Category Archives: rauschenberg

alex itin netrospectives

Our dear friend and artist in residence Alex Itin has been getting noticed of late. Yesterday he was profiled on The Daily Reel, a popular site that curates quality video from around the web and frequently features his work. Other interesting video sites have also been a-knockin’.
An even better meditation on Alex’s work is this comment posted by Sol Gaitan last month in response to his popular piece, “I Made Pictures of Making a Picture of Everyone Who Might Be Looking At These Pictures of Everyone” (a bona fide blockbuster on Vimeo). I’ve reproduced it in full:

Robert Rauschenberg’s fabulous exhibition of 43 transfer drawings at Jonathan O’Hara Gallery produce that feeling, in retrospective, of seeing something that is going to mean a lot in the future. And they did. Executed in the 60’s they were the precursors, as well as the result, of appropriation. Duchamp and Picasso are two obvious examples that come to mind when one thinks of the origins of appropriation, today we prefer the term “mash-up.” The exciting thing about Rauschenberg is his extraordinary use of the quotidian to create highly manipulated works that elude classification. As his combines include and exclude us, the transfer drawings leave us with a feeling of immediacy and at the same time of blurry memories.
Alex Itin’s play with appropriation produces the same feeling. He is doing something that is going to mean a lot. His investigations of the uses of technology to produce an art as dynamic as its medium, is evident in these “horizontal scrolls.” The medium is limiting, so Alex is searching for a way to blog that defies its verticality, very much along the lines of the Institute, where his art resides. There are extraordinarily beautiful artist homepages on the Internet, but Alex’s redefinition of the blog as a place of encounter, intentional or by chance, a place of fusion where he produces and manipulates his mash-ups is unprecedented. With this “horizontal scroll” he moves a very important step forward. He addresses us in all our anonymity while creating the piece in front of our very individual eyes. His use of the blog as a way of communication through live creation makes it burst along its seams.
The way Rauschenberg’s transfer drawings fall on the paper seems aleatory, but it responds to the limitations he found in both collage and monotype before he started his silkscreen explorations: “I felt I had to find a way to use collage in drawing to incorporate my own way of working on that intimate scale,” (as cited on the show’s catalogue by Lewis Kachur from art historian Roni Feinstein’s dissertation, NYU 1990.) The result are aerial collages of images transferred from newspaper that become a testimony of their times. The 60’s were charged times, and the newsprint chosen by Rauschenberg; the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, astronauts, consumer products, address high modernism, while their heterogeneity alludes to the fragmentary condition of postmodernism. Alex’s depiction of those looking at his blog is highly charged in a similar manner; who are us anyway? What seems improvisation takes the form of social commentary, as he says on his blog:
who is my audience?… I think I’ll draw them and perform in front of the drawing. Today’s post also asks the question (more than most), which here is the real work of art? The drawing, or the film of the drawing, or the whole thing together on the blog, or what?
Rauschenberg’s masterful use of gouache, watercolor and ink washes lends coherence to the whole. It centers the viewers attention on image and text, fusing them. Their dynamism makes us think of the artist at work. Alex has the medium, and the shrewdness, to put both, process and work, in front of our eyes. The result is not the voyeuristic epiphany of seeing Pollock dripping paint on a canvas that would become the actual piece, here it is the artist at work, moving in precarious terrain, which IS the piece.
Rauschenberg’s pieces elude nomenclature, they are neither painting, nor collage, nor sculpture, they are thresholds to new forms of perception. Today’s challenge is to rethink the meaning of appropriation in a moment when capitalist commodity culture has become the determinant of our daily lives. To appropriate today is to expose the unresolved questions of a world shaped by the information era. Permanence is constantly challenged and the evolution of Alex Itin’s work on his blog shows this as clearly as it can be.

on appropriation

The Tate Triennial 2006, showcasing new British Art, brings together thirty-six artists who explore the reuse and reshaping of cultural material. Curated by Beatrix Ruf, director of the Kunsthalle in Zurich, the exhibition includes artists from different generations who explore reprocessing and repetition through painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, film, installations and live work.


Marc Camille Chaimowicz
Here and There… 1979-2006

Historically, the appropriation of images and other cultural matter has been practiced by societies as the reiteration, reshuffling, and eventual transformation of artistic and intellectual human manifestations. It covers a vast range from tribute to pastiche. When visual codes are combined, the end product is either a cohesive whole where influences connect into new and very personal languages, or disparate combinations where influences compete and clash. In today’s art, the different guises of repetition, from collage and montage to file sharing and digital reproduction highlight the existing codes or reveal the artificiality of the object. Today’s combination of codes alludes to a collective sense of memory in a moment when memories have become literally photographic.
One comes out of this exhibition thinking about Duchamp‘s “readymades,” Rauschenberg’s “combines,” and other forms of conceptual “gluing,” (the literal meaning of the word “collage,”) as precursors and/or manifestations of the postmodern condition. This show is a perfect representation of our moment. As Beatrix Ruf says in the catalogue: “Artists today are forging new ways of making sense of reality, reworking ideas of authenticity, directness and social relevance, looking again into art practices that emerged in the previous century.”

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Jonathan Monk
Twelve Angry Women, 2005

We have artists like Michael Fullerton, who paints contemporary figures in the style of Gainsborough, or Luke Fowler‘s use of archive material to explore the history of Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. Repetition goes beyond inter-referentiality in the work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz, who combines works he made in the 70s with projected images of himself as a young man and as an adult, within a space where a vase of flowers set on a Marcel Breuer’ table and a pendulum swinging back and forth position the images of the past solidly in the present. In “Twelve Angry Women,” Jonathan Monk affixes to the wall twelve found drawings by an unknown artist from the 20s, using different colored pins that work as earrings. Mark Leckey uses Jeff Koons’ silver bunny as a mirror into his studio in the way 17th century masters painted theirs. Liam Gillick creates sculptures of hanging texts made out of factory signage.
Art itself is cumulative. Different generations build upon previous ones in a game of action and reaction. One interesting development in art today is the collective. Groups of artists coming together in couples, teams, or cyberspace communities, sometimes under the identity of a single person, sometimes a single person assuming a multiple identity. Collectives seem to be a new phenomenon, but their roots go back to the concept of workshops in antiquity where artistic collaboration and copying from casts of sculptural masterpieces was the norm. The notion of the individual artist producing radically new and original art belongs to modernity. The return to collectives in the second part of the 20th century, and again now, has a lot to do with the nature of representation, with the desire to go beyond the limits of artistic mimesis or individual interpretation.

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Liam Gillick
Övningskörning (Driving Practice), 2004

On the other hand, appropriation as a form of artistic expression is a postmodern phenomenon. Appropriation is the language of today. Never before the advent of the Internet had people appropriated knowledge, spaces, concepts, and images as we do today. To cite, to copy, to remix, to modify are part of our everyday communication. The difference between appropriation in the 70s and 80s and today resides in the historical moment. As Jean Verwoert says in the Triennial 2006 catalogue:

The standstill of history at the height of the Cold War had, in a sense, collapsed the temporal axis and narrowed the historical horizon to the timeless presence of material culture, a presence that was exacerbated by the imminent prospect that the bomb could wipe everything out at any time. To appropriate the fetishes of material culture, then, is like looting empty shops at the eve of destruction. It is the final party before doomsday. Today, on the contrary, the temporal axis has sprung up again, but this time a whole series of temporal axes cross global space at irregular intervals. Historical time is again of the essence, but this historical time is not the linear or unified timeline of steady progress imagined by modernity: it is a multitude of competing and overlapping temporalities born from the local conflicts that the unresolved predicaments of the modern regimes still produce.

Today, the challenge is to rethink the meaning of appropriation in a moment when capitalist commodity culture has become the determinant of our daily lives. The Internet is perhaps our potential Utopia (though “dystopian” seems to be the adjective of choice now.) But, can it be called upon to fulfill the unfulfilled promises of 20th century’s utopias? To appropriate is to resist the notion of ownership, to appropriate the products of today’s culture is to expose the unresolved questions of a world shaped by the information era. The disparities between those who are entering the technology era and those forced to stay in the times of early industrialization are more pronounced than ever. As opposed to the Cold War, where history was at a standstill, we live in a time of extreme historicity. Permanence is constantly challenged, how to grasp it all continues to be the elusive task.