Walk the press

03 juillet 2008

Art and language: performance

There is a manifest relation between language and art. This link has become more and more visible with the recent evolutions of art, let’s say for fifty years. But the relationship between speaking and creating seems to be a very wide spread fact, if not a universal one. For what concerns our culture, this is a common statement that creating has been associated to word since the fundamental texts referring to creation are always structured by a performative1 utterance: it is for example the case with the “fiat lux” of the genesis or with the beginning of the Gospel of John, that claims:


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Fruit_Dish__Quotidien_du_MidiLet’s take a look at the context of the slight shift that allowed a new link between art and language to take place. A significant element is the linguistic turn that occurred in philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century. A revolution happening in mathematics and related to logics had a strong influence on philosophy, and a new branch appeared, mainly in Anglo-Saxon countries, which we can call “analytic philosophy”. Its aim was to undertake the logical clarification of language in order to reject some of the traditional questions asked in metaphysics. The great names associated to the beginning of analytic philosophy are Frege and Russell. But the greatest influence of analytic philosophy on art comes from Ludwig Wittgenstein. The large impact of his work can be estimated if we consider how conceptual artists often refer to him. An other revolution concerning language happened approximately at the same time: it is the invention of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud. He showed that the structure of language implements an unconscious mind. On the artistic level this discovery gave raise to surrealism. We have then found two main roots for the renewed occurrence of language in art, and we can link it to two names: Freud and Wittgenstein.


Th e place of language in surrealism is crucial, since the main manifestation of this current occurred on the literary level. With surrealism, we can’t separate any more writing from drawing. André Breton expressed it in his definition of surrealism, given in the first Surrealist Manifesto: the purpose of surrealism is “to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought”. The artists’ practice tended indeed to mix all the ancient domains. That can be seen as the consequence of one of the main features of surrealism: liberation of the human mind from its institutional frame. This blending of many different practices is visible with the collages. This practice is inherited from dadaism and cubism. Braque already used words in his paintings. With surrealism, dadaism and some other trends that often refer to these two movements (as, for example, situationism and Guy Debord’s practice), we then have a unified field of artistic practices involving language. Their unity is provided by a particular way of using words on the image. One important feature is the “non sequitur”, that characterizes the link between the text and the image or, to be more accurate, the absence of link between the elements. Language occurs here in the general frame of free association in order to destroy any logical stranglehold, that would be an institutional stranglehold.duchamp


It’s an acknowledged fact that Marcel Duchamp is the father of conceptual art, since he first allows artists to play on the conceptual field. The ready made is not a work of art by itself. In fact, we should say that the work of art lies in the analysis of the presentation of the ready made in a museum. This object is not art but its situation is art. That little gap between the object and its situation introduces the possibility of conceptual art. The new problem of art is then to answer the question: does art lie in the object that embodies the idea, or does it already lie in the idea itself? The immediate corollary is: Is the realisation necessary, or can the work of art be independent of any embodiment? With these considerations, we clearly can see that what is difficult and interesting with conceptual art is that it plays on a philosophical level. We could say that the “raison d’être” of conceptual art is this questioning about art. And this questioning can only take place in language, because this is the only medium that is sufficiently articulated to provide a field for reflection. Marcel Duchamp’s ready made introduces language with the signature of the artist. This little scrabble implies an entire discourse about the work, it’s condition of exposition and the definition of art adopted by the artist. Like in psychoanalysis, a lonely word is an efficient cause that can give raise to hours of talking. With the ready-made, the situation of the work (in a gallery, or in a museum) becomes certainly important, but we could say that the whole artistic act relies in the performative utterance of the artist saying: “it is a work of art”, and that utterance relies in the signature.


Posté par Seb_M à 15:16 - Commentaires [0] - Permalien [#]

02 juillet 2008

Is portrait out of fashion?

Thomas_Gainsborough_022It seems that portraits are not very fashionable. Contemporary art don't produce portraits. We could explain itby saying that a portrait doesn't allow to put on the scene the universality of upper forms of art. Is outer appearance of people lacking their profound way of being? For sure a still life can address more people. But can it drag the same content, can it tell about temperament or the secret nature of human being? In fact there is a general bad feeling concerning portraits in relation with privacy. The modern conception of the sphere of human action defines a sharp frontier between what is relevant to public life and what should be kept at a relative distance of this exterior side. Thus, modern people think, portrait can't touch universal dimensions of our life because it is only related to aspects of our lives that don't interest anyone.
Alexander McCall defends the opposite position in an article of the Guardian published on June 5th. For this novelist : “Great portraiture, of course, transcends the personal.” So portraits should tell us about life, about the social position of the people painted, about their past and their becoming, about their ambitions or their lack of ambition. This is the interesting look of a novelist on the art of portrait. We feel here how novelists think about their work as the sculpture of characters, that is building a coherent point of view on the world. Descriptions put some importance on what could obviously appear as details without significance related to the characters. Depicting a character gives in that way an external look about internal features of a person, its life, its environment. This point about the relationship between internal vs external properties is very interesting in the article of McCall: a glance on the surface may give us the access to the depth of being.

Posté par Seb_M à 14:54 - Commentaires [0] - Permalien [#]

12 juin 2008

Blogs and knowledge

Do blogs contribute to the development of collective knowledge? This question is a particular occurrence of the following question: What are the main impacts of Internet on the democracy? In fact Internet is not a neutral instrument which would only contribute to communication. There is a major gap between communication before Internet and communication after Internet.blogging

Democracy can be seen as an epistemic instrument that produces knowledge about common good and general will. But knowing something about these matters is not neutral. In this context the act of knowing implies the crystallization of facts. We are confronted here to a phenomenon similar as what happens in quantum mechanics during the measuring act. So to say measure creates the data and we can't presuppose that reality preexists our knowledge of it. This aspect of measure is particularly crucial for what concerns democratic choice. This is an important result of political science : the way of calling citizens to urns influences greatly the result. These elements should warn us and make us aware of the possible consequences of new ways of conveying collective choice in the new era of Internet. Not only does the proliferation of blogs constitute a radically new way of making one's opinion public but, moreover, this instrument of expression constructs the opinion. Such reflexions are examined in an article by the philosopher Alvin Goldman.

Posté par Seb_M à 18:08 - Commentaires [2] - Permalien [#]

11 juin 2008

Art and context

Is context essential to the evaluation of an artwork? This question is the subject of a present exhibition described in an article of The Guardian. In this exhibition artworks are presented without any piece of information. Visitors are thus let alone in front of the works and this could make it hard to get oneself through the labyrinth of visual perception which remains. The reputation of an artist is put in the back and left behind the only present value of the singular work presented on the exhibition wall. Taking a term coined by the philosopher Walter Benjamin we could describe this situation as the disappearance of aura. Aura is the value of an artwork seen in its authentic dimension. An icon handmade in the Middle Ages is a unique object that has been produced in a particular way, respecting a particular tradition, with original mediums. In this sense it is not possible to reproduce this object because its value is founded on its being unique. Value originates therefore partly in the own value of the artist who produced the object. On the opposite side aura can't explain the value of the artworks exposed at the exhibition we are talking about. The auratic dimension of these works is in fact not on the scene because the necessary elements are not given to the public. This is an extremist version of the common modern idea that the name is not at the core of value.Klee__Angelus_novus

The question is in that case: where can then the value come from? What does justify the value of the object seen at the exhibition? The answer lies in the principle of the exhibition: the value relies on the pure appearance of the object. This is a stimulus oriented conception of the evaluation that proves to be problematic. In fact an artwork, although it is not valued on the only reference to the name of its creator, shall be valued in reference to the whole network of objects produced by the artist. The value of one piece is not the value of the whole work, but there is a relationship between the whole and the singular objects. An object is therefore inscribed in a coherent series of objects and its valuation can't be independent of it, although it can't be independent of the material presence of the object. This last dimension is a kind of touchstone for the value, but doesn't establish the value.

Posté par Seb_M à 10:17 - Commentaires [0] - Permalien [#]

23 mai 2008

Is free trade with China heretic ?

An article that is to be published next week in the new-yorker outlines that there are many similarities between the positions defended by Clinton and Obama in the primary race. This fact is in itself not surprising. Indeed we should not forget that both senators compete as democrats. In this context the candidates have to distinguish and at the same time they necessarily are attached to common views. The article of the New Yorker doesn’t therefore bring anything new on the table since it only corrects a global deformation due to media lenses.

What is common to both candidates can be named “economic nationalism”. It implies in particular to conduct higher import tariffs on China. What is surprising is that this protectionism is thought as a protection against the unequal wealth repartition. Following this logic the richer would have great benefits to keep on free trade with countries like China, since it enables to produce many goods at sinking costs. Poorer people are discriminated against since they suffer from the low cost of work raised by the international competition on the labor market. The demand for the labor security or for higher wages can’t thus be satisfied. This asymmetry in the effects of importation is meant in the article by the “belief that free trade with developing countries, and with China in particular, is a kind of scam perpetrated by the wealthy, who reap the benefits while ordinary Americans bear the cost.“ We are not interested in the question as to know if a good political strategy relies in differentiating two classes according to their economic interests and the contrasted burden of importations on their wealth.

This is politics. But we would like to emphasize the paradox presented in these terms by the New Yorker : “the very people who suffer most from free trade are often, paradoxically, among its biggest beneficiaries”. There is indeed a double effect of low prices importations. On the one hand it is unfavorable on the labor market. But on the other hand we can’t deny it has positive effects on the product market. It allows indeed to improve globally the purchase power and this is particularly most effective at the level of the low- and middle-classes, since these people concentrate their spending on goods that are subject to international competition more than richer people who expend money for services. Slowing up the importations from China could therefore have dramatic effects on the wealth of the “average American”. That’s why an alternative solution to import tariffs could come from a wealth repartition financed by taxes. If you think that danger is outside, look inside!

Posté par Seb_M à 17:41 - Commentaires [0] - Permalien [#]

15 mai 2008

Google vs Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg died this week, are we told in the New York Times.

Erased_de_KooningWho will be able to show us the world like him? The star of modern art has been known for "Canyon", "Monogram", "Bed". He reinvested the notion of “ready made” played by Duchamp, taking it to a new, more pictorial, dynamic. He extrapolated on the domain of Collages explored by Kurt Schwitters. He had this same sense of assemblage that made Joseph Cornell famous. But for Rauschenberg, no box: the objects have to flee out of the canvas. Moreover, there is simply no canvas: there are canvas, clothes, linen, cotton, wire, yarn, threads. And this is not a spider web that would be closed on itself, but a concrete object taken in the cobweb of existence. Painting is not a surface but becomes thick, covers the things and ties them up. Using newspapers articles, pasted on his works, he let significations play together on unrelated planes. In fact he takes our every day life to a raw material. He explained he could have been a photographer: in that case, he would have photographed the


“inch by inch”. By coincidence, an American firm named Google has just begun to follow his desire to the letter: black cars equipped with rotating cameras drive through the great cities of the world in order to feed the data of “google streetview”.google1

Posté par Seb_M à 22:14 - Commentaires [0] - Permalien [#]