Asher Chapter 6

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S.R. If you think in a historical sense: what happened with conceptual art? Maybe I try to formulate it as a break with modernism? I mean if it's allowed to think in this continuity, this flow of history, this linear development, then I think conceptual art in the second half of the 60s to the 70s was something like a break with the tradition of art; maybe there where some influences of pop art, and much stronger influences from minimal art. Do you think that this, maybe that's called paradigms, conceptual paradigms. These paradigms, do they have to get renewed? Or are they still in function? How would you consider this complex?

M.A. I'm sorry, I'm not sure that I understand the part of conceptual paradigms. Does that have to do with the tradition now that conceptual art has has occupied? Is that what you mean by conceptual paradigms?

S.R. That's hard to say, because that is the hybrid of this question maybe, because as I understand it, conceptual art is a strong critique of modernist thinking and writing of traditions specifically in the arts. Like, let's say Greenberg and so on. In another way, or some other ways, some of the politically reflected practices of conceptual art can be thought in relation to modernist interests, like in Bertolt Brecht or Walter Benjamin or in a specific Marxian or Freudian tradition for building tools of for reflection, of reflection. But, if I see conceptual art in the tradition of art, for me it's something like a break; it's a different kind of working, it's a different kind of working with spaces, with architecture, with writing, with the whole set of terms of art gets reflected, some get destroyed, some get renewed. Something like that, but the formation of the so-called, or I will call it, conceptual field of practices, I don't want to figure it down to one linear development. I think there is a wide field of approaches; and there is a discussion between these different positions. But if we consider it like this, from our perspective, 20, 30 years later, how was the development? Is it that the different positions are still working in their own conditions and they are still able to reflect the institution? Because of course we have to see that the institution changed a lot in the last 20, 30 years and society has changed a lot, the political behavior changed a lot. How do you see the ... how is it possible to take this screw a little bit faster, a little, not faster, what you call it? bit closer? Is it possible to do that?

M.A. Absolutely, absolutely. I think I do understand your question; you made it very clear. It's an odd problem. This is where I come to it, it seems like an art problem to me, because many artists or many authors, I should say – that's broader then just artists – were very happy with the category, and just their job they saw was to maintain the category – and they would all disagree with me – and not push the limits of the category or at least search for the limits of the category and see what was beyond it. I think that very briefly, I think that is, that became the problem of a number of artists, authors, who have this sort of concept, who where started out with this conceptual practice. I think it really goes back for me, I can speak about myself better, that it really goes back to the author, the artist, willing to take a risk, knowing that the work is going to fail, to perhaps fail or will fall flat or one thing or another like that, in order to move on, and that's the only way that movement will be made. So when you talk about turning the screw a little faster, that, I think it is contigent upon the artist being able to truly experiment, truly, truly experiment –  and not worry. Just very briefly that's what I have to say. I think I understand precisely what you're saying or what you're asking, I hope I do. Do you want ... I mean if you ... I think mean this is a really important question; I'm sorry I'm not describing it better or answering it better.

S.R. Maybe I'm going to insist a little bit.

M.R. Go ahead. Well, I mean, it's really a quite important question.

S.R. I can ask from the opposite of, for example...: is it possible to renew the conceptual paradigms, to start from below, from zero? To start again with the conceptual project in this time?

M.A. Oh! (chuckles after a break)

S.R. Because, maybe I say something more, because we have a lot of, we as a collective in the art world, have a lot of experience with different developments in the last 20, 30 years; for example some painting connections coming back and back as "retro" styles;

M.A. Sure, sure.

S.R. In sculpture also we have some different revivals of, for example steel or whatever. We have revivals of art in the publics sphere, in German: Kunst im öffentlichen Raum. And also just here in Los Angeles that ceramics arts is coming back. It's always the question of who is taking, considering this, who is interested in that.

M.A. Yes, but you know, so many of those developments depended upon style, whereas conceptual art didn't necessarily depend on – wasn't contigent upon style, it wasn't contingent upon materiality – whereas all the things you describe in art. It should, it would seem to me that it would be possible for a conceptual record to come about and conceptual methods to come about again, and there is plenty of room for absolutely work that we have never seen and never thought about, to derive itself from that. I really believe that, I really believe it. Because these were are just, from my understanding of conceptual art, these are just approaches to art making, for the purposes of intellectual discovery. With that in mind I don't see what the problem is, unless, like I said earlier, one gets locked into what they are doing and can't move, sees no hope or wish for future discovery. I don't know if that explains it, coming back the other way. You put it, once again, in a really good way.

S.R. I mean, what you said, conceptual art was never – for you – you said, in my opinion it was never a kind of a style, but when I look at through the magazines, the art magazines or I go to some exhibitions of contemporary art, sometimes I have the feeling that younger artists, or students, just pick up a different style of surface, and they are not concerned with the whole epistemological background or the institutional background, and so sometimes I'm afraid that, – that is the basis for my question – that conceptual aesthetics – I mean if it's aesthetics, it's already over, I mean it's finished?

M:A. No, I totally agree, I totally agree and also the younger people – I see what they believe to be conceptualism just constantly co-opted and co-opted for their own use, and it becomes sort of actually fascinating, it becomes sort of the ideology of conceptualism, but not the real workings of conceptualism. It's a fascinating problem, but I think it's, I really feel it's not doing the job that it could be doing, and particularly in this area of inquiry and examination, it rarely does what conceptualism was able to do. I keep coming back to this, I'm sorry.

Michael Asher »