Issue #179
What’s Mine Is Ours December 2, 2011

Alejandro Cesarco
Picture #8
2007
C-print
23 1/4 x 30 1/2 inches
Courtesy of the artist

From the Editor

There’s a tendency to embody art objects with a certain amount of agency. ‘What is that work doing,’ echoes the common phrase in crit. rooms, artists’ studios and critics’ computer screens around the globe. As a young artist fastidiously writing my statement, I would frequently find myself making claims for ‘the work’ and what ‘it was doing.’ While there were moments when I wished the work felt empowered enough to act on its own (to say nothing of self-generate, at least the tedious bits) the fact remained that without my hand, or eyes for that matter, the work didn’t do much except collect dust. ‘My work’ was a better phrase. At the very least, it was now attached to its maker and no longer had to bear the responsibility of its success or failure alone. Still, I felt odd about taking so much ownership as it ignored those who might see it, thereby waking it from its otherwise inert slumber, even if for a moment. To say that the object possessed no capabilities outside of dust-collecting now became more difficult.

Perhaps this is just one of those ‘if a tree falls in the woods’ sorts of questions, but I’m not convinced. Art objects—and by objects I mean ideas, text, video, performance, et al.—are most active after passing through our senses and into our brains. It is here that they succeed or fail at achieving their maker’s intentions while becoming a receptacle for those of the viewer. This is old news in scientific and theoretical circles. At the same time that I plodded through my artists statement, I was assigned to read Roland Barthes’ ‘From Work to Text’ and ‘The Death of The Author,’ which address exactly these issues of authorship and the activation of a work through the process of reading.1 The leap to art work and viewer wasn't difficult—though my grasp of these texts wasn’t complete until I found them evidenced through my own process of writing, reading, looking and making—just rewards that continue to bear themselves out on a daily basis. Active engagement with visual things, rather than passive spectatorship, pays dividends in the end.

In some sense, we all share in the authorship of objects. Without going too far down a theoretical rabbit hole, it’s enough to say that we all contribute to a work’s agency by bringing to it our own set of associations, meanings and experiences that inform the way we see and the potential meaning an object can have. These circumstances are unavoidable and, for better or worse, insert art objects alongside the other ‘things’ in our lives from footballs to private parks and city squares. Can we really imagine art and artists operating independently from the rest of the world? Glean what you will from these cursory observations, but keep in mind that these remain potent issues in the arts (though maybe I’m just playing into Western culture’s insistence on defining productivity and efficacy above all else and whose relevance for art remains suspect). How art objects are presented and received in our world gets to the core of their effectiveness and ultimately their ability to generate thought in, but not without, us.

Let’s continue this stream of thought. University of Dallas Art History Professor Catherine Caesar’s Long-Read delves into The Martha Rosler Library and its blurring of the line between the self and other, public and private. If you haven’t heard, Los Angeles is brimming with exhibitions that are part of Pacific Standard Time, a look back at L.A’s artistic past. In a second Long-Read, writer Catherine Wagley looks at the romanticization of this history and finds that it’s not so different for artists living and working there today. Otis College Assistant Professor, Tucker Neel, who also calls Southern California home, looks at LACMA’s California Design, 1930 - 1965: “Living in a Modern Way” with an eye towards the gift shop facsimiles of some of the objects on exhibit. On the East Coast, Maurizio Cattelan has filled The Guggenheim’s rotunda with a retrospective of his own objects that garner writer Brain Fee’s attention. Finally in Dallas, Diana Al-Hadid’s Sightings exhibition at The Nasher Sculpture Center receives Ben Lima’s pen—its intricate excesses providing an alternative to classical clarity, simplicity and rationality.

Our Project Space this issue features San-Francisco based artist Daniel Tierney. His images are a look at his inhabitation of a steady stream of studio spaces that influenced how he was thinking about space. In between domestic and work space, Tierney finds a place to look for something new by building, rearranging and sitting still. For the month of December, mbgETC will be piloted by writer and curator Leslie Moody Castro and artist Armando Miguelez whose project entitled, #aquiahora (‘here now’) will engage the countries, cities, colleagues and friends who have intersected their lives while providing a virtual time stamp of their locations and intersections. This endeavor will be extended in our next issue when Moody-Castro and Miguelez occupy the Project Space. In between these pieces, we encourage you to have a look at ...mbg Recommends which continues to feature art oriented items in Texas and elsewhere that we think deserve your attention. 

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

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1. With the winter months approaching I can’t resist a recommendation. Both essays are found in: Barthes, Roland. Image - Music - Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

+ 1 Comment
Mary Mikel Stump
Dec 2, 2011 | 4:43am

These words came just in the nick of time…for it’s Crit week at the University where I work.  I’ve already passed it on to two students who were bearing the weight of such on their shoulders. Thanks for that.

As for Roland Barthes…be still my heart.

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