"how many people are there in the united states"
phone ready, we look it up
my cousin laughs, high and gleeful
“if america and china fought, who do you think would win?”
“ten chinese people equal...one american”
she keeps laughing, sticks ten fingers out again
she points her index finger in my face
she's really giggling, girlish
“who would win?”
later she talks about the practicality of chinese people her age. young chinese people exist constrained, living very practical lives. they are street smart and work hard.
I say that it is a good. I try to say that–
she says but don't I know? Young chinese people have wistful fantasies too.
"five paradoxes and a formal complaint"
The middle aged Chinese immigrant who flagellates the Chinese government, not from the perspective of the western ex-imperialist but the nationalistic Chinese, refuses to move back because his work and associations are assimilated deeply into the passably American.
The middle aged Chinese turned American citizen who has spent her formative years in China is reunited with her family in Beijing as an American company recruits her as their Chinese brand ambassador pushing American management techniques and laws onto the new Chinese sector of their corporation
The teenaged Chinese boy whose well off parents send him overseas to to a host family and high school in the Midwest refuses to learn English in the spirit of Chinese nationality (“I am Chinese, I don't need English”) and the values of education his parents desperately want him to embody by the nihilistic act of doing nothing but playing PC games all day, everyday.
A young Shanghainese shopaholic feels supremely proud of her national identity and the wealth of a nation that can be seen in its purest form only in American and European shopping centers where she is perpetually buying and congratulated on buying.
A college student in Hangzhou knows that it is no longer a question of who are the most popular artists (music) in the United States but which American artists are better appropriated by Chinese artists that decide popular taste.
And, of course, (the most paradoxical of them all):
A Chinese factory manufactures and packages two versions of the same product in two different qualities sending the stock of a higher quality to the United State because that is what they are used to and the one of poorer quality to the local markets because that is what they're used to. After shipping rates and relative incomes are factored in it is the Chinese who buy a worse made good at a relatively higher price from their own local factories. Some of the poorly made stock is sent overseas in small amounts filling order made by small dollar stores in the poorer, urban areas of the United States and some of the stock of higher quality is shipped back to China by e-commerce entrepreneurs, both satisfying a demand previously unaccounted for.
"the stickiness between object(ivity)/subject(hood) - a poem and three teases"
1. Two types of discovery: A. of something waiting, something that can be absorbed B. of what is already among our kind e.g. the discovery of humans by viruses vs the discovery of viruses by human, the discovery of the mirror and the discovery of the mirror's onlooker by the mirror 2. If we follow the logic of the subject and define reality as the result of perceived binaries, then is seems that A (the discovery of what is absorbed) is the result of B (the discovery of what is already among us). 3. It is exactly this logic which is being used to reevaluate and devalue the event of historicalized discovery in the Age of Exploration to paint a more objective image of reality - contemporary objectivity enacts itself only after the reproduction of the subject(vie). 4. (This mimetic fusion of object and subject is achieved after the absorption of object into subjecthood). 5. Our ability to create objectivity is constrained upon the flexibility of subjecthood in both taking in objects and reproducing itself objectively. This is called an Act of Will but, in action, subjecthood's own flexibility is not up to herself but the infinite possibilities of posture of the object. 6. Another will, the will to be transparent, is the processing of subject(hood/tivity) (back) into increments of illusion, a mimicry ripe for reproduction (in other words, an object). This is a falsity that breeds faith. 7. This appearance of objectivity makes the incongruencies of subjects turn away from one another in complete harmony and equality. Baudrillard (paraphrased): we cannot grasp appearance and meaning at one time. Me: the object makes an appearance and the subject finds meaning. - We subscribe to the appearance of the objective historical tapestry when we want to give ourselves meaning: an heroic feat. - Because of the fusion of the object/subject, we can accomplice no meaning beyond taking and giving and our heroism is merely a small pulse.
bootlegged gauguin and post-colonialism
Adorno and Walter Benjamin distinguished an artwork's autonomy and aura away from its market and circulation. From the perspective of developing countries, artists are increasingly mobile citizens with special status, a booming tourist economy operates between cultural centers of power, and the language of contemporary art is increasingly powerful for gaining political power and intellectual prestige by way of institutional display. The current and most common model of an artist from a developing nation gaining any voice is that of an artist using his/her native, localized history to gain authenticity as a currency in the global cultural realm and to justify the pricelessness of his/her work. China's history of aesthetic imitation specific to traditional ink painting, a relationship of art, labor, and nationalism resulting in a post-colonist splintering of schools of art, one fiercely traditional while the other tried hard to adapt to westernization. It is only after this history that Chinese painting sweatshops, filled with art school graduates preferring a stable paycheck and consistent location to the white walled gallery world, create a copy industry based on photographs and desires created by tourism. The industry of art reproduction is an underside of the luxury art economy, a fantasy world desiring all that is artificial and inauthentic. By analyzing Gauguin's Tahitian Women on the Beach the cost of authenticity, the double role the developing world has been cast in as either barbaric object or complacent subject, becomes clear. The artist's misunderstanding of his subject as that which is painted but does not know painting are made specific to his time and condition. When reinterpreted by reproductions of the same painting under, a context that flips the usual poles of artifice as construct and authenticity as subject upside down, the expression of the woman becomes participatory and multiethnic. The painting becomes one that can never be looked at alone in its special, illusionary vacuum but one viewed through another illusionary space. The copy undos, reworking painting back into its open and undone state. As we see more and more images that depict the artificially of art as the precursor to its value it is not enough to divide the redundant or imitative from the original or innovative. New models of distribution, display, and nationality must be paid attention to as they not only inevitably change viewership but rewrite the old desires and re-evaluate old mythologies.
Reproductions of world renowned paintings produced in China are frequently called forgeries or bootlegged paintings. They focus on historical and iconic moments of painting from a western canon such as Impressionism or Neoclassicism, reproducing Van Goghs or Michelangelos with a speed and cheapness that western artist would find hard to compete against, that is, if the exchange value of painting were as dependent on the overhead cost of production as other commodities. The workers in painting sweatshops are trained from art academies in China. Instead of competing in an international market they choose a stable but low stipend with a single location to live and work in (none of them Òlives in Tennessee, shows in New YorkÓ). In fact, these artists circulate their work without circulating themselves or their names and often collaborating while bypassing the celebrated art show altogether. They do not show in white walled galleries or participate in academic, museum oriented dialogues. Art production, for them, is a function of the economy, like work, not a series of gestures. This type of painting comes into full force in the late eighties and nineties during China's growing market as it begins to compete with the West on the world stage on capitalist terms while reinforcing its own individuality and national identity in the cultural realm. Developing countries such as China encourage cultural production inside the high art industry to elevate themselves as global players while artists become more transient and centered in global centers of power, such as New York or London. Art is a multimillion dollar luxury industry that polarizes one voice into the localized and the international. Artists, like Ai WeiWei or Mona Hatoum, hold a special status due to their recognition outside the countries they are attributed to and an education in the conceptual language of contemporary art. They gain authenticity from a native, localized position but only in the context of a specific international condition. Under any luxury economy is an underside acting as both mirror and shadow Ð the bootleg economy's artist is not mobile, works under the geopolitical lines drawn by the banal object economy, and disrupts the ordinary and linear absorption of the avant garde into the canon by imitating its aesthetic on his/her own terms. This grey market fragments authorship and the fetishization of originality, long having to do with individuality and identity, by inserting into it the role of the copy.
The first point to consider is art's relationship to labor within modern Chinese history. China's history of Communism brought art and labor together under the same category. This was primarily due to the work of Ai Qing, a friend of Mao who studied in France. He was a poet who compared on the toil of peasant, the labor of factory workers, and the practice of artists and found them to be equal. The poems of Ai Qing were read widely across China and incorporated into a part of the curriculum inside schools. Art became not only a function of the economy whose labor produced value but a function to serve national identity. The second point of consideration is the practice of copying in traditional Chinese painting. To learn aesthetic a student of painting was not allowed to copy nature until he/she had sufficiently copied works by old masters. To be sufficient copyier a painter was not expected to copy every detail but to adequately respond and make their own changes to the images already existing. The construction of the painting did not center around an overall impression of the original painting but the experience of each brushstroke and each breath the strokes signify. The process of observation and interpretation was the emphasis. When western powers forced China to open its doors as a colonial entity art adapted by splitting into two schools of thought. In the area centered around Beijing Chinese artists learned western techniques in oil paint by imitation while in the area near Shanghai Chinese artists carefully guarded their traditional practice by holding resolutely onto the old materials and old processes. In this landscape the wealth and power of the international art industry represented new opportunities, the old processes became precious, and the efforts of Chinese artists were often read as between these two centers of authenticity, both imitative and redundant, lacking in innovation as a result of colonialism or by internal nature. It could also be said that copying was a part of a distinct Chinese visual language from its beginning and within the country's history there has been a clear attempt to categorize art into labor as a function of the nation's autonomous economy.
Adorno drew a line between the autonomy of an artwork and its circulation in the market. Walter Benjamin claimed that the aura of a work, defined by its location in tradition, withers in an age of mechanical reproduction. Pierre Bourdieu, going off of Marx's distinction of a commodity's use value and symbolic value, called artwork Òsymbolic goodsÓ. In her book High Price, Isabelle Graw splits symbolic goods Òinto a symbolic value and a market valueÓ. She goes on to claim that, in an age of digital reproduction, aura has actually been heightened that that the symbolic value, its aura, its authenticity, and its supposed autonomy from the market and reigning political forces support and justify the market value of works. The market value of an object, according to her, depends on its relation to other commodities and can be abstracted according to its potential value or anticipatory value for the future. The art object's symbolic value coincides with its use value as an abstract product for creating centers of power and production or shifting the balance of trade along geopolitical lines. "Thus two realities coincide in the artwork Ð pricelessness (via symbolic value) and price (via market value)".
The advantage of Chinese factory painters in conquering their specific market demographic is that their overhead, wages, and prices are definite, not astronomical. Because the paintings are considered forgeries first and by nature inauthentic they lose the special status Graw describes that encourage pricelessness. The works, still symbolic goods with abstract power, no longer point to the real but to the value of the copy. The content of the images are dependent on the first art economy where the most recognizable and popularly appealing images are displayed in museums belonging to western centers of power and rely on a primarily tourist viewership and circulation. The artists reproducing works do not have access to the real works of art they copy but rely on a photographic reproduction of the work. What the imitator is able to see, in other words, is a mechanically reproduced version of an artwork, aura already lost, a phenomenon of light and apparatus that has nothing to do with paint. The artist must then translate the photograph back into paint and doing this must make use of what is unseen, creating a new aura. This new aura invokes the specific language of art in a postcolonial China, the self conscious tradition of image reproduction, and the pleasure of participation in a false image economy contrary to the systematic use of art's authenticity to justify it's value. The work, sold back to the tourist audience as a pleasure object, represents paintingÕs lost authenticity and autonomy from reproduction and commerce. The desire for the fake both reinforce and oppose the desire for the real, fantasy spaces wrapped around each pole rivaling the other in size and depth. The reproduction can never reach the price point and cultural value of the original artwork and becomes a poor man's illustration of authenticityÕs high place in culture without embodying its characteristics. The copy's attraction and repulsion, like a voyeurÕs window, is more about its outsider perspective than its extremely exchangeable object of desire. The fantasy space around the copy is derivative of that of the real and is itself an abstract product. In a marketplace playing and replaying styles of desire the copy, like the real, creates its own sphere of fantasy, desire, and power. In an effort to find what is desired when the copy is desired I would like to focus on the paintings Tahitian Women on the Beach and Two Women of Tahiti by Paul Gauguin and its reproductions to describe, first, the fantasy of the real and its derivative, the fantasy of the copy.
aspiration is a shameful business
An older friend of mine told me my generation was too business minded, the men too fratty. "It's the Bloomberg era." He was talking about the hard working/hard playing, women getting, bodybuilding, suit clad stereotype many young men with business or economics degrees aspire to be.
What is more important than whether these people really exist are that the things they buy become symbols of wealth. These symbols are tradable, meaning circulated, commercialized, and current (as in currency). Greed, misogyny, and fad dieting have one thing in common, that they excuse their ugliness by referencing the unwritten past: The Caveman Diet, Social Darwinism, humans are greedy by nature, pseudo science, women seek a provider - here is an example of an oil investor naturalizing the industry by romanticizing the primitive beginnings of people scrapping dirt surfaces for crude oil. Watch his offhand reference to the classically powerful "Greek fire".
We can make these habits inexcusable by choosing not to believe in the illustration of human nature offered to us. We can admit that we truly have no idea about the basis of our existence, whether we call it consciousness or essence or creativity or survival or spirit or intelligence. We are the products of black magic, of alien civilization, of the Tarot, of a fairy tale gone astray, of chimpanzees learning to walk, of God, of mutation, of a dream, a moment in a universe of infinite times and versions of ourselves - we are none of these things.
It is lot of fun to think about the things we might have come from and not a lot to think of the future. This is a strange winter in New York City. Bloomberg becomes a former major and we have a schizophrenic winter (it was 6 degrees last Tuesday, 56 on Saturday) that we talk about privately with anxious voices. The lot of us who expect to be alive in fifty years, who feel so entitled to entire adult lives, wonder if we will be around for very long (flooding, drought, agricultural failure, no clean water, catastrophic weather patterns - how long before the terms hot and cold develop new meanings or become inapplicable or all too applicable?). This is a guilty wonder. The third world will never have its revenge.
Aspiration in my generation can mean a funny thing - an apolitical stance, a detachment from ecology, and the removal of oneself from a stage where revolt is possible. Let's not confront our humanity by fabricating our possible Paleolithic, pathogenic, pathological beginnings but a clear realization of our end.
"i love you madly"
When I was in Germany I was invited by an Austrian friend to drink wine with him and a German at his apartment. We smoked Lucky Strikes in the small, one room studio near Offenbach. My friend showed us the scans on his computer of a book of portraits he had found in his Viennese art school. The faces of the people being represented were rendered in a post Picasso, gestural, expressionistic way, deformed by the accidents of paint. They stood on familiar ground between what is beauty and not beauty in the accidental, the representative, the abstract - old, familiar conflicts making old, familiar pictures.
"I don't know if you can really paint like this these days," he said. His German friend, who was a painter and who was very quiet, smiled and didn't make a comment. I couldn't find one either and we took the moment to let the awkwardness fade by.
This was the awkwardness of art education in which we are all well versed in what looks like art and that we keep on making things that look like art. A few months later, another friend comments on how at every art school there is somebody who shows at the end of the year a sculpture of randomly put together pieces of wood.
There is the story by Umberto Eco of the "man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her 'I love you madly,' because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, 'as Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly'."
The question I feel my Austrian friend was asking about the paintings was whether we as artists belong to a time and community in which it is more effective to say "I love you madly" or to reference Barbara Cartland. We, as artists, are like the man in the Eco tale who feels, in repeating a popular, learned sentiment known to both narrator and audience, he could not possibly be believed and that, more importantly, the expression of a one could prove to be less than genuine to himself. We wonder how to make objects more radical than whatever looks like the definitive avant garde. And, of course, we imagine ourselves as people who are less cultivated than the woman in the Eco story, who would not understand the reference and to whom it would be more meaningful to simply say, "I love you madly".
originality as original sin
In my seventh grade social studies class we learned about Martin Luther's 95 Theses what is now available on Wikipedia, that the nailing criticized the selling of indulgences as a financial transaction taking the place of original forgiveness of original sin of a Christianity that had been absorbed by the the economics of the times.
It's easy to imagine a contemporary artist-monk nailing an anti-establishment manifesto to several pillars (thank God for photo copiers!) out crying with distaste the obscenities of art-as-high-value-commodities, art-spaces-as-business-centers practices along with the useless romanticism of auction house rituals and mega galleries. The original intentions and ethics of art have been lost with its life and use structured in the global marketplace.
In The Monstrosity of Christ Zizek says, "insofar as we consider God and man as two substancesÉthere can be no relation of identity between the two, only an external relation (of analogy, of cause and effect)". Replace God with art and we could say that the misidentification of art and self is crucial to prompt its analogies, its location within cause and effect.
In my last post I wrote about the impossibility of painting for the first time as yourself without imagining yourself as de Kooning, or Pollock, or Richter, or some other famous image of a painter. Schurmann writes on the impossibility of conceiving God without a conception of God. "God is nothing as long as man lacks the breakthrough to the Godhead. If you do not consent to detachment, God will miss his Godhead, and man will miss himself". In the same way that we use a human conception of God to fabricate the elusive presence of actual God, we use broad generalizations of how to style art so that we can always chase after that something-truer from our past, our original selves, our originality - the Zizek definition of ethics: "I have to strive to become what I've always been".
vulnerability and artists
Dave Hickey makes the argument that wanting to be paid for the products of your labor isn't what makes you a capitalist, its the will to make your own labor into a commodity that does it. He then calls money an abstraction machine. To commodify - to create a desire for which the filling of that desire leaves it more empty and gaping than it was before. It is the narration of a thing without description to the context of how the thing is isolated, divided, named, and extended. For example, it is the mystification of the artist without a struggle to elaborate on the moment someone decides to be one, the price of materials used for art, the entry into the academic art world, the departure from the academia, the decision to never depart from academia, the expense of living in urban centers where the presence of art inflates real estate, the positioning of an artist from these centers. Art is a social phenomenon, not in the way of social media or business style networking, but in the Marxist sense of realizing the overwhelming importance of social relations in the process of recognizing the conditions of your community and work. The point of art school is saying and hearing the incredible, sensational, scandalous things that come out of people's mouths in the discussion of art. In order to get to this point, art students accept the condition of phenomenal debt together. The art market apparatus commodifies authenticity (expression, passion), which can be described as the refusal to cooperate with market values. This is popular rock and roll, auctioned political art, corporate hippie culture, all the tropes of refusing to participate economically - rebellion (Ai WeiWei), madness (Yayoi Kusama), whimsicalness (Yoko Ono) as marketing technique. What obscures the condition of being an art school graduate from view is the creation of this desire for authenticity, the desire to deny the economic context around you as being part of you. This oversimplification of autonomy is a perverse lesson in how to practice art morally. (Turn the lesson on its head and couple the desire for authenticity with the drive for fame and you get a common fantasy of of getting to tell the whole world that you never meant to sell out and meaning it) This is the alienation from society that leaves the artist all too vulnerable.
Robert only eats orange things. He has two yams for breakfast, carrots with orange sauce for lunch, and orange skittles for dinner. He has been auditioning for the role of the main Oompa Loompa in the production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory his high school does for the past three years. No one deserves the role more than him. However, Mrs. Sanger, the music/drama teacher in charge of casting, refuses to acknowledge his existence because he had given into a dare his former best friend Al had given him to pull her shirt up during class. Little did he know that Mrs. Sanger had lost both breasts due to a long battle with cancer in her youth.
Charlie is a giant goldfish about seven inches in length. Unfortunately for him his water tank at the Great China Restaurant where he is currently a resident is only about an inch and a half longer than his size. Due to this it has been three years since Charlie has been able to turn his body around. Fortunately for Charlie his memory spans only five seconds at longest. The only real problem in his life is when food is sprinkled on his tail.
Dark can only read things upside down. While this isn't a huge problem with magazine and books or other things he is able to flip around it is a big trouble with street signs, especially while driving. He goes to Dr. Marshall, his family doctor, who refers him to the eye specialist Dr. Scott who charges him $8,000, after insurance, to rotate his eyeballs 180 degrees with some metal pliers. Dirk doesn't see anything upside down anymore.
Tanya is sitting on the toilet when she realizes something isn't quite right. Looking down she realizes she had just pooped out a golden egg. The next day the same thing happens. On the third day a giant comes and takes her to his castle in the clouds and locks her in a gilded cage. Everyday she produces a golden egg for him until Jack comes up in a beanstalk and take her to his cottage. Jack, however, cannot afford a golden cage and keep Tanja in his own bed with her own pillow. Tanya misses her gilded cage.
Typical Professor Syndrome
Mr. Stern walks with a cane. He doesn't need it as he has never had problems with his legs and certainly none with his feet. He only feels that, at the ripe old age of 65, he, like his own father, should start carrying a cane. Most nights Mr. Stern has a recurring dream of being shrunk in a machine to a size of five inches. In the dream the beautiful oak cane he normally wears is replaced by a ridiculously sweet candy cane. Mr. Stern usually wakes from the dreams with a taste of peppermint in his mouth so strong only a tall glass of scotch and a full pack of Winstons can cure.
Placeholders for Desire
Walter, aged ten, receives a goldfish for his tenth birthday. He realizes that the goldfish is by no means ordinary when it opens its mouth to speak, claiming to be the spirit of Merlin with three wishes to grant. Walter asks immediately for the bike he actually wanted for his birthday, instead of the goldfish he actually got. The next time around, Walter wishes on his sixteenth birthday for a new car, instead of the crappy bike he got. By the time Walter makes his third wish he is a young adult of twenty five working nine to five at a small start up after graduating from the state university with a business degree. "A million dollars," he asks of the goldfish, using his last wish with an eager grin. Walter is arrested within the week for the manufacture and usage of counterfeit federal notes. He gets out on an insanity plea when the goldfish he claims as an accomplice is nowhere to be found.
Vanessa wakes up one morning and counts four toes on her left foot. She goes crazy looking for her misplaced toe. After a month, the toe is still nowhere to be found. She gives up wearing open tied shoes in an effort to hide her embarrassing secret. "Lost toe," says the posters she sticks everywhere in her neighborhood. If found, please call 917-163-9458. Below is a picture of her foot before the toe was lost, a clip art arrow pointing out the specific toe in question. How far could a single toe travel in a month's time? Turns out the toe was in her pair of pink house slippers the entire time - she hadn't recognized it because she had removed her nail polish the night the toe was lost and hadn't realized something with such sorrily chipped red nail paint could be hers.
Vince couldn't sleep. He hasn't had a wink of sleep since he looked at his eight year old son, Ben, a week ago and realized the boy looked nothing like him. In fact, the kid actually closely resembled his identical twin brother, Vance. He was sure there was some kind of mix up at the double wedding he and Vance had with Tanja and Sonja, the identical twin brides they had married together. However Vance denied this when Vince wrote him accusing Vince of just wanting to trade because Ben had been born with Down Syndrome and six fingers on his left hand while Vance's son, Bill, had straight A's in school and scored with all the girls, pretty or otherwise. It was Vince's own fault for being too busy with work during Tanya's pregnancy to stop her from smoking and drinking all types of shit. Of course Vince could''t argue - in his boyhood he had always swapped his shirts with his brother when he accidentally spilled juice on them.
Whenever I dream I see a gray surface, nothing moving at all, as if everything were hidden behind a thick fog of a screen. Even in this grayness, however, I can her sounds that make me worried, scared, happy, or aroused. Sometimes I even wake up with a boner just from all the gray. It wasn't until I went to the doctor that I found out that I was colorblind and that this is a rare condition in which the color of a colorblind person's dreams all have the same tone. All the action of my dreams were inaccessible to me because of my disability, even the wet ones when I wake up with jizz all over myself.
Weight and Distance
Randall's science class is learning about inertia. After the teacher shows the class how to pull a white tablecloth from a table without disturbing the bowl of fruit sitting atop it Randall decides to try it out at home. However, Randall's 300 pound grandmother is disturbed when the sheets are pulled out from under her enough to wet herself. Fortunately for Randall, his grandmother has been bedridden for the past 30 years and cannot seriously carry out her threats to break his arms and legs as long as he stays at least five feet away from her at all times.