Object-Oriented Returns ,Chapter III

In 1999, Krauss put forward the expression ”post-medium condition” not only to argue that the era of the discreet identifiable medium had passed but also, paradoxically,” to retain the world” medium, because for all misunderstandings and abuses attached to it, this is a term that opens on to the discursive field ”that she wants to address by describing certain art practices such as those of Marcel  Broodthaers, Krauss is able to keep the spectre of mediums alive it is precisely a spectre and after-life of the medium, alive only in dreams, memory and fiction. Broodthaer’ work from 1971 MA collection enables Krauss to read, after many others, the artist as a collector, as defined by Walter Benjamin as someone who liberates things from the bondage of utility. Broodthaers, in a letter, reproduced as an illustration to Krauss’s text describe his work MA collection as a new form of readymades, a baroque readymade. The dubious readymade would, therefore, be equivalent to dubious work of art. By casting to ‘breadmaker’ as a collector rather than as a chooser, selector or editor, Broodthaers is able to redeem the object in the face of its supposed dematerialization by conceptual art, while rendering it nostalgic an anachronistic thing of the past.

Transforming the Duchampian Readymade into something dubious and obsolete was a widespread preoccupation in the 1960s and 1970s, as the post-war euphoria at the potentially infinite multiplication of consumable objects turned in to doubt. In 1968 in Vancouver the artist Iain Baxter would go around the city photographing piles of industrial cast-offs, without order or explicit meaning. Andy Warhol, too, was seeking to render not so much the banal as the nondescript, that which defies language and leaves the spectator mute, numb. The readymade, once it is processed through Warhol’s factory, becomes a passive recorder of obsessive repetition: wanting to become a machine. He used as many technological processes as he could find to capture his times, via silkscreen, television, film, book and magazine. In the sense of opposition between an artist like Broodthaers, who exhibited the fictions if collectors and museums in an order better to counteract them, and Warhol, with his various collections (exhibition installations, time-capsules), is overstated: both use the technique of redisplay of the object to create a sense of alienation for/in the subject, turning the author and viewer in to things among many. The medium employed by Broodthaers and Warhol are not technological in the sense of new media; rather they are ‘technical supports; as Krauss calls them. Regardless of their physical qualities, the technical support allows the artist to discover its ”rules”, which will, in turn, become the basis for that recursive self-evidence of a medium’s specificity. Krauss here effects an ingenious reappropriation of modernism’s purist logic: instead of the supports material attributes, these will reveal themselves anamnescially. As she puts it, the medium is no longer the message, but the memory, the object now operates as a Proustian catalyst for the posthumous recollection of modernism.

In both Voyage on the North Sea and Under Blue Cup Krauss rails against’ the spectacle of meretricious art called installation, which she saw proliferate in 1990. Although she rightly traces this turn from sculpture to installation back to the minimalists’ reaction to Greenberg’s pictorial flatness she does not dwell in the possibility crucial to the present collection of texts’ of a crisis, or indeed series of crises of sculpture. The history of modernism is commonly understood to be pictorial, with the main breaks produced by abstraction, the monochrome and the black canvas. Thierry De Duve’s well-known cross-reading of Kant and Duchamp pits Greenberg’s against both the readymade and conceptual art. The later posting the limits to which Greenberg was drawn but could not breach. The passage from specific object to art, in general, is not wholly applicable, however, to sculpture, for the simple reason that sculpture interferes with and is since the readymade, continuously pushing back against the encroachment of the ordinary object, not the aesthetic tabula rasa of the blank canvas. One could thus argue if the late modernist pictorial battle was waged mainly on aesthetic grounds against the deferred threat of the black canvas, the sculptural battle occupied an economic place against the real and present threat of commodity. For Arthur Danto, the definitive art-historical crisis of modernism occurred with Warhol’s Brillo Box, first exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1964. With the Brillo Box’s merging of the minimalist cube and the look-alike consumer object, what had come to an end ‘is a certain narrative’ under the terms of which making art was understood to be carrying forward the history of discovery and making new breakthroughs. Similarly, for Benjamin Buchloh, the artist Isa Genzken’ confronts one of the prime calamities of sculpture in the present, a terror that emerges from both the universal equivalence  and exchangeability of all objects and materials and the simultaneous impossibility of imbuing any transgressive definition of sculpture with priorities or criteria of selection, of choice, let alone judgement.

‘Installation art could well be the most readily available antidote to this sculptural terror after the Brillo Box, and admission that aesthetic categories, as well as aesthetic crises, have been replaced by a kind of Warholian anomie, a feeling that subjects and objects, Viewer and artwork, modernism and postmodernism, no longer require the historical and aesthetic definition they once did. Without taking as hard a stance as Krauss against ‘forgetting’ of modernism and its attachment to the medium, this collection thus aims to retrieve the uneasy confrontation of the subject in the face of the duplication of objects under capitalism and more recently, globalization. The art objects still insist on the question of its categorical specificity, the spectre of the object’s technical support continues to haunt the space left vacant by sculpture. As Warhol was embarking on his image and object multiplication in the early 1960s, a number of artists began questioning precisely the art object’s submission to mechanical reproduction, without, however, manipulated form as unalloyed evidence of subjective expression. Helio Oiticica’s Parangoles are mutable works bordering on clothing that promote interaction between object and viewer: in the artist’s words, they are an ‘exploration of the basic structural constitution of the world of objects, moulding or casting as it happens, are favoured techniques of replication after the readymade, combing both the subjective, or positive application of plaster, clay or papier-mache on an object and the objective, or negative, indexical trace of the object’s; a similar term could apply to Eva Hesse’s and Louis Bourgeois casts of Quasi-body parts, Broodthaers riffs on mussels or Marina Abramovic’s clay mirrors. These indeterminate objects are yet again indebted to Duchamp, but not so much for his readymades as for his small casts such as Object Dard (1951/1961) and Feuille de Vigne female (1950/1961) that oscillate between negative and positive imprints and phallic and vaginal shapes.

If the matter in these art objects still matters, it is to better confuse genres(and genders), swapping still life for dead life, or still life for a strangely organic, not necessarily human life form. Certain art-historical literature on the work of Bourgeois and Hesse – referencing Sigmund Freud’s theory of the drives and Melanie Klien’s ‘part objects’ – has foregrounded the subject in the encounter with the art object. This angle is objective in reconnecting the object to the human body-the viewer’s as well as the artists but in the process, the object loses some of its capacity to lure the subject into an in-between where it is not so much the latter’s psychic that compels as the object’s own destabilizing forces. Unlike some of these psychoanalytic readings, Krauss sees in Hessy’s reliefs a demonstration of ‘ wonderfully humourous elaboration of Duchamp’s interest in the mechanics of desire and the relays established by the readymades between bodies and object. This mechanistic, as well as psychic interpretation, identifies the artwork closely with other intermediary or, to borrow D.W. Winnicott’s term, ‘transitional’ objects, such as a toy. Indeed, one of the indisputable achievements of psychoanalysis is to have identified the object as more than ‘a thing in itself’ lying static outside of the subject, but as a dynamic element in constant flux, mediating the subject’s inner and outer worlds as well as coercing the subject into varying configurations with itself and (other) objects. The toy, like the relational art object, is unpredictable; there is no telling when it will lose its aura and lapse into thingness, or, on the contrary, change from mere thing to object of ceaseless wonder.

Like the toy, the fetish exerts a transformative power upon itself as well as other objects and subjects. The fetishist, in Freudian psychoanalysis, is someone (presumed male) who, out of fear of castration, invests an object (often one related to female attire, like shoes) with erotic characteristics. By extension, particularly in the late 1970s and 1980s, the male gaze was seen as an objectifying one, fetishizing entire female bodies through language and representation. But as the subject finds itself increasingly ‘mired’ as Hito Steyerl argues, ‘ in its own contradictions, and the object less dependent on it, the fetish becomes a double-edged instrument in the hands of those cognizant of its power while Alexis Hunter and Ana Godel represent shoes to indict them as targets of objectifying male desire, Sherrie Levine’s objects, produced as if in the absence of an authorial subject position, ask the question Giorgio Agamben ascribes to the fetish; where is the human?

The Marxian fetish no less than the Freudian one asks this same question, but covertly. Here the fetish seeks to subsume relations between humans under those between objects, specifically commodities. These ‘social things’ are assumed to operate autonomously of human social relationships, rendered equal by the fantastical role attributed to money. In this capitalist economy, the gift like the artwork is of particular interest, as it symbolizes and acts out the commodity’s exchange value to the detriment of its use value. As Arjun Appadurai observes, gift giving, in highly commoditized societies. Like the United States, exemplifies a fundamental problem: how to create human relations in a world where all things are potentially in the market or on the market. Sophie Calle’s ritualistic accumulation of gifts on her birthday takes up this problem, as she attempts to channel some of the commodity’s aura back to social relations between people. By meticulously listing the gifts along with their dedications, and by specifying that she did not use the present but kept them as a token of affection, Calle acknowledges the fantastical properties of the commodity fetish and its power to condition intersubjective relations. The abundance of, ‘for’, to and other prepositions in Calle’s text further suggests that we are in the presence of things resembling Michel Serres’  quasi-objects’,  generative of  ‘tight interlacing of new relations.

The quasi-object generates the relationships for subjects circulating around the object. This in-betweenness on the side of the object leads to a new consciousness of the inherent objectness of our world. Not only does the object have a life of its own, but our lives as subjects depend on it. To quote Jacques Derrida on Francis Ponge (an early defender of objects). The thing is what dictates or which writes the law, a law which is … an infinitely, instability imperious injunctions to which I ought to subject myself. Or, to put it in the terms if vital materialism proposed by Janne Bennet, we are much more caught up in dense networks of vibrant networks than we would like to think, trained as we are in the tradition of Kantian transcendental idealism. As Bennet argues, ‘if matter itself is lively, then not only is the difference between subjects and objects minimized, but the status of the shared materiality of all things is elevated. The political, ethical and ecological implications of this view are clear: gone are the days when the subject’s mastery over the world of objects and things could allow her or hum to cast it off permanently. As objects from financial data to food packaging, increasingly return transformed endlessly recycled and reconsumed, the once stable coundry between object and subject proves increasingly unreliable: the subject must now contend with its own availability and attraction as an almost-object while the object accrues the status of almost-subject, bearing little relation with the material, graspable thin. This turn towards the object is not necessarily cause for celebration, nor a sign of emancipation. What the latest detour in the shifting subject/object relationship does indicate, however, is that as subjects participating in inreasingly dense and volatile networks of objects, we seem ready to turn to them for lessons on how to live, socilize or organise ourselves publically and privately. We may be ready in other words, to accept that, objects defines us.

 

Note:

The data has been taken from the writings of Antony Hudek/Documents of Contemporary Art/Man Ray 100 Object of My Affection.  

 

 

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