Project Author? What author?

The title of this project is interesting and very relevant to the subject matter. ‘Project Author’ with a capital A suggests the Modernist view of the author – ‘a privileged creator of meaning and authority in the work in question’. “What author’ with a small a presents the contemporary/post modernist view – this implies ‘The Death of the Author’ as Barthes has it with meaning being largely derived from the reader/viewer’s interpretation.

The first issue for consideration within this project is to consider whether the work of two contemporary artists (the notes suggest Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine) are better explained as a result of my reading of Michel Foucault’s essay What is an Author? and Barthes’ essay The Death of the Author.  I have decided to look at the two suggested artists.

Cindy Sherman’s seminal work was her Untitled Film Stills, 1977–1980. This  is a series of photographs which of Sherman acting out the role of various female characters from anonymous Hollywood ‘B” movies. Interpretation of what the characters represent is left to the viewer. To me the images include characters such as the bored and sexy housewife, the innocent and vulnerable secretary, the battered wife and such like. Sherman is said to have stopped producing the images when she ran out of cliches. I have looked at her work in the past and had generally thought it to be about the way in which women are presented as a series of stereotypes in the movies. I had perceived the work to be largely about gender and identity. I had thought that Sherman was illustrating how identity, and in particular female identity,  is unstable and constructed and how we are driven to consider in terms of media driven preconceived norms. What occurs to me now is that Sherman might also be acknowledging the ideas put forward by Foucault and Barthes. By presenting a series of cliche identities for women in the movies she is demonstrating how (to quote Barthes) “text is a tissue [or fabric] of quotations,drawn from innumerable centers of culture”. Sherman’s stereotypes have become so because they have been recycled by numerous authors and writers of film scripts over time. In this sense it can be seen as a direct challenge to authorship.

In the case of Levine I think I have always considered her work as a direct challenge to the concept of the author. Her work is largely based on appropriation which directly challenges the originality of work by artists, authors etc. By rephotographing the work of other artists she is confronting directly the originality of art and proposing that art is an amalgam of influences from a huge array of sources.

The project also calls for me to consider ‘If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s aura left?’. In a previous post,  I have defined Benjamin’s aura to be ‘something which a work of art loses because of the removal of its uniqueness in time, place and history’. At its heart ‘aura’ is about the sense of wonder that something engenders as a result of its unique and imposing presence. In a physical sense I best understand this in terms of the feeling I get when I look at a wonder of nature – a great mountain, a monumental waterfall etc. These are things which are unique in terms of place, time and history. So the question is how does my understanding of the ideas of Foucault and Barthes influence my sense of awe about an original piece of art. Well I know and accept that the work may well have been constructed from ideas gleaned from myriad sources and that is may well have been defined by cultural conventions prevailing at the time it was produced. So I would certainly question the originality of the content. However, I still feel drawn to admire the artist’s skill and intellect. This could be about their mastery of the media in painting or sculpture or about their synthesis of ideas in more conceptually based art and literature. I am beginning to wonder if I have become so conditioned by the [Modernist] norms that I am unable to see beyond these but I genuinely do feel a sense of awe when I stand in front of a great work of art. I think this sense of an ‘aura’ may well derive from the sense of place and time associated with the work, in the same way that looking at an historical building or artefact causes one to reflect on its history. On balance therefore I do believe that there is something left of Benjamin’s aura, but I feel my explanation of why is somewhat inadequate.

The next question posed in this project is ‘Does any of this explain or validate the un-regulated nature of the internet’. There is no doubt in my mind that the content one sees on the internet demonstrates very clearly how ideas are recycled and in this sense it is a clear demonstration of Foucault and Barthes’ thinking. As to whether it explains the lack of regulation of the internet I am not convinced. I think this is due to the fact that the internet us a world-wide ‘space’ and there is  no body in a position to regulate it. Many individual countries have tried to suppress it but people in these countries have found ways around such local censorship.

The final question posed is ‘Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creator’s intent at the time of making?’. From a personal perspective I am always interested to find out what the author was intending. I will generally read artists statements and have some frustration with artists such as Richard Prince who claim never to comment of their work. So does this mean that I am forced to look at the work within the narrow confines of the artist’s direction. No it does not. I feel free to form my own views. I read a comment from Peter Haveland an OCA tutor on this topic recently which I think summarises very well how I would view this issue now –

“Once a work has been finished and moves out into the world it has an existence all of itself, rather like children having left home, and whatever the maker intended and however well that intent was realised, a whole range of other factors come into play. Not least of which is the variety of knowledge and experience that each viewer, reader, listener etc. brings to the work. Then there is the passage of time and the new things that have happened since it was made added to which we have the new situation of the image (or whatever), for example the meaning of a painting made to hang over a fireplace (Rubens’ Samson and Delilah for example) in a specific private house may well be changed by being hung in a gallery amongst other works. The maker’s intentions cannot take these things into account and so although it is fascinating and often enlightening to know what the maker was getting at the real artistic value of the work can be independent of this”

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Assignment Two: the displaced image

I am long overdue posting my latest work on the blog… I have now completed assignment two and received feedback from my tutor. The work was regarded as ‘competent’ by my tutor which is I believe a fair assessment. I questioned myself whether I had put my heart and soul into the work and I think I might have done better. I completed most of the work quite quickly and then had a significant time lapse before finishing it off. As a result I lost my flow. My tutor also recommended that I make specific references to my sources from within the text which I will do from now on. She also provided very valuable insight into the work of the artists which I had selected. An overview of the work I submitted is set out below.

Introduction 

This assignment is about exploring the ways in which artists and designers use the work of others in their own art and the effects that this has on the understanding of meaning. 

The scope of the assignment required that I find three examples of work in which the work of others is incorporated and three examples where the work appropriates copies or references everyday objects and reuses them as works of fine art. 

For the former I have selected the following works: 

  • The Artist’s Studio – The Dance by Roy Lichtenstein
  • Canal Zone Invitation by Richard Prince
  • Fountain, after Marcel Duchamp by Sherrie Levine 

In the case of work appropriating/referencing everyday objects I  selected: 

  • Costermonger’s Barrow II 1991 by Michael Landy
  • Bed by Robert Rauschenberg
  • Delores James 1962 by John Chamberlain 

Reflections on the Annotations 

What is abundantly clear from my review of the selected works is that there are many ways in which other works of art and everyday objects can be used and referenced within other works of art. 

In the case of Lichtenstein, he references several other works by both himself and Matisse in creating The Artist’s Studio – the Dance. His work however is not a straight copy. It is consistent with his broader style, which is comic book in appearance. My take on this is that by referencing works thought of as ‘high’ art he was raising questions about the elitism of the art world, although Lichtenstein’s own view on this is far from clear. 

Richard Prince’s work is based on appropriated photographs from a French photographer Patrick Cariou.  Prince, in his own words, ‘[doesn’t] really makes comments with any of [his] work’. This is perhaps why he was insufficiently persuasive to win a court case brought by Cariou for copyright infringement. The judge found in favour of Cariou because Prince’s work was not in her opinion sufficiently transformative. Prince’s appeal has been lodged and the outcome will be known soon. Personally I think it is possible that Prince was adapting Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians to comment on broader issues of race and identity in society. A less charitable view however might be that he was taking shortcuts to exploit a gullible art market. 

Sherrie Levine’s use of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain as a basis for her own work is curious. In the past Levine has appropriated works by other artists as a means of challenging Modernist notions of artistic originality. The choice of Duchamp’s work is however seems a strange one as Duchamp and the Dadaists were also challenging the prevailing assumptions about what constitutes art through their ‘anti-art’ movement.  Is Levine now challenging Duchamp’s challenge?

Landy’s Costermonger’s Barrow literally presents an everyday object as a work of art. It seems to reference earlier works by Duchamp and other Dadaists from the earliest 20th century. It may also be referring to modern capitalist society’s  ‘mindless overproduction of material goods’, to quote Jean Tiguely, an artist who has been a great influence on Landy. 

Rauschenberg used his bed as if it were a ‘canvas’ to produce a work of art. Rauschenberg presents his work, as art rather than anti-art, but also expresses the view that art has ‘everything to do with life’. I find his work intriguing as the unmade bed in itself, with its dirty sheets and indentation, raises many questions in the mind of the viewer. 

Chamberlain simply seems to have used scrap from old cars as ‘art supplies’ to produce what he intended as expressionistic pieces. By presenting them in a gallery setting, sometimes mounted on the wall the materials suggest new meanings far from their original purpose. 

What I have learned from this assignment is that there are many ways in which other art works and everyday objects can be referenced in one’s art. In all the examples I reviewed the original work or object takes on a new significance or meaning. That said interpretation of meaning is in itself problematic. Most of the artists I reviewed have been reluctant to clarify their intentions. Most likely this is because it is now generally accepted that viewers attribute meaning to works of art based on their own background and experiences and that they will also be influenced by the context within which they are viewing or experiencing the work. However, at the same time this reluctance to spell out how the artist has transformed the original work or object is raising interesting questions over copyright for works involving the appropriation of art.

PDF files of the annotations can be found here:

Rauschenberg bed

Prince Canal Zone

Lichtenstein artists studio

Fountain Sherrie Levine

Costamonger annotation

Chamberlain Dolores James

Assignment one: the interaction of media

Introduction 

This assignment is an investigation of how artists since the beginning of the 20th century have been influenced by new media, such as photography, film, television etc rather than traditional painting. I have analysed works by the following three artists to consider this question:

Thomas Demand

Richard Prince

Chuck Close

Each is discussed below.

Thomas Demand 

Thomas Demand was born in 1964 in Munich. He studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and Goldsmiths College in London. He originally trained as a sculptor but has developed a photographic practice involving the construction of life-size models out of paper and cardboard. (Guggenheim, 2011)

The work I have chosen to study is Demand’s Corridor, 1995 Chromogenic process print with diasec. 183.5 x 270 cm. (below)

Corridor, 1995 Chromogenic process print with diasec. 183.5 x 270 cm by Thomas Demand

The work is a photograph of a paper model sculpted by Demand. The model is based on an original photograph, culled from the media. He most often chooses banal, yet historically relevant, photographs as his source material. Corridor for example represents the corridor outside the apartment of the American mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. When constructing the model, he carefully removes traces of human intervention in the scene. The finished sculpture is photographed using a large format camera and then destroyed.

On the face of it the work is a banal photograph of a corridor in a building. However when one looks closer something seems wrong. Everything looks too clean. There are no traces of human activity. There are points of detail missing – no switches on the light fittings and no handles on the doors. So just what is it that we are seeing? This is the question that Demand is posing. His work challenges our perceptions of the reality. The work of art is three times removed from the original scene it depicts. It is a photograph of a sculpture of a photograph.

He is also questioning how an artist is able to express their intentions through different forms of visual representation. In an interview with Alexander Kluge Demand comments  ‘You can walk around a sculpture as often as you like, and with photographs – mine are very large so that, as with the sculptures, you can also walk around them – you have a moment and my particular angle of vision. My tyrannical condition, as it were, is that I prescribe your vision’ (Kluge, 2006). Essentially what Demand is saying is that by photographing his sculptures he is not only able to insist upon what we see but also how we see it. By so doing he makes his artistic intention absolutely clear.

Richard Prince 

Richard Prince was born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone, then a United States territory. He moved to Boston in 1954. In 1973, after applying to the San Francisco Art Institute without success, he moved to New York, where he became familiar with Conceptual art. Working in the Time-Life Building as a preparer of magazine clippings, he became aware of the possibilities of advertising imagery and began to use this as the basis of his art. (Rosenberg, 2005)

One of his best-known works is Untitled (Cowboy), 1989 Chromogenic print 50 x 70 in. (127 x 177.8 cm). (below). What Prince did was to “re-photograph” an advertisement for Marlboro Lights, but removed the picture of the cigarette pack, the advertising copy (“The spirit of Marlboro in a low tar cigarette”), and the Surgeon General’s health warning. He produced a gallery-sized print of the photograph and represented it as a unique piece of art.

Untitled (Cowboy), 1989 Chromogenic print 50 x 70 in. (127 x 177.8 cm) by Richard Prince

In some senses Prince’s work references earlier work by Andy Warhol who produced images of boxes and cans of consumer goods. It is essentially a conceptual piece commenting on how the advertising industry hijacks and even creates American myths to sell consumer products. Prince believes his work is about photography and how photography is used. In a 1992 interview Prince stated ‘I mean I still think it was about how photography and certain media representations are like the Antichrist. It gets me angry, some of these representations, the way that media manipulates and doesn’t tell the whole story’. (Whitney, 1992).

By presenting in a large print for gallery exhibition he also forcefully demonstrates the importance of context is when photographs are read. A Marlboro advert in a magazine is easily overlooked, whereas a large photograph in a gallery commands attention.

Prince’s appropriation of photographs challenges the concepts of ownership and authorship. His work also probes how through photography the mythical status of cowboys, bikers, customized cars, and other icons have been used in the construction of American identity.

Chuck Close 

Whilst American Chuck Close is a painter, he has clearly been heavily influenced by photography. He paints in a style known as photorealism that emerged in the USA in the late 1960s. It involves the making of a work of art, which is an exact recreation of an original object (in the case of sculpture) or photograph (in the case of painting). Close has been a leading artist in this field.

Close’s Big Self Portrait (1967-1968) is one of his early works and is a prime example of photorealism. (below)

Big Self Portrait (1967-1968) by Chuck Close.

To produce this portrait he made a photograph of himself onto which he drew a grid. He transcribed the content of each element on the grid onto a much larger canvas to produce the final painting. (ThinkQuest, 2011). The grid he used for Big Self Portrait was very fine and from a distance was not apparent to the viewer. From close up however the painting becomes more abstract. In a sense when viewed close up his paintings can be compared those of the abstract expressionists whose work had no clear focal point. On the other hand the realistic nature of the paintings viewed from a distance represented a move away from the abstraction of earlier artists.

The technique applied by Close is one which dates back to the Renaissance masters and was later also adapted by contemporary billboard painters. The process is important to Close. In his own words he has ‘embedded in the work itself is all kinds of information about how it got made’. Viewers can ‘decode the process and figure out what happened’. His paintings are also very large. His view on this is that ‘the bigger they are the longer they take to walk by’, indicating that he wants his work to be studied. (Kosters, 2010)

In 1988, Close had a spinal blood clot, which left him a quadriplegic, unable to move either his legs or his arms. Over time he recovered some use of his arms, but he clearly had to develop a new way to paint. His continued in his signature style of painting portraits of heads from source photographs which he now allowed his assistants to grid off. However, he moved away from exact replication of the elements in the grid towards a technique akin to pointillism as illustrated by this detail from a recent untitled self-portrait shown below. From a distance the subjects remain clearly recognizable.

Untitled Self Portrait (detail) by Chuck Close

Close does not like the terms “photorealism” and “superrealism”. In a recent interview he stated that he has always been “interested in the artificial as the real,” and that mark making has always been important to him. In his view it is this physicality that distinguishes painting from photography. (Kosters, 2010).

References

Guggenheim. (2011) Collection Online: Thomas Demand b. 1964, Munich. The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation (SRGF). Available from:

http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/show-full/bio/?artist_name=Thomas Demand&page=1&f=Name&cr=1

Kluge, A. (2006) Thomas Demand In Conversation with Alexander Kluge. Saatchi Online.

Available from:

http://magazine.saaatchionline.com/culture/reports-from/los-angeles-reports-from/thomas_demand_in_conversation [Accessed 30 November 2011]

Rosenberg, K. (2005) Artist: Richard Prince. New York Art. Available from:

http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/11815/ [Accessed on 2 December 2011]

Whitney Museum of American Art. (1992) A Conversation with Richard Prince. American Suburb X. Available from: http//www.americansuburbx.com/2011/04/interview-conversation-with-richard.html  [Accessed on 5 December 2011)

ThinkQuest. (2011) Chuck Close (1940-present). Oracle ThinkQuest Educational Foundation. Available from: http://library.thinkquest.org/C0118063/time/close.htm [Accessed on 1 January 2012]

Kosters, B. (2010) Interview with Chuck Close. Fnews Magazine, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Available from:  http://fnewsmagazine.com/2010/05/interview-with-chuck-close/ [Accessed on 1 January 2012]