to stimulation which is immediate and spontaneous. Because of this non-mediated response we may use this to evade the constraints of language containment, training, normalized thinking and have in experience unstructured and unique alignments to the world and thought.  This immediacy of reaction forms a grounding towards unique arrangements to elements of the world and can be used as a resistant strategy to authoritative ideologies.    Many theorists and thinkers have approached this from Deleuze (Cinema I and II, the Affective Image) to feminists such as Sara Ahmed.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Breitmore Series Roberta Construction Chart 2, 1975

How these theories are to amalgamate within the current directions in art, and what the historical and social assessments of these directions of thought will be, is still to be measured and discerned, even within the art community. The myriad and dispersed directions though follow the course of thinking which art, even its modernist manifestations, has moved towards in the contemporary era. To see and understand these movements and thinkers, and how they break or continue the trajectories of postmodernism, is to get a initial grasp on the diffuse, but meaningful, cloud of current art thinking.

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* Included also in Participation theory is the Situationists game of “Detourement” where the “spectator” was to follow rules to re-see and reconstruct the world; the notion of the death of the author (Foucault and Barthes) where the work was formed by the viewed creating a “text” which becomes the art object; and Duchamp with “the Creative Act” (1957).