gloATL has just finished a series of physical installations in public spaces over the course of this month (our Liquid Culture series). Joey Orr has written a thoughtful article for BURNAWAY‘s “Front Porch” series (which you can read here). And since we are preparing for a moderated talk on Monday with the Atlanta Opera and Andrew Alexander, I thought I’d write a brief response to Joey’s article below.
I like that Joey qualifies the indifference a public might display toward an art object as “blasphemous,” and I think he’s right: artworks outside of the productive consumption cycle (this is art because it enhances someone’s cultural capital) are not consecrated and so have no legitimacy. Bastard art objects, then. With this “who begat who” thinking it seems natural that penises will feature prominently in the/a public’s response as was the case with Matt Haffner’s enormous wheatpasted images (see below).
There is this concern that the art objects do not become promiscuous. That the displayed objects demonstrate the genius of the author. With only one author there is no questioning the fidelity of the rendered object to the creator’s conception. Upon conceiving, the artist is also subjected to paternity tests: what genus of genius is this?
In another cultural context, the art object is enhanced by the inscriptions or seals left by subsequent caretakers—in classic Chinese paintings, for example. When we address a crowd we might say “Hi everyone,” but in Chinese the phrase would be “大家” (dajia, big family); the latter privileges accounts of belonging and propriety. The emphasis in our orientation is on the collection of discrete units before us and we are forever investigating whether or not we are who our papers say we are.
It is seen as a virtue that a particular lord or official has placed their mark on a painting, because in so doing the person demonstrates that they have cultivated such an aesthetic sense. The dialogue between the artist, the subject of the artwork, and the community is harmonized in this arrangement. This is a demonstration of propriety. An appreciation in the financial sense (the adding of value) rather than subtracting from, as we say when something is defaced.
I don’t mean to orientalize, but rather suggest that there is the potential to reorient ourselves in the face of what we encounter. I think Joey is making a similar call by suggesting that it is precisely our task to see the sites of authorial contention as the sites of creativity.
There is an odd tension for artworks: on one hand we tend to value their homeostatic works—they don’t change, we do our best to preserve them and for ancient works we try to restore to an ideal state, an orthodox presentation. Heterodoxy, the presence of others, threatens the paternity test. I’m left wondering who the plaintiff in this case is? Who is trying to win this paternity case? Who is it that feels their father did not bestow upon them their blessing? But that is a larger digression than is necessary, for now.