Cinzia Malvini with her special editor Diane Pernet a legend American in Fashion, who is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker they published an article called “Freedom Icon” before 16 September 2022 as a reaction to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini: “Based in Tehran, and very openly himself … Salar Bil the Godfather of conceptual mode, ….” & before that Salar with his Cow pictures with a woman on the beach explained about Surrealism with art as existence collection inspired by Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi made a video about surrealism and traumatized people of war, Surrealism to Dadaism and 1950s pop art; Also Salar liked LaChapelle that began his career with his hero Andy Warhol, Salar began his career with Sa’edi, then Aguilera and he is very glad that he had the chance to work with the god of 21st century pop-and-porn art, David one of the most influential pop photographers, in his story Cows are steping to right in a real atmosphere but in a Surrealistic atmosphere they are moving to left, We know that Iran had the longest war with Iraq in this century, Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp, the plastic arts, conceptual all that great history, chess and that great impact; Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the minds, He learned academic drawing from a teacher who unsuccessfully attempted to “protect” his students from Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and other avant-garde influences. whose approach to art was not outwardly anti-academic, but quietly individual. Duchamp drew and sold cartoons which reflected his ribald humor.
Salar used to be always drawn to Duchamp; Salar always tried painting but professionally took drawing classes from Katayoun Taleizadeh when he was twelve from Hossein Maher and Katayoun is Abbas Kiarostami’s actress in his film called Ten which is a 2002 Iranian docufiction film and after that he felt he wanna dive into Avant-garde documentary making process, and with his ideas about Iran’s economic situation from Glamor of Bandar Camp collection he knew after the Iraq war, the longest war in history the art market and artistic process will face so much difficulties, from Cubism we have Pablo Picasso “We all know that Art is not truth, Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” Or “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
So when you start very early you know that you actually going nowhere if you don’t work hard for your goal, instead of it you should make a body of work that is worthy in the future, or from conceptual’s Art & Language strong connections have been made over time between the British artists of Art & Language and American artists, and as a Duchamp fan when he mentioned “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.” Juxtaposition is the act of positioning two or more things side by side or close together as per the Merriam Webster dictionary.
In visual arts, juxtaposition entails making the ordinary look extraordinary and represents one of the essential techniques in the Surrealism art movement. For example, overlapping two images together in impossible combinations, And Salar actually is also focus on futurism and science fiction, the metaverse is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world with his collages, After media and this currently century that we are living in David Bowie and Tilda Swinton “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is the right juxtaposition message by Floria Sigismondi that Bowie and British actor Tilda Swinton are one and the same person through the juxtaposition of photos of the pair, is their surrealism way of seeing the dealing with androgyny and musing on the meaning of fame and jealousy open lots of conversation about media and persons who imitates another from TV til they take the original’s place; and in Iran the situation is totally drawn to western culture, people wanna bash each other instead of solving and realizing market’s problem and all of our Iranian roots are fading away through media and Salar is a huge Sonic Youth fan it means no wave movement music, visual and art scene with rejection to all commercials on the other hand Salar has produced a body of conceptual work that recorded the history of Iran in this era, but his artworks have quickly followed the avant-garde artistic movements of his time, from his movies to fashion and styling or photography and set design etc.
He do not believe that he is ready but after his master degree he wrote many articles and analyzing his articles from high school years so maybe one day his articles in his foundation will be worthy; From the start he knew that the 21st century is collage age from Cubism to con·cep·tu·al, The work of Marcel Duchamp, the Daddy of Dada who shocked the genteel New York art world of 1917 by bringing a urinal into a society show, coining the concept of the readymade, this particular sculpture takes its name from the French artist’s strange and elusive female persona.
The sneeze, it should be said, is a euphemism for an orgasm; Bil since he remember had feminine sides openly and Bil is the alter-ego of Bilehsavarchian like Rrose Sélavy: Marcel Duchamp’s Female Alter Ego, Let’s take to the other surreal video by Sigismondi the woman who started her career as a fashion photographer; Christina Aguilera’s anthem Fighter by Floria Sigismondi that the video begins with Aguilera wearing a black velvet kimono, that Salar made a Kimono for Christina as well, with a pale complexion and long black hair and McQueen dramatic goth costumes.
Aguilera explained the song’s meaning in the book “Chicken Soup For the Soul” she wrote this for Aguilera’s decision to break free from her previous teen pop princess that was a doll for producers and the new revolutionary persona that let her more complex and grown-up self and independent come out and break the television at the end of the video with cybernetic eyes; But Bil took the place of Marilyn Manson with Rock N Roll Nigger and Genie in a Bottle cover from Patti Smith & Christina Aguilera; and he explained “There is great debate about how the super-ego relates to religion.
Some believe that religion was born out of the need to find something which is perfect, whereas others believe that the super-ego justifies the evil religion has inspired. Laplanche, Jean; Pontalis, Jean.Bertrand (1973).” And for Genie in a Bottle’s Manson Cover “Self-respect results in personality development and makes the person self dependent, pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honour and dignity is the underlying motivation behind all virtues and accomplishment. It is the regard we have for ourselves and guides one’s actions.respect is standing up and treating the self with dignity. all of them are related to self – the way we look at ourselves, the way we value us and the way we expect value from others, sexual references to talk about the theme of self-respect and genie compassionate, vulnerable manifestation of the human condition for Do you feel that you deserve those feelings? The answer is important because how you feel about yourself-your self-esteem-plays a major role in your ability to maintain close relationships and enjoy a full sexual relationship as you know in tribal men’s dismay in sharing liability as supportive partners in reproductive and sexual matters ü, jinn or anglicized as genie (spirit or demon)are invisible creatures in early pre-Arabian systems and later in mythology and theology Like humans, they are accountable for their deeds, can be either believers.”
For Manson’s Rock N Roll Nigger “ the id is the source of all psychic energy, in psychological theory and permits predictions of psychic events. making it the primitive component of personality a kind of generalized sexual energy that is used for everything from survival instincts to appreciation of art. we gotta learn how to build a id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the use of primary process thinking, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need, your own true accomplishment will heal yourself and you will be not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material that is unnecessary.”
Of Course this is the paradox between superego and id that brings this violence for this 2022 revouloution (1401) in Iran, criminal behavior is seen primarily as a failure of the superego. More generally, psychodynamic theory sees criminal behavior as a conflict between the id, ego and superego. On the other hand The Beautiful People by Floria Sigismondi is the Nietzschean Ubermensch inspired record by Manson that is a statement on the fascism of beauty with commercialism and television, it’s about political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled and people are the tool too look pretendedly beautiful and fashionable.
But the Bil’s point of view like we saw in history, magazines, catalogues, journals, and of course, André Breton‘s “Surrealist Manifesto”. His juxtaposition was Marilyn Manson it means a Sex Symbol on the other side a murder trial, Like all good coaches and mentors, the best artists challenge our assumptions, reframe our perspective, and re-contextualise both the positive and negative, to provide a narrative structure with which to navigate the world around us. Likewise, they don’t tell us what to think, but leave us to interpret events for ourselves, having given us the benefit of an informed and critical vantage point, The story of 1950s art begins at the end of the Second World War, because it was such a rupture to the body of the world, that the post-war art beginnings extend from mid 1940s to the next decade.
Slowly, as the world start recovering from the war trauma, new art movements used to develop worldwide. Major influences on the 1950s art were made by 1920s avant-garde movements, modernism, surrealism and abstract painting; So nowadays with internet jux·ta·po·si·tion is not like Bunuel’s “That Obscure Object of Desire” or relies on the juxtaposition like Pier Paolo Pasolini but it is like Bowie and Tilda; we are losing our roots everyday and take others place and lose our originality day by day; and get to serve other people’s beliefs, because we all know that we all have to imagine peace & Yokokimthurston is an album released as a collaborative effort by Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore that is beyond perfection, Kim Gordon the Godmother of Grunge made the left pillar of Salar Bil’s foundation.
Bil’s revolutionary performances from Kool Thing of Sonic Youth; named Fear of a female planet “Since its emergence in the early 1970’s, glam rock has been theoretically categorized as a moment in British popular culture in which essentialist ideas about male gendered identity were rendered problematic for a popular music audience.
On the other hand, we have Kim Gordon who has been referred to as the “Godmother of Grunge”, the “Godmother of alternative rock”, “rock’s reigning experimental diva”, “the original “Riot Mom”, and other similar sobriquets when mentioned as an important influence on younger women musicians such as Courtney Love or the bands in the Riot Grrrl movement, but her work has been given only superficial treatment in both the popular and academic literature.
Courageous feminist punk band Pussy Riot has received more public exposure than they ever could have hoped for since three members were arrested after a February 21st performance at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral and charged with “hooliganism.” The band formed last September in direct response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to seek the presidency again in March 2012, and they have demonstrated against his rule ever since, staging confrontational, but non-violent, protest performances in Red Square and other Russian landmarks. They draw much of their energy and inspiration from working-class British Oi! bands of the 80s, the American feminist punk of the 90s Riot Grrrl movement, and from the stalwart Sonic Youth, whose three decade run has put singer/bassist Kim Gordon in the spotlight as a musician, artist, and icon.
Arlene Stein claims that young women today have a “greater variety of different images of gender available to them” than the girls of her own generation had in the 1960s and 1970s, and that they are “no longer forced to choose between a discourse of romance that glorifies surrender and a discourse of rock that idealizes autonomy,” and Kim Gordon has been a key figure in bringing about this change.”
Then he appropriated Christina Aguilera’s Dirty as Rowdy.Unruly.Hurry.Dirty “Islam is often represented as a religion which designates women and limits their freedom. However, many have found evidence in Islamic texts which is supportive of women’s rights. Whereas Western concept of feminism are often resisted as foreign and subversive of Muslim culture, arguments for women’s equality from within Islam hold a lot of potential for feminists.
Feminists have tended to regard religion as just another of the sources of women’s subordination, citing the manner in which women are often represented as subordinated in religious texts, and the frequency with which religion is used to justify and maintain men’s dominant position in society. Although these changes are levelled at all the major religions, Islam in particular has a reputation for being anti-women and for supporting a segregated social system where women are economically and politically marginalized. In “Beautiful” I can find the marginalized people, but it is in Dirty that I can find question the position that placed in non-binary bodies. From Harvey Milk School to Tehran’s
Schools, students sing “Beautiful”. This song discusses issues of self-esteem and insecurity, promoting a message of self- empowerment and embracing inner beauty. If the children of Harvey Milk sing the song for their sexual liberation, our girls’ students sing the song for their freedom. In Iran, woman is suppressed as well as LGBTQIAt. But Tehran has another side too. If you unveil the veil you hear “Dirty”. Christina Aguilera was determined to shed her teen pop image of her early works and decided to show her sexuality and aggression in “self. explanatory” Dirty” Freud in Civilization and its Discontents wrote, “Dirtiness in itself is not .. bad.
Everything-must proceed to the coronation of the clean, the ordered and the beautiful, which Freud defined as the fundamental needs of civilization. But to what do these restraints pander? What do they hide or repress? Are they not images, dictations,that have arisen from the needs of an aristocratic and individualistic affirmation of a culture that tries to picture itself outside the conditions of existence? As read in an Artforum’s article, “Since art reflects political engagement and social relationships, its ingestion of structure and perfection symbolizes an ideal that seeks to unify, organize and homogenize our larger environment.
In art, imperfection and filth are threatening transgressions. Actually, they are a danger to political power, because, if they are elaborated on as models, they would acquire a cultural significance of social anomaly and rebellion: “To reflect on filth allows reflection on the relationship between order and disorder, being and non- being, the formal and the informal, life and death.” This is why art that constructs itself, or is constructed, according to dominant social values doesn’t speak of dirt. As the carrier of a moral judgment, it must affirm, against any antisocial spirit, a sense of order. It should be understood that social, in our system, signifies “toward economic management.” The Artforum’s article continued. “Society cannot afford to have its self-image tarnished, so instead it tries to “reclean.” This operation is the effort of a functionalist economy based on the circulation of new goods, the diffusion of which can be seriously impeded by the presence of refuse and scum. In fact. these are repeatedly hidden and sublimated, as if the acknowledgment of their quantity and intensity were unbearable. Yet the state of our cities speaks for itself: New York, Mexico City, Hong Kong, New Delhi–filth is predominant in all.
Emerging from technological sphincters, refuse is regulated according to vital rhythms of retention and evacuation; nevertheless, these municipalities no longer manage properly to free themselves of this refuse Can’t we see the discrepancy between cultural acknowledgment and physical reality? If not, why not? What restrains culture from associating itself with the excretive functions of city life, functions which produce millions of tons of garbage? And yet, the truth of the “bowels” is equal to that of the “head,” and the resulting obscenity is revealing, from the symbolic as well as from the political point of view.
Must we consider culture a fetish, an inanimate object, a closed system that cannot incorporate “unpleasant things”?” The video of Dirty was directed by David LaChapelle in 2002 in LA at an abandoned newspaper print building. David LaChapelle is an American photographer and when he was teenager, he met Andy Warhol who hired him as a photographer for Interview. Warhol reportedly told LaChapelle “Do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good.” But Aguilera wanted to make sure that she and LaChapelle had the same vision for the video, not wanting it to be “glossy or pretty. In this way, “Abjection” defined the Dirty music video.
Drawing on the French tradition of interest in the monstrous (e.g., novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline), and of the subject as grounded in “filth” (e.g., psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan), Julia Kristeva developed the idea of the abject as that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason the communal consensus that underpins a social order. The “abject” exists accordingly somewhere between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, representing taboo elements of the self barely separated off in a liminal space.
Kristeva claims that within the boundaries of what one defines as subject – a part of oneself – and object – something that exists independently of oneself – there resides pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one’s identity that has since been rejected – the abject.” Róisín Murphy was about presence “We ain’t a thing- Murphy is not only singer, producer ,songwriter, director From trip-hop to pop art.
Ahead of its time She is the concept of presence and i really do appreciate her presence. And she made my 2010’s with Hairless ToysThe concept behind of this album narrates my life. It’s about the madness that I’m involved with. I willlose the nerve to be the best. Besides the content, it is the refined record I’ve ever heard.” And Laurie Anderson one take selfie about “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)”
The ancient world dreamed of lost unities, and if Osiris was torn to bits, Isis would knit him back together. In the twentieth century, it was not a jealous brother but an irresistible transformation of life and production into the inhuman that would divide everyone. Indeed, Marshall McLuhan observes: “The restructuring of human work and association was shaped by the technique of fragmentation that is the essence of machine technology.”
For McLuhan, as for Marx, we become the reflections of our modes and means of production. In Bodies and Machines, Mark Seltzer examines Henry Ford’s production line, citing Ford himself: “The production of the Model T required 7882 distinct work operations, but, Ford notes, only 12% of these tasks–only 949 operations–required ‘strong, ablebodied, and practically physically perfect men.’ Of the remainder … ‘we found that 670 could be filled by legless men, 2,637 by onelegged men, two by armless men, 715 by onearmed men, and ten by blind men.’”
Ford’s fantasy of shattered bodies piecing together the individual, seriallyproduced parts of cars would be played out literally on the battlefields of World War I, the first fullymechanized war in history. The militant energies of mechanical technologies turned fully on the body, mass producing the fragments of Ford’s imagination, marrying the literally shattering powers of hot technologies with the ideological powers of mass media in the forms of radio, newspaper, photograph, and film.
The confluence of ideology and artillery, and their seemingly indistinguishable methods and effects, would provoke the dadaists to reimagine the body itself. The worship of Fordism and regularized, mechanistic parts and moments of production would become a machine aesthetic aligned with production. Often horrifying but simultaneously compelling, the breakdown of the body into constituent parts, or the wholesale replacement of bodies by machine parts, was characteristic of it.
Francis Picabia would express this in his endless series of industrial parts and implements, often given a proper name, or simply labeled “femme.” For Siegfried Kracauer, this obsession with the fragmentation was not the province of avantgarde art, but rather the key obsession of popular culture. His analysis of the Tiller Girls chorus line could be just as easily applied to everything from silent comedies to the musicals of Busby Berkeley. Describing inhuman choreography of synchronized and uniformed bodies highstepping or kicking in a glitzy parody of the assembly line, Kracauer observes: “It is the mass that is employed here.
Only as parts of a mass, not as individuals who believe themselves to be formed from within, do people become fractions of a figure.”Thus even the popular culture saw a future emerging in which individuals were subordinated to the mass in a way that broke down bodies and psyches into mere fragments. In a telling observation that powerfully echoes Ford’s fantasies of fragmented men, Kracauer writes of the popular chorus line: “The Tiller Girls can no longer be reassembled into human beings after the fact. Their mass gymnastics are never performed by the fully preserved bodies, whose contortions defy rational understanding. Arms, thighs, and other segments are the smallest component parts of the composition” (78).
He concludes that this is a true mirror of antiorganic, unnatural capitalist production, which “does not rise purely out of nature,” and so “it must destroy the natural organisms that it regards either as means or as resistance” (76). The machine aesthetic was profoundly a part of avantgarde art, and while usually these works are animated by vigorous critique, there is too a kind of subterranean embrace and pleasure in such shattering processes as well.
Raoul Hausmann’s Mechanical Head: The Spirit of Our Time most powerfully incarnates the militarism and industrial remaking of a profoundly fragmented subject. A wigmaker’s mannequin stares blindly with its blank eyeballs. The features are abstracted, indistinct. The wooden head is just that, without body, interiority, or desire–the androgynous mind and face readymade to the needs of mass production. It has no name, but simply a number in a series, 22. Attached to the blank features are objects, each a synecdoche for mechanical fragmentation and control. Its right ear is represented by the font cylinder from a printing mechanism, suggesting the reams of newspapers, books, receipts, identification papers, and other printed documents that constitute the reality of the moment.
A screw projects from the temple at a queasy angle: this head feels no pain; it is just the chassis of an informationprocessing machine. Just above it, the movement from a watch conjures up the standardized time of industrial regularity–the deadlines, the hours of banks and factories, the divisions of the day into units of calculation. The forehead is divided by a vertical tape measure, repeating the theme of the watch, for space too is regularized, measured, and as standardized as the face and thought of the head itself. At the very crown, a collapsible tin cup is extended, presenting the profile of a funnel or perhaps a lens.
In either case, it seems to be a conduit to fill the blank head from the outside but also from above, as if the forces that control it must indeed look down from a high place. Camera parts, echoing the visual media of photography and film that define those powerful visual mediums, have replaced its left ear. A nail is also driven into the left side of the head, another instance of violent penetration. Behind the left ear, a ruler rises up, giving the impression of an antenna. This head is radiocontrolled, yet whatever signals it receives, the figure of the ruler suggests they are measured, regulated, and subject to precise standards. Curiously, the eyes of the head remain troublingly blank, its ears alone replaced by visual media, and one wonders why Hausmann failed to replace those eyes as he has the ears, perhaps covering them with lenses? Yet, turning to McLuhan, Hausmann’s choice seems confirmed by the deeper structures of modernism’s media.
For McLuhan, the ear is the most delicate, emotionally nuanced, and involved human sense. He associates it with the tribal, the preliterate, the amodern. The ear conjures up the totality of human intersubjective relations and negotiations that print can never capture. McLuhan sees the ear as the conduit to oral humanities’ “inner world … a tangle of complex emotions and feelings that the Western practical man has long ago eroded or suppressed within himself in the interest of efficiency and practicality” (50).
Replacing the oral with the visual carries out that suppression. The visual mediums of print, film, and all mechanized processes create inhuman detachment and dampen emotion, fragmenting not only the outer world of things, but also the inner world of subjectivity: the visual “enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement” (79). He takes this idea even further in saying, “The literate man or society develops the tremendous power of acting in a matter with considerable detachment from the feelings or emotional involvement that a nonliterate man or society would experience” (79).
Hausmann’s head has had its ears replaced by the eyes of printing and film, but its blind eyeballs stare out, totally detached, even from the piercing pain of those nails and screws driven into it–the perfectly detached visual subject, ready for the horrors of either the assembly line or the front line. Much of the power of Hausmann’s head comes from its fragmented materials. There is no craft in this construction. The artist did not sculpt it in marble or cast it in bronze. Indeed, such a unified work would much diminish the impact of it.
In part, the head speaks so loudly because its subject and critique are the very things from which it is made. Its cyborg theme is science fiction, but the everyday objects of the watch, the print cylinder, the ruler, and camera are all there. In everyday life, these are banal objects and tools, barely remarked upon, as we are largely unconscious of their tremendous force. Hausmann collages these readymades together, bringing them to violently fix on the head, forcefully reminding us that they now constitute our actual selves, piercing our very temples. We are already cyborgs: utterly, numbly, and horrifically transformed.
Hausmann’s head is utterly unlike the gorgeous clockwork automatons of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though the eighteenth century was taken with clockwork metaphors, and even argued for a watchmaker god, those toys and automatons, like the writing boy, concealed their mechanism underneath the craft of art. Their bodies are complete, their faces of wood and porcelain detailed, individual, and unique. They wear the finest clothes, their bodies whole, and the clockwork mechanisms are hidden from the eyes. They make every attempt to become human flesh, and it seems that they are meant to comfort us. Their mechanisms are perfectly comprehensible but always concealed so that we do not confront their mechanical abjection, assured that a kindly toymaking god watches over a rational world just as we watch over their amusing exploits of playing a piano or writing their own name.
Hausmann’s head is blank, decapitated from the body, and violently modified. There is grim humor in it, but little comfort. Its ability to incarnate fragmented subjectivity from the readymades of industrial society demonstrates the profoundly new relationship of the subject and the artist to the fragment in the twentieth century. The fragmented subjectivity of mass production is only one side of a dialectical process. The fragmentation of the assembly line leads to the shelves of the department store and the mass consumption of both things and images. At a moment of critical mass, massproduced commodities, from durable goods like cars to ephemeral media such as newspapers, demand consumers who purchase and use these commodities less to satisfy basic needs than to engage in the fundamentally aesthetic work of exchanging signs. Though production and consumption form a true dialectic, the course of the twentieth century marks the movement of this spinning pair.
In the first half of the century, the subject is clearly production. The art, the ethos, and indeed the very spirit of the time are centered on production. For conservatives, the hero is the captain of industry, while for progressives it is the worker hero. From whichever side the artist approaches culture, production is at the center of consciousness. With the Depression and World War II, these productive powers would be kept as the major term until the 1950s.
The consumer here seems almost an afterthought, the minor term, necessary but truly insignificant next to the giant forces of industrialization. However, with the end of the war, there is a shocking reversal. The consumer becomes the subject and production is the minor term, the object that merely allows the consumer to realize itself in an orgy of shopping. It is difficult today to imagine just how profoundly this shift affected everyday life in late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, and how American popular culture in particular radically transformed because of it. One sure mark is the decline of the inventor heroes like Thomas Edison or tycoons like Nelson Rockefeller and the adulation accorded to the emerging field of advertising. By the end of the 1950s, Madison Avenue is as easily associated with glamour as Hollywood starlets. Critics were painfully aware of, and unnerved by, this change.
Vance Packard built a career watching the wheel turn in a series of books including The Hidden Persuaders, The Status Seekers, and most powerfully, The Waste Makers. Published in 1960, The Waste Makers begins with the dystopian “City of the Future.” Packard projects himself into an America of tomorrow, “Cornucopia City.”In this new reality of overproduction, factories are “located on the edge of a cliff, and the ends of their assembly lines can be swung to the front or rear doors depending on public demand.” Buildings made of papiermâché “can be torn down and rebuilt every spring,” and cars are made of plastic “that develops fatigue and begins to melt if driven more than four thousand miles” (4). People shop in “a titanic pushbutton super mart built to simulate a fairyland,” (5) buying so much that these super marts must contain numerous “receptacles where the people can dispose of the oldfashioned products they bought on a previous shopping trip” (5).
Packard’s fantasy from a halfcentury ago is eerie in its accuracy, and he fully understands the dynamics that others would go on to call the cultural contradictions of capitalism. Packard observes: “The people of the United States are in a sense becoming a nation on a tiger. They must learn to consume more and more or, they are warned, their magnificent economic machine may turn and devour them. They must be induced to step up their individual consumption higher and higher whether they have any pressing need for the goods or not. Their everexpanding economy demands it” (6). The heroic work is, ironically, no longer that of the mighty industrialist or worker who must vanquish scarcity with vision and muscle, but upon the consumer, who must meet the demands of consumption with an everexpanding capacity of hedonistic desire. In short, the consumer must become especially wasteful, buying what is not needed, discarding what is not broken, and engaging in an unprecedented relationship to abundance–to an endless series of readymade things.
As Packard puts it, “the only sure way to meet all the demands may be to create a brand new breed of super customers” (11). Much of Packard’s book is taken up with an analysis of how marketers work to produce the desire that will fuel the economy, and how people give over to the insecurities and pleasures of consumption. While Packard discloses the collusion between engineered obsolescence and the imperatives of fashion, it is Jean Baudrillard, writing eight years later, who most fully understands this new dialectic from the side of its subjects: consumers. In For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, Jean Baudrillard accounts for this labor of consumption: “[U]nder this paradoxical determination, objects are not the locus of the satisfaction of needs, but of a symbolic labor.”Baudrillard realizes what Vance Packard only suspects, that consumption is no longer a process of satisfying needs, but a symbolic labor of meaning carried out through a complex play of identification and transgression of ephemeral styles. Like the modern artist, the consumer too works with readymade elements, picking and choosing, sometimes in obedience to a code, but just as often entering into aesthetic transgressions: “That is to say, they use it [symbolic codes] in their own way: they play with it, they break its rules, they speak it with their class dialect” (37).
Baudrillard’s emphasis on the role of readymade commodities and the labor of making them speak for the consumer is particularly useful to understanding the role of collage in a readymade world of consumer goods of all kinds. Baudrillard is at pains to emphasize the role of these commodities over and above less tangible sorts of cultural capital (like vocabularies, worldviews, attitudes, etc.): “Thus objects, their syntax, and their rhetoric refer to social objectives and to a social logic. They speak to us not so much of the user and of technical practices, as of social pretension and resignation, of social mobility and inertia, of acculturation and enculturation, of stratification and of social classification. Through objects, each individual and each group searches out hisher place in an order, all the while trying to jostle this order according to a personal trajectory. Through objects a stratified society speaks” (38). Baudrillard imagines the consumer selecting from a vast system of commodities, playing with an arrangement of objects, from refrigerators to couches, clothes to cars, in negotiating a symbolic and imaginary place in the world.
Like the collage artist who selects readymade elements to make a new statement, the consumer assembles a provisional totality out of an infinite number of individual fragments, literally shopping (or sometimes scavenging, stealing, or faking) new identities. If Raoul Hausmann’s Mechanical Head represents the hot media of modernity fragmenting and emptying subjectivity for the needs of production, it is Richard Hamilton’s Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? that captures the cool, allinclusive, symbolic involvements of readymade consumption.
Hamilton’s collage has become an icon, a resonant image of the hedonistic consumer culture so apparent by the mid 1950s. What is truly remarkable about it, moreover, is that both its themes and its very production incarnate a profoundly new relationship to both consumer culture and art itself. Hamilton’s collage was created for the London show entitled This is Tomorrow, and the exhibition’s aims were frankly postmodern. As Lawrence Alloway saw it, “Mondrian, the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier all needed recuperating and reutilizing for a new generation, and the principles of that recuperation were to be nonspecialized, transient, impure, provisional, expendable, multichannel, simultaneous, and even antagonistic towards each other … an antidote to purity, the golden section, and clear iconography.”
Though modernist artists too had incorporated elements of mass culture and advertising into their works, they did so under the sign of production, seeking to aestheticize the everyday, and thus redeem it under the signature of the artist. Curiously, Alloway himself sees this strain of modernism as the minor term to be set against those heroes of production, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus, and it is not difficult to see the point when we are told that Hamilton’s collage found its home in a room that contained a sixteenfoot reproduction of Robbie the Robot, Marilyn Monroe’s most famous pose from The Seven Year Itch, and a jukebox. This is Tomorrow is often thought of as the institutional beginning of the pop art that would define the sixties, and it is fascinating to compare these kinds of images to the seminal First International Dada Fair in June 1920, in which a dummy wearing a German military uniform and a pig’s head floats over the hall. That kind of immediate critical engagement, unmistakable in both its tone and message, is lost here.
Are we to find Robbie and Marilyn, the postmodern Caliban and the ultimate celluloid siren as objects of satire and biting political protest, or are we invited first to laugh but finally to affirm them? If dada is politics, pop art is better understood as camp, which Susan Sontag defines as a sensibility: “Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric–something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.”This seems a much less baffling way to understand Marilyn and Robbie. While camp has its subversive side, undermining essential identities, it does not do so through overt critique or satire. Rather, it affirms performative exaggerations, and so “camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling” (291–292). This is a much gentler, and perhaps ultimately less militant, form of avantgarde practice. It both demands and reflects the cool sensibility of the sixties, one that promotes process and engagement, described almost exactly in those same “multichannel” terms Alloway invokes.
“Cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience” (McLuhan 23). This kind of participation is vital to camp, which does not attempt to preach, but to invite the audience into camp sensibilities that are paradoxically subversive and affirmative in the same gesture. In the midst of this camp room, Hamilton’s tiny collage floated, its impact seemingly disproportionate to its diminuitive size. Yet in the almost miniature dimensions of his collage is the iconic embodiment that Baudrillard names the labor of consumption. Its very production, fascinatingly, mirrors the process of shopping itself, for Hamilton had provided his wife a list of images, which she collected from popular magazines, and the list included: “Man, Woman, Humanity, Food, Newspapers, Cinema, TV, Telephone, Comics (picture information), Works (textual information), Tape Recording (aural information), Cars, Domestic Appliance, Space” (Taylor 162). Along with a friend, his wife compiled readymade images carefully clipped, and presented them to her husband, who then simply selected and arranged them, speaking the commodity with his own accent.
Hamilton’s collage condenses the experiences, anxieties, and perhaps the aspirations of a world defined by media, consumption, and a hedonistic–perhaps masochistic–desire for pleasure in consumption. The images themselves are brought together in the form of an unlikely living room, the context clearly private rather than public. Through the window, we see a blackandwhite marquee advertising the first sound film, Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, but it seems our couple no longer needs to go to the famous Warners’ Theatre, for they have television and a reeltoreel tape recorder in their own colorful space. They are surrounded by brand names and corporate logos: Hoover, Tootsie Pop, Ford. The man, a phallic bodybuilder, and woman, a pinup, are almost naked, both defined by their exaggerated bodies. Their very unnaturalness suggests they have turned themselves into products, both defined by the imperatives of advertising, stylizing themselves like the car or the vacuum. The world itself is shattered, reduced to the dimensions of the fragmented mosaic of TV. A sliver of a globe hovers over them, suggesting not only a dawning space age, but their utter distance from traditional geography, as if their room floats away from the earth itself, a powerful metaphor for the mediatization of everyday life that constantly brings fragments of the world inside the domestic. Indeed, while a sea of bodies on a sandy beach plays the role of a carpet, it looks like nothing so much as the static of a dead channel. Their bodies stand inside this banal but ultramodern pleasuredome, and they look out with expressions of seemingly drugged selfsatisfaction that do not meet each other’s or the viewer’s eyes. This is a very different vision from Raoul Hausmann’s Mechanical Head, for it lacks the brutality and violence.
Rather than the external imposition of cybernetic appendages, this couple seems to have fully and completely internalized the imperatives of commodity culture, transforming themselves from within–playfully adorning themselves and their space with the modes of modern media and advertising. They have remade their bodies in their own pursuit of pleasure, becoming onedimensional icons as fully as the cartoons on the cover of Young Romance that hangs on their wall. Unlike the painful and violent nails and screws that pierce the head, these bodies are hedonistic, trapped not by the violence of production, but consumption’s insistence on evergreater indulgence. While Hausmann’s head provokes fears about the fragmenting violence of production, the couple in the dream house seems a perverse fragmentation of pleasures.
Indeed, this was the fundamental neoconservative fear as they watched the dialectic of American capitalism turn production on its head and create the new supercustomer for the culture of mass consumption. In The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell observes that “once mass consumption and a high standard of living were seen as the legitimate purpose of economic organization. Selling became the most striking activity of contemporary America. Against frugality, selling emphasized prodigality; against asceticism, the lavish display.” Bell’s jeremiad describes the very same world that McLuhan and Baudrillard observe, but his horror of it is apparent.
Hamilton, too, is describing this new world in his fragmented collage, but his attitude is far less clear, seeming to fall more softly with something like camp rather than critique. In the lines above, I have tried to read this dialectic in the Mechanical Head and Today’s Homes, but I would like to develop this analysis by looking closely at the origins of the readymade at the beginning of the century in the work of Marcel Duchamp and the century’s end with the work of Sarah Sze. Two of the most iconic images of modern art were created by Marcel Duchamp in the first years of the twentieth century, and both have come to stand as perfect synecdoche for just about all the absurdities, realities, and ambitions of the avantgarde: Bicycle Wheel of 1913 and Fountain of 1917. Duchamp came to call them readymades, and while they mark the radical critique and rupture of modernist art, they also speak to the fragmentation of the world, to the larger dynamics of production that would animate and define the early twentieth century. The Bicycle Wheel did not begin as a readymade, and still less as a work of art.
Living in Paris in 1913, Duchamp recalls that it was a personal experiment with chance and sensibility. Indeed, he claims that he had no intention of showing it as a work of art in its own right, but rather “it was simply letting things go by themselves and having a sort of created atmosphere in a studio, an apartment where you live. Probably, to help your ideas come out of your head.”Seen in pictures, or in one of its motionless museum exhibits, it is easy to forget that the wheel itself would spin and turn under Duchamp’s hand, that it was a kind of machine, though if not a machine for moving, certainly one for thinking. Though the original is lost, Duchamp constructed several more examples over the years: the wheel of a bicycle set in its fork is turned upside down, mounted to a small stool. “I liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio. I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoyed looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace. It was like having a fireplace in my studio, the movement of the wheel reminded me of the movement of flames” (qtd. in Hopps et al. 588).
In large measure, the initial shock of Bicycle Wheel is caught up with the fragmentation: to create the work, the bicycle, that most rational and modern machine is taken to pieces, fragmented, the single wheel separated from its twin and turned up off the ground, stripped of its tire. The purpose of the wheel, to bear a body gracefully over the ground, is utterly shattered, seemingly against all reason, absurdly confined to a single spot. The stool itself is similarly contradicted, its purpose as a seat negated; it becomes a support for that spinning wheel, and it seems to provoke a perverse desire to turn the whole thing over like a child’s toy and set that motion right again.
Duchamp’s work does not seem to sit easily with readings that emphasize that the artist of readymades is merely a consumer, transubstantiating the ordinary into a work of art in a kind of black mass of consumption. This idea of the readymade is aptly and emphatically formulated by Octavio Paz: “The ‘readymades’ are anonymous objects which the gratuitous gesture of the artist, by the simple act of choosing them, converts into ‘works of art.’” Paz and similar explanations by critics like Peter Bürger see only the signature and miss the literal content of such works. The bicycle wheel is not so simply an object, in the wholeness and unity that particular word conjures for us.
This first readymade was an engagement with the parts of modern machines, ripped from their context, taken to bits, applied to new purposes. Its very existence is premised on both mass production of standardized objects and the very ways that process fragments the world. The wheel is not merely an exercise in the signature, for the machine works in a new way, and Duchamp himself would set it spinning. This seems quite different from what Baudrillard describes as the symbolic labor of consumption, and it belongs rather to those early years of the century which were still more fascinated with production: the industrialist, the worker, and the machine more than the consumer and the moment of shopping. To possess an object like Bicycle Wheel is quite unlike the desire for stylish elements that define exaggerated consumer identities: fashionable clothes, cars, or sleek appliances.
Duchamp did not just choose, he broke apart and reassembled as a tinker, and the bicycle wheel is not just a signifier, it too functions and makes–a machine that produces thought. The revolving wheel would remain a constant in Duchamp’s life and work, preceding its status as a readymade, and only later acquiring the name. It would be Fountain of R. Mutt that would crystallize the shattering force of gesture and signature. Unlike Bicycle Wheel, Duchamp’s Fountain was conceived as a readymade work of art even before it was purchased. Fleeing the destruction of World War I, Duchamp had come to New York in 1915, and by 1917 he was deeply involved with the American Society of Independent Artists. Like the Salon des indépendants in Paris, the American association cultivated an antiacademic radicalism and claimed that it would exhibit the work of any artist willing to pay a sixdollar fee.
Duchamp, a member of the board of directors, put them to the test, anonymously submitting a urinal signed “R. Mutt, 1917.”The work was rejected, just as the Salon had rejected Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase in 1912. Duchamp promptly resigned, and then had Alfred Stieglitz photograph Fountain for inclusion in The Blind Man. Shortly thereafter the original disappeared, but the work would continue to generate argument and frame key aesthetic debates for the rest of the century.
Like Bicycle Wheel, Duchamp’s work has been taken largely as a critique of institution and the concept of art itself. The most frequently reiterated interpretations suggest that Fountain tells us that, in the art world, the emperor has no clothes. Peter Bürger maintains: “When Duchamp signs massproduced objects (a urinal, a bottle drier) and sends them to art exhibits, he negates the category of individual production. The signature, whose very purpose it is to mark what is individual in the work, that it owes its existence to this particular artist, is inscribed on an arbitrarily chosen massproduced product, because all claims to individual creativity are to be mocked.” While Duchamp is doubtless testing the limits of art and institutions, the readymades are anything but arbitrarily chosen.
Duchamp’s Fountain is a readymade but it is also a fragment, an emphatically industrial fragment. It is a small piece of the discreetly concealed machinery of everyday life in a country whose only works of art “are her plumbing and her bridges.” Duchamp did not simply walk into a department store and choose a fashionable, or even an unfashionable, item that anyone might purchase. Though the work is premised on mass production and consumption, the major term is surely production. The only likely consumer of this object at the pointofsale is the contractor installing a bathroom, and it is all but unthinkable that this anonymous fixture could be interpreted as a consumer’s performance of identity or indulgence of hedonistic acquisition.
Indeed, one of the most striking things about the urinal is that it would be unlikely to find it in any private residence, but only in the most anonymous public spaces. It is one of the few objects that would seem completely out of place in Richard Hamilton’s Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? The signature itself is not Duchamp’s, for Fountain is signed “R. Mutt.” Writing in the 1917 The Blind Man, Louise Norton collaborated in the fiction: “To those who say that Mr. Mutt’s exhibit may be Art, but is it the art of Mr. Mutt since a plumber made it? I reply simply that the Fountain was not made by a plumber but by the force of an imagination.”
Duchamp himself, although leaving the commentary anonymous by not signing his name to the editorial, wrote about the affair in the same issue: “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE [emphasis in original] it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view–created a new thought for that object” (5). There is a quiet but emphatic slippage of meaning in this formulation, a metonymic resonance between types of work that grows into a telling metaphor about production in art.
Mr. Mutt is presented as either a plumber or, perhaps, the factory worker, who made the urinal himself. In either case, his fictitious identity is deeply associated with the worker, the maker of things. The productive powers of the artisan, however, become artistic at the moment they provoke new thoughts through a choice–presenting the urinal to us as Fountain. Yet this is not a performance of artistic identity but the actual work of the artist who makes new thoughts possible. For Duchamp the artist is above all a producer, someone who heroically makes. This becomes clearer in Duchamp’s final lines in the article, “The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges” (5). This emphasis on making and producing is evident throughout Duchamp, and especially so in his readymades.
Indeed, for Thierry de Duve, the question of production was paramount, and Duchamp always faced a series of questions about the process and production of painting in particular: “to become a painter/to cease to paint, to play the artist/to produce ‘antiart,’ to shut up/to let others speak about oneself, and so on. These strategies would always refer the pictorial product to its conditions of production, art movements to the history that orients them.”
For Duchamp, the readymade emerges from the machinery of everyday life, and its background is the transformations of modern assembly lines, serial production, and the obsession with methods and plans for production. Readymades, assemblage, and collage reflect the violence of these processes and their effects on every aspect of life. These effects were part of the shattering of lifeworlds that would culminate in World War I and transform the major cities of the world. In Marcel Duchamp, Dawn Ades, Neil Cox, and David Hopkins rehearse one of the dominant interpretations of the readymades, considering in particular the motions of Bicycle Wheel and the invitation of Comb: “these repeatable and perhaps pleasurable actions both symbolize and undermine the unhealthy appetites and false needs Karl Marx stated that capitalist commodity production and the ‘consumer society’ would generate, whereby the consumer is seduced into a purchase of (erotic) satisfaction … such promises are made in advertisements or shop windows.”
This line of interpretation seems to put the emphasis on a consumption that would only play such a vigorous role later. It is difficult to imagine a list of objects less likely to produce erotic consumer desire in either shop windows or advertisements than most of Duchamp’s readymades, which are almost all tools, fixtures, or machines. Indeed, all of these objects have the tenor of making, of the machined contexts of everyday life, and Duchamp’s statements often seem to suggest his own thought running in industrial lines: “Look for a readymade/which weighs a weight/chosen in advance/first decide on a/weight for each year/and force all readymades/of the same year/to be the same weight” (qtd. In Ades et al. 156).
In these and other comments, Duchamp engages the kind of mad, fragmenting perspectives that define Fordism and contradict the norms of art in which the object should only serve its own completely individual and internal necessities. He instead adopts the language and urgencies of the manufacturer’s obsessive and utilitarian standardizing to the needs of the factory and its shattering effects on those who serve the factory’s relentless inhuman demands. By the end of the century, the readymade would move out of the factory context and instead they would be plucked from the store shelves of consumer culture, and works by artists like Heidi Cody and Sarah Sze confirm, develop, and complicate the readymades of Marcel Duchamp and the historical avantgarde by coming full circle.
Unlike Warhol and other pop artists who reproduced with loving craft commercial advertising or packaging in a complex trompe l’oeil, Sarah Sze simply presents us with the objects of everyday shopping. She works exclusively with readymades, but not with Duchamp’s thematics of production, or his parsimony. Rather than a single box or a discreet lightbulb, her readymade assemblages comprise thousands of unaltered commodities pulled directly off the store shelves. The art of Sarah Sze engages serial consumption, and she seems to find both the horror and lyricism in a society of consumer excess. Any one of her installations might be best imagined as emptying a suburban home and artfully arranging its myriad things.
In his book On Paradise Drive, talking head David Brooks observes: “At some point in the past decade, the suburbs went quietly berserk. As if under the influence of some bizarre form of radiation, everything got huge. The cars got huge, so heads don’t even spin when a mountainous Hummer comes rolling down the street. The houses got huge. The drinks at 7 Eleven got huge, as did the fry containers at McDonald’s. The stores turned into massive, sprawling categorykiller megaboxes with their own climatic zones.”Brooks’s observation would come as no surprise to Vance Packard, who was observing in 1960 that “[t]he great challenge in the United States–and soon in Western Europe–is to cope with a threatened overabundance of the staples and amenities and frills of life” (7). This unending stream of serial acquisition defines American life, as consumers shuttle between their enormous houses and the bigboxes that feed them seriallyproduced goods, a river of things flowing ceaselessly in and out of their lives.
If Duchamp was fascinated with the production and machinery of everyday life, Sarah Sze turns her eyes toward the unprecedented demands of consumption on our actual everyday activity. Because we live in a world of insistent consumption, the entire culture of objects defines a flow: the movement from purchase to waste. As Packard describes it in his book, manufacturers and advertisers have spent all their time trying to overcome any proclivities we might have toward conservation. We are enjoined to buy and then to waste, and this process is so relentless that we have only a vague idea of the sheer scope and weight of the objects that define our lives. Packard quotes the chanting voice of a deodorant commercial from 1960: “‘You use it once and throw it away. . . . You use it once and throw it away’” (42). The disposable life described by glossy advertisements leads to a stark confrontation with death, as everything, or so it seems, passes on and out of our lives, every dead lightbulb, singleserving creamer, and deodorant pad a perceptible allegory of our own inevitable death: each purchase a hopeful rebirth. Little wonder that American culture is ever more youthobsessed. In this postmodern culture of endless consumption, the conservationist and the collector are perverse figures, attempting to arrest this ceaseless flow of objects, to dam up the river of supply, to hold onto the old, the outoffashion, the ephemeral.
Sarah Sze is not a collector or a conservationist, but her lyrical assemblages and installations illuminate the meaning of consumption and collecting, giving us a powerful image of the “justintime” supply chains of our lives and the remarkable rhythms of consumption that remain completely obscure until we confront them in the constellation of a collection. Indeed, I will try to show how her work ultimately seems to suggest a spatial representation of the rhythms of contemporary everyday life by gathering together its readymade fragments. One of Sarah Sze’s earliest works connects her closely to the visual codes of collections. As a littleknown emerging artist, Sze was given a small corner space in New York’s 1996 SoHo Annual organized by Pratt Artist’s League. Working entirely with toilet paper, she twisted and tied this most ephemeral material into dozens of shapes: oblong tubes, small caps, tiny spheres, loops, lumps, and tails. Taking over a cramped hallway, she displayed the objects ranked in rows, as if each was part of a distinct group. It puts one in mind of shelves of bones in a museum of natural history, or the collector arranging groups of precious objects in careful categories. Yet the material itself ironizes these associations of permanence and eternal value.
After all, her material is toilet paper, itself the ultimate metonym of waste, a material destined to decompose almost at a touch. Looking again, the intensive arrangements seem to underscore the attentions and motions of the collector, the categorizer, as each object and its arrangement mark not value, but the time and attention of the artist. Covering the floors, climbing the walls, overwhelming the shelves, Sze’s work is an index of obsessive attention, making visible the rhythms of time. In this reading, its material is not ironic. The ephemeral paper is only a slightly more durable, visible marker for the artist’s hand–the instrument of attention.
Like Duchamp’s readymades, Sze’s work does not consider these objects for inherent beauty. And, unlike other artists of collage and assemblage, there is no narrative element to her works: they do not tell stories nor do they seem to make the political or psychosexual statements of dada or surrealism. Nor, like Duchamp’s readymades, do her assemblages seem to be foremost conceptual statements. They seem, instead, an almost anthropological record of her own obsessive attentions: a record of immense time and movement devoted to the manipulation of objects. Her ephemeral materials, designed to be discarded, often have little inherent value.
For example, consider Sze’s 1998 installation at St. James in London: spilling out of a shallow closet is a world of household clutter, rather like the closet of almost any suburban home was upended for us. We see rolls of toilet paper and boxes of lightbulbs, a feather duster and a ladder, extension cords and cleaners. At first, all looks jumbled, tossed about. Like most of Sze’s work however, the density demands a more careful second look, and at the center we find nascent lyrical lines emerging. There is a row of carefully balanced razor blades, an arc of upended roofing nails echoed by the graceful arrangement of singleserving, nondairy creamers. What seems to be simply tossed on the floor is actually, ever so slightly arranged in an arc, tilting toward the vertical stack of shipping boxes that takes our eyes to the ceiling. The objects themselves are entirely unremarkable, but the arrangement suggests the lyricism of movement that is more often imperceptible as we put objects into closets and take them out, as boxes arrive and then are thrown away. Here, all those separate moments are presented to us at once. Indeed, perhaps one way to imagine this is the way the page of a musical score at a glance spatially arranges invisible rhythms and harmonies. To arrive at a better sense of this, consider a detail from Ripe Fruit Falling, in which we see the coils of the garden hose, the box of lightbulbs that is adorned with a spray of packing material, the carefully balanced roofing nails, and the sponge. Though at first the detail seems simply messy, closer meditation reveals the patterns of attention, the marks of the hand, the records of movement and care. Perhaps these moments suggest Sze’s optimism about our world of objects, for surely the graceful arcs and lines of her work are redolent of deeper harmonies of music or dance, bodies and objects rhythmically moving through time. The attention, care, and interactions with objects are evident again in works like Studio, laid out as a grid instead of an arc.
Sze’s work refuses narrative, allegory, or even the genres of beauty or kitsch that define almost all assemblages or collections. In Studio we see the ladder, and its structure is articulated and mirrored by helixes of toothpicks also arranged as ladders. The ladder and the articulated lamp recur in most of her works, and these seem the closest things in her work to the representation of the human body, forcible reminders of how our bodies articulate and interact with the objects of our endless, serial consumption. Markers of how bodies move in the ladders, and the lamp the very face of our attention. In works like Seamless, suspending her objects from ceilings and walls, the materials remain the same, but the whole invokes a swirling motion.
Plastic strips and tubes describe the lines of a vortex, the forces lifting leaves, bottles, bowls, and frames into the air. The lamps look on, illuminating and emphasizing, an object that gazes as we gaze. One of Sze’s most stunning works is entitled Proportioned to the Groove. The inspiration for this work is certainly the perspective lines of Renaissance painting, and as we enter the work, the grid lines run far over our head, converging at a vanishing point some fifty feet away. Suspended in the grid lines are imaginary cities made of balsa wood frames, the suggestion of vast scope and space, almost the sketch of what perspective was to represent. But on the floor, we encounter objects. A stack of books, a pair of jeans, packing materials, upended nails, spilled sugar, candies, water bottles, bottle caps, and at intervals, the articulated lamp. The closer to the vanishing point, the more densely packed these materials.
The vanishing point of the grid thus also maps and structures the attention of the artist, drawing us relentlessly into the work. Indeed, it is only the wagging finger of a museum guard that keeps one from crawling farther into the center of the work, the illuminated centers of care. Yet while the work is seemingly about space, its title, Proportioned to the Groove, might be read just as easily as a rhythmic groove. The lines above are about in space, but the stuff below is arranged in rhythms, describing the rhythms of things and bodies moving through time.
The remarkable thing about Sze’s later works, and something that critics always seem to overlook, is that in her more recent assemblages, all her materials seem to be the kinds of things that could come off the shelf of a WalMart, The bottle caps and plastic bowls, the lightbulb boxes and penny nails, the cleaners and the lamps, and of course the endless candies, sticks of gum, creamers, and sugars. All the things that flow through our lives only to be disposed of before we can see what they are, as the organization of our lives demanded by insistent consumption lulls us into a profound unawareness of just how our lives are articulated through consumer goods. The striking newness of bright boxes, the rows of unused sponges, the pristine hoses; these materials are not marked by use at all. They seem sterile, without the aura they would acquire in a home.
In this, they mark both the categorykiller stores they come from, but also the sheer volume of these things in our lives. Caught in her assemblages, they seem unowned, like commodities on store shelves that long for us to complete them. They still retain what Walter Benjamin once playfully described as the soul of the commodity, maintaining “it would be the most empathetic [soul] ever encountered in the realm of souls, for it would have to see in everyone the buyer in whose hand and house it wants to nestle.”Indeed, her work sometimes seems like a window display, and it is hard to approach any of her assemblages without wanting to reach into it, to choose from it. In this, I think, more than any other contemporary artist, she is in touch with the experience of American life in an era of bigbox retail. The newness, the shine of her objects, also puts one in mind, ironically, of their destiny: “You use it once and throw it away.”
In some of her later works she seems to take this on much more directly, and though I would still argue not a narrative work, Things Fall Apart seems an acknowledgment that even the most seemingly durable consumer goods are engineered with a planned obsolescence, to pass directly out of our hands. So, Sze has taken a brandnew Jeep Cherokee and cut it to pieces, hanging its fragments in a cinematic freezeframe, a car caught in the disintegration ray of science fiction. Unlike J. G. Ballard’s bloody, stained, and dented death machines, the shiny red jeep has not a spot on it. It was built simply to be thrown away.
In her emphasis on the new and unused, Sze underscores the odd imperative to consume rather than to use, making one think of those fetishized objects of collectors: toys that were never played with, boxes that were never opened. Sze’s more recent work is perhaps a closer mirror of shopping than living. Her assemblages recall our own wandering shopping carts wheeled to the point of purchase, each its own momentary arrangement. Like the commodities in her assemblages, we use these carts once, then destroy the assemblage and consume the objects, only to return again like Sisyphus, forced to create it again tomorrow, cart after cart in eternal return
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