The sober joy of thieving

I’m happy to have my review of Judith Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings published in the current issue of Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts. Rodenbeck’s framework for conceptualizing happenings is central to the discourse surrounding art and the everyday in the 1960s. An excerpt from the review here below:

With her narrative, Rodenbeck deliberately sidesteps the dualism of formalism and the avant-garde that has dominated many of the art historical narratives of the 1960s. If happenings are best characterized as intermediary, open-ended, relational, and interdisciplinary, then their historicization would do well to reflect this, she reasons. Her book calls for and models a scholarly “matrix through which to approach a generation of postwar artistic efforts” (27). Her contribution lies in a series of individual “material, rhetorical, and discursive” histories (18) that enhance ourunderstanding of what happenings were and what they aspired to be. The wealth of material on the sociological climates, the architectural practices, the technological metaphors, the theatrical methodologies, and the photographic conditions that surrounded happenings acts like connective tissue, shaping and securing them within art history.
In this sense, then, the art historical matrix to which Rodenbeck contributes should be thought of as a sort of expanded field for happenings where the artworks of Kaprow and company are no longer contrasted with painting alone but with all other experimental intermedia and the areas of inquiry intermedia shares: the everyday, the aleatory, and the participatory. Measured and formal in tone, preeminently readable at the same time, Rodenbeck’s book is often like an unexpected treasure hunt amidst the presumed familiar.
“Let’s look for traces of civilization!” the trio in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) exclaim delightedly to one another as they wander through a wooded area to the beach. Readers of Rodenbeck’s histories are led to wander, too, finding known documents, theories, and artworks linked freshly and illuminatingly to one another.

Situationists as Vanishing Point

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my article,The Paradigms of Nicolas Bourriaud: Situationists as Vanishing Point” in the current issue of Evental Aesthetics.

It was great to work with the journal’s editorial board–their thoughtful commentary was some of the most dedicated peer-review that I’ve yet encountered.

My article was inspired in part by a show curated by Nicolas Bourriaud at the Palais des Beaux-Arts that I’ve written about here. I grew fascinated by the ever-morphing aesthetic paradigms that Bourriaud has created for his publications and his exhibitions over the past several decades in order to characterize contemporary art.

My article follows the trajectory of Bourriaud’s paradigm production, suggesting that much of it is based on a process of updating and back-dating some of the key concepts that the Situationist International set forward in their eponymous collective journal. I propose that Bourriaud’s formalism-as-theory is far better understood as descriptive of his own creative project than as a framework for contemporary artistic practices.

The abstract of my piece is here, and the PDF here.

An excerpt from the article:

What Bourriaud presents in Relational Aesthetics is considered one of the defining aesthetic debates of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  In Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Bishop writes that Bourriaud’s book helped “render discursive and dialogic projects more amenable to museums and galleries,” and indeed, Bourriaud launched the careers of many artists who have since been the subjects of museum retrospectives and scholarly publications.[5]  Taught in contemporary art seminars worldwide, often juxtaposed with its rejoinders, Relational Aesthetics has contributed to the institutionalization of participatory art in the form of MFA programs and artists’ prizes, and provoked “a more critically informed discussion” of the practice.[6]

Given such canonization of relational aesthetics and relational art, this article argues that it is crucial to examine the origins, composition and implications of these concepts.  Relational aesthetics must be contextualized alongside the paradigms, neologisms and vocabularies that Bourriaud has subsequently developed for the discourse surrounding contemporary artistic creation.  Readers and viewers of Bourriaud’s work should understand that regardless of the artists he situates in these evolving, interrelated, conceptual frameworks, he is his own best and most prototypical aesthetic “service provider.”  He views his paradigms as creative interventions – “theoretical tools” and “kick starts” for art makers, viewers and philosophers.[7]  If what Bourriaud calls his “theory of form” is now serving in an art historical context, it is essential to situate his publications in a historical discursive tradition, and to understand the tradition in which Bourriaud would situate himself.[8]

Full article as PDF here, and as HTML here.

Riverboat Europe

European Cinema

Holiday reading: European Cinema After the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility (Leen Engelen and Kris Van Heuckelom, eds. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).

My essay, “Riverboat Europe: Interim Occupancy and Dediasporization in Goran Rebić’s Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea (2003)” is in this compilation. I received my copy just after Thanksgiving, and look forward to reading the essays by fellow contributors as soon as the late-semester grading crush is over.

An excerpt from my piece:

A film like The Danube highlights the difficulty of extricating oneself completely from one’s national identity, and indeed points to ways in which holding on to national identity in order to leverage it as a gift or peace offering may be advantageous. Nikola fretfully offers to renounce his obsolete Yugoslavian citizenship to atone for his decade-long absence; Mathilda proposes using her citizenship to fulfill Mircea’s dream of immigration. Most importantly, however, The Danube is one of a number of films that demand a nuanced discussion of hybridity and diasporic identity that [Thomas Elsaesser’s] paradigm of double occupancy can’t provide. Elsaesser’s reflections on double occupation as a state addressed by European policy and European cultural products like film and television take the form of an abstract overview. Rebić’s characters might well describe their lives as doubly occupied by their present and their past, their nationality and their post-nationality, but the “other kinds of belonging, relating and being” (Elsaesser 205: 109) in which they are shown to take part require a different adjective. I propose “interim occupancy” as a term to outline the domains through which double occupieds are often in transit, residing impermanently in widely varying degrees of comfort, health and peace…