UVC Assignment 2 -The Displaced Image

Please click here for a PDF of Assignment 2, updated following feedback and prepared as a document for July 2017 assessment on 7 March 2017.

Click here for feedback, original submission and research.

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Assignment 2: Further Feedback

I was pleased to receive an email from my tutor telling me I have put my “finger on the paradox that the artists intended it (Post Modernism) to be” and that the “reference goes back and forth, failing to arrive.” I wasn’t sure I had reached total understanding about this in fact, but the whole thing continues to swirl around in my head as I keep reading and investigating.

What troubled me, but only because I am more than a little devoted to Jung (the philandering misogynist!) and the importance of his fantastic inner worlds and subjective self, is the following: “It is first and foremost anti-subjective and has no truck with an inner self – the artist’s or anyone else.  Hence interpretation can’t get started.”  Is Post -Modernism in that case “disordered” and “dysfunctional” I wonder? I suppose only if you view it in those therapeutic terms and that it might be useful to broaden my perspective if possible.

I continue, of course, to be  extremely interested to see what Post-Modernism will evolve into.  I do love doing this course by the way.

Feedback Assignment 2

A PDF of the the full feedback can be found here: s-j field assignment 2 feedback.(click on my name & assignment) 

Below is my reflection.

Your approach to the assignment is imaginative in that it explores a range of ideas relevant to the chosen works. There is good evidence of extensive reading and sound comprehension at this level. What remains a difficulty is the writing style which needs to focus more directly on the work and adopt a more academic structure.

I was pleased to see evidence of extensive reading because I am always worried I have not read nearly enough, although in truth I do try to read often, whenever I have a moment. I am aware my chosen writing style in this assignment was not academic.  I was not asked to write a formal essay, however, and in fact thought I might be questioned because I was actually asked to make annotations. 

In addition I am not sure what is meant by focusing directly on the work. I think it might mean NOT linking personal experience and interests, which if true is a direct contradiction to advice from Peter Haveland. Please explain and give examples so I know exactly what this means.

Your chosen artists were very well suited to the assignment question and you found sufficient distinction between them to sustain the discussion. This is much the same for the spectator who relates to the artworks in a variety of ways – sometimes included, sometimes at a distance. What seemed to be lacking though was a close reading of the concept ‘appropriation’….

I found it difficult to concentrate on appropriation as opposed to the artists and used up all the time I had available to research the people/their work.  I kept wondering why we weren’t asked to concentrate on appropriation in the first place, using artists as examples rather than the other way round.  This may seem an odd argument, but for me there is a tangible difference. I wonder if I am learning more about appropriation now in A3 than I did during my research for A2  – even though I certainly did look at lots on the subject then. But it is a very big subject, informed by several other very big subjects….

….Appropriation has to be deliberate – an intention to steal – which makes it active by contrast . In thinking that through we should be able to determine what one can be influence by, and similarly what one can appropriate. The proliferation of images on the internet has made us more aware of copyright but this is always to do solely with the image. We would therefore need a further argument to show that one could appropriate something associated with the appropriated item. It helps to think of Duchamp’s ready-mades as the first works of appropriation since this illustrates the point that the term is best exemplified in the unaltered object. This simple rule removes the temptation to interpret the work since it pivots between two ‘authors’. The effect is something like an allegory where two stories are contained in the same text.

I am confused.  I don’t understand why that would remove the ‘temptation’ to interpret.  I had no idea I was not meant to try and interpret.  If that is a very real fact about appropriation then I have totally missed this point. The assignment brief asks that we should  “show how you understand the intentions of the original artist or designer and the ways in which the final image conveys a meaning to the contemporary viewer as well as what that meaning might be”.  I tried quite hard, especially to begin with to try and follow those instructions and was worried that I had veered away from that objective towards the end. I understand very well the idea of subtext.  And I am tempted to interpret the words ‘two stories are contained in the same text’ to be referring to something along those lines.  But there one can always find meaning, even if it is obscured and difficult to discover. Having read Rhetoric of the Image by Barthes and then Crimps’ The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism, and nearly all of Myth Today, also by Barthes, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m meant to have picked up that appropriation is about separating out signification from signified; the artists attempting to present Barthes denoted ‘objects’ sans any meaning that one can connect to. 

Which leads to this sentenceAll of which amounts to saying that appropriation doesn’t have content that can be interpreted rather it tends to negate content (see Craig Owens, ‘The Allegorical Impulse’).

At this moment, I simply do not understand the above sentence. I asked Peter at the recent Google Hangout about this and he said my question was not easy to answer.  I think I understood him to say that such a concept – the negation of meaning may be what appropriation artists are playing with nowadays.  But that in the 80s that is not what they were doing.  So I am left feeling even more confused. 

More’s the pity for us mortals who hanker after meaning and will read it in at a throw.

Are you saying that these artists I have looked at are above and beyond the rest of us because they’re able to communicate a load of meaningless gobbly-gook (I’m aware that is not an academic term) and instead have us all project our own fantasies onto their works? I am extremely uncomfortable with the concept of anyone being above and beyond anyone – we all die, even great artists.  I am familiar with attempts to ‘negate meaning’, not least from having experienced some of Cabaret Voltaire’s works in a reenactment, albeit a long time ago in 1994. But it is not something I got at all when looking at any of the artists I covered in A2. I would very much like to know more about this concept, and wonder if this is worth discussing in a group, either at our regular UVC Hangout or perhaps one of Peter’s if it is deemed a valid discussion point, which if this is what appropriation in the 80s is exploring, then it must be. (Especially since I missed it so catastrophically). 

The key issue is that you seem to assume the reader knows what you know, in other words you write as you might have a conversation – or indeed write a blog. First then, write an introduction gently spelling out your argument. Having identified the case to be made, give good reasons for it in subsequent (headed) paragraphs, but also challenge it with a counter argument.

I will follow this advice for A3, as there we are specifically asked to write a formal essay (or choose to annotate if we prefer, but I think under the circumstances I am best placed to make the active decision to write formally this time).

Please don’t narrate your own investigation, it merely muddies the water and obscures the argument

I will endeavour not to narrate my own investigation in the formal writing for A3, but I think it is important for me in my blog posts. This blog is a record of my own ‘voyage of discovery’ and I re-read it at times, reminding myself of what I’ve learned and concepts that I may need to revisit. My ‘investigation’ is surely the point of my presence here so seeing it narrated helps me to track my level of comprehension. I am aware you have told me not to confuse blog writing with essay writing, and that I know I  will need to demonstrate the ability to write formally for the sake of the course – see my first and previous points. 

Also try to limit the amount of speculation you make as this can overwhelm the more interesting ideas – eg once you have suggested the subject in the photo is there as a foil to the idea of appropriation then edit the remarks that say otherwise. Speculate, select, edit.

I am confused again. Since here is advice from A1 feedback: Next, avoid the first person and instead write in a neutral voice. Rather than ‘what this means to me’ say, ‘what this may mean’ and rather than ‘I would say that…’ put, ‘it could be said that.’ This will sharpen your eye for evidence – to offer your own view as your own view is to offer yourself as evidence, which is circular. Finally, do remember to use Harvard referencing – something that also alienates blog writing.

Harvard referencing  – checked. But the advice I received here, which is what I followed at times seems to lead to a speculative way of writing.  I thought that was what I was meant to do.  But perhaps that is not what is being said here.  Without any examples from my assignment to refer to I am confused about what is meant. 

You reflect wisely on your practice of writing. The self-criticism seems well thought out and understood. Clearly you acknowledge the miss-match between your chosen style and the academic style. I believe the context of writing bears heavily on the outcome and I would suggest your next assignment be outside the blog and addressed solely to me.

My reasons for not writing academically are varied but here are a few I am very aware of a) The assignment asked for annotated notes – again, I was confused about why a formal essay was expected b) It took me a long time to learn to write anything at all and I have enjoyed listening to people tell me they like my writing for the last two years c) That said, perhaps I actively avoided academic writing because better not to try rather than fail d) I tend not to like anything esoteric and exclusive which academic writing can be e) It can be very dry and stuffy and that’s not me in the slightest

I am aware that there is a lot of positive encouragement as well as constructive criticism, some of which has been hard to take on board.  I look forward to writing A3 and agree and appreciate the final suggestion about submitting it privately. 

I look forward to receiving some answers to the questions here.  And I will get on with A3 now. 

 

Assignment 2 Reflection

Assignment 2 Reflection

This reflection is available at the end of the Assignment post but I am posting it here too to make it easier to locate. For the full assignment click here

Reflection

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding

I did a lot of research, probably too much, but the work is all so complex I’m not sure how one would go about understanding any of it without spending all that time exploring it. As it is, I feel my grasp is probably less substantive than I would like, but more than above adequate for a level 1 course. I was able to really allow my own interests and knowledge inform an understanding of Mary Kelly’s work in particular, although there is always the worry that I have gone off on a tangent. It’s very difficult to be more than superficial at times – tighter writing skills perhaps.

Demonstration of Research Skills

Good for the level but I am not a naturally ordered person, so I can find myself getting carried away but I do know this is an issue faced by all of the other UVC students I talk to regularly. That shows in the assignment, which is far too long, I should think. I’m sure my scatological nature is evident in the assignment too. There is a problem inherent within the assignment though, and that troubled me, namely that we are asked to annotate 6 images of artists. Firstly, when you’re having to learn about the artists beforehand, that makes that quite a tricky and a lengthy exercise. Then, all of my fellow students, whose work I have looked at, is primarily essay-based and really extensive. In addition much of this work we’re looking at is conceptual so annotating it isn’t always that simple. For now, I have simply written about the ideas relating to those concepts and not drawn lines to things on photographs. I can of course supply such documents by mail in hard copy form, but forgive me for thinking it feels like a bit of waste of time (‘this is a pile of sweets, they represent a guy called Ross who died of AIDs’). You really don’t’ want my handwritten scrawls – they are illegible, so I would need to cut and paste the words that I have typed onto photographs of work that is mainly concept driven. There are other forms I might have used – I favoured supplying a sort of ‘working script’ including drawings, cut outs, quotations, and dialogue between imaginary artists based on the artists I’ve looked at. I veered away from that form as I worried it demonstrated a somewhat catastrophic lack of ‘academic rigour’ at this juncture (although plenty of creativity), which may have been unwelcome – mind you, this incredibly long document also might trigger questions about rigour. However, it felt like a good way of providing annotated diagrams and notes, as well as an interesting way of exploring the ideas contained within the artists’ work. That too, for the sake of legibility, would need to have contained my typed sentences – at which point, is the time it would have taken justifiable? The time I spent absorbing these ideas however does feel incredibly valuable. I’ve learnt a lot. Finally, so much work seems at first to be appropriated from one place such as everyday objects and then once you look more closely is in fact a copy of an earlier artist’s work – so the 50/50 split is slightly erroneous.

Demonstration of Critical Evaluation Skills

Good – I’m not always right but I think a lot and question things. I’ve shown I look at work, absorb ideas, question them, and then try to apply what I’m learning to my own work. I don’t believe everything I read and I am able to situate concepts and ideas within various contexts, relating them to areas outside of the immediate subject I’m looking at. Perhaps I should have written about an artist whose work really doesn’t appeal to me at all – a challenging thing to do well, but I think I have shown that I am able to step back and make assessments about well-known artist’s work when it troubles me in some way through my blog posts. However, I do need boundaries and I do need to know a word count in an assignment – I’ve looked and not found one for A2.

Communication

Perhaps one of the main reasons I veered away from my lovely creative idea about handing in a document that looked like a working script is because I want to develop a style of writing that is quite different to the way in which I usually write, but still comes across as authentic and me. I have read in several places recently that people hear my spoken voice when they read my words (and have done since I was very young) and I like that. The tension that arises out of the desire to continue to write that way, and the need for some level of objectivity as well as a more formal approach is probably useful but makes things challenging. I am good at explaining difficult concepts in a way that is understandable, probably because I think that is such an important skill in a world where people are excluded due to no fault of theirs. I want to keep doing that, although I do know that I haven’t always managed it here. In fact the more verbose I am the less sure of myself I might be. The other reason I probably chose not to submit the script idea, apart from the fact it wasn’t what was being asked of us, is that it actually would have made my ideas much harder to express very clearly –especially if it had been hand written! I have in the end written far too much but knowing what to ditch, and feeling able to ditch it is not easy. And learning to cite adequately and write at the same time is quite irritating indeed!

Image (c)SJField 2016

 

Assignment 2: The Displaced Image

Assignment 2: The Displaced Image

Find 3 examples of work in which others’ work is incorporated

Fine 3 examples of work that appropriates, copies or references everyday objects and reuses them as works of art

Annotate and add notes of your own – showing your understanding of the artist’s original intentions and the final meaning to the contemporary viewer 

Reflection is just before the bibliography but I will also post it on a  separate page for ease of access

**

 “The author is a modern figure, produced no doubt by our society insofar as, at the end of the middle ages, with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, or, to put it more nobly, of the “human person.””

Death of An Author, Roland Barthes, 1967

 

 1. Sherrie Levine After Edward Weston (1981)

Type C color print, 19.5 x 14.625 in. (49.2 x 36.89 cm), 1981

(A photograph of photograph in a catalogue, presented as an original work of art)

Link to image: https://www.artnet.com/auctions/artists/edward-weston/six-nudes-of-neil-portfolio-of-6-2

Original image – Edward Weston, Neil, nude 1927 (see above)

 “I wanted a language that was representative of language being spoken rather than a language that was spoken. My initial thoughts were it would provoke reflection on a certain moment of Western civilization and the instigation of patriarchal social relations.”

 Mary Kelly, Interview with Douglas Crimp

A photograph originally taken by a man who was very famous in his field, and then re-photographed nearly 60 years later by a woman who was not (at the time):

The concept, the idea, the gesture (signified) might arguably be said to be more important than then picture (sign) but as a whole, the work is a powerful statement. And in fact the picture chosen in this instance resonates profoundly through Levine’s gesture. To use a photograph that was not hers, can be read as a reflexive comment, about what it is to exist outside of a system that is esoteric and exclusive (Ortega-Alverez n.d.). It is also a social comment on the structures that make that situation inevitable. Such a gesture is likely to be received as ‘badly-behaved’. However, until very recently Western patriarchal history has left the Other on the periphery of cultural and economic life, looking in, only able to partake under limited conditions, except in rare and exceptional cases. Even now, many would suggest that it continues to be a gargantuan task shifting and adjusting what feels monolithic and deeply entrenched. In his essay, Thought on Originality and Appropriation – Sherrie Levine’s Early Photographic Endevors (sic), Ortega-Alvarez suggests that Levine’s education away from the major art centres meant she was likely only ever to see Weston’s photographs in books, and that, in fact, would be the case for the majority of people. That being the reality, Levine’s gesture could also be read as a comment on the parochial and exclusive nature of the art world. At the beginning of her career, Levine’s opportunity to become another larger than life author within the art world was limited by her sex, geography and social standing. Those facts, together with the commonly held perception that ‘great photographers’ are predominantly male, still hold sway as any emerging art student might tell you (regardless of sex, but being female imposes limits which aren’t being dismantled as fast as they ought to be). A Google search for the ‘greatest photographers ever’ took me to a website called Techradar, where out of the 55 so-called greatest, there were just 6 women listed; Dorothea Lange, Annie Leibowitz, Anne Geddes, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eve Arnold, Diane Airbus. (Meyer, 2012) Is that because women are in the main incompetent and simply not very good at taking photographs? An article written for The Guardian tells us otherwise, where the author laments the continued failure of history to uncover female photographers worthy of note (Crompton, 2016).

I think we can safely assume that believing women aren’t all that technically minded, and so not interested in cameras, is by now considered at best, an out of date position to take. This was a view though which was taken quite seriously not that long ago, as indicated in an article about photographer, Harry Callahan. (Facebook, 2016), shared by a fellow OCA student. “(He) had ‘no female followers, only guys,’ Siegel remembers. This was ‘not really discrimination,’ because boys grow up liking mechanical things and learning how to fix them, while girls do not. Cameras were ‘very junky’ then, requiring constant ‘fiddling’ and repair. Arthur (Siegel) and Harry talked photography ‘all the time,’ but their conversations about the latest lenses, enlargers, filters and the like meant nothing to Irene who was a painter then” (Cassidy, 2016). It reads like a ludicrous sketch. An essay sent to me recently by tutor, Jayne Taylor, titled “Throwing like a girl” offers an alternative existential position to the one expressed in Siegel’s statement. The essay focuses on physical movement, and in doing so counters traditional but culture-driven ideas about male and female development, suggesting that women are left with a “greater or lesser feeling of incapacity, frustration and self-consciousness” (Young, 2005). It goes without saying that women were not the only group excluded throughout history, however, being a woman, I can tell you that I am often plagued with sensations and thoughts such as, I cannot do it, I should not do it, I must not, it’s frightening, he hasn’t done it, she hasn’t done it, it won’t look nice, it isn’t right, etc. Which reflects a pattern of existing that is accurately expressed in the words, “incapacity, frustration and self-consciousness” (Young, 2005). I’m sure men do suffer from this sort of self-doubt too but it’s much more acceptable to walk around with your metaphorical balls hanging out whilst metaphorically banging your chest if you’re male.

Two teachers on a YouTube video, produced by a the Khan Academy for Smart Art, state that, “Weston is really flexing his creative muscles” when he photographs his son, emulating the classical style (Sherrie Levine, untitled, 2012). He is literally making his son again, which would be a truly audacious gesture, if one were to read it as such. It might be that Weston is assuming the role of ‘god’ in relation to his own version of Adam, and subsequently negating the role of the mother who presumably was involved in some way in the making of the actual son, Neil. In other words he appropriated gestation, birth, and labour, as well as the idea of a miraculous immaculate conception; super-audacious if so, but something all artists do to a point. I’m not sure I agree with their reading entirely, although I am well aware of men who enjoy assuming such grandiose positions (and women too of course, in other ways) and I do see that there may be some merit to that interpretation. However, I suspect, the photograph can be read in many different ways, some of which are worth considering and others not. A less abrasive reading would be that Weston photographed his son in an attempt to experience how it is to be him, youthful, beautiful, not yet bruised and damaged by life, or else to explore and accept his own position as a father and an aging man, no longer visually so perfect. (A meme I once saw somewhere suggested that if we knew how we’d end up we’d never complain about our bodies in youth). I took a very similar photograph of my own son, Alfie, in January this year (above). I did so before having seen Weston’s image or much of Levine’s work. My project was about seeing all of us in our new home, making us appear here and stick here, making us real in a situation that seemed unreal. Some might suggest it was an attempt to be godlike, I suppose. What is true, however, is that both Weston and I and the countless other photographers, famous and not so famous, experienced and not, are influenced by centuries of classical art that came before us.

Levine appropriates Weston’s photograph and in doing so she appropriates his position in the art world and beyond, his audaciousness, his ability to allow those metaphorical balls to hang how ever he wants them to, his male history, legacy, and acceptable ambition. Perhaps she uses his work, subverts it, to produce a manly ‘throw of the ball’ in the most strident way she sees available to her. The rage expressed in Levine’s gesture at first might seem muted, covered up by the expected, somewhat confused reaction you could expect, i.e. “but it’s just an exact copy?” However, the longer one considers it, the louder and more urgent the expression becomes. I find both the original and the appropriated version compelling but for different reasons.

2. Sarah Charlesworth Image No 9 Unidentified Man, Unidentified Location (1980)(2012)

From Series Stills first exhibited in 1980, and completed and re-exhibited in 2012 Photograph (78 in.)

Link to image: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/arts/design/stills-by-sarah-charlesworth.html?_r=0

Andy Warhol Suicide, 1962, Silkscreen on Paper, (40×30 in.)

Link to image: http://www.anthropomorphic.eu/image/53047428351 

 “Photography shows us things we would have preferred not to see, or don’t want to see, don’t know how to see, or don’t know how to acknowledge seeing.”

 What Photography Is, James Elkins

This image is of a falling person, taken from a press cutting originally appropriated by Andy Warhol, before Charlesworth appropriated it from him. I have chosen this particular image because of the double appropriation and the questions that arise from their making, about authorship in an age of mass media and mechanical reproduction (now digital reproduction, which makes ‘stealing’ easier than ever), a subject both artists explored through their series of appropriated images of death from newspapers, Stills by Charlesworth and Death & Disaster by Warhol.

When I was thinking about this picture and working out how it fitted into my assignment, I searched for images of falling bodies from the Twin Towers (the Elkin’s quote at the top of the page is taken from a chapter titled A Drop of Water, World Trade Centre Dust in Elkins’ What Photography is). I remember clearly the photographs of people falling, published in the press at the time and again later at the 10 year anniversary; and also one photograph in particular, of someone looking out, standing at the very top of the one of the towers, which would collapse soon afterwards. I don’t think anyone who witnessed that event on the many televisions around the world will or can forget it as long as they are of relatively sound mind. The enormity of it is still hard to fathom. And we watched it unfold because of our modern ability to transmit pictures from anywhere to anywhere in real-time. But nothing prepared me for what I saw on my computer screen when I used Google to research this section. It was horrific. I didn’t stay long, scanned the page for what I was looking for, clicked on a picture of a wall with a figure falling beside it to download, and departed, leaving such images to the many people out there who actively search out such gratuity. But as the artist Ori Gersht states in a Guardian interview, “Violence can be grotesque, but also incredibly, intensely attractive” (Gersht, O, 2016). We are prurient beings and the mass media feeds our appetite. One of the images that I did see on my Google search, not leaving fast enough to avoid it, drawn in for just a fraction of a moment, has burnt itself on to my memory. It was a picture of a mutilated body on the ground, a man who had been wearing a business suit. I wish I had never seen it. The Internet for all the good it does, also opens up a lot that is the opposite of good – attracting viewers to images (as well as people, thoughts, mental states) many of us might have avoided coming across quite so vividly in life.

In 2016 we have access to images from across the globe often revealing horrors that in the past might have been mediated by storytelling, reporting, painting, sculpture. I found Elkin’s book, mentioned above, very hard to take because at the end of it, he looks at some of the earliest images of horror, highlighting how mechanical reproduction although still in its relative infancy at the time, made it possible to disseminate examples of extreme violence and suffering.

Both Warhol and Charlesworth are exploring questions surrounding the role of photography and mass media when they appropriate images of pain, death, and mutilation; as well as a universal fascination, appetite, and curiosity about such things. They both look at how real human beings (in fact all of reality) are mediated, and explore how genuine, often extreme suffering, and ultimately death (perhaps the most complex issue for sentient, intelligent beings to face and to try to understand, never mind accept) becomes reduced and objectified.

Charlesworth’s work is different to Warhol’s Death & Disaster series. She zooms in, enlarges the crop, degrading her chosen images and rendering some (but not all) almost graphic but she somehow enables the shock of such events to be re-imagined and perhaps even more tangible than when these stories have become old news. Warhol, on the other hand, seems to push the human element further away from the image when he creates coloured motifs, turning the images into patterns and objects reminiscent of advertising. Perhaps Charlesworth makes it possible to see beyond the constant watering down of reality imposed by mass media and reproduction, through its over-proliferation of imagery; she makes it possible to see the humanity whilst at the same time, conversely, maintains a respectful distance from the individual by rendering the falling person a graphic shape, but one that we can still see is real. (Witofksy, 2012:17) Unless one is mentally very unwell, suicides, in particular, and also fatal accidents, are impossible to fathom and terrible to comprehend. By collating these images and representing them as she has done, Charlesworth has attempted to make sense out of the deaths and out of horror we find so difficult to think about. These representations have been yanked out of the realm of a soggy newspaper, read possibly by a disconnected person, whilst shovelling a sandwich down during the lunch break, and given a more profound, longer lasting and universal memorial.

Although compositionally effective, the images are not pretty, nor sentimental; the moment of leaping is not obscured by written language (other than very simple numerical titles). They are entirely pared back, without any journalistic hyperbole or even simple statements. Unlike a soggy newspaper you are not given details. In the case of a newspaper story, are we ever given enough to satisfy our salacious prurient tastes? Here our prurient thirst cannot be quenched because we are left with unanswered questions. “…do we know them, could we be them, would we have made the choice to leap, as they have done?” (Witofksy, 2012:17) None of us can be absolutely certain of those answers. Charlesworth and Warhol shows us our deep morbid fascination, as the pictures are totally removed from their usual context.

Stills – still images that were once moving, a word taken directly from the language of movie making; in many ways one of America’s biggest contributions to global culture, to its own economics, to language. Via the film industry, US culture is disseminated across continents*. Charlesworth’s Stills is a counter message to the main thrust of information we are used to receiving from the commercial film industry (One could write a thesis on the propaganda contained within the recently released Civil War). Contrasting in many ways to the movies that that country churns out, Stills offers us silence, reality, single unconnected moments, pared back, an uninhibited and open-ended narrative. Charlesworth has appropriated the word ‘Stills’ from that industry to present her stills of genuine people leaping or falling to their deaths in America. (One image in the series is a stunt from a film – so quite literally a ‘still’; is there a difference in that one?) Her fellow Pictures Generation artist, Cindy Sherman’s entire body of work is invested in playing with the images we see in films, creating imaginary stills of the female characters we all grow up watching.

Although not filtered through Hollywood, Stills is not like the gratuitous imagery I found in my Google search. And as harrowing as they are, they are also removed from the torturous execution images Elkins discusses at the end of his book, What Photography Is. But by putting the images in an art gallery or book she breaks boundaries and pushes through the fabric of accepted ‘cultural norms’, in part, held in place by media news, cinema, television, and consequently reveals what exists behind/beneath or intertwined with (but usually unseen) those norms.

As an aside…

I am interested in Charlesworth’s statement: “But, if you know me, there is always a personal biographical reading you could do as well: why I chose that particular image, why I am concerned with these issues.” (Charlesworth, 1988:20) Her sentence allows me to introduce a theme that surrounds the issue of appropriation, and consequently exists throughout this assignment; and that is, that everything said in any sentence uttered, or artwork, song, poem, photograph, film can be used by another human being to express something they wish to say, and that is especially relevant nowadays regarding the Internet and social media. These things can also be interpreted in many different ways – people imposing their own comprehension, projections that may or may not have anything to do with them. People post memes, links to songs, articles and artwork constantly. They’re expressing themselves either consciously or not and saying something to Other. Authorship, per se, as Barthes points out in Death of an Author, is a modern conceit. And celebrity authors extremely modern. But it is also something that is in the minds of the viewers/receivers and cannot be much at all without them. Nevertheless, we use language, of various descriptions, (sign systems – the most obvious ones being alphabetical or pictorial), to convey something about being human to others. Sometimes we do it honestly, and sometimes less so, sometimes in a way that is highly manipulative (advertisers) and other times, perhaps more authentically. I suspect, this sort of communication is carried out with varying degrees of conscious or semi-conscious awareness. But highly skilled users of whatever language is their tool, do it with an extensive knowledge about how and why they choose to express an idea or message. Every artist who openly explores this notion of shared expression, by appropriating from everyday life or other artists, is raising questions about common held notions pertaining to self, other, individuality, authorship and how they operate or don’t within our culture

*My paternal grandfather was film distributor working in London in the 40s, and portraits of film stars from that era had enormous influence over my father’s view of what women ought to be.

3. Jenny Holzer Redacted, Waterboard (2012)

Screenprint, handmade cotton denim paper, 

Link to image:  http://caviar20.com/products/copy-of-jenny-holzer-top-secret-32-2013

If you like (although this can be seen as appropriated from the ‘everyday’)… Malevich (along with many, many others) Black Square 1915 and more

Link to image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Square_(painting)#/media/File:Kazimir_Malevich,_1915,_Black_Suprematic_Square,_oil_on_linen_canvas,_79.5_x_79.5_cm,_Tretyakov_Gallery,_Moscow.jpg

“…text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture…. if he (the author) wants to express himself, at least he should know that the internal “thing” he claims to “translate” is itself only a readymade dictionary whose words can be explained (defined) only by other words, and so on ad infinitum”

Death of An Author, Roland Barthes

Having touched briefly on sign systems, I am concentrating on Jenny Holzer next. Holzer’s work is intrinsically an investigation of semiotics, mainly using written language and graphic signage in her art, often utilizing advertising space or reflecting her Truisms onto buildings for instance. This is not the only way she works but even when Holzer veers away from obviously word-based art, such as in the Yugoslavian war crimes series, Lustmort, where she made an installation of human bones, words are still an integral element once you look closer. In Lustmort, Holzer wrote from the perspective of all involved in the systematic rape of women by Serbian soldiers: victims, witnesses and perpetrators. She wrapped small bands, covered in engravings of the text that she had created, round human bones that she had bought from natural history museums (Whitney Focus Presents Jenny Holzer, PROTECT PROTECT, 2013). The bands look like the sort of thing that are put on babies when they are born in hospital in order to identify them so that mothers and babies can be matched up should they need to be separated. So, in a sense, Holzer has referenced a well-established system of identifying and handling newborns as she explores the devastatingly harmful and destructive way in which women were treated in a war. She has appropriated several things here; bones, stories and a practice utilised by hospitals when caring for vulnerable human beings that have no access to language. By doing so she gives voice to women whose voices were muted, in a similar way to how a hospital must use a recognisable sign system, when identifying babies, in order to keep them safe. The bare human bones are a stark reminder of the fact that all involved in this type of warfare are organic human beings, and all that that amounts to.

I have chosen Holzer specifically because I have a real love affair with words, despite studying/being, for now anyway, a visual practitioner using photography to express myself.

In choosing Waterboard to look at more closely, I have also chosen a work that might be tricky to label as either “the work of other artists or everyday objects”, as specified in the assignment brief. However, one of the points about all of the redacted work Holzer has worked on is that she is highlighting a practice, i.e. the use of torture by our security services, which in fact does go on everyday under the guise of security measures. She has not in this instance appropriated an everyday, quotidian object. Instead she has appropriated documents that are hiding the things that literally go on everyday, despite the fact we may not be aware of it.

The specific piece I am looking at, however, does reference another artist, and several thereafter. Waterboard is a painting on canvas of a letter, which was originally written by someone in the secret security services. In one version (there are several) most of the information is redacted entirely except for one word, quite bizarrely, the name of the torture method (what, one wonders is hidden?), because despite the law saying that documents must be declassified after a certain time, the law also says much of the information in the document can be redacted. What the letter has ended up looking like is a Malevich painting, Black Square. (Culture Show, 2010) (Or Two Black Squares by Mel Ramsden 1965, or Sue Arrowsmiths photographs of a frame being painted – seen in several images, the frame starts white and ends up black, resting against a black wooden fence, or Bob Law’s Black Square 1976, or Secret Painting, again Mel Ramsden but his time 1967/8). If you have any interest in art whatsoever it would be impossible not to notice the Black Square similarity, and consequently the Malevich connection is mentioned in several YouTube videos. I bring this up because I wondered which reference should I bracket here, although went for the first one I saw in the end, despite having made the connection myself. I ask not to be churlish but because this links directly into questions surrounding authorship/ownership/form which underlies much within the appropriation movement, and consequently, this assignment.

Malevich, provocatively and with a sense of anarchy, asserted he was starting from zero, “freeing painting from its centuries-long shackles, its mimesis and representation” in the making of Black Square (Borchardt-Hume, 2015:24). Interesting that the term “centuries-long shackles” is so related to the practice of torture.

That the Waterboard painting looks so much like a Malevich’s Black Square is important but I’m not entirely sure I know all the reasons yet. However, Hal Foster has himself borrowed from Freud in his book, The Return of the Real (which I am reading rather slowly as it’s quite difficult!) focusing on the way in which trauma is registered. According to Foster, “one event is only registered through another that recodes it: we come to be who we are only in deferred action (Nachtraglichkeit)” (Foster, 1996:29). Using this analogy, Foster asserts that the first Avant Garde movements of Dada in the West and Constructivism (within which Malevich’s work can be classified) in Russia only begin to come into their own in terms of relevance and meaning when looked at retrospectively in relation to later Avant Garde movements such as seen in the 70s and 80s. “On this analogy the avant-garde work is never historically effective or fully significant in its initial moments” (Foster, 1996:29).

In terms of Holzer’s work, looking back to where she started, it is interesting to note that she has typically worked with words, unveiling the way in which spoken and written language, along with other signage, mediates our sense of reality and places structural social practice in situ. Those structures gives us our rules, tell us when to walk, when to stop, when to drive, how to queue, when to pay the bills. In Waterboard the words, the structures that shape our existence are hidden, but they are still there. It’s not only the horror of torture that Holzer questions here, but also the fact that our society is shaped and structured by forces, expressed through words that we cannot see, resulting in highly questionable moral practices, whether we choose to look at, see it, ignore it or not. Like, Levine, Holzer relies on ideas and concepts to question how society is shaped, but also to rip apart the fabric of reality so we can peer beneath it and see some of the structural realities that we don’t always notice. Levine unveils social misogyny that is so deeply entrenched we don’t see it; and Charlesworth reveals our fascination for horror within others. Holzer shows us our complacency and complicity by default in allowing state sponsored torture to continue.

4. Felix Gonzalez-Torrez (1991) Portrait of Ross

Sweets, the corner of a gallery

Link to image: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/24/felix-gonzalez-torres-billboard_n_4149659.html

Appropriated from the everyday but see reference to Reolof Louw in text.

 “I want to throw up because we’re supposed to quietly and politely make-house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder, and I’m amazed that we’re not running amok in the streets and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.”

 David Wojnarowicz,

It is probably most difficult to annotate a picture of a pile of sweets in the corner of a room (a black square offers good competition for that prize). It looks like nothing, other than what it is. Portrait of Ross was made in 1991 by Gonzalez-Torres as an elegy to his lover Ross Laycock who died of AIDS that year. As did Gonzalez-Torres, Wojnarowicz quoted above, Mapplethorpe and a sea of other people during and following a time when the US administration actively prevented and delayed research into medical solutions (Laing O, 2016).

In portrait of Ross Gonzalez-Torres appropriates candy, an everyday object enjoyed by pretty much everyone in the world – perhaps only not by a small percentage of humans still living in pre-industrial situations; a foodstuff we eat almost entirely for enjoyment rather than sustenance. It is only through discovering what this work is about that you begin to see it as ‘art’, although even then, there will be those who question its validity. However, if you allow yourself to see what informs the work, the richer and more meaningful it becomes. Portrait of Ross is concept art that relies on being experienced or at least considered (made me cry just reading about it) and if you are able to attend a gallery where one of these installations is displayed, and are invited to eat one of the sweets in the pile, you are also able to become part of the installation too.

Although I have initially included this work in the ‘everyday’ section of the question, it has, of course as everything has, been done before. The idea may have been appropriated from another artist, Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) 1967. The Tate Conceptual Art in Britain exhibition book states, “…Louw invited gallery visitors to become active agents in the work’s dematerlisation…. ‘By taking an orange each person changes the molecular from’ (Louw, R, 2000)” (Tate, 2016; 19) And perhaps there will others before Louw who can be mentioned too.

In Gonzalez-Torres’ work, the weight of sweets in the corner of a gallery room equates to Laycock’s healthy weight. Online I have heard and read various descriptions, some of which contradict each other. Depending on whose report you read/hear, visitors are invited to eat the sweets, or there is no signage, but the unspoken message is that the sweets are there to be eaten. (I was encouraged by the security guard to take my orange from Louw’s installation – and it is currently stored in my freezer being changed at its molecular level). As visitors suck, taste, swallow – an activity related, in psychotherapeutic terms at any rate, to sex, the weight of the sweets is reduced and therefore Laycock’s ideal weight diminishes, just as it did when he was getting sicker. You, and therefore society becomes instrumental in the ‘dematerialisation’ of Laycock, eating him away, perhaps suggestive of the fact that society’s denial, bigotry and inept handling of the AIDs crisis was indirectly, or perhaps directly (depending on your view), responsible for Laycock’s demise, along with many other AIDs victims. By relating the act of eating to sex and then death Gonzalez-Torres connects humanity to a disease where the victims were quite horrendously dehumanised, first by society’s early reaction to the disease, and then by the disease itself.

Gallery staff are instructed to replenish the sweets at the end of each day. Conversely, Gonzalez-Torres is therefore able to keep something of his lover alive, re-creating him again and again, even after his own death, when other artists, who must follow strict instructions about how to re-install it, recreate the work. He enables his lover to manifest and then be dematerialised again and again.

Gonzalez-Torres’s appropriates from the everyday and “…(a) is typical with Gonzalez-Torres’ work, the personal and political, private and public, become closely intertwined.” (Frank, 2013) The signifier might be considerably less potent than the signified in this particular work, although that is not the case with other works by Gonzalez-Torres, many of which are untitled. Sweets and lights and objects are placed strategically to make, aesthetically speaking, extremely beautifully visual work. There is something so powerful signified in the way Portrait of Ross is simply shoved in a corner with very little in the way of physical ceremony, unlike other extremely carefully placed and measured works perhaps. The anger and pain in this work, once you consider it, is terrifically palpable. There is so much rage. And immense sadness. Dreadful, terrible sadness.

As an aside…

The Gonzalez-Torres Foundation (GTF) is in charge of maintaining secret ‘recipes’ for Gonzalez-Torres’ visual works, known as ‘manifestations’. The GTF are extremely possessive regarding copyright and when you research this work online it becomes obvious that they are not happy to allow images taken by Gonzalez-Torres to proliferate endlessly. A web page is dedicated to maintaining possession of images, and you can begin to understand why when you look into the way in which his work is created. Much of his work is effectively a collection of ideas, which of course makes it easy to reproduce – even easier than copying a photograph on a machine. Despite the artist no longer being alive, his installations allow his thoughts and ideas, recorded in the recipes protected by the foundation, to continue to exist. Guarding the metaphysical life of an artist, I would imagine, must present the foundation with quite a challenge. Except one would have to ask any potential ‘thief’ what he/she would hope to gain from such an action. How on earth would that further their own cause? For starters everyone would say, that’s the guy who died of AID’s’ work. In the case of Levine’s appropriation of Heston’s images, there is a clear and definitive statement being made. The act of copying those images is entirely justified by the underlying gesture, although I do concede there are undoubtedly many who might disagree. I can see why the foundation’s efforts to maintain copyright are as they are.

5. Richard Prince New Portraits (2015)

Inkjet on canvas, 65 3/4 × 48 3/4 inches (167 × 123.8 cm)

Ostensibly appropriated from other people but it certainly fits in with ‘everyday reference’ too.

Link to exhibition: http://www.richardprince.com/exhibitions/new-portraits_1/ 

 “I share therefore I am”

 Shimi Cohen

(https://vimeo.com/70534716)

This is the only work where I have not concentrated on any individual image or element within the work. The entire body of work is more relevant than any individual image and I don’t think annotating individual’s photographs is appropriate. Like some of the previous artists it can be argued he is appropriating from the everyday and other people.

Richard Prince is the maker of one of the most expensive photographs ever to be sold. (Tinkerbell, 2013) And he didn’t even take it. Or at least he did take, in that he stole it, but he didn’t photograph it. He took it from the Marlboro ad. It’s called Cowboy. In it, he removes the wording, but nothing is added. There are others where he adds paint. Prince doesn’t like the word appropriation because of the negative historical connotations associated with it such as war, plundering, rape and empires pillaging communities. He prefers the word stolen or steal. (M2M.TV, n.d.) He hails from the Pictures Generation along with Sarah Charlesworth, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and others. (Eklund, 2004)

In 2014 Prince held an exhibition called New Portraits at the Gagosian Gallery in New York and then later at the Frieze Art Fair in San Francisco. Despite previous lawsuits against him, notably in a case prompted by Patrick Cariou, where;

“Judge Batts ruled that Prince’s appropriation of Cariou’s work failed to meet standards of fair use on four specific grounds, which comprised a perhaps unintended aesthetic critique of Prince’s overall artistic practice. She noted that Prince had used Cariou’s photographs in toto with minimal alterations, adding that Prince had testified that his work had no specific meaning (crucial to a narrow definition of “fair use” as commentary). The judge also charged Prince and his studio with acting in “bad faith” by requesting copies of Cariou’s book from the photographer’s studio without specifying the intended artistic use and never negotiating any kind of rights agreements with Cariou.” (Finch, n.d.)

Despite his history, he was not prepared for the reaction he received for his work New Portraits, when, as he along with his friend and interviewer, Glenn O’ Brien discuss, he was suddenly quite viciously hated, to the point of receiving death threats. Prince stole (sticking with his own preferred language) images, many of them selfies, but not all, from Instagram, added a comment, reported other comments as spam to have them erased so his own comments would appear further up the list, took screen shots and printed them.

The images are large (167 × 123.8 cm) considering the fact that the screen shots they stem from will be such low resolution. (Have you ever lost an image and the only place it still exists is on Instagram? I have.) The images were sold as work by Richard Prince for over $90 000 and the first show sold out straight away. Prince claims he’d never had a hit before. (M2M.TV, n.d.)

There is a LOT of content about this story on the Internet. It generated a huge response. Angry photographers bemoan the fact that Prince, referred to as a photographer (is he?), should know better than to steal other photographers’ work especially in this day and age when it so difficult for photographers to make any money (Forbes, 2015). A thorough article in The Guardian by Hannah-Jane Parkinson covers many of the arguments surrounding the work, looking at appropriation in general, the fact that Prince could be viewed as a slightly sad, middle-aged man attempting to take part in the youth led, ‘digital native’s’ world, and getting it spectacularly wrong, despite earnings made (Did he need the money and were the subsequent death threats worth it?) Parkinson in her well-researched text explores copyright law, fair usage (where artists can argue that they have altered copied work in order to make art that says something of note), celebrity, Instagram sharing, and intuitive ways of responding, such as how the Suicide Girls printed and sold copies of Prince’s work for just $90 and donated it to a copyright charity.

What I have not come across anywhere online is commentary about how Prince has contributed to a general discourse about the value of things, art especially, and of digital images in particular, and how that equates to the way in which we value ourselves. There are a lot of images online. I refer back to Berger’s quote “For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free.” (Berger, 1972: 32) which, I used in an earlier project for UVC. It is not only images of art but images full stop. Images are free and made by anyone and everyone. Art is therefore free and made by anyone and everyone. The minute any of us put images online we effectively lose ownership. You can, as Parkinson points out, put a watermark on them to stake your claim but that is very easily removed (and scoffed at by some). You can try to augment your sites and social networking but it’s pointless. Every system is easy to get around and children grow up knowing how to do so. Hacking, or at least the concept of it, is second nature and not thought of as shocking to a youthful generation, rather just a fact of life. If someone really wants to look at and steal your work they can, even when you haven’t posted it anywhere public – if it’s tagged in some way that identifies you, and someone is looking for images you’ve made, they will find them. There is no security online; there is no hiding place – unless you use Tor, an online browser that gives you anonymity (as advised by Trevor Paglen (Art Basel Artist Talk, 2016)). The FBI might take an interest in you though, if you do use TOR, so as long as you’re happy with that…

We, as digital entities are highly valuable to anyone in the market, but our images are not, except as identification – even the images put out by the people with millions of followers. What might have value are the marketing possibilities for corporations as seen in the way advertisers will pay some people for mentioning their products or linking to their brands. Whether you choose to characterise Prince as a sad, middle-aged old man attempting to play in the digitised ‘youf’s playground, or an unscrupulous manipulator of his commodity value – the fact is that Richard Prince’s name is indeed highly valuable. And that is where the work, New Portraits, comes into its own. Most commentators say the work is not very good – well, surely that’s the point. If it’s not very good perhaps the photographs he steals aren’t very good, what ever that may mean. All these people, many of them young, at the start of their careers, (although the work also includes names such Kate Moss), are putting out images, several a day, very few of which, a tiny, fraction of a percentage point possibly, it could be argued, have any artistic merit whatsoever. “ What is a good photograph?” is an unanswerable question but whatever your taste, education, knowledge, there is little denying that the economic laws of supply and demand suggest the most of those images are economically valueless. Tom Stayte’s #selfie explored similar themes but in a less audacious and provocative manner.

“I share, therefore I am” is an interesting concept to consider in amongst all that valueless bulk. In order to feel real, heard, seen, substantial, we post images in a world where feeling genuinely connected is increasingly difficult. We struggle to value ourselves at all unless we’re receiving likes, comments, and other online interactions. And those interactions and responses trigger a chemical event similar to the one we get when we run, take drugs, do anything that feels rewarding – a release of dopamine (LaFata, 2014). However, in the drive to trigger that chemical release, we are rendering our very selves valueless by giving so much of ourselves away online, to the point where an app that recognises facial features can match you up with your identity, bank details, address, family connections etc, a fact that a fellow student made clear on Facebook recently. (Starr, 2014)

Prince on the other hand can add value to something as valueless as a selfie on Instagram just because of who he is. His own commodity value helps to increase a very low-res digital image of someone into a valued commodity. Surely that is what this work is all about. Yes, it explores the way in which women in particular (there are some men too but in the main Prince has stolen female images) choose to represent themselves in digital form, having internalised the images they grew up with, but that for me is the least interesting part of his work. Would I be offended if Prince stole an image of mine (he’s probably less likely to since I don’t post images of myself pouting or looking sexually available and he did reportedly give the money he made on one image in particular to the person whose image he stole after she asked for it (Parkinson, 2016)) As Parkinson in her Guardian article points out, some people were flattered and hoped the exposure would be positive for them. Others less so.

Prince’s work is concept driven. Like all of these artists, he breaks boundaries, ignores social norms and describes himself as a ‘crazy artist’ (M2M.TV, n.d.)(which I suppose he must be – it takes a certain type of person to overstep and ignore social boundaries, which all of these artist are doing in way or another, whatever the reasons may be). I’ve not heard many speak about him positively online or at events I’ve attended. But what he has done in this work is highlighted a genuine predicament for society about its habit of sharing images of self so profusely on the web. He has also revealed how ‘worthless’ all the images online are. In doing so, it could be argued he might have made some harsh pejorative judgments about the people whose photographs he has stolen, or at any rate about the way in which they choose to represent themselves.

6. Mary Kelly Post-Partum Document (1973-78)

Link to work: http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html

Appropriated from the ‘Everyday’ but brimming with references to other artists

Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document is a complex installation made up of many parts. Here is the breakdown as described on the Tate’s website:

“T03925 is the third section of a six-part work (with introduction), the ‘Post-Partum Document’ 1974-8, consisting of one hundred and thirty-five small units. The main work comprises:

‘Documentation I: Analysed Fecal Stains and Feeding charts (Experimentum Mentis I: Weaning from the Breast)’ 1974, paper nappy liners, mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 28 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11) in the Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.10-37).

‘Documentation II: Analysed Utterances and Related Speech Events (Experimentum Mentis II: Weaning from the Holophase)’ 1975, wood and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 24 units, each 254 x 203 (10 x 8) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), in the Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.47-69) T03925 (for details see above). ….

Collage, pencil, wax crayons, chalks and printed diagrams on 13 sheets of coloured paper mounted on white paper; 11 panels each 285 x 360 (11¼ x 14½) 2 panels 360 x 285 (14¼ x 11¼); overall dimensions as framed and displayed variable

(inserted) ….Post-Partum Document. Documentation III: Analysed Markings and Diary Perspective Schema (Experimentum Mentis III: Weaning from the Dyad) 1975 (see more via this link)….

‘Documentation IV: Transitional Objects, Diary and diagram (Experimentum Mentis IV: on Femininity)’ 1976, plaster and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 9 units, each 355 x 280 (14X 11), Kunsthaus, Zurich (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.98-105).

‘Documentation V: Classified Specimens, Proportional Diagrams, Statistical Tables, Research and Index (Experimentum Mentis V: on the Order of Things)’ 1977, wood and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 34 units, each 178 x 127 (7 x 5) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), Australian National Gallery, Canberra (repr. KeIly 1983, pp.115-157);

‘Documentation VI: Inscribed Reliefs (Experimentum Mentis VI: on the Insistence of the Letter)’ 1978, slate and resin, diagram and algorithm, 16 units, each 254 x 203 (10 x 8) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), Arts Council of Great Britain (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.I70- 184).” (2016)

“Aphrodite shows Psyche a huge pile of seeds of many different kinds mixed together and tells her she must sort these seeds before nightfall or the penalty will be death…. An army of ants come to her rescue. They sort the seeds with great industry and accomplish the task by nightfall. Aphrodite returns and begrudgingly concedes that the good for nothing Psyche has done terribly well.”

SHE, Robert A. Johnson

I saw Post Partum Document III at Tate Britain; however, Shelly herself says the work should ideally be seen in its entirety. “I still try to insist on a linear presentation of the work because that has temporal and diagnetic implications, and ideally the entire work should be seen together.” (Kelly, 1997: 27)

As you can see by the extensive description above, Post Partum Document (PPD) has many, many elements. In the main I look at Documentation I here. At its most basic (there is really nothing basic about it though) PPD is a material manifestation of ‘maternal inter-subjectivity’ (Kelly, 1997, 2015), i.e. how a mother perceives her role, relationships, empathy for others, the space she inhabits in relation to her child/partner, existence, all phenomena to do with the act of being a mother in Western society. Although Shelly’s child is a boy, and gender plays such an important role in how we parent, and in her own work, PPD pertains to mothering either sex in the West.

Kelly appropriates from the everyday, her life with her son, and the objects related to it, but she references previous artists too and Margaret Iverson, in a book dedicated to Kelly’s work, points out how “(Andre) Breton’s artistic strategy of automatic writing and drawing is ironically mimed by Kelly with the child’s ‘automatic drawing’ in Documentation III, and surely, Breton’s poeme-objet of 1935 is one visual source for Documentation V. Both allude to nineteenth century museum displays of natural history.” (1997, 44)

The Foundation Generali website describes her work as follows: “In “Post-Partum-Document,” Kelly uses the conceptualist process of documentation to introduce an interrogation of subject. The “Introduction” and the six following sections deal with the relationship of the working mother with her male child. Issues relating to the emergence of gender difference and the controversial topic of female fetishism are central to the work. Psychoanalysis, in particular its linguistic reformulation by Jacques Lacan, presents an important reference for this work. The discussion of these insights in consciousness raising groups as well as the collective activism of the women’s movement in London in the seventies forms the practical backdrop.” (Foundation Generali, 1998)

The development of language and the process of separation, two strands that are as interrelated in reality as they are in the work, are key elements in the materials and their presentation. Kelly relies heavily on socially entrenched theoretical metaphors provided by Freud and Lacan whose work is now firmly established within Western culture as a means of understanding how those processes unfold, although Lacanian theory had only just been translated from French when Kelly stared this work (Kelly, 2015). Other theories such as Donald Winnicot’s, in relation to objects and false self/true self, along with John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory are also important here, as their work has informed the general and usually unquestioned view of child rearing in our society too.

It is difficult to step away from analytical theory when thinking about PPD, and one might argue you shouldn’t since that informs so much of the work, and what I get drawn in by. For instance, in Introduction, there are 4 Perspex units, and inside of each there is a baby’s vest, folded in the same way as the others, and each with a diagram that relates to some complicated aspect of Lacanian theory; there are apparently footnotes included in the installation which would be really helpful for anyone not familiar with Lacan, and most of us aren’t. Shelly, according to Iverson, respects Lacan’s theories, but makes fun of them too. “(She) parodies it as a rather perverse hyper-trophy of the symbolic order” (Iverson, 1997: 41) What Shelly has expertly demonstrated is how powerfully a male ordered discourse, initially Victorian and industrial in character, for that is the era out of which psychoanalysis emerged, influences our personal subjectivity. Introduction evokes the whiff of hospitals, images of Victorian institutions, order, categories, bondage. (I don’t mean the bondage you see within the pages of dodgy magazines, although, of course, this is where that fetish likely stems from). It is clinical and intrudes on something that possibly has the potential to be gentler and more organic, if only the structure we exist within could allow for it.

Shelly herself introduces a more organic matter in Documentation I, although when I chose the word organic above, it wasn’t fecal matter I was thinking of. However, excrement is without any doubt part and parcel of the whole motherhood paradigm. In PPD I there are 7 Perspex units, inside of which are nappy liners with fecal stains on them. These are accompanied and mediated by feeding schedule notes, which nearly all mothers in the West become utterly and fanatically obsessed with when they’re dealing with a newborn, and beyond. Shelly apparently broke a taboo by displaying traces of her babies solid eliminations as art in 1976, but she was at least kindly paving the way for later artists, notably Chris Ofili in the 90s when he used elephant dung in his work. The shock and discomfort expressed in the press at the time is interesting for several reasons. When you become a mother you have no idea just how used to your baby’s feces you will become. Very quickly it becomes so mundane and matter of fact that you barely notice clearing it up (you’re too tired for starters). And especially in the early days if you are breastfeeding, since babies exclusively breastfed have relatively inoffensively smelling excrement. I wonder if Shelly had anticipated the level of social backlash to her baby’s nappy liners. (Do you remember those? Pre-disposable-nappy-times when a thin cotton, itself disposable, liner would be placed inside cloth nappies to catch the solids and make the nappies more absorbent, also aimed at protecting the skin. They are remarkably like objects you would expect to find in a hospital.) A mother certainly, and more often nowadays a father, can enter into a different way of being when they have a baby, and are fortunate enough to be able to connect with it, one that is somewhat separate and protected from the world outside, from modernity and civility. You are part of a dyad, living in a more connected and instinctively responsive space with your child, which I’ve referred to in my TAOP blog I think, and which Shelley herself refers to in Documentation III – “Weaning from the dyad”. Your baby’s poo is so normalised to you that you can simply forget that others outside the little cocoon you’ve entered into won’t feel quite the same way about your baby’s dirty nappies. And might even feel revolted, horrified, disgusted, appalled. Changing someone else’s child’s nappy is generally a good reminder but it’s telling that Shelly felt able to display her baby’s fecal stains. Nevertheless, the shock the work provoked then seems quaint and funny nowadays perhaps due to changing expectations and the way in which art has produced far more boundary testing work since. I watched the recently released Mapplethorpe documentary the other evening and I do wonder how the people who were horrified by those nappy liners might have felt about his appropriation of gay pornography (Incidentally, his early cut and paste montages using photographs from male magazines and spray paint are really beautiful). Western society’s relationship with it’s own shit is different to other cultures. Some are even more uptight than us, and others less so. Whatever the differences, the awkward acceptance, or not, of our excrement starts the moment a person is born, informed by the attitude first of our mothers and immediate family, then later by the rest of society.

The other thing that is crucial here is the Western assumption that a baby’s fecal matter must be disposed of in this way. Collected in bins that stink in the corner of a darkened nursery, perhaps before being washed, if cloth, or thrown away if disposable. Children sleeping in foul-smelling nappies in rooms where the light is hardly ever allowed. This is culture specific behavior. It is not universal. The whole issue of going to the toilet is bound-up with material objects that are understood to be imperative to the rearing of children. Not to mention the plastic bags that smell ever so slightly of baby powder into which we now routinely place disposable nappies. There is a tiny, niche group of mothers who favour something called ‘Elimination Communication’. The theory is that mothers and their helpers, allo-mothers (Hrdy, 2009: 22), rely on being so tuned into their babies’ needs that they automatically know when their children need to eliminate, and so ensure they are held in an appropriate place at the right time. The baby will in turn learn that they are expected to eliminate waste whenever prompted to do so. This is not Western potty training, and should not be confused as such. For starters that, quite often painful, mostly Pavlovian, treat-motivated process would be a pointless exercise with a tiny baby. The theory is based on non-Western cultural norms and as such it is problematic for many reasons, not least of which are practical, when adopted in Western paradigms. I did not practice elimination communication with my babies, but I know others who did. It’s fraught with potential problems. However, it’s interesting in relation to the way in which Shelly has created a material manifestation of the unconscious and conscious way in which we relate to our babies’ elimination process. And the implicit assumption therein, that nappies, fecal collection and its disposal, is the only and absolute scenario available to humans. Less industrialised cultures have different solutions, less ecologically difficult too.

I could really keep looking at this work for ages, there is much more to say just about PPD I, and I am interested in further exploring the way in which Kelly has shown us who we are and how we impinge on the formation of our offspring, and then write about it for hours too, but I am aware that I need to be at least reasonably limited. I have not spoken about the rest of the work. In fact I’ve barely touched on it. There is so much to cover and this assignment doesn’t allow for that. But there are two really important points I’ve not discussed yet, and I will try to do so briefly.

Obsessive monitoring and separation  

The obsessive monitoring over what our babies take in, milk then food, then the detailed note-taking in relation to how the baby learns to speak, followed by writing is highly indicative of a cultural, and I suspect rather unhelpful, habit in our culture. There are those that believe a baby cared for, provided for and included in her family’s life, will feed as and when she needs to, will sleep as such too, will learn to sleep diurnally as all mammals eventually do, will pick up and copy going to the toilet in the same way she learns to speak. We meddle so much because we believe we need our children to grow up in a certain way, and often, it could be argued, we make life much harder for ourselves and certainly for the children we’re raising. We get in the way of innate processes and prevent babies from learning to self-regulate. They must learn to sleep through the night by 6 months even though it is unreasonable to expect human infants to master that biological norm before the age of 3 years (Dettwyler, 1995: 278-281). In order to accommodate Victorian influenced morality they must feed every four hours despite the fact mammalian infants will suckle more or less continuously to begin with and then whenever they are hungry, their appetites, if allowed, eventually settling in line with culturally expected norms (which have historically been dominated by supply and availability, or lack of). The obsessive note taking we go in for is a neurotic symptom of our neurotic interference. We interfere because we are neurotic. We’re neurotic because we’re imposing cultural expectations and ignoring biological needs, creating a tension that often proves to be overly stressful. The many examples of repressed expressive outcomes in relation to those expectations, such as self-harming, addiction, crime, eating-disorders (eating too much or starving) and other general displacement behaviours are testament to those stresses. I am a big believer in the positive outcomes of gentle and long–term analysis or CBT for disordered minds, but it’s important to remember that those, mostly male, doctors who contributed to the ethos of childcare which still exist today have at times got things catastrophically wrong. For example, Bruno Bettleheim and Leo Kanner are responsible for decades of blame, aimed at the maternal parent, with their Refrigerator Mother’s theory. According to them the mothers of autistic children so traumatised their offspring that they retreated into themselves. Bettleheim’s thoughts on this were informed by his experience in a concentration camp, and he suggested the mothers of autistic children must have been as harmful as the Nazi camp guards had been.

What Kelly’s work documents relates to the traumatic process of separation which Freud and Lacan and their followers, and maybe even Mary Kelly, would have you believe is necessary for the formation of a healthy adult. Separation is necessary and unavoidable of course, but we probably don’t, as a general rule, allow it to unfold at a pace that is conducive for well-being. It is assumed that the way in which we rear our children, based on the major theories that have been internalised by our culture, is the only way. Monitoring food intake rather than allowing the process of feeding to fit in with existence, correcting word-formation rather than trusting speech to develop through a process of modelling, using ‘spanking’ as a corrective measure or treats in the form of things or praise as a control are all culture specific behaviours. It is not generally acknowledged that our biological expectations are often at odds with our cultural values, as they are in other cultures too. Nor that we exist in a constant state of opposing tensions between those positions. Mary Kelly’s work is a detailed, intricate and extraordinary expression, a physical realisation of the place in which many Western mothers and their children find themselves. It communicates a clear sense of how our society has absorbed the institutional way in which we relate to babies and young children, as well as keep women constantly terrified of ‘not doing it right’, isolated with their lists and obsessions – something that equates to the categorising and filing of life that was so crucial to the epoch in which analysis was born. I’m not suggesting here that we need to ditch our culture, (although some aspects of it do seem to be inordinately unhelpful) or that we can do without structure and boundaries. What some of the customs in our culture may do though, is interfere quite catastrophically with evolutionary processes, instinctive ways of living, that could contribute to a more difficult existence for children, women, families and ultimately, society. It is extremely useful to see an artwork that illuminates aspects of modern life so clearly, helping us to recognize and question some of the ways in which we live. Cultures across the world have practices that are neither better nor worse, but lead to different outcomes and it is interesting to bear that in mind. Shelly’s work in PPD offers a clear picture of our way of relating to children and mothers.

Conclusion

Like all of the artists I’ve discussed, Kelly is pulling apart the fabric, the strategies and structures that we use and rely on, or have had imposed upon us to keep the burbling, grunting animals we really are in some state of civilised acceptability. They are all looking at what goes on beneath and behind the masks we assume. They are all questioning notions of modern individuality, self, and structural relations, in particular, pertaining to ownership. They each break boundaries set by society and put themselves and their work on the line to do so. And not one of them hides, even when at first it may seem that they might be attempting to, but instead takes enormous artistic risks through their work, revealing a great deal about who they are and in doing so about all of us. Regardless of whether you ‘like’ any of the work or not, those facts are something to be admired, respected, and thankful for.

“It is only to show you that we have no other reality beyond the illusion, you too must not count overmuch on your reality as you feel it today since, like that of yesterday, it may prove an illusion for you tomorrow.”

The Father in 6 Character’s in Search of An Author, Pirandello, 1921

**

Reflection

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding

I did a lot of research, probably too much, but the work is all so complex I’m not sure how one would go about understanding any of it without spending all that time exploring it. As it is, I feel my grasp is probably less substantive than I would like, but more than above adequate for a level 1 course. I was able to really allow my own interests and knowledge inform an understanding of Mary Kelly’s work in particular, although there is always the worry that I have gone off on a tangent. It’s very difficult to be more than superficial at times – tighter writing skills perhaps.

Demonstration of Research Skills

Good for the level but I am not a naturally ordered person, so I can find myself getting carried away but I do know this is an issue faced by all of the other UVC students I talk to regularly. That shows in the assignment, which is far too long, I should think. I’m sure my scatological nature is evident in the assignment too. There is a problem inherent within the assignment though, and that troubled me, namely that we are asked to annotate 6 images of artists. Firstly, when you’re having to learn about the artists beforehand, that makes that quite a tricky and a lengthy exercise. Then, all of my fellow students, whose work I have looked at, is primarily essay-based and really extensive. In addition much of this work we’re looking at is conceptual so annotating it isn’t always that simple. For now, I have simply written about the ideas relating to those concepts and not drawn lines to things on photographs. I can of course supply such documents by mail in hard copy form, but forgive me for thinking it feels like a bit of waste of time (‘this is a pile of sweets, they represent a guy called Ross who died of AIDs’). You really don’t’ want my handwritten scrawls – they are illegible, so I would need to cut and paste the words that I have typed onto photographs of work that is mainly concept driven. There are other forms I might have used – I favoured supplying a sort of ‘working script’ including drawings, cut outs, quotations, and dialogue between imaginary artists based on the artists I’ve looked at. I veered away from that form as I worried it demonstrated a somewhat catastrophic lack of ‘academic rigour’ at this juncture (although plenty of creativity), which may have been unwelcome – mind you, this incredibly long document also might trigger questions about rigour. However, it felt like a good way of providing annotated diagrams and notes, as well as an interesting way of exploring the ideas contained within the artists’ work. That too, for the sake of legibility, would need to have contained my typed sentences – at which point, is the time it would have taken justifiable?  The time I spent absorbing these ideas however does feel incredibly valuable. I’ve learnt a lot. Finally, so much work seems at first to be appropriated from one place such as everyday objects and then once you look more closely is in fact a copy of an earlier artist’s work – so the 50/50 split is slightly erroneous.

Demonstration of Critical Evaluation Skills

Good – I’m not always right but I think a lot and question things. I’ve shown I look at work, absorb ideas, question them, and then try to apply what I’m learning to my own work. I don’t believe everything I read and I am able to situate concepts and ideas within various contexts, relating them to areas outside of the immediate subject I’m looking at. Perhaps I should have written about an artist whose work really doesn’t appeal to me at all – a challenging thing to do well, but I think I have shown that I am able to step back and make assessments about well-known artist’s work when it troubles me in some way through my blog posts. However, I do need boundaries and I do need to know a word count in an assignment  – I’ve looked and not found one for A2.

Communication

Perhaps one of the main reasons I veered away from my lovely creative idea about handing in a document that looked like a working script is because I want to develop a style of writing that is quite different to the way in which I usually write, but still comes across as authentic and me. I have read in several places recently that people hear my spoken voice when they read my words (and have done since I was very young) and I like that. The tension that arises out of the desire to continue to write that way, and the need for some level of objectivity as well as a more formal approach is probably useful but makes things challenging. I am good at explaining difficult concepts in a way that is understandable, probably because I think that is such an important skill in a world where people are excluded due to no fault of theirs. I want to keep doing that, although I do know that I haven’t always managed it here. In fact the more verbose I am the less sure of myself I might be. The other reason I probably chose not to submit the script idea, apart from the fact it wasn’t what was being asked of us, is that it actually would have made my ideas much harder to express very clearly –especially if it had been hand written! I have in the end written far too much but knowing what to ditch, and feeling able to ditch it, is not easy. And learning to cite adequately and write at the same time is quite irritating indeed!

Image (c)SJField 2016

All other images are provided via links in this format

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