Unreal Nature

July 6, 2016

Give Yourself That Freedom

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

“… Put my creativity into question, minimize the preciousness of the piece … .”

This is from the essay ‘City Limits (Or Has This Been Used Before?)’ (1992) found in Lewis Baltz Texts (2012):

… to be “in” the city means to be in the city’s surveillance network, an idea carried to its extreme in Durrenmatt’s provocative assertion of surveillance as a proof of existence. “I am because I am watched.”

This idea of sociability posits a newer idea of the polis — the site of watching and being watched, the site where surveillance and spectacle (political theater) produce and consume each other: a site where surveillance is taken as proof, if not of existence, but of citizenship, while in fact being its opposite.

This “new” idea of urbanism shares its central feature with traditional urban deployments: the reification of power. Cities function and look as they do because their owners inscribe in them the narratives of control; and cities also look and work as they do because their inhabitants subvert the owners will. This is the simple political economy of urbanism; anything else is spectacle. (But, of course, some spectacles are more engaging than others.)

Los Angeles is the first modern city to declare itself as pure spectacle, and remains first in the industrialization of imagery, whose production, consumption and mythology functions as a substitute for what elsewhere is lived reality, a theme park with a live-in audience of twelve million and, for the moment, the world leader in the dematerialization of urban space into representational space. And how can one represent something that (always/already) exists in the condition of representation, an “emblem among emblems” as Calvino puts it?

Debord offers an option, if not an encouraging one: the spectacle can be criticized (only) in the language of the spectacle.

The following is from Baltz’s essay ‘Untitled: Félix Gonzáles-Torres’ (1996):

… For Gonzáles-Torres, whose work thematized the ephemerality and fragility of life, an early death compounds the risk that an unwanted sentimentality might infect the elegiac with the mawkish, which is contrary to what his art demanded. Gonzáles-Torres was many things: Cuban immigrant, gay man; post-studio artist, mourning lover, a person with AIDS, and an articulate and sympathetic spokesman for all of these facets of his identity. He also possessed the finest artistic intelligence to emerge in American art in the last decade.

… In a much-published interview, Tim Rollins asked Gonzáles-Torres what he would like from his students. He replied that he would like them to be generous. It was a revealing answer from an artist who placed such a high priority on generosity in his own work. The celebrated paper stacks and arrangements of candy described by the artist as having an ideal height or weight and from which the visitor was invited to take one (or many) elements to be replaced as necessary from an endless supply, function as symbolic generosity while alluding to another, impossible generosity: the hope of endless renewal, a secular realization of divine grace.

[line break added] This is the language of prayers and a gesture approaching transubstantiation, but like the wily priest, González-Torres’ gifts create obligations. The ‘gift’ work seems to fulfill un unkept promise of the 1960s, the decommodification of art, but they are not precisely that. González-Torres proposes a transaction as old as the ritual of gift-giving: to accept an element of his work is to be implicated in its realization, and in its future.


… the light strings are González-Torres’ ultimate gesture of implicating the perceiver in the construction of meaning.

“I didn’t know how those pieces are best displayed. I don’t have all the answers — you decide how you want it done. Whatever you want to do, try it. This is not some minimalist artwork that has to be exactly two inches to the left and six inches down. Play with it, please. Have fun. Give yourself that freedom. Put my creativity into question, minimize the preciousness of the piece … .”

My previous post from Baltz’s book is here.




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