Exhibition and Exposition

 

by Terry Atkinson

 

 

 

But now, in what some people like to call post-Fordism, this particular logic no longer seems to obtain; just as in the cultural sphere, forms of abstraction which in the modern period seemed ugly, dissonant, scandalous, indecent or repulsive, have also entered the mainstream of cultural consumption (in the largest, sense, from advertising to commodity styling, from visual decoration to artistic production) and no longer shock anyone; rather, our entire system of commodity production and consumption today is based on those older, once anti-social modernist, forms.[i]

 

 

 

 

I. Exhibitionism

 

Reading the early section of JCHP’s text Critical Decor: What Works seems to bespeak of dealing with the matter of a potential forthcoming exhibition as being as much the bearing of the burden of a condition of being entangled in rather than the condition of being poised to intervene. This admixture of the two conditions, that of being entangled, and that of wanting to intervene continues throughout the entire text. Perhaps this is yet one more symptom of the general condition of art practice being jammed in an interregnum of the kind Gramsci so appositely described, nearly a century ago, as a condition in which the established forms of the culture are detained and confined, stopping new lines of inquiry from being developed. Jameson in the passage quoted above nailed the problem in the eighties, and laid out some of the late twentieth century detail and development of the seeming interminable residency of Gramsci’s interregnum. It seems to me that JCHP will have to be careful to avoid that the registering of this entanglement does not turn into breast beating and donning the hair shirt of simply lamenting the predicament of the stilted general conditions of current art practice. In the present set of remarks JCHP remain standing clear of hopelessness in front of the interregnum, but in my view they have to take greater care of their terminology. In the remarks below I make some suggestions as to how I think they should revise their terminology – primarily, I think they should eliminate the notion of an excuse.

 

As JCHP’s organum develops then their targets become more specific, and whilst it is true that the current state of art practice is in the main lamentable, their lament develops toward becoming more of a critique. The main target is itself the event of exhibiting – what might be called some such as ‘exhibitionism’. The whole organum seems to rest on the question ‘Why exhibit?’ Since the event of the exhibition is the standard procedure for artists to expose their work, and is therefore a critical part of the relations of distribution (hereafter ROD), it seems to also be a dominant force on many, probably most, artist’s relations of production (hereafter ROP). Thus, a second question, ‘How significant an influence is ‘exhibitionism’ upon the ROP?’ It is perhaps worth pointing out that in a list of the stream of twentieth century art isms (say Cubism, Constructivism, Conceptualism) then just formulating that ‘exhibitionism’ is a problem seems to indicate that this particular ism is not of quite the same character as Cubism, etc. Exhibitionism seems less positive of housing a pictorial strategy, and therefore more dissonant in respect of the regular career gradient of a contemporary artists. JCHP’s seeming doubts about the concept of the exhibition perhaps threaten one of the inlaid prospects and protocols of becoming a successful career artist. This targeting of ‘exhibitionism’ does display the contradictions that JCHP face in their practice. And the contradictions are practice-wide, they do not belong singularly to JCHP. They are inherited by rather than made by JCHP.

 

In the earlier section of JCHP’s remarks the notion of an excuse is used as a discursive framework. As I have suggested already, it has its difficulties. This section of the remarks when pre-empted by a statement such as “… We have resolved not to exhibit. But if we did …” then the embarrassing paradox of making a career out of anti-career sentiment is at least uncomfortably intimated. Not least due to their swollen self-absorption, one can hear the cultural fixers and hustlers in the thrall of the Corporate Tyranny proclaiming that the answer to JCHP’s alleged predicament is an easy one – ‘Stop practicing! Retire! Please vanish from the site of art practice! Stop spoiling the party!’ Such a response, it hardly needs saying, is a symptom of the condition that the cultural fixers and hustlers are the scions of the corporate grandees (those people Noam Chomsky has described as constituting the ‘de facto government of the world’). This much at least can be stated about the responses of the cultural fixers and hustlers - such a retirement would suit the cultural fixers and hustlers in every way since such a self-imposed vanishing act of discontented voices such as JCHP, allows the fixers and hustlers to continue to maintain, promote and parade their idea of permitted dissent, without the impediment of even basic questions being asked concerning their cultural formations.[ii] But it seems at any rate, that JCHP offering up ‘excuses’ for exhibiting will require a more contextually specific and expanded description of the tasks that they presume the notion of, what they term, an excuse can be used to fulfill. I do not think listing the points they argue under the term excuse at all does justice to their argument. Whilst they remain under the heading of excuse I have my doubts their argument can be used to make an adequate critique of exhibitionism, as the remarks further on in this essay hopefully will demonstrate. To set out a framework built on the notion of an excuse seems to me to be far too a defensive position to take.

 

One task that JCHP set out in attempting to justify their agreement to exhibit is that of making and then displaying what they call ‘secondary objects.’ Somewhere in this concept there seems to be a view that ‘secondary objects’ are exhibitionism resistant - I am not altogether convinced that the assignment of the status of ‘secondary objects’ is as resistant to market absorption as JCHP seem to imply. As if the physical form that these particular objects (whatever they turn out to be) are fashioned by JCHP will cause the market to reject them.[iii] Consider the two positions that JCHP characterize as the typical positions of artists making work currently. If I read their remarks something like accurately then when JCHP distinguish two positions between which they claim the artist fluctuates - between ‘iconoclastic protest and market expansion’ then a lacuna appears straightway. Since JCHP seem to imply that their choosing to exhibit is a matter of iconoclastic protest – maybe against ‘market expansion’ - JCHP are required here to expand on the characteristics of what they call ‘iconoclastic protest’ because this could be misleading in the context of contemporary art practice. JCHP need to more sufficiently distinguish their notion of iconoclastic protest from that of the Corporate Tyranny’s notion of iconoclastic protest. This since, in one form or another, the concept of iconoclastic protest is the very thing that the Corporate Tyranny has most heavily promoted, subsidized and branded as the defining characteristic and most marketable item of the Avant-Garde Model of the Artistic Subject (hereafter AGMOAS) – permitted dissent is the corporate order of the day for art practice. The term ‘challenging’ is widely used to characterize the AGMOAS by the art world apparatchiks, happily controlling the corporate cultural perimeter on behalf of the Corporate Tyranny. The artist as dissenter is one of the most comfortable, and also inaccurate, clichés of art world rhetoric. Iconoclastic protest is the mark of avant-garde individual authorship sanctioned and very nearly sanctified by the Corporate Tyranny (and to keep in mind and to repeat, the Corporate Tyranny is what Chomsky argues to be the ‘de facto government of the world’). Thus when JCHP enlist the notion of ‘the glorification of individual artistic production’ it seems to me not very clear that this is not the same thing as the marketing of ‘iconoclastic protest.’ The JCHP contrast between, on the one hand ‘iconoclastic protest’ and, on the other hand, ‘market expansion’ does not sufficiently account for what are now typical marketing events in the interface between art practice’s productions and its ROD. Within this now established commercial framework this branding of ‘iconoclastic protest’ has become the driver of ‘market expansion’ of the widening and increasingly obedient consumership of the AGMOAS – especially by artists. The propulsion toward this kind of aggressive finance capital marketeering as the distributing mechanism of art works has been especially noticeable and increasingly effective since the 1960s. It is one of the marks of the transfer of the centre of the ROP and especially the ROD of the art world from Europe to New York during the fifties. This is a market now so expanded and media saturated as to constitute a populist view of the artist as exercising iconoclastic individualism held out in contradistinction to some such as the exercising of an ordinary workaday individualism which is assigned to what are characterized as less talented and often less ‘fortunate’ individuals. Whilst the contradistinction has a long history dating from at least the mid-nineteenth century, it is only since the 1960s, with the expansion then of wide-ranging print and filmic media and the emergence of the earliest forms of today’s electronic media, that worldwide media cultural plugging of the contradistinction between artistic iconoclasm and what might be termed workaday existence has become primary media cultural fodder. The use of the contradistinction can sometimes have pernicious effects. Not least in the case in which the so-called communities of less talented individuals are characterized by the so-called communities of more talented individuals, perhaps as much by implicit classifying as by explicit labeling, as some such as philistines, proles, zombies, robots, etc. Whilst having wider social application than the arena of art practice and the art market, the current word ‘chav’ has strong relational ties to this area of classificatory display that so frequently characterizes the placing and status of the model of the artistic subject in art world rhetoric.[iv]

 

These mixed social and intellectual placements exercised by a corporate elite upon a legislative elite are fierce regulating instruments. In absorbing and governing the AGMOAS the Corporate Tyranny itself displays its appetite for the regulation of anything other than itself. The Corporate Tyranny dreads that it should itself ever be subject to regulation of the kind it metes out to, for example, labour organizations. The fact that it can so successfully resist this kind of regulation of itself is evidence of how influential the corporate elite is now upon the legislative elite. Thus the culture of Western societies in particular, not least the capture of the AGMOAS, increasingly becomes a corporate presentation, the culture more and more coming to entirely rest in the hands of corporate power. Within this iron corporate grip, the AGMOAS becomes one more corporate presentation driven consensus. The specific corporate presentation of the AGMOAS set into the wider corporate culture of presentation in which think-tanks are set up by the legislative elite according to the instructions, as much by implicit financially pressured directives as explicit commands, of the corporate elite. Thus the culture becomes little more than corporate promotion, where, to provide a current example, austerity is rhetorically decorated as some such as fiscal consolidation. All this now in the face of the effects of what was an unrestrained casino banking culture that found it easy to manipulate the legislative elite into drawing up orders of fiscal governance to rob the poorer and very poor in order to bail out themselves, the very rich, from a financial fraud committed by the very rich themselves. It should not be overlooked either that the legislative elite, had not only permitted this to happen, but had openly encouraged the very rich to carry out such practices for many years up until 2008.

 

 

 

II. Stockholm Syndrome

 

With the above scenario in mind then the section titled Excuse 1 in the JCHP Organum directs the pathway of its content to a closing set of remarks in which JCHP claim that what they term the ‘elevation of individual artistic production’ issued out in twentieth century art practice, and continues so issuing in twenty first century art practice, as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Their explicit claim is that it is ‘a latent liberal form of Stockholm Syndrome.’ This is a continuation of a JCHP claim and argument made in the previous JCHP Organum produced at the kynastonmcshine event.[v] JCHP’s description in their latest set of remarks of Stockholm Syndrome (p. 3) in respect of the artist is as follows:

 

“The audience is appreciative of what artists do. Artists are content to produce in blind adherence to the system. Liberal Stockholm Syndrome manifests itself in those considered to have attained some level of success, also in those desperately trying to attain it, who are also those defining what constitutes success. At some point the artist (victim) begins to view the individuals, assessors and institutions that bestow this alleged success upon them as offering a lifeline, but this is only by implication of not having it removed. The perpetrator sustains the victim and exploits their desperation to reproduce their relations of production, which is now only achievable through the relations of distribution that the perpetrator controls. While the perpetrator retains capability the victim complies and endures rather than risk losing out. The victim begins to view the perpetrator as showing a degree of fairness, consideration, kindness, etc., which serve as the cornerstone of the Stockholm Syndrome. The condition will not emerge if the victim does not perceive the perpetrator as exhibiting some level of kindness. The victim often misinterprets a lack of overt abuse as kindness and may go on to develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence.”

 

The above characterizes the artist as dependent on corporate gold but assimilating such transactions as signs of affection. JCHP argue this to be the case since they claim the success of an art practice is measured in terms of how much corporate gold the given art works are exchanged for. In terms of the psychological setting of the artist this can range from the artist as fully absorbed corporate operator to an outlook that can be characterized as ‘thankful for crumbs from the corporate table’, to yet another outlook that mistakenly claims a form of dissent from the social arrangements the Corporate Tyranny requires to govern and direct culture and society. In the latter case, almost without exception the claim and the reality do not match. However, my own view is that this argument concerning the condition of the Stockholm Syndrome, its onset and continuing effects, needs more detail in order for it to be more fully weighed as to whether or not it is a telling description of what JCHP seem to argue is a condition widely prevalent in the social relations of art practice and its patronage. I think JCHP need to specify and describe in more detail the point at which the dependency starts and the relation of the concept of dependency to the concept of addiction. We know that the art education systems in western societies are now fixed in such a fierce corporate financial grip that a key point when corporate gold must enter the circuit of production and distribution is early in the progress of the aspiring artist joining a fine art course – in respect of the Corporate Tyranny the earlier the better! I judge that at least since the beginning of the nineties this has been preempted in the sense that art students have been entering a fine art course with the corporate gold sentiment already embedded by their earlier pre-art school education system and, linked to this and equally significant, their exposure to corporately dominated media profiles of what constitutes a successful artistic career, the latter profiles which themselves exert a considerable influence on pre-school art education. By the time the student has entered her or his second year of a fine art course the idea of success as measured by access or lack of it to corporate gold is already well enough formed to make fuzzy the boundary between dependency upon it and addiction to it.

 

Maybe lending some weight to JCHP’s argument applying the Stockholm Syndrome to the current conditions of art practice, it is then, in the context of the foregoing remarks, perhaps ironic that last year, 2012, at the 9th International Conference on Developments in Economics, an argument was made applying the concept of the Stockholm Syndrome to the behaviour of governments in respect of their response to pressure from the corporate giants of finance capital. The argument was devised in a joint paper by the Department of Applied Economics V of the University of the Basque Country (Spain) and the Cambridge Centre for Economic and Public Policy, Department of Land Economy of the University of Cambridge (UK). The gist of the argument was that many governments have been what the paper called ‘kidnapped’ by finance capital in order to refinance public debt. The paper argues that governments are coerced into accepting high interest rates and conditions that compromise their sovereignty. Perhaps adding a kind of double irony in respect of the control that corporate power exercises upon the AGMOAS, this conference was held in Bilbao, which city houses the Frank Gehry inspired Guggenheim Museum, which museum is perhaps the most iconic architectural representative symbol of the takeover of the AGMOAS by the Corporate Tyranny. The Guggenheim in Bilbao, not least because of the moment at which it was completed, is a logo of the prone position and quietist fixture of the AGMOAS within the enclosure of finance capital.[vi] In the context of this wider application to the legislative behaviour of governments, then JCHP’s argument that Stockholm Syndrome as applied to the art practice community is latent (‘the producer as a latent, liberal form of Stockholm Syndrome’ pp. 2-3) is, in my view, far too light a touch – at a minimum, the manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome in successful career artists is explicit and well formed, not at all latent. And explicit symptoms of its form often surfaces much earlier in the chain – business cards at the site of fine art course degree exhibitions, for example. We can, for purposes of these remarks, in respect of aiming to reach the firmament of art stardom, call this, even at the initial stages of an erstwhile career, the early part of the pathway to both career dependency and career addiction. Career dependency is, in one form or another, what most of us have to put up with during our art practice working lives – working according to the rights of the boss. This is often endured in what we might call the more conventional world of work without it developing into an addiction – frequently people do not like their work. But in the case of the aspiring artist in the thrall of the media promotion of the Corporate Tyranny’s version of the AGMOAS there is a chicken-egg manifestation – it is hard to figure out whether career addiction is what drives career dependency or whether career dependency is what drives career addiction – whichever, the artist is templated early in her/his training to have feelings of gratefulness towards his boss (in this case the person or corporation in the chain, who or which is the potential or actual supplier of corporate gold).[vii] In many cases the more successful the artist’s career the deeper the gratefulness becomes to the point where the bond becomes affection. Addiction to career building in art practice today entails that corporate gold is the means in the current art world through which what Margaret Thatcher called ‘the right to manage’ is realized. Perhaps there is a distinction to be drawn between influence and management but increasingly in current art production and distribution the two amount to the same thing. The notion of order in current art practice is more financial hierarchy than thought-through agreement. In the light of their attempting to address and criticise ‘exhibitionism’ and their paradoxical determination to exhibit, JCHP’s alleged resistance to a management hierarchy seems to me to be a more problematic claim to make than they allow. Whilst this problem may have emerged earlier in their remarks it does come out clearly in Excuse 2.

 

 

 

III. Shift Work

 

“The presence of the work signifying only that the shift has been worked, any other significance being imposed extraneously. The duration of the shift worked being equally extraneous. This might help to substantiate our previous attempt at avoiding exhibition in favour of exchange in the form of gifts.” [JCHP p. 3]

 

The specifying of the products in the exhibition (whatever they may be and however they otherwise are characterized) as the output of shift work is perhaps worth further examination. Shift work as we are conventionally acquainted with it is certainly working for the boss. It is, so to write, order and hierarchy. JCHP should be wary here. There is an apocryphal tale of Picasso and Braque in the early twentieth century approaching their dealer and addressing him as boss – some such as ‘give us some money boss?’ Let us assume that Picasso and Braque did in fact submit this request and whilst, at least in part, they may well have intended the remark ironically, there is something revealing about the suggested hierarchical workings of supply and exchange in the request. Picasso especially, particularly from the point of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, was involved in a sympathetic exchange with sentiments that apparently sought after a more equitable redistribution of wealth in Western societies (his membership of and donations to the PCF for example). Not that his status as ‘autonomous artist’ par excellence was, in the broader social context, very consistent with such an outlook, not to mention his own great personal wealth by the 1950s. But the scenario with Kahnweiler, or whoever it was that Picasso and Braque had this supposed exchange with, does have a link, if a somewhat tenuous one, to JCHP’s worthy aspirations. The nomination of shift work might be seen to conform to a tradition in which such comments as the Picasso/Braque remarks flag a twentieth century path of some artists having a sufficiently romantic attachment to what, up to the 1980s, were seen as typical working class patterns of work to see themselves as identifying with working class struggle. Marcel Duchamp’s practice, for example, is often imagined as libertarian input into wider social struggles. In many cases artists’ alleged libertarian posture was mistakenly seen as continuous with working class struggle. Many well known artists of the twentieth century exclaimed radical left-leaning sentiments, some claimed radical credentials, not least in many cases by claiming the occupation of artist was itself ipso facto radical, and, not least again, since many of these artists apparently equated radical with liberal and libertarian. Perhaps it is as well not to forget here, equally, some artists expounded right wing views, and they too claimed to be radical. Even if I am misjudging JCHP here, I suspect that JCHP’s textual rhetoric in characterizing their pattern of production as shift work has something of this sentiment behind it and may invite people to identify with the comfortable well worn twentieth century art school cliché that a libertarian outlook necessarily leads to a society in which there is a more equitable distribution of wealth. It behoves JCHP to be careful here - categorizing art practice segments as shifts does raise a suspicion that these characteristics of what we might call proletarian work patterns are lifted from old working class vocabulary in order to provide a frisson of socially concerned ‘authenticity.’ I suspect also such a frisson, like the supposed sentiments of Picasso and Braque acknowledging the supplier of money as boss, will do very little toward attaining a society in which a significant equitable redistribution of wealth can take place.[viii] There may be many observations worth making about this kind of situation, but the following broad point comes to mind concerning the attainment of an equitable distribution of wealth. It is a truism, but one perhaps worth stating, that a society that becomes richer does not necessarily follow the path of an equitable distribution of wealth. Western societies are a good example of this. While the members of the class that were once poor, say in the late nineteenth century, have been less poor in the twentieth century and are the same in the twenty first century, the members of the class that were once rich are very much richer. The income and wealth gap between the wealthy and the less well off widens (let us call them the less rich), often to the extent that it is wider than at the time when the less well off were poor and often very poor. If access to wealth means access to power then, obviously, there is a very good chance that the wealthy in such a society are in a more powerful position to maintain and expand their power than the wealthy were in the society when the rich were much less rich than they are now and the poor were perhaps much less well off than the poor are now. Equally a truism, a growing economy does not necessarily eliminate gross exploitation. JCHP know this very well, thus the idea of exhibiting the products of shift work, or if they are advocating exhibiting, so to write, the event of a shift or the event of part of a shift, then they need to take more care concerning their using the notion of shift in the light of what is now a twentieth century tradition of artists who proclaim leftist sentiments not being able to identify this view as often a form of morbid cultural opportunism. We are back with Gramsci’s interregnum.

 

 

 

IV. Referencing, Excuse & Exhibiting

 

Early in their remarks JCHP assert: “… it would be more productive for the work to reference the problem of the work’s inability … to reference the world usefully.” ‘Reference’ is a provocative verb here. Examples of what JCHP hold to be useful referencing are required and maybe too examples of referencing that they consider are not useful. Does this notion of reference refer to something such as ‘the conduct of the producer will be reflected in the work produced?’ Is something like this referencing the world ‘usefully’? In what sense would ‘it be more productive for the work to reference the problem of the work’s inability to reference the world usefully’? In my view exhibiting work as a means of criticizing exhibitionism cannot be ruled out. I find JCHP’s locution on this matter a bit strange. Is there not a suggestion here that the work should show that it is not useful, and that showing it is not useful is itself useful? In what way is this useful? Again, does this notion of reference refer to something such as the conduct of the producer will be reflected in the work produced? If the work ‘shows’ its own inability to usefully reference the world is there a suggestion of a logical paradox here? This since if the work shows it cannot usefully reference the world this somehow itself is a useful referencing of the world? Is this what JCHP intend to mean by this rather attenuated and convoluted locution of the notion of referencing? To me at least this seems to indicate that JCHP are being unnecessarily circuitously reactive in their attempt to face the event of exhibiting. Exhibitionism may be a problem but, as I have just stated above, evidence is required to show that it is impossible for an artist to make a critical evaluation of it in making an exhibition. In my view exhibiting work that criticises exhibitionism cannot be ruled out. It seems obvious that the conditions that prevail when exhibiting seem to be the crucial factor. In this sense the whole effort to marshal a critique under what they term excuses (Excuse 1 p. 2. Excuse 2 p. 3. Excuse 3 p. 5. Excuse 4 p. 6. Excuse 5 p. 8.) seems to me to be counter productive. I would argue a straightforward change of terminology is required. Using the notion of excuse seems to manifest an indecisiveness, not to mention unnecessary procrastination, about why they accepted an invitation to exhibit. The hint that they exhibit to keep a notion, no matter how faint, of a career option open cannot be discounted if JCHP insist on using the notion of excuse. In plain terms surely the reason to exhibit is to develop the practice and sod the career. Instead of excuse perhaps the notion of conviction would itself be a better way to approach accepting the invitation to exhibit. Many of the points they argue it seems to me would gain much through being expressed under the title of some such as the notion of conviction rather than excuse. In my view in respect of using the notion of excuse JCHP take up a far too defensive posture. I guess if they really think exhibiting has no use then they would not exhibit. Whilst I do not think they do, I do think that so long as the Critical Décor: What Works text is structured around the notion of excuse, then this seems to suggest, at the very least, that they cannot quite make up their minds. If they do not think exhibiting can make a productive output then this raises a question of not so much ‘What is the appropriate way to exhibit?’ but ‘Is there one?’ If the latter is the case then some such question as the following emerges. Do JCHP judge it to be the case that to be aware that exhibitionism is a problem of sufficient magnitude to be compelled not to exhibit? Obviously, JCHP do not think this or, presumably, once again, they would refuse to exhibit. Another way to suggest this is by framing some such question as ‘Is it possible to exhibit a productive critique articulating the problem of (with) exhibiting?’ We are brought back here into the area of the paradox mentioned above. This area brings back to me shades of the old Art & Language engagement and development in the early and mid-seventies of the A&L discourse concerned with what A&L called ‘going-on.’

 

Exhibitionism is a problem. At this point in these remarks, whether it is a problem which cannot be usefully examined through exhibiting I leave here as a moot point, although, as I have attempted to suggest in the foregoing commentary, I suspect strongly it can. I turn to the prior question ‘Why is exhibitionism a problem?’ Is it because exhibiting, whether exhibiting alleged advanced art or any of all the forms of alleged less advanced art, automatically conforms in the twenty first century to the condition in which the Corporate Tyranny governs the AGMOAS? Thus, if this is so, then exhibitionism automatically turns the relations of distribution into relations of production since the Corporate Tyranny dictates the agenda of production through its hold on the relation of distribution of that production. If this is so, then is the problem of exhibitionism a matter of how to make and go on with the practice that is an effort to contribute to a movement attempting to break practice clear of Corporate Tyranny governance? Some such as – it is an attempt to break out from the structure of this governance in which the Corporate Tyranny bestows the condition in which the ROD of the products of practice become an inherent part of the ROP of the practice. If this is the case then some such further question seems to emerge: Does the Corporate Tyranny governance expand or confine the position of the practice, does it expand or confine the AGMOAS? If all this is the case then it seems JCHP will have to fashion ROP that are clear of ROD. It seems, according to much of their essay, that they cannot be confident that they can make ROP clear of ROD rather than claiming that it is not possible that any artist can construct such ROP. Hence the use of the notion of excuse seems to be more an indication of lack of confidence that they can construct such ROP, rather than a lack of confidence that any artist can make a practice that contributes significantly to breaking clear of Corporate Tyranny governance. Thus in fairly long sections of their remarks the tone of their essay is not so much the categorical denial that an (any) artist can break clear of Corporate Tyranny governance through exhibiting but more that JCHP cannot.

 

 

Notes:



[i] Frederic Jameson, The Critical Turn: Selected Essays on Postmodernism 1983-98, Verso, London, 1998, p. 149.

 

[ii] Perhaps the most celebrated retirement event (which turned out to be not a retirement event at all) of twentieth century art practice was that of Marcel Duchamp. And it has been celebrated not least because of the very fact that it turned out to be not a retirement. It seems Duchamp could have engineered the event for a number of reasons, most of which seem to have been discussed at one time or another during the twentieth century cavalcade of Duchamp-celebrating texts and discussions. My own view is that the decoy was set up to maintain the Duchamp penchant for sophistical irony, a device he carefully nurtured as a means of ensuring the theatrical exposure of his practice as a brand. By the mid-eighties I perceived this event as being a gestural move, an important public contrivance, intended to ensure the continuing visibility and display branding of Duchamp’s practice. I have heard one American art historian characterize the event as one measure of how smart Duchamp was. ‘Smart’ in American English means something slightly different from what it means in British English – or at least it did until the seventies. By the nineties the Brits were beginning to assimilate the American meaning of ‘smart’, as they were assimilating many other American terms – ‘guys’ and ‘cool’ for example. My retort to the American art historian was to ask ‘How smart Duchamp was – did she, for example, think he was as smart as, say, Wittgenstein?’ JCHP’s criticism of exhibitionism comes from another angle altogether, It is a response to what they see as the cognitive exhaustion of current practice.

A retirement that impresses me much more and has done since the mid-eighties, not least because it was not a retirement from a public visibility at all, is the case of Emily Dickinson. She had no public reputation to retire from. Her path was one of maintenance of her practice specifically against, rather than sycophantically for, wide public exposure. Dickinson stated head on that “publication is the auction of the mind of man.” It is a remark that has stuck in my mind since I noted recently that Lyndall Gordon quotes the phrase in her book Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Family’s Feuds (Virago, London, 2010, p. 142) not least because it confirms my long held view of Dickinson’s resistance to the ROD of poetry publication and my resulting approval of her stance. There is a catalogue from a show I did in 1985 titled Cooking the Books, the cover of which is largely constituted of a list of names of artists and thinkers whose work I liked at that time to think had in some ways helped shape my outlook. Emily Dickinson is listed there. Lyndall Gordon’s book I read with increasing engagement since she persistently challenges the often held view of Dickinson’s work as that of the hushed domestic hard-done-by, quietly turning out an exquisite poetry in an isolated idealized New England protestant soaked confinement. Back in the early eighties when I first started reading Dickinson’s work, it was the poetry itself rather than my knowing very much in detail about Dickinson’s family and social environment that made me challenge this literary setting of Dickinson. Following Alfred Habegger’s book (My Wars are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson, Modern Library, New York, 2002) Gordon’s book seems further to confirm my initial view that the poetry is not quietly explosive but demonstrably explosive and socially confrontational. Although maybe I should mention that this does not mean I judge Gordon’s book to ride clear of much of the usual inconsistent exclamatory mystery mongering concerning the model of the artistic subject, not least a confusion about the relationship of language to the articulation of experiences. For example Gordon’s take on Dickinson’s view of agony:

 

“ ‘I like a look of Agony,’ she (Dickinson) said, because Agony opened up what lies beyond the limits of language: visionary states of mind she would not otherwise have comprehended and which became prime material for her poems.” (p. 142)

 

Familiar art world stuff! Things lying beyond the limits of language! The words (language) ‘visionary states’ are the familiar deckhands of the ‘art is beyond the limits of language’ fleet. How many hundreds of times have I heard this kind of sentiment during my forty or more years in art schools and the art world? In Gordon’s case it is especially ironic since she is referring to a person, Dickinson, whose access to language was especially cogent and powerful. Consider the implied logic of the above quoted claim. Some things (viz. visionary states) are ‘beyond the limits of language’ (presumably beyond expression in language). If they are beyond the limits of language then presumably this means that they cannot be expressed in (or through) language, and if they are truly beyond the limits of expression through language, then neither Dickinson nor anyone else can express them in (or through) language. Dickinson, or anyone else, can speak or write until the cows come home, but what they will not be speaking of or writing about will be events whose expression is beyond the limits of the language they are speaking or writing. Thus we need to know what the act of comprehension is here (’she would not otherwise have comprehended’) and how this act of comprehension provided the alleged ‘prime material for her poems.’ What, more exactly, is the conduit carrying the act of comprehension? Whatever was transmitted into Dickinson’s poems as a result of the experiences of visionary states was, obviously, not beyond the limits of language. Language seems an important instrument for anyone claiming on behalf of themselves or on behalf of other people (as Gordon is here claiming on behalf of Dickinson) – it seems at one level or another, the claim to experience visionary states does seem to invariably involve linguistic testimony somewhere along the line. Thus whilst I have sympathy with Gordon’s attempt to further extricate Dickinson from the popular twentieth century view of her, I found much of the book reinforced notions of the artistic subject with which I do not agree. It was what I take to be Dickinson’s poetry as socially confronting the clichéd view of the artistic subject, including her critique of publication, that I found when I first began to study her work in the early eighties, and continue today to find, engaging about her poetry and prose, about her use of language.

     Dickinson’s resistance to pleas that she embrace the established relations of distribution of the practice of poetry seems to me to be a central concern of much of her poetry. Her distribution of her work was controlled and very specific, but she did distribute it. In this sense she may have some bearing of precedent at least worth thinking about in respect of JCHP’s problematic of exhibitionism.

 

[iii] Although it may seem an obvious one, the contrast between market resistance and market absorption may warrant noting here. There have been a stream of artists throughout the twentieth century who have exclaimed resistance to the market whilst being absorbed in it. If there are artists who resist the market we may well know nothing of them, much like a wider public knew little of Emily Dickinson (see note 2 above). In any case the matter of holding a balance between resistance and absorption is a very difficult call to make in the sense that exhibiting alleged resistance is a market mechanism. Hans Haacke’s or Mark Wallinger’s work, for example, is perhaps worth examining within this kind of framework. The market as concept has come under increasing scrutiny by ardent capitalists from within the centre of capitalism since the crash of 2008, always, it goes without saying, within the assumption of its continuation and that it cannot be challenged as the correct social organization. Two books worth considering in this light (and there are many books of this kind) are Vern McKinley, Financing Failure: A Century of Bailouts, The Independent Institute, Oakland California, 2011, and William D. Cohan, The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres & Co., Penguin Books, London, 2008. Both books provide vivid descriptions of encounters of the corporate elite’s intimacy with and influence on the legislative elite.

 

[iv] A good description and powerful condemnation of this kind of process at work can be found in Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, Verso, London, 2011.

 

[v] A project presented by kynastonmcshine (at that time UK centred, now centred in Los Angeles), titled Terry Atkinson and JCHP: Further Notes Regarding JCHP, March 2013.

 

[vi] Gehry continues presently as a chief architectural icon builder of corporately captured culture. He has designed the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. It is perhaps worth quoting a section of the Guggenheim Foundation’s spin on Gehry’s building.

 

‘Inspired by expansive industrial studio spaces, the museum design reflects the large scale at which many contemporary artists work, and presents new gallery layouts unlike conventional museum spaces. Clusters of galleries in varying heights, shapes, and character, allow for curatorial flexibility in organizing exhibitions at dimensions that have not previously existed. Evolving from several main cues, clusters of galleries connected by catwalks center around a covered courtyard. Additional vertical clusters of galleries pile on top of the central circulation creating a combination of vertical and horizontal spaces for exhibition organization. The design also incorporates sustainable elements appropriate for the region including natural cooling and ventilation of covered courtyards derived from the concept of traditional wind towers found throughout the Middle East.”

 

(Guggenheim Foundation Report, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. 1 page)

 

Coming at the plan and construction of the building from another angle is the Human Rights Watch report titled “Island of Happiness”, Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, 2009. The report is a pretty thorough and consequently pretty devastating critique. It is divided into six sections, the titles of which perhaps give a flavour of the report and are as follows: 1 Summary, 2 Recommendations, 3 Methodology, 4 The Exploitation of Foreign Workers on Saadiyaat Island, 5 Obligations of UAE (United Arab Emirates) Authorities under International Law and International Standards of Corporate Responsibility, 6 Acknowledgements. Section 5 holds the UAE authorities and their corporate structures to account, but it is parts of section 2, Recommendations, that I want to detail out a bit more in the context of these remarks.  The first part of this section titled ‘To the Government of France, Agence-France Museums, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and New York University’ is a plea to these institutions that they ‘Publicly pledge that all development partners, contractors, subcontractors and their affiliates involved in the construction of the Abu Dhabi branch of each respective institution will not engage in abusive labor practices …’ This preceding quote will, I think, give a sufficient perspective on the purpose of the Human Rights Watch report for people to have some idea as to what Human Rights watch suspect might be going on in the Abu Dhabi project. To focus the report’s view of the role of the cultural industries a little more, and to bring people face to face with the sometime architectural icon builders of western fine art museums the next plea is directed  ‘To Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Foster and Partners, Gehry Partners LLP, Rafael Viñoly Architects PC, Tadao Ando Architects and Associates, and Zaha Hadid Architects.’ The plea starts ‘To publicly pledge that you have obtained guarantees from your development partner that contractors, subcontractors and their affiliates involved in the Abu Dhabi branch of the institution you are designing will not engage in abusive labor practices …’ Read the report! It is an education in itself. The subtitles of the fourth section – The Exploitation of Foreign Workers on Saadiyat Island - give a pretty good idea of the kinds of practices the Human Rights Watch have been watching. They are: 1 The Sponsorship System, 2 Labor Supply Agencies, 3 Coercive Contractual Circumstances, 4 Confiscation of Passports, Freedom of Movement and Forced Labor, 5 Violations Regarding Wages. And when the buildings are built and the project is, so to write, culturally running, it is hard to imagine an artist allowing such a history to stand in the way of a career building opportunity. If such practices have been the case in Abu Dhabi it makes the Tate institutions in the UK using zero-hours contracts look like a libertarian wage-fest – and that is no excuse for the Tate engaging in such practices. According to the Museums Journal 40% of retail and catering staff at Tate institutions are on zero-hours contracts. Zero-hours contracts in any case are on the same sliding scale as the suspected Abu-Dhabi practices. They are less oppressive maybe but somebody is still getting exploited and, correspondingly, somebody is still exploiting. Maybe now a few more people may see JCHP’s problem – exhibitionism.

I am indebted to my son-in-law Tom Milner for directing my attention to the Human Rights Watch report. On a family holiday in Southern Spain this summer, he pointed out a reference to it in a vivid reading to me, and the assembled family members, of a fragment of David Conn’s book, Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up, Quercus, London, 2012. This book provides a lot of insight into the corporate penetration and management of popular culture from which, deductively from Conn’s analysis, equal insights are to be gleaned concerning the Corporate Tyranny’s occupation of the AGMOAS.

 

[vii] The cultural interventions and entrepreneurial artfest strategies of Charles Saatchi are an unequivocal example - eerie evidence perhaps of Greenberg’s unintentional prophesy of the emergence of something like a corporate version of the Medicis.

 

[viii] There has been a redistribution of wealth but it has been the opposite of an equitable one – more and more wealth has been redistributed to the already wealthy. The bailing out of the banks was a lurid and particularly insolent manifestation of this redistribution.

 



PDF


back to INDEX