- Issue One: Failure
- Issue Two: Territory
- Issue Three: Bare Life
- Issue Four: Slowness
- Issue Five: Affective Framing: Cinematic Experience and Exhibition Design
- Issue Six: Aesthetics of Heterogeneity
- Issue Seven: Responding to Site Specificity
- Issue Eight: Invisibility (escaping notice)
- Issue Nine: Relations
- Issue Ten: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Reenchantment
- Issue Eleven: Heterotopias (Worlds Within Worlds)
- Issue Twelve: Thresholds
- Issue Thirteen: The Outside
Bear poaching is one of many instances of phenomena operating through hidden activity to the detriment of the environment. The emphasis on bear parts for their health benefits is here examined against the healing powers of art. Self-interest, self-canceling, destruction, and the ethical conditions for evaluating animal and human life are implicit in this consideration of species extinction and performance art. What are the present conditions for change in our relationship to the environment? A playful economics is proposed to uncover methods of critique embedded in mistruths. Despite the inevitable discrepancies between the artist and the bear poacher, both elicit tensions through opaque production, and propose methods of resistance. The American artist Elaine Sturtevant’s work is considered for: the overarching gesture of self-negation that her work performs, her resonance with Duchamp’s emphasis on the healing effects of art, and a 1967 cancelled performance. Rosi Braidotti’s work intervenes to introduce the role of shame and questions of sustainability that propel life. Shame’s role in ethics is put forth to question the inherent movement in presumed complacence. As a detective searches for the missing piece in order to solve a crime, what is misplaced gains traction, value. The inspection of each part, before reassembly, contributes to any telling.
Rogue as modus operandi
James “Jimmy” Harrison owned a hat making business in downtown Darby, Montana for twenty years (Backus 2015). A supportive member of his community, he was sentenced to ten years in the Montana State Prison in August of 2015 for bear poaching. He pleaded guilty in June 2015 to five felony counts that included unlawful possession of nine bears that were illegally poached using bait between 2009 and 2014 (ibid). Using bait for bears or predatory species in Montana is illegal. Harrison lost hunting privileges for life and paid $9,000 in restitution and $9,000 in donations to conservation organizations. Due to back problems that made it hard to put on his socks, the court changed his sentence: instead he would spend 180 hours warning youth about the disadvantages of breaking hunting regulations (ibid).
Bears are increasingly rare animals. Poaching – the illegal hunting or killing of animals – can drive species to extinction. It is also one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world (ibid). Although bear poaching is prevalent in North America, the illegal killing and trafficking of animals has been a global occurrence for decades. Slaughtered bears are used in medicinal trade markets in South Korea where, for instance, bile is extracted for medicinal purposes (Traditional Medicine Trade 2016). In Korea, a gall bladder can be purchased for up to $15,000 (ibid). Bear paws and gallbladders are the most treasured of their parts: paws are cooked in a gourmet and health-promoting delicacy widespread in Asia. Harvested from bears, bile has many uses, including as childhood nutritional supplement, as a remedy for common colds and even cancer, and is also found in some shampoo, wine and tea (Kavoussi 2011).
In poaching’s historical accounts, poaching iconography was widely celebrated, in painterly representations and folklore, as poachers were seen to be one step ahead of the gamekeeper (Wright 47). The keeper is responsible for to managing the countryside, the habitat, farmland or woodland for example, an essential part of conservation. They are responsible for keeping poachers away and controlling predators. While for now the poacher and the keeper will be more carefully laid out, could a first parallel be drawn here to the “Artist” and the commercial artist? Like the keeper, the latter manages the industry, while the Artist is seen as inherently ahead, above, with a rebellious freedom, carrying the mythical responsibilities of the Godly, capable of imbuing works with transcendental qualities? In contrast to the keeper, the identity of the poacher is characterized by rogue production. Some poachers, such as rhino-hunter, professional hunting guide and self-proclaimed conservationist Corey Knowlton argues that without his lifelong dedication, financial investment, and years of research into poaching, the species would go extinct as he only target particular rare and endangered species (Adler and Kielty 2015). The poacher is testament to the symbiosis of high-stakes for rewards, coupled with discretion, and a fastidious commitment. On the other hand, poachers distribute through illegal trade, and many would see their actions as devastating, as they deplete environmental resource circuits, even if they insist they are saving species in the long run. The majority of hunters that poach illegally are rarely caught and remain hidden violators of hunting laws.
One of the characteristics of poaching is that it is rigorously imperformative, unaccounted for in political activity: neither listed nor checked off, it goes unnoticed. Poaching inherently withdraws from the event horizon, taking cover in the usual; the enterprise eludes game theory (Wright 48). It takes refuge in the banal, in the ecosystems deployment and re-uptake. But when something goes missing – it is related to what is assembled around it. It does not only accrue value from its history, but also from its position in space. It is assigned a place in a network, and is only absent in relation to other signifiers. Saussure gives the example of a chess piece knight. By itself, outside its square, the board and the other conditions of the game, it means nothing. It becomes real only when it enters the game into relation with the other pieces (Holdcroft 96). Poaching is an ante-paradigm installed in real time, a landscape using resources and weapons for a rebellion that goes unnoticed – a virtual video game turned métier.
The project here is not to castigate. Neither is it to decide whether it makes sense to kill one animal to save the species. Nor is it to name all that tests our ontological cores, down rabbit holes ad nauseam. Minutia work through dispersion and hide, across a variety of fields, blending desertion, sabotage and hacking. Producers at one remove slip under the radar – persist through concealment; rogues opt out of rebellions at large scale and dismiss the stage lights of ego-display. Are their actions embedded in an alchemy of planetary factors that considers a stretch of aeaeae time? (Something ecological?)
The risks of performing overt forms of resistance is visible in the global politics of protests, self-immolation and social activism – which endlessly attest to the dangers of revolutions which use bodies. Self-annihilations risk being shamefully unacknowledged. This cancellation of the body far too shameful to mention so dryly here, is pressing in countless crises, from Black Lives Matter, the abduction of women who join ISIS, the self-immolation of monks, bodily dissolutions in protest. Depending on your preferred media source, a daily dose of the nuts-and-bolts of the globe’s mishaps appear – some of these intentional elisions and others pre-planned and executed – losses scrolled through, disastrously routine. Yet so too for the purposes of this essay, how do we consider the planned removal of species? For these bears: “It can be seen as barbarism, as we cannot imagine the reality for the estimated minimum of 12,000 bears across Asia”. (Ibid)
Still, Korea is not the only player shoring bear profits. In China, bears are also kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. There is no evidence that bear bile has any medicinal effect, there is no plausible mechanism by which it might work (Guinness 2013) (Kavoussi 2011). Harvesting bile is no novelty – it is one of the countless cries against the environmental costs growing in the schizoid logic of our times. The bile-infused products follow the logic of fake cures that reap financial rewards for a gamut of pharmaceutical industries. The long history of snake oil salesmen allows everyone to be a kind of healer in daily life. Idle consumption is reconfigured and repurposed according to the latest wellness needs, while the ethical dimension evades institutional capture. Buyers self-master their flaws, and become magicians in reproducing their own remedies as the mind-body returns to what relieves it. We scour forums and articles to concoct our preferred panacea, as the self-mastery of health can prove personal pride or, gain social acceptance. As we exploit our obsessions or our neurosis to our professional advantage, or we self-diagnose and impose a private remedy--regardless of whether there was indeed a symptom to begin with – often this is all without knowing the specific mechanism through which the supposed symptom was exacerbated, how the positive effects physiologically occurred, or how the remedy invents another tic that we are certain must be eliminated.
Both the poacher and the seller benefit through the efficiency of their marketing ploys or through the placebo effect of their “remedies”. The position of the poacher is not simply reducible to that of the hider, pirate, drug lord or knock-off dealer. Poachers continue as their clients return; they are key operators in a circuit. Their identity matters little, if at all, instead their position in a network does.
In terms of poached bears, I aim to emphasize the extent to which both capitalism and the so-called counter-culture reduce animals to commodities for transformative change, as one of innumerable instances of shameful abuse. Although social theorists of consumerist ethics and bio-politics have begun to confront some of these issues head on, the product-value upheld by the consumer’s pursuit of health and functionality remains driven by the fear of fatal disease and decay. With the forces of self-management, hygienic bio-consumption, the maintenance of life: the sustainability of the human, and the prolonging of life is at the fore.
Health is endurance stretched past the sickness in what is “human” replaced with ever-mutating elixirs. How do we outline health’s limits when they are mise en abyme? One solution might be the refashioning of sustainable anti-rituals. “Self-styling one’s death means cultivating an approach, a ‘style’ of conceptual creativity which sustains counter-habits, or alternative memories that do not repeat and confirm the dominant modes of representation” (Braidotti 22). Braidotti emphasizes that because we share time, we can only craft our life and death in a way that is sustainable and adequate. Shame guides this. “The motor of ethical behavior is shame” (Braidotti 24). How can we reconstruct shame, through facts read as half-fictions, that seem almost to be imaginary retellings of actions, some of which are too real to ever register that never coincide with our ability to be think them into consciousness? As literature on health trends is undeniably convoluted, in the aim to postpone death we cannibalize other forms of life through cyclical consumption that only hazily guarantees to prolong our life. Rather, can we reconstruct a critique of dominant forms of representation not only at a distance – can we inhabit the positions of resistance through life? Is it possible that the forms we seek refuge in can remedy deformations, injuries, that, themselves, are indistinguishable from life? Platonic immunity refers only to the “spirit realm” where the body itself is only kept up temporarily so long as there are souls inside – so the distinction between the ephemeral and the sustainable is practiced in advance. This allowed Socrates to teach unironically that the philosopher’s aim is to have died as much as possible in his lifetime (Sloterdijk 221). This metaphysical approach was then invested in protecting life from the life-opposed aspects of life. (ibid) Are there provisions against finitude that also surmount shame?
To reconsider our vantage point within this colossal paradigm of relations, Rossi Braidotti faces sustainability through a nomadic ethics operates based on modes of daily activism that are micro-political rather than a ‘master theory’. If the feeling of shame can be tied to some kind of discomforting pain, or existential fear of irreparable decay, this is part of my conviction that to align myself with my body’s ability to be healthy is also a biologically based selfhood, that draws a paradoxically de-secured “identity through health” – extending to the realization that health in the full sense of the world cannot exist (Sloterdijk 184). “Ethics consists in re-working the pain into thresholds of sustainability, when and if possible: cracking, but holding it, still” (Braidotti 8).
The poacher self-cancels in illegal trafficking, not unlike other forms of illicit trade, infringement, and corrupt market systems that work through usership, mining and grafting. Self-obscuring occurs in the figure of the poacher and that of the buyer as their identities are backlit by their commodities and investments. Yet in action, self-obscuring is not aimed at destruction of the self, but rather allows room to keep something alive in the system as a whole. It works as endless ricochets, to regurgitate back out, not only into Braidotti’s Deleuzian becoming but also into today’s avatars of a post-capital future. Many positions are taken as efforts not to react against the network – but present themselves sucked dry, with the need to unleash a word deserted. Evading achieves instant benefits – the insular effects of denial, but it somehow loses something – shame, the disappointment that moves us forward to action. Humans are saved by their frailty if protected by a substance that doesn’t die, in the sense that it stands beyond the differenced between death and life (Sloterdijk 221). Could it be that shame is the substance, shared on another level – that binds the perpetuation of life, the confusion of life with the form it takes?
This rhetoric is an opportunity to redeem the role of shame in propelling ethical action, resist burying our heads in the sand and take on the burden of our actions, despite not-knowing how to go forward. Our sicknesses, our analgesics are particular form of aliveness. As Braidotti writes, “the compulsive and consumerist pursuit of ‘health’ entails social, cultural and bodily practices which are in open contradiction with one another” (Braidotti 10). The affect of shame is distributed across a patchwork. It motivates the movement of bile in the production cycle, from harvest to use.
The tension of ethics between a proposed remedy, how it comes into circulation, and the bio-domes it effects bolsters anti-egotistical production that can only come from a connection to a devotion to something all consuming. Is shame lumped off into someone else’s hands with the bonus of a benign familiarity? Relief is the altar for wellness next to the lifetime of investment in the study and sport of poaching. To escape limits entirely, refashioning what binds is untenable: it is not that no one fits through a back door, or that all are seduced and dependent but rather than the back doors we create need to be fully rendered, to then be critiqued, and ameliorated. Without believers in the magical cures of the bear, would the need to scan the black market for the body parts of a bear be rendered obsolete? Poachers, no longer profiting, would lose interest, but the demand persists, products built on fallacies as much as truths.
How do we keep from diluting shame when it is seen as a common planetary base wedded to the deep structure of connectedness? “To find out about thresholds, you must experiment, which means always, necessarily, relationally or in encounters with others” (Braidotti 6). We need not only to be masters of our own mortality, but we are encroached upon by the mortality of others. My death is not insulated, so too the mortality of what is around me it taken up through my experimentation with its limits, this necessarily includes relations. Braidotti’s nomadic ethics is proposed here as something attempts some reparation rather than withdrawal, based on a theory of activism that is one of micro-actions. Her theory pulls from Deleuze and Spinoza to put forward a limit that is not finite, but a limit that contains dynamic movement, ‘connectors’, and ‘attractors’. This allows a collective authoring of the limit: acted upon by multiple bodies and temporalities simultaneously, the limits “need to be experimented with collectively, so as to produce effective cartographies of how much bodies can take – or thresholds of sustainability” (Braidotti 11). They thus create collective bonds”, “affective communities”; affect plays a large part in shaping the possibility for these connections, because recognizing pain, suffering, and difficulty contributes to the action required for sustainable remedies.
While the quantities, numbers, and figures of loss are summed up and emphasized in our political times, underpinning Braidotti’s motives are the incorporeal intensities, Spinoza’s potentia. Here it begs ample space, as a space for an evaluation of qualitative markers. When quality is examined thoroughly, affects, states of ‘becoming’ take center stage rather than fixed notions of separated identities. In terms of sustainability, the playing field comes to invite all forms, as the self is no longer at the center of the discourse, and the marginalized, uncalculated and unaccounted for participate in an unbounded economy of connections.
Affects require a detailed consideration rather than abstract analysis. Shame itself is not a unitary experience but contains a pool of divisive histories and politics, as shame reworks how we understand the body and does so experientially (Probyn 75). And because the body is always already involved, what happens when the artist leaves the scene, the poacher is nowhere to be found? These bodies define themselves through kinetic relations to space, and the fields in which they find themselves moving. How are they cared for and limited?
Evasion as mode of influence over a sphere of life can spread across the realm of art. The artist too, mimics and robs. While a poacher hides, an artist typically maintains a certain amount of visibility for their work to be taken up into the market or exhibited. So not any artist’s practice is relevant here, it must be one who operates through a self-canceling in their production. Blind ignorance may appear lighter but something is caught in its bliss-wings. Through adopting the success of dominant forms of signification as means of withdrawal, seemingly stagnant positions that self-obscure reproduce the conditions and systems of production around their work through the form there work takes. Their effects may not prove instant relief – that is also not the goal. The artist can critique rogue production, but may do so through an ironic reproduction, ultimately delivering effects barely discernible from the authentically idle, hypochondriac self-canceller.
Considered broadly, the American conceptual artist Elaine Sturtevant’s work would appear no different than the Pop Art of her time. Like the rogue production of poaching, her critique performs imperformatively, making a parody of the value of the authentic work. Her method foregrounds the honing of styles and technique, elements that contribute to the demands and functions of the art market, and an artists success. Her early work consists of copies of artworks of typically male artists. A close friend to Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, she manually reproduced their paintings and objects. Later, she also took up those of Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. She influenced the conceptions of originality and appropriation, as she copied artists that were iconic for their recognizable style.
While some critics have emphasized her ability to spot the importance of certain artists before their fame, many accounts sum up her work as “appropriation” or mere “copying”. As a whole, this method of working does more than replicate – as it functions to lay bare the relations, methods, and strategies of the art world around her. Her practice is robust enough to face up to the challenge of reflecting on its position in a network, in a critique of commodity fetishism through reproduction and simulation. The irony implicit in her work cannot be miscalculated for mere replication. The self-cancelling of poaching cannot be taken to necessarily perpetuate a flawed economic system. The capacity to critique both the self-obscuring implicit in poaching, and the collapse of our quest for longer life, through our self-induced health practices bears some resonance with the capacities of the artist. It wields some power for the artist who replicates and critiques the conditions of production.
Her works would not easily stand out as Sturtevant’s. She gives the viewer nothing new to look at. She shows them something they have already seen. In this she herself becomes totally original, giving them something new-to-feel and new-to-think (Davis and Schwartz, 1986). She developed no unique pictorial style, or aesthetic system, and yet she carefully mastered a full range of techniques to achieve her copies. Her work sets her on par with the male counterparts floating aboard art’s institutions, publications, exhibitions, production, circulation… She annihilates the use-value of her work, or the demand for authenticity by making copies, and instead re-affirms the radicality of the moment, the work of the artists around her, testing how much she can toy deviance in the art market as a whole with her copies. She questions and deadens part of art’s celebratory function, renders it sterile by recycling and resisting the introduction of a new form, instead avowing its narcissism—commenting on the conditions of a particular sphere of action, production and the merits art is granted.
In 1967, Sturtevant was offered a weekend of dance performances at the School for Visual Arts in New York. When the audience arrived at the theatre doors for Sturtevant’s Picabia’s Ballet Relâche the doors were shut tight. The cancellation forced the audience into the street, directed by some other power, maybe the hand of some fate (Hainley 109). Something was not quite ready to commit. Something was not ready to give.
The title of Sturtevant’s performance, Relâche is a pun embodying the double faces her position breaches. The French word relâche, means to release, to relax, to slacken. Sans relâche, means without break, without respite. Its opposite: Faire relâche: to be closed. This work offers a partial unveiling of the ethics between the art world and the artist – one that is not a fully vomited self-absorption. It offers a remedial element in its resistance and critical distance towards consumption. In preserving a distance from the standard modes of operations – like a journalist who monitors and reports--she reflects the art world back on itself.
This fresh alarm contradicts a history of a kind of denial of responsibility wherein you don’t actually let yourself feel remorse. It similarly inverts the heritage of art-as-entertainment. Catharsis – derived from the Greek word translated as ‘cleansing’ or ‘purifying’ – emphasized the healing effects of watching a tragedy (Powell 1995). The audience of Ancient Greek tragedies often went to the theatre to be entertained, numbed, to emit all that feels bad inside. For Breuer and Freud repressed emotions caused symptoms, so techniques of hypnosis or free association were developed as therapeutic methods (ibid). These emptying methods would alleviate the discomfort of symptoms. The urge to feel a certain unveiling, a “shock” or “rupture” in the face of the artwork, are loaded tropes the artwork has long been expected to wield.
But here, Sturtevant presents the unpleasant rather than a half-time show for our entertainment. Two closed doors, bearing only the sign relâche appears similar to detective fiction: characteristically plain in a plain building, like the interiors, corridors, and buildings supplanting the locked room, the final room with the last piece of evidence, the missing secret. They are curiously spare, too estranged, empty. This familiar banality leading up to the secret room creates additional suspense. The rooms preceding the locked room seem unable to yield anything new, unable to hide anything. A bystander looking on at the cancelled performance, may ignore or mistrust this kind of ‘performance’. Here, the viewer is left without some measure of control over what to anticipate, or what action will overtake or intake – instead, the afterlife, the afterimage and what remains of a cancellation is all that is presented. The image of the doors carry the nachleben of a cancelled event, in this case, erased before its start.
When Marcel Duchamp attends Sturtevant’s ’67 Relache, he walks over to the poster, reads it, turns around and returns to his taxi, where his wife, Teeny awaits him and the meter is running. A few days later inviting Sturtevant to dinner, he asks her how the performance had gone and whether what happened was by intention, and she answers “Yes.” (Davis and Schwartz, 1986). Decades earlier, in 1924, Duchamp had agreed to perform as a nude dancer wearing a false beard in Picabia and Satie’s original RELACHE to be performed in the Champs-Elysées Theatre. When the guests arrive, they find the poster “RELACHE” on the doors, as one of the main dancers was sick and it is only performed a week later (ibid).
In a letter between Duchamp and Sturtevant, Duchamp who also insisted on the healing effects of art wrote that he imagined making something therapeutic and money-making, a small bracelet, four letters strung together and separately cast: D A D A “…buying this insignia would protect against certain diseases, against the numerous annoyances of life, something like those Little Pink Pills which cure everything…Nothing “literary” or “artistic,” just straight medicine” (Hainley 103). Tactile, measurable, and punctured to slide down string, beading bracelets give us a double entente: the forensics of fact stringing as the economics of slow, repeated gestures that last longer over time. These are introduced here not only as tokens to be bought for themselves, as Duchamp’s pseudo-medicine, but for the developmental benefits they introduce.
Remember that for Saussure, what occurs around the missing part gives it meaning. What occurs around the beading of the bracelet is a conversational, skill-building group activity. Beading for children and the elderly is an “excellent” leisure activity with many developmental benefits. Beads of different sizes teach kids grasping, and strengthen the small muscles of their hands and it proves to be a social activity for the elderly that keeps the brain agile. Visual discrimination, scanning, planning and hand-eye coordination are also learned from making necklaces or bracelets. Beading parties promote shared cooperation and even teach kids math skills, as the child wonders: “How long will my necklace, bracelet or keychain need to be?” (Voaden) The relational elements more than the value of the object in itself mitigates the consequences of corruption and consumption on the nervous system.
The gap that represents the inability for the artist to express fully his intention is much like the discrepancy between the poacher’s belief in the value of his activity and the perceived reception by a wider community. The gaps between the accessible networks, conversations and stores are not disabling and crippling, until they are shored for individual profits. While never realized, this bracelet as proposition is no puerile oft dreamed up quick fix but rather a two-headed proposition. More than promoting group activity point blank, Duchamp is calling upon his nihilist adoration for Dada, whose anti-aesthetic protests attested to disgust with bourgeois values. As the leader of Dada, Duchamp offered the radical negation of individual genius, creation, production and rejected individual reception. Mocking individual claims to creativity, his efforts leave the market unmasked. Aura is destroyed. This agitation was put forward by Dadaists who themselves were a close-knit group rebelling against society through their collective identity.
Mock-ups where we thought they had already been colored over, retraced can be approached through interventions that clarify what is being skipped past. It is less what is seen but is what isn’t covered up or leeched that demands speculation. What ailment isn’t codified for the pursuit of myriad cures? It is unclear anymore whether ailments drive money or money drives ailments. Wrapped up not only with the difficulty of being a detective who slashes ignorance, varied types see the difficulty of not knowing how to start to repair what has gone missing, what is set aside for later – and endlessly postponed. With no trail, no residue and the loss of encounters with symbols that would point to the manipulators of the event, neighboring fields contribute to solve these riddles. The artwork, like the bile product is artificially maintained, reliant on humans as potentialities, both provide options to share, communicate, oppose.
If something can band imperceptible efforts together perhaps it is something of their need to wage a war against society as a whole. Duchamp infamously stripped the need for an author, distributing the relationship between the artist and the viewers through work, non-actors no different than actors, oscillating in a field. Braidotti proposes an “intensive ethics, based on the shared capacity of humans to feel empathy for, develop affinity with, and hence enter in relation with other forces, entities, beings, waves of intensity” (Braidotti 8). This asks us to step outside the merely human, to consider other forces of energy whose temporalities may be much faster or slower than those of humans. At the same time, even the boundaries between entities are not recognizable as fixed, what separates is also a portal. Braidotti follows Deleuze’s mathematical understanding of a limit as something never fully reached (ibid 9). Braidotti’s theory challenges us to consider what ethical criterion we can demand in order to capture shame and take care of its circulation. What are repercussions, costs that allow individuals to be accountable for their ethical efforts? What kinds of transformation are sustainable, and do these escape the guidelines of a system or a particular site of capture?
The basis of sustainability Braidotti points us toward allows us to see how our actions are intra-connected and asks for the implementation of a Deleuzian notion of becoming. This is demonstrated with the treatment of an addict, an example she cites from Deleuze. When treating an addict, it is not the last drink that should be examined, but rather the second to last drink, the one that keeps the addict alive, the one before the last one he would take which would kill him. This example illustrates the mentality for animal life, for bear poaching, for sustainability and the protection of species more broadly because it demands that we reconsider the limits of self-destruction and the a priori valuation of life. “‘Life’, in other words, is an acquired taste, an addiction like any other, an open-ended project. One has to work at it” (Braidotti 15). If we then reconsider the quality that makes life valuable, we cannot accept terms in their impoverished state and instead are sick with the malady of how to protect bears before the last species of bears is gone, aware many will go missing, weary our consumption, our taking from the environment before we have used everything up.
With little means to control what is masked in a visual field, we can choose to find comfort in people rising up from where we don’t expect them, fully anticipating their action, made possible only through specific skills. In the same way, Sturtevant’s practice, elicits connections, the apparatus of the art market, fortifies and lays bare arts valuation structure inlaid by commodification. She denatures and readdresses the background that holds up the sign, the symbol that is a placeholder for all the other Warhols’ before her version. Next to the many writings on the famous Pop Artists surrounding her, her oeuvre is relegated to a copy. She foregrounds the death of her uniqueness, calling for disgust or admiration, by cradling relation and rebellion over and above the demands for innovation within her artistic production.
Her position in the refuge of art frees up some space, as it rejects the market’s pressure to create work that is new, or different, as demonstrated through numerous capitalist incentives, the simplest example of which is the need to sell the latest fad, cure, iPhone, or item from the latest health trend. While it appears that Sturtevant confirms a dominant mode of representation, by copying famous male artists of her time, she refuses to condone a dominant mode of self-scripting and working long-premised on the demand for a novel artwork or an authentic style. Rather than traditional moralism or nihilism, she moves us past it.
This consideration of bear poaching coupled with a summary of Sturtevant’s contribution attests to the detriments of neglecting shame and methods for mobilizing shame. “Sustainability does assume faith in a future, and also a sense of responsibility for ‘passing on’ to future generations a world that is livable and worth living in. A present that endures is a sustainable model of the future” (Braidotti 23). Quotidian counter-conservation leaves us unsure what violence is done when we abstract our immersion, and emerge only as exceptional heroics. We can learn as much about contamination from the non-artist, emptied of romance, and the submissive conditions of different visual languages that aren’t fully ours.
Beyond supplements, and electronic doctors that greet you at your check-up, disinterest and indifference are strategies that reposition the ethics behind display, care, and health. In an endless hall of pastiches no one bothers to differentiate. Eventually, cured they will all go off to work happy that they have become pariahs, that they are choosing to hide themselves. No longer transformed into machines that see and feel.
With a scalpel to split open the contents of the glistening multi-hued bubble we burst into phosphorescent shores, but the earth long parched has no sea to bathe in. Far from complacent, drained, we find the hustled buzzing of asphyxiated worker bees long spent on suspect additions and divisions stopped. But then beneath flaky crud we find cardboard, dummies and placeholders, a folded sign on a horizontal tablecloth that reads RESERVED.
One day psychic children sit across from us at the table, ask us if what happened was on purpose. We will frown and we will answer. “Yes.”
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Maia Nichols (b. Berkeley, CA) is an artist and writer currently based in Los Angeles. She holds a BFA in Visual Art and a BA in Psychology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is a Masters candidate in the Aesthetics and Politics program in the Department of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts.