Rancière on Rupture and Dissensus

“This is, after all, what ‘critique’ means: separation. When Rousseau wrote his Lettre sur les spectacles, this separation was emblema­tized by the apparently innocuous description of an ancient statue, that by Johann Joachim Winckelmann of the Torso of the Belvedere. The break inaugurated by his description lay in its account of the statue as deprived of all that which, in representational logic, makes it possible to define bodily expressions and anticipate the effects of their viewing. The statue has no mouth enabling it to deliver messages, no face to express emotions, no limbs to command or carry out action.

Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian – Belvedere Torso – 2nd Century BC

Even so, Winckelmann considered it to be a statue of Hercules no less, the hero of the Twelve Labours. But for him it is the statue of an idle Hercules, sitting among the Gods at the end of his labours. At its core, what this description expresses is an identity of opposites: in it activity and passivity merge together, forming an equivalence whose sole expression lies in the muscles of the torso that ripple with the same indifference as ocean waves. This mutilated statue of an idle hero, unable to propose anything to imitate, was, according to Winckelmann, the epitome of Greek beauty, and so also of Greek liberty. His description sums up thus the paradoxical efficacy of art. No longer predicated on the addition of a feature to expression and movement — such as an enigmatic power of the image — this efficacy is, on the contrary, based on an indifference and radical subtraction or withdrawal. This very same paradox is conceptualized by Schiller in terms of aesthetic ‘free play’ and ‘free appearance’, phe­ nomena that he regarded as having been epitomized not in a headless statue but in a torso-less head – that of the Juno Ludovisi. This head, he thought, is characterized by a radical indifference, a radical absence of care, will or designs. (…) Continue reading

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Lewis on Wall, Photography and Painting

“One of the ways in which photography has been presented as art by critics, curators and artists over the last thirty years is by emphasizing, against most ‘evidence’ to the contrary, how the hand of the artist can be seen in his or her photographs. As if it were necessary to resuscitate the ghost of painting from inside the photograph in order to demonstrate that it isn’t really a photograph at all, but a work of art by other means. Perhaps some of Wall’s early photographs, where references to painting were more precise, have provided ammunition for those who have wished to present his work as being different from photography per se. But a citation is not to be confused with a negation. A reference to a painting in a photograph, for instance, shouldn’t necessarily impress upon us the idea of photographic iconoclasm. It’s true that in the case of some artists’ photographs, explicit references to painting are part of a painterly surrogacy, one that tries to negate the obvious materiality of the photograph. These, to my mind, are always weak works. but in Wall’s case such references, if references they are, are attempts to establish photographic effect as a historically accrued phenomenon, a recognition affirming the photograph’s invention and development as belonging to the history of pictures.

Jeff Wall, Adrian Walker, artist, drawing from a specimen in a laboratory in the Department of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1992 © Jeff Wall, c/o Marian Goodman gallery.

To depict something photographically is to make a picture of it, and therefore other pictures of this ‘it’, or things like it, live inside the photograph as part of its historical legibility. Equally, Wall’s photographs necessarily reinvent our relationship to these other pictures; they make them new again in some way. The references in Wall’s work can often be quite accidental—simply the effect of images having a quotational life all of their own without any conscious mobilization by the artist. It’s difficult to know how and when such ‘unintentional’ references can find their way into a work of art, and their appearance is always a little shocking. If it happens in Wall’s work, it’s because he isn’t frightened to let the photograph do its own work, its own job, which is to work inside and reinvent the history of pictorial forms. Wall’s photography, then, is quite the opposite of a negation: it is a veritable affirmation of photography.”

— Mark Lewis “Jeff Wall: Photographer” in Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition.

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Kozloff on the Plasticity of Genre

“For some time, we’ve been breathing an atmosphere where photographic media reflect upon themselves, even as some imagists within them claim an artistic vantage outside the media. Modern art is notable for ingesting popular media, either for ironic or topical comment. As media contrive nothing less than our image environment, and therefore convey vital subject matter, they could hardly be overlooked. But they were – and are – appropriated by artists on a “higher” conceptual plane, legislated as long ago as Cubist collage. A kind of internal collage has infiltrated the publicity functions and the industrial folklore of photography. Where portraits are concerned, this process has reflected a humanity at some variance from the way people appear in known genres. Historians like to structure modern art according to its presumed order of movements and phases. That structure is now eroded within the myriad compartments of photographic culture, whose workers are apt to put on more or less convincing airs of artistic consciousness. Undeclared motives now mingle in a traffic of untoward expressions. Innovational modern art never had a strict genre structure to break down and depart from. For want of a new territory to conquer, the fictional energies of art have penetrated into the factual and material basis of photography. Presently, we see that a picture land has appeared, expansive yet uncharted in its shape. We behold acts of witness that are frequently muffled and media messages that are increasingly scrambled. ‘High’ and ‘low’ do nowadays get on with each other, sometimes easily, yet sometimes not. What remains clear is photography’s dependence upon the indispensable constraints that it is leaving behind. Without them, we would be hard put to notice the difference between how things look and the way they are made to look. The generic is too useful to have seen its time, but meanwhile, let us be grateful for the genres.”

— Max Kozloff “Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography,” in TATE Etc, Issue 13, Summer 2008.


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Picon on the Landscape

“Instead of being faced with traditional machines like the locomotive or the automobile, we find ourselves more and more in contact with a world of quasi-objects, of terminals, connectors and networks. These latter no longer possess the individuality that philosophers like Gilbert Simondon once attributed to technical objects. As if to echo this new reality, English-speaking historians of science and technology talk readily of the “seamless web” of contemporary technology. The absence of perceptible seams does not, however, mean that the contemporary technological landscape is without fractures. Whether at the planetary or national level, the Internet alone reflects the imbalances of economic and social development. More generally, in following the lines and folds of the social body like both a tight-fitting and creased garment, tight and creased to the point of rupture, technology and the city seem to organize themselves around thresholds and edges too numerous to count. But these striations do not form an articulated system; they appear rather like a veil, analogous to those often complicated background screens against which the icons of computer applications and data processing files stand out. In other words, technology and the contemporary city are simply discontinuous. Yet they appear at the same time to be sheets of cloth from the same bolt.”

Antoine PiconAnxious Landscapes: From Ruin to Rust” in Grey Room No. 1, Fall 2000

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Campany on the banality of Universal Photographic Language

“If, as we are often told, the photograph is a universal form of communication, it is only at the level of the obvious and the already understood. It is clichés and only clichés that bind us in this increasingly fragmentary world, argued Gilles Deleuze. Indeed, what there is of a “global language of photography” is made up of images of commodities, celebrities, sunsets, and other clichés of locality. “Viewzak.””

David Campany in the excellent essay “Photography, Encore” from Time Present: Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection

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One off: John Divola.

John Divola, “10 seconds, 12_15_2010, 3-29PM to 3-42PM PST, 34. 166301,-116.033714,” from As Far As I Could Get, 2010







From the series As Far As I Could Get, in which each image was “made by pushing the self-timer button on my camera and running as fast as I could away from the camera. An exposure is made in 10 seconds.”

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Rancière on Art, Politics and Reality

“There is no ‘real world’ that functions as the outside of art. Instead, there is a multiplicity of folds in the sensory fabric of the common, folds in which outside and inside take on a multiplicity of shifting forms, in which the topography of what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ are continually criss-crossed and displaced by the aesthetics of politics and the politics of aesthetics. There is no ‘real world’. Instead, there are definite configura­tions of what is given as our real, as the object of our perceptions and the field of our interventions. The real always is a matter of construction, a matter of ‘fiction’, in the sense that I tried to define it above. What characterizes the mainstream fiction of the police order is that it passes itself off as the real, that it feigns to draw a clear-cut line between what belongs to the self-evidence of the real and what belongs to the field of appearances, representations, opinions and utopias. Consensus means precisely that the sensory is given as univocal. Political and artistic fictions introduce dissensus by hollowing out that ‘real’ and multiplying it in a polemical way. The practice of fiction undoes, and then re-articulates, connections between signs and images, images and times, and signs and spaces, framing a given sense of reality, a given ‘commonsense’. It is a practice that invents new trajectories between what can be seen, what can be said and what can be done.”

Jacques Rancière “The Paradoxes of Political Art” in Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics [2010]

Alec Soth – Babyland General Hospital, Cleveland, Georgia, from Songbook [MACK, 2015]

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Beshty on the Neutralisation of Self

Alec Soth – Walmart, Williston, North-Dakota, from Songbook [MACK, 2015]

In this model of social anomie we lose ourselves in the ebb and flow of a realised utopia of our desires. Our perpetual movement between the limbos of non-places, such as airport terminals, thruways, malls, housing developments and pre-fab communities – all realisations of some form of consumptive desire – creates a sense of place wholly dissociated from previous ideas of specificity, be they regional, historical or temporal. Our downtowns are made to appear and feel like the malls that had once displaced them, our front yards are decorated with the same wood chip and shrub islands we witness at corporate office parks, our airports declare their own attractiveness as destinations in themselves, a status once limited to the cities they are located in. Thus we fear we are defined by such places, emerging as subjects who demand and are comforted by such control, even empowered by it, and yet are simultaneously subordinated, and de-individualised through the aggregation of our wants and needs. As we spread our culture everywhere, our own identity becomes catastrophically generalised, diluted, and at the moment globalisation completes its mythical project, completely dissolved.

— Walead Beshty “Notes on the Subject Without Qualities: From the Cowboy Flaneur to Mr Smith” in Afterall, No. 8 Autumn/Winter 2003

Alec Soth – Facebook, near Menlo Park, California, from Songbook [MACK, 2015]


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Solnit on the Californian Landscape

“One of the reasons often given to explain why the American film industry settled in Hollywood is Southern California’s ability to simulate almost any part of the world: it has lush agricultural areas, deserts, mountains, forests, oceans and open space in which to build Babylon or Atlanta, all drenched in ceaseless light. That is to say, to be in California is to be everywhere and nowhere and usually somewhere else (in the posher parts of LA every house seems to be dreaming of elsewhere: this half-timbered job is in the Black Forest and that one next door is the Alhambra). And as the Los Angeles writer Jenny Price recently remarked, to say ‘I ate a doughnut in Los Angeles’ is a different thing altogether from saying ‘I ate a doughnut.’ The invocation of LA throws that doughnut on a stage where it casts a long shadow of depravity or opportunity (which, here, might be the same thing). She added that just as Lévi-Strauss once remarked that animals are how we think, so Los Angeles, and by extension California, are also how we think – about society, about urbanism, about the future, about morality and its opposite. It’s as though, in the golden light, everything is thrown into dramatic relief, everything is on stage acting out some drama or other.”

Rebecca Solnit “Checking out the Parking Lot” in London Review of Books, July 2004

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Kozloff on the Melancholy Landscape

“…the picture of nature today may testify to the damage men have done to their environment, a damage possibly so extreme as to hasten human and animal fate. With both the earlier moralizing tradition and the current instance of it, landscape is conceived as an artifact of culture. But unlike its predecessor, the present culture leaves new traces of disorder and anomaly within the old landscape construct. We glimpse a prelude to a future that once was inconceivable but now may not even be remote: the irrevocable extinction of certain living things. The pastoral tradition had been expressive in its awareness of the natural cycle in which death and birth replace each other. Now, instead of discovering the ephemerality of sensate life in an enduring scene of beauty, the viewer must face the fragility of the scene itself — a tableau of repulsive contingencies that do not strike us as either culture or nature.”

— Max KozloffGhastly News from Epic Landscapes” in Jeu de Paume, April 2014.

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