Saturday, March 7, 2009

reprising Jeff Dahlgren

I presume that many readers of Counterforces (especially the international ones) do not subscribe to the Public Domain listserv in Atlanta.

I had been going to post one of my intermittent manifestoes to the artworld of Atlanta regarding the deeply unsatisfactory condition of art reporting in the burg. can't do it all, or even most of it. I do not even pretend to be functioning as a critic these days, and only write when something sufficiently overlapping with my well-known sets of concerns happens along. Even then, as with Christian Bradley West / Mehmet Dogu / Chen-cheng Hung, I am capable of forgetting that I intended to do it.

Jeff Dahlgren is one of those productive gadflies that every art scene needs, though as with most such gadflies he sometimes tends towards logorrhea, as do I. But I was struck by the writing quality of this manifesto, from which I have excised a few expletives but not all, and would like to share it with the world since it has already been shared with the listserv at large.

Dahlgren doesn't know the whole Fahamu Pecou story, of how a conceptual joke about being famous for being famous actually made him famous (as I predicted, one of the two cases in which my predictions have been borne out—this being a respectable average because I rarely suggest that someone is going places).

Atlantans might want to know that newspaper critic Catherine Fox has in fact been picking the right shows to cover within her one-review-per-week limits. There is little enough out there that fits into the global picture, which is why I am pleased with Karen Tauches' insistence that local scenes need to address their local picture. I have said the same, and was thinking just the other day of my essay of a decade or so ago, "The Whole World Is Watching—But It's Tuned to Another Channel." Jeff is right that until the local scene has the courage to say that really bad artists stink, and to say why, we are effectively dead. I have always preferred to write about the good stuff, and by no means all of the good stuff, which should be evident by how much it takes to get me to post something. (A hundred bucks a column from a now-deceased print venue used to be a certain incentive to produce copy, even though it increasingly barely covered weekly expenses, and my need for hitching rides to openings after dark was increasing exponentially. Now I no longer need to function as anything but an opinionated public intellectual, like everybody else out there...speaking as one who has never been able to jump start anyone's career, anyway, as a look at the roster of artists I have championed will indicate. But then, I am hard pressed to name an Atlanta critic whose writing has actually gotten somebody into a gallery, though it has sometimes reminded museums that they had meant to buy a piece from the non-Atlanta artist, anyway. And I dearly wish that the artists I have juried into regional shows had had a more consistent career track than most of them have appeared to have: some other Atlanta critics do have more international connections, but Jeff's irony is well taken: local critics are not going to launch people on the career track, even if those who are better connected than I can offer advice.)

Anyway, here is Jeff's eloquent cri de coeur to the Atlanta art community. I can testify that all or at least most, of the artists I have written about on Counterforces fall into his category of sacred artists rather than careerists...which tendency has not always brought them into a condition of other than severe financial discomfort:

"I can easily understand a self-aware artist with self-aware safe work realizing through careful studies and carefully written bios & resumes,that there is a matter of chess-like negotiation to the thought that goes into even the very making of their art. This type of artist considers their moves,much in the same way any business person would consider their moves. I'd like to contrast this with the times and the fact that we as people seem somehow subdued by technology and media in the face of obviously tulmultuous times. I'd also like to contrast this with ART itself in relation to any other business a person might engage .
"Art tends to behave as the canary in the coal mine. It still seems to be doing so in that honest passion itself has found no escape from being subverted and succumbing to a need (or lack of choice?)to utilize channels that render it meaningless-if it had meaning from the getgo.
"A certain intent reveals itself in art making,yes? It seeps through the work and shows itself for what it is. A perfect example would be Fahamu Pecou. His work borrows from a sentiment that wishes to make an observation about the media. It almost seems to slyly make a comment from an honest and angered place,a place that speaks truth to power. But as is obvious,it does not.It is utilizing the very system itself in the work itself. If there's is anything to discuss about this work as freshly handling a traditional topic,it is that it is unaware of any observation it may have accidently made in hopes of making some sales. It is incapable of existing without negating itself and is as cheap as a bacardi coaster left on the floor of a night club. It has grabbed its ankles for that very same power,the very same observation it wishes to mock. If that is its strength,its observation,then what we as a people are saying is that the doom some have been prognosticating is all ready amongst us- and laughs at how it has coaxed itself into our lives. Laughs as it drugs and renders mediocre artists with pure intentions.
"I beg of any of you with these pure intentions to hold on. To maintain the vision. To seek to circumvent these dead routes. Or perhaps even attack them.It is about the work itself. The work itself is the investment that,yes-it ultimately achieves the very same unspeakable goal. But in doing so shows how to dig deep and fertilize the soil,not rape it and move on for your own benefits. Simply do not go after it directly. Destroy it as you go.It will fall and turn to delicious mulch for future generations.
"But wait-Is this not the very technique that video taped night vision nobodies use to **** **** all the way to fame by? To shave their heads and go "crazy" for attention? To curse out stage hands for 5 minutes to faciltate ticket purchasing attention? Is there an escape from the cycle at this point? When big corporations use the very same culture jamming techniques to sell us back our asses? Don't you all want a chance to be on teee veeee? (WOOP TEE DOO GUYS)

"Do we have any other choice but to address the thing itself? Anything else is part of it.
"We look to our critics as mentors-dont we? Word on the street tells their real lecherous motivations-and we all know it. They know the ropes and how to help us position our work,don't they? They will steer you right,wont they? Don't they know? Here in Atlanta,the proof is in the puddin'. Bang up job so far guys. You help create our perception of ourselves you useless ****s. Thanks for being on our sides. Thanks for not utilizing the sacred thing that is ART to cowtow to backwards unproductive business traditions- traditions that secure future hacks of jobs to maintain your ******* cyclic dead scene. Not ours. Ours is sacred. Again...the proof is in itself. Step back and take a look if you need to.
"Is there any hope for work to slam an honest fist through all of it -based entirely on the strength of FEELINGS. of ART.Nothing logical to it,it expresses and is a conduit and
serves to carry us forward,serves people so that we may move forward to write about this history.Not become it.So that WE may record the important happenings.
"Must everything be about adding something to your resume or your bio? To being safe and proper? What's that???Where does that belong??? This is applicable to certain styles of art. Your work bores and is given a pass as hopeless dead weight to the word ART.. You know who you are."


Ktauches said...

hey, is Fahamu Pecou really famous ?

Ktauches said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
littlejoke said...

Well, he's had shows in a reasonable number of galleries around the country, and Artlies reproduced his Fahamu Pecou cover of Artlies as the cover of their issue with a story about him. Kara Walker he is not, since she was on the cover of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic early on in her career. But given that his first act of publicity as far as I know was to put out the parodistic cards from the "committee" to declare him...well, you know..."world wide he known for that," as it said. Then Bill Bounds gave him the Ty Stokes show, and the rest is, uh, one show after another. Not an artworld household name yet, however.

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