Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Interview with Maj Hasager


"I do believe in a sort of slow art, at least in terms of production, and your framing of »an art that is careful to use time itself as a means of overcoming exploitation and expropriation« resonates very well with my thinking around methodologies. Specifically in the sense that there can be an alternative to the rush of newness in the art world—both in terms of production of objects as commodities as well as in relation to sociopolitically engaged art practices that can easily be highly commodified as well. Working conditions for artists or any other cultural producer often equate to a very short time frame and little pay to develop substantial projects. I would say that to me, the artistic process is a long-term commitment to people and places in order to be able to listen carefully to their personal narratives, to gain a larger understanding of a specific historical and cultural background—which does not necessarily stem from my own cultural background and experiences—before making a visual and textual interpretation.”—Maj Hasager

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Isaac Pool's Light Stain (blurb)


In Isaac Pool's sculptural works, one encounters a series of quasi-figures that are abject but also extremely funny. Such works (for lack of a better term) conjure awkward forms of presence, subtly echoing a landscape and idiom of post-disaster capitalism Detroit where he is from, but also of a queer habitus after the Internet. The poems in this book provide an integral context for Pool's aesthetic practices. Navigating familiar institutional and social spaces, they tell a story of the promethean courage by which one transcends their class origins while remaining faithful to their cultural background. Forms of life are mediated by objects (the photographs collected in the book show us this). There is a numinousness about objects and of private spaces that seem as disposable as they do otherworldly (light stains?). 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Joseph Bradshaw's The New York School (launch)



  • Featuring Brenda Iijima, Thom Donovan, Monica McClure, Iris Cushing and others.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Max Razdow's True Corpus

A corpus, as Michel de Certeau reminds us, referring to mystical literatures, mediates the relationship between between a “name” and the “rules” of a set of texts. Faced with Max Razdow’s “True Corpus” I find curious the word “true” to describe a body of work. “True Corpus,” for me, is emblematic of a particular tendency in contemporary art. Particularly among artists in the US who survived the 2000s as twenty somethings (as both Max and I did), to seek lines of flight in the fictional, (Romantic) imaginary, mystical, and occult. What does it mean to construct a world (or worlds) when the actual one is being destroyed? To what extent is this moral or ethical? To what extent might we say that it is political, as well—engaged with the production of a public? Faced with the destruction of the world—and the erosion of familiar locations of institutional and ideological authority, as de Certeau reminds us—the mystic seeks a direct line with God, inventing a “siteless site” in which the self and other might enter into a dialogue. Razdow’s work undoubtedly invites an encounter through mystical trends and images. Then again, what he is doing seems straight up Blake, marshaling a made-up cosmology against empire. For Blake, it was the English Monarchy and early industrialization that were his primary antagonists; for Razdow, it is what he refers to in one of the drawings as a “technocratic enclosure” around which a dragon wraps itself. Curiously, in another work, one reads “a dragon plus a rhizome plus a star.” Dragon, other of a medieval cartography and world-view; star, signifier of the cosmic, of fate (disaster), of astrology; rhizome, that natural form with which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari launched their theories of "disjunctive subjectivity," “deterritorialization,” and “transversality.” In a time when the rhizome has come to represent new enclosures—the financial market, the deterritorializing economy of semiocapital, governance through debt—rhizome eclipses Blake’s factory as the primary icon for technocratic enclosure, thus empire. The true of “true corpus,” then, would seem to me a ruse, or distraction, like bling. The word true flashes emphatically, it mesmerizes, but the truth flees in a proliferation of symbols and marks that defy it, that in fact insist on a kind of iconoclasm, an anti-truth. Atopian and non-perspectival, our eyes wander in the worlds Razdow has instantiated. The effect of his works is not unlike that of book cover illustrations I loved as a kid. One does not even have to read the book—reveling at the cover for hours at a time is enough, hallucinating its contents. Allegory functions through the appropriation of a set of symbols, but Razdow’s pseudo-allegory, his parable, buckles under the weight of its hybridity and baroque density. Happily, we get lost in the details. Interpretive authority slips from our grasp, but we still love to look, and wonder. Primitive accumulation functioned through the enclosure of the imagination, as well as the expropriation of land and natural resources. Magical thinking—a commons of wonderment—had to go to make way for forms of rationality that could render possible the intensification of physical and epistemological enclosure. Pushing back against the technocratic enclosure has often been the fight of artists since modernity. To invent fictions not not of this world, but also not entirely of them, as a means of recodifying. The cat who appears before a looking glass (or a portal to another world?) acts like a rückenfigur. It mediates our own absorption and private delight in depictions of a world conjured. The cat also functions indexically, to remind us of our own domesticity. That these worlds make us feel at home—if not in fact safe—despite the world crumbling around us. Somewhere between the moody paradise of the fantasy novel and a ruined collective world recollected in tranquility, we are transported. 

Thom Donovan 
NYC, 4/17/2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

if your eyes aren’t here it’s not mine (Interview)

"My ‘ideal community’ is made of women over the age of fifty, Mom, angry teenagers, coyote pack sounds, forgotten bananas in the freezer, and the permission granted in banal niceties such as ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’. I was on a competitive swim team for most of my adolescence and I never got good. People kept thinking I’d improve my time, be faster, everyone else seemed to be doing it, but I never did. I became obsessed with getting faster, but not because I wanted to earn points for my team (I was far away from ever doing that) but because it felt like a funny abstraction for others to support me. I think about that time often because I loved my teammates. I was even voted captain, but the coach wouldn’t allow it, because I was too slow. She was a total asshole."--Cara Benedetto


Monday, April 13, 2015

Ancients no. 2 (ed. Brandon Shimoda)


a photocopied reproduction of a stack of paper, featuring collages, drafts, drawings, dreams, emails, essays, hair, notes, poems, receipts, and trash, byAmber Atiya, Sarah Boyer, Sam Christopher, Phil Cordelli, Dot Devota, Thom Donovan, Yanara Friedland, Ally Harris, Christine Shan Shan Hou, Jared Joseph, Purdey Lord Kreiden, Carrie Lorig, Feliz Lucia Molina, Caitie Moore, John Niekrasz, Christopher Rey Pérez, Kit Schlüter, Ben Segal, Robert Snyderman, Yosuke Tanaka, Michael Thomas Taren, Cassandra Troyan, and Jackie Wang

Cover photograph of Midori Shimoda. Limited Edition; print copies available soon.

See Ancients No. One (2013)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Withdrawals: Occult Poetics & Sociopolitical Practice

I'm super excited to announce that in the fall I will be teaching a graduate course at Parsons that looks at writers and artists who use occult/spiritual/mystical techniques as a means of vitalizing/mediating their sociopolitical engagements/activisms. Some of the writers we will look at include Bhanu Jacasta Kapil, Robert Kocik, Fred Moten, Jalal Toufic, Etel Adnan, Rob Halpern, Eleni Stecopoulos, Brandon Shimoda, Melissa Buzzeo, Nathaniel Mackey, and CA Conrad. The full course description is in the link below:

Withdrawals: Occult Poetics & Sociopolitical Practice             

This course will look at a broad range of contemporary writing practices that use both metaphors of the occult and occult techniques to mediate the writer’s sociopolitical practices. I am interested in exploring how recourse to the occult often proceeds from cultural impasse, as a means of producing political and social transformation through the remediation of traditional, yet often submerged, unofficial, or heretical, cultural knowledge. I would also like to consider the relationship between “occlusion” (a withdrawal of the sensible) and the non-representability and/or unavailability of certain events and subjects. Lastly, this course will consider recourse to the occult as a means of world-making and symbolic action, often performed under duress, at a threshold of tangibility. Some related issues that we will explore include: how an “ensemble of the senses” (Fred Moten) enacts an aesthetic politics; the way fiction and radical conceptions of the imaginary operate in relation to trauma; the appropriation of ritual in order to democratize sociopolitical practice; and the potentialization of embodiment through spiritual and occult techniques. The texts we will look at include Michel de Certeau’s Heterologies, Nathaniel Mackey’s From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, Fred Moten’s In the Break, Robert Kocik’s Supple Science, Etel Adnan’s To Look at the Sea is to Become What One Is, Jalal Toufic’s Forthcoming, Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieu, Rob Halpern’s Commonplace, and Eleni Stecopoulos’ Visceral Poetics, as well as shorter selections from a variety of contemporary writers.

From a Discussion of “the occult” for SHIFTER Magazine

Karl Marx writes in his “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1848,” that the “senses therefore become theoreticians in their immediate practice.” While it is a phrase that has been repeated countless times, is it worth dwelling with again. What, I wonder, becomes the sense of theory (or a theory of the senses) when one becomes synaesthesiac in the wake of the disaster; when what we see also makes us hear (or touch, or smell, or taste)? Where hearing in fact supercedes seeing, overcoming the hegemony of the ocular? I think of Marx’s proposition as an essentially aesthetic one—one of the few in his work. Likewise, we may think of latter Marxists, Antonio Gramsci in particular, for problematizing a discourse of the senses through his privileging of “common sense” as the basis for revolutionary practice. What, too, if our common sense involves a negation of the senses? A withdrawal into the eidetic, the subtle; into non-representational modes of meaning-making (such are sound and gesture and movement)? At what point does language, as that upon which our common sense largely depends, become non-meaningful, does it refuse the reduction of “nonmeaning” and “phonic substance” for a “universal grammar” (to quote some key phrases from Fred Moten’s In the Break). Music and sound performance, in Moten’s book, examine the ways that meaning-making becomes irreducible to forms of life marked by the struggle for autonomy and impropriety. That which is musical and/or sonorous (i.e., noisy) in the visual mark the place where the visual is “cut” (another Moten term) in order to mark a differentiation within the otherwise present and self-same (ipseity), a differentiation (alterity) which, after Derrida, Moten poses as a necessary condition of possibility for a universalism, a universal freedom to which the Black Radical Aesthetic Tradition in particular strives. In the passage I chose to look at today, Moten bears witness to the occlusion of the visual faced with the photograph of Emmett Till’s casket. The visual is occluded not just because one must look away, but because the face ruptured and wounded withdraws its essence (or pictorial sense?) from the looker. In its excess of materiality, in its excess of nonmeaningful significance, the onlooker is silenced, and in that silence hears something else: the call to revolutionary action which led to the decisive events of the Civil Rights Era/emergence of Black Nationalism; the call to triumph over death; the call, too, of a lost maternity upon which African-American culture is forged after the Middle Passage, “an insistent previousness evading each and every natal occasion,” to quote Moten quoting Nathaniel Mackey. Similarly, in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), the filmmaker chooses to represent survivors of the camps through extreme close-ups of the face. I believe he does so to privilege an aural-affective content of the face that is in excruciating excess to the stories the survivors attempt to, but often cannot, tell. The face withdraws, in this case, because it is too present, because it says (or remembers) too much; in this way it embodies the concept of “trace” in Derrida’s and Levinas’ thought. As Jalal Toufic has written of the face in Lanzmann’s Shoah, the extreme close-up makes present the “over”; that which is in the diegetic image-track that would seem occulted, occluded, as though of another world. The otherworldly, in Toufic, is constituted through trauma; the breakdown of cultural production, and of empirical and historical reality, in the face of a incalculable collective trauma. There is a passage in Toufic’s Vampires (2nd Edition) sublime becomes it articulates concisely the status of haunting in relation to trauma; that in the throes of such deep trauma, the ghosts do not yet haunt a place because they have yet to even return. The point of much of Toufic’s work, as he says in Vampires, is to recall those ghosts, to provide for them (as he puns on the plight of Palestinians) a “right of return” through literature, art, and other modes of cultural production. The text that I chose to look at today, The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster, collects a number of texts from across Toufic’s many books, as well as from uncollected texts such as Toufic’s introduction to Etel Adnan’s The Arab Apocalypse. In brief, a surpassing disaster marks a cultural trauma so intensive that the traditions of that culture can no longer be sustained. Among his many examples, Toufic sites the Jewish Frankists of 18th Century Poland/Eastern Europe, who faced with extreme persecution declared a practice of “redemption through sin,” a negative messianic condition in which Jacob Frank and his followers enacted their belief that the messiah’s coming could be expedited through transgression. In other poignant examples, Jewish students kick-down and deface tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Berlin; and Native Americans prohibit that a traditional dance any longer be performed. The “occult” here marks a withdrawal of the objects and practices of a culture—their subtlization—after disaster. Withdrawal necessitates negation—negation through occultation—but also an affirmation through innovation—new forms of cultural production. By addressing a negative condition of one’s senses, that a culture’s commonsense can no longer access or invest belief in a object or ritual—Toufic calls upon his contemporaries to “deserve” their culture (and I am thinking here of the eponymous essay in his book Deserving Lebanon). Which is to say, make culture in the rubble that will tarry with the event in order to transcend it, a dice throw within eternal recurrence that inaugurates new life, or a resurrection of those withdrawn cultural traditions that would not be “counterfeit” (a demonic doubling; a return only in appearance). The problem of the surpassing disaster is to know that we are in one. It is the artist who discerns this through their work. The senses therefore become theoreticians in their immediate praxis, yet through the withdrawal of the senses—in the turn of the senses towards the subtle, virtual, eternally recurrent, eidetic—one grasps a crucial spiritual response to collective trauma. One of Toufic’s principal examples of surpassing disaster is the book-length poem by Etel Adnan, The Arab Apocalypse (1989), regarding the oppression and genocide of itinerant Palestinians during the first days of the Lebanese Civil War. One of the most curious aspects of Adnan’s poem, much of which otherwise reads life an Expressionist hymn a la Aime Cesaire’s “Notebook of return to my native land” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” is her inclusion of drawings, many which resemble a kind of writing—hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, calligraphy—that disrupt the poem’s lines. Cultural trauma is registered here by a writing the status of which is neither image, sound, gesture, or text, but all and none of the above. Drawing as writing and writing as drawing; writing-drawing-writing as intense aural-acoustic gesture saying saying saying (Levinas). Similarly, Adnan’s insistent naming of colors throughout the poem marks the beginning of a world-forming, the names for the colors being possibly the closest one can come to the non-discursive (or non-existent) through the nominal-descriptive—a Peircian “firstness” before relation. I have called the colors in Adnan’s paintings “angel colors” because they seem to erupt from a realm of non-being, a plenum of pure potential—and physically this may be attributed to Adnan’s painting with tubes of paint directly onto canvases with a palette knife. The result of this unique practice are overtones that affect one much less visually than aurally, acting directly—like sound vibrations—on the central nervous system.