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The November issue of A*Desk is presented against the backdrop of the current retracted times of the coronavirus pandemic. We present twenty contributors whose work interprets the idea of “retraction” in and out of the artistic context from various vantage points in various mediums. The issue is thematically organized into five weekly installments, each introduced by a segment of a running text written by guest editor Peter Freund.
Retraction 1: The Object
Dora Garcia, L’Amour
Werner Thöni, Spot’s Forest or Ady’s Paradise
Alexandre Madureira, You will find me if you want me in the garden
Introduction (Part 1 of 5)
The readymade, a familiar artistic maneuver, presents an object in retraction. The object is taken aback, that is, it is taken back from itself, by withdrawing into its own space to make room in order to spring forward again. The object accommodates itself by retracting, makes itself more comfortable, gives itself some breathing room. Yet it does so by means of nothing it can pinpoint inside itself, that is, by means of a nothing proper to itself. This nothing in the object reinvigorates and arouses desire for something already in the object that goes beyond the object.
Duchamp’s Fountain is a gag which teaches that by trying to avoid being duped by the joke one ends up missing the point. A plumbing appliance that aspires to a purely utilitarian function is unscrewed from its proper place and physically moved to the exhibition context of the art world. The fixture no longer flushes, unlike the hardware in the men’s room of the museum. In the new space, it fails but of course not simply for utilitarian reasons. Its failure reveals the object as another kind of fixture, one abounding in ideological niceties.
First, poised on the gallery plinth, the appliance suddenly finds itself in the aesthetic arena, its contours brought into sculptural proportions. The appropriation flouts the rarefied, fabricational, and fetishistic prejudices of the art world and elevates the debate over criteria to the status of art’s central task. Second, as if facing a strange anthropological artifact, we behold a fundamental sign of civilization we may not take pleasure in reflecting upon: the systematic control of bodily excretions. Third, we encounter in the object on display the social, symbolic articulation of the sexes. An object, found neither in the home nor in the women’s room, beckons a man’s “private parts” to “go public,” ostensibly for no admitted pleasure other than relieving himself beside his comrades and enjoying the symbolic identity of his sex. The simple, obscene gesture of superimposing these two spaces – the john and the gallery – presents the object as awkwardly but hilariously split between the mandates of utility and enjoyment. In opposition to the comfortable co-existence of function and form or applied versus fine art, the readymade gives us the object in its universality as the conflictual yet inextricable overlap between the calls of nature and culture.
The retracted object is likely never to fully recover its bearings. The Fountain could be cleaned up, restored to its original appearance, and returned from the exhibition space to the hardware store. But even if the urinal were eventually to find its place back on the shelf of plumbing parts for sale, there as a melancholy object it would lie longing from a distance for the ignoble (not to mention doubtful) prospect of a show in the store-front window. As Duchamp eloquently described his “reciprocal readymade,” a Rembrandt should effectively be used as an ironing board. The inevitable next steps of reinstalling the Fountain in a men’s room and of recasting it in bronze testify to the strange fertility within the object’s decay into a cultural fixture.
Retraction endeavors to follow the lead of entropy in the object. Entropy represents not only the loss produced in any work, as thermodynamics defines it, but also the specific lack or surplus that launches the work to begin with. Imagine three scenarios: The structural identity of a book as object necessarily excludes from its contents the very element that makes it possible: the reading act. Imagine then the same book entirely rewritten to retract the reading process (marginalia, ruminations, free associations) back into the text, woven together, compiled and bound into a single volume. Second, think of the stretcher board as a straight-jacket that defends the cultural identity of painting against the entropy of the painted canvas, which wants to bend, crimp, and bow. One might then imagine an artwork in which the canvas – removed from its stretcher board – is left to curl at its edges, even encouraged to do so, teased on; and then for the final winking flourish, a zipper is installed to join the edges. Or, third, one could picture a series of works in which applied paint is meticulously peeled in a single sheet from the plane surface, held aloft, then parachuted down and configured onto a pedestal like a sculpture.
(Highlighted Image: Eljer Co. Two-Fired Vitreous China Catalogue 1918 Bedfordshire No. 700)
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Self-published book of the conference “L’amour” by Jacques Lacan, and the double of the same book with annotations by the artist to the first.
22.5 x 17.5 cm each
Photo credits: Roberto Ruiz
When I made the film “The Joycean Society”, where a group of devoted Joyceans read with joy and heated debate the unreadable book Finnegans Wake, a good friend and film critic told me that he had the impression of witnessing people sharing a meal, as if they were eating the book. I thought this had some cannibalistic undertones, since the book is about everything in the world, but also about the fall and rise again of Mr. HCE, the protagonist of the book – so the readers were sort of eating the fallen body in order to make it rise again. And indeed I thought, reading is an action, and an action similar to eating, in all the different variations: devouring, savouring, tasting, force-feeding … So: How would it be to swallow a book so completely that one is able to produce a reconstitution of the same original book, but after digestion? Without going too much into this digestive metaphor, I have always believed that reading is a form of writing, and writing a form of reading. From these considerations comes the work “L’amour”, made of a fragile, home-made transcription of a lecture by Lacan on the matter of Love, and its double after digestion – or retraction: all the notes taken while reading it, written down on a book which is the double, in size and paper type, of the original.
Dora García (artist, lives in Barcelona) has developed works on the GDR Political police (the film “Rooms, Conversations”, 24′, 2006, first presented at GfZK, Leipzig, Germany), on the comedian Lenny Bruce (“Just because everything is different… Lenny Bruce in Sydney”, one-time performance, Sydney Biennale, 2008) or on the rhizomatic associations of antipsychiatry (“Mad Marginal” book series since 2010, and “The Deviant Majority”, film, 34′, 2010, part of her performance project “The Inadequate”, first presented at the Spanish Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale). She has used classical TV formats to research Germany’s most recent history (“Die Klau Mich Show”, Documenta13, 2012), frequented Finnegans Wake reading groups (“The Joycean Society”, 53′, 2013), created meeting points for voice hearers (“The Hearing Voices Café”, since 2014) and researched the crossover between performance and psychoanalysis (“The Sinthome Score”, 2013, and “Segunda Vez”, 2018). She is currently working on the film project “Amor Rojo”, on marxist feminist Alexandra Kollontai and the impact of her legacy on Third-World, intersectional feminism.
Spot’s Forest or Ady’s Paradise, 2020
Installation. Twelve painted canvas cylinders, with zipper, on 1.5 x 1.5 m. (max) surface. Acrylic paint and gel, graphite and photographic transfer.
61.5 cm x 12 cm each
The artist highlighted these words while preparing his work. “Lo sé. No es justo que la palabra ‘verso’ esté dentro de ‘perverso.’” (Ocean Vuong, En la Tierra somos fugazmente grandioso)
Werner Thöni was born in 1958 in Thun. He graduated in Teaching and Special Education from the Lehrerseminar Spiez and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Since 1989 he has lived and worked in Barcelona as a visual artist, curator and graphic designer. Solo and group shows from 1978 through the present in public and private spaces in Switzerland, Spain and Japan. Among others: Leonart Gallery, Basel / Aquatinta Gallery, Lenzburg / Kultur im Stab, Arisdorf / Art-Forum Petit Pont, Lyss / Casa Cultural Galileo, Madrid / Galeria Contrast, Barcelona / University of Barcelona UB, Faculty of Fine Arts, Barcelona / Can Xalant, Center for Contemporary Creation and Thought, Mataró / Brocken Gallery, Tokyo. Illustrated magazines and books published by La Galera, Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, Pirene Editorial, Editorial Cruilla, Malinka Libros and Associació de Mestres Rosa Sensat. Founder and director since 2013 of Werner Thöni Artspace (WTA), Barcelona, www.wernerthoeni.com. Curator of fifteen exhibits featured by national and international artists in WTA. Founding member of Adversorecto, an experimental art collective, Barcelona, 2020.
You will find me if you want me in the garden (Flowers No. 1-4), 2019
Acrylic and latex paint
My mother always told me that I only paint strange things, that she doesn’t understand them, and she asked me why I didn’t want to paint something beautiful like flowers or landscapes instead. Many years later, I felt driven to find a way to paint exactly those beautiful things that would please me and her alike.
The project of course refers to the landscapes and gardens of Claude Monet and can be considered a tribute. But with this work I wanted to go beyond a mere recreation of Monet’s pieces and rather reinterpret them in a radical way in form and context. The title springs from the song “The Garden” by the German band “Einstürzende Neubauten”, representatives of a sound best described as industrial, electronic, not to mention dadaist.
The painting was a slow step-by-step process, full of spontaneity. Ultimately after the paint dried, I peeled an acrylic skin from its glass support, freeing it from two-dimensional space and creating unlimited possibilities for transformation into three-dimensional objects. By releasing the painting from its support, I wanted to enable the viewer to see behind the scenes to the typically-obscured beginning of the creative process, ending in the momentary creation of various objects that will populate the garden.
Alexandre Madureira was born in 1976 in Porto. After spending his childhood in Venezuela, he lived and studied art in Portugal and later continued his work in Barcelona and then Bamberg, Germany, where he currently works and lives. His first exhibition took place in Lisbon in 2002. Until today Madureira continues to exhibit internationally in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Berlin and Munich. He combines traditional figurative painting with conceptual thinking and elements of Pop-Art, offering perspectives on contemporary culture.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)