Tuesday night I viewed a performance at Grace Space (Bushwick, BK) in which two women read a text that rang a bell; it took me a few minutes to place it. The audience sat on two benches around the performance, in two semi-circles such that everyone who elected to sit on said benches (instead of the open areas in front) would see the performers’ backs. Clara and Jasmin sat facing each other reading a text, some kinda theory, a dense “not sure if kidding” kinda deal, with objects between them: lipstick, makeup, dildo (which each intermittently fellated, taking turns reading the text), maybe more objects… I sat on a bench, so my view of the performance was obstructed by the performers themselves. The function of the obstructed view interested me because one must consequently move to get a better view after the performance had begun, and necessarily choose to do so, or not. Most people stayed wherever they had initially sat down. As the benches were curved, no doubt some bench views were more direct than others (mine, for example). After a while, Clara and Jasmin stood up and removed their clothes, sat back down with their objects, and applied makeup to each other, during which time the text played on a recorder. After a few minutes I placed the text; I had, in fact, written it. I will admit to, prior to placing it, thinking, “I should read this. Is it ridiculous?” The text is a response to an article Clara and Jasmin recommended to me about an artist who appropriates works by other artists (and a writer, in fact, the writer of the particular article to which I responded), presenting various documentations and appropriations as art. In a gesture I can most easily suggest resembles Deleuze’s notion of productive repetition (or, the function of copying per se, see: Difference And Repetition), Clara and Jasmin “copied” Roisin Byrne’s impulse to a appropriate, working through their interest in the figure of The Parasite (a la Serres), adding supplements. The particular connotations: applying makeup to each other while as nude, fellating a dildo while as reading my appropriated text (which itself wasn’t intended to be more than a casual response to http://www.artandeducation.net/paper/we-are-parasites-on-the-politics-of-imposition/), choosing to read the text’s idiosyncratic punctuation (ellipses, asterisk for emphasis, rendered as ‘asterisk’, which implies a footnote), and adding (in the precise sense of Serres’ parasite, which interrupts), assertions like, “Daddy, will you buy me some makeup?” etc., surely a Lacanian connotation. Here is my response to Anna Watkins Fisher’s piece on Roisin Byrne they read.
“At first glance Byrne’s work reminds of when I surreptitiously added objects to arrangements of objects on display at Gagosian’s midtown space (at some show or other), that look like they belong in the installation. Only the artist or a curator would’ve noticed my interlopers. I stopped, mostly, because I judged the impulse petty. Contextual or conceptual frame determines what is permitted (or not), which is extrinsic. It’s both vandalism and frames vandalism (or defacement), as such. These impulses betray a certain bad consciousness about that contextual and conceptual framing that regulates art’s ‘value’ because though one wishes to subvert the frame, getting attention for doing so wants to inscribe one into that circuit, as well. Byrne deploys parasite function in a reactionary mode, or perhaps as a content gourmand; that is, in the typical understanding of the term. Serres, on the other hand, argues the parasite, really, interruption, is essential to the thing itself, identity, discourse, though its representation ‘is’ typically suppressed some other hegemonic identity may arise (‘apparently’) positively through suppressed negation. So, when I added objects, I did not try to get attention. It amounted to vandalism one must notice (and likely quietly fix); it was just a gesture, and drawing attention would have defeated the point. Fisher mentions most writing about Byrne is about the ethics of stealing, forgery, so I’ll ask, how does the parasitic function Byrne deploys differ from forgery, à la Elmyr de Hory (check out “F For Fake” if you haven’t)? Does not the impulse lie in expectation of resistance to a kind of “Fourth Order Simulacra”? in which any distinction between the real and simulated not only no longer functions, the difference/reference to an original is not even legible. Warhol dealt with this when Gerard Malenga asked him to authenticate Mao paintings he (Malenga) had forged (having been caught by customs, in Italy). Warhol’s solution: authenticate the paintings; keep the money. We see the artist function disseminate through a particular mode of reification apparent in Late Capitalism that tends to render things (i.e. whatever) more-or-less interchangeable. Artists like, say, Rirkrit Tiravanija or Franco Mondini-Ruiz “deal with” (or work from this ‘open’ impulse) by counter-signing whatever what one may add or subtract from his installation, or even, appropriating other artists’ work into his own; respectively. We see it in Internet culture, too, ‘stealing’ images, disseminating, without attribution, etc. In my collage work I appropriate other artists’ work and place it next to whatever I wish to reframe both. But really, I just select whatever fascinates me or find curious, willy-nilly. Theorists often attribute intentionality to art where none exists, like in Fisher’s reading, which may apply a Feminist reading that Byrne subsequently short-circuits through its appropriation. Is the difference through which appropriation/what appears, perhaps on a surface level, as forgery depend on at what point one enters the market? Byrne seems to me to work the same way as de Hory or Malenga, except she enters the market as a primary, which is the essential difference. Whereas de Hory (in his bad consciousness) wished to trick the art world (and profit), and Malenga simply wished to profit (and reproducibility and attribution/signature is essential to Warhols) Byrne tricks artists, male artists. To that, I say, “So what.” An artist who she copies need only ‘sign’ her work (say, one of her reproductions) and sue her, claiming her as an unwitting fabricator. Thing is, what likely makes her pieces successful is the ease with which one may discuss what she does. The function matters, in its art context, not the thing itself. The question remains: what? in excess of her source material (work she parasites) arises? How exactly does her work differ from Richard Prince’s? (who I’ve enjoyed less, lately). The emphasis on her correspondence, a woman trolling male artists seems relevant enough, but to what extent is it relevant generally? About that I am uncertain. We should pay attention to Fisher’s language, too, ‘enticed’, for example. Apropos to the de Beauvoir quote, though men have done the same, how does her work function being a woman (vis-à-vis Feminism)? Did Fisher add the feminist question, its functioning as a supplement? Seems so to me… Conceding Fisher’s point, let’s ask, Is the work relevant because Byrne is a woman? to what extent may that reveal the artist-function is a boys’ club? The easiest (and possibly most revealing) way to tease out an answer: how angry are, and especially male, artists at her? in a way that they would not be at a man? Just because Byrne appropriates Fisher, does that single difference invalidate the Feminist reading, or do multiple readings sit alongside each other in tension? Matt Barney’s art practice relies almost solely on recontextualizing other artists’ works (basically art-historical mad-libbing) that amounts to elaborate self-portraiture. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, though. Insider art. If someone wants to watch The Cremaster Cycle as just weird and cool, that’s fine. If you don’t know that old guy throwing warm glycerine is Norman Mailer, it’s still fun, and that’s OK. (You don’t have to “get it”, and if you do, you realize there isn’t actually much to ‘get’, which fascinates me). Is that Barney’s main point that his work is essentially a parody of Greenbergian Art History post-Arthur Danto (notably, he doesn’t paint) essential to his being a man? And regarding Byrne’s not attributing (“stealing”) content from Fisher, it’s a common impulse. Damien Hirst is pretty notorious for outright stealing ideas from younger less established artists, saying simply, “Fuck ‘em!” Warhol openly stated that his friend whose name I can’t remember fed him ideas (which evidently his friend loved because he had no impulse to be an artist himself), saying something to the effect of, “What you do is look around at what everyone else is doing and you do the same thing, only better.” But my favorite example of this kind of impulse (very generally) is Larry Gagosian’s buying the lock from Chris Burden’s “Five Day Locker Piece” for $1500 as art artifact, which completely subverts Burden’s performance impulse. Byrne work like black hole, subsuming anything she wishes, to problematize the line between art and anything else, by for example, even consuming the discourse that could conceptually contain it, but I don’t think the work itself, does; it’s essentially her. Documentation and supplementary material exceed the ‘boundaries’ of the work. That is both a success as well as troublesome. Rirkrit accomplishes a similar end (à la Warhol) by irritatingly agreeing with anything anyone says about his work, in a particularly glib manner. His colleagues at once do not buy his manner, consistent assent, but will snub you for pointing out the emperor has no clothes on.”