18 April 2008

Can You Spell 'Reaction'? (2)

Catherine Opie and Douglas Crimp in conversation.

David Wojnarowicz

Over at Conscientious Jörg Colberg observes:
"I am being told it's a hoax! How very witty! Makes me think, though - isn't it a sad sign that we now live in a time where stuff like this (and every other headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion) could be real?"
Jörg pursues this thought comment on my last post:
"The project holds way less water than you think it does. The point for me is not that so many people got really angry, but rather, that so many people didn't consider it to be a joke. After all, it could easily have been true.

This in a time where the only reason we know why the headlines printed in "The Onion" are not true is because they're in "The Onion".

The fact that the President just openly endorsed torture, yet people debate about the lapel flag pin of a presidential candidate provides the background for this."
The problem, of course, is that Shvarts's performance art hardly stands out for its outrageousness. We can think of Mapplethorpe's self-portrait with the handle of a bullwhip stuck up his ass. But there are more, and more offensive, examples. Indeed, there is a robust recent history of performances exploiting various intersections of bodily integrity, gender, sexuality, pain, and so forth in much the way Shvarts has done in this new escapade. In fact, unlike say Opie or Wojnarowicz, in her project Shvarts apparently does no actual violence to herself or anyone else. I don't find much redeeming value in this sort of thing. But I do not think it fair, either, to characterize Shvarts's project a "joke" or a "hoax"; she was trying to make a point and created an elaborate performance into which she recruited witting and unwitting accomplices.

So, we live in a world where "stuff like this" is real well outside the pages of the Onion and, worse, well outside the art world. I find the public outrage yesterday misdirected and, too much of it, self-indulgent precisely because, as Jörg suggests, it occurs against the immediate background of the 'ho hum' response to even further revelations regarding the illegal and truly outrageous behavior on the part of a Yale alum and his cronies [e.g., 1, 2]. To that no one seems to be paying much mind.


Blogger Joerg said...

Still, the whole thing holds way less water than you want it to hold. It's a mere hoax. This is 2008, and I think (or at least hope) that art has evolved since the 1980s. But then, I could be (partly) mistaken.

18 April, 2008 13:50  
Blogger Stan B. said...

How can anyone expect anything from a press (or a citizenry) that years ago left unchallenged the Bush proclamation that he didn't know where Bin Laden was, and couldn't care less...

18 April, 2008 14:25  
Blogger robby said...

Hold your horses. Apparently, now Shvarts is disputing yale's "creative fiction" statement.


From my understanding of her methodology, it's not even clear to the artist if she was ever pregnant or not.

18 April, 2008 15:07  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Jörg ~ Sure, the art world has made some progress in not relying on 'shock.' But my point is simply that I do not see this as especially outrageous and shocking. There are lots of precedents. the work seems derivative, sure; but that hardly differentiates it from LOTS of what turns up in galleries and so forth. I guess I am surprised that this has generated so much outrage. (Irrespective of the contemporaneous outrages perpetrated by BushCo.) My point is that no one seems to have thought prior to reacting. The commentators seem to have willingly if unwittingly played precisely the role Shvarts would expect.

Raabia ~ At this point it is difficult to tell where the performance ends and the real world begins. My understanding is that Shvarts wrote her Op-Ed in the Yale Daily prior to the statement by the University Administration. Is the Op-Ed part of the performance? Who knows. How about her 'confession' to the Deans? Likewise.

I do agree that there is no way to know whether or not she had actually impregnated herself precisely because she timed the 'abortions' to her own menstrual cycle.

I also have to say, having now read Shvarts's Op-Ed in the YD, that she has seemingly mastered the sorts of humanities-speak BS that gives artists and scholars a bad name. Is that prose part of the performance too?

18 April, 2008 21:58  

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