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.
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