The Transfiguration of Objects
Capitalism is the corporal management of attitudes set and made standard practise under its own manufactured conditions.
I. The Dead Flesh of Ouroboros:
Artists and their Art are deeply concerned with themselves. Not only do we take their megalomania as a symptomatic corruption by the ideal goal set by the self-initiating exploration searching for the sublime, but, conversely, their Art too has and now does only ever exist in spite of itself. All Art is born to be itself. Yet how at this point, tethering on the end of the history of Art, do such objects come to be conceived? The answer lies in what Art, as it has come to be know distinct from ‘mere’ craft, has preoccupied itself with, namely, the hysterical self-conscious questioning of its own existence and what it really means to be Art and in what way. The very moment Art began to question itself with the infamous hysterical insight “What is Art?” is the moment it began to dig its own grave. In short, Art has adopted the appearance of the pathological Artist-as-Human who seeks nothing more than to try and define itself. And if we take answers provided by the likes of Stirner, Hegel, or Lacan etc. that the subject is nothing but a void – and if Art is only just a hysterical projection or transference from the Artist – then the artobject too is nothing but a void. And quite rightly. Contemporary Art has still yet to shake off the dominant and persistent artistic movement of the 60’s; Conceptual Art. The artobject here is really only the many layered appearances apprehensively masquerading its own void by way of shrouding itself with ideas or spooks. In fact, so eager to disallow anyone from believing that Art is nothing, Artists frantically inject too many concepts into the work that it reveals to us the ever more potent fact that what they are hiding is literally just nothing itself. The eagerness to repress the secret is a sign of the Artist’s own acknowledgment – and cynical denial – of the void of the work itself. In psychoanalytic terms, it could be seen as a self defense mechanism of Reaction Formation which seeks to overemphasize what one or some thing is not in order to distract oneself and others from what it is. E.g. Homophobia could be a sign of one not coming to terms with their own homosexual desire which they seek to repress in the form of attack against oneself and (similar) others.
To reiterate, The History of Art has concerned itself with defining itself (subsequently pushing forward what it is to define art in the name of ‘progress’), and Contemporary Artists have taken what was once thought to be the end of Art – originating with Duchamp followed by Warhol – and make it their biggest strength. The perpetual pushing forwards of what defines art by creating non-art. Once thought to be a deficit and boundary of what Art can be, thus putting some limit on what can be produced, Artists have now taken this limit, and the perpetual breaching and extending of it, as their primary goal. The Artist of the 21st Century is the Transgressive Artist. Yet this transgression itself has been capitalised into a moot, flaccid and ultimately boring, myopic, bourgeois commodified fantasy. Artists of this sort eternally create for themselves an infinitely regressing attempt at creating what shouldn’t be thought of as art (as thought of in their own terms). In fact they long for such a chance to be captured and pinned to the ground, limited and confined so as to even have the motive for acts of transgression. They need reasons for breaking a cage they wish they had. As David Foster Wallace said about postmodernism: “irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage”, or better, “irony is the song of a bird whose come to love its cage”. Any chance at being the champion who ruptures and break from the status quo. It seems now that everybody wants to be the Architect and no one the builder.
II. The Anti-reification of Contemporary Art:
If reification is the process by which conceptual processes concretise into material objects (e.g. The wedding ring is the concretised object of an abstract process – the wedding itself), then the way Art is produced now is the reverse. It takes itself as an a priori artobject waiting to be confirmed and validated and bestowed the title as such upon its very questioning of itself. Just in the way an Exhibition might host “avant garde” or “Experimental” art – placing non-art in a space ready to be reified into the status of an art object by way of its merely being presented as itself (an answer exemplified by the Institutional Theory). The Art questions itself into existence. What defines the artobject here is not in any of the qualities the artobject might possess, but in the process which enables an object to be transfigured into an artobject – It is this process we must explore.
In our attempt to think about what art is, we can no longer ignore the moments and ways in which it is produced – the production of art (commodities?). With Art and Late Capitalism increasingly intimate relationship, it’s no wonder the production of art-making itself have become at the forefront for what it means to be art. Art has become self-conscious of itself. It is a reified product created only to be created, produced only be be apart of a cycle of production. The artobject now, under the influence of Late Capitalism and the Market, exists and is defined and valued solely on its very own capacity for existing and being. In the only way the Market knows how, how we seperate, distinguish, and categorise artobjects from each other is in terms of their revenue, status, monetary value, and/or fame (The Indistinguishables alluded to by Danto). ‘Value’ can even be hereditary. In once sense, ‘great’ art is produced only by ‘great’ artists. This means that not only are there moments where the aesthetic joy given off by artobjects always has to be traced back to some creator or author, but, that ‘great’ artists are themselves produced from the status and monetary value which their artwork has acquired. In fact, it is no longer possible – if it ever has been – for a once heralded and championed artist of his time to no longer produce work that is not art, or non-art. He/She may produce bad art, but this never seems like a disqualification of what it ought to be for it be art. And yet, under Late Capitalism, is this a surprise? If bad publicity is good publicity, then any bad art produced is ultimately the successful route on towards being an artist if art is to be defined by its ability to have fame, status and subsequently, monetary value. Is it any surprise then that a place like Tate reveals once every year a series of bad artworks? Bad in the sense of knowingly causing public upset under its own rubric of middlebrow transgression – eager and in anticipation of the very publicity stunt that’s used in order to up the ante and status of the work in question. “Quick, come look at all the Bad Art we are showing”, “Just look how terrible it all is!”. Media Commentators storming in through the entrance lapping up all the delicious content to booster their own ego wherein they are merely playing into the fantasy role of the puritan. Capitalism interpellates us as brutish and puritanical in order to paradoxically keep us in control from our selves whilst exposing us to its own transgression. At one and the same time, the image of the people in the eyes of Capitalism is one of either the transgressive and barbaric violent individuals, or, when it comes to culture, of that of the prudish lower class philistine who doesn’t know any better. And all this remains so, however, for as long as we judge the quality of the artwork, its artness, in terms solely of fame and monetary value.
The status any artwork achieves is through an anti-reification process of a very neatly constructed Event. It is the Event which allows us to see anything in this circumstance as becoming art. The Event is, in some respects, an ideological tool for propaganda used for profit.
III. The Artistic Fallacy:
Under this logic of Contemporary Art, an Artistic Fallacy is born out of the consequence of judging art only by its globility, recognition, status, fame, money and value is that we are no longer able to discern the difference between what is art and what isn’t. Now, although it is my project that any object – whether created with intent or not – can have the capacity for being art, this does not mean everything is art at one and the same time. And yet, under the Capitalist criteria, what stops something such as the iPhone from being Art? The point is not really to say iPhones ought to be considered Art but that this reveals yet another contradiction and hypocrisy to the function of Capital by subverting what it appears to be providing on the surface whilst secretly providing for itself new rules and regulations with which enables the art world to secretly manage for themselves a set of criteria for what can be considered art (or presented in a nice museum) by exploiting the system and the people who lose out (other artists and its audience). It reveals and concludes and already known yet often ignored reality; that an organisation as big as the artworld is running an exclusive club handing out vip tickets. What this means is that in fact they don’t really care about transgression, they care only for the objects which draws themselves profit, usually by providing provocative art, and refer to this as that which can be only transgressive. It is a particular bourgeoisie transgression that turns out to be a conservatism, by distancing themselves away from the more trashy, punk/pop, filthy, ‘low’ transgression in favour of a middlebrow anarchy that is all too concerned with the state of their own house after they trash it. It seems that from institution to institution – Tate to Moma to Guggenheim and back again -, they hold for themselves a private-language accessible to those who don’t speak it and barred from ever having the opportunity to learn it. The additional point is despite their agenda, they really dont have for themselves a coherent system of curating artobjects. There is no criteria with which they go by because it purposely is constricted, limited, and confined only to those who they want to be apart of it. There is nothing anyone can ever do to allow themselves to join the party because it is about controlling the heads within and without of that party. Art Institutions are scouters, picking out and thus creating and forming (or manipulating) and curating their own version of Art History. Yet the problem is not what a Institution has to do in order to contribute to a history of Art, it’s in the very way they conduct their methods to how they contribute to history. And so there are two reasons why the iPhone isnt art under their framework: 1. It wouldn’t provide them with the type of Transgression and subsequent audience provocation to produce the desired Event needed to validate it as art, and 2. That they in fact hold to some degree a standard (orthodox) quality of Art using a list of mediums and techniques we can count on our fingers; painting, sculpture, installation, performance etc. – An iphone is neither one of these things. Not even a readymade. Which means, crucially and maliciously, the production of the so called transgressive artobject is used only for the purpose of capitalist exchange for those at the top. With no real care, trading art objects like their trading cards in an attempt to satisfy themselves.
IV. The Incentives for Creating:
Why does one (begin to) create? Certainly not with the hope of ever getting enough money to make a living from. And yet Young Artists are still nonetheless perfectly emulating the role of the Successful Artist they most admire by producing mintaure simulacrums of their works in hope they too may be discovered in a similar fashion. No single Artist – including all icons of our contemporary age – started off with the belief or motivation to create as a means to get rich and famous. It’s not that Capitalism produces the incentive for creating art but that it provides us with a map, a guide, a cookie-cutter shaped empty form, which expects us to nicely and tightly fill ourselves in – follow the path to success – in order to be rewarded with what it can offer. And as a result, all artistic production that aspires to traverse the same road laid out by the Market/Capital slowly synchronises into a single, unified, frankensteinian coagulation of dead matter made up of monotonous, boring, uncreating, bland, uninspiring, insincere parts. Yet by saying this, what alternatives am I really proposing? To not follow the path of the capitalist layed out with the assurance that this is the way towards their hopes, dreams and aspirations? By condemning them to a life of poverty? No. Although this does reveal the malign options Capitalism presents us with. Follow me and you can achieve Glory, and if not, you’re on your own kid and there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee your success because we simply won’t allow it under your terms! What is the incentive for choosing your own path in a step towards creative sincerity if what artists get rewarded for are works that are less and less uncreatively imaginative? Art is competitive, no doubt. But what are the rules for competing? These are the criteria set by the artworld. As generally conceived, it is not to create a technically brilliant drawing/painting/sculpture to be considered as a necessary criteria to be art but instead for a work to transgress and redefine itself as an art object. The more outrageous you can think to un-create art, the more likely you are to create an object to which you wish to destroy straight away, to transgress once more. Because the very moment you create art is the very moment it becomes canonized and no longer transgressive. All contemporary art is historical. In a competition like this, why should one bother to create a sincere and true to themselves artwork if one can be rewarded for doing much less and much worse? What incentive other than pride keeps me going which sinks like a ship in this economy? There’s nothing to be proud over, says the face of Capitalism. In its eyes we are the Hobbesian ideal of the brutish and nasty subject ready to terrorise and willing to fight to the top. Yet this is nothing other than a fantasy projected onto us. Another empty form is provided for us for us to fill so it can have the motivation and reason for keeping us at bay – from invoking violence. It wants to protect us from ourselves by constraining us. This empty form shows what we are and what we have to do to get out of this mess, to get out of ourselves – the only way out is through capitalism, holding its hand.
V. The propaganda of The Museum: (And Whither Doest This Experience Cometh From?)
The means provided by the Transfiguration of the Event (The Museum) is a production and provider/host of a set of faux-aesthetic experiences received by its audience as genuine, authentic, internalised and thus ‘authentically’ attributing any feeling to the objects under the condition of the Event (Museum) itself. In other words, the ‘positive’ experience we may feel from any given artobject is then not necessarily from the object itself but, in harsh terms, manipulated and prescribed for us by the means or process of the hosting of the Event itself. Because if we agree that the kinds of Art that make its way into the golden towers of Institutions, it’s not because of what the artobject is per se – its quality and artistic value – but the very process into getting that once-upon-a-time non-art object into a process that leads to its transfiguration by way of placing it in the very conditions of the Event itself – thus allowing it to achieve its value. Which means, whatever feeling you may feel is not necessarily from a projection of the artobject itself but from the apprehension of witnessing and spectating the Event in which you are in and in which you play a key role. What this entails or reveals is the possibility of being duped into associating quality to the work itself rather than the Event which gave rise to it. For if the art object is in a Museum then it must be genuine!
An example for this kind of trickery is in the way we react to Celebrities. Much like the alchemical transformation of an object into an artobject, so too does the object of celebrity have its own transfiguration formed from an Event. Just think of how one can go about fooling a mass of people, along with their followers online, into believing one is a celebrity by way of adopting the appropriate symbolic imagery – the stereotypes, the commodities, and the attitude. The Event of ‘celebritizing’ yourself is what induces people into acquiring and adopting the false belief and experience that you are a celebrity. Where celebrity was once defined in terms of consensus and social recognition – lots of people knowing you. We now only have to adopt the image of being already-known, already a valid celebrity, by wearing its trademarks. For instance, walk into any shopping centre with some sunglasses, quality high art street wear, a couple of bodyguards and even some friends to take your picture as ‘paparazzi’ or have them sign autographs – from this you will have made for yourself an Event in which people can fall into and hook and invest their fantasies into. What’s more, the reason this works more than ever, much like the famous Contemporary artobjects, is because of the growing self-aware ego of the individual who knows full well about the nature of the Event. Just evident by the fact that they are constantly creating an Event of their own identity, presenting themselves as something they long to be. And so, it’s not that the fake-celebrity itself, as object, who affects the hearts of those who wish to interact with a celebrity (maybe some), but that people wants to be seen with the image of a celebrity for their own gain, for their own solidification of their Event. And isn’t this what Trend really is? A network of Events being created with no discernible reality to them? The Instagram stars of the world want only to appear to be in the presence of someone appearing to be a celebrity. A matryoshka production of simulations. Debord is still more pertinent than ever when all that matters is not to be, or to act, but to appear! At least he looks famous! Why else would this artwork be in a museum? The point to this is that those pleasurable aesthetic experiences we have – although real – are really only the appearance or deferral of some other entirely different experience. And it is the job of the Market to capitalise on this appearance by substituting the artificial Event for the art object. Because they cant sell processes…
The question to all this is not in asking what is an art object or celebrity, but in how those object came to be. It is not What is Art, but, What is the thing we call Art.
VI. Low Art, Pulp, Outsider Art, Transgression and the Clean Arsehole of the Bourgeoise:
If High Art under capitalism is created in order to transgress itself – born out of its own transgression, and if low art, pulp, outsider art etc are genres of art that seek to transgress the status quo, – to be a reaction against High Art – do they then not contribute to the growing tendencies of the fetishisation of the transgressive that capitalism capitalises on? Does it not add to the continuing production of newness in hopes of only attating innovation for the sake of innovation? No, I say. Because here there are two types of transgression. Or more specifically, one real transgression and the other an subtle appearance used as a mask for some underground standards or criteria.
What does a prude, a puritan, a fake middle class citizen, or the bourgeoisie member really do when they transgress? In fact, being in the upper social sphere, what is there for them to transgress? Because they are the status quo they have to transgress themselves. Yet in such a way as to not dismantle the socius with which they rest on. And for reasons unknown why there really is a split between Low/High Art, so too do they subscribe to a distinction of Low/High Transgression. Thus, for instance, what ‘norm’ does the prude transgress? Having Sex only after Marriage? Only with one woman? Only for conceiving? Only once a week? No. Instead they use the mentality of transgression to give them the excuse of delighting themselves in the appetites of lowly forms such as polygamy, cheating, roudyness etc with the point of not being reduced to a low person who just pleases himself on these delights anyhow. What distinguished them here, in the eyes of the upper class, is in the acknowledgement of the very indulgence in the transgressive act itself. They don’t just feed off their “inner selfish” instincts. No, they have proper taste… or so they say. This reminds me of a Joke by Zizek: “about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: “O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!” After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: “O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!” After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: “O God, I am nothing.” The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: “What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!”. The point here being that only the upper class can get away with being dirt! To join in on the delights dined by the working class without associating themselves with them. Spilling some tea, not having coasters, eating whenever they like, wear anything they like, never sleep, never rest, party all the time; these are there lowly indulgences. It becomes of no surprise when we read stories that confirm the secret perversity of the prudish and the abusive power of the Holy.
Real Transgression has no limits and conforms to no image, no identity. It is not a limit set by a puritanical capitalism that giggles when it farts yet covers its senses when anything else goes further. High Transgression is destroying your house with the worry of having to clean up afterwards. True Transgression is the dirty arsehole in all its full back glory! Not the squeaky clean arsehole of the Upper class.
Transgression under capitalism becomes traditionalism and made standard practice.