Last night I went to a panel talk at The Photographer’s Gallery. The panel was chaired by Dr. Ben Burbridge from The Centre for Visual Studies, Sussex University, and the talk hosted by that organisation along with TPG.
My first thought as I listened to David Evans, writer of the book, Appropriation, amongst others, was – good, I’m on the right track with my choice of Martha Rosler for A1, as he discussed her later work, “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home“. This put her firmly in context, in relation to appropriated art. I had been worried that I’d not chosen up to the minute artists (the time for them will come, I’m certain). I’m glad now that I have looked to the not too distant past because I think its crucial for me to have some historical context. Evans also introduced me to Penelope Umbrico, whose work, Suns, is a collection of sunsets appropriated from Flickr. This work is fascinating – maybe something to include in A2. Suns is an ever evolving work, a growing collection of photo-installations exhibited in various art galleries. Umbrico, who includes a figure in the title of each installation, says, “the title reflects the number of hits I got searching “sunset” on Flickr on the day I made/print the piece – for example, the title of the piece for the Gallery of Modern Art, Australia, was 2,303,057 Suns From Flickr (Partial) 9/25/07 and for the New York Photo Festival it was 3,221,717 Suns From Flickr (Partial) 3/31/08 – the title itself becoming a comment on the ever increasing use of web-based photo communities, and a reflection of the ubiquity of pre-scripted collective content there”. 
Rosza Farkas, a curator spoke about Amalia Ulman, whose project I had looked at on another student’s blog recently. I listened hard; the hyperbole surrounding Ulman’s Instagram performance is something I am deeply suspicious of. I tried to be open-minded. Not sure how much I succeeded. Farkas also mentioned, although not in as much depth, Gili Tal, whose art seemed more interesting. I think I may look at it in more detail for A2. Parkas made a lots of references to Dada, and talked about Heads of State by Hannah Hoch, where politicians who were charged with the task of repressing leftist uprisings are seen in their underwear against a background of artistic and feminine embroidery. Farkas said the men looked ridiculous in their pants which was the point of the picture. I think they also look vulnerable, like all of us might. Their methods and actions would have been barbaric and perhaps even psychopathic but they are in the end nothing more than deeply traumatised human animals, acting out according to our entire species’ evolutionary desire to have power over the Other, made worse in their individual selves and collective community by any number of deep societal fractured states . They are organic things who just like each one of us leak, smell, rot, fester over time and eventually die; which we see clearly in this picture, as they stand there without their uniforms, alienated from their usual surroundings, deprived of their power signs. So, perhaps ridiculous, but I felt that word alone somehow belittled the gravitas of Hoch’s work.
Finally, we heard from Mishka Henner, an artist, whose work is as far as I can see all appropriated, and therefore he is a definite contender for A2. Henner did not prepare anything, had no notes, spoke for 3 minutes then asked if he’d finished – each panelist had 10 minutes in which to speak. He spoke for a further 4 minutes then gave up. He mentioned that there was some fascinating work on the Internet but had no names to give us as examples. He dismissed old ways of presenting art as ‘imperialist’ in structure – appropriating a word David Evans had used, although Evans later made it clear his use of ‘imperialist’ was simply chosen to explain the different ways of understanding the word ‘appropriation’, i.e. a sort of etymology, rather than as a description of modern art practise.
I thought Henner was really interesting – what he did say was pertinent, succinct and astute. His biography, which was read out, was a collection of negative statements said about him/his work on the internet. It was very funny indeed and clever – the little bit of preparation he did do worked so well.
Perhaps I am wrong but it felt like he could have thought more of the talk, valued his place there – what he had to say, along with the listeners need/desire to hear it. He did say he has never got to grips with English culture, something I empathise with as I came here at 16 and am still struggling, so I wonder if that could be the reason. He seemed uncomfortable with the way the talk was shaped – panelists, audience, them talking, us listening.
I mentioned Henner’s style of presenting not as a criticism against him – but because I think its indicative of a way of being today that relates to the the current loosening of previously expected behaviour which has been happening since after WW2, and a lot in recent years. And that is relevant as our relationship with art and authority changes. I think so much of that is positive – but we’re losing something fundamental with it too.
Some of the things Henner said in his few minutes:
- The internet makes it possible for a conversation to take place, as opposed to previous declamatory position of artists
- Rules of ownership do not apply on the Internet and that changes the way we relate to art, images
- Images are not photographs on the internet – they are something else (much nodding from other panelists here but no-one said what they were now. A form of language presumably – but what in that prevents them from being photographs? )
- Is it possible for the Internet to exist without appropriation?
- Mass media was a form of empire
- Art is being made by people outside of the usual institutionalised systems – a naive art, unadulterated and it is speaking to a more democratic audience
(I read these points and wonder if there is much we didn’t know in most statements ….)
During the evening, I was struck by the many coincidences, how the work discussed tied in extremely well with much of what I’d written about on my blog, including a brief talk about cultural capital. You could say there was a good deal of synchronicity however, I think the thing is I am making connections that are relevant to all I’m looking at and thinking about. I am searching for connections and finding them.
I was excited by the talk. I am so fascinated by the Internet and what exactly it is in relation to us humans – how could anybody not be? And listening to people discuss how it is being used was very useful. I was also pleased to have had enough background knowledge to know what they were talking about. It proved to myself that I have learnt already on this course.
Two other points I must remember and try to include in A2 perhaps (or not)
- What is appropriation – isn’t all art appropriated in some way? A re-contextualising of a situation.
- Critical distance in some of the work is less than it once was. People are making the everyday their art – there is less separation between artist and art consumer in some works, especially among ‘digital natives’ – the generation who have grown up with the internet.
I need to read through my notes, order David Evan’s book for sure, and begin to piece it all together for the next assignment.
One thing I will say is that there was a great deal of discussion about a new way of working, a breaking down of old structures, some of which are imperialistic in character such as institutional hierarchies. This relates to an erosion of authoritativeness in society – which I believe is a good thing, and which I spoke about in Project 2.1. In its place comes a casualness, which is great; and democratisation of expression which is even better, most of time – but not always. However, alongside all of that there is a carelessness, and a lack of internal authority. Which I think leads to a lack of confidence in the self. And I don’t think that is a good thing for individuals or society. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with appropriation, but it certainly relates to the way the Internet has opened things up for people. It was what filled my mind as I left TPG last night.