Forests & Boutonnières

October 23, 2015By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt, Statement

Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo, Forest, 20 x 30 cm, Graphite on Paper on Board, 2013

Intense moments of perception with the subtleties and grandeur of nature—and they are often one and the same—are among the most potent and lasting archetypes of Beauty and Transcendence which we, citizens of the post-industrial world, still experience. These moments—a small flower blossoming, a spider web, a chrysalis, the arousal from sleep of hidden faunae, a call from an unseen and unknown animal in the distance, the scent of coming rain, among countless others—offer an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

Forests & Boutonnières is a large-scale project that looks for new social possibilities between spectators and artworks. I will base the project on the essence of the primeval forest and the sharpness with which the urban shaman must confront it. It will draw on the tension between human and natural history. The works will explore ideological projections onto landscape and how they shape our experience of the beautiful and transcendent. As do all artworks grounded in reference to nature, the rebirth of shadowy zones, forgotten tales, and vestigial histories will impact the process and the images which result. One counterpoint is inevitable. Human history is cyclical; peace and war, oppression and freedom, the reign of collective and individual values, reign of worldly and spiritual ideals—these recurrences find their parallels in the cycles of nature across seasons as well as millennia.

The project will honor Monet’s Nymphéas, a large-scale oval installation at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris while keeping a contemporary perspective and approach. The project consists of different works around the subject of the primeval forest and the city jungle, but one piece in particular will consist of four large-scale paintings measuring 2 meters high (6.5 feet). Two of the canvases will measure 3 meters wide (9.8 feet) and two others will be assembled to form a 9 meter wide painting (29.5 feet). They will form an octagon in which the spectator will be immersed.

A arte de obliteração como possibilidade de evasão: a iconoclastia como agente utópico

May 17, 2015By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt

Por Luciano Mattuella 1

Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo, Roxane, 46 x 38 cm, Técnica Mixta sobre tela, 2013

Se o que somos está baseado nas experiências que vivemos e as memórias destas experiências se modificam no tempo, então nós não somos nada mais que uma metáfora de nós mesmos. – Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo

Considerações iniciais

Se a arte moderna, a arte das vanguardas, teve como uma de suas características centrais a destituição da imagem de sua função mimética – ou seja, a recusa da substituição do mundo pela sua representação pictórica -, a arte contemporânea propõe, para além da abstração, ainda a diacronização do fazer artístico, evidencia o fim da História da Arte entendida como uma linha do tempo sincrônica de influências, semelhanças e diferenças. O artista contemporâneo não se opõe a um movimento específico, mas faz da pergunta pela possibilidade da arte o conteúdo de suas obras.

Deste modo, enquanto a arte moderna se ocupava com o nonsense, com a retirada do sentido da narrativa da figura, a arte contemporânea convoca o espectador a encontrar a falta de sentido dentro de si mesmo, se oferece como ponto de interrupção no cotidiano, não como seu símile. Uma obra de arte contemporânea – dito de outra forma – institui no mundo um indício do brilho da alteridade, uma vez que aponta para os limites da representação e da potência racionalizante do conceito. Seguindo a concepção do historiador e crítico de arte Didi-Huberman 2, a obra de arte contemporânea não serve mais ao olhar apaziguado do espectador, mas sim interroga este olhar, propõe que as fantasias e a interioridade do público sejam posta a nu. É uma arte obscena, que expõe a posição falsamente ativa daquele que olha.
A obra de arte contemporânea, assim, não é meramente olhada, mas ela também olha desde uma interioridade infinita.

 

Arte, Utopia e Evasão

Para o filósofo alemão Ernst Bloch, a obra de arte carrega em si um pungente elemento utópico, uma vez que se trata da colocação em ato de uma versão de um mundo diferente deste em que se vive, ou seja, o artista excede em seu ato o status quo, materializando na sincronia da história do homens o fruto de sua imaginação, um sonho diurno. A arte, para Bloch, lida com o diferente, com o não esgotamento da realidade em suas imagens propostas e sedimentadas. Assim, para ele

toda grande arte tem o aspecto agradável e homogêneo do conjunto de sua obra rompido, eclodido, compulsado por sua própria iconoclastia, sempre que a imanência não é levada ao ponto do fechamento em termos de forma e conteúdo, sempre que ela mesma ainda se dá como fragmental [fragmenthaft]. 3

Podemos dizer que Ernst Bloch propõe, portanto, uma estética da fragmentação que tem como função central e característica própria a potência iconoclasta, ou seja, de superação da imanência através do rompimento de seu fechamento imagético. Já explicitamos que esta peculiaridade é bastante acentuada no que convencionamos chamar de arte contemporânea, de modo que podemos dizer que o ato do artista é um trabalho utópico. Aquilo que tem sua fonte no sonho diurno sempre está tingido pelos matizes da originalidade, do diferente, do novum. O artista abre uma ferida na realidade e expõe a fragilidade da exaustão do mundo em uma realidade artificial construída pelo conceito. A existência é maior que o pensamento.

Assim, podemos afirmar que Bloch advoga contra a superficialidade do cotidiano alienante, assegurando ao mundo uma dimensão de profundidade infinita. Em uma bonita passagem do primeiro volume de O Princípio Esperança, o filósofo diz:

Nunca encerrado: assim, o que cai bem justamente no demasiado belo é quando o verniz racha, quando a superfície descora ou escurece, como ocorre ao anoitecer, quando a luz incide obliquamente e os montes aparecem em primeiro plano. O esfacelamento da superfície, bem como o conjunto meramente ideológico-cultural, em que as obras tinham o seu lugar, libera a profundidade, onde quer que haja alguma. 4

A precisão da escrita de Bloch é evidente: trata-se de uma crítica ao demasiado belo, à beleza em sua face medusante, alucinatória e tautológica, enquanto superfície opaca que impede de ver mais-além, que se basta na fórmula o que vejo do mundo é o que há de mundo. Ora, não seria esta liberação da profundidade algo muito semelhante ao que o filósofo lituano Emmanuel Levinas chama de movimento de evasão? Em seu pequeno livro De l’Evasion, Levinas define este movimento evasão como “uma necessidade de sair de si-mesmo, de romper o acorrentamento mais radical, mais irremissível, o fato de que o eu é si-mesmo” 5. O movimento evasivo visa não apenas um outro modo de ser, mas um outro modo que ser, não se bastando com a simples aceitação de uma realidade diferente, mas em busca do movimento de sair permanente sob a forma de uma radical negação de reconhecimento narcísico na imagem de si mesmo refletida no mundo. A evasão é, antes de tudo, iconoclasta e, por isso mesmo, utópica.

 

Arte e Obliteração

Por mais que se possa pensar, então, que a arte contemporânea abriria para uma dimensão de evasão e, assim, ética, Levinas é sempre muito cauteloso ao aproximar o fazer artístico do encontro com a alteridade radical, com o rosto do outro homem. Para ele, a bem da verdade, a obra de arte não tem um rosto, mas uma espécie de fachada. Entretanto, em uma tardia entrevista a Françoise Armengaud, Levinas fala sobre um gênero específico de arte, a arte da obliteração, que seria, em suas palavras, “uma arte que denuncia as facilidades ou indiferença leviana do belo e que faz lembrar as usuras do ser, as ‘apreensões’ 6 das quais ele está coberto e suas supressões, visíveis ou escondidas, na sua obstinação a ser, a aparecer e a se mostrar.” 7

Ainda não uma arte que se poderia dizer ética, mas um fazer que opera na tentativa de explicitar a separação entre mundo e representação de mundo, entre o âmbito do vivido e do conceituado. A arte da obliteração não resolve a questão da diluição da coisa pela sua imagem, mas convoca a que se pense sobre este problema. Neste sentido, a arte obliterativa é uma espécie de ante-sala da dimensão ética. Não abre para a epifania do rosto do Outro em seu transbordamento infinito das margens do ser, mas torna evidente que a totalidade apresenta brechas por onde brilha a alteridade. A arte da obliteração aponta, no mundo, a existência de vias de evasão.

Talvez não seja apenas por um feliz acaso que um artista cubano contemporâneo chamado Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo afirme que suas obras se baseiam no processo de obliteração da imagem. Seu projeto artístico tem como ato fundamental o que ele chama de defacing – desfiguração talvez seja uma boa tradução – e se realiza em um duplo movimento: primeiro, o artista pinta a carvão sobre tela o rosto de figuras importantes na memória coletiva, como Che Guevara e Fidel Castro, por exemplo; depois, convida o público a obliterar estas figuras, oferecendo tinta branca para ser colocada por cima das telas. O resultado é um borrão acinzentado que vagamente lembra os contornos da personalidade que havia sido desenhada.

 

Nas visão de Gonzalez-Trejo, a função crítica deste projeto,

o ato de desfiguração e de défacement da obra de arte são, em si, uma metáfora: não podemos verdadeiramente apagar o desenho realizado a carvão nem negar a história e suas consequências, e pouco importa que a tinta seja aplicada sobre o carbono, o desenho inicial prepondera sempre ao de cima. A obra inicial do artista pode ser apagada, mas resta sempre uma imagem iconoclasta presente que pode ser considerada como uma nova obra de arte, abrindo uma nova perspectiva à arte contemporânea. 8

Ou seja, a função do borrão cinzento não é de substituir a imagem que resta por detrás, mas sim de explicitar que há um por detrás, de resgatar uma profundidade na própria obra. Se o mundo não passa da representação que temos de mundo, então as obras de Gonzalez-Trejo são o desnudamento do mecanismo de substituição da realidade pela sua imagem bela. Em outros termos, o artista propõe um instante de pausa na maquinaria do cotidiano, convocando o público a lidar com as figuras de sua própria história. Ou, como o próprio Gonzalez-Trejo diz:

O ato de obliteração obriga os visitantes a refletir sobre suas lembranças, examinar a relação que têm com suas memórias e permitir, assim, uma certa liberação de tensão. Este projeto tem por objetivo a reflexão sobre o conceito de impermanência do ser, da obra de arte, do desaparecimento da memória pessoal e coletiva. É também um questionamento visual, físico e psíquico sobre a identidade em evolução. 9

Assim, as obras de Gonzalez-Trejo são uma ótima ilustração de como a arte obliterativa é uma espécie de apelo à subjetividade e à singularidade, pois o espectador é convocado naquilo que lhe é mais íntimo e que não pode ser compartilhado: a sua posição frente à sua própria história, ou melhor, frente à versão de sua história presente naquele exato momento de sua vida. O borrão cinza interrompe o transcurso natural e concatenado do mundo exaurido no fechamento do dito sincrônico resgatando a dimensão do dizer diacrônico.

 

Referências Bibliográficas

BLOCH. E. O Princípio Esperança: vol. 1 [1959]. Trad. Nélio Schneider. Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ: Contraponto, 2005.

GONZALEZ-TREJO, P. site pessoal do artista (http://www.pablogt.com/statement/); acessado em 21 de junho de 2009.

JACOBY, R. Imagem Imperfeita: pensamento utópico para uma época antiutópica [2005]. Trad. CarolinaAraújo. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2007.

LEVINAS, E. De l’évasion [1935]. Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1982.

_________. De l’oblitération: entretien avec Françoise Armengaud à propos de l’oeuvre de Sosno. Paris: La Différence, 1990.

1 Psicólogo, psicanalista, especialista em Atendimento Clínico (Psicanálise), mestre em Filosofia (PUCRS), doutorando em Filosofia (PUCRS).
2 Cf. DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. O que vemos, o que nos olha. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1998.
3 BLOCH, Ernst. O Princípio Esperança: vol. 1 [1959]. Trad. Nélio Schneider. Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ: Contraponto, 2005, p. 216.
4 BLOCH, Ernst. O Princípio Esperança…, p. 217.
5 LEVINAS, Emmanuel. De l’évasion [1935]. Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1982, p 78.
6 Reprises, no original. A tradução deste termo é muito complicada, mas podemos identificar aí a partícula prise, que remete ao verbo prender que significa pegar algo com a mão, ter algo em seu controle, tomar algo para seu domínio. (N.T.)
7 LEVINAS, Emmanuel. De l’Obliteration…
8 GONZALEZ-TREJO, Pablo. site pessoal do artista.
9 GONZALEZ-TREJO, Pablo. site pessoal do artista.

End to Defacing

September 7, 2014By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Statement No Comments
François Duvalier, 70 x 62 inches, 178 x 157 cm, 2009, Charcoal and Graphite on Canvas. Installation view at ICA Miami 2015
François Duvalier, 70 x 62 inches, 178 x 157 cm, 2009, Charcoal and Graphite on Canvas. Installation view at ICA Miami 2015

As Defacing art project comes to an end, I wanted to clarify its bases.

Defacing art project was imagined with a simple idea, naturally, to change the perception of the past and to create a new future, which will in turn become our present. As impossible as it may seem, it was poetic and plausible to me.

‘Living in the past’ is a condition of many immigrants, and I wanted to change this aspect of their lives. It is this way with my family, my people and all those who are in this situation of emotional limbo. Defacing Art project allows for the public to contribute to the artwork by painting on it, a real visual therapy. Rebuilding or maculating an iconographic image of our past can potentially change it or the perception of it, and then build a different future from this new landmark. Defacing is a project that invites to experiment with icons in the present while being aware that this is relative to the past.

My Picture is a sum of Destructions

March 18, 2010By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Artists, Blogt 1 Comment
Nude Woman with Necklace
Nude Woman with Necklace, 1968, drying oil and oil/alkyd on canvas, 1135mm x 1617mm. Tate Gallery, London (cat no. T03670) being examined with a stereo microscope © Succession Picasso/DACS 1999. Photograph by Fotini Koussiaki (click image for larger version)

The old days’ pictures went forward toward completion by stages. Every day brought something new. A picture used to be a sum of additions. In my case a picture is a sum of destructions. I do a picture – then I destroy it. In the end, though, nothing is lost: the red I took away from one place turns up somewhere else.

Statement by Pablo Picasso, 1935

I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing. Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the pocketbook that fortune should put in his path. The one who finds something no matter what it might be even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration.

Statement by Pablo Picasso, 1923

read the whole text here

Defacing (Définition du Concept)

June 27, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt, Statement No Comments

Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo, Celeste, 46 x 38 cm, Técnica Mixta sobre tela, 2013

Defacing est né avec une simple idée, naturelle, de changer le passé pour avoir un autre futur, qui deviendra à son tour notre présent. Aussi impossible que cela puisse paraitre, cela me sembla poétique et faisable. Vivre dans le passé sans profiter du présent est une caractéristique de nombreux émigrants, et je voulais changer cet aspect de la condition de ma famille, de mon peuple et de tous ceux qui sont dans cette situation de limbe émotionnelle. Il me semblait normal quand j’ai commencé ce projet qu’en reconstruisant une image iconographique du passé, on puisse potentiellement changer le passé ou la perception de celui-ci et puis construire un autre avenir à partir de ce nouveau point de repère. Inviter les spectateurs à peindre avec la peinture sur mes dessins est un acte qui marque le présent pour redéfinir le futur. Defacing est un projet qui invite a expérimenter dans le présent, en étant conscient que le présent est bien relatif au passé.

Dans Stealing the Mona Lisa, Darian Leader expliqu’en 1911, lorsque la Mona Lisa a été volée, des milliers de personnes sont venues voir le mur vide, pour voir ce qui n’était plus là, ce que n’était plus possible de voir… Beaucoup ont fait de même au lendemain du 11 septembre 2001, avec des millions de visiteurs en tant que touriste de l’histoire pour prendre des photos du vide, pour garder un souvenir de ce qui n’était plus possible de voir … Nous voulons tous être dans le présent mais avec un lien vers le passé, et parfois plus attachés ou dépendants du passé.

L’exil choisi par rapport à l’exil nécessaire, la mémoire du lieu et la mémoire de la mémoire sont à la base de mon parcours ; au début j’étais un nomade que mon pays avez singulièrement craché et maintenant, cinq déplacements de longue durée plus tard, je suis un nomade culturel. Je profite de mon exil parisien pour focaliser et développer mon nouveau credo visuel dans le cadre d’une exposition à la Freedom Tower pour la communauté de Miami et pour les communautés du monde entier dans le futur. Mes nouvelles œuvres tissent des liens sociaux entre l’art et le spectateur et ne restent pas comme des objets d’art autonomes. Cette provocation qui semble au premier degré vous fera ressentir que le déplacement, dans le temps et l’espace, vaut l’exercice. Je vous propose de maculer mon oeuvre pour expérimenter l’art d’une façon psychique et physique en réagissant face au public qui vous regarde vous comporter comme un sauvage.

L’altermodernisme est défini par Nicolas Bourriaud, dans The Radicant. Il le décrit ainsi : “les vingt-cinq dernières années du XXe siècle furent un long épisode mélancolique. Les œuvres d’art se sont définies comme un après : après le mythe du progrès, l’utopie révolutionnaire, la défaite du colonialisme, les luttes d’émancipations politiques, sociales et sexuelles”. Il faut revenir au présent. Le terme altermodernisme suggère “une multitude d’alternatives à une voie unique. L’alterglobalisation définit la pluralité des oppositions locales à la standardisation économique, et donc la lutte pour la diversité”. Je me sens inscrit dans cette pensée. Mon parcours personnel a toujours été déconnecté du post-modernisme ; dans le monde globalisé d’aujourd’hui, j’ai l’intention de changer notre perception du présent avec l’expérimentation du Defacing. J’ai la volonté de changer notre perspective du futur avec une expérience artistique contemporaine.

Travailler le dessin aujourd’hui est une proposition d’intellectualisation et d’expérimentation brute. Le projet Defacing propose d’affronter des icônes de la mémoire collective et personnelle, de façon visuelle, mentale et physique. Il invite le spectateur à devenir acteur de l’œuvre elle-même. Ces icônes sont des portraits de personnes, de symboles ayant marqué l’histoire. Ces images ont une puissance symbolique créant un simulacre tel que le définit Jean Baudrillard comme étant cette « vérité qui cache le fait qu’il n’y en a aucune autre » et véhiculant autant de valeurs, d’histoire et de mémoires personnelles qu’un logo de marque commun à toute une nation. Une fois que la phase intellectuelle et de repérage visuel et historique est achevée, le spectateur est invité à laisser une marque sur l’idole déjà dessinée par l’artiste et à essayer d’effacer cette image. Dans ce projet, défacer est un acte non pas réprimé mais exigé. En défaçant, on construit une nouvelle œuvre d’art qui devient plus intéressante que le point de départ. En socialisant (little redbook & facebook) la création et la finalisation de la pièce d’art, on construit un nouveau chapitre dans le dicours de l’Esthétique relationnelle de Nicolas Bourriaud. Ce projet propose une anarchie rarement vue dans un Centre d’Art,  laissant les spectateurs / acteurs expérimenter et considérer l’œuvre d’un point de vue physique et psychologique.

Evolution naturelle
Je réalise ce type de grands formats dessinés au charbon depuis 1997. Le concept de mon travail repose sur la réflexion suivante : si ce que nous sommes se base sur les expériences que nous avons vécues, et les souvenirs de ces expériences mutant avec le temps, alors nous ne sommes qu’une métaphore de nous-mêmes. A partir de ce fil conducteur, chaque dessin a été soigneusement choisi pour représenter le passé, mon passé personnel tout d’abord et puis l’histoire collective les années suivantes.

Ces dessins ont été effectués avec du charbon et du fusain non fixé sur toile et auront pour destin de continuer à tomber lentement en descendant sur la surface de la toile et à disparaître progressivement.

Ce processus de disparition par manque de fixatif a évolué vers une nouvelle forme de disparition. C’est aujourd’hui le spectateur qui collabore à la disparition ou à la transformation de l’esthétique, en appliquant une peinture acrylique blanche. Cette nouvelle façon de transformer l’œuvre devient une évolution naturelle de mon travail d’art. Le concept de la disparition de la mémoire et de l’identité en évolution, est toujours central dans ce projet, mais avec une étendue universelle axée sur les expériences, les souvenirs, et l’identité des autres.

La fonction critique de ce projet, l’acte de défiguration et de défacement de l’œuvre d’art, sont en soi une métaphore : nous ne pouvons pas vraiment effacer le dessin réalisé au fusain ni nier l’histoire et ses conséquences, et peu importe que la peinture soit appliquée sur le charbon, le dessin initial reprend toujours le dessus. L’œuvre initiale de l’artiste peut être effacée mais il reste toujours une image iconoclaste présente qui peut être considérée comme une nouvelle œuvre d’art, ouvrant une nouvelle perspective à l’art contemporain.

En effet, ce projet de défiguration de l’art ou de désobéissance civile permet aux visiteurs d’exorciser certaines frustrations de leur passé. L’acte d’oblitération oblige les visiteurs à réfléchir sur leurs souvenirs, examiner quel rapport ils ont à leurs mémoires, et permet aussi une certaine libération de tension. Ce projet a pour objectif la réflexion visuelle sur le concept de l’impermanence de l’être, de l’œuvre d’art, de la disparition de la mémoire personnelle et collective. C’est également un questionnement visuel, physique et psychique sur l’identité en évolution.

Epreuves de Famille
En décembre 2007, j’ai fait un test avec ma famille sur deux toiles. Ma famille est cubaine et a quitté légalement le régime castriste en 1984 après cinq ans d’épuisantes démarches.

Les portraits de Castro et de Guevara ont été difficiles à réaliser. J’ai dû m’arrêter plusieurs fois et me poser cette question : « Que fais-je? Quelle est cette résistance à continuer ce travail ? »

J’ai invité ma famille à mon atelier sans la prévenir de l’imminent choc visuel. Ils étaient réticents et en colère envers moi car j’avais généré les images de ceux qu’ils considèrent comme « les diables ». Cependant, ils ont accepté ma proposition de participer à la performance. J’ai chronométré cinq membres de ma famille pendant 50 secondes représentant les 50 ans de la révolution cubaine. Ils ont effacé le plus rapidement possible la surface de perturbation et ils se sont sentis mieux et m’ont dit pouvoir exorciser les fantômes du passé. Ils ont transformé l’échec que ces images représentent en une sorte de thérapie artistique, voire une performance de revendication.

J’ai utilisé ma famille cubaine à Miami, à titre d’essai, pour avoir une idée de comment vont réagir les participants à des images qui pourraient susciter des souvenirs d’échecs culturels. Ils m’ont permis également de constater qu’une personne sans éducation artistique peut donner du sens et finaliser mon travail d’art en le transformant en une nouvelle pièce d’art, et en lui donnant une nouvelle fonction critique.

Etapes de réalisation
Première étape – Production

Ce projet comporte deux phases. La première est la production de toiles de grande envergure sur châssis. Il s’agit de portraits réalisés au fusain sur toile. Ils représentent des hommes politiques du monde entier, du passé et du présent, qui ont changé la vie de millions de personnes. Je planifie de faire des portraits de George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Donald H. Rumsfeld, John D. Ashcroft, Hugo Chávez, François Duvalier, Mao Zedong, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Staline, Pol Pot, Kim Il – Sung, Kim Jong-il, Pervez Musharraf, Robert Mugabe, Benito Mussolini, entre autres.

Deuxième étape – Exposition et finition par les visiteurs
Suite à cette production de toiles, la seconde étape aura lieu sur place pendant l’exposition des dessins : les visiteurs seront invités à effacer les dessins, ils auront environ trente secondes pour défigurer l’œuvre d’art avec de la peinture acrylique blanche, en utilisant un pinceau fin. Ainsi, les participants vont métamorphoser et achever chaque œuvre que l’artiste a créée.

Résultats
Le projet Defacing présente une disposition osée, dans un espace d’art où le public est encouragé à interagir avec l’œuvre d’art d’une façon considérée comme négative et qui générera un résultat positif.
Il invite à une vraie interaction sociale entre la communauté artistique et le public. Il permet de s’interroger sur la valeur des œuvres d’art qui ne sont pas achevées ou entièrement réalisées par l’artiste, les rôles de l’art et de l’artiste, et celui des spectateurs devenus participants. À mon sens, les œuvres d’art dans leur état oblitéré sont plus significatives et attrayantes qu’à l’origine. L’interaction entre les icones des hommes politiques et le public est également une source de réflexion sur l’homme et son rapport à l’histoire contemporaine.

Futur
Le projet Defacing utilise les images des dictateurs et présidents du monde pour créer des icônes, reflets des différents groupes qui sont représentés dans les communautés d’une ville.
J’envisage de rendre ce concept itinérant dans des lieux tels que Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Barcelone, Kaboul, Jérusalem et Bagdad. Je pense que ce projet peut être utilisé pour souligner le rôle de l’art comme une arme puissante pour aider à comprendre les cultures et les communautés à travers le monde.

The Radicant & Stealing The Mona Lisa

June 21, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments
Taller_Buddha_of_Bamiyan
The Buddhas of Bamyan (Persian: بت های باميان - but hay-e bamiyaan) were two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, situated 230 km (143 miles) northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2500 meters (8,202 ft). Built during the sixth century, the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art. The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors.The lower parts of the statues' arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco. They were intentionally dynamited and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were "idols" (which are forbidden under Sharia law). International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban and of fundamentalist Islam. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.

Somewhere between the The Radicant by Nicolas Bourriaud (page 16 here quoted) and Stealing the Mona Lisa by Darian Leader and his take on the public reaction to it being missing, I have confirmed my fears about the passive spectators of a museum gallery, they deface what they see even if they don’t know it, how they as an art appreciation collective imagine destruction and obliteration of artworks, why do spectators take so much pleasure at defacing? In 1911 when the Monalisa was stolen, millions came to see the empty wall, to see what was not seen… what was no longer possible to see… after that the Monalisa became an icon nobody will forget. Many did the same in the aftermath of 9/11 with millions visiting as tourist of history and taking pictures of ground zero as of to keep a memory of what was no longer possible to see… Is this a hidden desire of the humans to destroy inorder to conquer? I always wondered if people felt the same when the Taliban destroyed The Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan, I wonder if tourist try to go there? We all want to be in the present but with a link to the past, and sometimes more attached to the relative. The concept of the radicant being a human that builds roots in many places and keeps building them to connect to the rest while experimenting with the limits of art… touches my deepest hidden hopes…

A number of authors and artists have already taken this step, though the novel space in which they are feeling their way has yet to be named. But at the heart of their practices are crucial principles on the basis of which a modernity could be reconstituted. Principles that may be enumerated: a focus on the present, experimentation, the relative, the fluid. The present, because the modern (“what belongs to its time,” for such is its historical definition) is a passion for the current, for today understood as seed and beginning—against conservative ideologies that would embalm it, against reactionary movements whose ideal is the restoration of this or that time past, but also, in a manner that distinguishes our modernity from preceding ones, against futurist prescriptions, teleological notions of all sorts, and the radicality that accompanies them. Experimentation, because being modern means daring to seize the occasion, the kairos. It means venturing, not resting contentedly with tradition, with existing formulas and categories; but seeking to clear new paths, to become a test pilot. To be equal to this risk, it is also necessary to call into question the solidity of things, to practice a generalized relativism, a critical comparatism unsparing of the most tenacious certainties, to perceive the institutional and ideological structures that surround us as circumstantial, historical, and changeable at will. “There are no facts,” wrote Nietzsche, “only interpretations.”06 This is why the modern favors the event over monumental order, the ephemeral over an eternity writ in stone; it is a defense of fluidity against omnipresent reification.07

06 FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, THE WILL TO POWER, TRANS. WALTER KAUFMANN (NEW YORK: VINTAGE BOOKS, 1968), 267 (481); TRANSLATION MODIFIED.

07 FOR A TRANSHISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF MODERNITY THAT EXPLORES THE IMPERATIVE TO “MAKE YOUR LIFE A WORK OF ART,” SEE THE AUTHOR’S FORMES DE WE: LART MODERNE ET L’ INVENTION DE SOI (PARIS, EDITIONS DENOEL, 1999).

Defacing ou les strates de la mémoire

June 8, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

par Christina Vatsella

Defacing
Defacing

Le projet Defacing de Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo oscille entre la peinture et l’œuvre performative. Le projet se déroule en deux étapes distinctes. Dans un premier temps, l’artiste crée des portraits des gens qui ont marqué l’histoire, comme Che Guevara ou Fidel Castro, et dont l’image est inscrite dans la mémoire collective. Bien que le portrait soit un moyen de rendre l’image d’un personnage éternel, Gonzalez-Trejo crée ici des portraits précaires, condamnés à la dégradation progressive et à la disparition en utilisant du charbon sans fixatif. Les portraits de Gonzalez-Trejo vieillissent avec le temps comme les personnes représentées, ils deviennent progressivement fades et les caractéristiques des visages se rendent difficiles à distinguer, comme l’image d’un souvenir lointain. Cette déformation avec le temps rend ces portraits en œuvres in progress.

Après avoir dessiné les portraits, l’artiste invite les spectateurs à finaliser ses œuvres en ajoutant une deuxième couche. Les spectateurs ont à leur disposition quelques secondes pour essayer d’effacer les portraits en utilisant de la peinture blanche. L’artiste orchestre un véritable acte d’agression vis-à-vis de l’œuvre d’art en rendant les spectateurs complices à la défiguration des personnages. Les spectateurs sont ici invités à détruire, d’une certaine façon, ce que l’artiste a créé, un acte qui nous renvoie plutôt au vandalisme, restant loin de l’interaction habituelle dans le cadre de la condition muséale, à savoir, la contemplation des tableaux, toujours à distance et sans avoir le droit d’avoir quelconque contact physique avec eux.

L’œuvre s’inscrit dans la lignée des œuvres interactives et collaboratives, suivant la tradition de « l’art interactif », terme générique qui englobe toutes les formes plastiques qui visent à activer le spectateur. Il s’agit d’une démarche artistique qui apparaît dans les années 50, et qui reste omniprésente dans la pratique artistique contemporaine quoique le degré de la participation et la nature de l’implication du spectateur puisse varier considérablement.

Ayant des pinceaux et de la peinture, les spectateurs deviennent les collaborateurs de l’artiste à la création de l’œuvre. Par contre, il est difficile de considérer les spectateurs qui participent à cette finalisation des portraits comme des co-auteurs de l’œuvre ; l’artiste met en scène un cadre d’interaction préalablement défini en imposant des limites aux réactions imprévues. Les spectateurs-participants-complices ont un temps d’interaction très précis, en l’occurrence quelques secondes, et ils sont obligés d’utiliser les matériaux que l’artiste met à leur disposition à savoir, un pinceau très fin et de la peinture blanche acrylique. L’artiste demeure le maître de la situation bien que le résultat esthétique de chaque toile ayant subi l’intervention du public dépende du degré de l’agressivité de chaque spectateur.

La façon dont l’artiste orchestre la participation du public s’inspire de la tradition du Happening et du Fluxus. La partie performative du projet Defacing s’articule autour d’une partition d’artiste restant dans le sillage des certaines œuvres d’Allan Kaprow ; on pourrait citer, à titre d’exemple, Happenings in Six Parts où les indications données au public avaient des temps minutieusement fixés. Contrairement aux Happenings historiques ainsi qu’à la plupart des œuvres performatives, dans l’œuvre de Gonzalez Torres l’objectif de l’action du public est la création d’un objet d’art classique, à savoir, d’un tableau. Par contre, dans le cas des happenings ainsi que des œuvres performatives sollicitant la participation du spectateur, allant de Joseph Beuys jusqu’à Marina Abramovic, c’est l’événement-même qui se déroule grâce à la participation du public qui constitue l’objectif et l’aboutissement de l’œuvre, quoique, il y a souvent des produits dérivés sous forme de traces de l’action ou sous forme de documentation qui peuvent potentiellement acquérir le statut d’œuvre d’art.

Le résultat de l’action, l’œuvre finale, est un portrait fragmentaire. En premier plan, on voit une trame épaisse des lignes blanches couvrant le dessin. En second plan, on peut distinguer des traces d’une image bien cachée. Il n’y a que des fragments du portrait qui sont visibles ; un œil, des cheveux, une partie de la bouche. Ces fragments nous laissent deviner qu’il s’agissait d’un portrait. Les deux matériaux, le charbon et l’acrylique, racontent deux histoires parallèles, celle de l’artiste et celle du public, ils racontent la procédure de la création et celle de l’effacement, la mémoire et l’oubli.

L’action d’effacer le portrait d’une personne est un geste métaphorique ayant plusieurs niveaux de lecture. Cela ressemble à un acte d’exorcisme ; on supprime l’image pour que la personne ou son fantôme cesse d’exister. Cela peut être un acte de vengeance, surtout pour les spectateurs – participants dont les vies ont été atteintes, de façon directe ou indirecte, par les actes de ces personnages historiques. L’acte d’effacer un personnage légendaire peut être aussi une façon de « tuer le père », un effort de s’en débarrasser d’une figure emblématique afin de se construire ou de se réinventer. Cet acte violent vis-à-vis des personnages qui ont marqué l’histoire personnelle et collective évoque également le besoin d’oublier tout simplement, afin d’avancer sans la lourdeur du passé. Quoi qu’il en soit, le geste de détruire, d’une certaine façon, une œuvre d’art exposée au public, est une expérience artistique très marquante pour le visiteur d’une exposition.

L’œuvre traite de deux mécanismes de la mémoire, l’oubli passif et le refoulement volontaire. Dans un premier temps, l’artiste reproduit la démarche passive de la mémoire. Ses portraits précaires, faits au charbon sans fixatifs, se dégradent, mais très lentement. La mémoire persiste, nous ne pouvons pas oublier si vite que l’on aurait souhaité, c’est une démarche qui prend du temps. Le charbon s’efface progressivement mais il laisse toujours des traces. Les souvenirs ne peuvent jamais être complètement supprimés de la mémoire. La seconde étape de l’œuvre, qui correspond à la seconde étape de l’oubli, c’est le passage à l’acte. On efface les dessins, de la même façon qu’on décide de se débarrasser de l’histoire et les souvenirs qui nous hantent, de les refouler afin d’avancer.

Ajouter des couches de peinture blanche crée l’espace pour des nouvelles mémoires. Mais, hélas, il y aura toujours les traces des images précédentes, nous ne sommes pas capables d’effacer le passer, ni de repartir à zéro, ni de rendre notre conscience en tabula rasa. La société tout comme l’homme ne peut pas devenir amnésique. Les zones blanches prêtes à être investies par des nouvelles images s’intercalent entre les fragments, des images antérieures. En fin de compte, est-ce que l’œuvre est un travail d’exorcisation des fantômes, comme l’artiste le suggère, ou bien un effort de réconciliation, une épreuve visant à nous faire apprendre à vivre avec nos fantômes ?

Christina Vatsella, doctorante en histoire de l’art contemporain à Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV

Desdibujando identidades en el espacio y tiempo: proyecto Defacing

June 8, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

por Cecília Rezende

Defacing
Defacing

El proyecto Defacing (desfigurar/deformar), del artista cubano Pablo González-Trejo, desvela nuevos horizontes para el arte contemporáneo al poner en jaque paradigmas sobre la producción y autoría de la obra de arte en plena emergencia de la cultura alter moderna – término creado por Nicolas Bourriaud para definir la nueva modernidad, surgida en la actual era globalizada.

Según Bourriaud, la idea de multiculturalismo e identidades culturales da lugar a un escenario criollo, pero a la vez globalizado, bien más extenso, en que las fronteras se mueven y se diluyen en velocidad cada vez más alta, permitiendo un intercambio de información en muchos lenguajes, simultáneamente y por híbridos canales de transmisión. Como una consecuencia natural de tal proceso, actualmente el arte experimenta nuevas formas de expresión y comunicación en un territorio cultural repleto de imágenes y signos que ya no se restringen a sus límites originales, siendo plenamente reconocidos en muchos lugares del mundo.

González-Trejo apuesta a por la capacidad de transmitir y percibir sentimientos a través de la representación visual de un imaginario tejido a través del tiempo, suyo y también colectivo, dando lugar a un dialogo entre el público y la obra, en que los discursos subjetivos coinciden en la formación de una nueva simbología para el arte y evolucionan hacia otras direcciones, revelándose, afirmándose y (des)construyéndose de formas cada vez más libres y autónomas.

El artista parte de la idea esencial de la representación visual de la memoria subjetiva para la concretización de su proyecto, fomentando una discusión abierta sobre el imaginario, personal y también colectivo, al proponer nuevas cuestiones bajo la premisa de interactividad. A través de una mirada íntima y a la vez pública, bien como afectiva y catártica, acerca de la noción de identidad -sea ella personal, ideológica o cultural-, el artista estimula el debate público acerca de las funciones sociales, políticas, estéticas y psíquicas de la producción artística, además de cuestionar la propia idea de autoría al proponer otras formas posibles de diálogo entre el artista y el espectador.

Defacing se compone de una serie de dibujos hechos en carbón vegetal que, cuando expuestos por primera vez, son desfigurados/borrados con pintura acrílica de color blanco por alguien a quien podemos llamar defacer (en una traducción libre, desfigurador o deformador), presente entre el público.

El objetivo artístico del proyecto es cambiar la perspectiva del público frente a la obra presentada en el espacio físico de la exposición. González-Trejo convoca al público a reaccionar sobre lo que ve, y la intención se concretiza justamente a partir de este intercambio. Obviamente, el defacer puede percibir la expectativa presente en las miradas ajenas durante los sesenta segundos de que dispone para desdibujar la obra, y que ejercen significativa influencia sobre la manera como él responde a lo que se le presenta, además de moderar la intensidad de su reacción.

Lo que ocurre es la colectivización del proceso artístico, convirtiéndolo en algo libertador. Un gesto antes de todo catártico, en que uno interviene públicamente, y no apenas sobre una obra de arte en su sentido institucional, sino también sobre una imagen reconocible por el defacer y que de alguna manera lo conmueve, sea estética, psíquica o físicamente.

Para retratar a los amigos, el artista recurrió a sus impresiones subjetivas sobre cada uno de ellos, así como al vasto repertorio de sus propias memorias, históricas y afectivas. Partes integrantes, en fin, de un referente visual y emocional particular. Hay algo de lisonjero pero también de desafiador en la intención de González-Trejo de exponer literalmente a algunos de sus entes queridos, al mismo tiempo en que los invita a reaccionar de manera casi iconoclasta sobre su propia imagen, bajo la mirada atenta de otros. El aprecio esencial en la relación entre el artista y el defacer trasparece en el resultado final de la obra, investida de un espíritu de benevolente parcialidad- característica de la amistad por definición. Un intento que se encuentra originalmente circunscrito en la esfera del afecto, y que ha resultado, según González-Trejo, en una placentera experiencia.

Desdibujar dictadores, entretanto, ocurrió sobre fundamentos un poco diferentes. Por si solos, los rostros de gente como George W. Bush, Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Condoleezza Rice, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Hugo Chávez y Robert Mugabe, entre muchos otros déspotas, dispensan presentaciones: se han consagrado en la historia humana como íconos visuales, reconocibles por millones de personas, no solo por los daños inflingido a sus propios compatriotas, sino también por la arbitrariedad de su hechos y violencia contra otros pueblos, culturas, ideologías y religiones. Cabe aquí afirmar que, en un imaginario colectivo, estas caras personifican a la maldad. Su mera visión ocasiona un involuntario rescate de memorias traumáticas y dolorosas desde los escombros de su propia historia personal; recuerdos que, bajo condiciones específicas, desencadenan un espontáneo proceso de catarsis personal y/o colectiva, digno de una verdadera obra de arte.

En Defacing, los retratos se forman y se nutren no apenas de la memoria del artista, sino de muchas otras memorias. Visuales, emocionales y físicas, construidas a partir de experiencias personales y cada cual relacionada a un imaginario único. El resultado del proyecto, lejos de una obra encerrada, refleja un inesperado y voluntario dialogo, en que ambas extremidades permanecen abiertas.

Así como las fronteras de nuestros mundos interiores avanzan o se retraen según un constante proceso de redelineación, nunca llegamos a formar nuestras identidades como algo macizo y bien definido. Lo que somos y la materia de que estamos hechos sigue evolucionando constantemente, según dónde, cuando, con quién y como vivimos. Tal como sugiere González-Trejo, somos más una metáfora de nosotros que nosotros mismos.

The strength lies in surrendering: Defacing

June 7, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

by Caroline Rossiter

Defacing
Defacing

The strength lies in surrendering: Gonzalez-Trejo’s Defacing reveals an artist’s capacity to submit his work to the hand of others. Following the production of a series of portrait drawings, rendered on a large scale in charcoal, gallery visitors are invited to deface these portraits, the result being a highly-charged performance of cathartic destruction. But Gonzalez-Trejo never loses sight of the finished material result. The portraits retain elements of their original characteristics due to the nature of the material; they also carry the traces of the performance and bear the marks of the emotional intervention of an audience provoked. Whether inviting his Cuban family to erase the well-known traits of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, or his friends to confront their own portraits, the process of Defacing is far from arbitrary. The gesture is iconoclastic rather than destructive, attacking institutionalized images of public figures, or the image of oneself in the case of Portraits of Friends.

For Gonzalez-Trejo, the notion of interactivity is equally important as defacing. The project is not an overtly political gesture; but perhaps the artist’s background influences his choice of approach, the socially conscious element of the work a resurgence of his Cuban heritage. Gonzalez-Trejo talks of a 21st century notion of socialism: participation and interaction, the likes of which are characteristic of our digital age. Internet users are comfortable having a public digital profile, and can react to online material in the vast intangible reaches of internet space; Defacing is a brave move that brings this opportunity to interact in the real physical space of a gallery.

Participants do not have complete freedom in defacing the portraits; they use the medium provided (white acrylic) in the framework of the exhibition. Thus the participants are not anonymously destructive, but implicated contributors to the artistic process. The defacer is conscious of being seen, and therefore a full participant in dialogue with the artist and the audience. This collective approach evokes the work of another Cuban artist: Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Gonzalez-Torres’s work confronts different issues, not least his struggle with AIDS and his contemplations on the process of dying, but what likens Gonzalez-Trejo’s work to his is the notion of participation. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy installations (included in his posthumous show at the Venice Biennale in 2007) are made up of individually wrapped candies, which the audience are invited to take away with them. The candies are constantly replenished so the work is being continually recreated and evolving in and beyond the gallery space. Echoing these installations, Defacing is about the continuing, collaborative evolution of an artwork.

Defacing or appropriating existing imagery lies at the heart of numerous contemporary art practices. Whether as graffiti, a genre which has risen from the street to the auction house through Banksy’s work, or borrowing motifs from the canon of art history as a support for subversive visual gestures, such as Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., or more recently the Chapman brothers’ vandalism of a set of Goya etchings, defacing has carved itself a space. In many instances, however, it is the artist who has the last word. The artist defaces, but his work is consequently untouched, it is protected in galleries and museums. Take the example of Duchamp’s Fountain. The original subversive gesture of presenting a urinal as a work of art is now admired in solemn institutionalized settings – what started out as a fingers-up to institutional art is now given its place in the privileged canon of 20th century art. When Chinese performance artists Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi attempted to use Fountain for its original purpose at the Tate Modern in 2000 they were swiftly escorted from the premises and banned from returning. Duchamp’s provocative work does not evolve, it is preserved in the state the artist left it. Similarly, the Chapman brothers deface Goya’s work but the defacing process ends there.

This is where Defacing differs: it brings the authorship of the artist into question. Instead of adding the finishing touches and a signature, Gonzalez-Trejo relies on the interaction of his participants; he is the author of the project, whose outcome he cannot completely predict. Instead of claiming authorship of something he has defaced, he leaves his work to be defaced and to evolve beyond his control. This disorientation of artistic norms is in itself an important element of the performance. Not only are participants asked to react to provocative or intimate representations, they are also called on to publicly deface an artist’s work. This could explain why the participants of Defacing often begin by erasing the eyes of their portraits. The most expressive element of a portrait, the eyes are often the first to be attacked during these performances. Once the gaze of the portrait is obstructed, the defacer feels at liberty to continue their work unobserved. Of course the artist is still present during the performance, and the blinding of his – and in some cases their own – portraits does not hinder his own observation of the process, but there seems to be an element of self-consciousness at the beginning of the defacing process, engaging the taboo in disfiguring an artist’s work.

This, and the fact that the original portraits depict figures well-known to the defacers, creates a moment of great intensity, in which the participants’ freedom to deface meets the gaze of the artist and public. The performance is one of social interaction: it becomes a conversation. The original drawings are not destroyed. They evolve.

Stefano Arienti

June 2, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Artists, Blogt No Comments
Stefano Arienti, Marilyn, 1993
Stefano Arienti, Marilyn, 1993

In an article about Giò Marconi fabulous gallery space and artists, I read these lines on Stefano Arienti defacing a portrait of Marilyn Monroe with a eraser, it facinated me and I had to share it:

“A magnificent Marilyn poster is violated by Stefano Arienti’s eraser, defacing her features and leaving her monstrous.” Read article here

Pierre Bismuth

May 9, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Artists, Blogt No Comments
Pierre Bismuth
Pierre Bismuth

Pierre Bismuth does some defacing too:

“For his ongoing series, Following the right hand, Pierre Bismuth does just that. He projects a feature film onto a sheet of Plexiglas and painstakingly follows the movements of the lead actress’ right hand with a black marker. The resultant abstract drawings are then enframed over a 30 by 40 inch photographic print of a still image from the film. The image selected by the artist represents the moment that he disengages from the actress, sometimes near the beginning of the film, creating a simple drawing; but just as often near the end of the film, creating an aggressive thicket of marks that almost obliterate the filmic image. In this way, the motion picture is occluded by a chance pattern that constitutes a kind of messy signature made by the actress. There is an undeniably fetishistic aspect of this work, as a portion of its appeal is linked to the actress’s name and aura; at the same time, the focus on the squiggly marks paradoxically negates the film, along with its star, by obscuring them with black ink, frustrating our desire to connect with the screened image.”

Find out more here

The Radicant

April 21, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

LO_cover_Bourriaud.indd

The radicant is becoming my little white bible…

“In ordinary language, ‘modernizing’ has come to mean reducing cultural and social reality to Western formats. And today, modernism amounts to a form of complicity with colonialism and Eurocentrism. Let us bet on a modernity which, far from absurdly duplicating that of the last century, would be specific to our epoch and would echo its own problematics: an altermodernity whose issues and features this book seeks to sketch out.”

Altermodern Manifesto

April 19, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

altermodern

POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD

A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture

Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live

Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe

Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture

This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing

Today’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves

Artists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication.

The Tate Triennial 2009 at Tate Britain presents a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity.

Nicolas Bourriaud
Altermodern – Tate Triennial 2009
at Tate Britain
4 February – 26 April 2009

Tate Triennial 2009

April 11, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

bour_mainPosted on Frieze Issue 120 Jan-Feb 2009

Nicolas Bourriaud, curator of the next Tate Triennial, ‘Altermodern’, talks to frieze about botany, modernity, time, class and exhibition-making image

TOM MORTON Your forthcoming book The Radicant employs a botanical metaphor to identify a form of cultural production whose roots are not static and buried, like those of a tree, but mobile and above ground, like those of a creeper or ivy. How has this informed your approach to the forthcoming Tate Triennial, an exhibition that has traditionally consisted of British artists but for which you have selected non-British ‘passers-by’, including Subodh Gupta and Loris Gréaud.

NICOLAS BOURRIAUD Whether buried or visible, roots and origins constitute brakes or barriers in contemporary art. The Postmodern period has been active in levelling the different ‘versions’ of time and space across the planet, by de-occidentalizing them. Artists nowadays start from a globalized cultural state, from where they try to reach more specific fields, and not the other way round. Pascale Marthine Tayou or Navin Rawanchaikul, for example, can observe the world from Cameroon or Chiang Mai. They no longer need to sell their cultural roots but to organize connections between signs and forms, circuits of meaning: they progress in a ‘radicant’ way. Let’s not forget that ‘radical’ means ‘belonging to the root’. The Triennial’s hypothesis consists in affirming an emerging modernity for our century, based on planetary exchanges, on translation, on the intertwining of space and time in a multi-layered world. That is why it comprises artists who are UK-born, residents and those who are passing through. Being British means having been sufficiently irradiated by a certain amount of specific cultural wavelengths. I prefer to show London as a magnet for influences and energies that originate elsewhere.

TM Both The Radicant and the Tate Triennial arrive at a moment of global economic crisis. Is this significant to your construction of ‘altermodern’?

NB The term ‘Postmodern’ first appeared around the time of the 1973 oil crisis, an event that caused the world to realize for the first time that our energy reserves were limited – i.e., it put an end to the idea of superabundance, infinite progress and the Modernist idea of culture as a projection into the future. The oil crisis represents for me the ‘primordial moment’ of Postmodernism. Since then the economy has been disconnected from natural resources and reoriented towards an immaterial ‘financialization’, whose limits we clearly see now, with the partial collapse of the system. While the economy was severing its ties with concrete geography, culture was becoming divorced from history as a coherent scenario. Postmodernism was the story of this disconnection, leading to a reified conception of ‘origins’. What I call ‘altermodern’ is the narrative of our reconnection with both, through a new set of parameters linked to globalization: instantaneity, availability, displacements …

Continue reading here

Un nouveau concept en art

April 9, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments
Tate Triennial 2009
Tate Triennial 2009, Photo by suziesparkle

Posted on Le Monde on 04/09/09
by Emmanuelle Lequeux

Le Français Nicolas Bourriaud aime les concepts et ce n’est pas ce qu’il fait de plus mal. Cet ancien directeur du Palais de Tokyo, le principal centre d’art en France, a profité de son exil londonien pour développer son nouveau credo dans le cadre d’une exposition à la Tate Britain.

Dans les années 1990, il a forgé l’idée d'”esthétique relationnelle” : voir les oeuvres pour les liens sociaux qu’elles tissent et produisent entre elles et non comme des objets d’art autonomes. Dans les années 2000, il a défini les plasticiens comme des “sémionautes” : navigateurs sur un océan de signes.

Sa nouvelle recherche est joliment intitulée “Altermodernisme”. Pour Bourriaud, les vingt-cinq dernières années du XXe siècle “furent un long épisode mélancolique. Les oeuvres d’art se sont définies comme un après : après le mythe du progrès, l’utopie révolutionnaire, la défaite du colonialisme, les luttes d’émancipations politiques, sociales et sexuelles”. Il faut revenir au présent. Le terme altermodernisme suggère “une multitude d’alternatives à une voie unique. L’alterglobalisation définit la pluralité des oppositions locales à la standardisation économique, et donc la lutte pour la diversité”.

Reste à illustrer ce propos avec des oeuvres d’artistes, tous “nomades culturels”. Un énorme champignon atomique érigé dans de la vaisselle en Inox par l’Indien Subodh Gupta dit le chambardement nécessaire à l’émergence de cette pensée nouvelle. La suite est plus confuse, et la pensée de Bourriaud s’avère difficile à suivre. Même si on y ressent que le déplacement, dans le temps et l’espace, vaut leitmotiv.

Citons les frappantes peintures inspirées à Franz Ackerman par ses voyages mondialisés, ou le sublime environnement de cristal liquide de Gustav Metzger, octogénaire qui fait chanter les murs en moirures et moisissures. Ou enfin Katie Paterson qui nous met en relation téléphonique avec un glacier en pleine fonte…

“Altermodern” : Tate Triennal 2009, Tate Britain, Millbank, Londres. Jusqu’au 26 avril.

Voids

April 5, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Artists, Blogt No Comments
Voids, a retrospective
Voids, a retrospective

Voids is a retrospective of empty exhibitions with nine empty rooms, a radical show that is both empty and full of value to celebrate 50 years of the art of the void since Yves Klein in 1958. Read more about it here

“The idea of exhibiting emptiness is a recurring notion in the history of art over the past fifty or so years, almost to the point of becoming a cliché in the practice of contemporary art. Since the exhibition by Yves Klein – “The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility” in Paris in 1958, totally empty exhibitions have been the statement of different conceptions of vacuums.

While for Yves Klein it was a way to point out the sensitive state, by contrast it represents the peak of conceptual and minimal art for Robert Barry with “Some places to which we can come, and for a while ‘be free to think about what we are going to do’ (Marcuse)” (1970). It may also result from the desire to fudge the understanding of exhibition spaces, as in the work “The Air-Conditioning Show” from Art & Language (1966-1967), or to empty an institution to modify our experience, as in the work by Stanley Brouwn. It also reflects the will to create the experience of the qualities of an exhibition venue, as with Robert Irwin and his exhibition at the ACE Gallery in 1970, or with Maria Nordman at her exhibition in Krefeld in 1984. Emptiness also represents a form of radicalness, like that created by Laurie Parsons in 1990 at the Lorence-Monk gallery, which announced his renouncement of all artistic practice. For Bethan Huws and his work “Haus Esters Piece” (1993), emptiness means being able to celebrate the museum’s architecture, signifying that art is already there on site and there is no need to add works of art. Emptiness assumes almost a sense of economic demand for Maria Eichhorn who, in leaving her exhibition empty at the Kunsthalle Bern in 2001, helped to devote the budget to the building’s renovation. With “More Silent than Ever” (2006), Roman Ondák, for his part, had the onlooker believing that there is more than what is just left there to be seen.

Commissaires / organisateurs:
Laurent Le Bon, John Armleder, Mathieu Copeland, Gustav Metzger, Mai-Thu Perret, Clive Phillpot”

Voids, a retrospectiveVoids, a retrospective

Panic Attack!

March 1, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

by Mia Jankowicz
Commissioned on the occasion of the Frieze Writer’s Prize 2007
posted on Frieze on October 2007

Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK

The timing and subject matter of ‘Panic Attack! Art in the Punk Years’ overlapped distinctly with Kunstverein Munich and the ICA London’s recent show ‘The Secret Public: The Last Days of the British Underground 1978–1988’. Both made much the same arguments: that the subcultures of their respective eras were a highly creative expression of an urgent, nihilistic disillusionment with politics and society. However, ‘The Secret Public’s lens remained more firmly focused on subcultural scenes, and although ‘Panic Attack!’ was book-ended by two works related to the music scene – Jamie Reid’s God Save the Queen (Single Cover) (1977), and Cerith Wyn Evans’ psychedelic film Epiphany (1984) (featuring performance artist Leigh Bowery in a sort of Vishnu-meets-NYPD club get-up) – it quickly became clear that ‘Panic Attack!’ took a much broader view. Its task was twofold, arguing that art was not just the window dresser but the genuine co-conspirator in all that was Punk, and placing them both steadily within a historical context.

Featuring the work of 34 artists, the show’s curators Mark Sladen and Ariella Yedgar held the viewer’s hand firmly through a numbered series of rooms, each prefaced by a lengthy wall text. Across a wide variety of approaches – including Victor Burgin’s considered photo-conceptualism, the body politics of Hannah Wilke, and the handheld film and commentary of Martha Rosler – a sober formality and pedagogy were ever present. However much this jarred with any pre-packaged idea of Punk, it was to the benefit of the viewer. The problems of the Barbican’s many-roomed
upper galleries were negotiated through intelligent pairings of artists, producing mutual historical or thematic contextualisations.

Despite all the reading demanded of the viewer, the work nevertheless spoke for itself, as with, for example, The World of Gilbert & George (1981). The film combines scenes of Gilbert & George’s curiously radical, exaggerated conformism, interviews with touchingly uncomfortable young ne’er-do-wells, and long panning shots of a dismal east London. This collage-like approach refracts the era’s textures and anxieties, communicating a sense of irrevocable schism between an ‘old’ England and its dissolute youth – a tangible evocation of the era’s discontents. In keeping with the show’s orderly fashion, the tendencies and thematics of Punk were given four groupings: ‘The Traumatized City’, ‘Performance and Transgression’. ‘Appropriation and Collage’ and ‘Subcultures’. Naturally, what can be included within these criteria is pretty broad, and the intensity and immediacy of Punk was scattered quite diffusely, surfacing to various degrees in the work. The texts on Jenny Holzer’s public fly posters ‘Inflammatory Essays’ (1979–82) perfectly encapsulate a juddering, incoherent sense of urgency shared with Punk. Based on various impassioned political ideologies, the ‘Essays’ had the potential to elicit the same reactionary ambient fear that the culturally conservative public must have felt in response to punks in public spaces. Paul McCarthy’s film Rocky (1976), featuring his dumbly grotesque, mindlessly violent boxer punching himself in the face, has parallels with the deliberate strategies of Punk to embody precisely what the dominant culture produced as hateful or dirty.

In the case of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End (1975), film documentation of his cutting apart a condemned Manhattan warehouse, there are enough shared concerns – a class critique of property, a destructive or defacing aesthetic, the embracing of abject spaces – to make Punk an interestingly tangential reference point for the work. But the stretch to Adrian Piper’s ‘The Mythic Being: I Am The Locus #1–5’ (1975) seemed a little too far. The rubbed-out photographs of herself, onto which Piper crayons in a macho urban black male, concern themselves with media-generated, gendered and racialized constructions that are too layered and considered to be compared to the tactics of Punk; and besides, it seems disingenuous to claim that Punk was seriously engaged in any form of race politics. The risk here was the implication of Punk as an overarching cross-disciplinary movement in itself, rather than as the kernel of cultural expression where the essence of the era’s concerns concentrated most fervently. Punk, like a hyperactive child at a birthday party, is here credited with an awful lot within a period busy also with Conceptualism and second wave Feminism, and as a result, the inclusion of one or two of the works such as Piper’s, and Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series (1977–80), risked co-opting tenuously related ideas.

Despite this, it was a relief that the show took itself this seriously. There was absolutely no attempt to create an ersatz Punk experience; no mythologizing sense of ‘look what you missed’. The exhibition functioned by allowing the artists included to voice the immediacy, concerns and sensations of Punk. ‘Panic Attack!’ understood that, in the Punk era, listening to the music was the easy part.

Look what we did

February 23, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments
dinos
Defacing by Jake and Dinos Chapman

Written by Jonathan Jones
Posted on The Guardian, Monday 31 March 2003

Weaned on a diet of pickled animals and unmade beds, the British public has become remarkably difficult to shock. Could that be why Jake and Dinos Chapman, the enfants terribles of Britart, bought a mint collection of Goya’s most celebrated prints – and set about systematically defacing them? Jonathan Jones on the breaking of art’s ultimate taboo

Defaced?: one of the Chapmans’ ‘rectified’ Goyas.

Poor Goya. In his lifetime he had to put up with deafness, the Spanish Inquisition and the Duke of Wellington. Now he has Jake and Dinos Chapman to contend with. The brothers called one of their earliest tributes to the great Spanish painter, printmaker and visionary Great Deeds Against the Dead – quoting Goya – in which they reproduced one of his horrific images of cruelty as a lifesize tableau featuring a dismembered mannequin impaled on a tree. Their latest work is another great deed against the dead – a desecration of the memory of Goya.

Two years ago, the Chapmans bought a complete set of what has become the most revered series of prints in existence, Goya’s Disasters of War. It is a first-rate, mint condition set of 80 etchings printed from the artist’s plates. In terms of print connoisseurship, in terms of art history, in any terms, this is a treasure – and they have vandalised it.

“We had it sitting around for a couple of years, every so often taking it out and having a look at it,” says Dinos, until they were quite sure what they wanted to do. “We always had the intention of rectifying it, to take that nice word from The Shining, when the butler’s trying to encourage Jack Nicholson to kill his family – to rectify the situation,” interrupts Jake.

“So we’ve gone very systematically through the entire 80 etchings,” continues Dinos, “and changed all the visible victims’ heads to clowns’ heads and puppies’ heads.”

The “new” work is called Insult to Injury. The exhibition in which it will be shown for the first time, at Modern Art Oxford, is called The Rape of Creativity.

Goya’s Disasters of War is a precocious modern masterpiece, a work left by its creator as his final savage bequest to the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries – it was far too anti-clerical and unpatriotic to be published in his lifetime, and the first ever edition came out in 1863, three and a half decades after his death in 1828. From the very start of its public existence, it has been experienced not as a historic but as a contemporary work, its images so urgent and truthful that they function as living, new art.

And it is this colossus whose masterpiece the Chapman brothers have chosen to defile.

“He’s the artist who represents that kind of expressionistic struggle of the Enlightenment with the ancién regime,” says Jake, “so it’s kind of nice to kick its underbelly. Because he has a predilection for violence under the aegis of a moral framework. There’s so much pleasure in his work. To produce the law, one has to transgress it. Not to be too glib in the current conditions, but there’s something quite interesting in the fact that the war of the Peninsula saw Napoleonic forces bringing rationality and enlightenment to a region that was presumed Catholic and marked by superstition and irrationality. And here’s Goya, who’s very cut free from the Church, who embodies this autonomous enlightened being, embodied as a gelatinous dead mass without redemption – then you hear George Bush and Tony Blair talking about democracy as though it has some kind of natural harmony with nature, as though it’s not an ideology.”

Whoah, step back a minute. Defacing a work of art is, perhaps, the last taboo of the liberal, Britart-loving, Tate Modern-going public. The crime novelist Patricia Cornwell’s purchase and destruction of works by the British artist Walter Sickert in pursuit of her theory that the disturbing early-20th century painter of music hall audiences and seedy interiors was Jack the Ripper nauseated many, me included. To destroy a work of art is a genuinely nasty, insane, deviant thing to do.

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Debating Art: Censorship Or Protest?

February 23, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Blogt No Comments

By STEVEN A. HOLMES
Published: December 6, 1989 on The New york Times

An angry debate has erupted at the New School for Social Research after a caricature of a black man the school was displaying in an art show was defaced by an instructor who branded the work racist.

While some faculty members and students consider the instructor’s act a legitimate protest against a racist art work, others view its destruction as understandable but unjustified censorship.

At the center of the debate is a question that has been argued in Washington, New York and elsewhere in recent months: Is freedom of expression an inviolable right, or should limits be placed on it when art or speech is offensive. ‘Who Decides What Is Appropriate’

The New School administration used the standard of artistic freedom in allowing the disputed drawing to continue to be displayed, and its actions were supported by many students and faculty.

”I understand the sensitivity of the issue, but by censoring a piece of art, you are setting a precedent for censoring all art,” said Faith Dunn, a white communications design student who is editor of the Parsons Paper, a student newspaper at the Parsons School of Design, one of the New School’s seven colleges in Manhattan and where the exhibition was held.

”If you are going to start defacing art you don’t think is appropriate, where do you stop? And who decides what is appropriate?” Ms. Dunn asked. ‘Strong Passions on All Sides’

Critics say the administration is elevating freedom of expression to too exhalted a position, and that other freedoms, like the right to be free from intolerance and racial bias, should be given equal weight.

”Freedom of expression is no more sacred than freedom from intolerance or bigotry,” said John Jeffries, a black who is the associate dean of the New School’s Graduate School of Management and Urban Professions.

The incident has also forced the New School, a Greenwich Village institution with a reputation for social liberalism, to face accusations that its decision to allow the picture to be displayed has, in effect, institutionalized racism. ”There are strong passions on all sides,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, a white and the New School’s President. ”I’ve heard a lot of things in the last couple of weeks that I don’t like; all the way from very harsh judgments of the person who defaced the work to very harsh judgments of the unversity and me for not having taken it down.”

The incident occurred last month at the Exhibition Center at the Parsons School of Design. On display was a tiny, black and white copy of a drawing of a black man whose face is dominated by the whites of his eyes and white lips. It is a caricature similar to those popular in old minstral shows. The drawing was part of a 1983 advertising campaign for a Japanese soft drink and was created by the Japanese artist Shin Matsunaga. It was one of 350 works by Mr. Matsunaga that were exhibited by the Parson’s gallery from Oct. 18 through Nov. 17.

Three days before the show’s closing, Sekou Sundiata, a musician and poet who teaches at the New School, drew a large blue X across the figure in the print. On the mounting above the picture, he wrote that the poster was racist and signed his name.

”The New School doesn’t have the right to invite someone into my community to insult me,” said Mr. Sundiata, who is black. ”Matsunaga can say or draw whatever he wants, but you don’t have to invite him in.” ‘Deeply Offensive and Racist’

Later, about 40 students showed their approval of Mr. Sundiata’s action by writing their names on the mounting and across the print itself. Students and faculty members also demonstrated outside the gallery and met Mr. Fanton to express their anger over the school’s decision to hang the poster.

Mr. Fanton responded to the defacing of the print by mailing a six-page letter to all students and faculty. In his letter, Mr. Fanton said he felt the print was ”deeply offensive and racist.” But, citing resolutions adopted by the school’s board of directors concerning the free exchange of ideas and artistic freedom, Mr. Fanton stood by the ”decision to leave the offensive piece in the exhibition.”

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Gert Jan Kocken

February 19, 2009By Pablo Gonzalez-TrejoArt Texts, Artists, Blogt No Comments
dom-utrecht
Gert Jan Kocken at Stedelijk Museum

Download the Press Release here in PDF (1.18 Mb)

Posted at Stedelijk Museum

Gert Jan Kocken
16.09 – 11.11.2007
Opening 15.09.2007, 5-7 p.m.

The hundredth exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (since 1993) is devoted to the work of Amsterdam photographer Gert Jan Kocken. He is showing a series concerned with iconoclasm: photographs that focus attention on the fury that images have provoked in the past. In doing so, he poses questions about the way the image exercises its power today.

In his work Gert Jan Kocken (1971, Ravenstein) places history and memory in relation to the image. He began his Disaster Sites series in 1999: using a view camera, he photographed various locations where a great disaster had once occurred, printing the photographs in large format to produce a monumental, detailed image. Because the photographs were made long after the disaster involved, there is nothing more to be seen than a landscape, and there is only the memory of what took place at this specific location. For instance, the majestic views of the slope of Mont Blanc, with the entrance to the tunnel of the same name, or the sea at Zeebrugge, or the park-like space in the midst of the Bijlmer receive a certain charge – a tension between the aesthetic image and what collective memory knows about the place. A similar series was to be seen in the group show ‘Something Happened’, which Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) assembled with work by Kocken for the Amsterdam Art Fair in 2004, this time with life-sized photographs of places in Amsterdam where a murder, suicide or a shocking disclosure had taken place. At first glance all are ordinary locations – with, however, a charged history.

Charged history is also the subject of a new series of photographs by Kocken, on the theme of Turning Points. Most of these works do not address recent collective memory directly, since they deal with a period which lies over four centuries behind us. Specifically, this is the case for the series of photographs of religious objects that were destroyed during the Reformation in northwestern Europe in the 16th century. The primary motive for the destruction was the Second Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow thyself down to them, nor serve them.’ The Beeldenstorm (Image War) which raged across Europe in several waves, was not only a pedagogic demonstration of the material aspect of the images of saints (in contrast to their presumed sacrality), but also an expression of fury against the fraudulent Roman authorities, which was first inspired by Erasmus and Luther, and later intensified and radicalised by Zwingli, Calvin and others. It is striking that, while to be sure much has been written about the history of the Reformation, and thus about the Beeldenstorm, the damaged artifacts which have survived on the spot (reliefs and paintings) and, for instance, scratched out missal texts, have seldom if ever systematically been illustrated – and certainly not in the painstaking manner in which Kocken has done that.

For his work Kocken first performed extensive research into the various locations ravaged by the Beeldenstorm. Next he made his photographs – including shots in churches in Utrecht, Zwolle and Breda in The Netherlands, Münster in Germany, Geneva and Glarus in Switzerland, and Norfolk and Suffolk in England. He then printed the photographs of the objects involved at almost actual size. The sharpness of the prints and their format give them a material quality that closely approaches that of the original sculptures and paintings, and makes them even better and more easily visible than in their location in churches, or in museum depots. With the artifacts removed from their ecclesiastical or museal context, in the exhibition the emphasis comes to lie on the faces of the saints, chiselled away or scratched out in a way that is as malicious as it is meticulous, while the rest of the image remains almost entirely intact.

The precision with which this has been done to the works photographed by Kocken makes it clear that iconoclasm is not by definition a matter of wanton destruction. The history of iconoclasm is very closely interwoven with theological and philosophical ideas that may differ by time and place, but which are often quite profoundly rational. It began with the iconoclastic controversy in the Byzantine Empire, which ran on nearly a century after 726, the year that the Emperor Leo III had a mosaic of Christ that was above the entrance to his palace removed in favour of a simple cross. This interweaving of iconoclasm and religion continued through modern, abstract art by Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian and others. [1] Iconoclasm took on a symbolic, aesthetic form in the work of these artists. Over the centuries most forms of iconoclasm have however gone down in history as instances and examples of the act of destruction, and not so mush the specific remains of the deed. In other words, iconoclasm is mostly understood to be just blind vandalism, and has therefore become a taboo in the modern context of far-reaching musealisation and conservation of art and a constantly expanding system of historical preservation. [2]

A textbook example of the sort of precision destruction that Kocken records is the St. Anna retable found in the Domkerk in Utrecht. It is a large relief from around 1500 which is high on one of the pillars of the former cathedral. It depicts Anna, the mother of Mary, seated on a throne and surrounded by her relatives. Mary is seated directly below her. Astonishingly, the eyes of God the Father, who towers above this whole scene, have been spared, but the faces of the other figures have been completely obliterated. The infant Jesus has entirely disappeared from the arms of Mary. All the other details of the relief from which it derives its exquisite immaterial quality, including the polychromy in gold and blue, are still visible in their full glory, and give an impression of the importance that devotion to Mary had attained in the late Gothic era (and which, on the other side, was so fiercely criticised by the Reformers). A wood panel of Mary in Geneva received similar precise treatment: the faces of both the Virgin and the Child have been carefully chiselled away exactly within their contours, so Mary’s luxuriantly curling hair has been beautifully spared. On a stone relief of Mary and the Christ Child floating on a cloud, with saints and the donor below (in the St. Michael in Zwolle), only the architectural background and the cloud have been spared, giving the image a marvellous, abstract quality.

That it was not only Mary, but also the Pope, who was in the line of fire becomes clear from the treatment of a painted panel from the late 15th century in the collection of the Stadtmuseum in Münster. It depicts a vision of the suffering of Christ that Pope Gregory the Great (6th century) received during a Mass. The eyes of the Pope and all the saints and Church Fathers surrounding him have been gouged out – except those of the suffering Christ himself, and two anonymous figures in the background. The photographs of pages from missals in the Royal Library in Louvain are of an entirely different nature. Florid lines have been scratched, or whole columns have been partly obliterated with red chalk on the pages dealing with the Pope and Luther. Given the nature of these interventions, it was not the case that the perpetrator felt that the text must no longer be read at all. The scratches were apparently intended as an unmistakable critique of the commentator involved.

Just as in modern art, but with the methodology of a documentary photographer added, Kocken aestheticises the iconoclasm and still poses questions about the motives for it. As it were, he brings the visual facts of an important period in the history of religious wars – a period which marked the creation of an independent Netherlands – into our own day. He does that precisely in a time of when iconoclasm once again is playing an important role. Perhaps the most significant example is the demolition of the statues of Buddha at Bamiyan by the Taliban, and especially the images of this which went out all over the world on the news. In the SMBA exhibition that relation is made drawn by an entirely anomalous photograph by Kocken of the front page of the New York Times on the day that the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York took place: nothing yet about the attack itself, but several small stories about the perils posed by the Middle East and Afghanistan. In retrospect, there were enough signs to indicate that possibly ‘something’ was in the offing.

Kocken’s work is reason for the SMBA to pose questions about the meaning of iconoclasm in our society today. These questions are closely associated with the debate about cultural diversity in The Netherlands, and attempts to enlarge this – until now rather limited – debate by making connections with visual culture. The Bamiyan question, but also the riots over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, the controversy about a bikini advertisement in Utrecht, recent complaints about the use of female nudes in advertising and video clips in general, and even (although it was motivated by promise of quick money) the vandalism of Rodin’s bronze The Thinker in Laren, photographed by Kocken in its damaged state: these can all be omens of a new iconoclastic controversy which, just as in Byzantine times, is much more deeply rooted than we are at first inclined to think. By way of a kick-off, in his essay for SMBA Newsletter art historian Sven Lütticken traces various theoretical perspectives on iconoclasm. In the debate that the SMBA is organising for Museum Night on November 3, there will be a discussion of the relation between the iconoclasm controversy and various political, religions and social currents. And also in the near future the SMBA will be returning again to the ‘image debate’.

Jelle Bouwhuis is curator of Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam

‘Defacing’ by Gert Jan Kocken is to be seen in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam through November 11, 2007. SMBA Newsletter nr. 100 will appear to accompany the exhibition, and contain this introduction and an essay by art historian Sven Lütticken. As part of Museum Night, on November 3 the SMBA will host a discussion of modern iconoclasm. For more information: www.smba.nl

Notes:

1. Alain Besançon, The Fobidden Image. An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm, University of Chicago Press, 2000. French publication in 1994.

2. See for a concise explanation about the difference between iconoclasm and vandalism: Dario Gamboni, The Destruction of Art. Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution, Reaktion Books London, 1997, p. 17-20. In this publication Gamboni offers a summary of vandalism and destruction of art since the French Revolution with the underlying motivations.