Monday, October 13, 2008

Middle as End as Beginning

Sanderson, Anna. “Brainpark” and “Haesje van Cleyburgh” from Brainpark. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2006: 9 – 16.

It seems fitting (and I’m guessing not entirely coincidental) that the final words in the reader, that has guided these blogs for this year, might be used as an eloquent metaphor for thinking about the importance of reading theoretical material as a creative practitioner. The final words are as follows: ‘As long as you keep looking, she keeps forming and reforming’ (Sanderson, 16).

Writer and one-time artist, Anna Sanderson, in her essay from Brainpark, is here referring to the process of looking at a painting of the woman Haesje van Cleyburgh by Rembrandt. The words guide the reader to think about the work perhaps, more than anything, as a series of shifting possibilities. Formally, flesh has the possibility of a double life as a ‘swirl of greenish yellow, a quietly roaring pink, a murky brown orange’, while what is signified slips between the fingers or oscillates between ‘something humbled’ in her character and something ‘superior’. It seems that this slow and contemplative process of ‘forming and reforming’ sits in relation to the gathering and dissipation of relationships and connections; how one positions one’s body, how the woman’s character unfolds and then collapses again in relation to the time it takes to look at her, how the work appears the same or somehow different with each visit.

Though the excerpts from Sanderson’s Brainpark stand out as probably the most strikingly different in style from the other parts of the reader, this final sentence is a reminder that ‘with time, the development of relationships is inevitable. Entanglements occur.’ (Randerson, 242). The positioning of this piece of writing within the context of the reader is sensitive to the possibility of a development of relationships outside of the piece itself. In this sense, though the Brainpark excerpt comes at the end of the reader, and the excerpt itself is taken from the beginning of a larger work, in terms of a set of relations that the practice of reading for creative practice establishes, this piece of writing may well later be found reformed in a centre, below a surface, at a periphery, at a beginning or at an end.

Works Cited

Bywater, Jon., ed. Critical Studies Reading Group Readings 2008: FINE ARTS 756 &790, PGDipFA & BFA(Hons). University of Auckland: April 2008

Randerson, Jo "Everything We Know" in Are Angels OK?: The Parallel Universes of New Zealand Writers and Scientists. Callaghan, Paul and Bill Manhire (ed.s) Victoria University Press, 2006: 237 - 255.

Sanderson, Anna. “Brainpark” and “Haesje van Cleyburgh” from Brainpark. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2006: 9 – 16.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Sholette, Gregory. “Disciplining the Avant-Garde: the United States versus The Critical Art Ensemble”, CIRCA: Contemporary Visual Culture in Ireland 112, Summer 2005: 50 – 59

Gregory Sholette writes from the perspective of what I have earlier termed, a ‘slasher’ (see my blog, on Seth Price from earlier this year). He occupies the roles of artist, activist, writer and academic simultaneously and through the course of this article demonstrates the degree to which United States’ Homeland Security constructs all of these positions as ‘enemy’.

Yet, Sholette is the first to admit that the ways in which artists, writers and academics (and many others) have become artist/activists, writer/activists, academic/activists (etc) in the past are now ‘largely useless’ within the deterritorialised political environments of contemporary culture. Political power operates anonymously and therefore eludes confrontation (4). Sites or individuals that were once the targets of direct confrontation have traded in their bullseyes for camouflage, the activist who is also artist, academic or writer may well be armed, but has precious little to aim at.

Daniel Malone’s Steal this :-) at the in inaugural Singapore Biennale is an example of the way that seats of power are have become deterritorialised and anonymous. Malone restaged a well-known 1967 protest as a performative artwork and exercise in relational aesthetics. Steal this :-) hinged on the tension between the protest organised by Abbie Hoffman in its original context (at the pentagon in 1967) and that this protest had been reconfigured as an ‘artwork’ within the context of the biennale. The work acknowledged a slippage and confusion as to who or what exactly the protest in its restaging was being levelled at; the building that the crowd attempted to levitate was both the Singapore Town Hall and one of the exhibition sites (or was this site a stand in for the Pentagon?). Likewise the majority of participants in Steal this :-) were children visiting the exhibition on school trips, leaving a sort of reflexive openness about the political legitimacy of this artwork as protest (Malone).

Given local issues of conformity and freedom of speech in Singapore it is strangely perhaps the ‘fuzy’ (Sholette, 5) nature of this work that allowed it to take place at all. The work, by giving a sweetened, general idea of a protest, by adopting its own camouflage, is perhaps able to prod (albeit gently) at those local issues. That the work existed as an artwork and not as a protest whose success would have been measured on scale of real political outcome reflects back upon (and indeed protests against) the decay, and indeed failure, of the traditional protest format in contemporary western society.

Sholette, Gregory. “Disciplining the Avant-Garde: the United States versus The Critical Art Ensemble”, CIRCA: Contemporary Visual Culture in Ireland 112, Summer 2005: 50 – 59

Malone, Daniel. Artist’s Talk. Bachelor of Fine Arts (Third Year). Elam Lecture Theatre, Elam School of Fine Art, University of Auckland. April 2007.

Blindness...but what if there's nothing to look at anyway?

Campbell, David. “Horrific Blindness: Images of Death in Contemporary Media”. Journal for Contemporary Cultural Research. Vol. 8, No. 1, Routledge, 2004: 55 -74

The key agenda of David Campbell’s article “Horrific Blindness: Images of Death in Contemporary Media” is to unravel some of the hidden narratives behind why certain images of horror and violence go unpublished in mainstream media. Yet, its secondary agenda seems to be to actually tell some of these stories that hitherto have gone untold in their fullness, for example, the Bahr el Ghazal famine (68 – 69). The stories that Campbell tells are in part to illustrate his points, and on the other hand for the sake of their being told. Given this, it strikes as somewhat odd that these stories themselves go unillustrated. Perhaps Campbell sees that the fact that these stories have been told at all as some sort of inroads to the problems he outlines, in which case, the power of no images comes to the fore.

One horrifying story in the news in 2007 and 2008 was the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal. This disappearance, like many disappearances, was characterised by a continuing lack of images, as Madeleine went unfound, with only her portrait and the blank façade of the holiday park repeating in the media day after day. Hope for her safe return was constantly problematised by this lack of images. This lack created a scenario wherein the worst (whatever that may have been for each viewer) remained and remains constantly possible.

The Telegraph online archive page lists the most recent articles about Madeleine McCann in the newspaper. The page repeats the same three photographs of Madeleine over and over. Likewise, almost half of the 25 headlines relate to possibilities of sighting, spotting and new photographs of Madeleine. Although rumoured and evidently desired, none of these new visual occurrences seem to have ever been substantiated. In a way then, Campbell, by denying the reader a visual form to cling to, will not allow for the stories told in his article to be placed into history, the refusal of images refuses the possibility that those stories be over or resolved

Works Cited

Campbell, David. “Horrific Blindness: Images of Death in Contemporary Media”. Journal for Contemporary Cultural Research. Vol. 8, No. 1, Routledge, 2004: 55 -74

Madeleine McCann – Latest News of the Search – Telegraph 12 October 2008. accessed 12 October 2008

Anecdotes and Tricksters

Fisher, Jean. “Towards a Metaphysics of Shit,” in Documenta 11 Platform 5 The catalog, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hajte Cantz, 2002: 63 – 70

A couple of years ago, some friends of mine were driving home through the suburbs when a cat ran in front of their car, and with a thud, they hit it square on. At first, they panicked, and kept driving, but then, feeling guilty, returned to find it. Eventually, they found it slumped on a grass verge. There was no collar so one of the boys took a cricket bat from the boot and hit the cat on the head a couple of times to make sure that it was dead and not in pain. Finally they reached home and the driver backed into the garage. It wasn’t until they filed past the front of the car that they noticed a cat stuck in the car’s grill.

There seem to be a few correlations between the anecdote as a sort of ‘counter-history’ as explored by Lionel Gossman and some of the functions and roles of the trickster as outlined by Jean Fisher in “Towards a Metaphysics of Shit”. For Gossman, anecdotes leave room for failure, contingency and the unheroic by being positioned outside of formal systems where history provides ‘orderly public narratives’ as stipulated by those in power (151). Even as archives become more voracious consumers of ‘micro narratives’ the traits of the anecdote and its telling often elude the demands of the archive for veracity and provenance (155).

Fisher points out that the meaning in any work of art cannot be definitive as the process of viewing is an open one, with the viewer construing ‘meaning from the relation between what the work presents and his or her own history and experience’ in the same way that the narratives of the trickster remain open to the interpretation of the listener (78). Anecdotes as a process (rather than a character or structure) seem to take this a step further by inviting the listener to retell the story. What is significant about this retelling (particularly in relation to the deeming of the anecdote as veracious or having clear provenance) is that in retelling, the teller is given agency over the relations and objects of the story as there is a mutual understanding between the (re)teller and listener (soon to be re-teller) that the relationships, objects, location and time of the anecdote are flexible and manipulable. The reteller becomes like the trickster in a way as they take on the roles of 'translator..mediator..."third man" and "shifter" (Fisher, 67)

This might be best illustrated by talking about the anecdote I began with. I have told this story time and time and again over the years. Though I have temporally positioned the anecdote as having occurred two years ago I am in fact certain that it happened far longer ago than that. I have said here that the ‘weapon’ was a cricket bat, yet in various tellings I have also made it a spade, a tyre iron and a piece of wood. I have used the image of the guys backing into their garage as a device to spatially anchor the story, whether there is a garage or not I don’t know. I position relationships of the people in the story as being friends of mine, yet I have no recollection which of my friends this happened to, or if they were even friends at all, it is entirely possible that I have simply retold an anecdote told to me. It is clear that this anecdote has been borrowed (Gossman, 163) and shaped for the context (162) yet its validity for the reader (or more usually, listener), like any anecdote is in some essence or gist of what happened or might not have happened (though, or course, the genesis of the story in itself is revealing of the certain circumstances from which it emerged (162)). To relate this back to the functioning of the trickster, a high level of contingency is created through an understood and accepted lack of traditional authority, veracity and provenance that comes from the processes of anecdotes, the ways they are constructed and reconstructed as they are told and retold.

Works Cited

Gossman, Lionel. “Anecdote and History” History and Theory Vol.42 No.2 (May 2003) 143 – 168.

Fisher, Jean. “Towards a Metaphysics of Shit,” in Documenta 11 Platform 5 The Catalog, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hajte Cantz, 2002: 63 – 70

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Agreement of Original Transfer of Work of Art and NZ Contract Law

Siegelaub, Seth. “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement (1971)” in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz ed.s, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A sourcebook of Artist’s Wiritings, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, 837 – 841.

There are three key components to a contract within New Zealand contract law. The first component is an offer and an acceptance of that offer. In the Agreement of Original Transfer of Work of Art the offer and acceptance is indicated by the statement ‘Artist is willing to sell the work to Collector and Collector is willing to purchase the work from Artist subject to mutual considerations,…[etc]’. Secondly, a contract contains a signal of intention to be legally bound. This is stated explicitly next to where the artist and collector sign and also implicitly in articles 16,17 and 19 (Siegelaub, 841). The third component of a contract is ‘consideration’. This is what both sides are giving in exchange. For example, in an employment contract, consideration is that money is being given in exchange for work (i.e., $15.00 per hour of work). Knowing this, it seems worth considering exactly what the artist is giving in exchange for rights over the work of art that would, in the case of most other chattels, be held by the owner.

Seth Siegelaub states that the point of this document is to right the wrongs of some ‘long standing inequities in the art world’ (838). This indicates that this contract is, in a way, a new original, as all previous contracts and the exchanges therein have been unfair. This inherent ‘unfairness’ being that the appreciation in value of the given work of art is a presumed factor; ‘the parties expect the value of the Work to increase hereafter’ and that the artist plays a role in that appreciation, and therefore should be party to a percentage of that appreciation (839). However, this role of the artist seems to lean toward responsibility for the increase in value so long as the collector plays by the rules of the agreement; ‘the value of the Work, unlike that of an ordinary chattel, is and will be affected by each and every other work of art the Artist has created and will hereafter create’ (839).

It seems important to question what burden might the artist bare by offering up appreciation as their bargaining chip. The most burden seems to lie in the fact that the artist may well have their art making practices governed by factors that govern appreciation in general, such as market saturation. Imagine works that are part of an on going series as being like a set of chatter-rings in primary school. They are a novelty when the first kid brings them in to school, but they would have little value if they didn’t catch on and become ‘cool’ (signified by a few others copying the first kid). Should an art school student selling a work for $100.00 become responsible for the depreciation of that work should they decide to take up accounting, never producing enough work for their name to become valuable? If the chatter-rings catch on, their cool-factor creates an exchange value within the playground (“I’ll let you play with my chatter-rings at lunchtime if you give me some of your chips”), but once all the kids have a set, the exchange value disappears and the chatter-rings only have value in their usefulness to their owner. Should an artist then be subject to the rules of a supply and demand curve to ensure the appreciation of other works in a series?

Works Cited

Siegelaub, Seth. “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement (1971)” in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz ed.s, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A sourcebook of Artist’s Wiritings, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, 837 – 841.

“Contract Law” 10 October 2008 . Path, Legal Rights; Contract Law.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Excuse a response to:
Tze Ming Mok. “Race You There”, Landfall 208. Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004: 18 - 26

On March the 13th 1964 a young European woman, Kitty Genovese, was brutally attacked in a car park close to her apartment complex in New York. The attacker was frightened off after initially stabbing her, only to return, find her in a hallway of her apartment building, and continue the attack, eventually killing her. Despite the attack taking place over thirty minutes, and there being a dozen witnesses to her screams and eye witnesses to the attack in the car park, only two phone calls were made to the police. 45 years on, this attack is the echo that rings out when similar inaction occurs in the present day, such as that in the case of Chi Phung who was attacked in Christchurch in 2005. Though these crimes were brutal, they have become notorious instead for the role that the witnesses played in the outcome of these attacks. In New York the newspapers pointed the finger at ‘big-city apathy’, while in New Zealand much press was devoted to a notion of small town xenophobia bubbling beneath the surface of the garden city.

However, the research into this ‘bystander effect’, prompted by Kitty Genovese’s attack, found that the type of behaviour of a large group of people could not be explained simply by all encompassing generalisations. Instead researchers Darley and Latané found that the behaviour of a group functioned around a series of neurotic rationalisations on the part of the individuals as a function of interactions with others in the larger group. One example is pluralistic ignorance; the individuals within the group copy the behaviour of others facing the same situation, basing their actions (usually inaction) upon the rationalisation that others in the situation are more capable of reading the situation accurately and responding correctly. (Cited in Gleitman et al. 443-444)

Chi Phung was most certainly the victim of a violent attack that was motivated by race (the attacker was a member of the National Front). However, the bystander effect calls into question the meaningfulness of generalising the actions of a stream of individuals as evidence of ‘group’ xenophobia. It may be more useful to think about how the situation is read as a reflection of the experiences of the individual reader. Tze Ming Mok’s article includes a series of personal anecdotes suggesting that the attack and its aftermath may have resonated in terms of her own individual experiences of animosity based upon race. The bystander effect does not offer an excuse for standing by, but rather takes into allowance that vision might be affected by the individual’s perspective and their relation to others. It is clear from Tze Ming Mok’s article that this lens continues to affect vision after the events as well as during.

Works Cited
Gleitman, Henry et al. “Biology, Emotion and Social Behaviour: Altruism and self sacrifice” in Psychology (Sixth Edition). New York: W.W. Norton & Company 2004: 443 - 444
Tze Ming Mok. “Race You There”, Landfall 208. Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004: 18 - 26