Kiki Smith, "Untitled," The best way to fuck something up is to give it a body. A voice is killed when it is given a body. Theory proves that.
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Kiki Smith, "Untitled," The best way to fuck something up is to give it a body. A voice is killed when it is given a body. Theory proves that. For Lieberman, the recent past returns as an object of museological study, and for Cotter, the present curiously brackets itself as a historical paradigm. Yet this feeling of loopy time is not a pleasurable abandon of synchronization, but instead something serious, unpleasurable, frozen, creepy.
Historicism feels like atrophy. The AIDS crisis, the Watts Riots, the Anita Hill trial, anti-feminism, and the general collapse of the American welfare state all pointed to a historical scene replete with crisis. When Lieberman, Smith, and Cotter all critiqued the doom and gloom on display in and its second wave, it seemed less like an aesthetic judgment and more like the observation of a political reality.
The low critical opinions toward this work only magnified, from the most influential of art historians on modern and contemporary art to the United States Congress. The question is, now, in an artworld and social climate grappling with similar if not identical questions, how to contend with these issues of identity, their expression in art, and the perpetual abjection of certain people without entombing them as weird phenomena of the s?
Contemporary art has never known what to do with the wounded, injured, and broken bodies, both on TV and in the galleries. No wonder, then, that debates about disproportionate representation and identity surface today as stronger than ever. What could we learn in revisiting this past moment? This violent fracture from the mother, which necessitates the psychic casting of the maternal as consuming and threatening, haunts the subject their entire life.
Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it. On the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger. The psychoanalytic paternal law and the whole of culture itself relies on the maintenance of primal repression due to its perpetually threatening presence.
Even more technically, abjection theoretically precedes the development of the symbolic, and stands above and beyond mere representation. Arguably, it is the melancholic articulation of abject art that has most remained in historical consciousness. Construed in broad strokes, identity politics and contemporary art were deeply entwined in the overdetermined context of the Culture Wars. Outlining the development of homophobia in reaction to the visual arts in the early s, art historian Jonathan D.
The Culture Wars operated in an analogic field of signification, in which contemporary art, queer sexuality, and bodily abjection triangulated through the literalization of the queer body as a diseased one during the AIDS crisis. White, ostensibly straight, American politicians repeatedly evoked the ghost of abject art and abject people to insist on what counted as good American culture, just as the subject must consistently abject the reminder of the breakage with its mother.
In this exhibit, a young woman is shown going No. I softened that a little bit. But if this account presents a heroic binary between the villainy of the American government and the resistance of the artworld, that image of political solidarity within the contemporary art community had already frayed.
It specifically touched on a frequent evaluative trope, where explicitly politicized art polemicized at the cost of its own aesthetic value.
Martinez ruined their own artfulness. Art about the marginalization of identity clung to its own injury without any degree of reflexivity and thus advanced thought.
Everyone — on all political sides — agreed that certain bodily fluids were disgusting and the people who enjoyed them might be disgusting, too. These points are not invalid. But in single-authored treatments of the subject, Foster and Rosalind Krauss specifically targeted notions of the abject that originated from ostensibly sound theoretical positions. However, their elaborations now expose remaining questions in art-historical debates on abject art and identity politics.
Yet the most provocative aspect of his analysis dealt with his diagnoses of the affective subject behind art. For Foster, strategies of abjection involved an attachment to extreme poles of feeling, from a sublime maximum of affect to its emptied-out, depressive counterpart.
Without an account of its own wounding, abject art would have no definition at all. For Foster, abject artists basically assumed the role of children, either insisting on the status of the lowly body or waging war against assumed parents. For mainstream critics, abject and identity-centered art stuck to feelings of depression and morbidity.
Infinite regress haunts these accounts. Their artists cannot, seemingly, move forward in time or beyond themselves. Unhappy objects find themselves in a vicious cycle, ignored for their very unhappiness caused by the deficiencies of the system itself.
If in its context, abject art cannot be separated from an identity politics testifying to abuses of power, then abject artists poignantly reflected the unhappy objects of the contemporary artworld, whose bad feelings were taken at the most superficial level and constituted as their defining factors. But the imperfect evocation of injury in artistic form does not warrant the wholesale rejection of its political appeal, as Foster and Krauss enacted. To replace that with a rubric of horizontality seems to be reading against the grain to a fault.
In a circular rhetorical gesture, Foster conjures a normative agent of abject art that once established, allows him to abolish the possibility of an activist effort in abject art.
L, and Rebecca Belmore, for an insufficiently-sized sample. As Amelia Jones notes, the art-historical and art-critical efforts to displace identity art conveniently saw them ally with conservative, phobic desires to rid the cultural scene of those identities altogether, even if their ostensible politics represent contradictory positions. Their bodies decomposed as a torturous exhibition of racialized violence; molasses looked like thick blood, but was, in fact, the stuff of candy.
Viewed this way, what the abject art of the early s may have signaled is a cry for help — a seeking witness to a cultural politics willing to extinguish its non-dominant constituents at the highest level of power and governance. The artworld responded with generalized scorn. Identity politics became historicized as a trope of the pre-millennial decade, but that generalization has too easily worked as a barometer to write-off the quality of an artwork by its mere evocation of a subject-position, as Doyle remarks in her book.
The artworld, barring the at-times-problematic and already-ignored wing of social practice, has only since entrenched its own conservatism. But it has also tried to offer something by way of a critical reminder, an appeal to look out instead of looking away. Perhaps the next step is to remain attentive to forms of injury as they appear in art production, even if those forms ignore, circumvent, or otherwise demonstrate no interest in the modes of aesthetic production critically acknowledged by the establishment.
The powers of horror are as apparent as ever.
Since Kristeva, the term is used to describe the state of often-marginalized groups, such as women , people of color , prostitutes , convicts , poor people , disabled people , and queer or LGBT people. In this context, the concept of abject exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject , something alive yet not. According to Kristeva, since the abject is situated outside the symbolic order , being forced to face it is an inherently traumatic experience. For example, upon being faced with a corpse, a person would be most likely be repulsed because he or she is forced to face an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject. We encounter other beings daily, and more often than not they are alive. This repulsion from death, excrement and rot constitutes the subject as a living being in the symbolic order.
Nikolabar As Amelia Jones notes, the art-historical and art-critical efforts to displace identity art conveniently saw them ally with conservative, phobic desires to rid the cultural scene of those identities altogether, even if their ostensible politics represent contradictory positions. No wonder, then, that debates about disproportionate representation and identity surface today as stronger than replusion. More Stories Ask yourself, What kind of happiness do I feel with this music or this picture? Sophie rated it it was amazing Feb 16, Even more technically, abjection theoretically precedes the development of the symbolic, and stands above and beyond mere representation.
Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art