InstaReview: SAWCC’s “In a State of Emergency?” Exhibition

sawccemergency.jpgEarlier this evening I checked out the opening of “In a State of Emergency? Women, War & the Politics of Urban Survival,” an exhibition presented by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collaborative here in New York. The show is up at the Alwan Center for the Arts in Lower Manhattan through December 9th. It features photography, video, multimedia and installation pieces by nine desi sisters: Salma Arastu, Meherunnisa Asad, Kiran Chandra, Mona Kamal, Bindu Mehra, Carol Pereira, Maryum Saifee, Tahera Seher Shah, and Vandana Sood.

I’ll go straight to the insta-review, dangerous as that is since I only just got back and the air-kissing, red-wine-in-plastic-cups opening atmosphere perhaps wasn’t the most conducive to critical contemplation (though I did stay away from the wine). So I hope other folks will chime in with their own impressions. Visually, I most enjoyed Shah’s “Jihad Pop” series of digital prints, with their stencils of desi and Islamic iconography set amid fields of sheer black and white. The most thought-provoking to me was Saifee’s series of “Postcards from the Middle East,” which she bills as self-portraits stemming from her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan: as she explains in the catalog, “my skin color made my authenticity as an American up for debate. On the street, I would either be mistaken as a Sri Lankan maid or as a Bollywood film star.” And I found Arastu’s “New York and I” series frustrating: visually fabulous in their superimpositions of New York street and subway scenes with armies of unhinged, chattering silhouettes, but marred by the poems written into each piece, which struck me as trite and superfluous.

The show is a project of SAWCC, the estimable organization that is now in its tenth year and that sponsors, among other events, the annual literary conference that a number of Mutineering types attended last year. SAWCC (pronounced, delightfully, “saucy”) continues to do the Lord’s work for culturally minded macacas, and they deserve all our support.

A show like this one, however, also suffers from self-imposed boundaries. It is imbued with a very 1990s, hyper-theoretical approach to the politics of representation that makes the inherent whimsy and improvisation of artistic creation — and, importantly, artistic consumption — feel secondary. The catalog essay, and the shorter version handed out on flyers, are nearly illegible, and I’ve got Ivy degrees and a reasonably honed appreciation for theory. It frustrates me no end — and this is not a knock on this exhibition specifically; far from it, it’s a common problem — when art is “explained” by its sponsors and presenters using language like this:

These increasingly paranoid urban spaces harbour fears of the irrational violence equated with terrorism, inducing a society of control in which surveillance, intimidation, and the erosion of personal liberty forces forms of resistance that employ the strategies of the absurd. Increasingly aware of the machine that governs and questioning the methods and motives of the state, the artists in this exhibition rely on the absurd, irrational, and uncanny to produce counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control.

Like the artists of Dada, these contemporary practitioners respond to the presence of war, excess, and other degenerate transgressions of contemporary urban life. Like the women of Dada, they also respond to issues of identity altered by male repression and subjugation, aware of a world in which urban social orders are based on the governance of space, each system of control based on meta-structuring agents, making each space, city, and response, culturally specific. Such disciplinary systems of control exude masculinity, often necessitating a physical, emotional, and psychological domination of women, placing them in a “state of emergency.”

Got that? Read it again: It’s not gibberish, it just feels like it is. There is plenty of meaning, and indeed, a viable argument or several in those hyper-extended, comma-laden sentences. The problem is, those arguments are being beaten into us with the implicit presumption that, ultimately, there is a right way and a wrong way to apprehend this art. And that, plainly, is bullshit. For one thing, taken as theory alone, the argument above merits unpacking; it cobbles together numerous assumptions and interpolations about the world about us with verbs like “induce,” “force,” and “necessitate,” that are dead giveaways of a lack of interest in, or openness to, the serendipitous and the unexpected. Rigidity and art make poor companions, as previous uses of the word “degenerate” in the context of art criticism have made abundantly clear; and I think it’s a disservice to a whole class of potentially interested viewers, as well as to the artists themselves, to fence a potentially interesting exhibition behind such a grim gateway.

45 thoughts on “InstaReview: SAWCC’s “In a State of Emergency?” Exhibition

  1. I only just got back and the air-kissing, red-wine-in-plastic-cups opening atmosphere

    So, like, Siddhartha…are these events good places to meet women?

  2. Sorry boss that is way too heavy to read. Too many big words and without dictionary hard to understand ye kya ho raha he?

  3. system of control based on meta-structuring agents

    Wow! That sounds like an electrical engineering thesis topic.

    BTW, can everything be meta’ed?

  4. So Siddhartha, what do you think of the project, its mission/purpose/goals, and what other limitations do you feel it had? Aside from an over-theoretical parsing of the purpose and interpretation of the pieces, did you feel there were other limiting elements?

  5. BTW, can everything be meta’ed?

    “Even my conditioning has been conditioned!” (Black Star)

  6. So Siddhartha, what do you think of the project, its mission/purpose/goals, and what other limitations do you feel it had? Aside from an over-theoretical parsing of the purpose and interpretation of the pieces, did you feel there were other limiting elements?

    Fair question. I don’t think all of the art really stood up to the grand theoretical purpose. This is a good thing, I think — I detected a lot of whimsy and play in many of the pieces, and I think that aspect could have been left to manifest itself more freely. The whole staging and swathing in interpretive text felt, I don’t know, controlling, in a way that turned me off. It makes you wonder — and again this is a question that goes to a lot of “activist art” — how much the artists themselves are allowing themselves to play. A lot, I dare to hope.

    The other part of this is that it’s a small exhibition — fits in one large-ish room. So it’s not like it’s the grand, definitive exhibition of a particular artistic school. The art felt more experimental than the packaging. I’d like to see still more experimentation, and a lot less packaging, know’m saying?

    Anyway I’m sure there were other mutinous types in the room, so I hope they’ll chime in with some other views.

  7. “Even my conditioning has been conditioned!” (Black Star)

    ‘Anything you can do, I can do meta.’

    (Dunno who said it originally – people who work with Lisp throw it around quite a bit)

  8. I should add that I hope NYC area macacas and macacaphiles check out the show and form, and share, their own impressions! It runs through December 9.

  9. Siddhartha,

    Translating intention and purpose between mediums is a difficult, perhaps even impossible, task; too often the pressure to include all probable interpretations and conntations of a body of work leads to interminable lists (“counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control” anyone?) and self-consciousness to the point of pompousness. But calling it “gibberish” is overly harsh, no? And exaggerated comments such as

    Sorry boss that is way too heavy to read. Too many big words and without dictionary hard to understand ye kya ho raha he?

    that seem to equate intellectual lethargy with some form of salt-of-the-earth integrity are plain annoying.

    Thanks for your insta-review–i’m going to try and catch the exhibit next week. In related news–Shazia Sikander write-up here (via 3 Quarks Daily).

    _

  10. the text is a thorny read but not biting, like a poor man’s attempt at Perry Anderson. Anderson:

    What will be its politics? For Juvin, born in 1958, the culture of the body descends from the sixties, when the rebels of 1968 raised the demand for sexual freedom. ‘Naturally, behind it, nothing, or very little was at stake; the only real liberation in this area is one that individuals achieve for themselves—collective political demonstrations are of small consequence for it’. Behind the banners and slogans, in fact, the deadening opposite of desire was on the march, the saturation and banalization of sex, with its generalized appropriation by the market. Alongside this flattening of the libidinal landscape, moreover, has gone the fading of all past forms of the transcendent. Longevity extinguishes belief in eternity. Not that a need for the sacred simply disappears. Religion, like nature, still has its appeal. But in this regime, genuine belief in either of them has all but vanished, and will not return. Instead, we have ersatz versions: techno raves rather than holy communion, not woods or wetlands but municipal parks.

    I like the idea of mutation as opposed to ‘control’ and which allows for the reality that the collective response may vary from apathy to awareness.

  11. These increasingly paranoid urban spaces harbour fears of the irrational violence equated with terrorism, inducing a society of control in which surveillance, intimidation, and the erosion of personal liberty forces forms of resistance that employ the strategies of the absurd. Increasingly aware of the machine that governs and questioning the methods and motives of the state, the artists in this exhibition rely on the absurd, irrational, and uncanny to produce counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control.

    Looks like someone got her Ph.D in Identity.

    Such disciplinary systems of control exude masculinity”

    This makes me horny.

  12. “Even my conditioning has been conditioned!” (Black Star)

    My dear siddhartha, you may not remember but many many moons ago when I first stumbled across this site, you caught a reference I made to that prodigious collaboration…. I have adored you ever since.

    Sorry for the tangential stroll, folks… I couldn’t resist.

  13. aware of a world in which urban social orders are based on the governance of space, each system of control based on meta-structuring agents, making each space, city, and response, culturally specific. Such disciplinary systems of control exude masculinity, often necessitating a physical, emotional, and psychological domination of women, placing them in a “state of emergency

    If you live in a highly populated place such as NYC,it is a given that any social order at all is a negotiation through ones economic and social status (though not mutually exclusive)and the relative amount of territory available to the individual. Space in urban places is always a negotiation and puts humans in closer and closer proximity to one another giving rise to fierce competition for resources. Since we can’t see examples of the work, am I correct in assuming that the artists views are that this competition for space with a hegemonic power structure is specifically placing women in a state of emergency?

    I’ll get back to this later. I have to referee the struggle for resources (a tired basketball) and 38 teenagers.

  14. the text is a thorny read but not biting, like a poor man’s attempt at Perry Anderson.

    It could pass for a poor man’s attempt at the Daily Show.

    Stewart: Stephen, I have to say, and again, you know, I can’t help but wonder, what does all this mean? Stephen: [begins stroking goatee silently] Stewart: uh, Stephen…Stephen Stephen: Hold on Jon, that’s a five stroker [continues stroking goatee silently, to the audience's laughter]. Jon, The Gates is a triumph of contemporary installation art. Each Gate redefining its section of the park as not a public place for private reflection, but a private place for public reflection, juxtaposed with the barrenness of the mid-winter, The Gates posits a chromatic orgy, this riot of colour achieves a rare re-defamilrazation [sic] with the nature of place-time, the whatness of our whereness. N0 longer framed …. I’m sorry I’ve run out of crap. [audience applauds]
  15. maya:

    But calling it “gibberish” is overly harsh, no?

    And I didn’t. I said:

    Got that? Read it again: ItÂ’s not gibberish, it just feels like it is. There is plenty of meaning, and indeed, a viable argument or several in those hyper-extended, comma-laden sentences.

    I actually followed the argument, and my problems with it are as much at the level of the argument itself as at the level of its presentation. But it took a deep breath, some hard digging, and over-ruling the mental sensors that warn of obtuse writing and/or inflexible politics. My point is that those are a lot of hurdles to accessing creative work. Counter-productive, if you will.

    espressa:

    when I first stumbled across this site, you caught a reference I made to that prodigious collaboration

    Awww, shucks :) But yeah, that album is an abundant source of wisdom that you don’t even need a comp. lit. Ph.D to grok! Too bad nothing either one did solo after that ever matched that album. One of those perfect pieces.

  16. I’ll get back to this. I have to referee the struggle for resources (a tired basketball) and 38 teenagers.

    And all that at 7:16 in the morning! Hats off to you, Coach. We should have you moderate these comment threads sometime.

  17. I agree with Siddhartha that it’s not gibberish but it’s basically a load of Attitude with a capital A. And I’m kind of sick of it, really.

    I mean: is it art because the artist is responding “to the presence of war, excess, and other degenerate transgressions of contemporary urban life”? Or because the artist is constructing “counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control”?. Or is it art because, well, I don’t know, it stirs something up in you? Call me unsophisticated but for those of us who don’t do literary criticism for a living, responding to art is primarily a sort of religious feeling: you look at something and go wow and then keep thinking about it — and then you do some kind of analysis to see why it works as it does.

    And it probably works because it does construct some kind of counter-hegemonic narrative — but I’d rather it was told to me after I’d looked at the work (or heard it or seen it) instead of the whole thing being front-loaded upon me thereby making me feel guilty because hey, I didn’t really like that counter-hegemonic narrative, which being a responsible citizen of the world, I should have, no?

  18. It makes you wonder — and again this is a question that goes to a lot of “activist art” — how much the artists themselves are allowing themselves to play.

    Thanks, Siddhartha :) Do you think perhaps the element of “play” was limited by the theme of the production, or do you feel that the underlying intent of the art was the limiting factor here?

    I agree with Siddhartha that it’s not gibberish but it’s basically a load of Attitude with a capital A. And I’m kind of sick of it, really.

    This is really interesting to me. Coming from an “activist poetry” background, I’m pretty used to the “art has a purpose” conversations. Why couldn’t the production be art because of all the aspects you questioned? Isn’t that part of the purpose of art – to be multidimensional? But also, let’s say they had toned down the contextualization and academic-y explanations a bit. Would that have made it more palatable? And while everyone should be allowed their own interpretation of art, is it really that problematic that the artists had a specific message they wanted to convey and thus designed their exhibit to ensure that these interpretations were made available?

    This is fascinating to me. I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to grill, I actually find the responses really interesting :)

  19. The paragraphs Siddhartha cited lead me to ask a question about the world of visual arts in general. How is a neophyte, like myself, supposed to understand what’s going on if I have to digest quotes like that? My eyes glazed over after the second sentence. I’m as snobby as the next guy (my particular form of elitism revolves around music), but when I’m trying to digest any work of art, whether it be music, a painting, or what have you, I look at three things:

    1. The artist’s objective
    2. Whether the artist achieved that objective
    3. My own subjective response to the piece

    The first two have to do with artistic concept. If I can see that there is an artistic vision that has been achieved (there are several criteria I have when judging this), I recommend said piece to others even if I had a negative personal response because they may still have a different subjective reaction. On the other hand, if I can’t decipher any artistic concept, I’m relying entirely on my subjective response which shortchanges both the artist and anyone who asks me about the piece because at that point I have no basis for criticism. So, in that context, how does one develop the knowledge and background (short of going back to school) to look at a work of art?

  20. Do you think perhaps the element of “play” was limited by the theme of the production, or do you feel that the underlying intent of the art was the limiting factor here?

    The former. I think that play is pretty much inherent in artistic creation, independent of other things going on. My beef is with the staging, not with the art. Activist staging per se is fine, but needs to be handled with care if a new audience is going to be reached, new consciousnesses are going to be raised. Isn’t that the whole point? As in so many other arenas, often less is more.

  21. Interesting question, Sriram. My suggestions are as follows:

    1) Educate yourself: read good general criticism. I think the critics at a paper like the NY Times are excellent, especially folks like Holland Cotter and Michael Kimmelman. Think of them as congenial guides to the art, not arbiters on its final meaning.

    2) Ignore, as far as possible, wall labels in museums and galleries. They tend to talk a lot of rot, and they interfere with the visual experience. Exhibition catalogues, on the other hand, tend to be quite helpful, especially after you’ve seen the show. Images don’t always give themselves up easily, but the effort involved in understanding them is as rewarding as it is for jazz, or dance, or anything else.

    3) Trust your eye. It’s subtler and more intelligent than you might think.

    That’s it.

  22. Mr. K – why not go with the simpler “99% of all art crit is rot” ?

    The bit that Siddhartha quotes strikes me, at first glance, as something a bit worse than vacuous. It’s not only very poor communication, but it comes across as hectoring, nudging, trying to herd of bully the reader into ideological conformity. When something is written for a general audience in a specialized vocabulary, I always grow suspicious – why is the writer choosing to adopt a specialized discourse instead of a general one? Why are they assuming the mantle of authority through the use of obscure words when simple ones can do? And if simple ones can’t do – why not?

    I still have to really read and re-read it. Right now, it hurts my eyes, and I am in the middle of a work day …

  23. Mr. K,

    I do try to read critics in the Times, and I agree, generally when I read their critiques I generally know what I should be expecting. This draws another point that might verge on threadjacking, but that’s never stopped me before. I find it annoying that there are so many good literary and art critics out there, but that is not the case with music criticism. As I said before, I don’t trust criticism based entirely on one’s subjective reaction (because beauty is…), and that is what popular music critics (read Down Beat and Rolling Stone) tend to focus on. I believe that this is mainly because those critics don’t have the necessary background. Whereas literary critics are, by definition, writers, and art critics are often schooled in art history and such, how many music critics have ever written a song or played on a stage? Without such experience, you are not fit to comment on points 1 and 2 of my system. At least that’s my opinion. Hell, even sports commentary ensures that former players are in the booth during the game and behind the desk at half time.

  24. is it really that problematic that the artists had a specific message they wanted to convey and thus designed their exhibit to ensure that these interpretations were made available?

    Camille,

    Maybe I should explain with an example. I spent some time doing grad studies within an inter-disciplinary field (artists, engineers, computer scientists, educators and so on). Well, an art piece that I really liked went something like this: five barrels of water were arranged in a circle and in each barrel there was a gong. So basically as the level of water in the barrel rose or fell, the gong would sound differently. Now each barrel also had a pump, and was connected to an adjacent barrels (they’re in a circle, remember?). All the barrels were given a specific behavior: if the water level in a barrel rose beyond a certain level, it would start dumping its water into the next barrel, until the level reduced. The whole system was given a certain amount of water and then started off: as the barrels pushed water into each other, the water level in each barrel rose and fell, thereby changing the sounds the gongs made. It was quite beautiful really, a self-sustaining system, whose interacting components gave rise to particular kinds of sounds depending on the state they were in.

    But the artist himself, when he explained his piece, started off with some long speech about the distribution of water being a big problem in the world and how he wanted to do something about it. Excuse me, but this project tells us jack about how we are going to solve the water problems of the world. It’s a physically instantiated, generative model, that produces interesting patterns of sounds and my own guess was that the artist did come to it that way: he wanted to create some kind of self-sustaining sound system, with a certain underlying model. In other words, if I may, he wanted to something “cool”.

    But somehow academia being what it is, that kind of explanation simply wouldn’t suffice so then all these “water and it discontents” explanations have to be created. I’m not saying that the artist was being deliberately insincere but more that there is a kind of peer-pressure that operates: you have to frame your piece as having some genuine “purpose” (as if just generating beautiful sounds isn’t a purpose) and most artists interpret that their purpose somehow has to be an activist one. A co-student of mine made a dance-for-camera-piece as a protest against capitalism (!!) — which struck me as being completely tacked-upon.

    Which is not to say that artists aren’t motivated by some kind of genuine desire to change the world; they are, more than any other group of people I know of. But they also seem to be motivated by other things: some strange desire to just create something, or even to “play” (or Siddhartha called it) with the medium. The whole “purpose” thing however leads them to surround their playful pieces with some activist interpretation (and not as a back-piece either. The narrative goes something like “this piece was motivated by (put favorite cause here)” rather than “this piece can be reasonably interpreted to be about (favorite cause)”).

    All of which is not to say that art-pieces aren’t motivated by social injustice (or any other of form of hegemony). Perhaps most of them are! If they are, by all means, lets make that as clear as possible. If they aren’t, and are motivated by some desire to play with the medium, then let’s not strain for some activist purpose — I did it because I thought it was “cool” should be an acceptable reason!

    When every art-piece tries to smother me with its own counter-hegemonic narrative, it makes me want to come up with a counter-hegemonic narrative of my own. :-)

    Anyway, I should go and see the said piece Siddhartha’s post is about, before shooting my mouth off more.

  25. So, in that context, how does one develop the knowledge and background (short of going back to school) to look at a work of art?

    Ok, maybe I am being crude about this, but I would think that aside from boning up on a little art history (especially with respect to schools of art and the context for each movement), that a person should not need extensive training to appreciate art. Particularly not if the purpose of the art is to be public in nature or convey a message, as it seems the SAWCC exhibit intends. I think it’s fine to say “ok, intent was X, reaction is Y, hmmmm.” I also think that sometimes the tension between artist’s purpose and viewer’s reaction is part of the artistic intent, anyhow.

    It’s not only very poor communication, but it comes across as hectoring, nudging, trying to herd of bully the reader into ideological conformity. When something is written for a general audience in a specialized vocabulary, I always grow suspicious – why is the writer choosing to adopt a specialized discourse instead of a general one? Why are they assuming the mantle of authority through the use of obscure words when simple ones can do? And if simple ones can’t do – why not?

    But what if, you are not trying to hector, but have become so accustomed to the language of really complex theory that you’ve forgotten that to a certain extent it is meaningless in popular discourse? It could just be that the curators were swept away in this language.

  26. I never trust the artist’s intention; in fact, the best stance is an ironical one, because how is the author to know what goes on unaware in his interiors?

    Framing by committee is clutter that takes away from the experience itself. The aesthetic experience, as Simone Weil, Hegel, Abhinavagupta, and so many others have pointed out, is non-dual, breaking down the boundaries between observer and observed.

  27. most artists interpret that their purpose somehow has to be an activist one.

    I feel like your experience is definitely unique, but also it sounds like perhaps a lack of articulation of purpose prior to something being created played a role in making the artist seem duplicitous? Perhaps the idea of “art with a purpose” also varies by discipline? Or perhaps this is common among specific schools of art or specific artists? It’s funny because, aside from my group of friends, I feel like most of the art I see is “for art’s sake” or for a non-specific purpose. Perhaps the politicized nature of art is also specific to the time we live in. “Protest art” and dissent has finally become popular again as the President’s approval ratings plummet and pop artists start taking up the cause. Maybe it’s just become trendy again.

  28. that a person should not need extensive training to appreciate art.

    I totally agree with this statement. And lest anyone think my comments are a little too holier-than-thou, my beef is with art criticism, not the audience. While I think a person should not need a B.F.A. to understand a painting or a piece of music, I do expect a certain amount of knowledge from those who criticize that art as a profession.

  29. how many music critics have ever written a song or played on a stage? Without such experience, you are not fit to comment on points 1 and 2 of my system.

    I haven’t. And yet, I often get props from big-time musicians, including jazz musicians, about the quality of questions I ask or the fact that my writing indicates that I “get it.” So I must be doing something right, at least some of the time.

    I’m in a rush right now so I can’t do justice to this (and btw, Sriram, I got your email and will reply forthwith), but here are a couple of things that seem to work for me as a critic:

    1) Don’t overreach. A lot of bad criticism comes when the critic’s mouth writes a check that his/her ass (or training or background or experience) can’t cash.

    2) Study. Not necessarily to compose or play or paint, but to appreciate deeply. There is such a thing as “ear training,” for example.

    3) Know your strengths. I can’t do advanced musicological analysis, but I’m good at situating work within its social, cultural, literary, etc. context, and drawing connections the reader might not otherwise think of. So I do more of that, and leave the technical analysis to those who are good at it. And I respect them and their strengths, and learn from reading them. Each one teach one.

    4) Be open, accepting and curious. Before critiquing a piece of work, first be sure to approach it on its own terms, take it at face value. When interviewing an artist, let them tell their story the way the want to. Learn how to ask questions that will stimulate the respondent to say something you didn’t expect them to say. Embrace the unexpected.

    and last but not least:

    5) Learn to write. No matter what the artist works with, the critic works with words. If you write your criticism, learn to write. If you speak it, learn to talk in ways that work with the medium (radio, TV or whatever). If you respect your own craft and hold yourself to a high standard, you’ll understand other crafts better as well.

    OK, I gotta get off my high horse and onto the iron worm. Later y’all. Keep the convo going, this is interesting stuff.

  30. I’ll add one more:

    6) Summarize. Before launching into any critique (good, bad, or ugly) of any piece, you must be able to write a decent comprehensive reasonable exegesis of the piece itself such that (and this is important) the author/creator, on reading your exegesis, is able to say “yes, that’s approximately what i was trying to do” or “yes, that’s approx. what the piece is about”. Only after that does a critique make sense. (this is a useful rule-of-thumb, not a prescription).

    For examples of how not to do criticism (no exegesis, just an ad-hominem attack), see Wieseltier, Leon here and here.

    For an example of someone who’s powers of exegesis (and critique) are unmatched, read any criticism by the philosopher Thomas Nagel. For instance he reviewed The God Delusion for TNR here.

  31. I haven’t. And yet, I often get props from big-time musicians, including jazz musicians, about the quality of questions I ask or the fact that my writing indicates that I “get it.” So I must be doing something right, at least some of the time.

    I didn’t mean to imply that it is impossible to be a good critic if you don’t have some training in the subject of your criticism, although looking back at my comments it certainly seems that way. To clarify, I find this is a problem with many of the critics I don’t respect, and who unfortunately carry a lot of clout. And though I admit I don’t read that much criticism, from my limited exposure it still seems as though I encounter more frustration with music criticism than with any other art form.

  32. But what if, you are not trying to hector, but have become so accustomed to the language of really complex theory that you’ve forgotten that to a certain extent it is meaningless in popular discourse? It could just be that the curators were swept away in this language.

    One of the main principles of this kind of language is that the choice of discourse is never neutral. If they’ve forgotten that, then they’re really in trouble.

    You’re right that it might reflect the unconscious use of power than that its deliberate use, but it has a clear effect. For one thing, it’s exclusionary.

  33. All this critique of art crit. Enquiring minds not living in NY want to see the art. Unless my tired brain skipped right past the link. Not trusting the brain, since it started seeing anagram in Shreeharsh/Seher Shah (close but not quite).

    Tahera Seher ShahÂ’s work can be seen here.

  34. Trust your eye. ItÂ’s subtler and more intelligent than you might think.

    Always. Also try to get a kidÂ’s perspective. Not always practical (hello Mapplethorpe). But they can amaze you w/ bs-free observations.

    I donÂ’t trust criticism based entirely on oneÂ’s subjective reaction (because beauty is…), and that is what popular music critics (read Down Beat and Rolling Stone).

    The geniuses who gave 3 stars to Nevermind, 3.5 stars to some BS Spice Girls album, 4 stars to Dangerous. In late ‘80s, the said geniuses also carped about worrisome trend of rap’s growing popularity among R&B artists.

    Sriram, I actually enjoyed your posts. DidnÂ’t think threadjack.

    Speaking of threadjack. Desi women of Dada. Can one call them Didi?

  35. I went to school with Bindu (from SAWCC exhibit). She was in grad school at VCU when I was doing an undergrad double BFA/BS. Her work back then was gorgeous tall, waxy structures more like panels than paintings. People should go and see her work -and try to talk to her. The way she spoke was much like this writing.

    I doubt she’d remember me, since we only conversed once and were in different depts. In fairness, that’s the way we all were trained to talk about art, politics and everything else. I came to feel, even though I did well with it, that art was only for artists and ironically, those in charge of the hegemonic power structure.

    I don’t use my BFA to make a living except to encourage kids to be able to describe what they see. You’d be surprised how much a good eye helps me in coaching.

  36. I was under the impression that art dealers were the translators trying to get you to buy the work. Then you can feel smart Ennis ;) Don’t feel bad. When the hegemonic power structure is dismantled, we’ll all speak like this…

  37. You’re right that it might reflect the unconscious use of power than that its deliberate use, but it has a clear effect. For one thing, it’s exclusionary.

    And it’s totally inaccessible by the public, which kind of defeats the purpose of public exhibitions and public art and protest art, yes?

    Maybe my arguments for covering their butts are self-reflective; I’m definitely guilty of getting all jargonistic and comfortable using language that sounds like total gobbledy-gook. Oh well.

    Also, I think music criticism is a whole different ball game. I don’t know, this is always the critique of critics – if you can’t do it, shut up. I just think this line of thought is stupid and exclusionary/elitist. Art – of all forms (including music) – should be for everyone.

  38. Where is Manju to tangentially argue for Kindleberger’s hegemonic stability theory?

  39. Siddhartha,

    I’m sorry.

    I didn’t mean to imply that you were calling the write-up gibberish. I blame my 1 a.m. writing skills.

    I did, however, mean to grumble about the general overuse of “gibberish” as a critical term–esp. by my undergrads who assume that anything they don’t understand at first skim belongs in that category.

    Everyone else,

    Awesome discussion. Especialy the point about how written mediations seem to “herd us” (Ennis was that you?) towards an ideologically fashionable P.O.V.