ARTISTS TALK in 12 PARTS
Maybe It Takes A Loud Noise
In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstitions as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions. –A. N. Whitehead
We’re going to talk briefly tonight about the work in the show. It’s always difficult to structure an artist talk, categorizing pieces, projects, and trains of connective intuitions into little coherent boxes, and still have it feel true to the work and the process by which it was made, the sympathies behind it. We like to think of a talk as a separate but related construction all its own.
We thought it might be nice to start with a paragraph that some of you may have already read in order to establish a starting place and make an introduction. In the past year, we have been caught up in the surges of parallel revolutions both intimate and remote. We watched our son take his first steps as Tahrir Square filled with people. These beginnings have caused our attentions to solidly turn toward the future, to the shape of politics in our lives, and to a set of steady problems: the widening divisions between ideologies and between incomes, the acceleration of time and the diminishing of public space, the blank hum of strategic media silence, and the possibility that so much protest can do very little. These conditions are bracketed by questions about representation and the circulation and veracity of all that we now call ‘information.’
We invited you here under the pretense of an artist talk in ten paragraphs, which sounds clean and concise and pleasantly short, but we lied. We counted wrong. We will be reading this talk in 12 parts—
[procures egg carton] We hope you’ll forgive us.
[throws egg against the floor in front of We Need New Metaphors]
We conceived of these drawings as the hazy atmospheric background of the exhibition—as funeral portraits, post-mortem renderings, that we hoped would hang in the viewer’s mind as they regarded the other things here—and so we will begin with them. We hope you aren’t adverse to a little movement, because we will be walking around the room to talk about each of the pieces so feel free to walk with us move about as needed.
Do We Need New Metaphors? It is really an almost annoyingly simple question, because of course we are already operating with newer ones--new conceptual metaphors—that don’t follow the structure of pageation or verbal language as it represented by the image of a book. We don’t read anymore so much, we search, scan, and scroll, navigating with a series of intersecting algorithms in the form of search engines, “location-aware technology, social media databases.” Pre-fixed programs where the systems of formation and construction are hidden. These mathematical sequences that underlie our forms of life are coming into focus as metaphorical structures for our thinking and perception. They are about non-lineation, automation.
And so the title is a question about the value of dead metaphors. When we say read, text, page, what do we really mean, what do we associate? Is our fascination with books really connected to a sense of nostalgia for something we really never even knew as fully of the moment? We aren’t ready to do away with an entire conceptual mode, but do we have a choice?
Two years ago Barry Sanders responded to our invitation to speak in our exhibition The Classroom. And it was in this exact spot, in front of our Standing Chalkbox, that he talked about metaphor and language, in a lecture he titled To Live is to Live Beyond Our Means. It seemed an appropriate continuation to have this piece hanging here.
[Anna throws egg on the floor in front We Need New Narratives]
We Need New Narratives…is already decided. This drawing and the phrase Horatio Alger is Dead We Need New Narratives has been floating around in our work for awhile. We think of it as a call and one that can’t only be directed at the young, they might not even who Alger is. The rags to riches stories that Horatio Alger became famous for can’t be our myth of self-creation; they are not the American way, they are the American exception. Upward mobility, and progress are not the automatic end results of hard work. We know this and at the same time we don’t. That’s the power of myth.
So what is the replacement? As we were asking this question in our heads and drawing this piece, we had it hung over the wall-to-wall bookcase in our living room. Our two-year old son Calder had a very hard time with it. It dominated what was normally his space but it was an exclusive area—mama’s and papa’s drawing—not his. So of course when it was uncovered he was running at it with his drawing pencils. After a few days of careful explanation, I began to feel foolish. With a title like that? Weren’t we asking for it? He could offer a new narrative but we were denying him the opportunity. When we had finished, I wanted to open it up for Calder, to see what kind of shape he would bring to it. Ryan was resistant, citing in defense of his position, the lack of salability, possible misinterpretations, and sentences 28 & 29 from Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art.
A MAN’S VOICE
[yelling from some place behind the audience]
28. Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.
29. The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
And that’s when I made some large copies made. These are the new narratives Calder provided.
[Three characters walk through holding Calder’s drawings]
When we figure the out completely, we’ll let you know, they involve ladders and ladybugs and a number of other unnamable things.
[Ryan drops an egg on the floor amongst the signs in Can These Antiques Ever Prove Dangerous Again?]
Can These Antiques Ever Prove Dangerous Again? The title for this piece was taken from the preface to the second edition of this book TAZ The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism by Hakim Bey… It seemed an appropriate way to characterize our approach to thinking about radical politics and protest—to signal an inquisitive attitude. The sentence sounds nice too. It is a genuine question, one that relates to a lot of the pieces in the show. It is about obsolescence, ineffectiveness, smallness, slowness—all things that we like in a certain way, because they are invitations for contemplation.
The traditional picket works on us differently than a barrage of tweets. The remnant of hand lettering and the literal handle are important. The miniature sign’s proportional relationship to the human hand is indicative of something else, a fracturing of thought and identity, you might hold several sentiments in your hand at one time and quite frequently do. Protest signs like these are going the way of street preaching, outside of the sanctioned space of permitted rallies and marches, they are reserved for lunatics and reactionaries. We are trained to ignore them.
The form is most obviously about scale, aurally and visually, we wanted them to feel slightly in danger of being trampled, even insultingly small, uncomfortably cute. The content varies. Sourced from our own impressions and situational reactions, and from a year-long bibliography of texts and multi-media (some of which we haven’t finished reading yet): from Mo Ritter, Jean Baudrillard, and William Hazlitt, Nicolas Bourrioud, Tiqqun, Zizek, and Shel Silverstein, Virginia Woolf, Woody Guthrie, Hannah Arendt, and Amy Goodman (and the list goes on). Making the signs was a way of thinking in a particular rhythm and space. A digestion of political thought a little bit at a time, trying to figure out what ideas feel the most right or wrong as isolated, ambiguous kernels and half-truths. In that way these are like a commonplace book or a sketchbook, made by a process of accumulation.
[Character walks through showing a Situationist comic]
[Anna places an egg on the floor, steps on it]
The Earth is Flat. This statement was fact, then it was fiction, now it is both. Mobility and information technologies have caused a collapse of space and time. We now have seamlessly integrated the perspective of satellite vision into our perception and world view. We are already outside the world trying to make a life within it. And this internalized aerial perspective is dramatically affecting our ideas of the world and our place within it. The globe in the living room, Google earth, the pale blue dot, global positioning systems, these media extend our gaze, they make so much possible and so much more convenient, but they also extend the logics of domination and colonization through vision and movement. We have been trying to figure out how they also affect our ideas of realism and visual factuality. How do we decide the veracity of the information we are almost constantly receiving, collecting, and redisseminating?
RYAN [Reading from a book]
The aesthetics of factuality encompass many devices that have evolved over time, through the development of linear perspective and its contestations in impressionist, cubist, expressionist painting, the emergence of photographic technology, cinema, and real-time broadcast. Of course certain content and certain genres signal greater or lesser expectations of realness and fact. But, beyond genre, certain formal visual structures can be identified that organize meaning in similar ways to communicate a sense of definiteness and believability.
One major structure is perspective. Perspective is both a compositional method—a way of simulating a viewpoint that recreates reality with convincing structure—and it is also a metaphor for a world view—a shared way of perceiving and believing in the physical and meta-physical world. We live by powerful orientational metaphors that organize our cognition, communication, and collective sense of perspective. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson outline some of these in their foundational text Metaphors We Live By, suggesting that among other comparisons: CONSCIOUS IS UP; UNCONSCIOUS DOWN. HAVING CONTROL OR FORCE IS UP; BEING SUBJECT TO CONTROL OR FORCE IS DOWN. VIRTUE IS UP; DEPRAVITY IS DOWN. Control, consciousness, virtue, truth are, beyond stylization, powerfully oriented up. Thus aerial perspective, with its wide, seemingly unmoored, all-encompassing view, represents to our brains the maximum in objectivity.
[Character walks through with an aerial photo]
Beyond perspective, the element of time translates in the visual field to communicate greater or lesser senses of realness as well. “We live in a world that is dramatically different from the world of Renaissance perspective, scientific rationalism, and [even] Modern world views through the end of the twentieth century.”3 Time has become the crucial element. Authenticity is immediate transmission, where the instant of making an image is collapsed with the moment of viewing. And the visual styles that code the “live broadcast” have become our sign posts for veracity. Their abstraction and their rawness work against the suspicion of the photographic medium and its easy alterability. And, the contemporary establishment of the Youtube look validates their lack of high definition. Fragmentary, pixelated, abstract, glitchy; they are like sensor-painted Monets by machine.
[Character walks through with an image of an amateur drone]
This inquiry is related to a research project we began this spring in conjunction with a project at the SDMofA involving drones. With some help we constructed and began flying our own amateur drone outfitted with a camera. Drone tech with its complete automation and supposedly robotic un-bias brings a leftover belief in positivism, together with the power of aerial perspective, and the undeniability of synchronous transmission, capturing footage that epitomizes the contemporary look of realist authority. This is especially true when it comes to amateur drone technology, because it often represents a more apolitical space, broadcasting from an individual perspective rather than a possibly corrupt institutional one, and occupying a verticality that is more human-scale, 200ft versus 35,000.
Some of our ideas and research about drones, drone intelligence, and drone realism are collected in this booklet Don’t Mistake Our Intelligence for Knowledge, which you can have for two dollars if you want one.
[Character walks through an image of the book cover]
[Reading from a book]
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.
-- From T.S. Eliot’s The Rock, 1934.
[Ryan throws egg across the room at the back wall]
Your English Sucks
[ANNA & RYAN read simultaneously]
All the word pairings in this series, which we made very quickly, are words that are often used interchangeably but their conflation diminishes the possibilities of their individual meanings. It matters what words we use, they may seem close enough but they’re not. This is a recurring theme we are just now seeing flowing through a lot of these pieces and it is deeper than visual semantics, its a kind of crucial misrecognition or the possibility of misrecognition.
[Ryan crumbles an eggshell on the opposite side of the room]
First as Tragedy, then as Farce, Finally as history…
In 1852, Marx wrote “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Here we see an event that, through repetition, accrues a sense of ontological realness in inverse proportion to its…
No, that’s not the one, it’s too academic and confusing
Whatever…this one has that funny line about…Its fine
Fine, you do it then…here.
Marx said history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. In these pieces we illustrate Baudrillard’s re-articulation of the same idea. The elevation of the second--
Not that one, it just reveals the paucity of our ideas.
we’ll just do this: (Ask an audience member to read From Agony of Power, page 73-74)
[Anna walks back across the room and breaks an egg against the wall]
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) – purifier bird
A common carrion eater, scavenging in fields and along roadsides. Most graceful in flight, soaring for hours in wide circles with wings in a broad V and tilting quickly from side to side. Impeccable sense of smell, keen eyesight, strong immune system, vocalizes in hisses and grunts. Nests are made on the ground or in caves, rockpiles, hollow stumps, or abandoned structures, by scratching out an indentation in the substrate rather than constructing a traditional nest. Generally gentle and non-aggressive, if threatened a vulture will regurgitate its last meal, coughing up a lump of meat, fresh or semi-digested and foul-smelling. Reguritant may repel predators, or may be interpreted as an offering to be eaten by the predators in lieu of pursuing the vulture as prey. Roosts in large groups usually referred to as committees, breaking away to forage independently during the day. Feeding vultures are soon joined by others flying in from beyond the range of human vision.
The American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – Sea bird, white head
A rare and local bird-of prey, flying with deep strokes and soaring on flattened wings, reaching heights of 10,000 feet and diving speeds of nearly 100mph. Unmistakable plumage. Excellent eyesight, the birds are visual hunters, locating prey from a perch or soaring flight and swooping down to strike or to steal prey from other animals. Feeds primarily on fish, but also on ducks, coots, muskrats, turtles, rabbits, snakes, etc. and occasional carrion. Calls are high-pitched, shrill, and staccato. Disk-shaped, inverted-cone, or bowl-shaped nests are the largest of any American bird sometimes growing up to more than 10 feet wide and weighing several tons. These are usually constructed in tall trees near bodies of open water. Once paired, bald eagles remain together until death takes one, afterwhich they will take another mate. Declared the National Emblem of the United States by the Second Continental Congress in 1782, as living symbol of the country’s freedoms, spirit, and pursuit of excellence.
There is a family story. My great-grandfather lost nearly everything he had during the depression. He was, however, fortunate enough to hold onto his truck and that became important when in his newfound poverty he began scavenging paper scraps from the city dumpsters and the garbage piles behind paper mills and print shops. He would pulp it and sell it back to the paper companies. When he was fixing to marry, my great-grandmother’s father would not give his blessing. He saw his daughter’s fiancé as a lowly animal that didn’t survive by his own merits but through the leftovers of other people’s hard labor. They married anyway and my great-grandfather eventually grew his paper recycling business. Later he held and the patent for tissue paper and then became incredibly rich when he sold it to some German’s near the end of his life. In retirement, after my great-grandmothers death, my great-grandfather remarried, willing all his money to his second wife a very young woman who happened to take the long way to the hospital when he was hovering close to death.
[Ryan breaks another egg]
Object Lessons I-III In our culture, we seem to elevate that which is realized over that which is dreamed. We see this in the way we regard the history of experimental communities and utopian societies as failed collective actions rather than as beautiful theories.
There is a perceived divide between theory and experience. Theory is abstract and distanced, difficult, elitist. I can’t give you a concrete example, that’s the point. We read these three works of political theory with portable objects in mind, creating three indexes, that inventory all the portable objects that were explicitly mentioned in their pages. This one corresponds to Paul Virilio’s The Administration of Fear, this one is for Judith Butler’s Frames of War, and Slavoj Zizek’s Violence.
If you can pick up the object and hold it, maybe you can feel the weight and shape of the idea. These pieces also visualize a desire for translation from abstraction to realistic representation, idea to thing. We explain the world through objects first. It’s how we learn to read.
[Character walks through with an image of Anna showing Calder Allan McCollum’s surrogates]
[Anna breaks egg]
There Are Subtler Economies: When we first began carving this piece last year, we really believed in the sentiment. We hear about ‘the economy’ as if it is a simple singular system of ups and downs, supply and demand, profit and deficit, but there other systems of exchange and value at play, perhaps some that could bring insight to a discussion about alternatives to capital, when it looks as if there are none.
[Character walks through with “lack of capital” poster]
Insect economies, affective economies, gift economies have all been looked to. But recently we’ve felt that there is a pleasure in resisting the topic of economics altogether especially when it comes to describing the systems and modes of art-making and thinking, attitudinal and emotional relationships, and the family. Everything is talked about in terms of economics now, “children are our most precious asset etc. etc.” perhaps that’s because it’s beginning to be irrelevant, or certainly at the very least unreal--the economy in the traditional sense doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s been completely dematerialized. There is no referent or standard for money, it is a tyrannical abstraction.
We express one thing and we value another (But there we go again value, referring to what we hold dear through an economic metaphor )—This is what Barry Wellman talks about with the term networked individualism. We can observe all sorts of other cultural inversions where we desire one thing while express another. We desire community, but overwhelmingly express individuality; we long for authenticity as we accept and express greater commerciality and greater mediation of our relationships; we talk about creativity as our systems for education, development, and expression have become more standardized.
[Ryan goes behind the wall, we hear the sound of a breaking eggshell]
[Character holds poster with an image of the piece (Clearance) which is behind the wall]
This piece is back here, and we were thinking about it embodying an underlying and for us internal struggle between resistance and compliance. Hard-edge and soft. Foreground and background. Rothko and Pollock. It is also for our brains referencing the failed project of conceptual art – the partly forfeited and partly ongoing struggle to find a place outside of the traditional structures of the art object, art world and market by making artwork that was ephemeral, readymade, relational, entropic etc.
[Anna breaks egg]
Revolution Offline This drawing grew out of our thinking about amateur live broadcast and contemporary realism, which we’ve talked about a little bit already. We are working on a series of drawings that are all renderings of images we’ve captured while watching internet livestreams of the occupations and protests that have gone on internationally in the past year, alongside content from other streams such as the most watched ustream channel: The Decorah Eagles webcast, which Mack McFarland directed us to, is a view from two cameras set up opposite a bald eagle’s nest in a tall tree on a farm in Decorah Iowa.
[Character walks through with an image of an eagle]
And we were watching this stream, waiting for the eggs to hatch as we were watching Egypt and New York. The discrepancy in viewership is astounding. Tens of thousands of people were captivated by the eagles, these symbols of monogamy, power and freedom, while hundreds of people were tuning to actual struggles for liberation. This drawing seemed to work on its own outside of the livestream series though. It implies other questions about time and media, spectatorship and participation, recognition, experience, beginnings and endings.
[Ryan breaks last egg into the corner
then brings out the mirrored protest sign and holds it to the audience as he reads]
We titled this sign We are all implicated. But that isn’t the proper name for the piece. We thought about calling it “I think you have a little pepper spray stuck in your hair.” But that was wrong for other reasons. Mirrors are tough. We generally try to stay away from them. When constructing the small protest signs a mirrored sign was mentioned and rejected a number of times. It always seemed appropriate but unbearably corny and trite. Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ social mirror was brought up a number of times in our conversations and it struck us as strange that we didn’t see mirror signs at every protest, all the time, everywhere. We looked all over the Internet too, we wanted an image of one to illustrate some idea or another relating to art history for our class, but we couldn’t find one, so we made this one.
With this sign, protest becomes truly dangerous, mostly because the sign itself is an actual weapon, and maybe one that is more dangerous for the protester than anyone else. Sharp corners. We remember reading or hearing a story a long time ago, we can’t find it now, about protestors using hand mirrors as a defense against the police, which both inverted their intimidating, increasingly militarized gaze and created a blinding mass reflection of the sun in their eyes. That is intelligent, revealing aesthetic protest.
Paul Virilio, a magnificent thinker and writer—known as the philosopher of speed—writes about how our time is one of emergency and general panic. He describes himself as decidedly not a revolutionary. In his writing he does “not have the aim of to revolutionize the system or lead to any change in political regime.” Instead, he says, that he “prefers the revelation to the revolution.”
Thanks for listening. That’s our dozen.