Autumn 2016: Storm Chasers
artist, critic, dealer, and moderator
MOD: Um, can I bum a cigarette? Alright, OK, so here we begin the Weather Report. So, the weather forecast… We look at the weather, we look at the facts, and then we look at the future… or whatever. So, let’s just do that with the art that we’ve seen in the past few months—and of course all the other weather that’s formed around it. Anyway, where do you guys want to start? I was thinking maybe we could start with just shows on view? Certain
controversies that are under foot? I mean, like the Kelley Walker thing, which has been a hot topic.
The Dealer: Oh, the Kelley Walker thing—yeah. And Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, their show is called White Suprematism…
The Critic: The Gruyter and Thys title was kind of a clueless gesture but then the reaction has been ugly, too.
MOD: Are people reacting strongly to that?
The Critic: Yeah, yeah…
The Dealer: Facebook hate.
The Critic: It’s the social media swarm!
MOD: Can you guys give like a gestalt of the Facebook reaction?
The Critic: The social media thing is crazy. I’ve never been in the swarm of it to really experience it. I just hear horror stories. We’re living in such an ideologically charged time. Where you have someone like say the poet Kenny Goldsmith… He’s doing this retreat from the public sphere, but he’s backing into fame.
MOD: He shaved his beard, because he couldn’t be seen in public.
The Critic: Well, I’ve heard that he has been the target of a pretty persistent critique by a group called “The Mongrels” who have been pursuing him, and harassing him in some ways. It stems from his now infamous Michael Brown piece that he performed in 2015 at Brown University. It’s a work in which he read the autopsy of Michael Brown as you might read a poem, rearranging the order of some passages but leaving it more or less in the original. Because his work has been for years about this sort of craven appropriation of public documents, it seemed to me that the piece has a deep sense of melancholy and is done without any intended malice. Of course, perhaps, in effect it became a nasty work, a nasty gesture.
MOD: But he’s also a former poet laureate and he kind of really represents a time in American poetry (or I shouldn’t nationalize it), but I’d say, also, Kelley Walker represents this kind of approach really with a media or technologically focused sample culture. Without any kind of—or maybe kind of aware…
The Critic: Well, I think that there’s an awareness that both artists like to work with “hot” topics, loaded topics.
MOD: Hot topics, yeah, but then they can’t really unpack the hot topics ideologically.
The Critic: Well, the question is: is it that they can’t? Or that they know they’re not really permitted to? That they can only handle things from the outside. Somehow there’s this question of who has the right to speak on what topics.
MOD: Yeah, yeah, it’s a questions of rights… So, now this is turning into a Robert Altman film, I guess…
The Critic: It’s hard. I interviewed Antek Walczak recently for this piece I was writing. I was asking him: What do you think about the political climate? Particularly as somebody who likes to push buttons, somebody who likes to provoke.
MOD: And also he’s kind of a late-bloomer—or late-feedbacker—of that kind of work’s reception… Because he started making paintings in like 2010. So, that was kind of when this stuff was maybe arguably petering out, it was becoming global at that point. It wasn’t such a New York thing, I guess.
The Critic: I was curious about his thoughts on cultural propriety, and on people being called to task to account for the material they work with…
MOD: And now we’re calling out the call-outs, right now.
The Artist: Come out, come out, wherever you are!
The Critic: But he kind of surprised me because I thought he’d be like “yeah, that’s shit.” But he was more than anything saying, “thank god that it’s happening because when we were doing Bernadette Corporation everything was so white. The fashion world was really white. The art world was even whiter…” And it’s like when they were putting these two guys that they cast off the street to dress in hip-hop styles and be in Bernadette Corporation videos and be in the fashion shoots that was them bringing non-white culture into a context it was excluded from systemically. So, he was like it doesn’t bother me when people get called to task. Although there’s something about permissiveness and there’s something about making an enemy out of people who aren’t necessarily identifying themselves as hostile…
MOD: But, they’re also attacking avatars, too.
The Critic: Avatars?
MOD: I mean, they’re attacking them online, so they’re attacking a kind of virtual appearance.
The Critic: Oh, right. So i.e. jpegs of Joe Scanlan or jpegs of Kenny Goldsmith…
MOD: And even this Kelley Walker show, which is just that you’re seeing.
The Artist: Well, it’s so much easier than just going up to someone and punching them in the face.
The Critic: So, what’s been going on with Kelley Walker?
The Dealer: So, I feel like Cameron and this guy Jeffrey Uslip, whom I know from working at Fitzroy, he did his first show there (at CAMSTL) with Simone Forti, but he is the curator… And I feel like he’s operating in a world where he can’t get the hottest ticket artist so he’s been getting these artists who used to have more market credibility, because also St. Louis as depressed as it is, still has a lot of wealth from way back in the day. Like old industrialist money. And so as a reflection of that they’ve invested in these artists who are no longer market-friendly, but then he brings them back there. I remember when I was first art-handling it was all Kelley Walker in every hedge fund office. Recycling, and the toothpaste, and the chocolate, tons of that stuff…
The Critic: That’s work to me… There’re certain works that you would say they’re distasteful, for instance, what Goldsmith did with the Michael Brown autopsy… It’s a nasty gesture, it’s a nasty work.
MOD: And also his re-editing of the autopsy.
The Critic: Right, but to me, sometimes I like nasty work. Like sometimes the moment calls for a nasty gesture.
The Dealer: And Kelley’s from Memphis, which has racially charged…
MOD: Yeah, I mean, I always thought that he was making that work from at least a certain position of sensitivity, care, and concern for the issue—and the problematic of race in America.
The Dealer: Totally.
The Artist: All those pieces seem like that.
The Dealer: But I feel like his failure in this situation is that he was addressing it from like a mid-aughts way of addressing this shit. Like Josh Smith at the Drawing Center —I don’t know if you guys went to this talk—people were like “oh, your work is fucking with authenticity, how it’s just your name…” and he completely denied it the whole time and it was hilarious because everyone was in on the joke, but I feel like now you cannot get away with that—and he tried to get away with that but the video of the Q&A they’re asking for that to be released—similar to like the videotapes of cops.
MOD: There was a talk with Jeffrey Uslip and Kelley Walker and he was addressed by the public for his representation of race in the work and his use of it. And then the funny thing was—he just said the right thing, which was purely computational in a way, performatively. If you could just perform the right words, you just say the right thing about the work that explains it.
The Dealer: You cannot be coy.
MOD: It was apparently inadequate to the people protesting it so then they escalated it further and they’re demanding Jeffrey Uslip resign.
The Dealer: On Facebook, Jordan Wolfson commented and he said: “Kelley Walker is a great artist,” and he cautioned the responders on Facebook to not get his politics confused with his artistic procedures—and Jordan got crucified!
The Critic: This is what I appreciate about Jordan, but what also makes his gestures sometimes kind of shallow. I’ll share an anecdote with you guys: he’s someone who loves more than anything to provoke. Now he’s like this big Jeff Koons champion, although Ben Davis took him to task on this and said—in his pretty great critique of that last Zwirner show (and Ben can be a moralist at times, but this was a fair critique)—Ben said, “OK, you want to compare yourself to Koons? Let’s put you up alongside Koons”—and it doesn’t stand a chance! In comparison to Koons, Jordan’s more recent art starts to look like the work of a horror-genre artist, sort of like an Eli Roth figure.
The Artist: C’mon, don’t slander Eli Roth!
MOD: It’s like he’s making the film of American Psycho as opposed to just being American Psycho or something like that. Koons would just be American Psycho.
The Critic: Koons is all about affirmation, right. And he affirms in a way that he’s destroyed himself as a person and he’s made himself the work—something that Warhol always cautioned against.
The Artist: Jordan strives to meet everyone’s expectations of wrongness.
The Critic: Now he does.
The Artist: So in a way, he is a horror-genre artist, he delivers exactly what’s expected every time.
The Critic: But now he can’t quite embody that genre because he’s hanging out with Instagram models and some low-orbit socialite types. He’s got a vibe like he’s moved up in the world, and he seems interested in fame and beauty in an obvious way. Anyway, maybe we can edit that part out—or leave it in, it’s all good. He’s somebody who pursues things, he’s ambitious. Here’s a story… One time, a couple years ago, I was hanging a lot with him from time to time. We got invited to go to Rich Aldrich’s birthday party at this like cheesy rooftop club—Rich did it as a joke. So, we go there, there’s like a line outside… We go to the doorman we’re like “we’re here for Rich Aldrich’s birthday party” and the doorman’s like “why do people keep saying that name to me?” Meaning Rich hadn’t booked anything… Anyway, it was a total joke. So, we go in there, we hang out a little bit, and Jordan’s like “let’s leave.” So, we get in the elevator and it’s at the top of this hotel and we’re going down… It’s a long way down… And at some point the elevator stops. And the doors open. And these four drunk
muscle-bound fucking frat dudes get in and they’re laughing about some stupid shit. I mean, they’re really being loud. And then they stop laughing at some point. The elevator’s still going down. And I’m looking at Jordan and he just goes: “HA-HA! Yeah! Yeah! I’m a fucking idiot! I’m a fucking idiot! HA-HA,” mocking these guys, and then he stops. And the elevator’s still moving and these four guys turn and look at us and one of them just punches Jordan in the chest so hard that Jordan collapses. He falls down like a fucking paper-doll, he curls up. And they look at me and I’m just like fuck, he just stuck his head in the lion’s mouth… What am I supposed to do? So, I just kind of stood there. They just look me up and down and talk some shit, and they leave and Jordan gets up and he’s like “C’mon let’s go to the Boom Boom Room!” I haven’t hung out with Jordan in a while, but to me it really said something about his work and about him as a person. The gesture is one that we can all applaud—making fun of douchebags—and yet somehow it’s also a bit shallow.
MOD: It extends the douchebag, I would say… That’s the thing. It’s a clever extension of the douchebag form, if you will. While reacting against its victimhood you can kind of reembody it—and express it after this process of being.
The Dealer: But I have a thought about this. The people reacting so strongly about Kelley or Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys—secretly, there’s the other side of things… For instance, there’s the Rashid Johnson show, which I haven’t seen, but I’m not a huge fan. And every single person I’ve talked to, randomly, will bring it up and they’ll be like “it’s so bad!” And he’s popular because of this race thing.
MOD: Or because of the market semiotics of that? Could you argue that this is part of capitalism’s crisis? That the old-power of capitalism, which is white, in order to get over its perpetual crisis is inviting more people into its wonderful quarters of power just to extend its value. It’s cycles of value…
The Critic: The same way that on the lower ranks it invites the disempowered or the disengaged into the melee. The way that race relations in this country, in the 18th or 19th century played out… like: you’re poor, you’re white, but at least you’re not black…
MOD: Race shifts with every kind of historical epoch. And race is always structured as a thing to be an enemy of the state—to always give the state its sense of security.
The Critic: To give the people a taxonomy… give them a kind of spectrum of privilege or access. The same way capitalism thrives on difference, not unity or solidarity. That’s the whole thing, the Left is always talking about solidarity, where capitalism thrives on difference. It’s like isn’t the system great because you can be different from whatever, but victimhood is another interesting thing we might get around to…
The Artist: Just a thought about the Kelley Walker incident and our recent topic of capitalism. Capitalism thrives by creating a kind of atom smasher style of control. Trillions of particles all with different agendas. You have these people at this art exhibition… Think for a moment about the grand consequence of Kelley Walker’s work in the world or more simply the cultural landscape, now back to the galleries… The work has people attending the institution and protesting it, focusing their life energy at combatting images on a wall in a
cultural institution! Now if we pause again and consider the people that visit and maintain an art institution—they are for the most part—left-leaning with reasonable levels of education—or simply politically liberal centrists in the grand schema. Now in the abstract a cat chasing its tail scenario develops and capitalism keeps going, loving it all along. Instead of focusing on, something else…
The Critic: Like a real enemy, or real hostility.
MOD: The real enemy is the imbalance of power, the wage inequality, and the distribution of wealth.
The Artist: And this goes back to what you were talking about earlier, about fighting avatars on the internet.
The Dealer: Should I pause it, I’m going to go take a piss.
The Artist: No, just resume it. So, you were talking about fighting avatars on the internet or in real life. It’s a similar thing. Going to protest Kelley Walker’s show is a bit of a similar thing, akin to just bickering in the comments about something on the internet.
The Critic: Comment culture.
MOD: It’s a public institution, it’s meant to represent its people, and it’s obviously not. It never has. This is the nice thing about this day in age or call-out culture, you’re actually realizing that public institutions don’t represent people.
The Critic: There’s a schism.
The Artist: Well, of course they’re showing a bunch of rather expensive artworks.
MOD: In a city that’s been bankrupt since the birth of neoliberalism.
The Artist: It’s an institution propping up the value of elites’ property holdings, like the stocks sitting in my vault back at home.
MOD: Nick Guagnini was telling me about how he’s doing a show there next. Through the same curator. He was joking about how it’s kind of like this Andrea Fraser style show. It’s as if everyone who is a trustee has purchased his work, so therefore of course they’re going to show it.
The Artist: That’s a common logic for many museums. There’s all that Polynesian “primitive” at The Met, “the Polynesian wing.” A Rockefeller relation went to Polynesia. There’s a grand story about his infatuation with artifacts from this region and his travels there, expeditions to collect and I think he even got himself killed along the way. What’s housed in cultural institutions has always been tied to an elite person’s “this is my interest.” The wealthy are the ones with the means to collect on a grand scale and support their care.
MOD: That’s the whole argument—that it’s always been that way. This is the problem with the West. This is the problem with the kind of priorities and the principle of behavior that are embodied by these institutions, and of course something like this call-out culture, which is great in the sense that it’s calling it out, but it seems to be calling for reform as if it’s one thing.
The Dealer: It provides a 1% accountability.
MOD: But it’s calling for reform of this thing that wants the system to be better for everyone. I guess, the thing that I haven’t thought through is, can the system be better for everyone? Is it possible? Or should the system be fundamentally abandoned and rebuilt? How can you fix the system?
The Artist: Circling back to where should someone focus their energies, that’s a serious question. Maybe, they should be tearing down the institution—or perhaps they should be going there to make alliances. Personal motivations begin to make these choices for you.
MOD: Now, there is different media engagement. Facebook and social media allow for a different channel, I mean fundamentally reterritorialized.
The Dealer: It’s interesting, because it doesn’t happen on Instagram.
MOD: Yeah, Instagram doesn’t function like that because Instagram is pure image.
The Dealer: Nah, I think it’s because it’s one person.
MOD: Ah, yeah… So, it’s atomized?
The Dealer: Facebook is more like “here’s this article!”
The Artist: That’s why Instagram is a great tool for capitalism… I saw some ad in the subway today. It was an ad for luggage and it said “the luggage for insta-influencers.”
The Critic: Nice.
MOD: So, where was I? We were talking about call-out culture, the reterritorializing wave of social media…
The Dealer: Call-out culture is interesting because it’s different than counterculture.
MOD: Yeah, it is. I guess, that’s what I’m thinking too.
The Artist: Call-out culture has replaced counterculture.
MOD: Maybe it’s trying to balance the terms of coercion and consent.
The Artist: Because we’re all supposedly living in the mainstream.
MOD: It’s like call-out culture has really awkwardly… maybe in a kind of inchoate way… it’s fresh, it’s new, so the techniques still need some more practice, I would say. That still sounds pejorative… And between this kind of coercing reform, consenting to it, and kind of balancing those things.
The Critic: What’s the coercing reform, what do you mean by that?
MOD: They’ve been consenting for so long.
The Critic: Who is “they”?
MOD: Whoever’s calling out.
The Critic: The swarm, the critics, the social media…
MOD: The people that feel marginalized by the dominant representations and expressions of artistic culture and its canonized values.
The Artist: It’s just as much social justice warriors or alt-right…
MOD: It’s the same technique.
The Critic: All the pretty little snowflakes, every snowflake voice must be heard.
The Artist: The mechanism is the same with both, it’s just the content is different.
The Critic: Fair enough.
MOD: And so it’s getting to this thing where they’ve been unwillingly consenting.
The Dealer: Who has? Who is “they”?
MOD: The people that are upset. Whoever’s upset. The discontents of the West.
The Dealer: Is this like people on Facebook? Or people in general?
The Critic: People in general, but it takes a kind of manifestation on social media in a way that’s powerful and visceral. I mean, the truth is—I was thinking about Seth Price’s book… The whole Fuck Seth Price about the construction of the artist identity and the whole idea of disappearing behind your work. The truth is—I think the one irreconcilable fact you can’t get away from in 2016—is that your identity—or the artist’s identity or the creator’s identity or the speaker’s identity is no longer a self-authored thing.
The Dealer: Right, huge!
The Artist: Well, you can’t really hide behind anything anymore.
The Critic: Yeah, you can’t make your work and say “my work speaks for me.” Your identity is embedded in the work and not only that but your identity is something I can have an influence on and I can point things out about you and this is what identity politics is essentially about in my opinion—in the sense that it’s the networking of the individual. The identity of the creator is up for grabs. Identity politics on the Left is often used for cultural critique, for frank discussions about exclusion and system injustice. The recent reaction on the far Right, on the other hand, is to appropriate some of its language and techniques to advance white nationalism, neo-Nazi shit.
MOD: An irrigation of cultural difference.
The Artist: But do you think this has a bit to do with celebrity culture? There was a distinct moment when things transformed in pop-cultural production.
The Dealer: Yeah, Koons and La Cicciolina or whatever…
The Artist: Not even that, necessarily. The mainstreaming of a later Andy mentality.
Things like the phenomenon of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. This moment in the early 2000s where instead of someone making works which then become a vehicle or medium that propels your person into new venues, a new form emerges on a grand scale where it becomes about a person that’s simply a beautiful person or that’s well-known. Famous for hanging out or something like that…
The Dealer: That happened in the 1920s, though.
The Artist: Sure, but this was a distinctive moment where the monetization of that person’s existence took over—before it was “oh, the work produces the money…” Now we can find an identifiable person and they become a muse for Walmart-style product.
The Critic: We empower them to create.
MOD: The individual is a commodity now.
The Critic: So, if you want to talk about the world of institutional art in this regard, one person that comes to mind, you think about Andrea Fraser’s famous Untitled piece, the sex tape, right… Now, this is an artist who more than many others is a creature of context. She makes work about the institutional situation, about the context that she finds herself in, and about the art production scheme—the setup, the scene, right? Now, she made this work in, I forget when it was, 2003 or 2004… And it surpassed what her aim was. It left the art world and all of a sudden she was being attacked in national media, in very mainstream
publications, and people like Jerry Saltz were stepping up to defend her…
The Artist: It was like culture war 1980s all over again!
The Critic: Right. So, it was like the early 2000s version of that. Where she was being summoned by an audience from a context outside of the one she had made the work for to defend her work and defend her position as an artist. And it drove her mad. When I was in the Whitney program, she told me, it almost ended her career. She quit art for eight or nine years, she started retraining to be a psychoanalyst because she was going to analysis and became really interested in it. It was the kind of thing where her work eclipsed the context for which it was produced. Her identity as an artist was basically up for grabs. It was up for anybody to manipulate or question or put in doubt or affirm. You know, Jerry Saltz was affirming it.
The Artist: Well, because she made it into mainstream circulation.
The Critic: Yes, but not deliberately. She made it for the art world. The piece is for many people a kind of demonstration of an art world power dynamic.
The Artist: A similar thing can happen to any random person now.
MOD: She’s just treating very concretely and materially, the social relationships that constitute being a contemporary artist. I mean, that’s all she was doing. But then beyond that contemporary aesthetic field, it became a contemporary political field. But, I feel like the other field of contemporary politics is actually heavily monetized and spectacularized. News media is obviously using this as a way to provide content.
The Critic: It’s like this artist is selling her body because it’s a work. “Is it prostitution? Let’s talk about it.” It’s a very simple thing. It’s terms that the public can understand.
MOD: But, I think that’s a very epochal work. It almost signals a shift between the circulation of meaning that was possible in the kind of late twentieth century to something that’s now been completely reterritorialized through nowadays media, which preys upon individuals and the marketability of an individual product, the individual as a product.
The Artist: Even people that aren’t trying to think of themselves as products become products. The moment that happened to her where she’s all of a sudden in the national news… Nowadays, there’s that lady who tweeted some crass joke about AIDS in Africa and lost her career/life because of it. I mean, maybe she should have—whatever, but she just made a very poor joke. This is new territory where our environment can circulate stimulus at lightning speed and amplify one out of the context of the personal.
MOD: And reconstitute publics.
The Critic: That’s the hard thing to swallow. All of a sudden it’s not up to me to create myself as a creator or an author. Somehow that’s open to input. Or that’s available for comments. The comments section is public.
MOD: And the comments section is always a great read.
The Artist: Go back to this Kelley Walker bit—the fact that people are just disrupting the run-of-the-mill…
MOD: Talk about nurses, they nursed that. They put up basically a trigger warning at the beginning of the show.
The Artist: In the normal being disrupted with real ruptures people are being forced to confront their habit.
MOD: I mean, contemporary art is kind of a war, which is nice. It’s kind of great. I mean, it’s so much better than it was ten years ago.
The Dealer: Yeah, I like it.
The Artist: Routines and habits being questioned is a good thing. People have habitual behavior.
The Critic: To play the devil’s advocate a little bit—I’ll say that my only issue with it—is the idea of a speech act or a genre of a speech act becoming the naming of an enemy (or the identification of an enemy). To say that I am going to position myself to have a voice by the call-out. You need to account for your identity.
The Critic: Like a program.
The Artist: Because we’re living more in operations of tags and labels instead of sentences and paragraphs.
The Critic: I want to say, and I will say, that we’re living in a highly ideological age, but in a sense ideology is exactly what’s missing.
The Artist: Well, there’s the lack of a new ideology. We primarily rely on old ideologies.
The Critic: If you’re like I’m a third-generation Marxist whose obsessed with the Frankfurt school…
The Artist: Then you’re just tagging old ideologies. There needs to be new work.
The Critic: The problem happens when you critique the cultural appropriation of somebody like Kenny Goldsmith or the implicit racism in his artistic gesture… And yet you don’t identify with any ideological stream or ideological movement. The critique then is not about black empowerment, it’s not about leftism, it’s not about economic inequality—it’s just about the call-out… And this to me is toxic for art. And it’s hard to say that. Of course, I’m on the side of the critique in that sense I am on the side of the person who is going to bring these problematics into the cultural sphere to contend with Goldsmith’s work. But do I think that Kenny Goldsmith is the enemy? No, I don’t think so—nor is Kelley Walker.
MOD: These are all hypothetical comrades. The problem with art is that the war is against the people that are buying all of our art. That’s the biggest problem.
The Critic: Nobody’s going to go and make a show and name it after a collector.
The Dealer: Fuck the…
The Critic: Nobody’s going to make a show called “Bobby Cayre.” The dealer would be like “great idea, I love it. But you know, I don’t think it’s right for the gallery…”
MOD: The political economy of contemporary art doesn’t afford any sense of political movement. It’s a very problematic site.
The Critic: As a critic, I’ve been writing about art for about six years. I’ve been writing for bigger, more important magazines for about three years… In that time, I have never really written a really hard roast or violent critique. Not that I haven’t wanted to but because that kind of thing comes with consequences and I’m kind of waiting for the right moment to do that sort of thing. The system is set up in a way where it’s a self-preservation mechanism, you know what I mean? The magazines don’t necessarily want to insult their advertisers.
The Dealer: That’s why on Facebook you can get away with brutal takedowns, because there’s no real repercussion.
The Critic: I’ve posted shit I’ve deleted. I got an email from an art book publisher…
The Dealer: Nah, you’ve been pretty chill. You posted some honest shit. I admire that.
The Critic: Thanks, man. A couple weeks ago I got an email from a great art book publisher I admire. And they broke down their author catalogue by sex identity, gender identity, and race. They were like, “we’re doing better than Rizzoli! But we must do even better than this.”
MOD: They did a proper audit.
The Critic: Yeah, and I was just like: is this really where we’re at?
The Artist: “How good of a liberal am I?”
MOD: I guess the nightmare of call-out culture leads to this thing like this future of accountant citizens. It’s all about the bottom line, which brings us back to the kind of problem of enforced capitalist relationships.
The Artist: Which is also relying on the system that’s in place that orders the world to address the wrongs that it’s done.
MOD: Which is just a further extension of the capitalist apparatus…
The Artist: Is looking to the apparatus… The things that have been maintaining order to make the changes… To make amends…. Asking the grand system—is that even plausible? Or are you just barking up the wrong tree? There have been very serious attempts to redress the racial inequality inside the system. Amendments to the constitution have been passed!
MOD: Or even inner-community initiatives like the Black Panther or the Black Liberation Army.
The Dealer: Or Black Lives Matter.
MOD: Now, there’s that. But previous forms were crushed from the outside.
The Artist: People are asking the thing that crushed the Black Panthers—with their sort of socialist programs—to address the problem of race… is that really the person you want to go to, to ask to address the problem of race? The Panthers were actually trying to do a different thing, make a different way in the world… And it got squashed with an iron fist by the entity that is now being asked to provide a different way of life, one where state on citizen violence is rational and unbiased. Do you want to ask the entity that systemically offers up a poor life to begin with and tends toward stasis—logically, you would want to go elsewhere.
MOD: Right, but that’s the problem today—where is elsewhere? I mean, is there an elsewhere? Everywhere is everywhere. There’s a totality to capitalist space. Within its communication networks especially.
The Artist: But is this also perhaps a very effective fiction that we live under?
In reality, you could just step aside with a lot of people… You may not be in the
circulation. You may not be seen in the capitalist system, but you could just step aside. There could be a massive disappearance, perhaps…
MOD: I guess this gets to the political economy of contemporary art. How can art actually shape politics? Is it possible for art to shape politics? Or is art just an expression of politics?
The Artist: To borrow a recent Merlin moment… art is a good pointer. Instead of pointing to value maybe it can point away as well. It can’t make the exit itself, but could it show a map?
MOD: It can make you fugitive… to use maybe a tacky word.
The Artist: Make you fugitive? How so?
MOD: Just in the sense that—yeah, you want to escape from the system, but with this kind of problematic of freedom or slavery to the system—fugitivity can be this thing… I mean, this gets into romantic narratives of being an outlaw.
The Artist: Ooooooooo, like Larry Clark… just hanging out, doing drugs!
MOD: No, there’s far better examples, especially within the kind of people who are not white motherfuckers like him. But maybe that’s a point of solidarity, we all want to escape from the system, and maybe fugitivity and being on the run …
Actually, has some sort of cultural value.
The Critic: Of course! That was Seth’s whole thing… And why Ei Arakawa does the adaptation of his book… It was this whole idea. Now, we all have more
visibility than ever and yet disappearing is what people want to do. To just be the work. To not be an actor.
MOD: You don’t want to be a body.
The Critic: Personhood is so important these days. It’s why the alt-right or Trump’s campaign can spread a rumor that Hillary Clinton has some neurological disease that’s like a blockage to her “personhood.” And it’s not about her policies or agenda or the fact that she’s like a neoliberal globalist… It’s the fact that she has a disease that’s going to affect her personhood. Therefore, she’s not qualified to be president because personhood is paramount.
MOD: I mean, that’s the most ridiculous argument in the world, of course.
The Artist: He’s playing on the obsession of an older-style leader image, currently embodied by the Putin style. The strong, able body.
The Dealer: Well, in America you want to have a president that you can have a drink with.
The Critic: And also, that’s going to survive the four years.
The Artist: I don’t know… Donald Trump seems like he could just have a fucking heart attack!
The Critic: He would be the oldest president elected.
The Dealer: They’re two of the oldest candidates going head-to-head. I have a thought about this jibber-jabber… How is this conversation between four young bros different than the blabber on Facebook that we’re railing against?
The Critic: I don’t think we’re railing against it, I think we’re calling it into question. To answer you totally honesty, I’ll say this: there is something important about being in the same room as somebody when you’re talking to them—presenting yourself as a person—being sort of available for your critics, but also having your critics accountable to you.
The Artist: The reptile brain!
The Critic: How is having four bros sitting around a table talking about this any different from the online social media critiques of whatever, Facebook… And I said this: there’s something different about being in the same room together being accountable for what you say, being there as a person, but at the same time having your critics be accountable for what they say, something about togetherness, that is different…
The Artist: You’re less of a reptile living in your cell.
MOD: You’re faced with the circumstances by just having to be together.
The Critic: Yeah, this is true.
MOD: The illusion of social media.
The Artist: The illusion of conversation, the illusion of interaction… In early message boards… Facebook is just like a message board on ’roids who had children with another message board on ’roids. Facebook attempts to make people accountable for what they say, but the origin of Facebook—the original beast it’s based on—the technology it’s based on—is anonymous. And so there’s still that core, the kernel of anonymity—where you can just say whatever the fuck you want. You can accuse anyone of anything on the message boards. That’s the core, the anonymity… You can try as much as you want to make people accountable but at the core it is still an anonymous interaction of words being exchanged on the internet.
The Critic: The other thing we have to remember is this was the internet in the 1990s. When I got online when I was like fourteen or fifteen, it wasn’t about representing who you were; it was about having an avatar, a handle, an online identity, being someone else…
MOD: Actually, it was about potentiality.
The Critic: Yes.
MOD: What’s potential in your life that isn’t already there? It’s an effective fiction. It can turn into something, it can become real. You meet people in a chat room. A stranger. And then all of a sudden you can become really good friends with them, or not. You can become enemies with them, or not.
The Artist: Right now, the virtual is competing with the material world for who takes precedent.
MOD: It relies on the material world.
The Dealer: But to accrue value in the virtual world…
MOD: Relies on the market, the tracing. The tracing of the individual…
The Dealer: Yeah, it still takes work, still takes personality, and takes hard work… And that’s how you attract others, that’s how you do deals.
The Artist: Yeah, this is like the influencer. Physically traveling around the world making an image of themselves putting luggage to use.
MOD: Which turns into the cop thing and profiling. You’re profiling a market. You’re a potential set of values of interests.
The Dealer: Yeah, that’s how you can make money. Real money. Or fake money.
MOD: Fake money, which can turn into real money.
The Artist: Real money is fake money!
MOD: I mean that’s the thing, these things are kind of pretty coextensive.
The Artist: At this point money is just potential. It’s been that for a long time. As soon as currency goes away from the gold standard.
MOD: No, but it’s still rooted in bodies.
The Artist: What is the currency of a country based on now? It’s based on
productive capacity, ability to defend itself, it’s all about potential.
The Dealer: But, the gold standard—I remember talking with my dad about this one time—because Warren Buffet had this thing where he was like—if aliens came to Earth… And they were like “wow, you base your value around gold, that’s ridiculous, it’s an arbitrary thing”… And my dad was like “well, actually that’s not true.” The reason why it became such a special thing was because it had these intrinsic properties that still hold to this day.
MOD: I would say it has contingent properties, but still…
The Dealer: But, they still use them in technology.
The Artist: The use value is all contingent.
MOD: Historically, contingent. It’s just semantics, this is just so I sound like a better Marxist.
The Dealer: No, but there’s a use value in gold. And that’s the reason why it became special. And it was beautiful.
The Artist: But only in a certain scenario.
The Dealer: But, it was like these two things conjoining.
MOD: So symbolic value and use value coming together.
The Dealer: The reason why the German economy is forever doing well is because it’s prefaced on the fact that they make the thing inside the thing that goes inside the thing.
The Artist: The heart, the organs…“We make organs.”
The Dealer: And the materials they use to do that are these precious metals and one of the original ones is gold.
The Artist: Yeah, but there’s also a lot of other rare earth metals needed for tech, which interestingly enough—China commands vast reserves.
The Dealer: Russia has a lot, too.
The Artist: Yeah, that portion of the world. These sort of metals source of the current fantasy humans have of being able to mine space, asteroids in particular.
MOD: Which is the fantasy of most dot-com billionaires nowadays.
The Artist: If you were able to mine an asteroid for all of its potential mineral
or whatever… There’s so much of the rare earth metals on an asteroid that it would collapse the market, on Earth, for these metals.
The Dealer: But, by the time they can do it, the amount of money they would have to spend to do that, you know, it’s a way away… At that point, gas and oil will be extinguished.
The Artist: What I want to say is if one gets to the point of mining an asteroid under our current systems of economy—in order to maintain the viability of the investment into mining in space through the market value on Earth of said metals—one would have a diamond situation… The person who mined the asteroid would have to create artificial value for these things by holding monopoly over supply.