Responding to Lou's post on Mike Alewitz
g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Mon Sep 16 15:42:49 MDT 2002
Lou's post on Mike Alewitz was interesting for a number of issues. It came
as I was delivering a lecture on the New Documentary Film. My argument
here is that the new doco has to be understood as the postmodernist
documentary. To make my point I began the lecture with the notorious Lynda
Benglis photograph of her self naked and sporting a huge dildo. (I have to
say that that got the class's attention.) This split the editorial board of
the journal (Art Today?). In my own library the relevant copy has the page
What Benglis did was to move modernism forward by appropriating the
iconography of pornography. A higher discourse became fertilised as it
were by a discourse from the low arts. This was a move that was to be
repeated ad nauseam over the next 30 years.
Having wakened the class up I then turned to modernity in the form of
Jackson Pollack and his partnership with Greenberg. This pairing gave us
the artist as god (Pollack) with the high priest (Greenberg) to explain his
work to the faithful. My next move was to look at Jeff Koons. I showed
some slides of his "work" - the kitsch couple and also the statue Dirty
1991 of him mounted on Ilona. Koons is somewhat passé so we have a brief
look at Damien Hirst's sliced pigs. Hirst's is a much darker practice than
Koons. But they both represent a wet fart in the face of the pretensions
of modernity to present the artist as inspired, special and somehow at odds
with the values of capital.
Modern art called into being its dialectical opposite the Philistine who
above all resented the elitism of modern art that Green berg did so much to
cultivate. With Koons and Hirst the philistine's have taken over.
Here Lou's post on Mike Alewitz helped me to understand where modernity
went wrong. Greenberg cuts the ties of art to the popular. Here the
socialist realist art was dismissed as "kitsch". But without that tie to
the masses modern art atrophied and was ripe for plucking by the
postmodernists. The latter restored the popular, but it was a popular
which bore no relationship to any notion of a transcendence of the here and
now of late capitalism. Koons and Hirst say "This is as good as it
gets. This is the 'end of history'".
The tricky point here is that High Modernism had found its own "end of
history" - where an elite ruled. What Koons and other have done is to
reverse the dialectic of the king (artist) and the clown (Philistine) and
to put the clown on the throne. What they have not done of course is to
abolish the throne. The people are still locked out. It may be that the
enjoy the gestures of the clown on the throne more, but he is still up
there providing a different spectacle.
In my own field documentary film has degenerated into reality television.
Big Brother represents above all the celebration of the cut throat nature
of neo-liberalism. Everything that is bad about the present world is
endlessly thrust in our faces. The central message is that humanity is a
piece of shit that will always betray and plot and scheme against other humans.
It is only through a return to a link with the people in struggle that we
can get out of the present impasse. At such times I have no doubt that
Alewitz' work will provide the artists of the future with inspiration.
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