Friday, May 11, 2012


In which one gets one's ducks in a row.

Once again, the world would be a more interesting place if poets were taken as seriously as visual artists. In the meanwhile, we have to extrapolate:

from Altermodern: A Conversation with Nicolas Bourriaud

NB: The Radicant , which is now out, is . . . . a critique of postmodernism as an ideology and as a historical narrative, and an attempt to define what’s next, that I name the ‘altermodern’. But to answer your question, The Radicant also prolongates and deepens some aspects of Postproduction, clarifying the political statement of this earlier book. Basically, it insists on the difference between appropriating and what I call ‘formal collectivism’, and attributes a positive value to precariousness as a cultural phenomenon. In a way, it is about the value of programming and deejaying as methods: what does it mean? What do artists actually do when they use already existing forms? What ideology does it relate to?

To cut a long story short, what we traditionally call reality is in fact a simple montage. On the basis of that conclusion, the aesthetic challenge of contemporary art resides in recomposing that montage: art is an editing table that enables us to realize alternative, temporary versions of reality with the same material (basically, everyday life). Thus, artists manipulate social forms, reorganize them and incorporate them in original scenarios, deconstructing the script on which the illusory legitimacy of those scenarios was grounded. The artist de-programs in order to re-program, suggesting that there are other possible usages for techniques, tools and spaces at our disposition.

The cultural or social structures in which we live are nothing more for art than elements to be used, objects that must be examined and formally addressed. That, to my mind, is the essential content of the political program of contemporary art: maintaining the world in a precarious state or, in other words, permanently affirming the transitory, circumstantial nature of the institutions and the rules that govern individual or collective behavior. The main function of the instruments of communication of capitalism is to repeat a message, which is: we live in a finite, immovable and definitive political framework, only the decor must change at high speed. Art questions this message, and reverses it. It is an idea that was actually the core of Relational Aesthetics already, the Marxist idea that there is no stable “essence” of humankind, which is nothing but the transitory result of what human beings do at a certain moment of history. I think this might be the cornerstone of all my writings, in a way.


At 5/12/2012 7:53 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

The poets, John, are fifty years behind the visual arts. This means it's up to us to keep Kennedy from going to Dallas.

At 5/13/2012 5:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I disagree. I believe it's the conversation about poetry that's watching grainy black and white. The poetry's doing fine, except where it's not.

Sandra Simonds would be as impossible in 1962 as would Charles Avery.

At 5/14/2012 5:58 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

You may agree or disagree, but the people who say it are going to keep saying it.

This leads me to believe it must sound to them the way "Peanuts here" sounds to me at a baseball game.

At 5/14/2012 6:24 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've cursed my luck to get stuck out in the middle of America with no one to talk to about poetry many times over the past dozen years, but I'm starting to think of it as something of a blessing.

First off, not a single person who reads poetry has ever said to me face to face that poetry is 50 years behind the visual arts, so when I come across people who make something like that argument (Hoagland, Perloff [in BR], or whomever), all I see is the thinness of their argument.

If people say this sort of thing to you, you should trust them less and your own eyes and ears more. Poetry is not lacking inspiration or innovation, but inspired or innovative criticism. Poetry is fine, it's the things people say about poetry that are buttering the popcorn. It's a weak butter. That sprinkle stuff, you know, from a factory, that they can sprinkle over anything and make it taste just the same as anything else.

At 5/14/2012 7:23 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/14/2012 7:24 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

This is a silly argument and I hear it get repeated all the time. It makes art a competition. Art is not a sport with the different disciplines representing different teams.

Do the people who believe this nonsense look at paintings and think, "Poetry won't get to this for another half-century?"

Do they, after reading a poem, ask, "Did painting already do this?"

If so, I'm not sure I can trust their critical apparatuses.

At 5/14/2012 7:50 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

I'm grateful whenever I hear someone say it -- it means I can add that person to my Dismiss on Sight list.

As they used to say somewhere or other, Onward and Upward with the Arts.

At 5/14/2012 12:04 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

I think increasingly the divide between installation art and poetry will become very, very thin/evaporate; surely much digital poetry is also, or more so, visual art. The "disciplines" are twining like all get out, no?

adam s

At 5/14/2012 12:05 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

I think increasingly the divide between installation art and poetry will become very, very thin/evaporate; surely much digital poetry is also, or more so, visual art. The "disciplines" are twining like all get out, no?

adam s

At 5/15/2012 7:07 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Yeah, poets today do stuff like the appropriations of neo-conceptualist visual artists. I don't see a lag. "Writing is 50 years behind painting" wasn't even true back when Gysin said it. "The Waste Land" is collage. Maybe everything written before TWL is collage, too. All writing is a cut-up, as Burroughs said.

At 5/15/2012 9:27 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Exactly, David. I meant to add that when this argument gets made by artists it's nauseatingly self-congratulatory.

"Poetry was fifty years behind painting until I came along and brought it up to speed."

At 5/15/2012 9:34 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

(I had to walk the dog.) I mean, isn't there a connection between, for example, Tracy Emin and Nada Gordon? Not that flarf is conceptualism exactly.

Maybe our poetry conversation should be more Cherokeean.

I was thinking of a show I saw when I was a kid, a black-and-white Davy Crockett rerun. Some partying Native Americans--probably Cherokee or another tribe indigenous to Tennessee--make popcorn, but then, instead of buttering it, they trickle honey on it. I was startled: my popcorn had always been buttered and salted.

This was a revelation, like mustard on french fries. I never tried the latter until I saw Sling Blade.

How about poetry with honey mustard on it...

At 5/15/2012 3:58 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

As a visual artist, I would be grateful forever to anyone who could show me the art conversations that are so advanced and enlightened.

I see different versions of the same kinds of tribal bickering on the visual side that I see here. It's just a little less articulate over there, because, you know, words aren't their main thing.

At 5/20/2012 7:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


What I was thinking, reading the Aftermodern interview, is that there is a lot more conversation about the visual arts than there is about poetry. The relative value of that conversation, as you suggest, is open to question, but the fact remains that there is a lot more conversation by theorists and critics (again, the value of that conversation is a different question) in magazines and books. My thinking on this is that it's a shame that people don't think of poetry when talking about the times we live in. Poetry is ripe with possibility.

At 5/20/2012 7:53 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

I wonder if it's just because people like to look at pictures but don't like to read.

I'm working on a project that combines photographs and text. The most common comment I've gotten is, "this is great. I probably won't read all that stuff but I like the pictures."

This is from friends.

At 5/21/2012 8:55 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

People don't like to read, but Facebook (and Twitter ((and Tumblr...

At 5/21/2012 1:36 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

"there is a lot more conversation about the visual arts than there is about poetry." Which is odd, considering the difficulty of using language, a linear medium, to evoke imagery, which is non-linear. It's like juggling about origami.

At 5/24/2012 4:51 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

One thing I notice in the visual arts is much more skepticism toward the conversation. If you one step away from academic circles, you'll be hip-deep in dismissals of the whole critical enterprise. Mostly accusations of "artspeak." Or juggling with origami.

I've often tried to talk up the usefulness of criticism, and find the job difficult. Partly it's because words are not the native medium of a lot of visual artists, so it doesn't take many syllables to to start sound obtuse. And partly it's because so much criticism IS bullshit. And much of the decent criticism is badly written, and so sounds conspicuously like the bullshit.

The result is that many artists opt out of the conversation altogether, because they just don't like it.

At 5/24/2012 9:52 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I was being glib. That doesn't mean I don't believe what I said, but what I said was like respecting the deconstructionist idea that words don't refer to objective reality and then proceeding on the assumption that they do. Hume denied moral truths, but he wasn't immoral. I like the conversation about visual arts; I'm sure it's helpful. You remind me of an interview with Kim Gordon about her watercolors. She says she wrote Art Forum reviews in which she'd try to prove an absurdity, e.g., that David Bowie had influenced a particular artist. She's admitting that her crit was bullshit, but I'm curious about it anyway. I think this cognitive dissonance is sane.

At 5/24/2012 2:53 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

David, I get that you were being glib. I just borrowed your phrase because many people express that sentiment sincerely, and loudly.

And yes, the problem is made more complicated by the accusations occasionally being true.

One friend of mine who's unforgiving of art criticism makes the observation that something like the Sokal hoax would be impossible in the arts ... there are no standards that would let you distinguish between a genuine critical article and a mockery of one.

I think his logic is flawed, but I see how the idea could be frustrating to a lot of people.

At 5/24/2012 3:30 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

What if you tried to write a Sokal art review or poetry review--i.e., a mockery of a review--and it turned out like the Ern Malley hoax? I mean, what if it turned out the best art or lit crit you'd ever written? The Ern Malley poems are the best poems those two Australian hucksters ever wrote.

At 5/24/2012 3:34 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Oops, I meant hoaxers.

At 5/24/2012 7:03 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hucksters worked for me. And yes, parody and / or satire often gets at something unintentional.

I say go for it.

At 5/25/2012 4:41 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

"What if you tried to write a Sokal art review or poetry review--i.e., a mockery of a review--and it turned out like the Ern Malley hoax? I mean, what if it turned out the best art or lit crit you'd ever written?"

Exactly. Some people take this to mean that art and criticism are bullshit. I think it means they're interesting.


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