Tuesday 3 December 2013

Washing Hinomaru.

The performance.

A friend of mine, Tokyo based artist Kyoko Ebata, recently made an artwork that I find quite interesting. The artwork was titled Washing Hinomaru, 日の丸の旗, the Hinomaru being the national flag of Japan. The artwork, the performance of a ceremony, was conducted in a small old laundrette located next to an old bathhouse in an unglamorous area of Tokyo. The ceremony that was performed for ten days, was the repeated washing, line-drying, ironing, and folding of a number of Hinomaru flags. The line drying of the flags doubled as their display.  The performance had come out of some works she had been doing which involved newly invented ceremonies which seemed to employ or explore the ways ceremonial liminal force might work. Ebata was interested here in confronting the power of the flag and its meaning. The status of the ceremony was not immediately explicated for those who encountered it - people who had come to see art, local people there to do washing, or to bathe in the bathhouse, and people who were passing who were curious about what was being done. The artist performed the ceremony herself. When asked about the meaning of what was being done, whilst acknowledging that it's art, she offered more or less oblique but loaded responses such as saying that she thinks "the flag needs to be washed". Such statements echo the structure that the ceremony itself in that they work as 'oracular' speech - speech which, like that of an oracle, is ambiguous but pregnant with meaning. Speech which calls for interpretation, drawing out interpretations that are proper to the recipient of the speech or the ceremony, and not to the speech or ceremony itself.

So it came to be that as people encountered the work, they each brought to it with great certainty an idea of what the work stands for, an idea with which each was in some way comfortable, and each quite different to the next.

In response to the great variety of reactions to the ceremony, Ebata started gently eliciting responses and recording them. Right wingers would see her care for the flag, and might associate the washing with the longstanding ceremonial traditions of cleansing and renewal to which they are sympathetic. Leftists would see a critique, perhaps the washing was akin to Lady Macbeth's hand washing - a traumatised repetition, a mark of national guilt. Feminists could read a critical idea about 'women's work' into the endless effort of washing. The red of the flags started to fade a little, and this too could be infused with meaning. A fashion oriented cultural critic refused to see politics, rather seeing the flags in relation to faded jeans, as a potentially marketable fashion. Some older artists were reminded of the 'happenings' of their youth. Others felt melancholy from various stances. From each strictly according to their disposition, each with some strength of belief in their own interpretation, and a tendency to a certain blindness to other ways of seeing it.

Ebata's recordings constitute material for another stage of the piece.

A myth.

Part of the originary myth of the national flag of Japan, the Hinomaru, lies in a 7th century message sent by Prince Shotoku to the Chinese Emperor, which began with words effecting "from the sovereign of the rising sun, to the sovereign of the land of the setting sun", perhaps marked at the top with a red dot. Japan is only the 'land of the rising sun' from the perspective of the West (since the sun rises from the East), there is thus embedded in the Hinomaru a strand of national identity that openly defines itself intersubjectively in relation to the gaze of an other, the other of the West. To this extent the Hinomaru is a marker of intersubjective difference as such.

Some thoughts.

Art that functions effectively for a public is uncommon - as Liam Gillick observes, it's easy to have an audience - a group that coalesces around what's made or done, but it's much more difficult to relate to the public who are greatly more diverse than an audience, for whom the work does not represent a common cause. What is interesting in Washing Hinomaru is that by appealing not principally as an artwork for an art audience but more ambiguously as a ceremony, the public was able to engage in the work. And in making that ceremony operate in an oracular manner, all participants were equal in their varied relations to the piece. The response of an art critic is no different than that of an office lady insofar as they supply the meaning of the ceremony. All are made actors in the work in a sense, their provision of meaning being part of the performance. None were privileged in their experience of the work. 

It's a rhetorical claim of Thomas Hirschhorn that he is not a political artist, but an artist who makes art out of politics. The difficulty for his claim lies in the fact that there is an assumption underlying the reception Hirschhorn's work that is broadly of the Left - imagine how we, as a typical art audience, either Left leaning or giving strong allowances to such a position, might receive the work if we assumed him to be of the hard Right. With this thought we can see the extent to which he is indeed a political artist. Hirschhorn's position is based on assumptions of a particular audience, not the public. What might seem to be work that plays with and perhaps exposes something of the workings of political affiliation is actually a veil for a stage of those workings. Washing Hinomaru seems much more closely to fit Hirschhorn's rhetorical claim, since Ebata's political assumptions are not so readily available to the assumption of one audience over another. What is confronted of the flag is its effectiveness as a mark of difference as such. What can be confronted of the flag in the further staging of Ebata's recorded material, is not just its meaning to a variety of given audiences, but the heterogeneity of it's meanings to a public, and the gap between these.

Ebata's performance can also be compared to the work of Kumazo Yoshimura, who has repeatedly used the Hinomaru as a motif, and whose approach to the motif is comparable to Ebata's - as a subject to be confronted.  Yoshimura's work is gallery based, and stylistically codified to be legible as art - it looks like art. His work is for an art audience, it is not public art. There is little chance that his work will elicit strong responses beyond the distanced politeness of the gallery. In this sense there is little risk in his work - there is little by the way of actual confrontation with the subject at hand, merely the signification of such a confrontation. It's not that Yoshimura's work is bad, it's quite interesting and effective as gallery practice, it's merely limited in terms of what it's able to do with it's subject matter.

Monday 2 December 2013

Here's an interview with Liam Gillick conducted by JJ Charlesworth, which draws attention to the way that Gillick maintains a complexity in his work which keeps it active in a certain way. I appreciate that Gillick is an artist who more than almost any other working now folds a wide range of the conditions of possibility for his work into his practice.

Sunday 1 December 2013

A work of art is constituted in the conditions of possibility for its reception.

This way of thinking about art doesn't tell us what is or isn't art in the sense that is usually meant. But it offers an approach to art that accounts for the workings of a work of art that are local to the artwork as it is conventionally conceived, as well as the wider conditions of reception for an artwork - the way it's shown, the way it's talked and written about, the history to which it's contingent… None of this is privileged in this idea about the constitution of a work of art. A further implication of this idea is that a work of art doesn't firmly dictate what is received by the viewer, it merely establishes certain allowances - conditions of possibility - for the viewer, who then does what they will with them.

For an artist this means that art making involves some kind of attention to the whole range of what constitutes the condition of possibility for its reception. Art making is not just then the making of a more or less conventional, localised, art object or experience, but involves attention to a much wider range of factors, whether they are made by the artist, or accounted for in response - all these things are properties of an artwork, neither more nor less than the conventionally delimited, local, art object or experience. It's also an idea that allows that the viewer will make what they will of what is given, but without removing the artist's responsibilities for their work.

Artists are all too familiar with questions about what their art is or what it means. Conventionally the response to such questions would be to try describe or explain, with a view to making clear in some way what the artwork is or might mean. If I take it that this process of talking about my work is not external to the work of art, then what is called for is not something that's aimed at explaining the work, but something that allows the artwork to work. An explanation may well reduce the working of a work of art, and conversely a lie on the level of explanation, or a certain affirmative sidestepping of explanation, might well allow the work to work more effectively, depending on the artwork at hand. It's an approach that was plain in what might be thought of at the total artwork of Joseph Beuys. However, Beuys' theatre enlarged the space of art experience at the level of the 'message' of the work, rather than allowing that what seems external to a work of art is internal at the level of the 'code' - the 'code' which allows the work to work. What is implied in the opening idea is a more radical idea of total artwork, that allows for the internality to the artwork of those elements that 'code' a work of art which seems external at the level of 'message'.

Friday 29 November 2013

There is an idea that the subject of our time is a 'hypermodern' subject - a subject for whom the object replaces the Other as organising principle of social discourse. This, so the idea goes, leads to a subject who perpetually goes from object to object, from one satisfaction experience to another, in consumption on and on, which does not stop because it is not adequately satisfied. The idea goes that this constitutes a kind of "hyper" or "excess" condition, with little place for the ideals, ideas, principles, or repressions of what might be called the order of the Other. The 'hypermodern' subject is the site of drives without bound except that of excess. It is less a desiring subject - since desire requires the maintenance of distance to its object which the 'hypermodern' is an attempt to obliterate.

It might be possible to discern in this characterisation, some aspect of the idea of the contemporary in contemporary art. It's a category that, after all, is most associated with auction house periodisation. It can be understood in terms of a transformation of art from a site of alterity which maintained desire through holding certain resolutions at bay, and in so doing holds at bay certain reductions in the way art can be experienced or consumed, to an art object in which that alterity becomes the guarantee of easy consumption with the minimum remainder. All the fun of the fair.

Bound up with this idea of the 'hypermodern' are some moral postures and assumptions to which I'm indifferent, in art it might translate into reductions for instance about how art can or can't work in the art market or elsewhere, and I think the idea far from totalises the experience of our times. It is, though, worth considering. It offers a way of thinking about how some operations in works of art have shifted only subtly whilst the conditions of possibility for how we may experience that art may have changed markedly. If not taken as a given, it might offers ways of thinking about how to make art that offers the condition of possibility to maintain some relation to desire, some holding at bay of the reduction of art objects and experiences to objects and experiences of entertainment seeking to satisfy the drives, with minimal remainder.

The Zombie Epidemic: A Hypermodern Version of the Apocalypse is a pdf of a speech by Jorge Assef, relating to the hypermodern. I'm not at all convinced by his fixing of the subject matter heavily handedly in the imaginary register via the zombie motif, although as an aside I enjoy his defence of vampirism.

No Women in the 21st Century is a pdf of an essay by Natalie Wülfing who takes the idea of the hypermodern subject via changes in the feminine subject.

*the recency of the period that seems to be associated with the 'hypermodern' doesn't match that of the contemporary of contemporary art as such if we take the contemporary to be a name for a single thing, so either the the contemporary really isn't what it was, or it's not a useful term in respect to the 'hypermodern'. I take the former to be the case.

Thursday 28 November 2013

"...it is a symptom, a symptom in the sense of there being something erected where
something else is not working or does not exist."

Monday 25 November 2013

Lacan from Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire as quoted in Alfredo Eidelzstein's The Graph of Desire: Using the Work of Jacques Lacan:

Lets the hunt be in vain for us analysts, [he is referring to the hunt for the subject] we must bring everything back to the func­tion of the cut in discourse, the strongest being that which acts as a bar between the signifier and the signified...

There the subject that interests us is surprised 

Here's a light piece about the disruption of the imaginary, a theme which I find interesting as an artist:


Sunday 24 November 2013

Video produced at the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille.
This material was used in a different way in a collaborative piece with Matthew Verdon.