First published in FRIEZE Issue 139
by Sarah Hromack
Paul Chan’s new publishing venture and the relationship between physical and virtual methods of book production
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution: 3.0) License (US), though the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed.
A Search for Comity in the Intellectual Property Wars: symposium at The New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, April 28-30, 2006 [slides, audio, transcripts]
download the report [PDF]
Catalog essay now accessible online:
Myself: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraiture
Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Nevada, Reno
January 18 - February 18, 2011
Curated by Marjorie Vecchio
The exhibition and catalogue is dedicated to the memory of amazing young artists Emma Bee Bernstein and Devin Hosselkus.
Exhibition catalogue essay: Myself: A Conversation about Self-Portraiture, Joy Garnett and Mira Schor.
Joy Garnett: I’m trying to remember my last intentional self-portrait; I probably painted it years ago, when I was an art student living in another country. I was learning to express myself in a new language (French), which presented a real challenge for me when defending my work during weekly crits. The whole process, now that I look back on it, was an elaborate self-exploration not unlike self-portraiture, and there was some hunger and deep need involved in this. I routinely made self-portraits back then, incorporating them into still lifes and other kinds of compositions. There was the business of keeping 'likeness' intact, which seemed so important, it was part of the development of a certain kind of acuity that leads past surfaces: tracking the exigencies of the self through likeness. These things were so important to me then!
Lately I have been thinking of the whole process of making art as a kind of selfportraiture, a performance where one repeatedly discovers and renders threads of the self on the spot while working...
Mira Schor: Self-portraiture was an important part of my work at its beginnings. I always say that by the time I left graduate school my agenda was to bring my experience of living inside a female body – with a mind -- into high art in as intact a form as possible. My first interpretation of that was to place a depiction of my body into a narrative and landscape structure. I was doing work somewhat in the genre of Florine Stettheimer just around the time I learned of her work (that is to say, I got to a place and then found out she had gotten there too as had several other important women artists of the surrealist period). My next interpretation was to replace the recognizable self-portrait with a trace of self: my handwriting and diaristic writing as image and subject. In the ‘80s and ‘90s my work turned more towards representation of the politically gendered body and of political and theoretical language – so instead of writing that had a diaristic function my paintings represented the word “painting” or “sign” or “trace” or, in one case, the letters that spelled out “personal writing”. So certainly not conventional selfportraiture yet emerging from a consciousness of my “self” as a character in the game art or the game life.
In the past three or four years I’ve actually turned back towards a kind of selfportraiture, sometimes abstracted, sometimes figurative though not traditionally representational, more like a figure that is an avatar of self.
But because I have this close experience of types of self-portraiture I also can be quite critical of artists who use self-portraiture as a default and unfortunately who just aren’t that interesting! There’s a particularly contemporary wrinkle to this: just like painters may draw themselves because they are the only model who will sit still long enough, now young artists turn the video camera on themselves doing some task or something to their body. I often find that such work can become insular and kind of boringly generic, the opposite of what you hope for in selfportraiture, and I start to long for the reach of cinema, of fiction used to create a structure, a more complex, layered, exteriorization of thought and experience. So looking at the umpteenth variant of what was interesting (and structured) in early Joan Jonas or Yoko Ono, I crave Kurosawa and Ozu, Truffaut and Godard. Think of Toshiro Mifune as a kind of second identity for Kurosawa, or “Antoine Doinel/Jean-Pierre Leaud” as a fictionalized Truffaut and Leaud, again, as a slightly more innocent variant of Godard.
JG: I love Florine Stettheimer...! and I agree with you about what can happen when young artists endlessly turn the camera on themselves. There's a fine line -- or maybe not so fine! -- between propagating a narcissistic 'reality' type spectacle and putting yourself out there. Self-editing is important and difficult, and there's a difference between inviting the viewer into some intimate space, and abusing them with a personal need for catharsis. Revealing certain things about yourself, as opposed to anything and everything, demands a certain kind of restraint; it requires an awareness of something beyond yourself, including the viewers you’re trying to communicate with.
MS: I think that is right, what you say points to the fact that ultimately a selfportrait has to be a work of art beyond just narcissism. You have to understand what is interesting about you: visually, narratively, politically. Hopefully there is something interesting! It’s the same as with actors: they have to understand what is interesting about their appearance, the specificity of their body or voice, and use those qualities, whether they are endowed with great beauty or not. So finally it is the mind of the artist that must be portrayed because it is the mind that gives the artist a meta-understanding of what their body, their image means beyond themselves and that gets back to and ties in with the importance of form.
Florine Stettheimer’s self-portraits are wonderful on a number of levels: her color is intense and rich, her surfaces are beautiful – a white will not just be a flat area but really a sculpture, a bas-relief, and her self-portraiture is usually relational: she exists as part of a matriarchy and a sisterhood of women, her mother and her sisters, and she usually lurks quietly at the edge of the work, a shy presence within a social grouping. She is self-effacing as an image yet the one who is overseeing and pulling it together. Another self-portrait I love is absolutely the opposite in presence, is Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait with a Cigarette from 1923. There are many other Beckmann self-portrait drawings and etchings from that time and earlier (and of course some wonderful other works) but in that one he uses his physicality – a short, squat, strong figure made more so by the way he crowds the small mirror frame and shallow space he has set for the canvas, and he uses his drafting skills to represent his painting hand holding up a cigarette like a weapon. The intensity of his gaze goes beyond just the fact that he is focusing on himself as subject to dominate the viewer as an aesthetic project. The color of the painting is extraordinary, that tough mustard color ground!
Other works that spring to mind, a late painting by Edvard Munch where he just leans into the frame from the side, an eerie presence, older, shambling tall man lurking in his own painting. There is also the beautiful late Bonnard of a balding bespectacled skinny man wrestling his image in the bathroom mirror.
Well, there are so many amazing self-portraits. I realize I’ve just included paintings. I think of video performance art as slightly different. The artist uses her body as an actor or an object. But to complete my thought about the importance of understanding and using the specificity of your body I think Joan Jonas is someone who has always done that very effectively and that is even more noteworthy as she continues to use her body in recent performances. She always has had a kind of Buster Keaton solemnity to her features and it is if anything more effective now that she is older and not relying on the beauty of her youthful body. She becomes a kind of mythic little embodiment of artmaking and of a kind of courage and resilience, as well as of watchful awareness of details of the world she is showing us.
JG: Can we go back for a moment to what you were saying before, about selfportraiture being important to your work's beginnings? Perhaps there is a moment for many young artists when self-portraiture is particularly rich or useful. When I was in my 20s I had the opportunity to study painting in Paris and London. I spent a lot of time, just about every day, roaming through museums, (which, happily for me, offered free admission for students). I was particularly drawn to portraiture and self-portraiture, in both literature and art. James, Proust and Joyce were favorites; I was drawn to Manet and Fragonard, and to Watteau's melancholy clown. When the Musée Picasso opened in Paris, I was living nearby, and I visited frequently. The first installations tracked his early development, which was largely an exploration of the human condition through portraiture, which I found especially compelling.
Now that I think about it, the context for portraiture and especially self-portraiture in Europe is probably different from self-portraiture in an American context. It seems that in Europe, self-portraiture comes out of 19th century literary introspection, and also draws some of its juice from Rembrandt's self-portraits, which combine the mystical with the intensely personal. I saw a lot of Rembrandt in Paris, etchings as well as paintings, and those portraits had a huge impact on me.
Perhaps self-portraiture in American art is more self-exposure than introspection, if not downright exhibitionism. There is the lure of the spectacle, the temptation of self-exposure through mass media; of course, the phenomenon of reality TV has become THE popular medium for self-expression and self-portraiture -- or is it self-caricature? It makes me wonder about how we might 'achieve' introspection today. What are our choices when it comes to making self-referential art, what is the route to self-discovery when we are hell-bent, as a culture, on self-exposure? The two are not the same -- they may even be metaphysical opposites.
I wonder if there are many artists who manage to achieve both introspection and a kind of raw exposure that is contemporary. From the past, perhaps someone like Egon Schiele... which might bring us to self flagellation and self mutilation, and full circle to performance art and feminist video art, actually... Marina Abramovic, et al.
MS: That is very interesting and quite likely that different cultures would invest in self-portraiture differently, or, in some cases probably not at all, at least as we would recognize it. Is self-portraiture more of a Western concern, given our focus on the individual, going back as far as St. Thomas Aquinas and probably farther?
It’s important to highlight some of the differentiations you are making between “self-exposure” and “introspection,” and to point to the current interest at least here in America in phenomena like reality shows, which I would argue are all about play-acting, play-writing, since the shows are if not scripted certainly edited almost live with an eye towards a narrative, which in itself is quite general and not individual. The characters on “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” seem to each not only have but operate out of a Homeric epithet (well, that would establish it as being as old as the hills) which the editors encourage and onedimensionalize: this person is the GAY person, this person has OCD, this person is A CHRISTIAN. They do work that they each then ascribe, mostly falsely, to these GENERIC IDENTITIES: I mean, what does doing ghastly commercial sketches of dancing figures have to do with being a Christian! It’s all absolutely not conducive to because not interested in self-reflection -- that is not a value except as a simulacrum or spectacle -- and certainly not about self-expression via form. So in a world where the generic and the simulacral are actually what is trusted as “authentic” (because the notion of individuality is seen as generic too, but unconsciously so), where “generic identity” is not seen as an oxymoron, are there options for self-portraiture that both work within these conditions and somehow surpass them?
JG: (Portrait of the Artist as a [Generic] Something-or-other....!)
One thing that’s interesting about all these reality shows, as you point out, is that they are produced through an editing process, and are in fact highly constructed ‘realities’, to say the least. In that sense, the portraits they produce are made in the image of the Producer’s Formula, as realized by a team of highly skilled editors who carve something out of the raw footage provided by the unwitting contestants and their judges. The TV audience absorbs it, loves it, hates, it, watches it anyway because it's endlessly (somehow) fascinating, like watching a slow-motion car wreck. But TV audiences occupy a different state of mind than art audiences: experiencing an artwork demands a different kind of attention altogether.
All of which makes me wonder about the viewers of self-portraiture. We've been focusing on the artist and the significance of creating self-portraits; but if, as Duchamp pointed out, the viewer completes the work, is there something special or particular that occurs between the viewer and a self-portrait? I want to move away from painting (just for a moment!) to think about another intimate and apparently complex thing that happens between viewer and performer when they confront one another in an unscripted (though controlled) extended moment. I'm of course thinking about what recently took place at MoMA, for Marina Abramovic's 'The Artist is Present', where members of the public took turns sitting across from Abramovic in a kind of 'high art darshan', or sitting before the guru. The projections of the viewer upon the artwork became palpable; the needs and projections of the viewer at the moment of sitting and staring became the subject of the piece, forming the experience of the artwork for each individual with very little, yet very consistent, input from the artist/performer. Perhaps we can apply what happened there, between viewer and artwork, to what happens between viewers of other artworks, particularly self-portraits.
So my question is: do we as viewers let down our guard a little more than usual when we regard a self-portrait, because we are duped into thinking we are looking at someone else's exposure, when in fact, we are becoming complicit in our own?
MS: Maybe.. I’m not sure. I’m just as moved by a work depicting someone other than the artist, or as unmoved. Also what you say returns to the distinction you had made earlier between self-portraiture that is self-exploratory and inwarddirected, and self-portraiture that is declarative and outward directed, confronting the viewer. A work can do both of course.
(NYC, November 2010)
Mira Schor, ME
oil on linen, 16x12 in. 2008
“She exists as part of a matriarchy and a sisterhood of women, her mother and her sisters, and she usually lurks quietly at the edge of the work, a shy presence within a social grouping. She is self-effacing as an image yet the one who is overseeing and pulling it together...a kind of mythic little embodiment of artmaking and of a kind of courage and resilience, as well as of watchful awareness of details of the world she is showing us.”
Mira Schor is a painter and writer living in New York City. Schor is the author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life and of the blog A Year of Positive of Thinking.
“Watteau's melancholy clown… roaming
through museums… hell-bent…”
Joy Garnett lives in New York City, where she paints and writes. She is currently working on a family memoir about Alexandria, Egypt in the 1930s called The Bee Kingdom.
via The Brooklyn Rail (May 2011):
by John Ganz
Edited by Terry R. Myers
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (February 4, 2011)
Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
The reports of painting’s death may have been slightly exaggerated—that is, if you please. At least that’s the kind of impression you’ll get after reading Painting, a collection of writings on painting from the past 30 years and the latest installment in MIT Press’s Documents of Contemporary Art series. The editor, Terry R. Myers, is a rare find: a thoughtful and broad-minded critic. He makes it clear that he does not propose an unambiguous triumph for painting’s return. Moderation and nuance are always welcome, but, in practice, Myers’s prudence can seem less like perspicacity than simple dithering; he is almost fawningly generous, granting the “absolute usefulness” of the “death-of-painting discourse during the periods we know as modernism and postmodernism.” (Though I imagine that Myers might be using “absolute” with more irony than sincerity; as one politely says “Oh, absolutely!” to a buttonholer at a party.)
Myers thinks that the documents in the book suggest that “what has already been said about painting is still not enough.” (But, he takes care to point out, “It is important to be clear that I am not totally convinced of this.”) This measured paraphrase is crafted out of a more bombastic Delacroix quote that Myers references in the opening of his introductory essay: “What moves men of genius, or rather, what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has been said already is still not enough.” Stirring stuff, but there’s a difference between Delacroix’s “obsession” and Myers’s belief that—perhaps—there’s still some interesting things to say about painting. And this book is timid, too, in approaching even that conspicuously modest thesis.
If Myers has to resort to such caution when approaching contemporary painting, it might be because the stories told up until now about it are getting stale, and this book shows that historiographical clichés outlast—and seem to command far more respect than—visual or literary clichés. His selected texts provide many examples: For all its flair and cultural virtuosity, Rene Ricard’s article on Basquiat, “The Radiant Child,” is just the “genius” story over again, his reference to Van Gogh being almost an admission of guilt. Furthermore, the kind of gymnastic aphasia performed by the critical-theory ultras results in the repetition of one basic plot: Some terrifying—but amazing—machine (capitalism, modernity, or the ever-italicized “simulation”) has laid to waste the old, traditional world and paintings are dystopian science-fiction landscapes of that process. And “the cycle of deaths and rebirths” of painting—or truly speaking, the cycle of declarations about painting’s deaths and rebirths—might not signify anything more than a lack of imagination on the part of art writers.
There are highlights, including Jerry Saltz’s “The Richter Resolution,” a refreshing and funny plea to stop using photographs as painting aids, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh’s 1986 conversation with Gerhard Richter—a confrontation between a puffed-up and ultimately slightly bewildered academic and a clever, sharp, and ultimately very sincere artist, a piece so classic that it resembles a fable—and Mira Schor’s “Course Proposal,” where I particularly liked this passage:
[F]orcing people into repeated and close encounters with painting’s intimate details may achieve the non-linguistically based knowledge similar to a great baseball player’s understanding of the strike zone. Keith Hernandez’s father would pitch him balls for hours in the playground, indicating which were strikes and which were balls, until the purely conceptual zone, an invisible cube of space, was a knowledge in the body.
Forgiving the slightly awkward prose, it’s an interesting way of thinking about painting: not as something to be read, reinterpreted, and scoured for rhetorical digs toward earlier painters and movements, nor as a reflection of cultural history, but as something that requires development, constant practice, and a kind of muscle memory to appreciate. It also suggests a kind of pleasing insanity—obsession?—that engagement with the “pure idiocy” (to borrow Richter’s term) of painting might require.
I think we are all happy to no longer hear too much booming and clanging about “the death of painting” or the rise of its “new spirit,” but one can hope that we could conclude on slightly stronger notes than “[establishing]...the necessarily paradoxical state of contemporary painting,” or observing its “embrace of the coalitional,” or—as David Joselit in the collection’s final document would have it—that painting should “explicitly visualize” its “networks of exhibition and distribution.” After being expected to nod sagely along with many sentences like these, maybe one has to conclude that Myers is right: Still not enough has been said about painting. Or maybe it’s that too much has been said. (It’s a tough call.) Somebody once said something to the effect of “painting’s not dead, it’s just hard.” This book makes us appreciate that writing about painting is hard, too.
A question of form lies at the heart of the current critical interest in electronic book publishing. The Internet, coupled with a rapid influx of electronic readers and tablets – the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook – is perceived to pose a threat to an industry reliant on paper. No one mistakes a Kindle for a codex any more than they might an iPad for a canvas – that much is clear. Yet the impact of electronic publishing on the book itself is becoming increasingly relevant to the art world, where the recent advent of art e-book publishing has posed an entirely new set of challenges – technical, philosophical, political and otherwise – to the artist’s book.
In the autumn of 2010, artist Paul Chan launched a publishing venture, Badlands Unlimited, out of his Brooklyn studio as a means of negotiating the rapidly shifting relationship between physical and virtual methods of book production. Aided by a cohort of designers and developers, Chan has since published a small catalogue of books, DVDs and artist-designed ephemera, rendered in both digital and print forms. ‘We make books in the expanded field’, claims the company’s website, a deceptively simple mission statement that belies the implications of re-calibrating an entire process – and by proxy, the history of a genre – in order to broach the digital divide.
E-book publishing complicates the interplay between the image and virtual page; the limitations imposed by code and hardware alone necessitate a somewhat radical re-thinking of that relationship. For an image-heavy e-book to retain its visual legibility across platforms, its author must consider the image in service of the electronically produced book and not the other way around. Hallmarks of a well laid-out publication – a strong correlation between text and image; a sense of visual rhythm; considered choices in typeface, paper stock, printing and binding methods – are impossible to replicate in some cases, and in others elusive at best. Whereas the printed book bears its maker’s mark more readily, the e-book places a comparatively stringent set of limitations on the endeavour from the outset; software and hardware developers dictate the platforms and products that publishers have to negotiate with during the production process.
Badlands Unlimited’s growing catalogue of e-publications confronts these visual and textual challenges in various forms, some of which are more successful than others...
from greg.org: Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c. in
hardcover, 290pp. $24.99
Remember The Grey Album? For those who may have forgotten:
The Grey Album is a mashup album by Danger Mouse, released in 2004. It uses an a cappella version of rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album and couples it with instrumentals created from a multitude of unauthorized samples from The Beatles' LP The Beatles (more commonly known as The White Album). The Grey Album gained notoriety due to the response by EMI in attempting to halt its distribution. [via Wikipedia]
Greg Allen, after two consecutive insightful posts about The Cariou/Prince Affair published on his eponymous blog over the past few days, has topped even himself. Hearkening back to The Grey Album (ca. 2004) and all that it represented, he's managed to produce a document he calls "Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c.":
Because really, why not?
It's always bugged me when I read a news story about a legal case, or a scientific report, and there's no link to the original source material. And since I've been quoting from them a lot lately, I have been fielding a lot of requests for copies of the court filings and transcripts in the Patrick Cariou vs. Richard Prince & Gagosian case.
It was yesterday afternoon, though, when I was sending my fourth email [or eighth, since the attachments are so big] that I realized Richard Prince's deposition is not only the longest interview he's ever given, it's probably the longest interview he'll ever give. [Go ahead, Hans Ulrich, you just try!]
I mean, seriously, the guy talked for seven hours. Under oath. In insane detail about his work, process, and ideas. Granted, he was being grilled by a guy whose art ignorance is only surpassed by his obvious contempt for Prince, a lawyer who can't tell a photograph from a painting from a reproduction in a book. But still, he got Prince talking.
And Prince was surprisingly [to me, anyway] and admirably consistent and credible, at least in terms of his work. Yeah, it's a nice bit of fact-checking trivia to strip away the coy mystery crap that surrounded his Guggenheim retrospective: Prince testified that he is Prince, and that he did live in the Panama Canal Zone, but only as a very young child.
But I found his explanation of his early formative inspirations, particularly Warhol and punk rock, to be both relevant and sincere. The deskilling argument that you could pick up a guitar for the first time, and by the end of the week, go up on stage and perform, with visceral effect, sounds real to me. It makes sense, at least in its own context [and in my own high school experience.]
The cover of the paperback edition includes the full title. 290pp, $15.99
Anyway, Prince's entire deposition transcript has not been released, but a patchwork of 250 or so pages out of about 375 were attached as supporting documents to various filings and motions in the case. So I sifted through and pulled them all out, and then placed them in numerical order. There are a lot of gaps, of course, and legalistic joustings, but there's a lot of information, too.
Combined with his 28-page affidavit, it really is the most extensive discussion of his work, practice and biography I've ever seen Prince make. The fact that it's all coming out in the context of a copyright infringement lawsuit is really too perfect to pass up.
Into this I wove the major documents and exhibits Cariou's lawyers discussed with Prince: all the Canal Zone series paintings; installation shots from the Eden Rock hotel in St. Barth's; Prince's "Eden Rock Pitch," a rough movie treatment whose characters and story fed into the paintings; and Cariou's extensive visual comparison of Prince's Canal Zone paintings and the YES RASTA images that ended up in them.
And for good measure, I added both sides' memoranda, where they make their fullest legal arguments for their fair use/transformative use and copyright infringement positions. And of course, I included Judge Batts' ass-whooping of a ruling.
In all, 290 pages, all taken--appropriated, one could say--from the court record, but organized into a clearer, more readable format. And with a focus, not on an exhaustively documenting the case itself, but on Prince and his work.
If you were to download all of this material from pacer.gov, it's run you upwards of $24 [$0.08/page]. And then you'd still have to sort it all out. For that money, I thought, you could have a nicely printed book. And so that's what I did.
There are hardcover and paperback editions, and electronic copies, too, which I haven't tested yet. I'm still tinkering with the cover design. Both versions are included inside the book, as frontispieces or title pages or whatever, but right now, the b/w cover cover is on the hardcover, and the red, made-with-Preview's-default-annotation-settings version is on the softcover.
This is definitely an experiment, so any and all feedback is welcome. But if you're looking for the perfect book to take to spring break, or to class up your summer share, then you have come to the right place. Enjoy!
Buy your own copy of Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c. in
hardcover [$24.99] or in paperback [$15.99]. Electronic editions of either version are $3.99. [lulu.com]