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Art’s Body or Why the Anti-Christ Secretly Loves Jesus

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The Devil vs Jesus. Image by Ong Chew Peng. Deeds of the Anti-Christ, Luca Signorelli, 1501, fresco


As Satanic Eucharist is to Roman Catholic Rite so is Rational Recovery‘s antithetical dogma exquisitely diametric to Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book apologia.

Along similar lines, the determinedly dematerialized arm of ‘conceptual art’ - positioning itself, as it does, in an asymmetrically analogous symbiotic relationship - is contrarily dependent on pre-existing, physical, objects d’art for its own disembodied and volitionally puritanical, ‘non-existence’. In any sizeable metropolis one can find dematerial works hovering ‘round visual art precincts. Like an almost perceptible, illimitable, lick of flame - a holy-art-ghost, invisibly occupying the (holiest of holy) ark of the art-tabernacle.

To clarify - the Black Mass is, for all intents and purposes, an inversion of Roman Catholic ritual. Its adumbrated, reflective, ‘photo-negative’ of imago dei serving principally and perversely to reaffirm the primacy of Catholic Sacrament. Rational Recovery’s litany, postured primarily as a contradiction of Alcoholics Anonymous’ foundational dogma, peculiarly assures its own subordinate status as a perpetually contending, second-in-birth-order, sibling.

The artworld’s round-headed, Oliver Cromwell-like, post-object practitioners and theorists perpetually evidence their object-art hostility and thus object co-dependency by devoting a telling portion of time and creative energy denouncing object makers and objects. Dismissing such practitioners as reactionary, deviant, and irrelevantly archaic ‘object fetishists’.

The post-structural practitioner’s chronic and pejorative employment of the term fetish is richly revealing. Fetishes - as sociologically and anthropologically understood - are psychologically charged manmade objects which on one hand claim to embody metaphysical forces (as typified in Muslim or Christian reliquaries and Minkisi ‘power-figurines’) and on the ‘left-hand’ are physically employed to rouse and direct an otherwise impotent imagination and will - erotic imagination, in the actual (as opposed to ideational) act of declaring sovereignty over its situational (i.e. biological/psychological) fate.

I defy any lover of painting to love a picture as much as a fetishist loves a shoe“, submits Georges Bataille in his Visions of Excess. Anti-art dematerialists pigheadedly take Bataille’s wickedly apt conflation of shoe and painting as the sui generis French polemicist’s de facto demotion of painting. To believe, and espouse, such theoretical nonsense one would have to ignorantly presuppose that Bataille - an ardent fetishist himself - was, in the saying, devaluing both his beloved shoe (the most ubiquitous of sexual fetishes) and the painted object - painting, coincidentally; the most pervasive emblem of creative visual imagination and its excrescence-concretizing act.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” is the root-text of Protestantism. What this particular biblical verse promotes is the neo-platonic notion that logos precedes - and exists perpetually in an alternative space, far from the impurity of - corporeal creation. Given a Post-Object Art-Yeshiva schul-boy/girl’s oft-demonstrated devotion to, close reading of - and rigorous adherence to - art-as-language ‘theology’ (for wont of a better catchall descriptor) there is little mystery why faith, in a sort of Emersonian style art-transcendence is sustainable in the face of the preponderance of visually dismal artworks flowing from such belief. A belief requiring fastidious eschewing of aesthetically aspirational, or frankly organized, visual matter… and its consequent delight.

The ardent art-revolutionary’s ersatz auto-da-fé of dropping or disregarding arts formal ‘body’ - a visible body, portrayed by eternally recurring art-reformists as nothing more than a delimiting, consciousness-imprisoning, chrysalis - is the sort of escapist passion shared by Marshall Applewhite’s infamous Heaven’s Gate cult …. up until they donned identical Nike athletic shoes and quaffed their phenobarbital spiced applesauce, en route to rendezvous with an imagined U.F.O., shadowing the Hale Bopp Comet. As rudely ludicrous as this comparison may be seem, in its dark-humored way, it nonetheless points up the shopworn fact that the socially corrosive myth of bodily transcendence is (unfortunately) not the proprietary idée fixe of art-nuns/monks/theologians alone.

The utopian/protestant smell of disembodied conceptual art, with its semiotically redeeming and binding contractual texts, offers nothing more, and nothing less, than a literal ordo salutis privileging of faith (in the word) over works.

And, as more and more ‘ordained’ elect emerge from art-seminaries (theory-driven art MFA & Ph.D factories) there will be ever-bigger explanatory wall labels and ever more interminable, avant-garde-genealogical-name-dropping litanies - as exemplified by Vincente Todoli’s intellectually lazy, thigh-slapping, Walters Prize sideshow-ballyhoo. Thankfully they will be in your future (me, I’ll be gratefully dead) not mine.

Speaking of gratitude, transcendence and après-transcendence disappointments - what did one Dead-Head say to another when the acid wore off? “Hey man, what’s this crappy music we’re listening to?”

Roger Boyce

[The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own - and not necessarily of other writers on EyeContact, least of all its editor. Opposing or differing points of view - articulated in threaded comments or essay format - are always welcome.]

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This Discussion has 11 comments.


John Hurrell, 7:16 p.m. 8 August, 2012

As entertaining as your piece is, Roger, I wonder if you are not being somewhat reductive? Your mention of Vincente Todoli implies that the Walters Prize is the arch-enemy of traditional art in the form of painting (well according to you, secretly with a crush on it) - but Walters Prize winners like Arps, Robinson and et al. are versatile at sculpture, installation and painting. As so-called conceptualists (if that is what the WP represents?) they don't reject painting at all. And Reynolds and Leek have been finalists, so it is hardly invisible.

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Roger Boyce, 12:24 a.m. 9 August, 2012

I do aim to entertain.

And, John, as you must know, to write anything (excepting laundry lists) is to be engaged in reduction.

My citing of Todoli's high-fructose speech wasn't intended as a blanket indictment of the Walters Prize, or, for that matter, a specific damning of Dan Arps' Walters-winning installation.

Artist and hapless audience were both unwitting victims of Todoli's laundry list of critically anointed comparisons. You may recall that Todoli - in explaining Arps' "Explaining Things" installation - summoned Wagner, Joyce, Duchamp, Pop art, non-specific higher realms, and the alchemical chamber. Whew, Wagner, really?

Giving Arps every benefit of the doubt...I must ask, does any (visible) aspect of his (intentionally abject) winning entry physically resemble, or visually allude to, any culturally apotheosized person (Wagner, Joyce??) or metaphorical region employed by Todoli to characterize the work? If Todoli had instead simply compared Arps installation to, say, Beckett's, one act, Krapp's Last Tape, I could actually kinda SEE that.

If not, then Todoli's P.T. Barnum-like, pronouncements were indeed ludicrously exemplary of a particular art sector's rhapsodic privileging of apotheosized protestant WORDS over corporeal catholic WORKS.

I fielded painting, in my written piece, as ubiquitously emblematic of artworks that are best characterized by their actual, physical, visibility....not as literal "traditional art in the form of painting" - whatever that thing might be.

Peter Robinson's echt-original works rely, I'd argue, more on what they look like than whatever can be theoretically surmised about them. Despite the demonstrated merits of et al's purposefully hermetic productions I'd say just the opposite is true.

Saskia Leek's paintings - which I admire and have written about - fall somewhere between two poles (embodiment & disembodiment) and the tension arising from their piss-elegant transaction with two wooing suitors is what gives her 'remitting bank' strategy its life.

Just for the record...I happen to think there's a good bit of accomplished so-called 'conceptual' art out there - but that's a subject for another time.

Having said all of that, I have to ask myself, do I really want to understand, or would I rather just move on. Problem is I never know.


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Ralph Paine, 11:54 a.m. 12 August, 2012

We have a problem Houston...

It's as if with Mr Boyce's essay that the fascinatingly complex relationship between materialism and idealism had never sprung up on the Indian subcontinent millennia ago, or similarly in Ancient Greece, or continued apace in nineteenth century Berlin, Paris, London...

It's as if Buddha had never walked the earth, or Zen practices never flourished on the fertile Japanese archipelago... As if a witch's curse had not been placed on the airy space above a pure white plinth in a gallery in contemporary England, or Rauschenberg not rubbed out that de Kooning drawing, Duchamp bottled that air, or McCahon (Catholic? Protestant? neither?) declared that he would need words...

It's as if in 1957 Yves Klein had not exhibited an empty gallery, or the French structuralists invented the notion of the empty place holder, or Julian Dashper created his morphine drawings... As if the void were not the infinite ordering order of art, or Battaile himself had not written that "sovereignty is nothing."

 In reply

Roger Boyce, 12:18 p.m. 13 August, 2012

Dear Ralph Paine

Thank you for writing me here in the editorial offices of Eyecontact Magazine. We sure do appreciate hearing from you. Keep those cards and letters coming young fellow.

Thanks as well for reminding me how much I too once enjoyed listening to the Oxford cassette tape series Short Talks on World Religions and Great Thought. Imagine my chagrin when I realized, after receiving your historically sweeping analysis of my apparently retardataire essay, that I’d somehow managed to neglect the last two cassettes in the Oxford series. Concluding tapes wherein the Great Questions of history are definitively answered, questions of religious observance settled, and the appropriate approach to strategizing (and art historically considering) works of art was authoritatively codified. Huge omissions of that kind (on my part) could well cost me my position at the magazine.

Speaking of occupational impermanence, the Buddha and Why Bodhidharma left for the East – I’d advise not mistaking my essay’s pointing finger for the moon itself.

Now, young man, on to your artwork examples.

Tom Friedman’s “Curse” at the UKs Hayward Gallery (and Dane Mitchell’s analogous, and also eponymous, antipodean “Curse”) are perfect illustration of artworks attempting (as in my essay) to transcend the physical and apotheosize as ‘pure’ critical imagination. As Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward - where Friedman’s (an artist I particularly enjoy) and other immaterial works were organized into a comprehensive exhibition of such works – said of the ‘invisible art’ show… ‘This exhibition highlights that art isn’t about material objects, it’s about setting our imaginations alight, and that’s what the artists in this show do in many varied ways.’ Butterflies are free so hey, why not artworks? Nu?

Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning is essentially a re-enactment of Oedipal patricide. The labor intensiveness (it took days to disappear the two-sided image) of the erased drawing makes the final object more of an embodiment of Rauschenberg’s robust ambition than it is ephemera left over from the act of disembodying de Kooning’s masterly hand and authorship. It is a watershed work that marks the rise of 2&3D compositional ‘combines’ - the aesthetic pater familias of todays ubiquitous art-scatters and arty piles o’ stuff. Erased de Kooning is also a perfect example of the co-dependence I write about in my essay. Thanks for the add.

The rest of your artwork examples would have felt right at home as apt illustrations for my casual-dress thesis. Cheers.

to be continued....

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Roger Boyce, 12:19 p.m. 13 August, 2012


As to your implied misattribution of meaning to Bataille’s infamous "sovereignty is nothing." – it is akin to the Christian Fundamentalist’s ubiquitous habit of cherry picking historical Hebrew scripture to support notions concocted well after the bible’s extant books were authored, edited and canonized.

Loss of the self to the transcendent sacred is what Bataille means when he pejoratively employs the term sovereignty. Submission. Momentary loss of self to another THING (as opposed to yet another freaking idea) is what Bataille recommends as not only desirable but also (due to death’s sovereign agency) inevitable. With Bataille, as with fetishes … form inevitably follows function.

Disembodied artworks (if there is such a thing) hope to function (culturally and otherwise) more or less free of physical plastic form’s putative ‘limitations’. And so, by default, incarnate (after the fact) as language . Language that’s right at home in theoretical texts, catalog essays and the plummy tones of institutional betters like Ralph Rugoff. Mr. Rugoff does P.T. Barnum one better with his "This is the best exhibition you'll never see." quote in the Hayward Gallery’s show of linguistically re-embodied art.

Thanks Mr. Paine, for adding fuel to my fire.

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Ralph Paine, 3:43 p.m. 13 August, 2012

Yes, perhaps best not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. Which is not to say that we should not admire the said finger; find it elegant, interesting, remarkable even... An index is a sign, a word, a name... Remarkable! To contemplate both its name and the moon itself would be to do theory... That's all, sublime elegance. Silence, void, being-nothing, emptiness, pure event, the invisible: indexes of that which is astir in the world, names for the very condition of our rendering visible, sayable.

And your take on Bataille? Even a cursory reading of either 'The Accursed Share' or 'Theory of Religion' would indicate a misreading. For Bataille the realm of things is the realm of utility, servility, work, calculation into the future, production, and so on. Sovereignty, on the other hand, is the realm of the sacred, the intimate moment of unknowing, the destruction of both subject and object, erotic dissolution, a loss of the fear of death, and so on.

 In reply

Ralph Paine, 4:08 p.m. 13 August, 2012


When in the above I write 'finger pointing at the moon' in no way do I intend this as meaning Mr Boyce's essay!

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Roger Boyce, 9:50 a.m. 14 August, 2012

" -sublime elegance. Silence, void, being-nothing, emptiness, pure event, the invisible:-"

Jeezus Ralph...that's the sort of apres-sex endorphin-fueled language that saw me several times married, divorced and subsequently fleeced.

Beeeeeeeee careful, young son, if that's the brand of language you are front-loading (or perhaps back-filling) your own production with.

In my experience that sort of linguistic "index" , is a heady, unreliable brew of endogenous morphine, mysticism and romantic ideation. Better left to physician's pharmaceutical desk references, occult fabulists and Encyclopédistes.

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Ralph Paine, 10:41 a.m. 15 August, 2012

For Mr Boyce's students...

An institution is an uncountable yet finite number of material flows, these flows themselves being composed of yet other flows, and all nested in open and diverse zones of interaction, all moving at relative 'speeds and slownesses'. Texts and tools, numbers and schemas, norms and voices, metabolisms and machines: an institution is a multiplicity—a multiplicity of forces and signs, a pure involvement. The building where these networked flows are at their most intense is itself a composite of many other slowed down, extracted and transformed flows: metals, wood, fabrics, plastic, concrete and glass. And so many other institutions, organisations and groups have interacted, connected and cooperated in order to create the procedures and powers with which to extract these flows and construct the building. But once constructed, the building will continue to move. The paint will crack on the walls and the timbers warp, rain water will seep into the foundations, the earth will rumble. The cabling in the building, itself a composite of extreme slowings-down (the copper and the plastic) will in turn slow down and channel an electric flow that once released will allow a computer to operate at incredible speeds, or a light bulb to project an image across the white wall of a darkened interior room. A student observing the image is herself an amazing and incomprehensible mixture of speeds and slownesses. The institution resolves to transform and regulate these effectual flows with words and corridors, schedules and tools. But the image she has just encountered has set off a newly accelerated flow of thought and feeling that one day will take her to a church in Venice where she will stand breathless beneath the glowing painted manifestation of the image that long ago inspired her to become a different artist from the one she thought she was training to be. How are we to account for these kinds of sustained and intense trajectories of affect and thought? For despite being described as finite, the art school must in some way possess the unlimited – possess it as an indwelling, immanent cause. Yet how might a finite, limited network of material flows also possess an infinite relation?

 In reply

Roger Boyce, 2:13 p.m. 15 August, 2012

Ahhhh (dramatic pause) thanks so much for that Frère Ralph. Your latest, 100% pure metaphysic-interpolation certainly brings back memories for me. Its immaculately received language - so redolent of the intentionally obscurantist sentences of the (70s/80s ?) NYC re-education theory-camp guards. Martial monk-like overseers who practiced their Deluzian-lipsynk while encouraging us (artists) back to our obligatory fine-French-steel art-lathes.

Which brings to mind Albert Camus’ – “For anyone who is alone, without God, and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence, one must choose a master, God being out of style -”

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Roger Boyce, 3:29 p.m. 15 August, 2012

Neglected to say - I need what remains of my failing energies for painting. So, I'll sign off on this and now. 's been fun, y'all.

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