Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Field of Distribution

As always, summer lingers before it even begins and that's a good thing.

In fact, it's so good, I think I'll raise a glass of Argentinian red and consider this:
The definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution.
And do you know who wrote that?

No, not me circa the Avant-Pop Manifesto, though it could have been.

It's Marcel Broodthaers; the quote opens the "Dispersion" .pdf I just downloaded from Seth Price's site at

Price's opening salvo starts with this:
One of the ways in which the Conceptual project in art has been most successful is in claiming new territory for practice. It’s a tendency that’s been almost too successful: today it seems that most of the work in the international art system positions itself as Conceptual to some degree, yielding the "Conceptual painter," the "DJ and Conceptual artist," or the "Conceptual web artist." Let’s put aside the question of what makes a work Conceptual, recognizing, with some resignation, that the term can only gesture toward a thirty year-old historical moment. But it can’t be rejected entirely, as it has an evident charge for artists working today, even if they aren’t necessarily invested in the concerns of the classical moment, which included linguistics, analytic philosophy, and a pursuit of formal dematerialization. What does seem to hold true for today’s normative Conceptualism is that the project remains, in the words of Art and Language, "radically incomplete": it does not necessarily stand against objects or painting, or for language as art; it does not need to stand against retinal art; it does not stand for anything certain, instead privileging framing and context, and constantly renegotiating its relationship to its audience. Martha Rosler has spoken of the “asif” approach, where the Conceptual work cloaks itself in other disciplines (philosophy being the most notorious example), provoking an oscillation between skilled and de-skilled, authority and pretense, style and strategy, art and not-art.
Sometimes it's "asif" when I read things like this I can't help but think that the author -- who most likely has no idea who I am or at best has caught tiny flecks of my work on the fringe of their data mitt -- is writing about me. But that's par for the course: I once had a passing thought that Bourriaud must have been writing about me in Postproduction but that after he wrote it, he realized it was too risky for his bureaucratic trajectory, and so he then just applied all of the language originally designated for my work to the few relational aestheticians like himself whose careers he is heavily invested in. Besides, isn't this how certain strands of art history get solidified in the network discourse?

Of course, I totally understand how a curator like Bourriaud uses these PR forms of narrative mythology to "make" art history since I too perform a similar function in my own work, but needless to say, I do it in a totally different way, i.e. I just remix myself again and again by exporting my creative energy through a wide range of conceptual filters that are programmed to attack genres and formats that I find culturally constipated and in need of a good flushing (maybe my new Conceptual artist role will be that of the Network Roto-Router ... in fact, maybe I could start a new "online-only gallery" called "Roto-Router" and put the logo on my Prius so that I can use it as a tax write-off).

In Postproduction, Bourriaud writes:
Throughout the eighties, the democratization of computers and the appearance of sampling allowed for the emergence of a new cultural configuration, whose emblematic figures are the programmer and the DJ. The remixer has become more important than the instrumentalist, the rave more exciting than the concert. The supremacy of cultures of appropriation and the reprocessing of forms calls for an ethics: to paraphrase Philippe Thomas, artworks belong to everyone. Contemporary art tends to abolish the ownership of forms, or in any case to shake up the old jurisprudence. Are we heading toward a culture that would do away with copyright in favor of a policy allowing free access to works, a sort of blueprint for a commmunism of forms?
He then goes on to quote Debord from his "Methods of Détournement" and the desire to "leav[e] the imbeciles to their slavish preservation of 'citations'" (of course, Bourriaud, good bureaucrat that he is, properly footnotes the Debord quote).

But Debord is a supporting actor in Bourriaud's narrative mythology. The lead is played by -- who else? -- Marcel Duchamp. This is consistent with most narratives that morph contemporary Conceptual practice into various versions of remixological theory. According to Bourriaud, Duchamp "completes the definition of the term creation: to create is to insert an object into a new scenario, to consider it a character in a narrative."

Now imagine if the new object in the Conceptual narrative were a remixologically inclined rhetorical figure that we have dubbed the VJ (a live audio/visual performer), one whose spontaneous writing or image écriture is embedded in their interdisciplinary art practice. In META/DATA, I wrote:
A VJ could be a hyperimprovisational narrative artist who uses banks of quicktime movie clips to construct on-the-fly stories composed of images processed in asynchronous realtime and through various theoretical and performative filters.
Which is another way of saying that a live audio-visual performance artist is forever playing the lead in their Conceptual narrative where they portray a methodology (yes, portray a methodology) that develops a lifestylepractice in the field of distribution.

At this point, the Conceptual artist of the 2010s should be addressing questions like, "What are the most innovative ways to continually release yourself into the field of distribution? Do you place more value on inward bound links or those that go out? How is your link strategy tied to your fictionally generated narrative mythology? What does it mean to create a value-added network and how does this relate to both your public persona/presence and your right to privacy and freedom of speech?"

For me, having started addressing these questions in the early 90s, I am still inclined to treat the field of distribution as a core thematic context located in the heart of networked art practice. Conceptually, this is what it means, what it has always meant, to be a net artist.

Of course, by now I realize that I'm just part of a phenomenological moment that contains my lifestylepractice in its concept-polluted gulf. That is to say, I'm just more gushing ego oil in the Google sea. Talk about a job for the Network Roto-Router! Is this another way of saying it's time for a system-wide self-cleansing?

One thing that's kind of cool that's been happening these days is that artists and critics and other nomadic slummers, many of whom do not identify with anything even remotely clued in to the avant-garde lineage that a movement like Art + Language springs forth from, are all jacked in to the same field of distribution. As such, we are all by nature evolutionarily enabled to remixologically inhabit the Source Material Everywhere ("the archive") so that we may create on-the-fly versions of our creative selves as instances of short-term illumination that, if we're lucky, shine in the darkness for just enough time to convert our high-def personas into cash equivalents. This is the American way, no?

But then the question becomes, "How do you sustain this conversion process over the course of lifetime?" That's a question that comes up in a million variations with Graduate art students all over the world. Of course, there is no one perfect answer that can be applied to everyone. The reason? Fictionally generated narrative mythology in the field of distribution requires a constantly innovative Conceptual remix practice at the core of ones artistic skills set. You should probably throw in hard work and good timing as well, i.e. the intangible qualities of historical luck, although this is something that pervades every budding lifestylepratice no matter how one may occupy their time.

Of course, for some, hard work results in wasted labor and good luck is as easy as being born into the right set of circumstances. For example, what are the advantages given to artists whose parents help pay for their advanced college education, generously provide the down payments on their mortgages, and promise even certain "guarantees" on future net worth via contracted inheritance procedures? I have no idea since those are not the circumstances I have lived under (though many artists I know do have at least some of that in their background). Still, how does one create their own luck? How do they distribute their morphing creative selves so that they are in the right place at the right time? Is that distribution / release strategy now to be considered the ultimate Conceptual art form?

One option available to a select few Conceptual mythmakers is to ramp up postproduction on their micro-edited existences so that they can then up-rez their latest imaging to such a degree that it turns into ... what? Debord would say capital. But I would disagree. I up-rez my postproduction imaging to the utmost possible degree so that it creates yet more superhuman potential. One needs superhuman potential if they hope to ward off the complete commodification of their persona. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it's that you can't let the corporate culture (in whatever form it manifests itself in) write your story for you. You lose the narrative, you may as well throw in the towel. This is why, as Price writes in his electronic dispersions, "you must fight something in order to understand it."

This is what drives the contemporary Conceptual artist to keep reinventing themselves over and over again. You can do it all: write novels, invent new forms of creativity like "net art," deliver international keynote speeches on body-brain-apparatus achievements, engage in a series of international live A/V (VJ) tours, produce - write - and direct feature length films shot on mobile phones or Flips or webcams, sustain a vast web publishing empire for 25 years or more, produce your own comedy album, talk to yourself while developing a new strain of yoga on the beach, or simply go to the gym and challenge yourself to do 500 more sit-ups while singing your own version of Johnny Lydon's "Psychopath."

The field of distribution is itself the space where Conceptual art is most ideally processed in the 2010's. One conceptual strategy would be to do it all throughout this upcoming decade without ever once signing up for Facebook. This act of defiance would signal to all of those who do sign on to Facebook that they have essentially given up, have truly caved in to the corporate death routine, as it were.

But that's just a Conceptual work of mine I am still in the process of performing. Perhaps the work will change over time. It usually does.

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