The yearly Art Basel Miami Beach VIP vernissage party is over (it was OK) and tomorrow the fair opens to the public for a subsequent four days of sensory overload; an obscenely condensed amalgam of modern and contemporary art exposed and peddled in a complex, but ultimately commercial matrix by which our cultural legacy is being selectively bred. Every year about this time I think about writing about the fair, but decide instead to trawl through the hundreds of emails – some releases, some submissions – in the hope of finding a suitably distracting alternative. Usually my search is in vain, but this year, huddled between something on the West Collection and yet another email from Susan Grant Lewin was a submission from an unknown writer, about a piece showing this week by two equally unknown artists. On the main land, not so far from the maddening crowd at a little place called Merc’s Studio (299 NW 36 Street, 33127), you will – if my source is reliable – find a large shipping crate. A collaborative, ostensibly predictable mock exhibition space with a difference… the art won’t be ready for nine months, if at all. Catch it Friday 6pm-12 am, Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening.
On ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology)
“There remains something uncommentable to save him. But don’t think that you can join him by saving him. This uncommentable has nothing mystical about it: it is simply the incommensurable brought back into commentary. Commentary will perforce be incongruent with the work.”
-Lyotard on Duchamp
ART is so repulsive that any enumeration of its transgressions threatens to proliferate the very same disgust that the piece initially engenders. I presume that most people writing about ART will do exactly that, so I will not. I would like simply to touch on a few problems raised by ART, problems that have helped form my own incongruent understanding of the work.
There is a certain genealogy in the history of modern art that can be identified by its tendency to make art by pushing art out of its proper territory and into other fields and practices. For example, Warhol pushes art into capital, and art as such is thereby redefined based on its relation to the market. In other words; art as a reflexive, epistemological deterritorialization. The question, “what is art?” is answered when the discourse of art absorbs, or is absorbed by, a field exterior to it. The most well known progenitor of this practice is, of course, Duchamp – though there are numerous other examples, from before and after Duchamp.
Read in this way, ART reterritorializes the field of art by merging it with the sphere of biopolitics. This is also the precise reason for the shock that it creates: “what business does art have in the sacred realm of human reproduction? That is, after all, a personal, familial, or medical issue that art has no right to invade.” Agreed: ART is unsettling because it displaces the stability of our humanisms. Though it is worth pointing out that artificial insemination is widely practiced today, and that there really is nothing radical or transgressive about it in itself. ART’s radicality emerges from its (art’s) direct and public engagement with the biopolitical.
I cannot presume to know what effect this - to my knowledge, unprecedented - proximity will have on art, science, the media, or on life. I have many reservations. For me, the task of art is primarily ontological and phenomenological, and secondarily epistemological. Art departs from problems of being, sensation, and perception, to arrive, potentially, at some knowledge about the world - not the other way around. Clearly, ART raises questions about creation, life, our relationship to technology, etc. -but I find that part of the work difficult to see, as it cedes the foreground to the blinding spectacle of inflammatory political issues.
ART could exist simply as a thought-experiment. My initial reaction to the project was: “Okay. That’s a crazy idea. Isn’t that enough?”. Its actualization is both exciting and frightening, like something of a contemporary biopolitical sublime, with its incommensurables and unpresentables rising up and foiling all attempts at commentary[.]
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.