I anticipated a number of responses to an essay I published with The New Inquiry recently regarding the epistemologies of postmodernism and the rise of Big Data as a cultural phenomena. There were several risks here, not least the ridiculously small audience that would overlap across tech and philosophy fields. People were bound to have a problem with my formulation of postmodernism, "Big Data", or the very fact that these discourses are even related. In fact that was part of the impetus. At first glance, their similarities lay in their historical contingencies and myths. They both have a sort of ideology that accompanies them. The fundamental point of the essay was that there are epistemological parallels in the shift from modernity to postmodernity and the shift from relational SQL databases to Big Data analytics and schema-less noSQL databases along with some its larger "goals." To borrow a phrase from the tech world, Modernity wasn't built to scale.

A few central points that pull that into sharper focus are below.

"Postmodern relativism was a cultural crisis instigated by too much data, as the volume, variety, velocity, and veracity of cultural inputs expanded. The arguments about contingency that animated poststructuralism, literary theory, feminist theory, and the postcolonial were each in their own way a declaration that the way we received, stored, and analyzed data was ignorant of and insufficient for entire sections of cultural production."

"Big Data might come to be understood as Big Postmodernism: the period in which the influx of unstructured, non-teleological, non-narrative inputs ceased to destabilize the existing order but was instead finally mastered, processed by sufficiently complex, distributed, and pluralized algorithmic regime."

You can read the full piece here.

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

Keith Varadi's ART SUGAR NET MAGIC  discusses the practice of so called Nu Guard artists. His jumping off point is the previously discussed 2011: art and transmission by Michael Sanchez. Distinct from the new media "New Guard" such as Auerbach, Guyton, and Arcangel, "Nu guard"..."concurrently embrac[es] and exploit[s] the consumerist culture of capitalist America with far less confusion or reticence than ever before." Varadi quotes Sanchez on desubjectivization: “without such delays, or lags, there can be no subject.” Sanchez points to Giorgio Agamben: “contemporary capitalism does not produce subjects so much as non-subjects, through what [Agamben] calls the ‘desubjectifying’ effects of apparatuses.” With no subject, there is little ground for an avant-garde. Hence Varadi's discussion of the "Nu Guard's" irreverence for the "different stains" of Morris Louis or Kenneth Noland. Perhaps "Nu Guard" overlaps with what one might call "Post-Internet" in that these artists earnestly leverage networks—etsy, tumblr, facebook—in places where the "rearguard" conceptualists merely gestured toward the dematerialization of the art object. "Nu Guard" knows that the digital image and its network is the material support, and the artist's ego is a brand.

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

"Most affecting about the British twelve (including Lea Andrews, Keith Coventry, Liam Gillick, and Gary Hume) is the alacrity with which they pile into a game that shows abundant signs of being lost. The game is contemporary art as, at least a seriously pleasing organ of cultured sensation, intellect, and feeling, susceptible to excitements and disquiets significant beyond itself. Fewer and fewer now are the game’s professionally unaffiliated spectators. Smaller and smaller grow the stakes. Be it recorded, nonetheless, that the Britons blew through New York with a pizzazz that will merit them and their native scene the ongoing attention of whoever keeps score around here."

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

2/n...

One cannot keep Benjamin out of this. Groys reminds us that when we move the digital image from its original status of non-image to its status as visualized image, we engage in a "massive loss of aura" in the Benjaminian sense. This is because Benjamin maintained that nothing has more aura than the invisible. Groys explains that "in the world of digital images, we are only dealing with originals." Each visualization of the image file has its own story, perils, and site-specific contexts and abnormalities. This then leads to the near requirement that the curator bring it back into musealized space. When we exhibit these, we reverse the copying: it transforms a copy back into a performed original. And it is here, where, Groys says, we can contemplate both the superstructure that is at work on the image, but also its material base—the hardware/ software used to perform the image data.

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

2/n...

One of the most urgent topics Groys handles in Art Power (2008) is the aesthetics of digitalization. While once an escape from the museum, the digital image is now part of the museum system - a new confinement. Yet digital images are a new kind of "strong" image because they can be shown without institutional context, according to their own nature. The original data of the image are invisible. Therefore each time we see the image it is being "performed." Further "the digital image is a copy--but the event of its visualization is an original event, because" Groys states, "the digital copy is a copy that has no visible original." Here again, the curator rises to a point of great historical importance, for "the curator does not simply show an image that was originally there but not seen..." but in fact, going further, the curator "turns the invisible into the visible." Groys states that the digital image turns the curator "not into the exhibitor but the performer of the image."

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

In what is still very much experimental participation, I published my first story on medium last night. The concept is novel and combines the all the mechanics of how we share and consume into a solid publishing machine for the "digital age." Algorithms of taste abound. At best (or worst), if this model catches on it will, in pure "siren server" fashion, end the need for the entire prestige-based community that currently revolves around contemporary writing, editing, and publishing. In their ideal scenario, I would never again have to endure the arduous (well, not so arduous at all) process of pitching an essay, getting approval, and then taking several rounds of edits before publishing. Their "collections" feature also essentially lets you appoint yourself editor of a magazine. It's the free market at work in the guarded realm of publishing. I made my first post a critique of the practice of estimating the read times for online articles. As you can imagine, this is something that is sort of symptomatic of the very raison d'etre of such sites, so I try to bring some context to this transformation.

It is a 4 minute read.

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

This requires full quote. Here is critic Daniel Mendelsohn on deadlines:

Q: Judging from previous interviews, you are a great perfectionist as a writer. What role does time play in your criticism? When do you feel you’re ready to write a piece?

A: I am a great believer in deadlines. I come from a scholarly background, having done a graduate degree in Classics before I ever dreamed of being a writer; and in that world, the rule is that you can’t write anything until you’ve read everything. So for a person like me, with that training but making a living as a writer for the past 20-something years, it’s useful to impose limits, as I could spend years researching a piece. Obviously you want some things to be timely—there are certain things that are momentous in the culture that you want to be discussed at the right time. For instance, I published a big piece about Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones in the New York Review of Books when it came out in 2009, and I remember trying to get it moved to a slightly later issue, mostly because I was so caught up in figuring it out, doing more research on the mid 20th-century French thinkers who inspired Littell, and Bob Silvers was emphatic that he wanted it to coincide with the publication, so I spent a rather madcap weekend working it up…which, in the end, was the right thing, as Bob knew well. Sometimes it’s good to have a push to get it done.

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

1/n...

Groys makes several excellent points in Art Power (2008). The first is that, contrary to the avant-garde’s proud history of museum bashing, the museum is a critical part of our conception of reality, and not, as we often think, the opposite of “real life.” The desire for artists to break out of its confines is actually a move that enters them into the global mass image market. This destroys the art subject and weakens the artist's historical position. Second, the museological tactics of art history do to the modern art object (i.e. the readymade, installation, art documentation) what Kierkegaard describes as the “difference beyond difference,” which is like the “non-difference” achieved between Christ and his appearance as a man.  More on this soon. 

 

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

1/n...

There is bad writing. Many press releases are written poorly. But I think Rule and Levine contribute to the conflation of IAE with bad writing. Worse is to cite IAE as part of your general opposition to theory. Even worse is that they "other" IAE as unfamiliar and deviant from the British National Corpus. I have always been wary of the article’s supporters who quickly draw the connection to the larger role of theory. The practical issue with IAE, and the reason for its ridiculousness, is that it is often performed by untrained writers trying to compensate for an exhibition that often is not all that original or good. Just think of all of our lovely far-flung biennials! Have you ever wanted to "reassess" things in a corrupt, oil-rich emirate? 

For every bastardized concoction of words ending in "-tion" we encounter in a press release, there is an artwork out there somewhere(else) that at some point may have actually merited such a claim. Press releases are reluctant, forced art writing (in the slightest way they broadly qualify as art writing). They are tantamount to being assigned to write a review of new work each month that must not only be positive but also must make the work seem unique. Often press releases need to use these acrobatics to fit into the limited space. No wonder they can sound so strange. But IAE article doesn't really address the issue of word counts or length--common constraints of the press release author. 

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

3/n...

Chat Room's generally post-internet worldview awoke again when members tested O'Neill's definition of the now popularized verb "to curate," as now practiced by nearly anyone with a social media account. O'Neill's defense was to site this battle upon the "praxis" of the curator who, he said, must work with art or artists. This tautology struck the class as sort of hidebound to the decadent postcolonial biennial circuit of the 1990s and 2000s, or the late Manifestas, Documentas, and Performas. Boris Groys touches on this in his new book Going Public, "Today, there is no longer any 'ontological' difference between making art and displaying art. In the context of contemporary art, to make art is to show things as art. So the question arises: is it possible, and, if so, how is it possible to differentiate between the role of the artist and that of the curator when there is no difference between art's production and exhibition." O'Neill's book helpfully included Andrea Fraser's definition of the institution of art as a condition of its existence as such: "art is art when it exists for discourses and practices that recognize it as art..."

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

A lot of hand-wringing occurs when an auction record is broken. There is a distortion, though, in the outrage and response to Christie's and Sotheby's respective showings this week. There is nothing "bad" about these sales. By no means would I cheer on the market--which has on the whole deleterious effects on the sphere of the visual arts--but the fact that such vast values are ascribed to the subjects of our study and production should not be too quickly decried. Of course, it's a bit sickening when this value is expressed in dollars. There could be a middle road where we let the super-rich spend what they wish, and be at least a little redemptive of the fact that they compete over mid-century masters instead of struggling banks, distressed loans, or mining ventures. (though they still do...) What well-organized left ever made it a priority to spend time, energy, and anxiety on the frivolous exploits of the super-rich? Socialist progress occurs quite independent of the outlandish spending habits of oligarchs and new money. Let them buy their last Warhol and meanwhile workers will achieve healthcare and equality. (Frankly, I'm convinced their money is better spent on a Léger than a lobbyist). But the reaction is all too often simply soak the rich, near-Palinesque populism. What is more pressing are the issues that lead to the accumulation of wealth, as pointed out by Art Fag City today.

(title inspired by Grey Goon)

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AuthorMike Pepi

2/n...

How do you effectively judge or comment upon a post-colonial biennial? At most you can stand back as a flat-footed spectator, nod, and engage the sprawling vision with an antiseptic relationship to its "organizational strategies." Is the international hyper-curator engaged in a zero sum game with the waning role of the critic? This is, mind you, the critic-as-critic, or critic/critic/critic; a peculiar species of high modernism. Before they were forced to react to the God head wisdom of the celebrity curator, who probably also started out as a theorist-critic, but succumbed to the careerist pressure to "do", be pro-active, not just "write", which is most often forced into a reactive relationship to the "curated" work.  This occurs even though the critic and the curator are in theory (but not in practice) doing the same work -- arranging, selecting, contextualizing, and presenting works of art and artists. We should decide what we lost when we entered the age of the "slash." Did we insulate curatorial practice by weakening one of the "estates" in the production and reception of art by forcing it to merge with the active role of the curator? Is it conservative to pine for the "pure", singular voice of the critic who merely reacts, write, and accompanies artistic production with purposive text? 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

Earlier this year I published an essay in the Straddler discussing the rise of the digital proletariat. It argued that while digital frameworks have made redundant a large segment of the employed—specifically those who derive their value as “information service” workers—an ideology of digital emancipation and “connectedness” cloaks the deep threat to the middle class. I tried to bring together the thoughts of Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, and Jaques Rancière, whose classic 1975 essay Off to the Exhibition: The Worker, his Wife and the Machines detailed the discourse of Parisian tradesmen in the face of the mechanization on display at the Paris Exhibition Universelle of 1867.

 

Construction_de_la_grande_galerie_des_machinesL.jpg
Source: http://www.thestraddler.com/201311/piece7....

1/n...

Is the textual production of the curator in the catalogue essay or wall text tantamount to the voice of history or criticism? I refer to "pre-curatorial" critical discourse, when the artist's work, theory, and history were the main subjects, not the vision or execution of the curator as "globally-connected auteur." O'Neill's book  nicely charts the historical contingents of this notion of the "demystified" curator, one that arose in the late 1960s and then blossomed in the biennial fever of the 1990s. He identifies the post-Szeemann phenomenon of "curated by" exhibition-making and highlights the reign of curator-centered discourse. Seemingly stuck in a "curatorial moment" that has now passed, O'Neill's balanced text still does a great service by doing as much to challenge this notion as he does to historically re-construct it.

 

 

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

A part of Gillick’s “accusation” is that the artist is the perfect “knowledge worker.” This has important implications for a question central to Marxist aesthetics. Some recent discussion about the artist’s class position (see Davis, 9.5 Theses) have focused on their entrepreneurial nature—that their personal fulfillment and their professional fulfillment have significant overlap. Gillick, too, contests partly that the “accusation” is that artists offer little to no alternatives to the neo-liberal model of entrepreneurship. Artists “communicate and behave in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of everyday life.” Resulting “moments of stress and collapse” in their practice are a natural outgrowth of the resistance to a possible “realm of permanently unrewarding work.” Gillick seems to advocate not for expression in art but instead for a contextual “breakdown of the barriers between work, life, and art.” He reminds us that the fact that "it is superficially hard to determine observable differences between the daily routines and operations of a new knowledge worker and an artist is precisely because art functions in a close parallel track to the structures that is critiquing.” 

 

The theme of social media's impact on expression from and the exhibition of traditional forms of art will not rest, and it probably should not. Though terabytes have been spilled on this topic, I wanted to highlight a section of an exchange with Whitehot Magazine's Eleonora Charans and Venice Biennale Curator Massimiliano Gioni. The entire exchange is here

Charans: The scale question is interesting. What are your feelings about drawing today in the era of Instagram?
Gioni: I can simply add that the more images become intrusive and interchangeable, the more they suffocate us with their omnipresence, the more it is important to treasure images of a different intensity. I don't want to make that comparison suggest that drawings are good and Instagram is bad: in fact this exhibition relies on a polemical question raised in front of images and art works - on many levels it's a show that implies that there is no such a thing as art, but rather different forms of figurative expressions, different forms of visual cultures... 

Gioni's answer mirrors much of the discourse around the "backlash" against networked aesthetics and the networked subject -- that somehow a "re-inflation" of the image will arrive (see Jurgenson). It also reminds me how the tech discourse always inspires polemics, both inside and outside of the objects it directly controls.  

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AuthorMike Pepi

 

I talk Kant, Anti-Kant, and Half-Kant over at the Brooklyn Rail

"Artschwager’s wit was wrapped up in his ability to play both sides of the Kantian coin. If we phrase the sculptures on view as after Artschwager, it helps to examine their individual relationships to the Kantian duality that he so skillfully evaded. The artists given pride of place alongside Artschwager here either reject Kant outright or play comfortably within his high formalism. None, like Artschwager, do both."

 

Richard Artschwager, Table (Drop Leaf), 2008 formica on wood, 30 x 22 x 44 in 76.2 x 55.9 x 111.8 cm Image Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery

Richard Artschwager, Table (Drop Leaf), 2008 formica on wood, 30 x 22 x 44 in 76.2 x 55.9 x 111.8 cm Image Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery

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AuthorMike Pepi

3/n... 

The attempt to fit artistic production into neat categories of commodity relations, since at least the 1970s, has been a complete quagmire that ignores the immaterial, discursive, (perhaps neo-Trotskyite), practice so endemic to “contemporary art.” Gillick explains that “art is a series of scenarios/presentation that create new spaces for thought and critical speculation.” Further “art is” not a functioning relationship of producer and consumer structured by a pre-determined imperative to work, but an “ethical equation where assumptions about function and value in society can be operated upon.” For Gillick, they are at best “capitalizing” upon an immaterial labor or good, a situation afforded to them by the “constant restructuring” of the “models of the recent past.” “The notion that artists are a perfect analogue for the flexible entrepreneurial class is a generational concept that merely masks a lack of differentiation in observation of practice and the devastating fact that art is in a permanent battle with what came just before.” Some have even advanced the proposition that artists should be paid for their work/time when included in exhibitions. But how do we engage them in such a materialist position in light of this? How do we use precise terms to pin down commodity relations when at every turn the practice "defies the logic of capital"?  

2/n…

Gillick writes of the artist's capitalization of the mind – the “accusation” is that they are “in thrall to the processes of capitalization.” He then defines this by investigating scenarios of control the artist apes from capital. These structures include leisure, deadlines, ethics, research and documentary practice, the limitation of the commodity, and the promise of a better life. Capitalization is sometimes predatory. I lean towards its definition as “interest capitalization” because that is the most predatory of the various uses of the term in finance. The principal balance in this case is the loan that culture, Modernism disburses to the art, the license to work in the free zone of play and immaterial scenarios. The artist then moves through a practice in Gillick’s characteristically “discursive” manner, constantly looking to take the advances made and “capitalize” them back upon of the balance of his territory of “continually mutating” exchange. 

 

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AuthorMike Pepi