Sunday, March 08, 2009

Conceptualism and Intervention: Some Notes after Rob Fitterman

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rob Fitterman, whose book with Venessa Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, I am looking forward to reading. Here are some notes I have been taking since the meeting, if only to organize my own thinking about a Conceptualist nexus in art and poetry.

1. Locate a site ripe/rife with conflict, the nexus-point of a conflictual subject, or incommensurable subject positions. In other words, locate a site of trauma or disaster. What words, selected or invented, can most effectively present what is at stake in this site as a point where the 'symbolic' dissimulates 'the real’? What would it mean to bring certain words in proximity to one another in order to undo the symbolic at the points where it is sutured? ('counter-hegemonic strategies' via poetry/art)

2. The problem, to me, seems one of recognition. Occasionally I catch myself saying something, and knowing that I do not wish these words to come from “me.” Is this dissatisfaction with the way “me” is mediated? Not being in control of the performance of subjectivity (since the subject is ever a performance). Appropriative writings, if they can do nothing else, seem to be able to achieve recognition, which is something different than the “shock” effect of certain collagist practices since Surrealism. One recognizes something, oftentimes, because it is not in the place they expected it to be. Or they find it among different company. So we have to re-cognize it (that is, re-think it). I want to put texts next to or near each other so as recognize anew a series of problems. These problems have to do with a broader recognition of social antagonism as it determines inter-subjectivity (relations among subjects).

3. Why maps are important? [Charles] Olson always took them up in his poetics as facts, or documents. Insofar as maps are always abstractions of a real datum, his diagrams of maps in The Maximus Poems are abstractions of abstractions. Diagramming was useful to Olson because it estranged poetics from figural qualities of language (post-Pound; contemporary with Objectivism). Now language could be graphic. It could do things by being graphic it could not do through figuration. I think also of [Robert] Smithson’s use of maps, which the artist called 'nonsites' and 'logical pictures'. For Smithson maps constituted abstractions of something real and irreducible, whether a landscape or a specific cultural location. To infuse the real and the abstracted with one another (as his various Nonsite sculptures do) was for Smithson a radical gesture insofar as it could begin to reveal the fundamental lacuna of particular cultural locations, not least of which was the location of the New York art marketplace itself.

4. What purpose can maps, diagrams, pie charts, stats and other documents serve within an approriative text? I think of Muriel Rukeyser 's use of stats in U.S. 1, and the Beats via Olson/Black Mountain School who would often draw something onto/into a poem (as if to leave a trace of their bodies within the textures of the printed poem). Tina Darragh’s early books based on mathematics and logic, a(gain)2st the odds and Striking Resemblance, contain various diagrammatic and formulaic visual content. Andrew Levy will often include diagrams and stats in his work—to effective, if not highly ephemeral, ends... How can a stat, map, diagram or other form of visual information have its maximum tactical effect within an appropriative fabric--a selection, “mash-up”, mix or tissue of other appropriated elements?

5. To move anything, to cut and paste, to use up a certain amount of material amounts to something. It makes a difference, has an effect or consequence. If only on the mover themselves—their phenomenology, their metabolism, the physicality of their thinking. To move dirt is an ontological thing (Earthworks/Land Art). To move one’s materials (and have these materials refer to the act of moving) is an ontological thing (Lawrenec Weiner). To move until all movement is exhausted is also an ontological thing ([Andy] Warhol’s films/70s Conceptualist Art, Structuralist Cinema).

6. If exhaustion is a goal of Conceptual poetics, I wonder the use value of exhaustion. As critique of duration? As experiment? As a tuning of one’s attention? Meditation? Warhol’s films, for me, were always a form of abstract painting (painting becoming just barely animated), if not also an excuse for extended contemplation upon a continuous act or object. Empire = Zen serialism. Blow Job = scintillation of the unseen/absent/censored. Kiss = awe before erotic expression.

7. Reappropriation—also a critique of having TOO MUCH (over-production & over-consumption). Re-use! Re-cycle! Or a want to organize what already exists: the archival tendencies of Kosuth’s and Acconci’s conceptualisms. I can’t imagine rewriting or reading the rewriting and redesign of one day of the New York Times (Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day) can intervene in anything except the speed at which one receives/consumes information. If the point is to slow down, “smell the roses” as it were, fine! I accept Goldsmith’s conceptualism as both a phenomenological investigation advancing [Gertrude] Stein’s heuristic writing practice, and a deeply meditative (if not spritual) art. Creating a space where one can attend the newspaper not only as a context (where disparate discourses come together, synch and grind against one another), but as a space invested with different levels of attention. Different modalities—if “close reading” and “skimming” can be considered two extreme modalities of a reader's attention.

8. I don’t buy the term “conceptualism” as a place-holder to describe avant garde practices of the past century. I believe there is only what a text does within particular situations. This is a why I like your phrase 'context creating', and your application of this term to groups that fall outside "mainstream" aesthetic practices (which is to say, aesthetic practices which constitute a dominant, and therefore hegemonic, center). If I take you correctly, the main difference between avant garde practices and mainstream ones is that they must create their readership, and make one’s "self"/art legible to an audience/other/community who may not yet exist. Who, in Giorgio Agamben’s words, may be always 'coming'. Anything that is meaningful obviously has a concept or multiple concepts motivating it that are of value to someone (or should eventually become valuable given the coming quality of any avant garde practice). Otherwise it is not interesting. (And I know this is not what you and others mean by “Conceptualist”). But what’s more important than ideas and/or concepts (by which I believe you mean propositions that should play themselves out until exhaustion, or be adequate by their having been proposed) are the stakes of those concepts within a situation (whether legal, political, ontic, ethical, economic, cultural, aesthetic or otherwise). This is why conceptualism(s), if they should matter at all for social practice, will ground themselves within the larger substrate of interventionist and/or “tactical” art, whereby lyrical poetry (so called), too, may act tactically, as can other "outmoded" mediums such as painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.... What is at stake given any particular proposition in terms of who it will address, and what may be yielded by that address? The term “problematic” sounds stuffy and academic, but I still think we should continue to act upon problems (as opposed to styles, tastes, fashions or, on the other hand, the need for identification, evaluation, and legitimation). Why is one pursuing certain lines of inquiry? To what effect? What’s the next move? Why even make a "next move"? What are the risks in making a move at all? This is the mind-set of artists that poets may also assume (being artists themselves oftentimes).

9. Locating (the) (emergent) subject. One of the greatest uses I can foresee for Conceptualism as a mode of interventionist poetics/art lies in its ability to locate subject positions (see also paragraph 1). Conceptualism's value also lies in its ability to articulate subjects that do not yet exist, or if they do exist have yet to be recognized. And I think this is the value of trawling the internet for content (as you have described part of your process for certain of your works). That a portrait of ideology begins to appear to the trawler. Through recurrence, through association. That, perhaps, subject positions against the dominant ideology also emerge (such as in the chat rooms and forums you mentioned feeling like an “avatar” to). There is something perverted about wanting to sift through these materials, a perverted disinterest very opposite or inverse to lyrical poetry’s own perverse tendencies to disclose, recite, and confess. But I think your perversion is a good one. A kind of ethnographic curiosity, but more importantly a curiosity about what is lurking on the surfaces of language, where language and ideology correlate one another. An art of appropriation in the service of intervention then creates a framework where such voices can articulate a subject position or relation among subjects, as well as the discrepancies that inevitably echo through this articulation. So is one mashing-up, mixing, selecting or merely making legible the subject as an ideological location/(non-)site? Does one direct the performance of the subject in such a way as to reveal the truth of existing subject positions? Which calls to mind a broader question: How does Conceptualism embrace "live art," and the historical relation between (live) performance in visual art and poetry as a discrete investigation seeking to intervene tactically?


Jarrod said...

How does Conceptualism embrace "live art," and the historical relation between (live) performance in visual art and poetry as a discrete investigation seeking to intervene tactically?

archivist said...


this is excellent. did you get a chance to read NOC yet?

Thom Donovan said...

yes archivist (Lawrence?). a review is pending in print (I'm still waiting to see who might take it...). wld be curious to know what you and others think abt it since very little has been written abt the book so far (Silliman aside)...