Kiki Smith T from The Gap
So, I was flipping through a recent issue of the New Yorker when I saw very fetching Stephanie Seymour wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a stag’s head. This caught my attention because it made me think of the sculpture Seymour’s husband, Peter Brant, commissioned from Maurizio Cattelan, in which a wax replica of the supermodel’s naked torso rises—gracefully arched like the neck of a trophy buck—from a wooden plaque hung from the wall. I saw that the T-shirt was designed by Jeff Koons for a series of artists’ Ts celebrating The Whitney Biennial—that show everybody loves to hate and hates to love!—and sold by The Gap. I decided that I wanted it. Koons used to drive me crazy—much like the Biennial—but, after Puppy, I decided to just give in. It’s true that John Currin seems to be edging Koons out of his place in my heart, but, still, I liked the T-shirt.
A quick trip to gap.com revealed that the Koons shirt was sold out, but, by the time I had gone online, I had already kind of decided that I might like the Kiki Smith shirt better. I dig Smith. In her ad, she models her own work, and she really looks like the kind of old lady I’d like to grow into—kind of witchy, possibly crazy, and pretty hot. So, I bought her shirt instead. I got it in M and L, and I still can’t figure out which one I’m going to keep and which one is going on eBay, because this one appears to be sold out now, too. My size dilemma aside, this is an awesome acquisition.
If I lived in Manhattan, I would have seen the Met’s exhibition of spirit photography by now—indeed, I might have already seen it a few times. I’m intrigued by the show because I enjoy the macabre, but these images aren’t just Goth kitsch. Even if the ghosts made manifest might be fake, the desires—for reunion with the dead, for proof of an afterlife, for a trace of wonder—that conjures them forth isn’t.
The Art of Exploitation
Take a break from your busy day and stroll through this virtual gallery of exploitation movie posters. Some are disingenuously outraged, others are graphically delicious, and all of them are just delightful.
[THANKS TO MY HUSBAND, TED, FOR BRINGING THIS TO MY ATTENTION.]
James Joyce and the Nature of Collage
BLOGGER’S NOTE I’ve taken my chem final and my Spanish exam. I think I did all right on both. I just handed in my James Joyce term paper—entitled “Stephen’s Vampire and the Ghost of Mrs Dedalus: Revenants in Ulysses”—and I am ready for a nap. While I am thus occupied, I leave you with on of the many Joycean meditations I composed this past semester.
How does collage work? I’m pondering this question because of Wolfgang Iser’s very helpful suggestion [in “Patterns of Communication in Joyce’s Ulysses”] that Joyce uses a kind of verbal cut-and-paste in Ulysses. It’s true that one generally thinks of collage as a visual technique, but the real Dubliners and snippets of newspaper stories Joyce inserts in his text are really no different from the advertising images appropriated by Hannah Höch or the comic strips détourned by the Situationist International.
Iser argues that, in most realist novels, verifiable details support the (implicit) stylistic claim of authenticity—they help create a world that the reader recognizes—but, in Ulysses, “realistic” details are decontextualized—they refer only to themselves, and they “revoke the normal assumption that a novel represents a given reality”.
This idea—which I find inspired and inspiring—seems to negate the purpose of a lot of Joyce scholarship, the kind that is concerned with tracking down each and every butcher, milliner, and casual acquaintance mentioned in Joyce’s work. Myself, I haven’t found the encyclopedic references to the Dublin phonebook (or whatever the equivalent would have been) all that enlightening, just as my feelings about L.H.O.O.Q. would probably not be changed were someone to discover the newsstand where Marcel Duchamp bought his Mona Lisa postcard. Indeed, this approach seems a little obsessive-compulsive to me, and maybe a little desperatre—as if Ulysses can be fixed, as if its single, true, objective meaning will be revealed as soon as the precise location of Stephen Dedalus’s dentist’s office is identified. Iser argues that following such leads is a dead-end. I can understand how it might be fun and occasionally even interesting, but I’m inclined to agree with Iser.
So, collage. Nebeneinander. What happens when an image or a word is removed from a familiar context and placed in a strange, new one? Does it acquire new meaning or meaninglessness? If the former, does the new meaning contain vestiges of the old one? With some collage—and I would include Joyce’s use of real Dublin places and personages—the content of the appropriated material doesn’t matter so much as its form. Here he seems allied with other modernists—even postmodernists—in his willingness to use ostensibly worthless artifacts in the service of art, a move which offers an implicit critique of existing modes of art and art production. Joyce’s literary quotations and references seem like a different kind of collage, one in which old material retains its old meaning and acquires new ones, and this differs from a more straightforward kind of allusion, one in which existing literary material is cited without irony.
I think I’m wandering into the woods now, and it’s almost time for class, so I close with these words from Raoul Hausmann, which may or may not be relevant—I can’t tell anymore:
Seeing is a social process—we banalize things through visual allegory which takes from them their multiplicity of meaning… Our perception appears to be blind to the background, the space between things—and it is precisely this that the photomonteur lets us perceive and recognize. He creates his photomontage out of the insignificant inbetween-parts and uses the unperceived optics.
Taking Out the Trash
While in London, Ted and I paid a visit to the Tate Modern. This would be an instance of Ted being a good sport, as he has profound misgivings about contemporary art. While we walked from the tubestop to the museum, he asked glumly, “So, will I get to see shit?” I was able to assure him that he almost certainly would, and I was correct: Not only was there a gallery devoted to the work of Chris Ofili, but there was also an installation that contained bronze blobs that allegedly represented “primitive animals”, but which looked like nothing so much as enormous turds (the Guggenheim curators, apparently, share this view.)
Since our tour of the Tate Modern, Ted and I have been having an irresolvable but congenial argument about the nature and meaning of art (this discussion is doomed to interminableness in part because, while my husband and I more or less agree on the problem of “nature”, we seem to have a difference of opinion about the possibility of “meaning”). He sent me this article today. It looks like Ted and the cleaning staff at the Tate Britain have similar opinions about conceptual art. Even though I am not generally inclined to dismiss such pieces out of hand, I do find the idea of a bag of trash being “too badly damaged” to display kind of hilarious.
My Favorite Show at the Festival Fringe
As I mentioned yesterday, Ted and I were in Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe. We saw The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, a standup comic who described his adventures in minimum wage, and a play that took place in an elevator. Ted’s favorite was a peripatetic performance of Macbeth. He also enjoyed that feel-good classic, No Exit.
While Ted looked into the abyss with Sartre, I saw The Congress of Oddities, in which formerly conjoined twins Chlamydia and Calamine Lloyd-Haemhorrage pay a visit to the Victoriana Society to reminisce about their days as sideshow freaks. Fringe first-timers Margaret Cabourn-Smith and Zoe Gardner offered a delightfully original mix of the comic, the absurd, and the grotesque, and I absolutely luved it. Anyone who knows Sarah Hand will realize that I thought of her throughout the show, but, when the sisters botch their grisly signature act for the last time and a dying Calamine gasps, “Chlamydia, let's never be modern again,” I really wished Sarah was there.