Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Ruin of Production

Guest Blogger:
Irena Knezevic,
Artist and Faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Photography Department

This is the second of three blog posts by Irena Knezevic. The upcoming post, The Fireworks, will be published this Thursday. 

In 1924, while their spouses and other relevant constructivist giants produced experiments in and around their large studios Varvara Stepanova and Liubov Popova moved theirs into a small office inside one of the Moscow Textile factories. For two years they designed and helped produce notorious geometric fabric patterns exemplifying the ultimate promise of constructivisim, the direct grafting of the graphic arts onto the garments of and bodies of Soviet people (russ., narod). What is interesting here is not the string of exhibitions this work produced starting from Everyday Soviet Fabrics in 1929 in Moscow and ending with appropriations by Mai-Thu Perret and survey shows on Rodchenko and Popova at Tate London. What is interesting is the synthesis of the two sites of production: artistic and material--the studio and the factory.

The studio even today stays a kind of minor factory institution that substitutes timecards and labour policies with physical, conceptual and physiognomic laws of an artistic practice. When asked if they keep a studio artists usually answer no, or “I work at home” and what is lost in the imaginations of the public is the esoteric institution guided by separate (parallel) gravities of laws reserved for diplomatic protectorates and international institutions like United Nations who have autonomous claim on the territory of another country and are therefore impervious to their laws. these separate laws were always the script underwriting the credibility of art as a discipline. Imagine a building , or a city block, or a mountain, where all the artists whose work influences or influenced you live in a composite factory building. You could walk from studio Watteau to the the studio Kabakov. A giant complex, a topological time/space where all factories collide. A glorious site! A temple of art.

Studio gains special significance in a culture of an insulated, artificial universe that generates the notion that some ominous force or terror threatens us with total annihilation at all time. We can now swan dive into a narrative that sounds like a Hollywood spy movie--the only place where we encounter the last remnants of socialist- realist presentation of production. James Bond infiltrates a drug cartel, a nuclear enrichment factory, and after being captured by the master criminal he is given a tour of the factory, a sight of intense secret labour (I owe the James Bond example to a conversation with comrade Zizek). The thing whose purpose is autonomous and unknown (for us or against us) is being made and the goal of agent’s mission is to blow the factory up since the site of endless testing, probing, experimenting and direct production is the domain of the master criminal and it must be destroyed.

 It is time to discuss the role of the visitor. The curators. They are time/space travelers, suffering from schizophrenia, hopefully but not always on some kind of drug or intoxication agent to help them cope with the leaps. The curator is captured (like James Bond) or willingly comes by the sound of the sirens and to prove that an encounter took place, takes the object back into the public as a proof of his/her sanity and as evidence that the story they are telling is true. A great curator is like Virgil to Dante. A blind Virgil. A futurist Virgil, denied his cartesian mathematical eyes, led by sound and smell, for smell is enough for beasts.

So, when an artist answers, “no I do not have a studio”, or “my studio is right behind the kitchen cupboard” (very Kafkaesque, I can stand behind that) we return to our daily semblance to a world of a disappearing working class. The machines in the factory carry a giant OUT OF ORDER sign and as the dust accumulates, the gears and bearings rust together with the secrets of the 19th century waiting to be used as a set in the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. The artist without studio is an obscene superego double of the viewing public. A factory machine, all-present, without a territorial base--a multinational corporation or an international terrorist organization. An entity we can almost understand since it accommodates the model of global capitalism. A studio-less artist remains master criminal perpetually on the run after the drones firebomb the factory. Completely integrated into the today’s market model, the territory of the studio space is a dream, not a ruin, but a ghost shipwreck, atmospheric site made up of language producing objects and laws. The body of the artist is the studio, a kind of sovereign in a state of exception, where every gesture made in the public becomes the law that guides the factory. One could argue that every time an artist steps out of his/her studio they become studio-less.

The corporal reality of the artist’s body is an apportion, a physical attestation of a secret purpose. The studio is the ruin--an infernal tower that keeps rising from the ashes–a factory that sinks and resurfaces like the Spiral Jetty or the polis of Pompeii.

It will remain.

Irena Knezevic is a Serbian artist currently living in Chicago. Recent projects and performances have occured at the ThreeWalls, Museum of Contemporary, Art Chicago; White Columns, New York; Harvard University, Cambridge and Galerie im Regierungsviertel, Berlin. Knezevic earned her MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2007.

Image Captions and Credits from top to bottom:
Varvara Stepanova in his studio, 1950. Photo Nikolai Lavrentiev
Still from Lewis Gilbert's You Only Live Twice (1967)
Still from Lewis Gilbert's You Only Live Twice (1967)
Still from Lewis Gilbert's You Only Live Twice (1967)

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