Ben Baer on 20 Jul 2000 18:59:51 -0000

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<nettime> False Memory Syndrome

False Memory Syndrome:
Thoughts on "Exposure #0001: Information For The Other Sides Of Here"

They say that if you can remember the 60s then you werenıt really there. 
"Exposure #0001: Information For the Other Sides of Here" seemed to be an
act of re-memoration of a certain 1960s, by and for a group of people who
were too young even to have been able to forget that decade. It seems
that, to a certain extent, the Anglo-US artworld is in the grip of an
attempt to "remember" the 1960s in some way or other. What has provoked
the recent emergence of numerous publications re-thinking (or even just
re-presenting) material from that era? Or, on the register of aesthetic
production, works which specifically address themselves to the question of
remembering, and mis-remembering ­ or are they the same thing? ­ the art
practices of the 60s? (I am thinking most specifically of Silvia
Kolbowski's "an inadequate history of conceptual art" shown recently at
the Whitney Biennial, but Art & Language's recent exhibition at PS1 would
do just as well as a way of asking about what is at stake in the desire to
remember and re-present a history of a practice). 

Cary Peppermint's "Exposure #0001" seemed to try and capture something
like the texture of an art event of the 1960s or early 70s, rather than be
a more academic reconstruction of what might have "happened" at one. For
someone of Peppermint's generation, that texture is, strictly speaking,
historically unavailable. An exercise of imagination therefore becomes
necessary, if something as hard to pin down and specify as a texture is
going to be produced, or experienced.  "Exposure #0001" took place in the
artist's studio, just like many of the best events of the 1960s are
supposed to have. Although that decade was to some extent the rediscovery
of work done "outside the studio" (involving a critique of the site of
production of art) it was also a moment when the studio itself was
re-opened as a site of consumption and distribution. We know what has
happened to the supposedly "critical" desire to exit the studio: Daniel
Buren-style State Dada, Alfredo Jaar-style save-the-third-world-missions.
Yet obviously, having a studio event today is nothing new, as the
proliferation of studio-sited "alternative" art spaces attests, and
Peppermintıs piece could simply be placed within this structure, which has
itself become highly organized and institutionalized. The "alternative"
space is itself another niche in the artworld, occupied by aspirants
waiting for a more spectacular success elsewhere. In this sense we can say
that the alternative is produced by the dominant, yet often presents
itself as somehow oppositional. Peppermint is working with the painful
implications of this situation, by trying to re-imagine an aspect of its
historical emergence. 

As I have already tried to suggest, then, Exposure #0001 appeared to be
displacing these problems into the thinking of a moment when they were a
bad dream, or a monstrous premonition. The strange hermeticism of
Peppermintıs piece, the rooftop beer-drinking session, the passage through
the building into the studio itself, and the weird "party" held in the
studio space, could have been ways of trying to bracket the world of pushy
professionalism and aggressive self-promotion. Not that the 60s were
devoid of these things: we are imagining they may have been attenuated in
certain ways, compared to today. (For instance, a few days later one
person asked me how much I had paid to get in to this event, and was
surprised to hear that it was free, interpreting the lack of entrance fee
as a lack of success on behalf of the artist. Of course artists need to
eat, but the comment was symptomatic of a moment in which big,
self-avowedly "transgressive"  blood and-guts performance art brings in
the dollars almost as efficiently as the Broadway musical Chicago). 

The event was loosely organized around three distinct spaces in the studio
building (a warehouse on Harlem's west side, overlooking the Hudson
River). The rooftop provided a scopic view of the street's car wash, the
west side highway, meat markets, fortified supermarket, NJ etc. ­ you
couldnıt have asked for a better "life-art" dualism. This convenient
viewpoint (art as elevated perspective) was itself overlooked by a
pedestrian bridge, which emphasized the interstertial nature of the
location, and detracted from the idea that this place might possess a
privileged vantage point, as the topography of a studio rooftop or window
would at first imply. Pissarro's 1890s paintings of Parisian boulevards
seen from above may have been critical attempts to map the spectacular
re-development of the city with a mobile, elevated perspective, but here
the idea that art could even attempt to master the city-as-spectacle was
subtly undermined in the placement of the first section of the event. Its
autonomy was marked as fragile, and sheerly relative. 

Many of the elements comprising what I can only call the "props" for
"Exposure #0001" appear to have been drawn from Peppermintıs personal
grammar of memory: his father's taste for Budweiser Beer, for example, was
manifested in the copious supplies of warm Budweiser consumed by the
participants. The piece's main focus occurred in the studio room itself,
in which a strange kind of party was held. To come back to the remembering
of the 60s, the idea of artwork-as-party does not necessarily reproduce
actual events (it probably does), but rather attempts to cathect the
moment when an art community managed to connect art-making and sociality,
however problematically and briefly. I am not saying that this does not
happen anymore, but the age of the palm pilot and the teenage stockbroker
leaves less and less space for hanging out, for extended, undirected
discussion.  Technocratically determined speed-up and workaholism have
certainly pushed us into thinking fairly instrumentally about what we do,
and this way of thinking is not necessarily a bad thing. We cannot afford
the simple nostalgia of a world without instrumentalities. In a sense,
Peppermint's staging of a party in which the participants were made very
aware of their activities (by being videoed and photographed with
polaroids which were then made available) was a way of trying to
articulate this state of affairs. The participants were vaguely requested
to behave as if at a party (talking, dancing etc.) but to freeze in
position when the music and lights faded. These moments would be recorded
on polaroids, which resembled shots taken of "life" rather than the
tableaux they were. It was the interruption of sociality in a way that
made visible another agenda, pointing away from the simple memorialization
of a 1960s art-and-sociality towards an indication of the distance we are
from that moment. The difference between the indexicality of the
photographs, and the virtual imaging of video staged the time differential
in an exquisite way. 

It has always struck me as ironic that the technocratic utopians of the
1960s promised that the automated future would mean an endless leisure
utopia, where no-one would have to work. Of course it is quite the
reverse. More technology equals more work, and more intense work.
Peppermint's anxious attempt to remember a certain 1960s, while being
obliged to interrupt that memorialization with the indices of "our time",
was precisely an uncoercive "exposure" ­ a setting-forth or laying-out ­
in imagination. 

Ben Baer
NYC 2000

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