Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
“Why,” asks Goethe’s Werther, at a late point in his trajectory towards death, “should it be better to last through time, rather than to burn-up in the moment?” Besides being at least the historical source of the “Rock my Religion” paradigm articulated by Neil Young and taken as a commandment by musicians like Kurt Cobain, which asserts that “it is better to burn up than to fade away,” it also can serve as a point of reference in situating the dialectical undercurrent of the works of Dan Graham (Death by Chocolate: West Edmonton Shopping Mall (1986–2005), 2005) and Nicolás Guagnini (The Middle Class Goes to Heaven, 2006), which were first shown together in the artist-run “Orchard” space in New York. Quite within a tradition inaugurated by the likes of Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, and, maybe most importantly, Dan Graham himself, The Middle Class Goes to Heaven serializes the two-dimensionor,” Graham opens up a possible connection to Rock My Religion (1982–84). If he argued in this work that the Rock Star must pay for his exclusion from productive labor with death or a return to oblivion, here we might be led to think that, in the social reality of the mall, those who are forced to include themselves willingly or unwillingly into the ranks of productive labor still pay with a certain kind change from one state, or one aggregate, to another. Rather, “what distinguishes one moment from another is a simple alternation in the positioning of things. Each object is re-arranged relative to every other object and to the frame. Things don’t ‘happen’; they merely re-place themselves in space” (Dan Graham, “Muybridge Moments: From Here to There,” in Arts Magazine, February 1967). “Heaven” and “Death,” Utopia and Broken Promise, are not two different places. They are shifts “in relation to the frame,” instances of the same embeddedness in social relations and their productive mechanisms or mechanisms of production. Again in relation to Werther, Roland Barthes wrote in Fragments of a Language of Love: “The Nature of today is the City.” With this statement, he makes less of a historical claim, in the sense that a “change” or event took place, than a structural one by saying that in the expectation of change, not even the “re-placement in space” relative to the frame that in-forms us takes place. As long as we attach our “passionate attachments” (Judith Butler) onto the objective yet imaginary mirrors of our hopes and fears, whether they be Baroque gardens, Romantic nature, or modernist cityscapes—think again of Graham’s pavilions—“Heaven” and “Death” will just be two alternating instantiations of the same moment. The “informing” quality of perception and the social and architectonic reality that surrounds us, its production of subjects through information, will not cease, yet in its workings it will also not be perceptible or part of everyday experience. It will remain hidden. Both Guagnini’s and Graham’s work engages in the intense effort to break open the split that separates the apparent alternatives of “Heaven” and “Death,” of “Duration” and “Burning.” In the best conceptualist tradition, both artists engender objectivity through their processes of selection, reduction, and serialization. Yet also with—and maybe a bit against—that tradition, they point towards a level of the real that is beyond both the object and the subject, but which is the stuff out of which “information,” or subjectivation, takes its force. It is here where the secret connex to the Janus-faced tradition of the Romantic gains its justification, even if it is literally defaced within the context of the work of these artists. When Graham says “I want my pieces to be about place as information, which is present,” he points not only to a process of production, but also to the potentiality of a minimal shift within this “place.” The price for this potentiality is to give up a certain kind of fantasy of change.
I do not want to conclude these remarks without addressing a work of Nicolás Guagnini, who has always used the strategy of displacement to allow for the possibility of perceiving this gap. It is a work that surpasses the scope of the installation in the container within the between two deaths exhibition dedicated to the psychosocial reality of architecture. Yet the work posits the trauma inherent in the social violence of “information” in a radical way. It is the piece 30,000 (1999–2000), Guagnini’s proposal for a memorial to the “disappeared,” the victims of the Argentinian, junta dictatorship. Using an image of his own father, who “disappeared” on December 12, 1977, Guagnini produced a minimalist sculpture in which the two-dimensional image appears and disappears due to the arrangement of the projection: “The viewer experiences an oscillation between the two-dimensional portrait image and its [sic] abstract minimalist grid as three-dimensional support, the photograph’s information provokes a reflection on the effects of absence and trauma on the social body.” As in his other work, the price to pay for the possibility of this reflection is the realization that “there is no outside.” Change will not come by identifying with one phantasm rather than another. The replacement in the core of subjectivity, if one wants to say so, can take place only within the frame, but there it may do so, if the middle class were to stop looking up to Heaven.
Lives and works in New York
|2006||The Middle Class Goes to Heaven (with Dan Graham), Orchard Gallery, New York|
|2004||The Seven Reviews of Monkeys and Shit, Printed Matter, New York|
|2002Homo Ludens, Ruth Benzacar Gallery, Buenos Aires|
|1998||Centro Rojas, Buenos Aires |
Luisa Strina Gallery, (with Karin Schneider) São Paulo
|2006||Bringing the War Home, (touring) Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York; QED Gallery,
Los Angeles |
Denial is a River, Sculpture Center, New York
|2005||The Disappeared, North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, USA|
|2004||The Big Nothing, ICA Philadelphia, USA|
|2002||Últimas Tendencias, Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires|
Jerry Saltz, “All Art is Contemporary,” in: Modern
Painters (November 2006).
Holland Cotter, “Break Even,” in: New York Times (October 2006).
John Miller, “Artists on Artists,” in: Bomb magazine (Summer 2006).
Roberta Smith, “Who Needs a White Cube These Days?” in: New York Times (January 2006).
Melanie Gilligan, “Orchard,” in: Texte zur Kunst, no. 58 (June 2005).