ASRL / PERPETUAL 2014
 
Alfred Jarry Celebrated in Philadelphia
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 04-18-11
Alfred Jarry, Thomas Chimes, 1978 at Locks Gallery
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The first of April marked the opening of The Insolent Eye: Jarry in Art at Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Beautifully curated, it fulfilled its promise: "to recreate the beguiling atmosphere of Jarry's absurdist scenarios" and ground them in a "historical prologue." In other words, the exhibit centers around the re-imagination of the 'Ubu landscape' by contemporary and modernist artists such as Pablo Picasso, Thomas Kentridge, and, our personal favorite here, Marcel Duchamp.

The work ranges from comical illustrations of the Jarry's infamous masked and grotesque Pere Ubu, lead in the absurdist play that propelled him to fame in fin-de-siecle Paris, Ubu Roi. Jarry's style would quickly became synonymous with avant-gardism, spurring countless imitations and responses. Jarry was renowned for his irreverent escapades (he was known to appear in the streets of Paris in slippers, a fur tiara, a ripped up overcoat, armed with a stick and revolvers): after one of which he is said to have mused, "isn't it as beautiful as literature." Marie-Claire Groeninck notes in the exhibit's catalogue essay that it is in those instances, in which Jarry's personal life would become indistinguishable from his art, that became precursors to Duchamp's ready-mades. Oddly enough, though none of Duchamp's ready-mades made it into the show, his Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even and Green Box did.

The relation between Jarry and those two particular pieces is not as explicit as it is with many of the other works there. Actually, it is rather tenuous. Groeninck explains that Duchamp and Jarry socialized and worked in the similar circles, and consequently Duchamp must have been familiar with Jarry's oeuvre. So, when Man Ray photographed The Bride Stripped Bare together with the accumulation of three months worth of dust, and Duchamp decided to incorporate it into the sculpture, Groeninck suggests that it is likely he did so knowing of this particular line written by Jarry years earlier, "'tiny little gray boots, with even layers of dust carefully preserved on them, at great expense, for many months past.'" Groeninck does cite another instance of overlapping discourse between the two, this time concerning how you might interpret the watch as an object stripped of its use-value as an indicator of time.

As limited as these examples may be--and perhaps they are only limited because they, incorrectly, posit a strictly diachronic relationship of 'inheritance' between Jarry and Duchamp, while a more porous understanding of their work would have been prudent--the curation remains illuminating. Andre Gide had poignantly written of Jarry's influence, "the surrealists, later, never invented anything better, and it is with justice that they recognise and salute in him a precursor." Whether Gide was right or not--it is worth a visit to Locks Gallery to find out and, more importantly, to remember how it felt to read Ubu Roi that very first time.

The Insolent Eye: Jarry in Art runs through May 13th.

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Picasso's Super-Readymade?
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-16-11
Duchamp 1, Picasso...1?
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A little while ago on this site I mentioned Flavorwire's slideshow of modern and contemporary bicycle art (http://flavorwire.com/161998/the-unofficial-flavorwire-art-bike-survey), and noted a few omissions. However, I neglected one of the most significant contributions to the field: Picasso's "Bull's Head," from 1942, a blunt yet playful work with a powerful presence, consisting of a bicycle seat juxtaposed with handlebars to evoke the work's titular image (an impassive bull's head).

The first time I saw this work was several years ago in Paris, and Duchamp wasn't on my mind. (Picasso's work seems very much its own thing, even if made from found materials; furthermore the Spanish artist has a mythic reputation as a relentless original). But a recent review in the Wall Street Journal quite plausibly draws attention to the way in which the piece could be a reference to (and a riff on) the readymade...particularly the famous bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. Specifically, culture writer Eric Gibson claims that "Bull's Head" in fact not only comments on but transcends Duchamp's signature gesture.

This claim relies on Gibson's idea that "Duchamp's combinations are deliberately disjunctive. His bicycle wheel and stool are joined together precisely because they have nothing in common and, together, suggest nothing beyond themselves." Picasso, on the other hand, he argues, maintains a perfect balance on the edge between illusionism and reflexive materialism (i.e. while definitively inhabiting Duchampian territory, Picasso's "ready-made" nonetheless maintains a distinctly Picasso-like commitment to portraiture; the "Bull's Head" never dissolves totally into abstraction.)

This is a fine observation, but I also think Gibson is slightly underselling Duchamp: it's too much (or not quite enough) to say that "Bicycle Wheel" is "radically disjunctive." If you want radically disjunctive, take the Comte de Lautreamont's poetic image of the "chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella."

By contrast, there actually seems to me to be a strange affinity between the stool and the bicycle wheel, which Duchamp either discovered or, perhaps, created. A dissecting-table and sewing machine can only be combined meaningfully in language. Physically, however, by joining the bicycle wheel to the stool in the real world, Duchamp devised a non-functional assemblage, which is actually one thing, not two. It becomes its own icon, its own concept, and its own formal object, which can be reproduced with variations (and has been).

However, it is true that the Bicycle Wheel, unlike "the Bull's Head," is not representational. If Gibson had slightly amended his sentence to read "together, [the bicycle wheel and the stool] suggest nothing but itself," he would have been on the mark. But then he would have been alluding to the true ambiguity and slipperiness of Duchamp's creation, and might not have chosen to argue for Picasso's final supremacy in the realm of "found art."

 

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New History of Puns Rehabilitates Key Avant-Garde Device
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-14-11
are all puns terrible?
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Can't get enough of puns? Do your friends start to cringe and gag when you bust out your idea of a quality joke in their presence? Maybe next occasion, gift them a copy of "The Pun Also Rises," forthcoming from champion punner and communications expert John Pollack. The book seems bent on rehabilitating that most maligned of humor categories; its subtitle is "How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics." (What I want to know is, who will speak up on behalf of Antics?)

But no, I support Pollack's project: James Joyce punned big in Ulysses (a wild, gorgeous book cheaply and unconvincingly lambasted in Slate recently)...and he punned, and portmanteaued even bigger in the near-unreadable Finnegan's Wake. Marcel Duchamp too was a die-hard pun enthusiast; two of his most famous are probably the Fresh Widow and L.H.O.O.Q (She Has A Hot Ass), the title of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on. R. Rose Selavy (pronounced like C'est La Vie), probably counts too.

The machinery of punning brings about the conflation of word and image, signifier and signified: the daily bread of both the 20th Century Avant-Gardes and later poststructuralist theorists. And yet the pun still suffers (often deservedly) a pretty darn poor reputation.

The solution I recommend to the dilemma is: please avoid the truly horrible puns (you know who you are) in order to preserve this noble and fertile practice in good standing for the benefit of future generations.

Just to play the devil's advocate, however, I present you with a pretty cogent argument that punning is evil in any form, under any circumstances...

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recommend: Found Sound
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-12-11
a found home recording
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For fans of Duchamp, John Cage, and the readymade, this unassuming tumblr is worth a peruse. "Found- sound" collects miscellaneous abandoned recording cartridges, displaying photographs of the casette tapes in various states of disrepair, along with excerpts from the audio contained within.

Is it bacon or bagels that go into deviled eggs? This question is raised in one of the stray answering machine tapes procured by the found-sound folks; these comprise one of the more amusing genres the tumblr curates. I also find something uncanny in the heaps of loose plastic tape photographed sans hard cover. In the digital age we're not so often confronted viscerally with the guts of our media...

Good found sound stories, links? Post in comments...

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Avowed Conceptualism (Gone Awry?) in Berlin
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-11-11
conceptual obelisk

Outside my apartment in Berlin is Schloss Charlottenburg, a large Baroque palace once occupied by Friedrich the Great, and its manicured grounds hat were designed to ape the gardens at Versailles. Further into the "Schlosspark" is a tangle of woods and wildlife home to sleek foxes and lakebound ducks, geese and swans. On a walk around the lake I came across this greying obelisk, crouched unassumingly in a denuded gove of trees. Naturally I wondered about its significance; the plaque informed me that it signified literally nada. The artist "Braco Dimitrijevic" built it in 1979 "commemorating" the "arbitrarily chosen date" of March 11th. This was specifically done in the spirit of avant-garde provocation, "without fixed content (conceptual art). (i.e. Marcel Duchamp's destabilizing "pure gesture" of raising a urinal to the status of art)

Now this obelisk..briliant critique of the momument form? Ever so slightly juvenile and pointless? Either way it enlivened my walk around the bucolic Schlosspark...

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