The Lichen Museum: Installation View
The Lichen Museum: Installation View
Caroline Picard: How do you find images? Or do you feel like they find you?
Rami George: The images I work with come from various sources, including shops that sell old pornography, markets/thrift stores, and the internet. I comb through these various sites to find photos that resonate with me and my practice. I feel like we are at a point where there are so many images already created that most of the time I can articulate my own thoughts and aesthetic through this pre-existing content. By the end I am creating another image (through selection, pairing, and manipulation), but through content that has already circulated.
RG: The content that I gravitate towards is primarily political, social, and queer. I am interested in using imagery from these sources to speak towards present situations; to say something via language that has already been proposed — to continue a conversation (political or otherwise), or diverge to a different point.
CP: I feel like this happens in the juxtapositions that you create. For me, at least, that happens both in a formal sense—the way colors and textures intersect in a picture plane—but also the different associations your source materials bring with them. Maybe it helps to look at a concrete example—what drew you to the three images in Untitled (found)?
RG:Throughout the years I’ve amassed a large collection of images and content, especially queer ones. These photos sit in piles and envelopes until I decide a need or use for them. Pieces like Untitled (found) often spring up out of studio play, sifting through images and placing them in different configurations. Sometimes these associations are intuitive and aesthetic, other times with more specific connections in mind. I’m especially drawn to imperfect images, such as the one on the right (blown out, hardly legible, printed incorrectly). I feel like these sorts of images can be more open-ended in ways, as if to finish with an ellipsis rather than a period.
RG: I try to be flexible with the images I choose and use, allowing them to come back into other projects or spaces (including digital ones) if it’s befitting. For years now I’ve kept a digital catalogue, via tumblr, where I post a mix of sketches, notes, and documentation of finished projects. To me it’s like a running stream of consciousness — of content I continue to think about and through.
CP: What happens to the found images when they are reproduced?Untitled (found)?
RG: A physical print is like a small moment captured from that stream.
CP: Your approach seems to suggest that images themselves are in-flux and changing, circulating, arriving at certain points—the physical print, for instance—where the image is “captured” as you say.
RG: Absolutely. For instance, the majority of the images I use were originally created with different intentions than my own — i.e. pornographic in cases like Untitled (found). Although I am not diminishing the sexuality, or even sexiness, of these images, I am looking at them not just as a means to get off (although you can if you want to!). I’m thinking about charged eroticism, and how that also speaks towards a queer history and geography, that is very much entwined in political movements and actions. I think an image/artwork can be simultaneously sexy, historical, and political. I’m hoping to get towards that.
For the next month, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews with artists who have donated work for our 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. The following excerpted interview took place between Andrew Yang, Yetkin Nural, and Ekin Sanaç. It was originally published in bantmag on the occasion of the 14th Istanbul Biennial. Find out more about our 2016 New Age Now auction here.
Your work takes influences from how we experience our surroundings. How has your personal experience with Istanbul and its metamorphic nature affected the creation span of IO-OX?
Andrew Yang: An important part of my experience in visiting Istanbul was the variety of sounds across the city. The soundscape in the installation in the Galata School includes my own recording of the sounds riding a ferry up the Bosphorus as well as the noise of workers hammering the cymbals in the Istanbul Agop factory. For the cymbals, I really liked the idea of the sounds that happen when making a instrument of sound: the craftsmen hit the cymbal not to make noise, but to make the cymbal an instrument able to make specific kinds of noise. In that way the sound of banging in the cymbal factory is the “sound of sound being made.” I wanted people in the installation to then have a chance to hit the cymbals themselves and make their own kind of music in collaboration with the cymbal craftsmen who actually made the cymbals (together with the sounds of the moon Io and the dolphins in the Bosphorus that are also include in the ambient composition playing in the room.) You can listen to that “noise bathing” soundtrack here.
The title and the context of 14th Istanbul Biennale, “Salt Water”, has also come to signify a political issue that is a global and visible human tragedy, especially in the last few months. The refugees trying to escape the war in Syria have been forced to risk their lives on a journey on Mediterranean waters to safety and freedom. The refugee crisis have created a shift in our perception of what salt water means for the unfortunate victims of war. Do you think this recently highlighted global issue creates a need and/or an chance for a reactionary response from the Biennale and the contributing artists? If so, what kind of possibilities do you see?
Andrew Yang: The refugee crisis has been acute throughout all of 2015, and so I think the biennial artists were already aware of the crisis and made their own choices as to how to reflect and respond to it, if at all. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev recently said “through art, we mourn, commemorate, denounce, try to heal and we commit ourselves to the possibility of joy and vitality, leaping from form to flourishing life.” I think that some artists explored the current crisis though historical displacements (of Armenians, Greeks) while other artists might have had much more subtle or personal ways to react to current events. In my project the theme of “voyagers” was chosen in large part because of the migration crisis now, although it is not an overt part of the work. I took interest in the myth of Io because she was refugee of violence, and likewise took interest in the dolphins of the Bosphorus who are marginalized migrants among all the human ship traffic and fishing – “street children of the Bosphorus” is what the marine biologist call them. Io and the dolphins are different manifestations of thinking through larger issues, but obviously they don’t address the urgent political one of the refugees themselves. I also think some artists simply feel the particular art that they make isn’t the medium to respond to these kinds of issues, seeing other means of taking action in their own lives as having more impact. Perhaps this is especially true in the context of large art events like biennials and the spectacle that surrounds them?
Just as “saltwater” is both materially and metaphorically charged by the refugee crisis, so are “waves” – another key theme of the biennial. Almost all of the reports by the world press right now use waves, water, and fluidity as metaphors for the current mass migrations. In an essay for the biennial catalog I wrote:
“A wave is a disturbance; waves are utterly disturbing, from centre to edge….The saltwater is everywhere. The ‘medi-’ in medium means ‘middle’, and the Medi-terrean is a sea in the middle of the earth, now thoroughly desperate with waves of displacement, a medium promising refuge from endless instability ((explosions, hollowing out, sonic booms), yet so many resonating vessels have been lost to that boundary water. Middle east has become north, west and south with living waves looking for ground that doesn’t shake; they can rely on nothing but their own tenacious momentum through a constant crash of waves.” (You can read the whole essay in Turkish here)
In the end I think we all feel at a loss for how exactly to respond meaningfully, especially those of us who are further from the direct effects of the crisis…
For the next month, The Green Lantern Press (GLP) is publishing interviews and articles with artists who have donated work for the 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. Andrew Yang donated an original piece, and has participated in multiple publications and exhibitions including Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening (2016) and the upcoming show, A More Than Human Public (2017). The following interview with Yang and some collaborators was originally published as part of Bad at Sports‘ month-long blogging residency, August in the Anthropocene. Every day during that month, Caroline Picard conducted interviews with different artist practitioners, philosophers, and writers discussing humanity as a geological force. The first interview in that series took place during the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (HKW’s) 2016 Anthropocene Curriculum: The Technosphere Issue. Interviewees Jeremy Bolen, Heather Davis, Emily Eliza Scott, and Andrew Yang pooled their efforts to lead Sensing the Insensible: Aesthetics In, Through, and Against the Anthropocene, a group seminar. In the following conversation, I meet with three of the four conveners to explore how aesthetic and political concerns are embroiled in conceptions of the Anthropocene and how we determine it’s origin.
Caroline Picard: It’s the last day of the HKW’s 2016 Anthropocene Curriculum and I am with three of four conveners from the Sensing the Insensible Seminar, Emily Scott, Jeremy Bolen, and Andrew Yang.
Andrew Yang: The fourth being Heather Davis.
Emily Scott: The four of us met at the last Anthropocene campus in the fall 2014.
Jeremy Bolen: Andy actually came up with the title for this seminar proposal because Emily and I were working on some projects together. Then Andy and I were working on some projects together so it happened in a very organic way.
AY: Yeah, I mean [Jeremy’s] artistic practice in photography combined with Emily’s background in art history and critical studies, plus my own sort of scientific/art/whatever interests, and Heather’s perspectives from women studies and literature: our collective fields gave us a unique way to consider what it means to represent something. In a visual or aesthetic sense of course, but also addressing the politics of representation, and visuality versus the many other ways that one might sense. We really wanted to also engage that possibility also.
ES: I actually remember a moment from the first campus during a really wonderful performance by the Otolith Group. At one point in this performative lecture, Kodwo Eshun mentioned, I think he was quoting Bruno Latour, though I bet others besides Latour have said this: Eshun made a link between aesthetics and sensitization. I remember thinking, “Oh I love this!” Their whole talk and art project—exhibited at the same time, Medium Earth—was about people who believe that they can sense or predict earthquakes by feeling it in their bodies, sometimes across the world. There was one woman in particular, Charlotte King, who had different parts of her body that tied to different geographies. There are actually a lot of people that believe that they can predict earthquakes. I thought that was an interesting way to think about embodied sensing. It wasn’t until a bit later that we came up with this idea of taking up “aesthetics” and going back to its original Greek meaning: “to perceive or feel.”
CP: Do you find the Anthropocene to be a useful frame for aesthetics?
AY: You can pose the question as you did, so that the Anthropocene is a frame for aesthetics, but we are also interested how aesthetics might be a framing tool for the Anthropocene. That also reveals my own background in the natural sciences, but assuming there is an Anthropocene condition, how does an aesthetic approach give you different access to considering that whole scheme, that whole concept, that whole material and temporal reality? My own view is that our cultural production, as well as the ways that we engage the world, should address “the reality of things.” I was thinking more about aesthetics for Anthropocene as opposed to Anthropocene for aesthetics.
CP: Do you mean to say that shaping and developing the Anthropocene is an aesthetic question?
AY: I think both and that really came out of the seminar with some sophistication. The concept of the Anthropocene is premised on the fact that humans have been these causal agents on a planetary scale. The question is, given that we’ve had that effect, what kind of new causes can we be, what kind of agency can we bring to it? This question of understanding, of shaping the metaphor but also like shaping land, shaping the air, shaping our representations to ourselves and to each other about what all of those things are…We are at a stage now where images have a geological impact as far as I’m concerned and so everything kind of counts in that way. I think it’s all the above.
ES: Yeah, I’ve thought a lot too about the term “Anthropocene” and a number of counter-terms, or terms that critique the Anthropocene—and what kind of work they do. In many cases because, the term itself has so many problems it’s paradoxical; the term could either signify the ultimate centering of the human or the ultimate de-centering of the human depending on which perspective you come from. Then of course there is an obvious problem with lumping all anthropos into one and the flattenings that come along with that, and what kind of geographical biases might come up. The Anthropocene term becomes a key…It’s a framing device for the world.
AY: Yeah, it’s true.
ES: It opens certain kinds of stories and I think a lot of people are very invested in what kinds of stories are being built. What the political material effects of those stories are and what the Anthropocene as a term either opens up or shuts down. Others have created the term “Capitalocene,” for instance—Jason Moore’s term originally, but Donna Haraway also took it up—which provides a different frame of course.
CP: Is the question of aesthetics related to how we decide when the Anthropocene officially began?
ES: Sure. One thing that Heather and I discussed is the considerable amount of weight on around dating the Anthropocene. This year the International Stratigraphic Commission will make a decision about whether or not it’s an official term; they are also tasked with assigning a date. Whatever date is chosen will really inform what kinds of stories are told. There are a lot of people like Heather who—and I tend toward this direction as well—think framing the Anthropocene through colonialism would be an important designation.
CP: Wait, why?
ES: Because it would frame understanding about these complex, Anthropocenic interactions in a politicized way. If the officially-designated Anthropocene start date becomes the first nuclear explosion in 1945, that offers a geopolitical and technological framing, one that opens up another particular set of narratives. Heather made a great point in her introductory input, which came straight out of the introduction to a book she co-edited with Etienne Turpin, Art in the Anthropocene. They argue that the Anthropocene is an aesthetic event.
JB: It’s interesting to go back to the origins question in aesthetics. I agree with you, Emily, but the Stratigraphic Commission is also looking for a trace that impacts the entire earth at one moment and leaves a permanent trace. That’s why 1945 becomes a strong contender. If we rely on their criteria, I wonder what role aesthetics play in deciding the origins.
AY: I suppose as a trace it has to be something that we can be aware of, that can be measurable not just for a snub of a minute but for the lasting future. Maybe as a corrective to what I said before, I think the Anthropocene is a concept but maybe more than that, it’s fundamentally a story, it’s real. Because it writes human history into natural history and a human perspective into a geological, deep time framework. There are a lot of political stakes and importance for the term, but I also think there are metaphysical and existential ones; and those are political as well.
CP: I’m excited by how the constructed and agreed-upon narrative would be as important, somehow, as the material and scientific events themselves…
AY: A narrative gives you self awareness; it’s the story you tell yourself. It is fundamentally an aesthetic proposition because it’s creating a story for oneself that’s built into another much, much deeper story.
ES: People want official determination to legitimize the Anthropocene, and although there’s a feeling that stratigraphers have to find a material trace, that’s nevertheless a very particular way of framing something. It emphasizes geologic matter as a determining factor, representing the way in which science is seen as the defacto authority. I think there a lot of people want to question that assumption. Is it stratigraphers that should be the ones to ultimately decide if the Anthropocene exists or not based on their material findings?
Our seminar explored questions about how the Anthropocene has, to a large extent, been imaged through or represented via a regime of data, scientific language, and a set of representations. Whether it’s the hockey stick graph of climate change, or images of melting glaciers or lots of climate models et cetera, or the emphasis on this geological uniform kind of layer. A lot of people coming from art, culture, politics, or history backgrounds see their expert perspectives as equally important.
JB: This is relevant to the question of origins because it’s become a truly extra-disciplinary investigation, where so many different fields of research are involved. I’m interested to see what they come with up for the origins and who exactly is involved in that decision when it’s finalized.
AY: I think like the –cene in the Anthropocene, asserts a sense of recency, but you wouldn’t know what’s recent without first determining what’s past. That deep past is structured around scientific sensing. I’m not saying that the past and the present—as science constructs them—is always the best approach, but that’s the frame we know and use.
CP: It’s amazing to recognize how deeply scientific thought is integrated with conceptions of past and present.
AY: This new awareness about the true scale of impacts humanity is having on the planet are only sensible and could only be realized through scientific abstraction, reduction, remote sensing. I don’t want to throw that out as if that’s something that’s overly reductive, and abstract and de-humanizing. I still want to defend the virtue of a scientific knowledge but it just can’t be the end point.
JB and ES: Yeah, I agree fully.
CP: Is there a difference between aesthetics and ethics in a way that you are thinking through cross-disciplinary, framing, and narrative?
ES: We didn’t plan to talk explicitly about ethics but it’s interesting how many of our discussions were absorbed by that question. How much can I do, what can I do, where should I position my work, what kinds of practices will lead to material effects in the world.
JB: I feel like we are at a such a different point today than we were two years ago. It feels like information about the Anthropocene has been metabolized; now there’s a want for action more than just discussion. A discussion occurs but what comes up is what do we do and what are the ethics surrounding those actions? I think that overarching themes are the politics of whatever that action might be and the politics of sensing.
ES: Heather opened up her talk with something from Art in the Anthropocene which—I’m paraphrasing but—said that basically art offers a non-moral approach. The virtue in being non-moral is that allows one to hold contradictory perspectives. Her framing of the moral is that it’s rule driven and prescriptive and it can define what’s allowable and what’s not.
That was a controversial statement and that led to this question about whether we want to distinguish morality from ethics and what kind of difference that was. That’s a philosophical rabbit hole, but in her view, the moral was this space of basically hierarchical closing down of new and complex possibilities.
CP: Is an ethical space any different?
ES: I think we accepted that the ethical is the space of ongoing exploration that is not necessarily centered on what’s right or what’s wrong, but rather what’s of value and how you determine or cultivate notions of value. In that regard, I think I would say inherently aesthetics is an ethical proposition because this is a question of why do you even bother to commit yourself in terms of awareness or in terms of representations. Because now, materially or otherwise, every artistic or aesthetic gesture is basically a gesture of production, whether it’s physical, psychological, or energetic—those have real costs. They spend real energy, they absorb people’s attention, sometimes away from things that they could do otherwise. I think for better or for worse it’s fundamentally an ethical consideration for all fields now.
For the next month, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews with artists who have donated work for our 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. The following excerpted article, co-authored by Philip von Zweck and Zachary Cahill, was originally published in Afterall Journal in 2014.
double agent. A spy who works on behalf of mutually hostile countries, usually with actual allegiance only to one. — Oxford English Dictionary
One has heard of double and triple agents who themselves in the end no longer exactly know for whom they were really working and what they were seeking for themselves in this double and triple role playing… On which side do our loyalties lie? Are we agents of the state and of institutions? Or agents of enlightenment?
Or agents of monopoly capital? Or agents of our own vital interests that secretly cooperate in constant changing double binds with the state institutions, enlightenment, counter-enlightenment, monopoly capital, socialism, etc., and, in so doing, we forget more and more what we our ‘selves’ sought in the whole business?
— Peter Sloterdijk1
Zachary Cahill: It is well worth pondering the idea that the ever-greater erosion of the romantic conception of the artist that we have seen over the last few decades has appeared in tandem with the rise of a hybridised notion of artistic agency that moves within and between the various institutions that comprise the art world. In some instances this erosion may be lamentable. No doubt weighed down with the impossibly heavy baggage of claims to genius and crimes of nationalism(s), the romantic figure of the artist may still prove useful in an art world that is increasingly shaped by impersonal institutions. But if we are to have no truck with nostalgic lamentations for the fall of the romantic trope, then we should take stock of what contributes to the rise of hybridity and some of the ways it has become manifest in the art world today.
The institutional imperatives that have given rise to this hybridity are (at least) twofold. On the one hand, we have institutions playing the role of artists. Theorist and critic Boris Groys locates the production of art in the realm of ‘multiple authorship’, where art is the product not only of the artist but also of choices made by curators, museum directors, selection writ large.2On the other hand, we have the artist as employee of institutions, occupying numerous roles (from marginal to gainful employment) within art schools, museums, galleries and art periodicals, for example. These two poles could be thought of as opposed ends of the spectrum that constitutes a new hybrid notion of the artist, which might even be entering a phase of maturity. This mature figure, I would offer, is that of the artist as double agent.
Philip von Zweck:What is significant here is that, while not new, this hybridisation — what we will describe as ‘double agency’ — is becoming a required tactic for artists, especially those trying to participate from positions outside of centres (geographic or otherwise) of influence.
The Romance of Double Agency
ZC: Double agents, as we understand from popular culture, move between different states and have a complex relation to their identities. Often we find spy movies rather empty because, in the end, after all the shuttling back and forth between allegiances, the truth of the spy’s identity is that there is really no one there. We don’t have access to the agent’s personal life because it is subordinate to the task at hand; spies are in some sense non- characters. They do not have the courage of their convictions, or the convictions behind their power appear so intense that it is hard to fathom what really drives them — a belief in their country as a rationale for their dangerous work can seem hardly more than ideological brainwashing. Chameleon-like spies adapt to their environments to survive. Loyalties get confused. Notions of right and wrong, the just and the unjust, are less governed by actual laws than a personal code of conduct.
Conventionally understood, the romantic figure of the artist is an individual who retreats into his or her own subjectivity. Against this extended misconception, however, it might be instructive to recall the dictum of that Romantic artist par excellence, Caspar David Friedrich: ‘I have to morph into a union with the clouds and rocks in order to be what I am.’3 I would like to propose that the operation the Romantic painter describes as morphing with the landscape is roughly analogous to the ways in which artists merge with institutions to perform their double agency.
PvZ: I think that you are not describing double agents but a perception of the double agent predominantly informed by fiction. While I am not a spy, I think the decision to become an agent (double or otherwise) is indeed made through conviction; the problem of double agents (for both spies and artists) is that their need to keep those convictions and motivations guarded may lead to distrust. In contrast with the Romantic painter’s desire to become one with the landscape, the double agent doesn’t morph into the institution, he or she only appears to do so: there is always a distance, an awareness on the part of the double agent that his or her long-term plan is not necessarily aligned with that of the institution.
ZC: Perhaps it is important to try to set down some provisional modes by which artists operate as double agents. The first, and perhaps most common, is the day job, through which the artist pursues his or her artistic work, making no distinction between one and the other. He or she slips between the gears of the institution, advancing at once the company’s dime and his or her own. This might be the artist who works in arts administration, or within the academy — an institution that often has as its mission the idea of supporting artistic research. Artist-teachers bring their clout to a teaching gig, and, in exchange, schools allow them to build their clout. It is a symbiotic relationship. Next might be the artist-critic: the artist who takes up writing to advance ideas and arguments that enter into circulation at much higher velocity and volume than perhaps the exhibition format can muster.4 This moment may have had its heyday in the pitched debates in art magazines during the 1960s, when artists such as Robert Morris and Donald Judd wrote impassioned and polemical texts in the pages of Artforum and elsewhere as a counterpoint to the critical hegemony of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Another double agent is the artist as curator, creating exhibitions with an artistic sensibility that is at once different from and the same as the curator in his or her craft. As Elena Filipovic notes,
If it is easy to see that artist-curated exhibitions can trouble our very understanding of such notions as ‘artistic autonomy’, ‘authorship’, ‘artwork’ and ‘artistic oeuvre’, what might be less evident is that they also complicate what might count as an ‘exhibition’. Many artist-curated exhibitions — perhaps the most striking and influential of the genre — are the result of artists treating the exhibition as an artistic medium in its own right, an articulation of form.5
Relatively recent examples include Maurizio Cattelan’s Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2006, which he co-curated with Ali Subotnik and Massimiliano Gioni, and Artur Zmijewski’s edition in 2012. Lastly, we have the artist as businessperson-impresario: an individual who wields all of these methods in some version of Warhol’s Factory, sourcing labour and content to and from a variety of participants. An example of this today might be artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle in their role as founders of the network e-flux, which uses advertising sales through its announcement service to support projects such as e-fluxjournal and Time/Bank, a micro-economic model that facilitates the exchange of time and skills amongst individuals or groups of people involved in the cultural field via a time-based currency.6
No doubt these are all gross oversimplifications, but perhaps they will be at least provisionally useful for trying to understand this sketch of the artist as double agent.
PvZ: For me the idea of double agency in art has to do with getting two (or more) seemingly unaligned results out of one set of operations — that is, doing something that is your day job while at the same time it is your art. While I can see how this can happen in arts administration, I think you haven’t gone far enough in your description. Making a living doing the work you want to do, be it in your studio or in an administrative office, however, strikes me as agency, not double agency. To qualify as double agents, artists would need to be able to claim credit for their day job as their art practice, or at least significantly blur the lines between art and work. To my mind, Pablo Helguera is a great example, since his individually authored projects often share the same form as his day job as Director of Adult and Academic Programs in the education department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When he presents a lecture-performance, it is his art. But when he does it at MoMA, is it his job? Also interesting is the relationship between your own administrative position at the University of Chicago, Zachary, and your work as a writer and artist.
I am unable to situate the artist as professor in a category of double agency because the goals of the artist and the institution are too in line with each other — unless we are referring to artists of such stature that they draw a pay cheque while not actually teaching (as Slavoj Žižek is so proud of doing in Astra Taylor’s 2005 film Žižek!). In those instances both the professor and the academy are working against the students, who are drawn to said institution by the lure of educational opportunities they may never have — a very problematic higher-education version of bait-and-switch.
I see the artist-critic and artist-curator as being the most successful modes of double agency, as they both perform a function with power and influence, which, depending on scale, has the potential to disseminate the artist’s name and critical agenda. What I think you are failing to discuss is the urgency for artists to be double agents. In his recent book Your Everyday Art World (2013), Lane Relyea argues that artists’ moves to combine a plethora of flexible freelance jobs (studio work, curation, criticism, etc.) grew out of the forms of contingent labour that gained prominence in the 1990s, and have certainly not left.7 What we’re calling double agents may be the kissing cousins of the artists Relyea speaks about insofar as they adapt the artistic strategies we might associate with Conceptu- alism and Institutional Critique to the dire economic landscape of contingent employment and decreased arts funding: double agents embrace the DIY strategies Relyea lays out, but also desire to work within institutions in more or less any capacity, even in day jobs, with a view to twisting an institution to work for them once inside. Such methods are used tactically (although not necessarily consciously) in the attempt to move from the periphery to the centre of an insular art world; they are small ways to manufacture proximity.