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.