The Artist's Studio
[some remarks on its contradictions]
April/May 2006 - Guillaume Paris
June/July 2006 - Shezad Dawood
September/October 2006 - Riccardo Previdi
November/December 2006 - Marko Maetamm
January/February 2007 - Szuper Gallery
March/April 2007 - Khalil Rabah
May/June 2007 - Shilpa Gupta
What is an artist's studio these days? Has the traditional studio reached an impasse? The spectacle disrupts all artistic autonomy - the 'sensible' framework defined by art's network of meanings and expressions, can no longer finds a place in the system of visible co-ordinates where it had once appeared and occupied. The aesthetic regime is [fully] re-distributed; reversals, or counter-shots have disturbed the foundations upon which the studio, and traditional media had been founded so much so that a new set of difficulties have since emerged, consigned to share the same shaky ground as all. The intention to extend the discourse of a re-distribution of the aesthetic [looking back to Baudelaire's definition of modernity as being revealed principally through the senses] would today entail subtler, more schizoid, and more urgent means in adjusting to uncanny reproductions via mechanical reproduction. The 'sensible' is re-addressed in the demotic language of a trans-aesthetic. 'Demos' resists signification. The language of realism, too, having reached an end-point at quixotic speed is blinded in a fog of cultural relativism. We now have only ourselves at hand to work, in place of art, which is diffused everywhere and nowhere. The question is raised to how one can align available structures and put them to work, as the formal means of re-configuring the artist's studio, if it is designated to perform a number of tasks for today. Firstly, in a curatorial role, which at the same time is set to assist artistic practices that might wish to decentre a sovereign idea of an aesthetic 'practice' itself; also to interrogate the contradictions of its wishful-thinking which are implicated in the fake motives of political traversal away from the business of making art. Art has its own politics, always subjective in origin, against relation. Curating is ostensibly the best of available choices in wanting to 'relate' things, or to accord a happy state where artists, never not intentionally 'political', distribute their exertions through the medium of the transaesthetic, shared awkwardly on a discursive platform with politics. There is politics, without knowing it, performed through other means [temporality, for instance in Virginia Woolf's novels] to transmit a sense of cognitive disturbance that might alternate, being effectively unknown, as politics. Artists are always vulnerable as the standing-reserve for political agendas of their managers, and, as willing victims, may not want anything changed neither of their individual practice nor to be transported to the public realm of the 'Multitude'. They may not want to be 'relational' aestheticians, in fact may actively resist all things 'social'. They may even, at worst, wish to bring back something of the 'pre-modern' through self-policing in alignment with the transcendental codes of reactionary bureaucracy to unify everyone as a kind of little 'manager' within the milieu of a total Management. There's always a higher authority, insinuated in Post-Fordism. Art is to be free, never tame. Or is it? Curators are potential victim to a predatory tendency over the lives of artists, [look at Elvis and the Colonel] and as cultural workers, or as bureaucrats of art, with their own hierarchies and skills placed in aesthetic judgements. A trap is snared. Conceptual art, to some degree had advanced this curatorial sensibility [a clever use of artists and works to advance an ideology, nothing new] to operate within State administration as both the correct institutional method and aesthetic regime, for the post-war times. As Dan Graham is quoted to have had said in interview, that maybe a better option than to be left behind as outsider, anarchist or boho, is to be inside, and to negotiate one's work. So does the Artist's Studio [in this particular incarnation] fulfil these criteria, and can it disengage from a redundant definition, say of a post-conceptual model, in any other ways, if reluctant to conform or negotiate in any prescribed way?
What maintains the 'standard' of representation [within a singular artistic practice] is that which sets a polite, neutral distance, from immersion in the world where things speak without mediators, for themselves. Something an artist would take as a given, not being overly concerned so much with interpretation or meaning after the event of a work which keeps revealing things beyond expectation. The words 'polite' and 'political' 'police' are intertwined. A work may paradoxically claim to forward a 'democratic' intention, be disinterested in politics per se, or oblivious to its potential. Work indeed appear may out of the blue, become the subject of attention, to locate, within the immense subjective field, a process of truth. This would be a contradictory situation never the less. An easy route, taken out of a sense of betraying the status-quo by seduction, is less purist and puritanical, hence the title's playful 'The Artist's Studio', is also 'modern': if we are to assume that it is its remit to show difficult work; or if at first glance it implies contradiction, and at a risk of misreading intention, we may be uncertain as to whether we are being fed a red herring, or not.
Any further declaration of [in]equality distributed by the aesthetic is declared from this play on the rhetorical and relativist points of intersection between opposites, past meanings and corrupted new ones, etcetera. A work predicated on re-organised source material, does not yield true precedence for its existence. It may be screened from an earlier aesthetic 'event' with no relation to the present. The formation of the works, at an arrival point here, is not systematic. The selection, albeit commendable, alerts us to a kind of serious flaw in 'retrospective progressivism'. The curation of these works, has avoided unnecessary toil, by presenting the intelligence of works in the first position and their precedence as secondary. The works by Guillaume Paris, Szuper Gallery, Khalil Rabah and others are assembled to prevent misreading in referencing, alignments, and re-configuring each under the aegis of the 'Studio' with a forced relation to content; each artist has been situated in terms of a disturbance, consciously, to the individual performance. This sets at odds any difficulty in the attempt by artists to resist incorporation within the concept of the Artist's Studio, to seize their moment to 'disincorporation', [an unattractive word and unpleasant task, but noble in idea] to redistribute the 'sensible' upon a common ground. The risk is offered to contradict the concept itself, cleverly transforming an artist's difficulty into rhetoric of friendly challenge and patronage. Disagreement is annulled by gentle affirmation. Testing the capacity to each practice reassesses certain schemas. The struggle against the progressive reduction to an aesthetic relativism, damned if you do, damned if you don't, faces each with a forced choice. Let the games commence. I watched 'Gladiator' recently. I believe in Rome.
This cultural relativism [.] derived from the co-inciding of [Anglo-Saxon] linguistic judgement and analytical ideology and the tradition of hermeneutics recognises no other form of truth than the lived particularity of specific designated groups, in particular made up of 'passive' victims of one kind or another, duly specified according to language, race, nation, religion and gender. Second, the only unifying mechanism behind this collection of 'sub-sets of the oppressed' is 'the false universality of monetary abstraction', the undivided rule of Capital.
[From Peter Hallward 'Badiou, A Subject to Truth', [2003 Chapter 1 'Taking Sides' p25, University of Minnesota Press, 2003]
The ventriloquist, no longer distinguished from its dummy, speaks its thoughts. When simulation reaches a critical point there is no longer difference. As Alain Badiou points out, one must at a crucial moment, distinguish between something true and its simulacrum, if there is to be a risk, to make the [ontological] leap. I presume 'beyond good and evil'. To pull back from that, well, is betrayal, he may say, of a situation. It's not a good idea either to believe in something too forcibly, inviting disaster. However, what if simulacra are the only choice there are no causes, only effects?
The term 'The Artist's Studio' seems at first to be either a distraction, [the play on an archaic, romantic notion of Art preceding its discontents] or to bring up shining images of a once imagined world such as depicted in the film 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' [directed by Peter Webber, in 2003] concerning the time-honoured profession of an artist [Vermeer] entering philosophical discourse slowly and painstakingly, 'at home' with his craft. Here the genus of time was systematically measured to accord the act to painting and sculpture as a residing, iron in the soul, 'god' in the details of the ordinary, just light on an interior wall. The studio permitted an artist's concentrated focus: to act upon an object's implacable resistance, to declare the Unity of the One of Newtonian time and space, and by mimetic procedure of representing ideas scientifically, portray ideas and emotions in 'things', transforming their impurity. This hard-won victory affectively generated the subject of truth. Over centuries culture has been founded in the search for the pure and infinite, in domestic interiors, the ordinary places, and is not undertaken either without the erotic, poetic contract between love and death. Art as a process may transmit some deeper, ultimate force beyond the artist's knowledge, by its own affirmation emerging within contradiction, to produce a politics [interior] from the formal contours of the poetic [exterior].
The Artist's Studio is a project set in a desirable property in the heart of Knightsbridge. It is a complex and ambiguous undertaking, unashamedly contradictory as to what it says it is and what it does in the context of Britain's disavowed inequalities and capitulations of governments. We only have to remember the speech of the 9th Earl of Spencer, who has subsequently recanted.
Any process of bringing artists together under the auspices of an idea of a cosmopolitan metropolis, must unavoidably produce a shadow bundled together of specific communities and knowledges, within the exclusive medium of a global financial market. The Artists' Studio emerges, between risk and contradiction in up-town Knightsbridge, seeded by chance, as if from a side-pocket in a vintage Hermes handbag picked up outside Harrods. What it reveals in the gap between the visuality in an artistic process and the visibility of its production. In concrete terms, a blind spot.
Any set [grouping] is incomplete, if the method or 'search' [elenchus] it operates begins, before the event, at an impasse. A recalling of the 'studio' as site of the transformative process of a work having its own intention is doubled with another, the curator's, which also turns on an acknowledgement of an unsatisfactory model of artist as curator, and its reflexive claims to distribute 'sensibility' as a new standard of material evidence-in-process of 'curating'. Concepts are bracketed for a contradictory practice. Any statement such as 'These artists differ, yet share a common understanding and purpose.' is not contradiction, merely in contradictory relation. True difference must be extreme or nothing at all. There is a case that The Artist's Studio brackets art as 'cultural': 'marginal' or 'Asian', 'Arab', etcetera, by using the structures of race, nation, selecting those who are variously from a global perspective anyway so as to subvert their categorisation? In this inversion he seems to make something of the 'Same' within the concept of 'foreign' that may interpolate, and resist its recuperation via relativist interpretation as an acceptable, political and represented 'difference'. Without the threat to security, knowledge /difference is accorded value and rewarded through the established order and through monetary equation; to be left feeling uncomfortable with 'belonging' the work may be particularised to create a false universal. The Artist's Studio, in advertisements and publicity, will never the less behave with propriety, so as to stage contradiction, without having to oppose the market. This subtlety is a tactic of invisibly splitting the market's ground on the ambivalence of a premise, as if 'there is no market, there is no art' or 'no market, no art.'
No need then for concern, for if this is not new, all the more so we can say that it is, buy into the post-political ethic / therapeutic that efficiently will do that: 'identity', 'meaning' and 'interpretation'. The Artist's Studio, giving with one hand, takes with the other, as a challenge to acceptance. Just as the thought of soixante-huitard is finally consigned to the garbage tip of revolt, it is reclaimed at the last minute.
[ Events ]
There is little purpose here in re-iterating or even ridiculing the frequently used ethical clichés of 'blurring the boundaries of.' the curator and artist, the pronouncements of the 'Control State'. [See 'The Grammar of the Multitude' Paolo Virno]. Project-space / museum, are synergetically each inside each other. You cannot join the establishment if you are already it. When did I leave? The museum accommodates the project-space. The alternative is dead. Long lives the Alternative! Institutionalisation is final victory. The Model tests the unacceptable Idea, as the question of a new professional category within the art establishment, 'shaking hands' in full knowledge that every affirmation of friendship is also suspected from both sides. What choice? To subtract one's projects from the institution which is able to support, may be a deluded, romantic undertaking leading to self-exile within the community; a melancholic affair, rewarded with a pathetic pat on the back from the arbiters of taste for loyal, if dissenting, years of untiring service. If failing to seize and be seized in the search for a rigourously generic community, and a new aesthetic, unwinding the over-used 'Gesamkusntwerk' of museum culture, we are to remain unchallenged? On the same plane as the world, our fake universality, so tragically befallen, is a worthless manoeuvre. Where is the real art 'event' being staged, if are only led through the threshold of indistinguishable differences, show after show of 'sensual' particularities, syndrome of a romantic nihilism resigned to defeat?
Yona Friedman and other soixante-hullard and Situationist advocates of the multitude's capacity for self-organisation have been influential. That this is clearly marked in history, not as an 'art for art's sake', or 'revolt for revolt's sake', nor relationally, as a 'stop-off on the road to Utopia', but as more likely the 'art' of a discrete, or invisible, institutional anarchism. Like Wiley. E. Coyote in the cartoon Roadrunner, [created in 1942, by Chuck Jones for Warner Brothers] running out of luck suspended in mid-air over the cliff's edge. At first bewilderment, then realisation, after the event proper. We vanish out of frame.
Perhaps the machinations of post-industrial society and Post-Fordist labour are far beyond both individual and collective agency, or any real alternative. The parameters set by these art projects in series over one year are not really in place to make a claim for artistic virtue and social legitimacy, or anything 'new' in this aspect, but of carefully presenting in a discursive, even mannered style, the necessity for dis-organising the tendency to bureaucratisation, if concerned to upsetting art's 'sensual particularities' [a derogatory term from Alain Badiou aimed at counter-balancing pity for the other as victim, in aesthetics/politics, and a pious respect for representations of all difference-as-suffering]. I am comparing The Artist's Studio to another project Fig 1, a grander 'elite' affair, run by Mark Francis, plagiarising the squatting signifiers of alternative spaces at that time, in the format of one year of individual exhibitionary projects. Held in Soho [in a building undergoing renovation for its re-entry into the market, Fig 1 launched individual careers].
In the relation of the market economy qua art, especially of property, the use of temporary vacancy real estate during a sales procedure, is an aspect of the business of art, and vice versa. Why not? 'We are not', Robert Longo once declared, in the unapologetic 80s, '19th century Gentlemen.' The frankness of an admission that artists are always in debt to patronage and never unto themselves 'sovereign', is more than just some newsworthy item of interest, given the success gained from media attention, harnessed at the more brutal end of its cosmology of desire. An art project is less interesting if it is gauged only in the clever and scandalous attitude of / to money spent on the cultivated pseudo-objects of connoisseurship or in the commodification of critique [verified also in the auction house] than in the co-incidences of narrative, especially to be found in cinema. For example, Stanley Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon,  exposes the style and manners of the rich and powerful [with all its etiquettes of self-loathing / disgust in bad manners], in a social climber, that also is a criticism of giving over one's desire to the Law. Perhaps the self-imposed exile to London's west -side art wilderness is a means to break the respectful passivity of the 'Alternative', to challenge the gallerist mentality of Vyner Street's 'white-cube' occupations, redolent of New York 'buzz to enter' spaces, that has left the status-quo, but not the street more than intact. It just leaves a visitor with bad nerves and an uncanny sense that we're back in downtown L.A, at China Art Objects or in Beijing, overnight, for a big opening. All the same.
Statements that declare 'East moves West', or 'West is the new East' or 'Arabs are the new Jews' perform to test the limits of their over-familiarity, saturated like soggy tissue paper. There are models, a plethora in the new Thames and Hudson survey of Post-War International Galleries. Nigel Greenwood and Robert Fraser in London in the 70s and 60s. Castelli had shown Kandinsky and Pollock in the late 50s; Peggy Guggenheim also opened The Art of This Century Gallery at 30 W. 57th Street in New York City earlier in the 40s. Frederick Kiesler is again fashionable. Content and style, both, big business. Cerulean blue is back, so is Meryl Streep. Keith Haring? No. Context and marketing are how to equate 'worldliness' with an idea and its shelf life. It is hard to discredit the relation between patronage and support for new work, and design, and advertising. Entertainment wins, but it's disappointing, this 'jouissance', the 'this is not it.' I watched the film 'Pollock', starring Ed Harris. Harris studied Pollock in detail for years to get it right. But who these days is talking through whom, about what? The marketing is very discrete, and successful and above all, intelligent. It's a long way back to Straub-Huillet's excessive and intellectual realism, setting itself apart as 'art', or requiring an audience that had still to take shape, to exist.
How does this impact on the studio activity as a sincere search [e.g.] as classic modernist filmmakers Straub/ Huillet, for abstraction? Since there is suggested no absolute break in the historical continuum does it not also suggest that in its engagement, any break from the museum, the genre, [in the early work of independent curating, dealing, or working from an apartment, painting and showing in the kitchen, or the Mondo Ikea 'home' whose living space is site for another order of display, has blended imperceptively: 'this is new, but must be therefore, because also not-new, historical. There is precedence, yet it is not so easy to dismiss the affirmation that the new must be measured by immediacy in acknowledging, pledging, a break with the vector of its duration. Perhaps it will take time.
I met Franco Baradi recently, and he reminded us of the Fiat Strike in Bologna, 1977, at a time when a new way of 'making and doing' art was created out of risk, against work, and, politically staged, in a loose symbolisation of aggression, in 'revolt' but not 'terror'. Perhaps, it could be argued, this was the last chance for making and doing art outside the law without actually becoming a terrorist. Now the Law itself has taken note and so begins the prosaic work, the morning after, and daytime [i.e.] normalised terror continues unabated. Include me out.
To restrict on unnecessary tasks, the Artist's Studio provides an easy translation from the Salon to the apartment, through the revolution of the 60s, the counter-culture of 70s, to the cultural relativism of the 80s 'after-Warhol', to the more cautious present, of art's demolition, to banality and worldliness, aka 'equivalence', the idea of the victim, and so forth, regulated by the post-political sophistry of state benevolence. So is the institution changed by the kind of pressure to change, in order to survive? To evolve or die? Hardly. The changes may or not interpolate voices from their exclusion or invisibility into the discourse of governance. Tate is Tate [Disney]. The relation is in fact triangular. Art, life, and entertainment. Attempts by artists to be entertaining have generally failed, and that's entertaining, failure, to the mass. It's not the death of the Artist's Studio that hurts, missing its sense of familiarity and the motivation of profound subjectivity it encouraged. We are not in mourning. It's the loss of desire for the desire that's really worrying. Does that make any sense? Call us on this number.
'It follows, then, that excellence cannot be teachable.' [from Plato, Meno and Other Dialogues, translation by Robin Waterfield, Oxford World Classics, 2005, p137]
The speech of Earl Spencer was delivered on September 6 1997 at the State Funeral of Princess Diana at Westminster Abbey in which he implied a criticism of the Royal Family, [Diana was a 'British girl'], some hostility there to the national identity and its power, use and abuse] and of the coldness of their treatment toward her, also 'spat' of a latent [and clearly] evinced republican desire in the populace] 'how different it might have been, he implied, had she been treated with more care by both family and press'. [from Beryl Bainbridge in the foreword to the Guardian's 'Great Speeches of the 20th Century' No. 14 Earl Spencer, September 6th 1997. 'The most hunted person in the modern world'. I read on the Internet that he had recanted any implied criticism of the Royal Family since.
The BBC Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer quizzed
Earl of Spencer: No there is none of it I regret because at the end of the day it was the truth as I saw it then and apart from the fact I am still able to stand by every word, it would be pointless to look in that context because it was coming from the heart and written specifically for that day of the funeral. Looking back on it now seems rather pointless to me - I believe every word I said was genuine and that is all I wanted to be that day.
Franco Berardi Bifo is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). Like others Involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970's, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. During the 1980's he contributed to the magazines Semiotexte (New York), Chimerees (Paris), Metropoli (Rome) and Musica 80 (Milan). In the 1990's he published Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), and Felix (Rome, 2001). He is currently collaborating on the magazine Derive Approdi as well as teaching social history of communication at the Accademia di belle Arti in Milan.
He is the co-founder of the e-zine rekombinant.org and the telestreet phenomenon.