Christ I haven’t written anything on this for a month. I have a valid excuse however, I’m not sitting around watching Jeremy Kyle all day or anything like that, though that sounds quite appealing now that I think of it. What I am doing is a thesis, and the draft is due on Tuesday (What is keeping me sane is the thought of the shoes that I will buy when I get it handed in) I probably won’t put the text online but I might as well describe what its about – if only to clarify it in my own head.
Its really quite bizarre – I keep writing about repetition. I’m stuck in some kind of existential repetitious black hole, and don’t seem to be able to get out of it. Undergrad thesis – repetition, the uncanny, simulation. Post-grad thesis – re-enactment and the capacity for the art work to survive re-iteration regardless of context. To actually invite or anticipate contemporary re-enactment by virtue of some kind of inherent (!) ‘iterable’ quality. Which, surprisingly enough, is caught in an interesting place somewhere between a formalist and post-structuralist conception of the work of art. And its a very odd place, somewhere I didn’t think I would ever find myself. But I suppose one doesn’t write simply to reinforce a position already held – the point is, I should hope, to actually test yourself, and your beliefs, through the process of writing. And all the research that precedes it, obviously. Obviously you don’t want to test your beliefs too hard, I might add – Schopenhauer could be a bit disastrous if of a particularly quixotic disposition.
Basically the thesis concerns a trend for re-enactment which seems to be prevalent in contemporary artistic production. Not appropriation per se, but the bare-faced theft of canonical art-historical or just historical moments, which in turn are re-enacted and presented as the work of an other. What I argue, following Derrida (this is kind of paradoxical), is that the work of art that is re-enacted, actually invites this contemporary gesture. The appropriated (and I use this term loosely) object, or gesture, is not a passive agent – the object of dispossession. Rather, the object – by virtue of its ‘iterable’ quality (that is its capacity to transcend context, in the death of both author and receiver) subsists in the contemporary re-enactment. Appropriation art, I argue, is not iterable. It cannot (and here I am talking specifically about art-historical ‘appropriation’ art i.e. early eighties) function in the absence of the author, or object, of that which it appropriates. What gives such work meaning is the knowledge that it is appropriated, without this its just something that probably looks vaguely familiar. This adheres to a post-structuralist conception of the art-work, which says that not only does the myth of the artist not exist, futhermore it never did. Therefore it is free to be appropriated. However the art-work is not iterable in the absence of the appropriated author – therefore it differentiates itself from the work under consideration in my thesis. The works of art that I focus on replicate, to varying degrees of fidelity, historical moments in twentieth century history – not only art-history, but as with Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave (2001) moments of wider, societal implication. They do not rely on the original context and are so iterable, through time – active in their re-enactment and not passively dispossessed. And so I would approach the question of re-enactment in a positive, albeit strangely old-school light.
More on this later, and more, and then more…