Rancière on Alfredo Jaar.

“There are too many images, so it is rumored, and that is why we make ill-considered judgements. It is true that this criticism takes two apparently contradictory forms. At times it accuses images of submerging us with their sensory power, at times it reproaches them with anesthetizing us by the indifference with which they file past. A few decades ago we were told that images deceive us. The world’s masters make use of their seductiveness to prevent us from seeing the process of domination; better still, to make us accomplices in those processes, by transforming the products of our dispossession into mirrors which we gaze at as happy, proud consumers. That is why social scientists and committed artists have to teach us to read images and to discover the working of the mechanism that produces them and hides itself in them, in order to arm us for the fight. Today we are being told that images blind us. It is not that they conceal the truth. It is that they render it commonplace. Too many images of massacres, of bleeding desensitize us to what for us is a spectacle, moreover not very different from those offered by the fiction of gory films. So we remain indifferent in the face of mass crimes which ought to arouse our indignation and provoke our intervention. Critics and artists must therefore frustrate our voyeuristic habits, they must reduce the number of these images that are anesthetizing us, or even suppress them altogether. That is why Claude Lanzmann repudiates all archival documents on the genocide, Jochen Gerz buries memorial monuments, and Alfredo Jaar conceals his photographs of the Rwandan massacre in boxes, after first leading visitors along corridors placing them before a huge screen of light, empty of any image. (…) Continue reading

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Chaban on the Documentary Image.

“The screen as a representational space offers a constant interplay between different modes of appearance which present themselves conventionally as ontological antinomies: reality and illusion, realism and fantasy, story and non- story, staged and unstaged, etc. It was probably inevitable that when documentary emerged in the 1920s this dualism would be reinforced. If it was rapidly perceived as fiction’s other, this is first of all because it involved the repudiation of fiction in the name of the real.”

— Michael Chaban “The Documentary Field” in The Politics of Documentary

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Jaar on the Photographic Image.

For me, what was important was to record everything I saw around me, and to do this as methodically as possible. In these circumstances a ‘good photograph’ is a picture that comes as close as possible to reality. But the camera never manages to record what your eyes see, or what you feel at the moment. The camera always creates a new reality. I have always been concerned with the disjunction between experience and what can be recorded photographically. In the case of Rwanda, the disjunction was enormous and the tragedy unrepresentable. This is why it was so important for me to speak with people, to record their words, their ideas, their feelings. I discovered that the truth of the tragedy was in the feelings, words, and ideas of those people, and not in the pictures.

— Alfredo Jaar in Alfredo Jaar – Let There Be Light (1999)

Alfredo Jaar – The Eyes of Gutete Emerita : Los ojos de Gutete Emerita (1996)


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Berlant on Normativity under Capitalism

“The desire for a less-bad bad life involves finding resting places; the reproduction of normativity occurs when rest is imagined nostalgically—that is, in the places where rest is supposed to have happened, a fantasy masquerading as screen memory or paramnesia. One might read these repetitions as nostalgia for nostalgia, a kind of desperate regression toward the desire to soon experience an imaginary security one knows without having ever had, and fair enough; but normativity where there is no foundation for the expectation of it beyond a perduring fantasy can also be read as a form of bargaining with what is overwhelming about the present, a bargaining against the fall between the cracks, the living death of repetition that’s just one step above the fall into death by drowning or by hitting the concrete at full speed. It’s a mode of living on with the dread of an eternal present that gets drowned out by the noise of promised normativity’s soothing bustle. This is an empirical question as well as a theoretical one, but one of the empirical questions is about the transmission, content, form, and force of fantasy. For in order for normative conservatism to take hold in fantasy, or in order for fantasy to join ideology, somewhere in there the children learn to fantasize that the bad life that threatens impossibility or death could be a good life that must materialize from all this labor. The intensity of the need to feel normal is created by economic conditions of nonreciprocity that are mimetically reproduced in households that try to maintain the affective forms of middle-class exchange while having an entirely different context of anxiety and economy to manage.”

— Lauren Berlant “Nearly Utopian, Nearly Normal – Post-Fordist Affect in La Promesse and Rosetta” in Public Culture

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Didion on the San Bernadino Valley

“The Mormons settled this ominous country, and then they abandoned it, but by the time they left the first orange tree had been planted and for the next hundred years the San Bernardino Valley would draw a kind of people who imagined they might live among the talismanic fruit and prosper in the dry air, people who brought with them Midwestern ways of building and cooking and praying and who tried to graft those ways upon the land. The graft took in curious ways. This is the California where it is possible to live and die without ever eating an artichoke, without ever meeting a Catholic or a Jew. This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book. This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and a return to hairdressers’ school. “We were just crazy kids,” they say without regret, and look to the future. The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”

— Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, (2000)

Inessa Alone in Shiva’s Courtyard, Modesto, CA, 2012, from The Nine © Katy Grannan, c/o Fraenkel Gallery (SF) & Salon 94 (NY)

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Frank on the West and the Pioneer

“Here was the remotest reach of pioneering, where it fell westward from the Sierras. It had to stop. There was no farther way. The Orient was not a gate but a bar. In the North, newer incentives were already there to transform the balked energy of the frontiersman. The industrial incentives: mining and lumbering and the bridling of great rivers. Not so in the South. Industrialism was still beyond. The pioneer was left to his own resources. And he had none. His energy could not transform, so it drooped. For it is and ever was resourceless, save in the following of a horizon. The air of Southern California is dry. The Pacific surface is not as saline as the Atlantic Ocean. No Gulf Stream murks the sky. A preservative air is that of Southern California. And in it, like the corpse of some vast animal, the pioneer lies supine but in good condition: isolated from all hostile agents, a pretty specimen for the social student. His one activity, the hewing of roads beyond the hills, is gone.”

— Waldo FrankOur America (1919)

Untitled, by Gregory Halpern

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Adams on Photographing Evil

“Few photographers themselves have, however, supported the use of the adjective “concerned” as a way of distinguishing one artist from another; they know firsthand that all art is the product of concern. They believe as a consequence that it has social utility — it is designed to give us courage. Society is endangered to the extent that any of us loses faith in meaning, in consequence. Art that can convincingly speak through form for significance bears upon the problem of nihilism and is socially constructive. (…) Continue reading

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One off: Katy Grannan.

Katy Grannan, “Wolf, Poughkeepsie, NY – 1999″ from “Dream America” in Model American (2005)

Katy Grannan, “Gail and Dale, Pacifica I – 2007″ in The Westerns.

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Excerpt from “Revolutionary Letter #19″ by Diane Di Prima

if what you want is jobs
for everyone, you are still the enemy,
you have not thought thru, clearly
what that means

if what you want is housing,
(GE on the Navaho
a car for everyone, garage, refrigerator,
TV, more plumbing, scientific
freeways, you are still
the enemy, you have chosen
to sacrifice the planet for a few years of some
science fiction utopia (…)

if you want
free psychiatric help for everyone
so that the shrinks
pimps for this decadence, can make
it flower for us, if you want
if you still want a piece
a small piece of suburbia, green lawn
laid down by the square foot
color TV, whose radiant energy
kills brain cells, whose subliminal ads
brainwash your children, have taken over
your dreams

degrees from universities which are nothing
more than slum landlords, festering sinks
of lies, so you too can go forth
and lie to others on some greeny campus

THE ENEMY, you are selling
yourself short, remember
you can have what you ask for, ask for

— Diane Di Prima, “Revolutionary Letter #19” from Revolutionary Letters

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Berlant on the American Dream

“Yet, even as the image of the traumatised worker proliferates, even as evidence of exploitation is found under every rock or commodity, it competes with a normative/utopian image of the U.S. citizen who remains unmarked, framed, and protected by the private trajectory of his life project, which is sanctified at the juncture where the unconscious meets history: the American Dream. In that story one’s identity is not borne of suffering, mental, physical or economic. If the U.S. worker is lucky enough to live at an economic moment that sustains the Dream, he gets to appear at his least national when he is working and at his most national at leisure, with his family or in semipublic worlds of other men producing surplus manliness (e.g. via sports). In the American dreamscape his identity is private property, a zone in which structural obstacles and cultural differences fade into an ether of prolonged, deferred, and individuating enjoyment that he has earned and that the nation has helped him to earn. Meanwhile, exploitation appears as a scandalous nugget in the sieve of memory when it can be condensed into an exotic thing of momentary fascination, a squalor of the bottom too horrible to be read in its own actual banality.”

Lauren Berlant “The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy and Politics” in Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law (1999)

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