Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
Let’s begin by listening to Marlene McCarty herself: “My work has changed—if you took a piece in 1993, and the piece I did this year, and put them side by side you’d be like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty different.’ One was text and one is image. And one is very narrative based, and one is very ironic. The old work was very ironic.” This is a quote from an interview she did in 2004 as part of the ACT UP Oral History Program of MIX, The New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival. McCarty was Interviewee No. 44, and her interviewer was Sarah Schulman. After working for almost ten years with Gran Fury—the collaborative that produced legendary, interventionist, advertisement-style pieces like Women Don’t Get AIDS, They Just Die From It, or, for an invitation designed for the Whitney Museum, Welcome To America, The Only Industrialized Nation Besides South Africa With No National Healthcare, and which unabashedly owed much of its style to artists like Barbara Krueger or Jenny Holzer—McCarty produced aggressive drawings of ornamented fonts spelling out derogatory terms for women or the female genitalia. This work also introduced a certain kind of ambivalence that is perhaps best described as a kind of subversive repetition or appropriation by identification, a strategy along the lines of Judith Butler’s theory that the symbolic means of subjectivization are changed by the subject repeating them without reproducing the undercurrent of slavish acceptance. The work remained within a certain rhetorical posture—that of irony. In confronting the viewer with these drawings, the artist knew more than the viewer, or, in a more complex interpretation, the artist knew that the viewer knew more than that of which she let herself be consciously aware. In this way, McCarty’s art produced a kind of recognition, either of embarrassment over complacent complicity in the reproduction of sexist power structures, or a more shameful recognition of the links between power, speech, and jouissance—that is, sexu- al excitement, enjoyment. The drawings show “fragments of ordinary discourse” (Jacques Lacan, Seminar II), which in turn—and this is the secret of their effectiveness—become part and parcel of a subject’s Ego. This is not the Ego that is thought of as the unified center of consciousness, but rather the unconscious identifications that make up who we think we are. Through these fragments, these words, more than just “connotations” are transformed: they are the material of meaning in its darkest, most hidden sense, meaning which is a symptom of sexual enjoyment in the all-pervasive, psychoanalytic sense.
If the drawings of today, beginning with the “Marlene Olive” drawings culled from Bad Blood (real life stories of teenage girls turned murderers), are not ironic, it is because the artist does not know more than the viewer. It has been said that with Marlene, Naomi—June 20th, 1975 (2003) or Marlene—January 1st, 1975 (2003), McCarty has shifted the viewer into the position of voyeur.
While true, I think this assessment misses the point, for McCarty’s position is not that of the pervert who knows—and does or shows—what the neurotic gets off on or “dreams about.” Already the doubling of the first name—Marlene—in both artist and sujet complicates the matter and dissolves any easy ascription of passive and active, object and subject, viewed and viewer. Rather, what the “Marlenes” involve us in is a lack of knowledge. Within the products of discourse, the discourse shown in her earlier work, there is an excess that is linked to this discourse, but not in a way in which one can decipher causal narratives that make what seems incomprehensible easily consumable. Through the transparency of the pieces of clothing covering the genitals of her subjects, McCarty shows us something. She offers the insight that those layers of clothing function like the layers of identification which make us who we think we are; however, she also shows that beyond those ascriptions there is something real, something not capable of inclusion within the knowledge with which we make ourselves feel safe in the world. The use of a ballpoint pen on paper—on the one hand, ordinary materials we all use for scribbling, but on the other, a signifier of the marks, the traces, even the cuts that the images leave on us—as well as the way the drawings are hung, without a frame and showing the splits between the different pieces of paper, are both reminders of this real. While we do not know it, we have to deal with it because it is what affects us. In her new work, McCarty continues this investigation, arguably by enhancing the obvious political claims this concept makes on us. By showing that the transformation of “the family that prays together, stays together” always hides a real of “the family that plays together, stays together,” and by picking up the genre of subjectivized speech par excellence—prayer—she continues investigation into the relation between the subject, jouissance, and power. McCarty shows us that there is no place in which these are separated, even if our knowledge, allowing us ironic distance from this fact, would like to claim otherwise.
Lives and works in New York
|2004||Bad Blood , [plug-in], Basel, Switzerland |
Young Americans, Part 2 , Neue Kunst Halle St. Gallen, Switzerland
|2003||Marlene Olive—June 21, 1975 , Istanbul Biennial, Turkey|
|2002||Poltergeist, Girls at Home , American Fine Arts, New York|
|1993||Metro Pictures Gallery, New York|
|2007||Silicone Valley , P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York|
|2006||Das achte Feld. Geschlechter, Leben und Begehren in der Kunst seit 1960 , Museum Ludwig, Cologne|
|2005||After Cézanne , Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles |
Mapping New Territories , Neue Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Switzerland
|1994||Die Neunziger. Karen Kilimnik, Jutta Koether, Marlene McCarty , Wiener Secession, Vienna|
Rachel Kushner, “Bad Blood. An Interview with
Marlene McCarty,” in: artUS , no. 9, (July–September 2005).
Johanna Burton, “Marlene McCarty at Brent Sikkema,” in: Artforum (April 2004).
Bruce Hainley and John Waters, ART—A Sex Book (London, 2003).
Laurence A. Rickels, “Marlene McCarty at Sandroni Rey,” in: Artext (Summer 2002).
Josefina Ayerza and Cathy Liebowitz, “Marlene McCarty,” in: lacanian ink , no. 20 (Spring 2002).