LONGO: I’m going to show them without the glass, so you really will see the drawings. In a weird way, I keep thinking about McLuhan’s “medium is the message” or something like that. It’s a show about these paintings, but it’s also about drawing. And it’s a really bizarre process of translating them into black and white. What’s really wild is that I got the permission from all the estates to do these drawings.
Besides the books on prehistoric monoliths in Europe and England that we had brought with us, Bob also had a book on Welsh mines. We visited many gravel pits and quarries, often quite out of the way. One place labelled Ash Hill on one of the slides is likely where Bob made a mirror piece called Untitled (Zig-Zag Mirror Displacement), probably on the outskirts of Tredegar. We found these abandoned, edge-of-the-world places intriguing; mines that had at one time railroad tracks and tunnels to transport rock. These structures are now overgrown and broken down. Bob and I both grew up in northern New Jersey, where you could find hidden quarries, forbidden places, scattered throughout the landscape. The coal mines in Wales were like that too. These so-called depressing, forgotten places that fall within the gaps of one’s consciousness are often described negatively. But if you look at them with a neutral eye, you start to see them differently; you begin to see a beauty in their entropic condition. What I remember most about being in Wales was the language. Often the people we met didn’t speak English, or spoke with a heavy accent that made it difficult for us to understand them. The road signs in the back country were mostly in Welsh – we often didn’t know where we were going, which could be useful when we couldn’t understand a ‘no trespassing’ sign.
"The link with poverty is there is there in the
man's hat, too, for money has got to be brought in, got to be brought in
somehow," M.D., The Lover.
Poverty is in the language, it is in her gaze back. It seeps and oozes into every poverty-stricken word. Each word is used sparingly as if each word were currency.
It is everywhere. It stains everything.
It is everywhere. It flies about. It watches from every corner of the page.
Poverty is not something one leaves behind. A child born into poverty will always feel its presence at the edges of everything. Even right now, you can feel it—it is in my words, these tiny fractured things.
Well. Yes! Dorothy, and the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, and Toto have been to Oz. It was far out and groovy (Oz was), but insincere. And, like wow, the Wizard for all his power was kinda fakey and sexually ambiguous. I mean, it was the Emerald City, and the road was yellow brick, and it did go to Oz and not to Kansas City, and it was in technicolor which Kansas isn’t to this day, but it wasn’t real, y’know? Now, tomorrow Dorothy is going to borrow Auntie Em’s trencher and cut a Möbius strip in the No. 7 Pasture. She says it is going to be a half-mile long and a quarter-mile wide and Art. Can you dig it?
The virtue of object art (where surface and symbol are coextensive, portable and visible) is that it can be moved into the funkiest, most secular places and not lose its recognition. So there is always the possibility of confronting it unawares and responding to it while you are munching a peanut-butter sandwich or looking for the TV Guide, without getting into your art-watching suit. Sometimes, when this happens, you can have a kind of low-grade epiphany, the kind which would help Lew Archer solve a case, but which only helps us nonfiction characters forget the war.
As the artist’s style of life becomes less analogous to that of the craftsman and more analogous to that of the professional soldier, concerned with specific campaigns in specific sites, with logistics, ordnance and the burdens of command, so art history and memoirs will change their tone, and we will find chapters like “The Mojave Desert Affair: Tactical Successes, Strategic Failures,” replete with snide attacks on the bureaucrats who never came out in the sun, brief praise for one bureaucrat who, although a peasant who didn’t understand a thing, did nevertheless sign the check.
Representations of the “art world” as wholly distinct from the “real world,” like representations of the “institution” as discrete and separate from “us,” serve specific functions in art discourse. They maintain an imaginary distance between the social and economic interests we invest in through our activities and the euphemized artistic, intellectual, and even political “interests” (or disinterests) that provide those activities with content and justify their existence. And with these representations, we also reproduce the mythologies of volunteerist freedom and creative omnipotence that have made art and artists such attractive emblems for neoliberalism’s entrepreneurial, “ownership-society” optimism. That such optimism has found perfect artistic expression in neo-Fluxus practices like relational aesthetics, which are now in perpetual vogue, demonstrates the degree to which what Bürger called the avant-garde’s aim to integrate “art into life praxis” has evolved into a highly ideological form of escapism. But this is not just about ideology. We are not only symbols of the rewards of the current regime: In this art market, we are its direct material beneficiaries.
1) Skating on ice so thin that it will break and cause the forbidden utterance to erupt from behind the stylistic alibi; and
2) Freezing his real utterance over a crust of (“artistic”) ice so thick as to cause the elemental utterance, and the effect pertaining to it, to be lost thereby turning the boiling lake into a refrigerated indoor rink, where figure skating pattern-making on ice becomes the real goal.6
It was the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who suggested in his The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life that the dominant goal of primitive religion and art is the recognition of oppositions and contradictions. Whereas, because we are dominated by scientific thought, it is the principle of identity that defines our lifestyle—and perhaps our art as well. As I have indicated previously in my article on Duchamp,8 sacred art is defined by the conjunction of the ambiguous and the hidden; a relatively harmless outer message is used to mask a more profound statement, usually one that poses irreconcilable opposites or contradictions about life.
In a world that entices us to browse the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility, these days, seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear. From it, from us, for a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.