By Gavin Keeney
“Art is based on no truth that exists before it; and one may say that it expresses nothing but itself. It creates its own equilibrium and its own meaning. It stands all by itself, like the zebra; or else it falls.” – Alain Robbe-Grillet
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a vast labyrinth of Art. Its corridors and its galleries seem endless. There are two ways to access its collections; one is to target a specific exhibition and promptly leave; another is to wander “aimlessly” with or without purpose, extracting from the tableaux of rooms and collections a synoptic “cut” of what is present.
The latter manner of viewing art has a long lineage and has been foremost troubled by Alain Robbe-Grillet‟s approach to figuration and its excessive emphasis on narrative content or authorized meanings. Part of the incipient post-structuralist project in Paris in the second half of the twentieth century, Robbe-Grillet‟s literary project has been to simply erase authorized meanings. Thus Mark Tansey‟s famous painting of Robbe-Grillet scrubbing the rocks of a barren landscape (Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight, 1981). Thus, too, Robbe-Grillet‟s mesmerizing and by some estimations annoying screenplay for Alain Renais‟ circular and maddening film The Last Year at Marienbad (L’année dernière à Marienbad, 1960). Mesmerizing, annoying, circular, and maddening … Such are the terms of endearment for an avant-garde approach to Art that leaves behind the usual means of measuring its worth.
This is effectively a nihilist project, yet an advanced nihilist project en route to somewhere or something else. As end in itself, such a project eventually depletes its own resources, as post-structuralism slowly faded in the 1990s and its chief protagonist Jacques Derrida exited the “room” with his seminal Spectres of Marx (Spectres de Marx: L’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale, 1993), alienating, in turn, both post-structuralists and Marxists in the process – engaging, after years of deferred promises, the figure who stood on the receding horizon of the materialist-determinist project of post-structuralism. In returning to Marx, Derrida also returned to the idea of the transcendental subject, a figure long deconstructed through the annals of post-structuralism. This figure returns as “ghost” and is detected as aggressive act of repression in Marx and Engel‟s early work The German Ideology (Die Deutsche Ideologie, 1846).
Thus, we have before us the spectral nature of Art, as affirmed by Robbe-Grillet, and as tested and re-tested by Derrida, while the issue of the subject and subjectivity remains present (though famously through absence). With the end of post-structuralism, what returned was this very figure, half-starved for attenton, we might say, and given to protestations regarding its purported “death”.
The “cut” proposed above for viewing Art in a manner given to extracting tropes or figures of speech (as evidenced by the famous Parti Pris series at the Louvre, in 1990, undertaken by such eminent figures as Peter Greenaway, Jean Starobinski, and – yes – Jacques Derrida) and/or isolating “moments” (as exemplified by the recent 2006 “excavation” of fragments of paintings of Tiepolo from the Ca‟Dolfin, exhibited at the Met and analyzed and documented by art historian Svetlana Alpers, painter James Hyde, and photographer Barney Kulok) is, in effect, an analogical means for escaping art history per se – a process of selecting and editing, and a process of re-positioning the work in an intentionally a-historical continuum, versus the authorized, pseudo-objective narratives of Art History proper. Intentionality here denotes the presence of the thinking subject, but face to face with everything else.
One finds, then, in Gaialight‟s Met Ladies a similar means to undermine perceived and received truths in Art; not so much the radical gesture of Robbe-Grillet‟s New Novel, but nonetheless of the same spirit. This spirit is, in fact, Spirit; it‟s evocation of a time outside of the time of the artwork itself (negating its historical coordinates) engages through analogy and inference a vast otherness given to Art (with all due respect to the genius of Robbe-Grillet and Derrida). This otherness is what transpires in the inner corridors of Art as passage to Spirit. That it takes place in the subject (in the mind‟s eye) is the problem. As problem, this process exceeds nonetheless the subject proper and analogically and anagogically accesses another subject altogether. In this respect the age-old suspicion regarding images becomes a central motif in works of art that circumvent the recognizable address (specific figure and delimited place) of art‟s taking place.
Art as intellectual and speculative capital becomes the issue. The spectral properties of Met Ladies induce not decentralized or deconstructive delirium but, instead, an internal (and idealist) survey of the merit of images appropriated in this case from the immense vault of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This intellectual capital, in turn, is the wealth of the paintings collected by Gaialight; that is, the Met Ladies act as classic metonyms for a wealth within painting, albeit hidden there by the art-historical project. In extracting this wealth, Gaialight has returned the speculative premises of the works to their primary address – the mind‟s eye.
Since 2007 (and surviving the economic meltdown of the intervening years), Art has proven to be the penultimate form of speculative capital (Art as penultimate surplus value). Art‟s use value is of little concern in this sense. Its surplus value is immense, if not infinite. This surplus or excess in the production of Art pushes the artwork toward Spirit proper. For these reasons Met Ladies as “curatorial vision” crosses the last frontiers of art-historical scholarship and arrives “home”. The Met Ladies and their return or averted gaze (as subjects) invoke all that resides outside of the nominal subject, or,as Jean-Luc Godard implied by elliptical means in his 2001 film Eloge de l’amour, all that overflows singular images. For Godard this quelque chose (something else), repetitive signpost within the gravely non-linear and nonnarrative film, is Life (or History).
If it is History as Spirit proper that overflows all images, and thereby serves to overrun and cancel the figurative boundaries of the singular image (mnemonic or otherwise), then with the return of the subject a return of what is not-subject also returns. This excess permeates Met Ladies. The “cut” performed by Gaialight in the echoing corridors and galleries of the Met extracts from the singular work of art all that Art truly accesses and what the
singular work of art represses.
GK/AGENCE „X‟ (06/24/11)