Fillip

Fillip — Folio A

Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism: Panel Two

February 28, 2009

Panelists: Diedrich Diederichsen and Maria Fusco

Moderator: Jeff Derksen

Jeff Derksen – Both [of today’s] panels presented us with the role of publics, both monochromatic and emergent—although I think those two merged at one point—and we’ve been oscillating through a dialectic of inductive and deductive evaluations of the art object. But both [Maria Fusco and Diedrich Diederichsen’s] papers cross or cohere perhaps in a notion of temporality. What was most compelling to me in Maria’s work was the notion of the critical temporality built through narrative and its breakdown; by embedding the critical apparatus in a character (a fiction) that then loses the boundaries between the art object and the role of the critic. In Diedrich’s paper, he presented two positions: the critique of bourgeois eternity—which we all do over our morning coffee—and the critique of the possibility of the moment of utopia, which dialectically spun out of [...] by giving us other temporal options to rethink the art object and objecthood itself. Provocatively, at the end, he returned to an understanding of progress as having the potential to critique regression. This seemed to lie parallel to developmental notions of capital, which are ideas that have been tossed out as being, themselves, regressive. We have to return to a progressive sense of regression in order to critique regression, and to therefore have a temporal grasp of the present moment as being unevenly distributed (in terms of its senses but also in terms of the material and wealth that is generated by it), which then also frames one’s relation to the art object. So I think the relationship between the art object and temporality in both papers is what ultimately gets troubled. So with that brief synthesis we will open the field for questions.

Rob Stone – To come up with new kinds of art objects and to talk about the relationships that might exist between them, there has to be a kind of uncomfortable autobiography involved.... And I was wondering, talking about the idea of a misplaced Marxism and a phallus that maybe doesn’t work, I was wondering how you kind of articulate those as autobiographical materials in the way you were talking.

Maria Fusco – Is that for me? [laughter] I’m very interested in transubstantiation. For those who weren’t brought up Catholic, transubstantiation is kind of like a mega-metaphor—the moment in Catholicism when the host is changed from being the host to becoming the body and blood of Christ. It still looks like a wee piece of wafer, but it is the body and blood of Christ, and it’s a mysterious, magical, spiritual moment. And I’m very interested—and have always been, having been brought up Catholic in Ireland—in how it can be the wee wafer and be the body and blood of Christ at the same time. And to me, that kind of autobiographical material, if you like—and that piece that I read, that’s quite an unusual piece for me in some ways—it’s always the same material, in a way. So it’s not a reductive viewing of the material in an effort to transform the material. The material has qualities of transformation about it, depending on which bit you look at.

Diedrich Diederichsen – I would say that you can’t have an aesthetic experience that you cannot share. I mean, of course, you can never share the aesthetic experience because, by its definition, it’s a subjective experience.... You experience everything by yourself, in real time. But this is experience and not aesthetic experience.

Jeff Dersken – The developmental theories of capital are seen as too teleological and should be shied away from. And therefore the notion of progress, of development, has been shied away from and has been off the table. In the way that you put it, we have to return to a sense of progress in order to be able to critique when there is regression. Whereas it seems to me that the power play that happened within neoliberalism was to both hold on to a notion of progress yet freeze it in the present, a continuous present.

Diedrich Diederichsen – But the idea of neoliberalism is now that socialism is gone, everything is possible and that’s why nothing is possible. That’s the logic, and so there is no history.

Jeff Derksen – So now that socialism is gone, everything is possible, yet all that’s left is liberal democracy. So please enjoy it in the present.

Diedrich Diederichsen – So nothing is possible. There’s no future.

Jeff Derksen – Right. There’s absolutely no future. There’s just this brilliant utopian present of liberal democracy in neoliberalism.

Diedrich Diederichsen – Yes, but the fact is that just because there’s an ideology [that there is] no history, doesn’t mean that ...as we can see right now. And I think it’s interesting, if you look at a lot of cultural products that are out right now, like the film Revolutionary Road or the TV series Mad Men, they are all about, in a kind of clumsy way, trying to reintroduce the idea of progress by showing us how far we got, showing the worst forms of sexism and racism not so long ago [in a way that suggests]: “look what we’ve achieved since then!” And this is, of course, a highly sentimentalist idea of progress. But it somewhat reflects the necessity to re-describe that history has certain possibilities, and it’s not just contingent.

Jeff Derksen – Which was actually the brilliance of George Bush’s philosophy of history, which was that we’re in this beautiful neoliberal present, the war has been won, the market will always sustain itself, but then as soon as that utopian moment of neoliberalism cracked, so did the use of history. Then it was: “History will be the judge.” So the notion of history is exactly invoked again. Once they had stalled it—like a huge pause button had been put on the notion of history to hold it in a continuous present—then the minute it became viable to refigure themselves, progress continues.

Alissa Firth-Eagland – I just want to come back to this link, Jeff, you were making in the beginning. Or maybe it wasn’t a link, but I see a bit of a link. You were talking about interdisciplinary, specifically methodological possibilities. Then you went on to speak about the poetics of critical engagement, and it seems to me that there’s a link between these two things. Especially when I think of what Kristina [Lee Podesva] was saying earlier, when she quoted Sven Lütticken. I’m really glad that “the critical forms of publicness” was brought into this discussion, because it’s something that I’m really interested in. So, I guess I have a naïve, formal question, but would anyone on the panel like to talk about a link between interdisciplinary and the poetics of critical engagement?

Jeff Derksen – Maybe I’ll rather unfairly shift it over to Maria, because I think that’s actually what was happening in the second part of your paper [presented, in excerpt, in the current volume as footnotes to Fusco’s essay –Eds.]. I don’t want to make such a big genre split between the two, but it was interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity that produced a poetics of critical engagement, let’s say. And also it suggested a narrative time that broke the normative relationship of the temporality of the object. So, by moving narrative structures into the discipline of art writing or criticism, you make a different poetics. I’m using poetics as a productive aspect of a text. Does that make sense?

Maria Fusco – Yes, thank you, that does. Does that answer your question? [laughs]

Alissa Firth-Eagland – It does, but I think it’s worth saying that—or maybe it’s fairly obvious—there’s certainly a temporal shift that occurred now in the audience when you delivered [that portion of your] text. And that was a very specific example of an interdisciplinary approach, and I guess I’m just really thankful to have had that.

Maria Fusco – Well, thank you. My colleague at Goldsmiths, Adrian Rifkin, doesn’t believe in something being interdisciplinary, because he thinks that it’s a product of process rather than a part of a procedure, and I think I might sort of agree with that. I’ll have that on one hand and then on the other hand I’ll say the Yogi Berra quote: “You can see a lot by looking.” [sic: “You can observe a lot just by watching” –Eds.] And that maybe what’s important is how closely you are looking, and perhaps not where you’re looking from. I don’t make differentiations between different ways of working, however, clearly I’m aware that they exist. And I’m also aware that particular pieces of work can live in different places, depending on where I choose to put them or I’m invited to put them. So interdisciplinarity to me doesn’t seem to.... I really don’t think about it. Clearly I’m cognizant and aware, but it’s not something that ever particularly occurs to me. Another example of that might be my program with Goldsmiths, the writing program. Most of the people in the program call themselves artists. We only have one person who calls himself a writer.... When starting a new program [we] thought “oh, wouldn’t it be great. It’ll be full of people who call themselves art writers.” But they call themselves artists, so in a sense it was kind of a return to the nomenclature of a discipline rather than a desire to re-name it. And that’s actually being very productive because it recalibrates the possibilities for the work that is produced within it, because it’s going back to a kind of starting point of a department, if you like, and a kind of name of practice rather than trying to make up a new name. And I should just add that I think art writing is a really dreadful term. I haven’t thought of a better one just yet—maybe in the future.

David Khang – Perhaps a dismantling of criticality in the visual art world becomes a productive space. And I could see that happening [in the second half of Maria’s paper], and I would concur with the validity of that phenomenon, but there’s also an overlapping phenomenon that is happening that David Josselit points out. That is the dismantling of critical function that goes beyond the art community. I see that happening in the scientific community as well. So in our own midst is—and this is where Tirdad’s triple “criticism, critique, and criticality” comes in—a commercial gallery assistant’s commentary that said “our artists’ works are inflected with criticality without being critical.” So I see the three—the criticism, critique, and criticality—and if they are resting against one another, and dependent on one another to work interdependently, how do you have one without the other two, and what do you do in a cultural field where one can, through words, arguably, escape and then create an unproductive space?

Jeff Derksen – I’d just like to make a brief comment and then open the discussion up. I was pointing towards the movement where one shifts between sites and fields—and let’s say different methodologies—and finds a greater freedom in one than the other. This is, in a sense, a movement from one set of determinations to another. Perhaps naïvely, not recognizing the new set of determinants, this can be exuberant in some way—whether it’s 750 words and the quick publication [of a review assignment] versus the endlessness of academic writing. I don’t see this shifting between two sites as a loss of criticality, but, hopefully, I would think of this as a movement that would produce new forms of critique. If I remember correctly from last night, Tirdad used the final aspect within that triad of criticalities [as a] kind of a turn inward, a turn away from the social. And my point in the introduction was that when we turn away from the social it signals a crisis within the field. So, I think that, in some ways, what we’ve been talking about today is the production of the crisis in art writing, and what would be the relationship between that generated crisis, and—to use an old term—the “actual existing” crisis out in the social field. That, to me, is the fascinating question at the moment. If there is a crisis in art writing, it is the inability to move between this crisis of cultural and the crisis of the social. So the movement from the cultural field to the social field, which John O’Brian was actually doing very nicely in his comments today, is key. Rather than a loss of criticality as you move between different disciplines, I was thinking of the kind of critical methodological shifting that Diedrich’s work is an exemplar of, which I see as an opening of possibilities as you move through different discourses and methodologies. For instance, the way today that a notion of reception—to blur these two poles—is also being productive ...to invoke that older and problematic cultural studies notion of productive consumption. Maybe those two poles of production and reception, in a sense, in the paper that you gave today was the source of the dialectic and not a rejection of closure (which I think is synonymous with [the notion of] judgment we’ve been using today). So “the poetics of a rejection of closure” becomes a strong dialectical point. I think the compelling term you used was “overwhelment.”

Diedrich Diederichsen – My point is basically that judgment restores a relation between the recipient to herself or himself, making it possible to continue not to close. So the closure of judgment—the final decision—enables one to continue. Postponing judgment only makes things slowly fade away and die out. It is something that is basically lived; it’s visibly and articulately lived in music oriented communities. It is also lived in the same art communities that we are living in.... We leave this room and talk about the last show we’ve seen. Every art conversation I had in the last two or three days went, “Did you like that show?” or “Did you like that show better than this one?” Of course, this is not only an empty thing. These conversations are full of reasons that are given by both sides which are continuously enabling us to go on. The fact that this aspect of our daily art conversation is so absent from criticism is a clear indication of what you could call ideology or orthodoxy. There is obviously, in the world, a certain practice and a certain consciousness active, widespread, visible, observable, and not represented in the cultural production of the same. That is, I think, the clearest case of ideology.

Tirdad Zolghadr – I just wanted to respond to [David Khang’s] question. I also have to add that this three-step that I introduced yesterday of criticism, critique, and criticality was coined by Irit Rogoff, and it tries to grapple with the possibility of distance which is implicit, at least in the most conventional sense of the term. And usually the question is not the way you phrased it. You said, “How can you have criticality without the other two?” And the way it was framed—for example, today, the last panel—was more something along the lines of (at least the way Diedrich framed it) “How can you have it along with...how can you have criticality and the other two together?” And if I understood correctly, it’s a form of strategic essentialism, the way Diedrich is positing the moment of judgment as a necessary moment of closure—an appropriation of something which is artificial to begin with, perhaps?

Diedrich Diederichsen – I often sympathize with the idea of strategic essentialism in several constellations, because in strategic essentialism you are holding something up that you clearly do not believe in for strategic reasons. The strategic reasons, of course, have a certain reality so you believe in that reality that makes it necessary, but you don’t believe it as a cognitive object. Whereas with judgment, [the reasons are not] strategic, but because you want a continuation of the process. But it’s preliminary—so you believe in it for the moment, but you know it’s only for the moment.

Clint Burnham – First of all, always totalize. [laughter] Secondly, yesterday, I think, Tirdad, you were talking about “binary, digital, dialectical fluffing.” But maybe I’m thinking of Dr. Dre or something. So you were thinking about pillows, but it got me thinking about porn fluffing. So then I thought, I want more of that, but then, of course, Maria, that’s what you did in your story—you brought in the libidinal in a very timely way. But two more critical, or critically oriented, things: I actually want more theory and philosophy and politics in art writing. I know you are not saying that we shouldn’t have that, but in my mind, it’s one of the few public places where that actually takes place—even within the imagined community or the “publics and counterpublics” (in Michael Warner’s terms). But two final things: The discussion today about intimacy and the one yesterday about proxemics and space and distance, and so on. I was thinking about those kind of things, in part because of Andrea Fraser’s notion of self-reflexivity. I think it’s an example of [Slavoj] Zizek’s fetishistic disavowal. Which is to say: “I know very well, and I’m complicit in the institution, but by going through this [and so forth]....” For me [Pierre] Bourdieu is the name that is very important to keep in this conversation in the way William Wood directed it earlier today. I think that self-reflexive moment of the critic becomes a way to continue on doing business as usual—to contribute to that sort of flow. Finally, my main point, and maybe this will come back to what the panel wants to talk about: I think that there’s a kind of anxiety about judgment. Just to bring it back into the local in terms of local politics here—the government announced yesterday that they want a minimum sentencing requirement for drug dealers of different kinds. There’s a gang war going on. One year for marijuana dealers, two for coke dealers, and so on and so forth. Which is the fantasy that the judge is not strict enough. We have prisons that are overcrowded, but the judges aren’t strict enough. Which translates, I think, into the question: “are the critics strict enough?” Are they letting things slide because of a postmodern morass where “there are no standards”?

Maria Fusco – Within your observation about the strictness of critics and their relationship with the judge, there’s a presupposition there that the critic has power. I know that it’s popped up over the last couple of days, and I’m not sure about it. I wonder if it’s that the objects themselves aren’t strict enough, rather than the critics, perhaps. As you know, objects such as the deodand had a legal liability, and objects could be hung, as well as the person who had used the object to kill someone. So yes, I wonder maybe if the objects need to be stricter, and I wonder if the objects ultimately have more power than the critics have, really. There’s that kind of lack of judgment and possibly a lack of strictness, as you put it. Maybe this is a correct method to proceed [with] in order to establish a methodology of art writing. And, in a way, the method seems quite clear, but the overarching methodology seems to be the problem or the problematic, depending on how you look at it.

Diedrich Diederichsen – But then also judgment in terms of judges and law, and judgment in terms of art, are two opposed practices—they are the opposite of each other. So if someone has either a sadistic or masochistic fantasy of what judges should do in the real world and projecting that on what critics should do in the art world, that would be clearly a misunderstanding, I think.

Maria Fusco – There’s an excellent essay by a woman named Jane Bennett who’s a political theorist. The essay is called “Thing Power.” It’s fantastic. And she says that you need to exercise extreme caution with things that could damage you.

Jordan Strom – My question is sort of a personal one I guess, or a selfish one, going back to narcissism. I wanted to ask you a question about the review form. This is a question more for you, Maria—however both of you may have a response. One thing that T. J. Clark elegantly put together in his book The Sight of Death is about art writing and how art writing is meant to sort of write the work of art to death. We’ve circled back to the idea of the review. Tirdad was saying reviews tend to be about as self-reflective as an Italian opera. I was quite buoyed by [Tom Morton’s suggestion that] the review is sort of the heart of frieze magazine. I was at a conference in Rotterdam where so many of the magazine editors were talking about reviews as more of a kind of breeding ground for emerging writers, like just kind of a training, a place were maybe the most advanced writing wasn’t taking place. One of the things with Fillip we were trying to consider was trying to re-vivify or re-enliven review writing, giving more space to the review, as Kristina talked about. At the time, in 2004, when we started thinking about the magazine, we were interested in bringing the art writing closer together with art criticism, this sort of freeway that tends to run through them, between them. Trying to make that into kind of an ever-flowing stream. How can they exist, how can they come together to an extent, how can we kind of reinvigorate the review form? I was curious if you had some examples within the Happy Hypocrite—the first couple issues you’ve edited—where you could identify a certain piece of writing that operates as a kind of exhibition or event review combined with a type of innovative fictional or non-fictional mode of writing?

Maria Fusco – I don’t know if I can identify it exactly in the Happy Hypocrite because I don’t think that is what the Happy Hypocrite’s role is. The Happy Hypocrite was devised as a space that was ontologically opposed to the review, not because I’m opposed to the review but just because I wanted to create a forum for different types of writing. Actually there are a lot of forums for reviews, whether small or large. I’m very keen on reviews. I think reviews are more interesting and accomplished and arguably have a higher level of engagement than a feature piece or a catalogue essay. In terms of the first issue of the Happy Hypocrite, I would flag up Jared Burns. Jared Burns—well they [his reviews] are poems, really, footnoted poems. He’s obsessed with the Loch Ness Monster as an ur example of representation. And, possibly, if I had it here, I would read it out a bit, but I won’t say much more than that, because in terms of how one might approach an idea of representation and how one might use inscriptive rather than descriptive purposes, in my view, descriptive writing is necessary in a review context, especially if someone isn’t getting to see something. You have to give some idea of what it looks like, after all. But I would be very opposed to something that was just descriptive rather than inscriptive. A personal example might be in the scent of an answer rather than a response. I wrote a review—it must be about three or four months ago, now—for a British publication called Art Monthly. It was a review of Steve McQueen’s Hunger. Have you seen Hunger yet? Well, Hunger, I’m sure most of you know, is a ninety-minute feature film that’s based in a prison in Northern Ireland during the time of the hunger strikers. And because of my personal experience, I felt compelled to write about it but was also very worried about the kind of leakage of subjectivity over the top of it. So at the beginning of the review I sort of stated my position, that it was a bit ridiculous me writing about it. I was far too close to the subject matter. So generally [the review] was very positive. But in the end I found a major problematic with the film, which was that I felt that it wasn’t about politics—which I felt it should have been—and I went into details that I won’t bore you with now. And in the following issue of Art Monthly, Steve McQueen wrote a letter which was sent through his gallery, not him directly, which I thought was quite interesting (of course he’s entitled to reply to it). But he said in the letter—and I am paraphrasing, obviously—he said that the research he had done for the film proved that the point I had made in the review was incorrect because it was his research and he’d done it. To which I thought the whole point of doing a review is that one might have one’s own personal research: that I grew up in a Catholic ghetto when it was all going on, living with, being neighbours with the people who were in the prison. I tried to address this as a kind of mode of art writing in a review context, and to have a response which returned to the priority of research as objectivity was hilarious and also really irritating. I was really pissed off. But I felt that I shouldn’t be. I was encouraged to respond to his letter, but I felt that I was pointless because I thought that I had done the work that I had needed to do in the review, and to do any more work would just be redundant. I don’t know if that approaches your question, but I think it’s the closest I can get.

Holly Ward – Isn’t that an example also of the point you just made, about the rigour of the object?

Maria Fusco – What do you mean by that?

Holly Ward – [McQueen’s argument is that if] you’ve done research then you’re speaking as an authority—that compounded by being the maker of the piece. You’ve got an argument that talks about a kind of rigor. It is, I believe, Diedrich’s point, that it is very difficult to take a critical stance when you are standing against the social field in which you operate.

Diedrich Diederichsen – Critical reviews are such a rarity in the art world that it increases their value, like all rare things are valuable. But, on the other hand, it makes them even more dramatic. I think one can do a study that fifty percent of all critical reviews in all art magazines of the last twelve months have caused replies (because they are so rare). Sometimes the replies were printed, sometimes the replies were sent to the editor. [In this one case] an artist wrote in: “Two years ago I gave an edition to this magazine and now you are writing badly of me. What kind of assholes are you?” Or something like that. [laughter] “And of course, you will never get an edition from me or the gallery that’s representing me.” It’s so rare, and I think something can be done about this. If you look, for example, at a discipline like theatre, ballet, dance, critical reviews are more widespread and the reactions are, also. Well, people are pissed, but people deal with it in a different way. People are not sworn enemies afterwards, which is much more healthy and makes other aspects of theatre discourse—which is very old fashioned in other aspects—really very lively.

Mohammad Salemy – One little note: Maria quoted someone as saying, “Don’t say yes, say maybe.”

Jeff Derksen – It was the title of an essay of hers that I referred to.

Mohammad Salemy – This is like shopping advice, right? Like when you go to shop for clothing, they say, if you wear it in front of the mirror, if it’s a yes it’s a maybe, if it’s a maybe it’s a no, if it’s a no get out of there. The other point [I want to raise] is how criticism and art writing affects the actual practice of art-making by contemporary artists. If you look around, more than a third of the room [is] filled with practicing artists. Artists read these pieces of text more in depth, unlike anybody else, to the last word. How does that affect, immediately, their practice in the studio?

Maria Fusco – How do you think it affects it?

Mohammad Salemy – I know it affects it. It enters you. Once it enters you, it’s right there, and you have to deal with it when you’re in the studio making art, right?

Maria Fusco – Just to clarify, are you talking about, more specifically, writing about your work or writing about any work that may concern you?

Mohammad Salemy – Any work—the way contemporary art discourse is written about, and how we as artists read it and then go back to make work, and how that immediately affects the art-making. And on another point, I just want to say that something that was kind of disappointing in the talks was how everyone on the panels and the keynote speaker talked about the economic crisis as a side dish. Or how just mentioning it is enough to say: “I’m current, I’m contemporary.”

Jeff Derksen – I actually had it as a main dish, also with some meat, and it had potatoes and some vegetables.

Mohammad Salemy – It’s always assumed that even as deep and dark a crisis this is, it will be dealt with like the Depression, and we’re going to be back with some form of new capitalism. But this sick patient may actually die. And I wonder if the fact that we don’t want to get deep into it has something to do with the fact that the sickness of this patient has nothing to do with our historic[al] criticality. The death of this patient, or [his] serious sickness, has nothing to do with what we’ve done, but it has to do with its own structural flaws and its own inherent contradictions. I feel guilty that capitalism is on its deathbed. It may resurrect, but we, as critical people, we, as people who wrote about it, have nothing to do with it. I mean, we all remember when [Jacques] Rancière was [in Vancouver] like a year ago, and his position was like, capitalism is here to stay, and we, the intellectuals, are, at best, ventriloquists. We can be the internal voice of capitalism to itself, kind of guilting it, and pointing it to the little problems here and there, because, basically, capitalism is here to stay.

Maria Fusco – There were three points there, weren’t there? Just to paraphrase, the first one had to do with yes, no, and maybe. I would be more inclined to say “maybe” rather than “yes” or “no.” The second point had to do with affecting artists’ production through writing about it. A quick response, because I’m conscious of time, would be that I’m pathologically polite and wouldn’t ever set out to upset anybody but really don’t care if I do or not. [laughter] And the third point would have to do with an economic crisis being an entrée or the starter, and how there is this idea of crisis with critical art writing. I don’t think that there’s a moment of crisis, I don’t feel there’s a moment of crisis, I don’t think it’s important enough to be saying there’s a moment of crisis, but I like talking about it. [laughter]

Donato Mancini – One thing that I kind of expected to come up at some point, but hasn’t, is [the issue] of new forms of pseudo-democratic participation that are proliferating on the Internet, specifically in the form of the judgment of cultural products. This is at the very same time that a lot of critics are thinking about a possible return to judgment. At the same time, judgment in the form of the short review [is proliferating] on different Web sites—you can rate objects from one to five stars. It’s not only popular, but it’s also becoming cultural common sense, specifically consumerist common sense. I noticed recently the Simon Fraser University library added a star rating system to its library Web site. [laughter] So when you’re looking up obscure texts on Mayan linguistics or something, you can give it a star rating. That to me is an indication that all that stuff on the Internet that you see and think of as just noise has actually has become a kind of common sense. How does that bear on the discussion of judgment and criticism? Secondly, more directly directed at Diedrich: Increasingly consumerism also assumes, or takes the character of, a kind of temporal regime (like you were talking about in music). So [it’s] really caught up in a kind of fast-moving temporal regime that, like music, we can’t arrest. Would you read these kinds of proliferation of reviews [online] in a similar way to the way you read music reviews?

Diedrich Diederichsen – My slogan for the cultural situation right now is “participation is the new spectacle.” What you were describing, the constant encouragement to rate, to have an opinion, to be present, is exactly the same cultural logic that companies expect from their employees these days: an over identification. With recorded music, you only really hear it when you hear it the second time in your life. Not the second time you listen to it but the second time you have a time specific experience with it. The second time [you have] a highly subjective, time-specific experience between yourself and the object that is metonymically connected to it. I think that is an aspect of music temporality— recorded music, of course, only—that you were talking about.

Stan Douglas – I have a couple questions. The first one would relate to a claim that Diedrich has made a couple of times today, that possibly the crisis in criticism today is the fact that the majority of criticism is positive or affirmative—which somehow relates to Maria’s suggestion that the problem with a lot of art writing today is not the problem of the writing but of the art that it’s talking about. Is that more or less what you said?

Maria Fusco – Yes. [laughter]

Stan Douglas – As an artist, this sounds like a challenge that I have to respond to in some way. [laughter] So I wonder if the crisis in art writing (and frequent experimentation in art writing) appeared simultaneously with the deskilling of artists. As artists became indifferent to craft and less tied to particular disciplines and genres, art writers had to become different kinds of observers: less the traditional art historian and more of a figure who would mimic the artist in some way. So that’s one question. The other question is whether art writing could be better if the writer were to take a position. For example, I would always rather be annoyed by reading Theodor Adorno writing about jazz than I would by reading Michael Fried writing about art because they are annoying in different ways. Adorno always asserted a very clear position. He was a very astute listener of music and he believed that the pinnacle of western culture was in the nineteenth century and that it has ever since been in some kind of decline. With that in mind, you can understand his commentary on jazz music, for example. But Michael Fried is always asserting his primacy as the authoritative observer of works of art and how all art fits into his immutable system. I think critics are important, but they are most important or useful to artists when they take a position and don’t try and be like us. [laughter]

Diedrich Diederichsen – I couldn’t agree more with the second part of what you were saying, especially in relation to Adorno’s writing on jazz. I think that those are very useful texts, especially the first one, if you just jumble them around. The invention jazz, as a subject, is absolutely great, I think, but his evaluation of it is completely false. But the way the argument is constructed is very useful, even if he completely misses the subject matter.

Maria Fusco – Well, I’ve been quite puzzled throughout when it’s come up a few times: If you’re negative in your writing or are overly critical—negatively critical— you automatically damage your career as a writer. Possibly my writing is incredibly lukewarm [laughter] so it’s inoffensive to everybody—that’s not something that I’ve ever considered or come across. I would like to add that there’s a lot of bad work about generally; there’s a lot of bad writing and there’s a lot of bad art, and they’re intrinsically linked to one another because they are in the same house at the same time. And I don’t see a distinction—I come from a very sort of [Maurice] Blanchot viewpoint—I don’t see a distinction between the inside and the outside of the figure. I would find it difficult to understand.... I could pretend I understood (obviously I can, conceptually), but I can’t really understand the difference between the inside and the outside of the figure and how, perhaps, the critic behaves in a certain way and the artist behaves in another way. I don’t see that differential between them.

Stan Douglas – Do you understand my suggestion that this kind of art writing came at a time when artists were becoming deskilled? Artists were not so concerned with the craft or the technology of picture-making, thing-making, event-making, and so it gives critics the same apparent freedom to do the same thing. As an artist, you are sometimes disappointed by writers because they clearly don’t understand what you’ve done the way the artist might. [laughter] They don’t understand the mechanism of picture-making, so you really wish there were competent writers out there who knew the same thing about picture-making, but they are just not there.

Maria Fusco – But why should someone have to understand what you’ve done?

Stan Douglas – Well, we absolutely have maintain the fantasy that anybody can look at our work and get something out of it. I think that’s what any artist has to believe to a certain degree. But when Adorno writes about music, he writes as a musician—he played piano, he studied with [Alban] Berg, and so on. Even though he didn’t know what he was talking about, it’s still interesting.

Diedrich Diederichsen – Because jazz is a different kind of music than the one he [Adorno] knows—and he actually didn’t know anything at all about jazz. But what you’re talking about now, this is really what I was referring to earlier. There is [the] production-related knowledge of artists. I don’t think it disappeared from critical discourse or writing because writers are deskilled as writers but because in general the focus shifted to other aspects of reception aesthetics. There are, sometimes, specialists, but, in general, people can be very skilled about reception processes and can reproduce and discuss them without knowing anything about how things are made. And just one thing about careers damaged by negative writing: It’s a relatively recent phenomenon—the nineties and this decade—that writers and magazines began having a lot of problems from galleries and artists because of [negative criticism]. Insulting even one person is a much more dangerous bomb then it used to be twenty years ago.

Jeff Derksen – To wrap up, we can come back to Stan’s suggestion that writing could be improved if it takes a stand—[an idea that was] actually at the heart of Diedrich’s talk today. There can be a use of closure without the fear of closure. Taking a stand is, in some ways, a form of closure, but we have to see that as being productive and not final. And for me, this is where poetics can step in—poetics is a structural aspect that opens.

Buy Issue$20.00