Bordowitz Chapter 9

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G.B. It's a number of things that we talked about earlier that I think maybe you have questions in response to some things I am about to say. What interests me now is to think about my engagement with Conceptual art and its influence on me but also my distance from it. I feel distant from Conceptual art. Conceptual art is a historical movement to me a set of ideas that has become somewhat standardized, canonical and received. I think it's very important, and I teach it, talk about it with my student, and I think to some extent the methodologies and aspirations continue in many practices. But I know that the conceptual tendencies continued by challenging them, e.g. I'm very much interested in affect, in feelings and I think in Conceptual art, because of its idealization of science, it excluded a discussion and recognition of affects. But you can see in work like M. Rosler's work and A. Piper's work and Y. Rainer's work that in fact, because of their political commitments, their feminist commitments, affects weren't excluded, the production of feeling wasn't excluded from their analysis. I'm very interested in that, and how the idealization of science in the late 60s and the embrace of Structuralism excluded a thinking about the production of affects and feeling in society. I think about it as a documentarian I'm very interested in that too, I also come from the Left; in the 80s when I was thinking about making my first documentaries I realized that the only emotion I was allowed to show on the Left was anger; anger was the validated and authentical emotion, and any other emotion was suspect of manipulation. You were suspicious if you were producing any other emotion other than anger in a Left documentary (smiles). [...] I also still see going on now and maybe even intensifying what I studied in school as the Benjamin-Adorno debate, the Brecht-Adorno debate via Benjamin. I recently wrote an article about this in Art Forum when I compared the work of Critical Art Ensemble with the work of A. Fraser which I really see as a reduplication of two polarities: the autonomous work of art on the one hand in the instance of A. Fraser's work, and the Brechtian approach, engagement outside the institutions and engagement with the popular in the Critical Art Ensemble work. I still see these two poles charged in a way that they oppose each other, and I would still like to defeat that opposition. Conceptual art gave us a way to try to defeat that opposition by de-aesthetisizing the work of art by putting it into language, by many artists going outside of the gallery and trying to produce statements that had relevance in contexts other than the art world. But still, at that moment, now when you talked about the panoptic, I don't know if it's related to the kind of disciplinary regimes of the market or not, but I think that the kind of Adorno-Brecht debate is still very much alive, at least here in the States, and I would like to see that consciously taken up. I wonder why we are caught or captured in this vicious circle; what are the forces that capture us in this vicious circle. Am I making sense? I'm trying to ...

S.R. Yes, for me the experience in the 80s when I started to get involved in political activities and there was a continuity in the beginning of the 90s, there was exactly this loss of emotional engagement outside of anger as you said. But the interesting was that also in the Left practice of culture or art there has been this stereotypical perspective that Conceptual art is without emotions, is without daily life practice, is without e.g. the personal relation between us sitting here sth. like that. It was conceived as very cool, cold and cool. In Germany it changed in the middle of the 90s specifically with the reception of an exhibition of Mangold's photos of Y.Rainer and M.Rosler [...]; there was a big discussion coming up including also the practice of some gay artists; they [...] started painting in a totally different way. It was like a splitting but in another way it was a parallel working. It was a very difficult discussion in the 90s in my experience involving artistic strategies, which are strongly investing in aesthetisized strategies in relation to pure announcements and statements that were copied and then put on the wall. I can follow your ideas of the last 15, 20 years. I think there are some relations between Europe and the US. I'm not sure if this problem is solved, if this problem of the conceptual has a different consistency or has it just disappeared because some of the artistic strategies you see in the institutions are at a first glance very strongly involved in a conceptual reflection but if you go into the issue you see that often it's just the surface, It's just sth. like an appropriation of visual strategy to bring sth. But for me often the difference is [...] that the philosophical or the approach of the critical culture like e.g. Kosuth or Barry or whatever they all taught with Wittgenstein and some other philosophers. This is the difference for me when I see just a work that is graphically working with visual strategies, which can be very easily related to Conceptual art but there is no consistency, no connection, and often the political issue is totally excluded.

G.B. I completely agree, and I think there are different Conceptual arts, and Conceptual art is understood according to the context of its study. I think of the affect and emotionality of V. Acconci's work I also think about Beuys' direct engagement with others, which was influential. But in the States in the late 70s and early 80s the Conceptual art that I tended to focus on was work that was anti-aesthetic in form. Even though I was interested in Feminist practices I was interested in work that resisted aesthetisization, romanticism. This had very much to do with the rise of Neo-Expressionism in the late 70s and early 80s, and which we saw completely as a Reagan-era art work; very conservative, market-driven artwork. But that created a kind of polemic where we eschewed anything hot, we avoided anything hot, anything emotional, and we looked to Conceptual art for its anti-aesthetic possibilities. We understood that even the Metro-Picture artists which were the artists we were most interested in at the time because they were our teachers – J. Goldstein and R. Longo, C. Sherman (?) – these were the folks that were in the galleries in the early 80s who I looked to and was very interested in. They were also appropriating a kind of cold affect, dispassionate, distanced to counter the emotionalism of Neo-Expressionist work. I think If anything now, I'm thinking about ways in which to get outside of this polemic, this trap. And I even think that now when I was studying with Kosuth I understood – I looked at that work but I never thought it was cold – I understood its commitments and relationship to political practice. Through working with Kosuth was enormously influential because I had access to his library. I could read issues of art & language and there were alongside books: Marx, Wittgenstein, Althusser; it was very clear, the political commitments at the center of that work. When I look back at the historizisation of a lot of Conceptual art, it doesn't necessarily seem to me to be anchored in that set of political or philosophical commitments. That's sth. that needs to be addressed. But also I think in looking back at those periods it's very important to understand the entire social context and the affective field, the fields of affects and emotions out of which that work arose. Anyway I'm finished. [...]

S.R. I think it was very precise and very to the point and I think we can use big parts of it...

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