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YOU ARE ABOUT TO BEGIN READING: Accessibility and Postmodernist Performance in Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler Christian Jankowski's Telemistica The Holy Artwork Talk Athens Art Market TV and Francis Als's The Modern Procession BY EMILE MAUSNER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Miriam Wallace and Stephen Miles Sarasota, Florida May, 2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract ............................................................................................................................. iv Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 1 Chapter One: "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel" .................... 13 Chapter Two: "Do I look different as a work of art?" ...................................................... 41 Chapter Three: "Welcome MoMA's most sacred icons to the Periphery" ....................... 70 Conclusion ...... ................................................................................................................. 90 Bibliography...................................................................................................................... 93 ii
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Fig. 1. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 43 Fig. 2. Christian Jankowski. The Holy Artwork 2001. DVD (still), 15:46 min. Courtesy the artist. ........................................................................................................................... 45 Fig. 3. Christian Jankowski. Art Market TV 2008. DVD (still), 45:16 min. Courtesy the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 49 Fig. 4. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 59 Fig. 5. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 63 Fig. 6. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 63 Fig. 7. Francis Als. The Modern Procession 2002. Photographic documentation. Public Art Fund and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy David Zwiner. ........... 73 Fig. 8. Fluxus Collective. Fluxkit 1964-65. Mixed media. Assembled by George Maciunas. 28 x 44 x 38 cm. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit. ............................................................................................................................. 75 Fig. 9. Francis Als. The Modern Procession 2002. Mixed media installation with twochannel video. Approx. 102 x 83 x 213 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. ... 82 Fig. 10. Francis Als. Untitled (Study for The Modern Procession) 2001. Collage, oil, and pencil on tracing paper. 20! x 30 cm. John Kaldor Family Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich. ...................................... 82 iii
YOU ARE ABOUT TO BEGIN READING: Accessibility and Postmodernist Performance in Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler Christian Jankowski's Telemistica The Holy Artwork Talk Athens Art Market TV and Francis Als's The Modern Procession Emile Mausner New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT This thesis explores a selection of literature, video installation, and performance, which borrow from the familiar "pop culture" domain of genre fiction, daytime television programming, and saint's day parades to render accessible postmodern theoretical concerns about the nature of aesthetic experience. Characteristically disclosing numerous other entities whose presence helps define live acts as art, they are self-conscious of the fact that they have no function other than their generation of aesthetic experiences. Conditions guaranteeing the possibility of aesthetic experience are multiply visible, since each re-presents the process of its own production. I nternally emphasizing the realities that exceed its boundaries, Calvino's novel shows how a pleasurable reading experience is contingent upon a carefully circumscribed set of possibilities. Jankowski's video installations re-present his own involvement in television, thereby calling attention to the fact that the artist is not solely responsible. Finally, Als's procession was literally a process of marching "MoMA's most sacred icons" across New York City, providing public access to the process by which a live event is identified as art. Dr. Miriam Wallace Dr. Stephen Miles Division of Humanities iv
INTRODUCTION Intrigued by its appearance in many diverse artistic media, I am interested in a highly adaptable postmodernist aesthetic which favors form over content as a way of generating aesthetic experiences that are accessible to a broad audience. I find this aesthetic epitomized by Italo Calvino's novel If on a winter's night a traveler ; Christian Jankowski's video installations Telemistica The Holy Artwork Talk Athens and Art Market TV ; and finally The Modern Procession organized by Francis Als: each, in its own way, skillfully re-presents familiar forms of representation, rendering visible the contexts that shape their production and consumption. Regarding a proliferation of aesthetic "postmodernisms," Roland Barthes wrote in 1971: "Nowadays only the critic executes the work (accepting the play on words). The reduction of reading to a consumption is clearly responsible for the boredom' experienced by many in the face of the modern (unreadable') text, the avant-garde film or painting: to be bored means that one cannot produce the text, open it out, set it going (163). Unlike the unreadability of many works termed "avant-garde," the high literature and fine art of Calvino, Jankowski, and Als borrow from the familiar "pop culture" domain of genre fiction, daytime television programming, and saint's day parades to render accessible postmodern theoretical concerns about the nature of aesthetic experience. The term "postmodern" is inescapably problematic. Novelist John Barth describes it as "awkward and faintly epigonic, suggestive less of a vigorous or even interesting new direction in the old art of storytelling than of something anti-climatic, feebly following a very hard act to follow" (qtd. in McHale 3). Brian McHale in Postmodernist Fiction 1
astutely notes, "The term does not even make sense. For if modern' means pertaining to the present,' then post-modern' can only mean pertaining to the future,' and in that case what could postmodernist fiction be except fiction that has not yet been written?" (4). Although this paradoxical hypothesis does not function as McHale's definition, it underlines the fact that modernism and postmodernism are necessarily linked; indeed, postmodernist fiction, fine art, and performance often playfully engage modernist representation as a way to hypothesize alternative possibilities. Following McHale, I believe that postmodernist representation should be understood as a continuation of modernist representation rather than its decisive rupturing. In this view, postmodernist production is distinctive because of its predominating ontological concerns, following from the modernist deployment of primarily epistemological questions. For example, the epistemological interrogation in which modernist texts engage might look like: "What is there to be known?; Who knows it?; How do they know it, and with what degree of certainty?; How is knowledge transmitted from one knower to another, and with what degree of reliability?; How does the object of knowledge change as it passes from knower to knower?; What are the limits of the knowable?" (McHale 9). The postmodernist text, however, is first and foremost inclined to ask: What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontation, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?; What is the mode of existence of a text, and what is the mode of existence 2
of the world (or worlds) it projects?; How is a projected world structured? (McHale 10) Once the artist was "content with invisibly exercising his freedom to create worlds," McHale writes; "the artist now makes his freedom visible by thrusting himself into the foreground of his work. He represents himself in the act of making his fictional workor unmaking it, which is also his prerogative" (30). Calvino's novel, Jankowski's video installations, and Als's procession reveal an important consequence of what McHale identifies as contemporary artists' freedom to represent themselves in an act of creation: they characteristically disclose numerous other entities whose presence helps define live acts as art. In this way, each appears to resonate with a stream of theories born out of fields of art philosophy and art sociology since at least the 1960s, and the "utopian investment of Fluxus and early media artists in collaborative and networked practices" (Frieling 45) describes an important precedent for their interest in addressing specifically ontological concerns about artistic media. 1 Today, many artists follow the example of Fluxus by utilizing a critical strategy of courting unknown participants or audiences as a way "to expose precisely the conditions that frame and limits actions in public space" (Frieling 42). As the selection of literature, video, and performance discussed in this thesis shows, "Those who act on a given work and its frame are...not merely anonymous participants. They include a series of active stakeholders: the gallerist, collector, curator, critic, and representatives of supervising 3 1 "Most active between 1962 and 1978, Fluxus emerged as a loose, international association of artists working in a wide range of media, including media scores, performances, events, publications, and multiples... Like Dada and Surrealism, Fluxus questioned the value of art and the artist, finding precedent in Marcel Duchamp's readymade objects and in [John] Cage's advocacy of chance and indeterminacy. Fluxus artists consciously incorporated audience participation and life itself into their work" (Pellico 94).
authorities, such as municipal or state commissions and trustees" (Frieling 41). Fluxus and other early media artists additionally demonstrated how artists could become "adept at exploiting media coverage of their work," encouraging a new generation "to produce art that was designed to gain its full meaning from the press's response" (Atkins 53). San Francisco MoMA curator of media arts Rudolf Frieling writes, "In contemporary art, discursive practices are not distinct from, but rather constitute and frame, visual practice" (36), suggesting that as new modes of discourse are articulated, contemporary artists are quick to incorporate them as strategic practices. In his contribution to a 1967 symposium entitled "For Whom Do We Write a Novel? For Whom Do We Write a Poem?", Italo Calvino answers: "For people who have read a number of other novels, a number of other poems. A book is written so that it can be put beside other books and take its place on a hypothetical bookshelf" ( Uses of Literature 81). Awareness of "a hypothetical bookshelf" with which all literature interacts plays out in several ways. In If on a winter's night a traveler (1979), recursive interruptions characterized by shifting narrative modes and genres effectively exceed the limits of the popular mimetic forms its characters and narrators primarily desire. The novel literally operates by continually deferring narrative closure, thereby sustaining the desire of readers to keep reading, while other readers who have learned to expect postmodernist deferral are teased by its rather conventional matrimonial conclusion. Repetitively re-imagining the literary shelf on which it rests through a pastiche of familiar forms and tropes, If on a winter's night a traveler demonstrates and "tells" its 4
readers how a pleasurable reading experience is conditioned by a carefully circumscribed set of possibilities. In Sweet Dreams Johanna Drucker addresses an analogous tendency in contemporary art and emphasizes a critical mode she calls "complicit formalism," which "implies a knowing compromise between motives of opportunism and circumstantial conditionswhether on the plane of production, or reference, or within institutional and social situations" (xvi). Like Calvino's "hypothetical bookshelf" in a "library of multiple specializations" ( Uses of Literature 84), Drucker's complicit formalism "underscores an acknowledged participation by artists, critics, and academics" by countering "the very basis on which autonomy could be assumed, while returning respect for the aesthetic properties of works of artmaterial and visual considerationsto a central place within our understanding of the ways art works through constructed artifice" (xvi). Her deliberate emphasis on the mutual gain of art world participants is exemplified in Christian Jankowski's Telemistica (1999), The Holy Artwork (2001), Talk Athens (2003), and Art Market TV (2008). Framed as live televisual games eliciting collective participation, Jankowski's video installations show art, artist, and audience as embedded in tandem within networks of popular media and fine art production, distribution, and reception. Jankowski, for example, embeds himself either as a live performing body or as a fictive protagonist whose name gains currency within a larger commercial scene each time it is repeated by media professionals. Organized by Francis Als and sponsored by the Public Art Fund, The Modern Procession (2002) displaces MoMA's "most sacred icons" from the museum walls that 5
confirm their value as aesthetic objects to mobilize them in a ritual procession through public streets. For participants and the art world in which they are invested, The Modern Procession performs a rite of passage signifying The Museum of Modern Art's temporary transition from midtown Manhattan to the cultural periphery of Long Island City. This ritual passage is physically enacted through the bodies of art workers who bear the icons on their shoulders in the three-hour march. Publicly marked as belonging to an institution that, under normal circumstances, maintains a strict separation between realms of art production, distribution, and reception, these bodies participated in a reinterpretation of the vaguely spiritual notion of sublime aesthetic experience, even as their pageantry underlined the arbitrary quality of the objects on which sublime experiences are focused. From this perspective, The Museum of Modern Art "is no longer a container for art, nor does it manufacture consensual communities;" rather, as the procession's sponsoring institution, "it becomes a producer of and an arena for social and aesthetic experiences, temporarily interrupting singularities through the presentation of participatory art that actively generates a discursive public space" (Frieling 48). The selection of literature, video, and performance explored in this thesis is posed "in reaction to the difficulties encountered when attempting to understand artworks as artefacts with particular distinctive features that are produced by the unique activity of artists" (Maanen 7). For example, consider the way Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes or John Cage's 4'33" problematize a long-standing critical assumption that art is distinct from non-art. Duchamp's readymades present another excellent demonstration of a confrontation with traditional distinctions in the art world; we see this ironically taken up 6
by Als's re-imagining of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (a metal wheel mounted on a painted wood stool) as an unmistakable icon in The Modern Procession Calvino's focus on the ways that literature is consumed and Jankowski's reframing of popular television programming similarly refuse barriers between art and non-art or "high culture" and "low culture." The ironic transformations presented here make it clear how these works of fine art and literature "not only purely re-present (present again') their subjects, but also speak' about them in one way or another" (Maanen 21). What do they say? I have attempted to answer this question in the titles of my chapters, quotes taken directly from the texts: Chapter One, "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel"; Chapter Two, "Do I look different as a work of art?"; and Chapter Three, "Welcome MoMA's most sacred icons to the Periphery." I believe these titles succinctly express an awareness of the interdependence of embedded conditions of production, distribution, and reception, conditions that make aesthetic experience possible for these basically arbitrary objects and performances. This possibility is crucial. Though they exist in markets as commodified objects, the works of fine art and literature discussed in this thesis have no function other than their generation of aesthetic experiences. 2 Following Drucker, my use of the word "aesthetic" is meant to "suggest images and artifacts made for no apparent or utilitarian purpose beyond the processing of subjective experience into form" (xiv); "aesthetic experience," then, refers to the phenomenology of encountering an aesthetic form, that is, to an individual's subjective processing of that form. How do popular forms like 7 2 As Drucker reminds us, this simplest sense should not be underestimated: "In an administered world such as our own the purpose of aestheticsthe awareness of artifice, the appeal to pleasure, beauty, and imaginationis a necessity in its own right. It cannot be harnessed to another purpose" (5).
paperback fiction, daytime television programming, and parades become aesthetic gestures? Basically, when they are framed as such. When re-presented in the space of a gallery, for example, "the assumed values of administered culture and the insidious technologies through which they function" (Drucker 8) become visible, as art audiences tend to position themselves at some critical distance from re-presented material. In her exploration of contemporary art entitled Sweet Dreams Johanna Drucker underlines "the value of artifice" as inviting such critical distance: The reflective self-consciousness by which art performs the task of insight, and then of memory, provides a crucial means by which the apparently seamless, natural' condition of our existence is called to attention. See this? Look at that! Take note and rethink what you think you knowagain. And again. By such basic rhetorical principles fine art objects provide the cracks in the surface of appearance... Through an aesthetic appeal to the eye and senses, fine art achieves its effect. Through its artifice, it shows the constructed-ness of its conditionand ours. (xiii) The works of literature, fine art, and performance discussed in this thesis embody Drucker's "basic rhetorical principles" by creatively capitalizing on the familiarity of represented forms like popular detective fiction, pundit talk shows, or a saint's day parade. Even the creator's name is, to some extent, a re-presented form: for example, as If on a winter's night a traveler tells us, one might approach a Calvino novel "prepare[d] to recognize the unmistakable tone of the author" before eventually realizing that "[y]ou don't recognize it at all. But now that you think about it, who ever said this author had an 8
unmistakable tone? On the contrary, he is known as an author who changes greatly from one book to the next. And in these very changes you recognize him as himself" (9). The embedded conditions of production, distribution, and reception that make aesthetic experience possible are present in the context of art worlds operating upon a "work of art," whether it takes the form of literature, video, or performance. 3 For example, the conditions that make an aesthetic experience of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel possible are not conspicuous features of its surface. Within the selection I have chosen to discuss, aesthetic conditions are multiply visible, since each re-presents the process of its own production. In Calvino's novel, for example, floating narrators repeatedly ramble on about how they are functioning in the story; one narrator confesses that there is "a trick of the narrative art that I am trying to employ, a rule of discretion that consists in maintaining my position slightly below the narrative possibilities at my disposal" (109). Jankowski's video installations disclose their process of production by re-presenting television shows in which the artist is present either in person, by phone, or through the sale of his work, thereby calling attention to the fact that the artist is not the only person responsible for the videos' creation. Finally, Als's procession was literally a process of marching "MoMA's most sacred icons" from midtown Manhattan to Long Island City; 9 3 My reference to a very approximate concept of "art worlds" is informed by Hans van Maanen's discussion of the term, especially of its introduction in 1964 by Arthur Danto, for whom it served "as an answer to the changes in aesthetic production in the 1950s and 1960s. He described the difficulties when giving meaning to the products of these changes, called artworks, which, however, look like everyday objects. He argued in his famous article in the Journal of Philosophy that to see something as art requires something the eye cannot descryan atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an art world.' The art world is considered a world in which artists, museums, collectors and others create and discuss developments in art; it is a context in which a work can be seen as an artwork" (7-8). Danto's notion is illustrative of the texts discussed here insofar as it "deliberately aim[s] to shift the attention of art historians, critics and other professionals from the traditional idea that artworks have intrinsic and typical features which make them art, to the view that works become art on the basis of their position in the (historical) context, in other words because of their position in an art world" (Maanen 19).
documentation of The Modern Procession is additionally preserved in an installation view and publication about the event, allowing viewers access to the project's creative mutations. Although the subjects of my study include forms as varied as the paperback novel, video installations, as well as an art "happening" and its documentation, they present a compatible set of issues regarding the dialectical development in fine art and literature of autonomous status and commodification. While each chapter will use the terms of their respective forms, I will refer to them here as "texts" in order to convey their compatibility. My use of the term is informed by Roland Barthes, whose essay "From Work to Text" (1971) distinguishes the "Work" as "a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books (in a library for example)," whereas "the Text is a methodological field": the one is displayed, the other demonstrated; likewise, the work can be seen (in bookshops, in catalogues, in exam syllabuses), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse (or rather, it is Text for the very reason that it knows itself as text)... the Text is experienced only in an activity of production (156-7) Though formally heterogeneous, all of the texts I examine call on the reader, viewer, or accidental audience, demanding interpretive participation while posing as popular, accessible, and highly consumable genres. Each highlights commodity aspects of fine art 10
or literature, but this thesis does not consume them by "reading" them as texts. Rather, they are experienced here "only in an activity of production" because their meaning must be produced by critically engaging the intertextual networks or contexts within which they situate themselves. By performing the contexts of their production, distribution, and reception, these works of fine art and literature furthermore demonstrate the argument posed by Frederic Jameson "that what used to be called a context is itself little more than a text as well" (511). As my thesis shows, these texts have a distinctive live and interactive quality that renders them immediately accessible to popular consumption. They do not especially require distance or time for reflection in order to be comprehensible. Calvino's novel and Jankowski's video installations explicitly re-present the live process of their own creation, thereby disclosing the (con)textual frames circumscribing their respective symbolic activity, while the visibility of a living art world participating in Als's procession is even more direct. Richard Schechner notes that "[t]his quality of liveness'even when dealing with media or archival materialsis at the heart of performance studies," allowing one to inquire "about the behavior' of, for example, a painting: how, when, and by whom was it made, how it interacts with those who view it, and how the painting changes over time. The artifact may be relatively stable, but the performances it creates or takes part in can change radically" (2). Adapting the "underlying notion" of performance as "any action that is framed, presented, highlighted, or displayed" (Schechner 2), the texts discussed in this thesis incorporate the concerns of 11
performance studies into a distinct aesthetic category with a specifically postmodernist agenda. 12
CHAPTER ONE: "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel" Taken from the first sentence of If on a winter's night a traveler the title of this chapter is meant to accentuate the novel's disclosure of its own status as a bounded piece of literature. Calvino's text continually refers back to a self-conscious author, its basic narrative unreliability, and the literary traditions into which they fit or become coherent. Formally, these aspects manifest in the novel's structuring of embedded narratives: its chapters alternate between a familiar cast of generic pronouns ("you," "he," and "she") and the fleeting series of narratives they actively pursue, each of which are interrupted at a moment of heightened suspense so as to return to "you," "he," and "she" in a state of agitation. After the stories they pursue are interrupted, the novel's familiar characters consistently reappear in a series of numbered chapters and articulate anew their textual desires and consumptive inclinations. Beginning with the statement, "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler (Calvino 3), and ending with a collage of the embedded narratives' titles that continues where a traveler leaves off, the text encloses itself simultaneously within a performative frame of reading and an economizing frame of writing. The resulting mise-en-abyme form of If on a winter's night a traveler mediates between the novel's thematic fascination with representing acts of consuming as well as of producing literature. Ultimately, I argue that Calvino's text discloses an expansive field of literary discourse in which it participates, 13
thereby imparting to readers, as they read, a formal grammar of conventional possibilities for reading and desiring narrative. Though the novel's richness of narrative unreliability is apparent throughout all of its 260 pages, the effect of the first chapter is especially dramaticin part because the novel opens with a series of directions that seem to account for the reader as an active performer imparting real existence to the scripted text. The narrator presses its reader to "try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading;" one must ensure that there are "cigarettes within reach, if you smoke, and the ashtray. Anything else? Do you have to pee? All right, you know best" (Calvino 4). Possibilities referring to a context beyond the novel's internal reality are incorporated within the text and then modified as the narrator contrives to show an unspecified plural second-person "how it begins:" Perhaps you started leafing through the book already in the shop. Or were you unable to, because it was wrapped in its cocoon of cellophane? Now you are on the bus, standing in the crowd, hanging from a strap by your arm, and you begin undoing the package with your free hand, making movements something like a monkey, a monkey who wants to peel a banana and at the same time cling to the bough. Watch out, you're elbowing your neighbors; apologize, at least. Or perhaps the bookseller didn't wrap the volume; he gave it to you in a bag. This simplifies matters. You are at the wheel of your car, waiting at a traffic light, you take the book out of the bag, rip off the 14
transparent wrapping, start reading the first lines. A storm of honking breaks over you; the light is green, you're blocking traffic. (Calvino 7) With this passage it is clear how the novel begins to play with "the postmodernist notions of the self-conscious text" (Fink 94), exemplified by the narrator's interest in the secondperson's means of acquiring the novel. In an especially dubious paragraph, the narrator even points to Italo Calvino through the reader, who "prepare[s] to recognize the unmistakable tone of the author" before realizing that "you don't recognize it at all. But now that you think about it, who ever said this author had an unmistakable tone?" (Calvino 9). As Inge Fink explains, gradually "we find that this is the gambit of an intricate game, a game that cannot be played without the reader but is set up to trick him/ her" into surrendering to the authority of Italo Calvino, the name emblazoned on the cover (Fink 94). If anything at all can be known about Calvino it is that "he is known as an author who changes greatly from one book to the next. And in these very changes you recognize him as himself" (Calvino 9). The trick described by Fink refers to the way that the text confirms the author's authority through displacement: the author's authority is recognized by the narrator's projected second-person reader ("you"), for whom the author, regardless of his stylistic changes, is a figure knowable "as himself." It is equally true, I would argue, that the text displaces the author's authority by means of confirming it in the projected reader's recognition. The trick, then, is also that the narrator locates literary authority in readers' expectations simply by acknowledging that, "independently of what you expected of the author, it's the book in itself that arouses your curiosity; in fact, on 15
sober reflection, you prefer it this way, confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is" (Calvino 9). After all, the text's projected reader invests in "the new book by Italo Calvino" not just because the author "hadn't published for several years," but because "you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn't serious" (Calvino 4). The pleasure of that expectation is contingent upon the reader's investment in a literary career throughout which Calvino "is known as an author who changes greatly from one book to the next" (Calvino 9). Here the narrator obliquely reveals a mutual dependence of writer and reader: Calvino's writing speculates in his reader's expectations just as the reader's reading speculates in the knowable aspects of Calvino's career. The text's materiality, its relatively short length and inexpensive paperback format, indicates that the reader's risk of disappointment "isn't serious." Insofar as the text acknowledges its materiality as a sign of some external incentive upon which its existence depends, it exemplifies a self-conscious postmodernist aesthetic. As its play with authorial voice demonstrates, If on a winter's night a traveler thematizes its own literary mechanisms. In the first chapter alone, the narrator acknowledges a relational network connecting author, reader, television and newspaper, bookshops and booksellers, even "the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read" and "Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread" (Calvino 5-6). These varied modes of publication are extensively schematized according to a consumer logic that 16
indexes the ways readers prioritize literature. This thematization of interrelated discursive modes occurs on a structural level as well: strung along through the first chapter's expatiation on a possible experience of its being read, the reader's interest is secured "by the promise of a strong story line" (Fink 94) in the second chapter, a narrative entitled If on a winter's night a traveler Despite the first chapter's meta-setting, this chapter claims that "[t]he novel begins in a railway station" and introduces a first-person narrator, presumably a different voice than that which addresses "you" in the previous chapter (Calvino 10). The transition from first to second chapter thus stabilizes the text's reliance on metacommentary and "neutralize[s] the reader's alienation" from the first chapter's unconventional narrative dynamic (Fink 94). Moreover, the reader is lured by the second chapter's abrupt and inconclusive ending. Returning in the following chapter to the bookshop to complain that the book he purchased is full of printers' mistakes and mixed signatures, "you" crystallizes from a possible "sort of reader" to a particular "Reader" whose "dominant passion is the impatience to erase the disturbing effects of that arbitrariness or distraction, to re-establish the normal course of events" (Calvino 27). When this Reader and an Other Reader (also present in the bookshop to complain about the mixed signatures) decide that they would rather pursue the Polish novel they originally thought was Calvino's, the novel's structure becomes recursive. Brian McHale, identifying conventions of postmodernist literature, defines recursive structures as those which result from performing "the same operation over and over again, each time operating on the product of the previous operation" (112). Apart from the text's ten embedded novels, each begun in response to a reader's (often the 17
female Other Reader's) articulation of desire and interrupted so as to frustrate and thereby exaggerate that desire, two additional narratives operate recursively. One is present only through summary, as the Reader learns from a publisher's archives of correspondence about infamous literary counterfeiter Ermes Marana's translations for an Arabian Sultana. According to the correspondence, Marana's service to the sultanate propagates the narrative dynamic operating throughout If on a winter's night a traveler by way of an intertextual reference to Arabian Nights ; "Marana proposes to the Sultan a stratagem prompted by the literary tradition of the Orient: he will break off this translation at the moment of greatest suspense and will start translating another novel, inserting it into the first through some rudimentary expedient" (Calvino 125). A similar recursive strategy is apparent in the eleventh chapter, when the Reader adventures into a library with the hope that he will find closure for the ten narratives that Marana's global counterfeiting conspiracy presumably had cut short. Handing his list of the ten titles to be read by another reader in the library, the other interprets the list as the beginning of a novel: "I could swear I've read it... You have only this beginning and would like the find the continuation, is that true? The trouble is that once upon a time they all began like that, all novels" (Calvino 258). Ironically, of course, the list of ten titles is also the novel's table of contents placed en abme or "into infinity" within itself. Albert Howard Carter notes how "[i]n If on a winter's night a traveler we do not feel a push toward structural complexity for its own sake; there is complexity, to be sure, but of a more synthetic, more organic, more irrational nature" (126). I agree with Carter, and add that the text's complex structure synthesizes the organic forms of reading it 18
variously represents, making for a surprisingly accessible and pleasurable reading experience in an ostensibly postmodern experiment. For example, the first form of reading described by the text is demonstrated by the Reader once he returns home with his new purchase: You turn the book over in your hands, you scan the sentences on the back of the jacket, generic phrases that don't say a great deal. So much the better, there is no message that indiscreetly outshouts the message that the book itself must communicate directly, that you must extract from the book, however much or little it may be. Of course, this circling of the book, too, this reading around it before reading inside it, is a part of the pleasure in a new book, but like all preliminary pleasures, it has its optimal duration if you want it to serve as a thrust toward the more substantial pleasure of the consummation of the act, namely the reading of the book. (Calvino 8-9) A reader's preliminary textual pleasure may also include reading the table of contents, which by means of recursive ploy provides a synthetic semblance of the novel as a whole. The ten embedded narratives alternating with the text's numbered chapters reveal that its narrative impetus "rests on the simultaneous presence of two forms of literary discourse," and because they shift abruptly "the reader is constantly reminded of the text's artificiality" and constructedness (Fink 94). The first discursive form Fink refers to is diegesis or what is generally considered to take the shape of "the traditional novel, in which the reader identifies with more or less realistic characters whom the author, 19
concealed by the narrative voice,' presents to him/her in an apparently objective manner," whereas the second discursive form to which Fink refers is hypodiegesis or "the postmodernist self-conscious novel in which the author strives to lay bare the mechanics of literary production" (Fink 94). It must be noted that the mere presence of a hypodiegetic ontology does not qualify a text as postmodernist. 4 Rather, If on a winter's night a traveler formally resonates with postmodernist literature because of its persistent shifting between two discursive forms, "interrupting the primary diegesis not once or twice but often with secondary, hypodiegetic worlds, representations within the representation" (McHale 113). The alternation between diegesis and hypodiegesis is not divided evenly between the novel's numbered chapters and titled narratives, rendering its ontological landscape ambiguous. In the narrative entitled "Outside the town of Malbork," for instance, "you" is carried over from the preceding chapter to convey that "the impression given to you, Reader, is one of expertise, though there are some foods you don't know, mentioned by name, which the translator has decided to leave in the original; for example, schoblintsjia (Calvino 34). While in the first chapter the story unfolds from the perspective of an unidentified narrator toward an equally unidentified and subjectively appealing "you," the second chapter ("If on a winter's night a traveler") explodes the position of the narrator such that he becomes a discrete character hinting to "you" the 20 4 Consider, for example, the narrator's intrusion in Balzac's 1835 novel Le Pre Goriot : "And you, too, will do the like; you who with this book in your white hand will sink back among the cushions of your armchair, and say to yourself, Perhaps this may amuse me.' You will read the story of Father Goriot's secret woes, and, dining thereafter with an unspoiled appetite, will lay the blame of your insensibility upon the writer, and accuse him of exaggeration, of writing romances. Ah! once for all, this drama is neither a fiction nor a romance! All is true ,so true, that every one can discern the elements of the tragedy in his own house, perhaps in his own heart" (Balzac 2).
presence of his own author. His involvement in the narrative is expressed spatiallyand, ironically, from a perspective privy to the text's externalities: "I am the man who comes and goes between the bar and the telephone booth. Or, rather: that man is called I' and you know nothing else about him, just as this station is called only station' and beyond it there exists nothing except the unanswered signal of a telephone ringing in a dark room of a distant city" (Calvino 11). This narrator then cautions the reader that an attentiveness toward reading is the result of the author's "method of involving you gradually, capturing you in the story before you realize ita trap" (Calvino 12). In this view, where identification with the protagonist is only one conventional way to read fiction, narrative attentiveness is one means by which the reader risks estrangement from the text. A reader who is basically familiar with narrative practice may expect every novel to privilege a certain character, the "protagonist," above all the others. The same basic familiarity may also lead a reader to expect that this character either will be worthy of such focus from the start or becomes worthy over the course of the novel. 5 From this expectation, it is often further assumed that identification with the protagonist will prove worthwhile as a strategy for reading. If on a winter's night a traveler however, does not hesitate in pointing toward the conventionality of that kind of reading: If you, reader, couldn't help picking me out among the people getting off the train and continued following me in my to-and-fro-ing between bar and telephone, this is simply because I am called "I" and this is the only 21 5 For instance, texts associated with the modern literary genre bildungsroman ("education novel") are primarily focused on the moral and intellectual development of a single protagonist. The beginning of this literary tradition is often traced back to the end of the eighteenth century.
thing you know about me, but this alone is reason enough for you to invest a part of yourself in the stranger "I." Just as the author, since he has no intention of telling about himself, decided to call the character "I" as if to conceal him, not having to name him or describe him, because any other name or attribute would define him more than this stark pronoun; still, by the very fact of writing "I" the author feels driven to put into this "I" a bit of himself, of what he feels or imagines he feels. Nothing could be easier for him than to identify himself with me; for the moment my external behavior is that of a traveler who has missed a connection, a situation that is part of everyone's experience. But a situation that takes place at the opening of a novel always refers you to something else that has happened or is about to happen, and it is this something else that makes it risky to identify with me, risky for you the reader and for him the author; and the more gray and ordinary and undistinguished and commonplace the beginning of this novel is, the more you and the author feel a hint of danger looming over that fraction of "I" that you have heedlessly invested in the "I" of a character whose inner history you know nothing about, as you know nothing about the contents of that suitcase he is so anxious to be rid of. (Calvino 14-5) In this passage, a boundary between author and reader is defined at the same time as it is precluded by the desire of both to project themselves into the role of the first-person narrator. One discovers this not by means of any explicit disclosure from the author to 22
the reader; rather, the desire is related to the reader through the personal testimony of an "anonymous presence against an even more anonymous background" (Calvino 14) whose voice vacillates between firstand second-person narration. Ambivalence abounds in this narrator's presence; he admits that he is at once the product of the author's particular feelings and imaginations as well as a generic component of "a situation that is part of everyone's experience" (Calvino 15). Conjectures of chronologically divergent extratextual conditions are implicit in this obscure figure's narration, as he reflects both upon how the author must have felt compelled in the course of writing his anonymous train station testimony, as well as how the reader feels compelled to invest interest in this "I." 6 In this way the detached presence of a real, super-intentional author becomes apparent above and beyond an artificial author referred to in third-person singular. Indeed, as Fink argues, "it is the command over the pronouns that cements the author's superiority" (100) through omniscient metacommentary formally possessed by a devalued "I." Thus, If on a winter's night a traveler is characterized by a floating narrator as well as a floating narrative. There is no "I" in the first chapter; the narrator is conversationally present insofar as his second-person mode speaks directly to "you," but the conversation itself is unsettling since its initiator remains anonymous. Unlike the first chapter narrator, the second chapter narrator, or "the man who comes and goes between 23 6 Interestingly, Diane Elam identifies postmodernism as a "recognition of the specifically temporal irony within narrative" (qtd. in Richardson 47). Likewise, Ursula K. Heise considers the postmodernist literary project to include a literal projection "into the narrative present and past an experience of time which normally is only available for the future: time dividing and subdividing, bifurcating and branching off continuously into multiple possibilities and alternatives" (55).
the bar and the telephone booth" (Calvino 11), is articulated within his own unique continuum of time and space. This ambiguity underlines the text's unreliability, but it also foregrounds an ironic tension in the relationship of reader and author and their respective activities of reading and writing. Albert Howard Carter remarks that "Calvino has accepted the narrative challenge of the old clich that there is first-person fiction and third-person fiction, but never second-person fiction,'" subsequently asserting that "a corollary of these interactions appears to be that all readings, regardless of the technical point of view employed, is in some sense second-person fiction'" (125). After all, "considering an informal sort of phenomenology here, something like Andr Malraux's suggestion that art does not come into being unless it is looked at," is it not the case that "fiction does not exist, literature is not literature unless someone you are reading it" (Carter 125)? It seems that whatever control the reader believes they are exerting on the text is insubstantial in relation to the author who, though he apparently "has no intention of telling about himself" (Calvino 15), tells everything else. Readers may be tricked by the narrator's impulsive use of third-person to subscribe to the unknowable nature of "that man" despite knowing a number of things about him, not the least of which being his movement "between the bar and the telephone booth" as if "caught in a trap" (Calvino 11), and that he possesses a suitcase. Earlier attempts by this novel to encourage a reader's assumption of interpretive responsibility are thus countered by explicit acknowledgement of authorial strategy. Just as surely as the text delights in the conceptual possibilities of the author's death, its play 24
is interrupted by the insertion of its own author who "undercuts contemporary theories and reestablishes the traditional hierarchies of literary discourse" (Fink 94). But this is an author about whose identity nothing should be assumed, even if his presence is rendered somewhat immediate through the novel's extensive metacommentary "about literature, criticism, and uses of literature," conveyed in a tone "satirical of intellectual, reductive approaches" (Carter 125). After all, there is really nothing to be conclusively determined about any of the aforementioned narrators, and ambiguities such as those that obscure the provenance of these narrative voices in the first and second chapters are deeply embedded in the text. In this way the uncertainty of their provenance is foregrounded, qualifying this novel as a prime demonstration of the ontological issues Brian McHale identifies as typically postmodernist: "What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontation, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?" (10). The narrator's use of "you" loses much of its ambiguity soon after the novel's transition from interrupted narrative to the second numbered chapter when it becomes "you-other-than-ourselves." The concretization of "you" into a textual character is demonstrated by the second-person's remark: "This sentence sounds somehow familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I've read before" (Calvino 25). The narrator then exclaims: "Wait a minute! Look at the page number. Damn! From page 32 you've gone back to page 17! What you thought was a stylistic subtlety on the author's part is simply a printers' mistake" (Calvino 25). Though the text insists that it is 25
displaying "one of those virtuoso tricks so customary in modern writing, repeating a paragraph word for word" (Calvino 25), no such repetition can be found. This passage does not even appear on the thirty-second page. The "you" who is experiencing the recurrence must have somehow transformed into a "you-other-than-ourselves"not just any reader, but the Reader. Mariolina Salvatori points out that this "comes to constitute a trap for us not so much because we might run the risk of slipping into the pronominal space that the you-[Reader] occupies, but because, having been made to take an ironic, omniscient stance toward him, we might pass judgment on him without realizing that we are passing judgment on ourselves" (196). Through its ambiguous use of voices and pronouns, the novel places textual and extratextual readers in confrontation. As a result, the novel ironically undercuts its own undercutting of readers' interpretive authority. Implications of the author's presence do not gradually diminish. When the Reader and Other Reader finally consummate their shared narrative by "reading" each other's bodies toward the end of the book, for instance, the narrator takes their erotic encounter as an opportunity to ruminate on representational possibilities: You are in bed together, you two Readers. So the moment has come to address you in the second person plural, a very serious operation, because it is tantamount to considering the two of you a single subject. I'm speaking to you two, a fairly unrecognizable tangle under the rumpled sheet. Maybe afterward you will go your separate ways and the story will again have to shift gears painfully, to alternate between the feminine tu and the masculine; but now, since your bodies are trying to find, skin to 26
skin, the adhesion most generous in sensations, to transmit and receive vibrations and waves, to compenetrate the fullnesses and the voids, since in mental activity you have also agreed on the maximum agreement, you can be addressed with an articulated speech that includes you both in a sole, two-headed person. (Calvino 154) Here, the narrator speaking in first-person "explicitly dominates the love scene between the two Readers, their most private encounter as one would assume, by shifting the second-person pronoun from one to the other and then to both of them" (Fink 100). However, despite admitting that in their consensual action "you can be addressed with an articulated speech that includes you both in a sole, two-headed person," the narrator ultimately decides that, "in short, what you are doing is very beautiful but grammatically it doesn't change a thing. At the moment when you most appear to be a united voi a second person plural, you are two tu 's, more separate and circumscribed than before" (Calvino 154). Sustained throughout the erotic suggestion of "submissive abandonment, the exploration of the immensity of strokable and reciprocally stroking space, the dissolving of one's being in a lake whose surface is infinitely tactile," the narrator's intrusion or interruption reminds the reader that absolute continuity, the "united voi of "reciprocal identification," is indeed impossible (Calvino 154). 7 Neither author nor reader can ever become absolutely immersed in textually represented worlds. "This is already true now," the narrator continues, "when you are still occupied, each with the other's presence, in an 27 7 In the narrator's opinion, a "united voi would literally disfigure the text: "For a second-person discourse to become a novel, at least two you's are required, distinct and concomitant, which stand out from the crowd of he's, she's, and they's" (Calvino 147).
exclusive fashion" (Calvino 154-55). Literally constructed in terms of both narrative and physical pleasure, the mutual "reading" of these two Readers serves to familiarize the novel's audience with their desiring relationship to the text. The Readers' failure to merge completely in this passage may represent an allegory for readers, like the Reader, whose desire is to achieve narrative suture. Just as soon as the narrator rescinds the "united voi ," a section break occurs, and the Readers are again "subjected to a systematic reading" as objects knowable to each other through specific "channels of tactile information, visual, olfactory, and not without some intervention of the taste buds" (Calvino 155), but ultimately unknowable to the extratextual reader. The narrator revisits an ambiguous textual space in which "you certainly do not exist except in relation to each other," despite his recognition that, in order "to make those situations possible, your respective egos have...to occupy, without reserve, all the void of the mental space" (Calvino 154). Thus "you begin to harbor a doubt: that she is not reading you, single and whole as you are, but using you, using fragments of you detached from the context to construct for herself a ghostly partner" (Calvino 156). Perhaps this "ghostly partner" refers to interpretation itself. As Jerry Aline Flieger points out about the desiring voice in certain postmodernist texts, the narrator's insistence and ambiguity throughout the novel "disperses and overdetermines, insuring that the literary text will be plural, that it will resist integration into totalizing schemes and definitive interpretations" (48). It can be said with equal validity that this deferring, hesitating, and refracting voice serves to emphasize an "avoidance of untimely ending," thus suggesting through form "that the comic/erotic/ 28
literary pleasure resides not in the endpoint of desire but in the detour by which the pleasurable game is rerouted" (Flieger 50). Of course, rerouting such as that which occurs in If on a winter's night is not only a postmodernist strategy, and in its repeated allusions to Arabian Nights the novel makes this clear Peter Brooks even suggests a narratology in which all Narratives portray the motors of desire that drive and consume their plots, and they also lay bare the nature of narration as a form of human desire: the need to tell as a primary human drive that seeks to seduce and to subjugate the listener, to implicate him in the thrust of a desire that never can quite speak its namenever can quite come to the pointbut that insists on speaking over and over again its movement toward that name. (136-7) Moreover, the love scene provides an excellent analogy for the mutually dependent phenomenology of reading (or viewing art, as in Andr Malraux's suggestion): "one internal reader reads the other the way we external readers read about them reading each other" (Weiss 173). Yet, because of the frequency with which the reader and Readers are apparently challenged by excessively authoritative narrators and their unrelenting confessions of narrative desire, an escalating experience of frustration is predetermined by the text; in fact, the Reader's frustration is a primary focus of this novel. As "the framing device sets up a series of machinations and detours that keep them from fulfilling their desire to bring their reading to closure," If on a winter's night politicizes a poetics of desire, "since the plenitude, the fulfillment, of that desire would have resulted in the 29
scarcitythe absenceof the novel" (Salvatori 188). Its structure of alternating numbered chapters and titled narratives, formally analogous to repeated episodes of coitus interruptus presents both the Reader and his readers with a kind of game inflamed by their "erotic desire to unveil the mystery of the text, a desire the author only partially satisfies. His refusal to grant complete satisfaction is the basis of his superiority" (Fink 102), transforming the text into an erotic site of power, as well as of ongoing pleasure. For Georges Bataille, according to Flieger, the erotic "is a play of transgression and limit; indeed, Bataille compares the erotic disequilibrium to an incessantly rehearsed and replayed comedy, relying on trickery, on the playing of a comic role" (44). Formally recursive and self-conscious, If on a winter's night a traveler is such a comedy. Furthermore, there is a necessary irony in characterizing the text in its entirety, like the comic process itself, as engendered from a contrast or a discontinuity, a separation or disproportion, and [as that] which relies on the perceived discontinuity to produce its effect. Similarly, in the erotic transgression, the discontinuity between self and other is never absolutely abolished short of death itself. If the erotic process, like the absolute comic, works to bridge the gap estranging self from other, it also reinstates the rules it temporarily subverts. Eroticism depends on maintained prohibition for its spicy effect; the comic depends on maintained discontinuity for its punch. (Flieger 45-46) 30
Returning to the Readers' act of consummation, this text's discontinuity with the world it represents is carefully maintained in the narrator's insightful commentary on how Lovers' reading of each other's bodies...differs from the reading of written pages in that it is not linear. It starts at any point, skips, repeats itself, goes backward, insists, ramifies in simultaneous and divergent messages, converges again, has moments of irritation, turns the page, finds its place, gets lost. A direction can be recognized in it, a route to an end, since it tends toward a climax, and with this end in view it arranges rhythmic phases, metrical scansions, recurrence of motives. But is the climax really the end? Or is the race toward that end opposed by another drive which works in the opposite direction, swimming against the moments, recovering time? If one wanted to depict the whole thing graphically, every episode, with its climax, would require a three-dimensional model, perhaps fourdimensional, or, rather, no model: every experience is unrepeatable. What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space. (Calvino 156) Disguised as spontaneous reflection, this passage alludes to the way in which the novel itself is structured according to such "rhythmic phases" (e.g., alternation between numbered chapters and titled narratives) and "recurrence of motives" (e.g., the repeatedly 31
stated literary desires of the Other Reader that in turn determine the following narrative's genre and style 8 ). Taken as representative of the novel in full, then, it "is a demonstration of how fiction works, how we read it, how the world is treated, and (to a lesser extent) how authors write" (Carter 126). Moreover, insofar as the narrator "recognizes and depends on a certain cheating or artifice, that is, on the willful falsification of a realistic or exhaustive project of representation, the traditional goals of literary mimesis," this text is basically playful (Flieger 47). "Whereas the traditional masterwork takes itself and its accomplishments very seriously," If on a winter's night employs a desiring comic mode to construct a text definitely not a "masterwork"of infinitely incomplete possibilities, even as it "makes use of the comic process to turn on itself and to produce pleasure from the exposure of its own shortcomings" (Flieger 52). Formally constituted by its ludic impetus for unfulfilling narrative fulfillment, the pleasure of reading consists of the extent to which the reader's desire is implicated in the play. Despite its "willful falsification," the novel does not make a pleasurable reading experience difficult for readers. This is because its project of representation seems familiar. Take, for example, the novel's exploration of a variety of established and welldefined literary genres: there is detective fiction, suspense or thriller fiction, conspiracy, political, and erotic fiction, even memoiramong others. As the first chapter's indexing 32 8 After all, it is the Other Reader's "insatiable desire for reading that generates, in a chain of demand and supply, the particular narratives which, while almost' fulfilling her ever-changing needs, provide us with Calvino's memorable reflections on the act of reading" (Salvatori 200). Peter Brooks contextualizes this narrative dynamic by suggesting that the "ambitious heroes of the nineteenth-century novelthose of Balzac, for instancemay regularly be conceived as desiring machines' whose presence in the text creates and sustains narrative movement through the forward march of desire, projecting the self onto the world through scenarios of desire imagined and then acted upon" (133).
of bookshop consumer logic suggests, readers of paperback fiction in general are already absorbed "in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books" (Calvino 4). Readers' investments in popular fiction (also known as genre fiction) are rewarded rather than mocked, since the text does not distinguish itself as high literary fiction. The novel's recursive application of these "pop" genres thus points toward an economizing frame of writing that indicates both the author's thrift in re-presenting mainstream narrative material as well as his skill in producing an exemplary postmodernist text. In the third numbered chapter, desire for narrative continuity is parodied as the Polish narrative's ( Outside the town of Malbork ) recursive interruption is further emphasized by the following chapter's preliminary description of The pleasure derived from the use of a paper knife...Opening a path for yourself, with a sword's blade, in the barrier of pages becomes linked with the thought of how much the word contains and conceals: you cut your way through reading as if through a dense forest...your reading has not yet reached the end of the first chapter, but your cutting has already gone far ahead. And there, at the moment when your attention is gripped by the suspense, in the middle of a decisive sentence, you turn the page and find yourself facing two blank sheets. (Calvino 42) At this point, readers will have already surmised (especially if their reading strategy includes "circling the book" by returning to the table of contents) that their readings are being framed by a narrative game. Salvatori observes how, 33
as we, amused and detached, observe the characters caught in the network of the frame's machinations, we are not only made to assent, like docile schoolchildren, to the aesthetic creed of lack of closure; we are also continuously made to yearn for it by being subjected to seeing all of our predictions and projections completely fulfilled, and also by finding them reified in the text. (189) There are many more passages in the novel's narrative frame (i.e., numbered chapters) that "tease us into an acknowledgment both of the perils of automatic reading and of the relentless concentration that autonomous reading demands" (Salvatori 193). Once readers have finished a section of this frame, they can proceed through one of the titled narratives more fully immersed in their reading experience. Yet, as Salvatori points out, "the autonomy we can enjoy in the reading of the narratives is relative to the awareness of the reading process that we may have achieved in our reflexivity on the function and constraints of the frame; and that the enjoyment of such autonomy is a programmed response' determined by the frame's didacticism" (202-03). While the novel's narrative framing device of Reader and Other Reader yields a laundry list of diverse strategies for reading, each interrupted narrative provides readers the opportunity to reflect upon the characters' ways of reading as well as their own. In so doing, the narratives reveal to readers "the generative, if terrifying, metaphor for the reading process" (Salvatori 203). Moreover, the novel's play with shifting pronouns and narrative voices raises what Italo Calvino publicly considered "the toughest set of problems facing contemporary fiction" ( Uses of Literature 6). In his 1967 lecture about the critical context 34
of narrative discourse, Calvino argued that these problems are historically brought on as "the combinatorial play of narrative possibilities soon passes beyond the level of content to touch upon the relationship of the narrator to the material related and to the reader" ( Uses of Literature 6-7). For instance, he briefly characterizes the influence of the French structuralists on the "Tel Quel" literary group 9 as the belief that: writing consists no longer in narrating but in saying that one is narrating, and what one says becomes identified with the very act of saying. The psychological person is replaced by a linguistic or even a grammatical person, defined solely by his place in the discourse. These formal repercussions of a literature at the second or third degree, such as occurred in France with the nouveau roman of ten years ago, for which another of its exponents suggested the word "scripturalism," can be traced back to combinations of a certain number of logico-linguistic (or better, syntactical-rhetorical) operations, in such a way as to be reducible to formulas that are the more general as they become less complex. ( Uses of Literature 7) In similar fashion, nouveau roman theorist Jean Ricardou identified the poems of Paul Valry with Alain Robbe-Grillet's novels because of their "alignment of the disparate along the coordinating axis of a small number of basic schemas," the effect of which is that it "removes us from the everyday world, and plays a decisive antinaturalist 35 9 Among the writers associated with the vangard literary journal Tel Quel published in Paris from 1960 to 1982, were Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and Jacques Derrida. Incidentally, according to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Barthes' essay "From Work to Text" (1971) "is one of the clearest available summaries (including the obligatory disavowal of such a summary) of the poststructuralist theory of the text' as it was developed not only by Barthes but by all the writers associated with the vangard journal Tel Quel (1318).
role" (181). With Valry, the poems are "so similar to each other that they obviously constitute a simple set of variants," whereas "Robbe-Grillet's novel integrates them with its plot" (Ricardou 180). Literalizing Calvino's interest in the "scripturalist" activity of "saying that one is narrating" eighteen years after his presentation of that lecture, If on a winter's night a traveler also achieves an antinaturalist disclosure of what Ricardou called "text generation." It does so by means of an insistently ironic narrative dynamic, an "internal allegory" or mise-en-abyme reflecting "the constitutive procedures of the text itself" (Ricardou 188), no less than by means of the explicitly desiring and discontinuous voice of its narrator. At the same time, however, the novel capitalizes on familiar genre fiction, re-presenting forms of narrative mimesis that render the selfconscious text both accessible and pleasurable. If on a winter's night a traveler is notable for the way it renders widely accessible a number of postmodern issues tackled by contemporary theorists without ever actually calling them by name. This is evident in the text's most conspicuous feature: it is a paperback novel, mass-produced in relatively inexpensive fashion by a major international publishing house. It was translated only two years after its original publication in Italian in 1979, making it available to a much larger literary audience. Of course, following McHale, it is important to note that "all the ontological strata of the literary work of art ultimately rest on the material book and its typography, which guarantee their continuing existence" (180). Furthermore, If on a winter's night is selfreferential and self-conscious of the tension engendered by its own materiality. The Cimmerian literature professor Uzzi-Tuzii, for example, refers to 36
a thing that is there, a thing made of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the land of the dead... (Calvino 72) Here, Professor Uzzi-Tuzii restates the text's apparent desire to construct a phenomenology or grammar of reading. I find Eugene Goodheart's conception of desire as "a mode of cognition (self-discovery)" useful, for it necessitates the question: "what then is to be gained from desire? If not knowledge of the self, which becomes as multiple, as elusive as the object of desire, perhaps knowledge of desire itself is possible" (Goodheart 5). Goodheart continues: Desire is the source of narrative. It generates the obstacles it must overcome or circumvent through ruses, deceptions, and displacements. It creates the devious shapes of narrative by aiming for satisfaction, deferring it and discovering its satisfaction as well as agony in deferral. And the deferral of satisfaction as a permanent condition paradoxically makes possible "the multiplication of oneself which is happiness." (6) Perhaps this "multiplication of oneself" also describes the experience of the Reader when, spending some leisurely (though no less desiring) hours at a library, he encounters the figures of seven other readers who share their own strangely familiar forms of textual 37
desire and exploration. At a certain point, the Reader is interrupted by another's interrogation: "Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end? In ancient times a story could only end in two ways: having passed all the tests, the hero and the heroine married, or else they died. The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death." You stop for a moment to reflect on these words. Then, in a flash, you decide you want to marry Ludmilla [the Other Reader]... Now you are man and wife, Reader and Reader. A great double bed receives your parallel readings. (Calvino 259-60) Immediately evoked in the final passage is the famous reflection of modernist author E. M. Forster: "If it was not for death and marriage I do not know how the average novelist would conclude" (qtd. in Rabinowitz 304). It is hugely significant that the novel concludes with a "man and wife, Reader and Reader," since, according to Peter Rabinowitz, what is represented in the beginning and ending of any given narrative: affects both concentration and scaffolding: our attention during the act of reading will, in part, be concentrated on what we have found in these positions, and our sense of the text's meaning will be influenced by our assumption that the author expected us to end up with an interpretation that could account more fully for these details than for details elsewhere. (300) 38
Delivering conventional content through unconventional means, this passage creates a final "impression of the protagonist's independence and closes on a note of characterological integrity" (Fink 101). Formally, then, If on a winter's night a traveler expands according to a grammar of familiar possibilities for reading and desiring narrative, all of which funnel toward the most conventional denouement of all marriage. It is even more conventional in light of Susan Winnett's reminder that, even if we have become wary of the generic man in society' [e.g., the Reader]...such generalizations in such contexts indicate that the pleasure the reader is expected to take in the text is the pleasure of the man. This would seem to be true even whenas Calvino's great novel of reading, If on a winter's night a traveler suggeststhe pleasure of the (projected) male author (or his surrogate, the critic) is heightened by the fantasy that the reader is a woman. (140) Winnett's reminder seems especially relevant as Reader wife turns off her light, asking Reader husband, "Aren't you tired of reading?" "Just a moment," he responds, "I've almost finished If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino" (Calvino 260). Like "the dynamic relations of beginnings, middles, and ends in traditional narrative and traditional narratology," Calvino's novel does not "seem to accrue directly to the account of the woman. At best, they point toward a rereading that evaluates the ideology of narrative dynamics according to whose desire they serve, rendering us suspicious of our complicity in what has presented itself to us as the pleasure of the text" (Winnett 154). 39
With the Reader's final words, the novel encloses itself within what Inge Fink describes as "the dichotomy that lies at the core of the postmodernist controversy: Do we want to continue to engage in the pleasure of reading as we know it, trusting the crafty author/lover with our textual satisfaction? Or do we opt for the bold journey to where no one has gone before, leaving behind the securities as well as the confinements of tradition?" (103). By means of content no less than form, If on a winter's night a traveler exposes its readers to some of the most relevant issues of literary production without providing an alternative, internally emphasizing the realities that exceed the text's boundaries in order to show how a pleasurable reading experience is contingent upon a carefully circumscribed set of possibilities. 40
CHAPTER TWO: "Do I look different as a work of art?" Thematically demonstrating the artist's embeddedness within commercial systems of art and media production, strategic representations of liveness are crucial to the four videos discussed in this chapter. Jankowski's strategy is circular, since each video can be defined (albeit in a limited sense) as the artist's recording of a televised event in which the artist himself is participating; each finished installation is thus the re-presentation of a televisual game predetermined by the artist and distinguished by live-on-air broadcasting conditions. As re-presentations, Jankowski's videos borrow from conventional forms of television, but transform the conventional televisual concept of liveness: each incorporates the presence of audiences dispersed around multiple institutional settings, which then overlap in the final considerationthat is, when the videos are accessed from their final site of installation in fine art galleries. From this final site, the figure to whom the videos are attributable occupies the dual role of videographer and performer, rendering visible the ways that his collaborative practices in popular media are identified as art. Following Johanna Drucker's understanding of "aesthetic," it is in the context of this final site that the videos shift out of phase with conventional television and "their mannered quality, their wrought-ness,' or display of artifice" (xiv) becomes apparent, revealing "the highly self-conscious process" by which these videos are identified as "art." Although Jankowski's role as videographer is far less visible than his role as live 41
performer, subtle modes of framing transform his participation in live televised events into an embedded aesthetic. Exhibiting the artist's body and skill as coextensive with networks of popular media production, Telemistica The Holy Artwork Talk Athens and Art Market TV disclose an "art world" whose horizons are surprisingly broad. As in Calvino's novel, visibility of the artist as creative subject or protagonist is an important feature of the four videos discussed here. Telemistica (1999) shows five fortune-tellers reading from Tarot as Jankowski, phoning from Venice, asks about the probability of success for his upcoming installation at the Venice Biennale. In The Holy Artwork (2001), Jankowski's act of collapsing on a televangelist's stage initiates a sermon on multi-dimensionality and the connections between art, religion, and television. Talk Athens (2003) features the artist silently provoking five notable professionals on the Greek talk show Get A Taste to discuss contemporary art in terms of its social and political value. Finally, Art Market TV (2008) shows two professional advertising presenters vending live from Art Cologne works by a variety of stars of the contemporary art worldincluding Art Market TV itself. As should be suggested by the description of these videos as re-presentations, the original broadcasts constituting Jankowski's videos do not appear to differ substantially from what is exhibited in their final installation. The transformative gesture of the artist is thus not a matter of expressive style or form, both of which he limits to the videos' respective contexts of mediation. Viewed as live broadcasts, for instance, Jankowski's participation in fortune-telling programs on Italian TV suggest nothing of art in the state of being performed (fig. 1); Jankowski is basically just like any other caller requesting a 42
Fig. 1. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. 43
reading from these media professionals and required to provide just as muchor, rather, as littleinformation. It is unclear from the videos whether Jankowski informed the fortune-tellers or their production team of his intention to record and reframe his participation in their shows, though he explicitly states that he is an artist concerned about the actualization of his next work. While their readings do demonstrate complicit sensibilities regarding commercial systems of art and media production (an important point to which this chapter's discussion will soon return), Telemistica 's five fortunetellers do not acknowledge that they are significant collaborators in what is to become Jankowski's actual contribution to the Venice Biennale. Unlike the video's exposure of Jankowski as a creative protagonist whose (in this case, disembodied) presence links the discontinuous sequence of psychic advice, the fortune-tellers are exposed as unsuspecting media professionals fully engaged with their own careers. The artist's participation in the San Antonio Harvest Fellowship Church service differs in that it is acknowledged at the outset as a performance, though a largely silent one. Pastor Peter Spencer is evidently informed of the artist's interest in creating "a bridge between art, religion, and television," and accordingly informs his viewerssome of whom are present as a live audience inside the churchof his own collaboration in the creation of "this artwork, this holy artwork." When Jankowski collapses on the stage, the pastor wastes no airtime before initiating his sermon (fig. 2). He even begins by directly acknowledging the performative character of the artist's act: "He just did about the last thing you would have expected him to do. He fell over. And you wonder whylet me tell you." 44
Fig. 2. Christian Jankowski. The Holy Artwork 2001. DVD (still), 15:46 min. Courtesy the artist. 45
Similarly, Jankowski's appearance on the Greek talk show Get A Taste is acknowledged as an artistic undertaking. The show's host, Bilio Tsoukala, explains: "This part of the show will become itself a work of art. The artist sitting behind me comes from Germany and he will remain silent throughout our discussion. He plans to turn this TV show into a work of art." Unlike those of Telemistica the media professionals involved in the production of the Harvest Fellowship Church service and the Greek talk show Get A Taste are all aware of their collaboration in what will become Jankowski's video installations. However, it is important to point out that their understanding of Jankowski's participation as basically performative or artistically invested neither transforms their broadcasted shows into art nor alters the shows' characters as consumable televised events. The shows run according to their normal schedules and retain the same basic structure as any other broadcast: Pastor Peter Spencer still interpolates his sermon with the Harvest Fellowship Praise Team's singing despite the presence of Jankowski's fallen body, for example, and Bilio Tsoukala introduces the closing studio performance of musician Melvin Sparks despite the artist's request for an additional minute of silence. At this point Milena Apostolaki, a Greek politician and former minister, excuses herself from the show; "I'm afraid I'm pressed for time," she says. ("I was sure about it," Bilio replies. "Politicians always are.") As its title suggests, the televised event re-presented in The Holy Artwork apparently resists sharing the status of ordinary television. However, the pastor's insistence that "what you're looking at today is not just a video, it's what's considered as holy art" indicates only the spiritual motive for his speech. The things he qualifies as 46
constituting "this piece of holy art"its variously dispersed audiences and their variously formed interpretations, the video cameras and their videographers, etc.in sum are not greater than what constitutes his program in every other instance. Of course, these contributing elements in sum are different than in every other instance. For Pastor Peter Spencer, the difference in itself is what makes art "a miraculous thing. Art is miraculous because we're able to every single day see something new that's never existed before." The pastor then justifies this definition by noting the uniqueness of "the human being" as sole receiver of God's image and breath: And that is where in-spirit or inspiration comes from, it's because of the spirit that we have. Beavers pretty much build dams as they have for thousands of years, birds build nests as they always havebut humans have the ability to create. But we're not creators, we're creative. And today you're seeing something which is creative. You're experiencing something new which only human beings can truly understand, of all this kingdom, phylum, sub-phylum, class, sub-class, or genus, family, or specieit's only the human being that can experience the creation of the new. Granted that the pastor is invested in maintaining a sense of God's ubiquitous influence over all domains of life, the religious tenor of his rhetoric connects this particular sermon to multitudes of other televangelical programs broadcast daily on basic cable television. The spiritual currency of "holy art" in this case is its capacity metaphorically to highlight complicated beliefs about human beings' relation to "the 47
painting of God;" the metaphor is significant insofar as it provides insight for viewers, allowing them to "thank the creator God for the gifts He's given to us." Supported by the docile presence of an artist collapsed before the congregation, Pastor Peter Spencer's sermon conflates aesthetic and religious terms, then appropriates experience of the former as fundamental awareness of the latter: "And so today we have to understand that the miracle of art is not because of we, the paintbrushes, or we, the cameras of life, but it's because of the great artist, the great creator who gave us the ability to feel inspiration by His power." Thus, it is not before some clever videographical re-framing that The Holy Artwork as an aesthetic object attributable to Christian Jankowski becomes visible. While those involved in the production of Art Market TV are likewise aware of their collaboration in what is to become the artist's reframed aesthetic material presenters John Dalke and Khadra Sufi are hired specifically to create a true-to-form home shopping channel unique to their several successive performances at Art Cologne 2008 (fig. 3). In other words, Art Market TV is not the re-presentation of a preexisting program. However, it constitutes the re-presentation of a performative game predetermined by the artist and made accessible to internet viewers via VernissageTV's live streaming platform. Based in Basel, Switzerland, VernissageTV's website streams video of "opening receptions (vernissages) of exhibitions and events. Online, worldwide, on demand. VernissageTV provides insight to the social side of the art world. For you, VernissageTV is talking with artists in a relaxed style." At a certain point in their presentation, John and Khadra connect with an anonymous caller who asks whether they are selling Franz West's garden sculpture or 48
Fig. 3. Christian Jankowski. Art Market TV 2008. DVD (still), 45:16 min. Courtesy the artist. 49
merely the artist's model. After Khadra announces that the original "was sold to France" and that the model's "actual price is 35,000 Euros," John asks the caller, "You would have been interested in the original?" Presumably, the caller was sincere in responding, "Yes, indeed, if the model is so expensive already... The original... Well, by Franz West... I thought, what a bargainlike in real TV shopping!" When informed that she is participating in what will become a repackaged work of art, the caller exclaims, "Oh my God!" The embedded participation of this accidental collaborator indicates that the performance's reception as a streaming program was defined by specific live-on-air conditions of commercial mediation; the caller thought it was "like in real TV shopping" because, in Khadra's words, "that's what it's meant to be!" Although witnesses to the live creation of Jankowski's art, museum-goers wandering past John and Khadra's performances of Art Market TV experienced far fewer possibilities for participation than those enticed to call the hotline. How then to understand the condition of being live if its effect is substantially different from one setting to the next? In the context of this chapter, liveness is what media studies scholar Nick Couldry refers to as "a category whose use naturalizes the general idea that, through the media, we achieve a shared attention to the realities' that matter for us as a society" (356). In other words, liveness as a category or concept of presence "guarantees a potential connection to shared social realities as they are 50
happening" (Couldry 355). 10 Jankowski's strategy of re-presenting live, shared forms of media in fine art installations effectively foregrounds certain background effects of media-generated sensibilities as related to relevant social "realities." For the four videos discussed in this chapter, the social reality of note is the unusual (but not unheard of) participation of contemporary art or artists in widely shared forms of media, especially those forms conventionally not associated with fine art worlds. Understood as a descriptive category for a specific sensibility regarding social participation, liveness is a meaningful term in relation to viewers of John and Khadra's streaming Art Cologne performance, but probably not to those present in Art Cologne's exhibition space; it is relevant to viewers watching the Harvest Fellowship Church service on television, but not to those seated among the congregation. This is because liveness conveys a contemporary concept of presence above and beyond what is physically within reach. With respect to the historicizing function of framing Jankowski's re-presentational practice as specifically postmodernist, we can see how his video installations highlight a "fundamental aspect of postmodern culture [that] may be described as a collapse of distinction between economic and cultural realms within capitalism...It is not that the cultural has deteriorated but, rather, that the social and economic have become cultural" (Auslander 10). As a concept of presence reflecting the conflation of the cultural and economic, liveness poses difficulties for traditional notions 51 10 It is likely in the case of Telemistica The Holy Artwork and Talk Athens that the shows were recorded and therefore were not broadcast simultaneously with their occurrence. In what sense, then, is liveness a relevant category of description? As regards these three videos, it is significant that Couldry characterizes as "potential" the connection guaranteed by concepts of liveness to be concurrent with "shared social realities as they are happening" (355). That the connection is potential underscores the fact that "television's liveness' continue[s] to be emphasized as one of its key selling points more than a decade after some argued video recording would mean the end of televisual liveness'" (355).
of critical distance: "the cultural can no longer presume to stand back from the economic/ political and comment on it from without" (Auslander 10). Yet, when accessed as the final art object attributable to video artist Christian Jankowski but familiar to any art audience habitually engaged in broadcast media, the liveness of his re-presented participation elicits an immediate critical reaction. Evidence of the artist's framing is subtle but transformative. In Telemistica Jankowski's role as a videographer is conveyed through the straightforward arrangement of five non-consecutive clips. Each clip perfectly encloses the artist's interactions with five television psychics, introduced by the five programs' respective title sequences: from "Studio di Parapsicologia" with Antonio Vitale, to "L'Altro modo di esistere" ("The other way to exist") with Barbara Feruglio, "Solo chi alla vita positivo, e pu dare un aiuto!!!" ("Only the one who smiles at life is positive, and can be of help!!!") with Medium Osvaldo, to Brahaman, and finally Chiara's "Ci che vale si reconferma nel tempo" ("That what matters reconfirms itself through time"). As a means of accentuating the artist's videographical gesture as both transformative and critical, Telemistica ends after Chiara wishes Jankowski "Good bye!" and reflects: "Anyhow, an artist is never satisfied with his work. There is always something to complain about. The mothers will always say, Oh how beautiful!' But I am different. Even when my son was born, I said, Gee, how ugly.'" Evidence of Jankowski's framing of The Holy Artwork is a little more visible. The video begins with a series of images filmed around and within San Antonio's Harvest Fellowship Church; a recording of a typical "song of praise" plays. Whether this is the 52
program's usual title sequence or the creative addition of Jankowski is unclear. The text "The Holy Artwork" then appears and cuts to a handheld video camera's view of Pastor Peter Spencer in front of an audience. The pastor's is heard, mid-sentence, saying: ...the body of Christ. So, we're going to have just a minute of prayer and, uh, as we go into this minute of prayer, I'm going to just, uh, communicate in a very interesting way. We have somebody who is with us here today who is going to do something very special, he's going to just take a couple of seconds here as I communicate to you. In fact, would you come up, Christian? This is Christian, he's from Germany. After Jankowski approaches the stage and says "Hello, hello Peter," the pastor continues, "You know, we're talking about, uh, art history. We're talking about how God is the ultimate artist. And so he shared something with me which was" Jankowski interrupts the pastor again mid-sentence, this time by falling to the floor. At the moment his body becomes a static presence on stage, the recording transitions from a digital camera held by Jankowski to studio film, already seen projected on a wall adjacent to the stage. The transition from handheld to studio cameras is paralleled by an interesting shift in the pastor's speech from an uncertain to prepared tone: after Jankowski's collapse, utterances like "uh" disappear even though the pastor continues to address the same studio camera and his congregation behind it. Moreover, with respect to the final installation, The Holy Artwork 's videographical transition discloses Jankowski's strategy of layering re-presented performance, whereby he is first behind the camera and then fully within its view. For certain viewers, The Holy Artwork may also disclose the artist's 53
embeddedness within a particular spiritual discourse. 11 Jankowski's fallen position in a televangelical context does carry specific metaphysical implications; in the pastor's words, "One of the things that is extremely important to understand as we watch this piece of art is that it took Christian emptying himself, falling down, no longer becoming the center of attention, to make this a great piece of art." The artist's strategy of layering performance becomes apparent in Talk Athens when, halfway through Bilio Tsoukala's mediated discussion, the producers of her show cut to a video of Jankowski observing various places and stages of the Outlook Art Exhibition's installments. Outlook, the viewers learns from Bilio, will host Jankowski's next installation after he processes the video from the show; Outlook is also the employer of Bilio's guest, art director Christos Joachimides. The disclosure of their collaboration obliquely suggests that all those involved in the show are connected through a network of commercial production. This network revolves around Christian Jankowski as videographer, a role that is visually distanced from the viewer, while simultaneously exposing his intrinsic participation or presence as a performer. Both aspects of his currency as a contemporary artist are acknowledged and valued by the Greek professionals: while he is invited onto the show as a performer prepared "to give a say to silence, to process the relationship between silence and speech," Bilio asks her guests to contextualize his videographical re-presentations within "a country with discourse at the foundation of its democracy." 54 11 For example, see Jeffrey Morton's "Making Art in an Age of Anxiety: the Character of Pluralism and the Construction of Meaning in Contemporary Art," Covenant College 2002.
If the title and appearance of Art Market TV conceal its aesthetic condition by approximating daytime television programming too closely, the suggestion of a unique artist coordinating its actualization becomes evident only toward the video's conclusion. In its final minutes, as John and Khadra respond to a caller's interest in Franz West's model, Jankowski's "ingenious idea" is explained and serves to introduce the next art object up for sale: The artist Christian Jankowski was born in 1968 in Gttingen. He is professor at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart. He makes conceptual art in the form of video installations and role plays. His work at the Art Cologne is being created at this very moment. This live broadcast on Vernissage TV is being recorded, and so is the work. Selling art via an online TV broadcast. Internet and TV viewers as part of the whole. An online TV show becomes a complex network of relations. The passive viewer is called on to understand his thoughts about the works, the artists, the hosts, and the art trade as part of the art trade. Only five copies of this broadcast will be entitled and signed by him. The resulting art is tradable again. It can be bought for a minimum price of 20,000 Euros for the first copy. And now, ladies and gentlemen, it will be put onto a DVD. That's the finished product. You can buy it. You can watch it. You are part of the completed work. Christian Jankowski. By repeating Jankowski's name, contextualizing his work, and explicitly underlining the value of the video being recorded, John's presentation affirms Jankowski's currency 55
within the contemporary art world that is Art Cologne, as well as highlighting the global network of producers and consumers in which Art Cologne participates. John validates this presentation somewhat by relating Jankowski to "conceptual art," although he is not necessarily referring to any particular set of principles known properly as Conceptual Art. 12 Nonetheless, Jankowski is positioned as a valuable contributor working from the same or similar critical precedent as other conceptual artists, especially those whose work is advertised via his online TV broadcast. John even articulates Jankowski's dual modes of production as "video installations and role plays;" perhaps his advertising expertise indicates that he woul d be twice as likely to capitalize on a twofold occupation. After all, John is the proclaimed "expert" of Art Market TV : "I am glad you will explain these works to us," Khadra says. "That's good for the people watching who might be interested in art." Social historian Michel de Certeau provides insight about John and Jankowski's roles in The Practice of Everyday Life when he describes a cleavage between the figurative forms of Expert and Philosopher: This cleavage organizes modernity... Both have the task of mediating between society and a body of knowledge, the first insofar as he introduces his speciality into the wider and more complex arena of sociopolitical decisions, the second insofar as he re-establishes the relevance of general questions to a particular technique (mathematics, logic, psychiatry, 56 12 That is, as it was perhaps first articulated in Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Artforum June 1967: "In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
history, etc.) In the Expert, competence is transmuted into social authority; in the Philosopher, ordinary questions become a skeptical principle in a technical field. (6-7) As the "expert," John is clearly introducing his speciality as an advertiser into what he calls "a complex network of relations," that is, "the works, the artists, the hosts, and the art trade as part of the art trade." Moreover, as a professional advertiser, John must make it his business to mediate the complex network of relations that is formed by "Internet and TV viewers as part of the whole" by catering to collective interests. Meanwhile, the artist is like Certeau's Philosopher; his contribution of a skeptical principle in a discursive field (i.e., the videos' invalidation of an art world distinct from popular culture or forms of mass media, or their invitation of an audience to practice critical distance) is attributed directly to him: "You can buy it. You can watch it. You are part of the completed work. Christian Jankowski." The very description of these videos' aesthetic as formal demonstration of the self-conscious process by which they identify as art indicates that the figure of the artist, like Certeau's Philosopher, plays a critical role in re-establishing "the relevance of general questions to a particular technique" (7), specifically that of video installation. The artist is not exposed in the innovation and implementation of the videographical strategies that reframe his televisual material. In that sense, his role as a video artist is not embedded in the videos as a live practice. Ironically, however, the effect of this underlying role in the videos' fine art context is that it re-presents his presence in broadcast media as indicative of something more than just live participation. 57
Despite the decidedly not-live conditions of his video installations, Jankowski's presence corroborates a process of creativity and production that occurs at the same time as it is being recorded. Thus, the final installations depict the artist to whom they are attributable as a protagonist embedded in a series of live creative acts. At the same time, Jankowski's presence guarantees his authority as author as well as the aesthetic value of his videos (with the exception of Art Market TV which relies almost exclusively on the authority of a media expert). Furthermore, the live conditions of the artist's participation in shared forms of media elicit similarly live moments of critical perception and reflection about the videos' contexts as fine art installations. For example, insofar as the video editing of Telemistica represents a significant and meaningful contribution of Jankowski's videographical ingenuity, Chiara's closing sentiment refers allusively to the presence of critical motives informing his contribution as performer. Chiara's tone is both critical and defiant of conventions: "The mothers will always say, Oh how beautiful!' But I am different. Even when my son was born, I said, Gee, how ugly.'" As soon as she hears that Jankowski is "working on an art piece that is finished, that is almost finished," Chiara insistently expresses her belief that "an artist is never satisfied!... There is always something to cut and adjust. Am I right?" Jankowski does not deny her assertion. By characterizing the artist as "never satisfied" (fig. 4) and herself as "different" from mothers whose appreciation is unconditional, Chiara aligns herself with the artist-protagonist of her fortune-telling: both apparently mediate between society and a body of knowledge by means of critical expression. 58
Fig. 4. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. 59
Certeau's distinction between the Expert's and Philosopher's respective modes of mediation again provides some insight: in this case, the fortune-tellers are like the Expert, since they introduce their special ability to read Tarot into a wider and more complex arena of interpersonal decisions. Of course, the fortune-tellers' expertise informs those decisions that literally give substance to the artist's production; they are responding, after all, to Jankowski's desire "to know if this idea that came to me is good, if it is interesting, if it is sufficient and original." In its final form, then, Telemistica actually conflates their "curiously similar and contrasting" modes of cultural mediation. It would be difficult to ignore the fact that all of the five re-presented television psychics broadcast favorable outcomes for Jankowski's next project. In this sense, the fortune-tellers of Telemistica reveal a serious investment in the world of fine art production with which (via Jankowski) they are communicating. By reading positivity in the cards drawn for the artist, the fortune-tellers consent to actualize his successeven in spite of the commercial visibility with which Jankowski is already embedded by virtue of asking about the realization of his new work. Their contributions are then viewed ironically from the perspective of Telemistica 's fine art audience, for whom the represented predictions are necessarily true. "Will I realize my new work? Will I find some people who will help me to complete my work?" Telemistica makes the answers to these questions self-evident, while at the same time highlighting the professional idiosyncrasies of televised fortune-telling. This last point is illustrated by Barbara Feruglio's response to Jankowski's interest in the realization and completion of his work: "From what I can see, you will definitely 60
be a successful person in life. I see it and if I tell you this, that means it is so. You are a winner." Osvaldo responds to a similar question by exclaiming, "Look! There isn't a negative card, you only need more will power. Don't believe those who speak in a negative fashion or who inspire doubt." Both Barbara and Osvaldo attach value to the figure of the artist rather than the object of his interest. From the perspective of Telemistica 's fine art audience, the fortune-tellers' misplaced attachment foregrounds the ironic sense in which Jankowski's currency as an artist is constantly reified in spite of his obvious strategic reliance on chance and collaboration. By virtue of its re-presented form, one would expect that Telemistica would reveal the artist's embeddedness within a larger context of commercial production and consumption. Yet, Telemistica undertakes a double exposure: Jankowski's subtle reframing renders the video artist and the television psychics as mutually embedded in a past moment that imagines a future. The video opens the possibility that these fortunetellers are aware that their careers stand to benefit from their encounter with Jankowski (fig. 5). Accordingly, Barbara Feruglio emphasizes how she is linked to the artist by "a strange destiny:" Barbara associates herself with Jankowski by means of their temporary affiliations with the Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition that has become increasingly international ("everybody knows about its enormous prestige") since its inception as long ago as 1895. Moreover, Barbara congratulates Jankowski on being a "winner" and redundantly qualifies her input: "I'm not just telling you this because, as the people who know me know, I always tell what I think. I am not just telling you this to make you happy or anything else. It will be like this. Even if I don't 61
know you, from these cards I can tell that you are a winner." Finally, Barbara clearly positions herself "on the side of the young artists and on the side of the intelligent people with ideas who want to get somewhere. So, all the best. And remember what I told you: you will do it!" Given their five distinct predictions of success, it seems reasonable to infer that the fortune-tellers acknowledge the professional danger in negatively forecasting the outcome of a publicized occurrence (whereas, in predicting the success of what might not turn out to be successful, there is relatively little injury). The inference is reasonable insofar as these fortune-tellers are considered, like Certeau's Expert, to be special agents of mediation between Italian television viewers and a body of parapsychological knowledge. They exhibit a privileged relationship to a body of knowledge that can never speak for itself and that, for the sake of televisual professionalism and effectiveness, is truncated to an abrupt and cursory practice (fig. 6). Of course, the stakes are especially high for psychic professionals to align themselves successfully by providing a reading that is satisfying for the caller, if not necessarily accurate. Generally, fortune-telling programs do not accommodate public desires to follow up on the effects of their mediation. Thus, Medium Osvaldo, though he "can't tell you too much," expresses that "at the very least there will be something positive. All the best from the bottom of my heart to this artist, to this very exceptional being." Interestingly, in The Holy Artwork Pastor Peter Spencer initiates a sermon on the "many dimensions" necessary to produce a coherent broadcast, thereby vocalizing the embedded conditions of Jankowski's participation: 62
Fig. 5. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. Fig. 6. Christian Jankowski. Telemistica 1999. DVD (still), 22:55 min. Courtesy the artist. 63
You see, when Christian fell down, he's basically like a person who's dead. He's like the paintbrush, but now we transferhe's like the video camera, he was here recording but he's only an instrument. And when he fell, his camera is no longer being usedno, instead of just a single camera, there's another camera which you're watching. In fact there are many people who are going to work on this project to make it happen. Art is not just for a single person, art is actually an event which occurs because of many people. Jankowski's embeddedness in this broadcast of Harvest Fellowship Church has an added layer of irony in that the pastor's sermon takes every opportunity to dispossess the artist's silent, fallen figure of the creative gestures ultimately attributed to him. The pastor's use of Jankowski's body as an instrument of his metaphysical agenda reveals how both professionals are invested in representing their collaboration. Nancy Spector points out that, "even though Jankowski intended this piece to function exclusively as a work of art, he was satisfied to learn that the pastor aired the sermon on his local Christian TV channel, proving that the collaboration was mutually beneficial" (160). As its name suggests, The Holy Artwork is valuable to an evangelical television audience as well as to fine art spectators seeking an aesthetic experience. Similar to Telemistica Jankowski's re-presentation of the televangelical service allows the pastor's sermon to communicate certain idiosyncrasies of religious professionalism. More important to the purpose of this thesis, however, is that the pastor's metaphysical agendahis promotion of "multi-dimensionality"reflects 64
Jankowski's interest in making visible the undeniable contribution of various social actors (some knowingly involved and some unsuspecting) connected to the artist through intricate networks of production and consumption. He literally became "like a person who's dead," assuming an ironic distance as a performer such that he verifies the pastor's principle: "Art is not just for a single person, art is actually an event which occurs because of many peopleyou see, there would be no artist if there wasn't a canvas and a paintbrush, but there'd be no purpose for the canvas and the paintbrush if there weren't people to watch and look at the art." In Talk Athens Jankowski is again ironically distant in his performance as "a silent witness" of the discussion "he plans to turn...into a work of art." Though Bilio ascribes some agency to the artist by explaining his performance as a decision "to give a say to silence, to process the relationship between silence and speech," she later reveals that Jankowski does not understand Greek in the first place. As in The Holy Artwork the artist offers his body for others to mediate; here, however, Jankowski is alienated from the mediation of his collaborators not by passive embodiment but by a vast linguistic gulf. How does Jankowski realize his paradoxical desire "to give a say to silence"? Insofar as he is unable meaningfully to contribute to the discussion, Jankowski subverts a conventional view of artists as mediators or interpreters of their work (like Wimsatt and Beardsley's "Intentional Fallacy"); in silence, he says that he alone is not responsible. Thus, the Greek professionals assume a certain responsibility in generating knowable aspects of the artist with the intention of producing knowable aspects of his position within an art world of national significance. They reveal this sense of 65
responsibility by emphasizing the uniqueness of the event as well as the artist's initiative: Christos Joachimides, for example, claims that "in Greece this is the first time we approach modern art in a hitherto unknown way. Hence the presence of our friend and great artist, Christian Jankowski, who will give us a first taste of what is about to happen in Greece." Bilio begins the discussion by asking about political discourse and whether "Christian's idea for this video is politically motivated," continuing to question her guests throughout the show such that they collaborate in an intricate investigation of the artist's motives even as they verbally capitalize on their own careers. "Tell us why Christian has chosen our channel for his video," Bilio asks Mr. Joachimides. He finally responds, after some clarification of his use of the word "art," that Jankowski decided to appear on Get A Taste "because it's a good program and he's learnt from friends that you'd understand better what he's trying to do." Despite his silence, Jankowski is not exempt from their production of a discourse in which each professional reinforces the expertise (whether political, financial, or historical) of the others. The artist still exhibits his presence in a series of engaged postures (physically very close to the talking guests), which are simultaneously filmed and exhibited on a large screen behind the panel as a series of close-ups on his face. As in Telemistica the Greek producers and participants alike demonstrate an awareness that their careers stand to benefit from the encounter (especially when the artist's silence allows them to re-present his name as "one of the biggest...in the world of modern art"). Thus, the show's speakers praise the opportunity to have met Jankowski with surprising enthusiasm; Bilio even touches his face and calls him "cute." 66
Only in Art Market TV is some live aspect of the artist's presence not directly perceptible. Even at the end of John and Khadra's presentation, when the cameras revolve to show a handful of museum-goers and an editorial or production booth, Jankowski is nowhere to be seen. Yet, unlike the three preceding videos, the live production of Art Market TV is already positioned within a contemporary art world. Rather than shifting a commercial mass media context onto a site of fine art, Art Market TV delivers fine art from its own site of commercial mediation. That Jankowski plays with mediated concepts of presence is indeed a significant contribution to the contemporary art world, whose constituent histories, judgments, and critiques in general continue to preserve a sense of autonomy for the realm of fine art. Compared to the QVC network, for example, or televangelist programs, the worlds of fine art production and circulation are far more closed off from mediated possibilities of connection. In an effort to be accessible to wider audiences, museums may offer prerecorded guided tours, but even these tend to stick to terse textbook histories and biographical information. Yet, as Philip Auslander points out, "postmodernism itself would not exist were it not for the increased capacity for storing and distributing information" created by the ubiquity of mass media and development of related technologies, "forming information banks and image banks that become sources for postmodernist aesthetic practices based on image appropriation" (17). Thus, the televisual parameters Jankowski establishes for John and Khadra's performance in Art Market TV open a fine art world to be accessed by anyone calling the hotline. Moreover, in The Holy Artwork and Talk Athens participants express their gratitude and pleasure for the rare 67
opportunity to be involved in a work of art as it is occurring; Nicos Vernicos, Greek businessman and art collector, goes further by describing modern art as "the most accessible form of art" because, "with modern art, you derive enough satisfaction from getting to know the work itself and the artist. The fact that I met Christian today was a great pleasure to me. Tomorrow I'll decide to buy one of Christian's works." Mr. Vernicos relates no other experience of meeting a contemporary artist, adding extra value within the context of the video to Jankowski's participatory project. Jankowski's mode of re-presenting televisual material within which he performs as a participant discloses his role as an intentional fine art producer. The media professionals and unsuspecting participants re-presented along with the artist are similarly exposed as intentional producers of their respective mtier, whether it relates to mediation or consumption or both. The videos' thematic exposure of each collaborator's careerist trajectory thus possibilizes a field of inquiry into the cultural conditions that shape shared forms of media like television and the internet as distinct from the world in which fine art appears. By "framing" as art what appears to be ordinary television programming, the videos effectively call into question the apparatus of mediation that is being framed: how do we conceptualize our relation to this form of media? How is that different from the way we conceptualize our relation to the contemporary art world? In such a world, where re-presentations of apparently ordinary materials are exhibited in institutions that stand to profit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a network of fine art consumers, what does it mean for an art object to disclose the embeddedness of its aesthetic conditions? 68
The sense of liveness accompanying Jankowski's televisual participation obscures the fact that his videos represent not himself per se, but his own artist-subject, the protagonist of his art practice. This is another indication of the videos' interest in the ironic distance between creator and creation: despite a relevant history of critical attempts to eliminate intentions from the discussion of aesthetic objects, any discussion of the dynamic experience accompanying Jankowski's work will inevitably focus on Jankowski. The very visibility of Jankowski's body guarantees that: like the televisual contexts in which it appears (e.g., The Holy Artwork and Talk Athens ), his body is another represented form. Additionally, the use of his name is meant to refer to his body, his ability, his product (e.g., in Telemistica and Art Market TV ); yet in naming, by name, Jankowski's currency as an art-protagonist participating in a larger commercial scene is constantly repeated and affirmed (e.g., Chiara's knowledge "that what matters reconfirms itself through time"). Foregrounding exposure as strategy and embeddedness as condition, these four videos play with ambiguities regarding the discursive relationship of art and artist. In doing so, they necessarily implicate those invested in an "intentional fallacy" by which the artist's intent and name guarantees the value of his work: the critical oversight (obsoleteness, even) of art isolated from artist, of text from context, is communicated by Jankowski's visibility within his own videos. 69
CHAPTER THREE: "Welcome MoMA's most sacred icons to the Periphery" Organized by Francis Als and sponsored by the Public Art Fund, The Modern Procession refashioned the form of a traditional saint's day parade in honor of The Museum of Modern Art's historic transition from midtown Manhattan to MoMA QNS in Long Island City. Involving more than one hundred and fifty uniformed participants, the procession's successful march from 53rd Street to Queens Boulevard depended upon the collaboration and coordination of art workers, artists, musicians, animals, art reproductions, palanquins, palanquin bearers, and the N.Y.P.D. Als displaced "MoMA's most sacred icons" from the institutional frames (i.e., museum walls) that confirm their value as aesthetic objects, yet The Modern Procession engaged participants and spectators by re-imagining these frames in public spaces. Thus, The Modern Procession draws the notion of sublime aesthetic experience into its own ritualized texture translating that notion into the recognizable form of a paradeat the same time as it underlines the fundamental arbitrariness of the ways that certain objects are selected to elicit aesthetic experiences. Accessed by art audiences in the streets of New York as well as through comprehensive documentation of Als's creative improvisations (in the forms of multimedia installation and a printed publication), The Modern Procession provides public access to the process by which a live event is identified as art. Set in motion at nine o'clock on June 23rd, 2002, the procession basically resembled numerous other city parades. For instance, many New Yorkers are intimately 70
familiar with the pageantry of "St. Patrick's Day, Columbus Day, Puerto Rican Day, Israel Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Gay Pride and, of course, those historic moments signaled by the city's ultimate gift, a ticker-tape parade up the canyon of heroes,' lower Broadway, reserved for returning soldiers, astronauts, Olympic athletes, and the New York Yankees" (Eccles 10). One witness concisely described the procession as a crowd slowly moving under the solemn and somewhat sad processional tunes blown by a Peruvian brass band; a riderless black horse, scared to the end of its tail by the hubbub of the megalopolis, trying to walk in pace with the confident humans; someone in the marching crowd sowing rose petals onto the hot asphalt leaving a dotted red path along the entire route; multicolored banners weaving high above the crowd and snapping in the ocean breeze; palanquin bearers within the crowd carrying a few sacred icons from the MoMA collection...MoMA employees (from curators to technical staff) all wearing shirts signed "The Modern Procession"...carried dead and live icons of the Western art world under the curious gaze of surprised passersby and emotionless video cameras... (Esanu) Public Art Fund's archive on the event, which it sponsored in collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art, reports the presence of over one hundred and fifty uniformed participants in the march, including the twelve-member Banda de Santa Cecilia a soccer team, as well as some attendant dogs. The "sacred icons" of the procession were 71
reproductions of Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon Duchamp's readymade Bicycle Wheel and Giacometti's Standing Woman #2 together ostensibly representing the museum's most cherished treasures (fig. 7). The "live icon" fronting the reproductions was contemporary artist Kiki Smith, held aloft on a sedan chair and dressed entirely in black. Reading and responding to the ephemeral performance that is The Modern Procession poses certain difficulties. How does one retrospectively compute an event integrally comprised of a particular time, space, and set of moving bodies? Perhaps event is a misleading designation for The Modern Procession which by other accounts is termed a project ; indeed, Als is known in the art world for organizing, documenting, and exhibiting a number of other projects that cover "a wandering space' and [are] rich in art-historical, political, and religious references" (Goldberg 102). As one such project, The Modern Procession then did not simply conclude when the icons reached their destination in Long Island City; rather, the procession continues to interact with the legacy it commemorates as a textual field of activity comprising video recording, photographs, two-dimensional mock-ups, e-mail correspondences, participant reflections, and the reactions of local media professionals, first exhibited as an installation at MoMA and later preserved in a Public Art Fund print publication. In this way, The Modern Procession echoes the improvisational, indeterminate, and interactive spirit of Fluxus, whose repertoire includes object-based "anthologies" such as Fluxkit (fig. 8), "a vinyl 72
Fig. 7. Francis Als. The Modern Procession 2002. Photographic documentation. Public Art Fund and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy David Zwiner. 73
attach case housing...event scores, texts, and Fluxbox' games or puzzles" (Pellico 94) by various artists. 13 In Public Art Fund's book about the event, RoseLee Goldberg quotes Alsan architect and urbanist before his "gradual transition into the art world"as saying, The freedom in the art field is enormous. You can act quickly, which is impossible in the heavy architecture-machine, and even less so in the bureaucratic urbanist system. You can improvise on the spot and invent guerrilla tactics as you go and still maintain relative control of the process... Often, I am just the coordinator, the producer of a project which others will realize, hopefully appropriately, whether it's painting, animation, video, or live events. (101) Here, Als confirms Barthes's idea that the text "can be read without the guarantee of its father," whose project is literally handed over for others to "gather...up as play, activity, production, practice" (161-2). Because of their participation, Als's project (like Barthes's notion of the text) is not "caught up in a process of filiation" whereby the artist possesses a unique status in relation to the production that is accredited to him (160). Rather, The Modern Procession existed as a participatory movement of bodies through public space, and remains in the public domain in the form of a printed publication (which, incidentally, includes a DVD with looping footage). 74 13 Fluxkit was originally assembled by Fluxus artist George Maciunas in three versions, each containing somewhere between twenty and forty objects to be held in hand and manipulated. A recent exhibition (September 2011-January 2012) at MoMA PS1 entitled "Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions 1962-1978" invited six artistsMieko Shiomi, Alison Knowles, Dora Maurer, Anna Ostoya, Cory Arcangel, and William Pope.Lto unpack and play with a Fluxkit See
Fig. 8. Fluxus Collective. Fluxkit 1964-65. Mixed media. Assembled by George Maciunas. 28 x 44 x 38 cm. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit. 75
In his collaboration with the Public Art Fund, Als was explicit about his intentions to evoke a processional "carrying [of] the icons of a church through the streets of New York," as appropriate to "an institution of almost religious significance" (Eccles 10-1). Writing about public commemorative displays ("spontaneous shrines") as ritualistic, political performances, Jack Santino offers a way of thinking about "ritual as dramatic social enactments that are thought by the participants to have some transformational or confirmatory agency and that they derive this power from an overarching parahuman authority, such as a deity, the state, or an institution such as a universityrather than ritual in the sense of custom or, even more broadly, routine" (126). Like the familiar "Latino Day of the Dead rituals and celebrations...New Orleans jazz funerals...and regional homecomings and Decoration Day traditions," whose function, Santino argues, is to place the deceased "back into the fabric of society," The Modern Procession transferred several art objects from their static situation on the walls of The Modern to "the middle of areas of commerce and travel, and into everyday life as it is being lived" (Santino 132). Like public rites of passage as they "are generally accepted among scholars as a social mechanism of status change" (Santino 129), the procession gained transformational agency for participants and observers invested in the legacies and institutional functions of The Museum of Modern Art. For Santino, rituals are always public in the sense that "an audience of some kind is necessary to witness and validate the changes wrought by the ritualor, at least, proclaimed by it" (126). Indeed, the presence of a witnessing public waiting for or simply stumbling upon the result of Als's organization was necessary for MoMA's relocation 76
from its famous midtown Manhattan location to become socially meaningful rather than just institutionally functional. Thus, the procession adapts a familiar ritual form to honor The Museum of Modern Art in a way that is recognizable to New Yorkers not only by its association with other city parades and saint's day celebrations (like the Feast of San Gennaro in lower Manhattan), but also because it symbolically evokes a local geographic distinction. According to Tom Eccles, Als's procession draws on a cultural generalization that the "four most stressful times in the life of any family are birth, marriage, death, and moving house. In New York, you might add a fifth: moving from Manhattan to an outer borough" (10). Even Als refers to the procession in his introductory speech as a welcoming of "MoMA's most sacred icons to the Periphery" (7), presumably implying that Queens is culturally peripheral to the Manhattan art scene. Reflecting on the distance between 53rd Street MoMA and its temporary headquarters in Queens, James Panero states that "the psychological separation between the real estate of midtown and the low industrial terrain of Long Island City could not be greater" (n. pag.). Panero makes clear that Queens Boulevard, with "its ethnic makeup, the plantain fruit stands, its access by way of the Number 7 subway line" (n. pag.), is considered to be culturally peripheral. Not every participant in the art world honored by The Modern Procession felt honored. According to Panero, one of the editors of The New Criterion (a magazine of cultural criticism founded by Hilton Kramer), The Modern Procession was "[o]ne illconceived publicity stunt," further eliciting the concern: 77
that MoMA's historical crisis between its own formalist canonization of twentieth-century art, under Barr and Rubin, and its interests in contemporary art, for example, may finally come to a head and dramatically alter the former balance of the future museum... What role the permanent collection of twentieth-century art may play in the new museum, and how it might compliment, contend with, outshine, background, or be held hostage by new exhibitions, rehangings, bogus curators, bad artists, or the minor arts (design and media) will determine how the future art histories are written. MoMA QNS is a kind of horizontal drafting sheet for the new permanent museum, and this first draft can be chilling at times. (n. pag.) Here Panero seems to express a fear that performance art and postmodernist strategies of appropriation will either diminish or destroy the sacrosanct status and significance of The Modern's collection. Such objections are almost ritually invested in The Museum of Modern Art as a kind of matrix of culture, since individual pieces of its permanent collection have become closely identified with the established MoMA in midtown. For example, New York-based anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi notes that Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon functions as an obvious representative "object of a modernist cult" (25). Beginning with the claim that "there may be no construction more deserving of our admiration than the simple combination of museum' and modern' and art'" (n. pag.), The New Criterion article communicates an exclusive, cultist attitude. 78
Public Art Fund director Tom Eccles indicates that in "conversations with everyone at MoMA," The Modern Procession was not immediately perceived as an appropriate contribution to their collection; rather, there were numerous questions as to what exactly the project was. Was it a procession or a film of a procession? Was it a tribute to the collection or an elaborate send-up? Was it a celebration or a funeral? Museums are often better with objects than with artists, and while the Modern has expended considerable efforts to collaborate with artists, its focus remains deeply rooted in the predominance of its collection. (11) Not long after Als's initial interactions with MoMA regarding his plans for the procession, the museum found it necessary to clarify "its position by stating that it would not commission works that re-presented or reinterpreted works within its collection but would exhibit such works after their production. For example, a film of The Modern Procession could be screened by the museum but the procession itself could not be commissioned" (Eccles 14). Despite fears that the procession would diminish the sacrosanct status of modern art, its public performance of a rite of passage restored to the icons a sense of what Walter Benjamin called "the here and now of the work of artits unique existence in a particular place" (1053)that is, the aura that guarantees the concept of its authenticity. In "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility" (1936-9), Benjamin argues that "the unique value of the authentic' work of art has its basis in ritual, the source of its original use value" (1056). Ironically, the ritually paraded icons are 79
reproductions of originals (with the exception of Kiki Smith, of course); the presence of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel is particularly fitting since it already represents a critique of authenticity. Benjamin describes the social basis of the aura's contemporary decay as "the desire of the present-day masses to get closer' to things spatially and humanly, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing's uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction" (1055). In light of this, the reactions of The New Criterion and even The Museum of Modern Art disclose their serious investment in modernist aura. Inviting "masses to get closer' to things spatially and humanly," The Modern Procession confronted uniqueness by assimilating reproductions, apparently contributing to the decay of aura as Benjamin understands it. At the same time, however, the procession ritualized The Modern's reproductions with "the here and now" of its unique existence in public streets. The aforementioned disdainful reviews of The Modern Procession thus indicate an elitist concern regarding not just the possibility that aura has diminished from The Modern's permanent collection, but more importantly regarding the possibility that this aura has become public, popular, and shared in New York's culturally peripheral boroughs. Although the procession only literally "took place" once, The Modern Procession as a text comprises a whole field of activities and objects that continue to "take place" in Public Art Fund archives and museums as symbolic commemorations of MoMA's historic transition and relocation. For example, after June 23, The Modern Procession was exhibited as an installation at The Museum of Modern Art (fig. 9). In the installation view, a series of untitled two-dimensional studies by Als sketches in oil and pencil 80
with collaged elements on tracing paper show a circling procession of musicians, dogs, and followers bearing famous works of MoMA's collection, seemingly cut out from MoMA's ticket vouchers and exhibition catalogues Displayed under an acrylic sheeting on the surface of pine tables, these preparatory studies were situated (currently they are not on display) in front of a two-channel video recording of the event. Stools lining the tables invited viewers to participate by identifying the processional as a prepared, extensively documented event. Whereas The Museum of Modern Art indicated much hesitation when posed the project of parading its icons in the streets of New York, The Modern Procession 's installation audiences were given access to the same project from a totally different perspective: for them, The Modern Procession was already a text, a transparent process of collaboration displayed under transparent acrylic sheeting. In several preparatory studies, Kiki Smith's place atop Als's hand-drawn sedan chair was to be given to Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (fig. 10), a reproduction of Frida seated with scissors and surrounded by writhing black locks of hair. With an expression of solemn determination on Kahlo's face and a clearly oversized black suit swallowing her figure, the painting is echoed in the processional costume of Kiki Smith, whose body (observed above the tables in two-channel video) was cloaked by a black dress and whose hair flows down to her shoulders. Painted shortly after Kahlo divorced Diego Rivera, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair marks a departure from Kahlo's earlier self-portraits, where she often appears in traditional Mexican costume and flowing hair; above her newly cropped head, lyrics belonging to a Mexican song frame the canvas: "Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you 81
Fig. 9. Francis Als. The Modern Procession 2002. Mixed media installation with twochannel video. Approx. 102 x 83 x 213 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fig. 10. Francis Als. Untitled (Study for The Modern Procession) 2001. Collage, oil, and pencil on tracing paper. 20! x 30 cm. John Kaldor Family Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich. 82
are without hair, I don't love you anymore" (MoMA 181). The audio program for MoMA's collection remarks in reference to this painting that Kahlo would always insist on the documentary character of her work and its intimate relation to real lived events in her life... We know from other images and photographs that to all who knew Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the thirties and forties that the suit would have been instantly recognized as an attribute of Rivera's. There is something simultaneously both very tender and yet aggressive, in the sense of putting on someone else's suit to take on, in this case, at least Rivera's artistic identity for herself and redefine it in her own terms. (Umland) Unlike (or, at least, more so than) her male contemporaries, Kahlo had to establish her career as independent enterprise. Patronized at times by the press and Breton's Surrealists who claimed her as their own, Kahlo's "stylistic inspirations were chiefly Mexican, especially nineteenth-century religious painting, and she would say, I do not know if my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most frank expressions of myself'" (MoMA 181). In this case, the frank expression of her anger and hurt symbolically serves to sever Kahlo's ties with Rivera at the same time they are reinforced. One observer describing the procession interpreted the performance of Smith's presence also in terms of purposive separation: apparently, she looked like "a peaceful yet determined Medea who has just betrayed her father" (Esanu). Similar to Kahlo's representation in the MoMA, Smith's work is also "caught up in a process of filiation" (Barthes 160) as it is often contextualized by the figure of a 83
familiar man. In Arnason's History of Modern Art for example, Smith is importantly linked to her father, "Tony Smith, whose work marked a pivotal change from the physical process of the Abstract Expressionist to the intellectual geometry of Minimalism," despite the editor's or revising author's recognition that "there are no formal similarities in the appearance of the work by father and daughter" (737). Sarah Lack's description of Smith in Oxford's Grove Art Online states that "her influences came not from her father...but from his female contemporaries Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Lee Bontecou." In a certain sense, Smith's performance as MoMA's living icon reinforces the official history of her career as it is generated from within an art world constituted by the museum, its critics, and other authors: even while her living body is shrouded as if in mourning, Smith's presence superficially supports the illusion of the institution's gender parity. 14 Tom Eccles recounts Als's decision to include Kiki Smith as a "living icon" differently, referring to her presence in terms of Smith's symbolic representation of "a generational bridge[as] an artist who had participated in the cultural life of New York's art world from childhood, through the evolution of the East Village scene, as a member of Collaborative Projects, and as a rare individual artist who has chosen her own oftenidiosyncratic path without ever denigrating the work of others" (14). Smith's presence in The Modern Procession "can be read without the guarantee of [her] father" (Barthes 161) 84 14 As the headings of well known Guerrilla Girls' posters tell art audiences: "THESE GALLERIES SHOW NO MORE THAN 10% WOMEN ARTISTS OR NONE AT ALL"; "THESE CRITICS DON'T WRITE ENOUGH ABOUT WOMEN ARTISTS"; "WHAT DO THESE ARTISTS HAVE IN COMMON? THEY ALLOW THEIR WORK TO BE SHOWN IN GALLERIES THAT SHOW NO MORE THAN 10% WOMEN ARTISTS OR NONE AT ALL." See Anne Teresa Demo, "The Guerrilla Girls' Comic Politics of Subversion," Women's Studies in Communication 23:2 (2000): 133-156. The Guerrilla Girls' official website additionally states that, "In the Spring of 1997, Margit Rowell, a curator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a show called Objects of Desire: the Modern Still Life.' Our supporters sent her thousands of these cards urging her to change the title to The Objects of MOMA's Desires are Still White Males.' She never relented or added more women artists or male artists of color, but every art review of the exhibition noted her discriminating ways."
because she is a public figure, recognizable to some New Yorkers as a respected local engaged in the city's art scene. Thus, Smith plays an important part as regards the procession's social function of providing greater accessibility to modern art. Arnason's History of Modern Art views Smith's work thematically, aligning her career with a performance of sexuality and mortality, and pointing to her characteristic reliance "on the viewer to encounter [her] sculptures while being fully aware of the strangeness of physical existence" (Arnason 737). The enormous second edition of Art Since 1900 remarks about Smith that "if there is a primary drive evoked in her work, it is the death drive" (689). Indeed, her costume in The Modern Procession evoked a funerary atmosphere, while her "regal and serene posture atop the crowd" (Eccles 15) and palanquin bearers distanced viewers from her liveliness and physicality. A riderless black horse in the lead added considerably to this atmosphere, since "an unmounted horse often leads burial cortges in our military traditiona remnant, perhaps, of the ancient Eurasian practice of burying horses with dead warriors" (Pellizzi 21). Describing a key act of trans-lation of the corpse by a procession of mourners, wherein the participants can become the living, visible, experienced sign of both the person's disappearance as physical presence and his or her lingering as mnemonic image" (21), Francesco Pellizzi reiterates the procession's ritual function of confirming institutional transformation. The MoMA's collection is commemorated not only by the few modern representatives reproduced or invited by Als, but also by the procession's participantsart workers, a soccer team, the Peruvian bandwhose shirts are "all embroidered with a red Modern Procession stencil across the back" (Eccles 15). If some 85
aspects of the procession evoke a sense of mourning, the embroidered costumes indicate more of a triumph: they anticipate and proclaim the museum's transformation as the direct result of participants' collective effort. Insofar as the procession's participants are culturally invested in their participation, moreover, the processional image manifests its power, the magic of its nature which makes of it, in this sense, a "fetish." The collectivity's movement with the object endows it with a life that at the same time expresses and transcends its particular worldly condition, as well as that of the collectivity itself, at any given moment, in any given place...it also reaffirms both the "corporeality," that is, the everlasting presence of the saint-hero (in Als's processional piece, of the "artist-hero") and the corporate nature of the community, its "body," through the pain and effort of carrying and marching. (Pellizzi 22) Marching with reproductions of three masterpieces and a living art icon through the streets of New York City, the presence of Als's participants contributes to the visibility of the art world that their labor literally supports; they are publicly marked as belonging to an institution that, under normal circumstances, strictly maintains a separation between domains of art distribution and reception. Henry Bial, like Santino, points out that "rituals exemplify and reinforce the values and beliefs of the group that performs them," emphasizing "efficacy over entertainment, adherence to tradition over technical virtuosity" (87). While The Modern Procession was ritually efficacious for its participants, it was probably entertaining for 86
many spectators as well. Likewise, the installation view and Public Art Fund publication reveal how Als's process involved both tradition and technical virtuosity. For example, every detail of the procession is carefully considered in the mock-ups (though some are virtually illegible), suggesting the formal precision of an artist interested in coming as close as possible to the performance of a "real" ritual procession. Victor Turner, whose "Liminality and communitas" (1969) "emphasizes the liminal, or in-between, status of the ritual subject, suggest[s] that this aspect of ritual can lead to a feeling of communitas a social bond between participants...For Turner, rituals are part of social dramas' that allow a culture to maintain a balance between what he calls structure and antistructure'" (Bial 87). Indeed, The Modern Procession balanced efficacy and entertainment, tradition and technical virtuosity, as well as the "high culture" domain of Manhattan and "low culture" domain of Queens. Like Barthes's notion of the text, The Modern Procession poses useful "problems of classification...because it always involves a certain experience of limits," and this "is furthermore one of its social' functions" (157). After summarizing a processional history of "art accompan[ying] the victor home," Pellizzi underlines a contemporary condition whereby "an intricate network of loans and counter-loans regulates the circulation of art objects, aesthetic things,' between public and private institutions throughout the world" (25). Usually the signs of this highly computed "global flow of art and, of course, of its innumerable images and copies" (Pellizzi 25) are erased by the blank spacethe framingof galleries and museums. The Modern Procession however, relocates art objects from one private 87
institution to another, rendering the flow of art objects and their copies publicly visible. Public Art Fund's publication of The Modern Procession and its installation view, moreover, are filled to the brim with numerous e-mail correspondences between Als and MoMA representatives, photographs, transcriptions of local television broadcasts, and personal reflections, each disclosing the creative mutations as well as the immensely collaborative effort required for the project's actualization. Tom Eccles, for example, recalls that, "At the time Francis and I first spoke about the project, it was but two months after September 11, and the bridges and tunnels of New York were guarded as never before. The police were burdened by every imaginable task" (11). Als and his collaborators recognized that t he cooperation and support of the N.Y.P.D. would guarantee the procession's success; as Eccles indicates, The Modern Procession by chance of timing represents a historic moment not just for The Museum of Modern Art, but for citywide collaboration in promotion of the arts. Public Art Fund president Susan K. Freedman notes: "Permitting the procession to proceed through midtown and across the Queensboro Bridge was a bold and courageous act by the city's government, demonstrating the Bloomberg administration's belief that the arts are central to New York's identity" (9). The Modern Procession rendered The Museum of Modern Art's transition from Manhattan to Queens "both visible and public, linking the two boroughs in a spectacular and memorable way" ("Francis Als"). According to Als, it also "illustrate[d] the thin line that exists between an icon and an idol...and show[ed] the ways in which modern art has discreetly acquired a quasi-religious status for a fraction of society. That was one of 88
the underlying drives of the procession" (Goldberg 102). Considering MoMA's uncertainty regarding whether the procession was "a tribute to the collection or an elaborate send-up" (Eccles 11), Als's published intent legitimates his project by foregrounding an important concern and reconnecting MoMA at a historic juncture with its viewing public. Ultimately, Als produced more than just an illustration of the thinly drawn distinction separating modern art from sacred ritual objects: by its very form, The Modern Procession ritually re-invests The Modern's icons with an aura unique to their public passage from exorbitant midtown real estate to a converted Swingline staple factory in the peripheral borough. 89
CONCLUSION This thesis discusses forms as varied as paperback fiction, video installation, and ritual procession in order to explore a correspondence between contemporary aesthetic practices and a field of postmodernist discourse that began to develop in the early 1960s. Roland Barthes's notion of the text provides an important theoretical frame because of its emphasis on process, paradox, plurality, and pleasure, as well as its ability to universalize formal diversity in a way that underlines the particular ontological issues with which If on a winter's night a traveler Telemistica The Holy Artwork Talk Athens Art Market TV and The Modern Procession engage. Self-consciously aware of the interdependent conditions in fine art and high literature of autonomy and commodification, as well as the pervasive conflation of economic and cultural realms of contemporary life in general, the texts discussed in this thesis re-present forms from "pop culture" domains to render accessible a number of theoretical postmodernist concerns about the nature of aesthetic experience. Because they tend to favor form over content, Calvino's novel, Jankowski's video installations, and Als's procession simultaneously critique and support the conditions that make aesthetic experience possible. Nicolas Bourriaud writes, "As a human activity based on commerce, art is at once the object and the subject of an ethic. And this is all the more so because, unlike other activities, its sole function is to be exposed to this commerce. Art is a state of encounter" (18). These texts perform the sole function of art as Bourriaud understands it by utilizing a critical strategy of courting unknown participants and audiences, thereby 90
involving them in interpretive work while posing as highly consumable forms of cultural production. Accessibility is and will continue to be a crucial issue for artistic practice. Before the ubiquity of mass media and information technologies, many artists' "rhetoric of opposition often allowed elite practices to pass themselves off as politically useful. Tendentious activism marked its distinction from normative, consumable discourses [by] deliberately adopting obscure and difficult visual and verbal means" (Drucker 7). Frequently these elite practices garnered support from dedicated philanthropic entities who believed that artistic activity could replace religious redemption with its own forms of salvation and transformation. Contemporary practices like those discussed in this thesis, however, are less interested in entertaining utopian visions and more engaged in their production of a self-conscious relation to the (con)textual cultural formations that establish the possibility of aesthetic activity. Aware that this activity exists in a state of encounter, contemporary artists actively seek collaboration as they apply their own highly skilled craft through very subtle means. Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at MoMA San Francisco, notes that, "Despite the demise proclaimed by Roland Barthes, we cannot seem to get rid of the author; the harder we try the stronger the myth returns. Ultimately, if artists wish to operate within the art world, they will inevitably be perceived as the ones responsible for the work, even if they involve collaborators, let others take on the actual production, [or] court unknown participants" (35). This is true of the texts discussed in this thesis. However, it may not be true of very recent developments in relational art practices, which 91
attempt to produce purely "inter-human experiences trying to rid themselves of...the ideology of mass communications...of the places where alternative forms of sociability, critical models, and moments of constructed conviviality are worked out" (Bourriaud 44). In Bourriaud's view, the venue of relational art is simply the sphere of human relations. Utopian projects are re-imagined by relational artists as they are given over "to everyday micro-utopias and imitative strategies" with the intention of "experiencing art's capacities of resistance within the overall social arena" (Bourriaud 31). For the moment, anyway, most artistic practices cannot survive without the support of more traditional, institutional venues. Als's procession, sponsored by Public Art Fund and taking place in the streets, resonates with the imitative strategies of relational aesthetics; if not actually resistant, The Modern Procession is at least artfully subversive. The same is true for Calvino's novel and Jankowski's video installations. Conditions of commodification do not ultimately preclude the possibility of a highly critical body of art and literature. As the texts discussed in this thesis show, self-conscious performances of art and literature's embedded conditions provide growing audiences an indispensible accessibility to the discursive fields of criticism and theory that shape contemporary aesthetic activity. 92
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