Friday, August 24, 2012

Please Try This at Home, They’re Professionals: What I Saw at the Opening Reception

Has the human eye succumbed to the propaganda of the “Gutenberg galaxy?” If the showcased artists “kicking off the 2012 -13 academic year” at Lamar Dodd are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. Indeed, these artists could very well be the summa par excellence of artists whose eyes have been churned out by Time Magazine’s “Person of the Millennium”—one can never be too sure! Undoubtedly it was necessary for them to perfect their artists’ statements in order to receive MFAs, but must we also have our brushstrokes typeset? Are we to believe that the visual equivalent of a 1995 Windows screensaver is situated “within an avant-garde lexicon?” If so, as both the artists and their exhibitors would have it, the only ethical response is to ask why such is the case.

Rodin’s criticism was sharp when he said apropos of a then-burgeoning medium, "No, it is the artist who is truthful and the photograph that lies, for in reality time does not stop, and if the artist succeeds in producing the impression of a movement which takes several moments for accomplishment, his work is certainly much less conventional than the scientific image, where time is abruptly suspended.” He might as well have been speaking of the artist’s faith in typographical reasoning, which has in the almost 100 years since Rodin’s declaration become virtually indistinguishable from the “scientific image.”

Today the visual field has triumphed over the senses, but what does today’s artist know of optics? So subtle is the play of history that we are inclined to forget we are among its operations—indeed, that we are ourselves operatives—and we cheerfully adopt the assumptions of our present tools as mores. In passing over science, and art’s historical collusion with it, our artists seem by and large to have allowed themselves to be fundamentally guided by it. The problem, to be perfectly clear, is not merely the association of art with science, which is perfectly logical; rather it is the uncritical eye that operates under it-knows-not-what that is worrisome. Power has been ceded to technological progress, willfully characterized by passwords such as “communication” and “information,” and so it appears today that all images are the scientific image.

We could ask a litany of questions: How does it happen that the printing press exerts greater influence over the artist’s eye than the reading stone, and can we be certain that the reverse isn’t in fact the case? Why did we ever accept that the eye receives light rather than emits it? Why is the eye no longer a lens but a screen? For what reason has Alhazen’s name been banished? Did Descartes make a prison of Plato’s Khôra?

Instead we will ask just one question, three ways: 

Why are these men bored stiff?

In what respect is this rug not paralytic?

If rendered in 30-degree isometric projection, would the speed of Mr. Mantz’s piece be affected in any way whatsoever?

Aside from its subjects looking as though they were embalmed ages ago, Holly Coulis’s rendering (I use this word strictly in the graphic sense, as I am highly suspect that either of these individuals can be said to possess any degree of animality) of two men can be said to be performative only insofar as the thumbscrew could once have been considered necessary to confession. A Jesuit of vision, she puts our eyes in the vice and turns.

The shading of the walls and ceiling is little more than an excuse for a lack of perspective, meagerly suggested by slivers of red flooring on either side. I would venture to say the curtains are intended to be a trompe l'oeil painted on the wall behind the men, but this would imply, first, that it is in fact behind them, which we cannot be sure of, and, second, that it could trick the eye into believing it to be a genuine curtain, which I confess I am simply guessing at. The picture frame is perfectly crooked: that’s a trick the artist thinks she learned somewhere.

Nothing in this work has ever been alive or once moved, and, quite possibly out of sheer jealousy, it takes vengeance on the eye and refuses to afford it the pleasure of living or moving. This is not a painting you see so much as bureaucratic document you go over line by line. These men died of boredom and rigor mortis has set in. And something so small, so simple could have perhaps saved them: these gentlemen would have had a slightly better chance of investigating the fate assigned to them had Ms. Coulis so much as chosen a particularly conscientious title—I suggest Disdain for Piero. Alas, I am deeply sorry these figures never had the opportunity to enjoy their symptoms, as they were apparently stillborn.

Philip Guston: not disdainful of Piero.


You may believe you are looking down from the perspective of the ceiling in Karen Ann Myers’s painting, and you’d be generous to do so, because you are in fact looking directly on to a piece of graphing paper. In a certain sense, Ms. Myers’s painting suffers from exactly the opposite of Ms. Coulis’s in that its technical achievement of one-point perspective is all too impressive—but to what effect? It’s the vantage point of a prison warden, making the subject matter something more than unsavory and, somehow, less than interesting. Is Ms. Myers a Benthamite? Looking at the limbed-torso upon the bed I am reminded of Ceronetti’s remark about necrophiliacs.* It’s all the personality of a CADD model. But I digress.

We already know that nothing in this work has any interest in moving. It could almost be one of the photographs so detested by Rodin, but it is worse than that for having actually been granted time. Someone thinks she saw this. But everything is running so smoothly, it seems to have happened that looking was entirely passed over. “The knowledge of truth,” wrote Descartes to Chanut on March 31, 1649, “is like the health of the soul: once a man possesses it, he doesn’t think of it anymore.” Of course, within a year the philosopher would die of pneumonia at the ambassador’s house, but should that influence us? Should we care that Leeuwenhoek’s microscope heralded a dramatic shift of the notion of health into the visual realm? That rug, is it catching?

That rug is not catching. That rug is zigzagged and will never need to be vacuumed. It is a perfect rug. That rug will never send anything out into the world, but neither does it demand being walked upon (not more than this once, anyway). That rug is not paralytic in the sense of a “fleet in being,” because it has not studied its tactics and does not even know it is at war. In every other regard is that rug paralytic.

Could a passing familiarity with this object have wrested the rug from its grid?


I want to be fair to Gerhard Mantz’s piece, so I must clarify that it is an animated video work. It is depicting, in a technical sense, movement over a plane.
Of course, so is this, except this involved more curiosity.

Honestly, I have very little to say about Mr. Mantz’s work that isn’t entirely dismissive, which certainly isn’t my objective here. Look: this is art for yesteryear’s hot tech item, art to be displayed outside a Sony outlet store (their stocks hit a thirty-year low a few months ago).  Mr. Mantz creates a paean to sterility and tells us it’s utopia. No matter what degree its perspective were placed at, it would move at precisely the same speed: bored.


Have you ever wondered why graphic design programs aren’t housed in the business school, or why computer-based art doesn’t fall under computer sciences? Is this a “fleet in being” scenario, or simply a feeble attempt to convince those outside the department of art’s relevance? I’m inclined toward the latter explanation, although I am frankly mystified as to why a pedagogical institute would presume art’s fate lies with it—especially when only a fraction of the story is even taught. I blame the “Gutenberg complex,” wherein artists unwittingly replace their eyes with the aesthetic logic of technology and expect their work to therefore “communicate.” Everything in these pieces is precise: it’s as though they were rendered without blinking, and yet also without seeing. Everything is laid bare; you just have to read it. But is “information” even the task of art? When did our eyes become so disinterested in the world and in our craft?

Captain William Jordan saw with his hands better than many other artists see with their eyes, and he didn’t begin drawing until he was already blind.

Elsewhere in Lamar Dodd are student works, drawings from foundations courses.  The vast majority look like they would have preferred to be born as photographs, X-Box games or, in some fit of self-hating nostalgia, newspaper articles. We should hardly be surprised that it has begun so soon. Whether we are naturally given to uncritically accepting the conceits of the world we are thrust into I do not know, but it seems that of all institutions the one that ought to be most keen to help us become otherwise is doing just the opposite. “Modern education institutions,” writes Masha Alyokhina from a prison cell, “teach people from their childhood to live automatically, do not introduce key issues appropriate to the age, foster cruelty and intolerance to dissent. From childhood a person forsakes his liberties.” One can only presume that these students strive to one day be professionals. God help me if I can see why, if such is the professional representation upheld for them as good works. Maybe they should take a look around and demand better.

* “A moderate necrophile can easily be satisfied in the bed of a frigid woman.”

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