Friday, January 25, 2008

I am a text machine

“Kunstmaschinen, Machinenkunst” / “Art Machines, Machine Art”

I am a text machine, [command: producing] machine text.

I am given a frame, no color allowed. I have been given a recommendation of more or less 4500 signs, as if I were restricted in my metaphors. Signs? Yes, signs. In German, we count signs (including space), in English, we count words. The word count being, in this case, some 1006 words, which would explain why we like our words smaller in English as bigger ones do not necessarily pay the rent.

Handwritten, the article poses the problem of counting signs including space. I resort to old new habits: the computer is the magic machine.

Pop-up window like a light bulb in my head, I resort to plug-and-chug: an old mathematical trick learned in the 5th grade, which would help me input the things I have seen into the translation machine, input the visuals of this show “Machine Art, Art Machines,” downloading my memory into yours. In the browser’s departure lounge, we find Jean Tinguely and his Mèta-Matics, a number of them, in fact, portable painting machines made in 1959 (figure 5), a fitting companion though not a part of, the great critiquing machine of Guy Debord and the Situationist International. As the geistige kin to Guiseppe Pinot-Gallizio’s Industrial Painting (1958), which was produced and sold by the meter (which has no relation to texts produced and sold by the word or sign, mind you), we find Angela Bulloch’s Blue Horizon (1990), a wall-painting which is produced with the metric pressure exerted by one’s derrière. Steven Pippin’s one-track-mind machine, Carbon Copier (Anyway) (2007), produces narcissistic copies of itself, a Xerox machine making self-portraits of its twin, two machines squished together, face-maker to face-maker (this is a when-in-doubt-play-with-your-bellybutton machine); whilst Jon Kessler’s man-made Desert (2005) is not exactly what it seems. You think it’s just found footage of a desert played on a messy stack of TVs until you realize that the odd contraption on top is actually a handmade device which simulates a virtual desert. Say that again: can something be handmade and virtual at the same time? Yes.

Programming error G82236. Not enough space to continue processing your document.

The brief attempt at producing a machine text subjectively has here met with a mechanistic rebellion against my wishes to produce a product, to feed the text machine that produces a text. The computer is no longer my instrument, it is now my slave. It shall be relegated to doing the work for me. I will plunder her gully for word-fodder. Online, I connect with a central computer somewhere out there with the help of a mouse. An anagram machine found at a random address gives me x-ways of saying Kunst Maschinen [Art Machines] or Kunst “Machinen” to mingle languages in a mixed up way and to admit to minor flaws of a missing “s.” Not even Word could catch and underline that error for Word is not bilingual, or at least not yet. Should I happen to be in doubt as to my own ability to paraphrase what has already been said, the anagram machine begins, ironically, with “Nickname Hunts”; opposed to this sudden sympathy from the machine at my mercy, I find “Nickname Shunt” much better applied to the sentiment still at hand; however, “Unmeant Chinks” might serve as a rightful reference to the interruption of the imput of this article, or “Ante Munchkin” if I wanted to up the ante in the munchkin amount of material imputed thus far; or rather, I might prefer my munchkins clean and well-dressed, i.e., “Neat Munchkins” for a bit of progressive procrastination; which would not be to deny the rightful distraction of watching “A Munchkins Ten,” Spielberg’s prequel to “A Munchkin Nest,” a much better title than the executive producer preferred, “A Munchkins Net,” which tacitly alluded to a little-used chatroom for short people on the Web; “Oh, ‘Manhunt Sicken,’ I am!” screamed the frustrated screenplay writer who slammed the door behind her in a flurry of fury leaving a wind of mystery behind her; surely she’d meant to say “Unmans Thicken” in reference to the new diet craze which gave great solace to the lonely women in Manhattan with only gay friends, but, “Oh no,” corrected a feminist friend, “What she meant to say was ‘Unmans Kitchen,’ no doubt, especially when you look at all the ‘Camera Hints’ going on around here, yes, unabashedly that Mulveyian Gaze has made its comeback and the prevention of the invention of the ‘Cameras Thin’ is not just another chocaholics conspiracy theory”; the secretary who was taking the minutes of the meeting penned in the margin, witty thing that she was, “Arcane Smith” until the “Chairman Set” a “Charisma Net” whisking her away from her daydream word-smith wizardry.

You have just witnessed an experiment of neo-science using only 16 anagrams of some 6071 possibilities.

The machine is not less creative than the writer behind it. A text based on anagrams is not more objective than a subjective text on “Art Machines, Machine Art.” Think tank: the computer was the first machine in which memory could be purchased and stored, expanded upon by consumption. Memory traveled with floppy discs: a poetic ideal indeed. The databank of an art show now has an additional external memory, here expressed in an impossible file merger of QuickTime hardcopy (patent pending).

To conclude: if the artist can disappear behind the machine, can the writer who has been asked to write about this disappearance disappear too? A double-disappearance? Such a phenomenon has been known to happen quite often in the Southern Hemisphere – when, for instance, a man “is disappeared” in 1970, found in 1980, and then “is disappeared” in 1990 again. The passive tense “is disappeared” became common parlance under the regime of Pinochet, who knew that the best way to terrorize your enemy was to “have him disappeared,” quietly, mysteriously, no bombs, no bloodshed necessary. Unlike the artists who just “disappeared” (active tense) in a boat (Bas Jan Ader) or just took some time-off and “disappeared from New York” (Lee Lozano), or the artists who disappear behind the machine, the writer of this article would be disappeared (active-passive, who knew?) behind an anagram:

A Liberal Math Elm Zip

(April Elizabeth Lamm)

printer error: A machine is not just a machine. A Miele is not a Whirlpool, I beg your pardon.

Dr Speck of Cologne


Leipzig, ca 2004-2005

There is a term physicists use to describe the reworking of an old theory: the perturbative approach. This was the approach that I had in mind when approaching the city of Leipzig. We came by car from Berlin, a mere 2 hours drive, not knowing what one would find, as the autobahn signs told us, in the city of Bach; something baroque, more than likely damaged and beige, lots of architectural potholes, an uneasy wave of really old and kind of new.

With Zentrum signs in sight, we parked, picnicked in the rain, then asked some other travellers if they might happen to know the way to the famed Leipzig we had come in search of. It seemed as if they might be retro-art savvy, might know where the latest in art factory was to be found, for we Berliners had heard that the art in Leipzig was very retro.

We were on a blind odyssey whose destination was a former mill which some 10 years ago had been converted into atelier spaces and only recently some 5 commercial galleries had set up shop after the way had been paved by an art foundation based in Munich. Our journey took us to the outposts of the ‘real’ Leipzig, of one concrete block of living quarters, or quarters of living, after the next. Round and round we drove from ring to periphery. Weaving in and out of large patches of green parks, with many stops along the way to ask directions, it seemed that Leipzig was a city of Goths, not a gothic city, mind you, and only after the third group of Goths that we stopped did we realise that something strange had this way come. These darkly intellectual pale-faced Goths hadn’t a clue where this shrine of art might be. Though we were both pilgrims to the city, we had different temples in mind. Theirs was a festival of music and graveyard poetry and ours the latest ‘restoration’ art house, not a school (PS1), not a margarine factory (KW), but a cotton mill. We were, in short, in search of those mouldy spaces that Berlin was famous for, and Paris (Palais de Tokyo) and London (former mail sorting ruins) were becoming famous for.

A virtual address, at last, marked the target; painted on a wall, ‘’ announced that we could begin to perturb those carved-in-stone theories made in Berlin, the ones which liked to dismiss Leipzig as merely cheap atelier space for those famed German painters paring their paint-encrusted fingernails. Rumour was amongst the conceptual punks of Berlin that many smart collections of art were being dumbed down by the blind advent known as Leipziger Malerei, that respected Ad Reinhardts across the world were being (dis)placed next to these seemingly thoughtless new kids from the Eastern Bloc.

What we found was exactly the opposite of what we thought we’d find. In the pouring rain, running between one gallery and the next, barring one, no paintings-for-paintings-sake were to be found. Instead, wry commentary on the new German painting phenomenon seemed to be the theme of the artist-run commercial gallery (a ‘produzenten galerie’) called B2. An industrial grey E-class Mercedes (a.k.a. the Baby Benz) was parked and filled to the gills with Kippenberger-like canvases. The artist, Oliver Kosset, later explained to me the meaning of the big plastic banner hanging over the car bearing a Kippenberger saying, ‘Put your eye in your mouth’, in reverse. Kosset said that he liked ‘goofing around the periphery of postwar painting, making bleak references to the recent painting boom’. The car was sadly his own as the installation has been sold to the far-off reaches of Mr Kim’s collection in South Korea at the Arario Gallery, a vortex of contemporary art.

Across the hall, gallerist Andre Kermer is a man who makes a point of not exhibiting painting. Instead, quiet albeit politically charged photographs by Andreas Wünschirs (b. 1967 in East Berlin) were on view, seemingly innocuous beach views depicting the space of master-race health, a körperkultur resort designed in the Third Reich.

Dogenhaus Galerie had a group show up made more of words and sculpture than painting and though the ASPN gallery, which shares the space, featured good abstract paintings by Matthias Reinmuth, they were a far cry from the renown style of Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy. The very-white cubesque new space of Eigen + Art, (whose v.i.p. room bore the transparency of a rich democracy) featured a Baader-Meinhof-Beuys citation installation which time and mind hasn’t yet allowed me to puzzle out what artist Birgit Brenner intended.

Alas, I did find those famed Leipziger paintings, but they lacked the shimmer of other shooting stars such as Tilo Baumgärtel and Matthias Weischer. The Galerie Kleindienst had been morphed into a salon of revisited ‘New Objectivity’, very Rudolf Schlichter, in fact, via the paintings of Christoph Ruckhäberle. The characters in his paintings seem to be as uninterested in each other as I am in them. Unfair to say really, since I perturbedly ran in and ran out, but the gallerist was still courteous enough to point me in the direction of what I had been looking for….

The generator of all the noise, the Federkiel Foundation, the place whose friendly founder Karsten Schmitz I had met because of his generous support of Carsten Nicolai. It was his space that had interested me the most. On view was a show called ‘The Passion of Collecting’ featuring both his own and the Reinking collection, demonstrating the kind of passion which is a kind passion, a division of joy rather than the joy of division. Those intellectual Goths would have been pleased had their pilgrimage made such a detour for the sights rather than the sounds.

Alas, no studio visits, nor time to settle the chicken and the egg question: who came first, Neo Rauch or his partner Rosa Loy? The Krasner-Pollock pyschogeography would never be truly mapped by my perturbative approach, no, because the sentiment of Leipzig is not one of competition, but of collaboration.

Elaine Sturtevant


No museum in America has yet dared to acquire her works, but in Europe she has been proclaimed one of art history’s unsung heroes. At first glance, her work seems overtly simple, although one senses that it is not so much overt as covert; a copy of a copy –be it an image of a Kodak flower or a sculptural urinal – Elaine Sturtevant pushed postmodern art production a step beyond ‘post-’. While Pop artists were appropriating images from advertising, Sturtevant was appropriating not only Pop, but also other conjecturing ‘stoppages’ of contemplation via the work of Beuys, Fahlstrøm, Gober, Gonzalez-Torres, and Muybridge, before anyone could fathom what mystery she was brewing.

When Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds was broadcast over the radio in the US in October 1938, people believed that its warnings about Martians invading our planet were real, and widespread panic ensued. Such is the flight-path of the imagination of a public who believed for a moment that fiction (fake) had become reality (real). H G Wells wrote the book in 1898; Orson Welles turned it into a radio play in 1938. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz in 1899; it was made into a movie in 1939. An odd historical parallel: a 40-year span stands between original and copy. What are we to make of this?

A 40-year span has occurred between Sturtevant’s first remake, Warhol Flowers in 1964 and its exhibition in a major museum survey of her work in 2004 (although one must pause to reconsider how to describe what Sturtevant does, for to call it a remake, remix, or a replay would more than likely irk her). Sturtevant makes copies of art works, but she is no copyist. She appropriates, but is not an Appropriationist. She was a renegade female artist, but not a feminist. So what is this artist sine qua non all about?

Is she illustrating Baudrillard’s sense of the simulacrum, or denuding Deleuze’s thinking on difference and repetition? Is she challenging or upholding the aura of the artwork in an age of reproduction? Perhaps a Proustian sense of memory, of ‘seeing again’, lies behind it all. Or perhaps Sturtevant is working against the empiricists, eliminating the possibility of ‘seeing’ altogether. After all, it would seem that the crooked stick of humanity has never quite gone beyond the idea that ‘seeing is believing’.

Sturtevant’s early career is remarkably strange. In 1965, she was given her first solo exhibition at the Gallery Bianchini in New York, playing the role of a prescient dramaturge, setting the stage for future powerstations: Sturtevant/Warhol’s Flowers took its place next to a Sturtevant-/Johns Flag, a Sturtevant/Rauschenberg drawing, a Sturtevant/Stella concentric painting, a Sturtevant/Oldenburg shirt and a Sturtevant/Segal sculpture. One year later at the Galerie J in Paris she redid the show, only this time locking the doors so that one could only peek at the art from the outside. In 1967, she remade Oldenburg’s store just seven blocks away from the original, and in 1974 she re-inacted a series of Beuys performances. But the problem was that she was appreciated by a public who thought she was poking fun at contemporary art: the yellow brick road to fame was paved with the wrong colour bricks. Resigned and disappointed, it wasn’t until 1986 that she would allow her work to be exhibited again, and even this time, she would still be grossly misunderstood as an early hero of Appropriation.

If I see ‘a’ Warhol, what happens when I see a Sturtevant/Warhol? Through the remaking, Sturtevant makes Warhol into a Readymade. But does one ever really ‘see’ a Warhol any more, or has his work become a logo, a label-enabling non-thought? It would seem that ‘seeing’ a Warhol today is less ‘seeing’ than it is a ‘reported sighting’, to borrow John Ashbery’s phrase. I wonder if her appropriation/non-appropriation of Warhol in 1964 functions any differently when she repeats that process in 1965, 1969, 1970, 1990 and 1991. Famously, Andy found Elaine’s idea fabulous, lending her his silkscreens so that she could make copies of works that he himself had planned to have produced and reproduced over and over again by the members of his Factory. When asked years later how he did it, he responded, ‘I don’t remember. Ask Elaine.’

Sturtevant makes her Sturtevantian memory (or memory in motion) the subject of her work and is antsy when anyone places her on the wrong shelf of the categorical imperative/interrogative. When someone called her an Appropriationist, she responded, “I am not an Appropriationist by token of intention and meaning. I do not make copies. I am talking about the power and the autonomy of the original and the force and pervasiveness of art. Perhaps the brawny brains of this ‘doctor of thinkology’ have scared off possible fans and supporters. And if Castelli could understand enough to wheel and deal in Pop, he knew that he could never convince his group of collectors that they should not only buy a Warhol, Johns, or Lichtenstein, but a Sturtevant/Warhol Marilyn, a Sturtevant/ Johns Flag, or a Sturtevant/Lichtenstein Hot Dog (though Castelli himself once acquired a Sturtevant from her Oldenburg store).

But after decades of artists trying to create non-object objects, the anti-materialist anticipations of our non-utopian, post-Marxist society are fading fast. And Sturtevant, with increasing fame, is facing an inescapable paradox, namely, that when a Sturtevant/Warhol or a Sturtevant/Duchamp become as famous as the Warhols and Duchamps themselves, then her work too has reached an impasse.

When her works are exhibited in a museum whose collection itself is comprised of several of the works she has pastiched, her work is lost to the conventions of traditional ‘mausoleum’ thought, immured within the archive, the warehouse of aesthetic objects. Indeed, it is surprising that she would relent to exhibiting in a museum. (That said, without her work being “seen” no one would “know” about it.) The theoretical terrorist/artist thus becomes as enigmatic as the Wizard of Oz:

Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow, Tinman: We want to see the Wizard.
Gateman: The Wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz. Nobody’s ever seen the great Oz. Even I’ve never seen him.
Dorothy: Well then, how do you know there is one? ...
Guard: Orders are, nobody can see the Great Oz, not nobody, not no how...NOT NOBODY, NOT NO HOW.

No one has admission to her sorcery excepting the few who are well-versed in the ideas of Deleuze and Foucault. This ‘black magic woman’ has worked the witchery of exclusivity into her production whether she wanted to or not. Like hearing heavy footsteps on the floor above, one can hear, but never really know what is going on upstairs; until, that is, one knocks on the door.

But the writer reaches a conundrum, having reached an impasse without a permit to this parallel or alternate universe. Where exactly is the land of Oz? And can one describe Sturtevant as its unlikely Wizard? In the movie version, Dorothy calls it, “Not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...." As reality would have it, Dorothy arrived in Oz quite by chance, mostly by the whims of a natural disaster, a tornado blasting through her drab farmstead in Kansas. Much like a whirlwind of thought, this tornado embodies the process of how a Sturtevant boggles the mind.

Leafing through the catalogue of the survey dedicated to her work at the Museum der Moderne Kunst (MMK) in Frankfurt, I realised suddenly that it is not so much a catalogue as it is a series of instructions as to how the catalogue should look. Slowly I climbed the stairs to taking refuge in a small room of the MMK, where I found several drawings confirming my wish for more than “fake is more”. The Wizard, once omnipotent, now takes on a sheen of new sympathy. What Sturtevant’s drawing Warhol Flowers Lichtenstein Pointing Finger (1966) depicts is the reality of now. Not only do “We Want You”, but we want you to show us how. Unlike her unmistakably good ‘fakes’, the drawings are a convergence of realities, playfully pointing to the spectator to forge their own ideas about these works of repetition. When Sherrie Levine makes works that are ‘after ’ another image (as her title indicates), the adverb of time either implied being in the wake of something or like a preposition, ‘after’ implied a resemblance, a derivation. When Sturtevant replicates a Warhol, a lateral thought is implied, and the hierarchy of power is eliminated. This is made clear in the drawings where a storyboard is created, whereas in the replica paintings and sculptures, an “either/or” situation is created (either Warhol or Sturtevant), and in that sense, the work is individualised when it appeared to be fighting against individualisation. Possibly, Uncle Sam’s finger is pointing to us so that we might ‘Play it again, Sam’ in our minds, so that we might remember not to forget what this iconoclastic subversion is all about.