Journal

Category: Exhibition

Uncategorized April 25th, 2017

I’d like to be a poet

By Laure van den Hout

Words in mirror image.

The right word in the wrong place

 And the wrong word
in the right place.

Robot words.

Words to stitch onto dream togas.

Hans Arp, Words (fragment), 1961
Translation: Tony Langham & Plym Peters

From: Hans Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte: Gedichte 1957-1966

“Of course”, I heard one visitor say, “It looks so real. That’s because of those little fingers. Did you see them? They all move so elegantly, quite separately from each other, as though they’re playing the piano in the air.” Of course, I’m also struck by her supple joints, shiny white leather boots, neatly combed hair, scantily clad body and bird mask. Of course, Female Figure is primarily a seductive, robotic female figure. And yet it’s something else that attracts my attention: her language and her speech, and in particular that one sentence: I’d like to be a poet.

The reason that the words “I’d like to be a poet” are striking is because they deviate from the rest of Female Figure’s sentences. In fact her use of language – apart from a number of pop songs which can be heard as a playback – consists predominantly of statements. She says things like: “I’m gay” and “This is my house”. Or she recites a succession of phrases so that it seems as though she’s talking to herself or to her creator: “Say feeling love / Just say feeling love / Okay / Feeling love / Okay now what should I tell them / Tell them / Touch is love / Say touch is love / Touch is love / Touch is love / Now close your eyes / Now close your eyes / Now close your eyes / Close your eyes / Close your eyes.”

Instead of being something, the sentence “I’d like to be a poet” expresses a desire to become something.  Moreover, Female Figure wants to become something very specific. A poet. A real poet. A creator rather than a performer, a subject rather than an object. If you analyze the sentence, both the phrase “I’d like to be” and the phrase “a poet” reveals painful human emotions, viz: desire and significance.  A desire for significance. In this context it’s interesting to note that the etymology of the word poetry goes back to the Greek word poiesis, which means to make or create. Giving something a meaning (also) entails allowing something to become something different. It involves stretching a context or even creating a context.

Reading poetry means looking for meaning, again and again. Poetry disrupts our normal relationship to language; its basic motivation is to confuse our experience and our understanding of language. It kneads our brain and messes with the linguistic framework that we use to understand the world and with which we can translate this understanding and pass it on to others. It brings reality closer by expressing it, and at the same time it emphasizes the yawning gap between words and reality precisely by expressing it. In poetry we are aware that the words we use in our daily lives suddenly mean more and can communicate something different.

In his poem Worte, Hans Arp (1886 -1966) – artist, writer, poet and one of the pioneers of Dada – connects things that we may know, such as walks, mountains and flowers, to the word “words”. Arp comes up with all sorts of combinations: “words on walks”, “words from the mouth to the abyss”, “word to fish for in troubled waters”, “words from floating mountains/ or if you think this is pretentious / words from cloud mountains”. Arp seems to want to examine the relationship between the idea of “words” and words which express things (which in a sense reflects something from reality).

No matter how many words Arp comes up with, and no matter how he characterizes them, they constantly slip away. It’s like the sky or a meadow in an impressionist painting: blue brushstrokes or white touches which we then interpret as the sky, blobs of brownish white in the grass which can also suddenly turn into a herd of cows lying in the meadow. It requires us to interpret them and constantly throws us in at the deep end. There’s not just one answer, and you continue to see both sky and brushstrokes, both cows and thick blobs of paint.  Our own meaning, our own interpretation. The responsibility of looking.  This is also shown by Arp’s “dreaming flake world”, “superdoll words”, “flower words of superdoll flowers”, “words with ancient trains coughed up by their centrifugal salad shaker”, “balmy words” and “brook words”. They take you back to your own observation, to your own reading of the word. In the words of the poet Martinus Nijhoff (1894-1953): “Just read it, it doesn’t say what it says.” (Just look, you don’t see what you see.)

Before I go any further I’d like to explain that it’s not my intention to pronounce on what poetry can do. What fascinates me is an artist who creates a robot sculpture and makes her say that she would like to be a poet. In this context I’d like to reflect on the fact that although her movements make her look real, it’s actually the words ‘I’d like to be a poet’ that make her human.

When reading poetry becomes a search for meaning, purification, understanding, despair, an absence of belief, confusion and wonder, it’s an experience which makes you feel profoundly human. She shows something that’s not yet available on demand: the ambiguity of a creation. Wolfson’s animatronics are not simply unambiguous either. This is clear from the remarks of the visitor who said that she looked so real because of the way in which she moved her “fingers”. By “real” he appears to mean physically real, or perhaps even human. But it is a robot.

In an ARTtube film which shows in particular the work Colored Sculpture that was exhibited during MANIC / LOVE, the first part of his exhibition in the Stedelijk, Wolfson remarks about animatronics: “There is something about movement and there is something about gravity that makes me, and what I also believe the viewer, to become present in their own body. That you actually have a kind of physical reaction to these things.”

This awareness of your own physicality also plays an important role in Female Figure. I recognize what the visitor describes: seeing the precise movement of her fingers, it corresponds with the feeling of moving my own fingers in the same way. Her other movements have the same effect. I can feel the swaying of her hips in my own body.

Even though Female Figure has hinges where we have shoulders, and even though she’s connected to a mirror with a rod, the movements she makes are credible. This physicality evokes human associations.

You could extend the awareness of your own physicality to a consciousness of your own humanity, of being a human being. In this respect the facts that the animatronics talk – i.e., their language and speech – also has vital significance. Just as the movements make you aware of your body, the words (language) make you aware of your mind.

Language emphasizes the human desire for meaning. By naming something it becomes real, while it did not exist in that way before.  For example, Female Figure becomes gay with three simple words. The space she occupies becomes her house with four simple words. With language we can profile ourselves, create a world for ourselves. Speaking is creating, seeing. However, when someone says only (“I am”, “This is”) and does not express a desire (“I’d like to be”), he or she does reveal a mental world but seems less human. Wolfson clearly understood this and had Female Figure desire something. The nature of her desire is crucial in this respect. Wolfson did not choose for Female Figure to express an instinctive, and therefore animal desire such as lust, which would have been quite logical in view of her sexy dance moves and her outfit. Instead Wolfson gave her the desire to create something, and even had her specify this: “I’d like to be a poet”. This multiplicity of meanings, for a robot to desire to become something, and actually to be able to create something itself which can be understood by others – in other words, which urges others to become creative by attributing meaning to it – is what makes this statement fascinating and Female Figure human.

 

 

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Uncategorized Uncategorized April 20th, 2017

“My mother is dead. My father is dead. I’m gay. I’d like to be a poet. This is my house.”

By Michelle Schulte

Thus begins Female figure by Jordan Wolfson, just before “Applause” by Lady Gaga starts playing. According to Wolfson, the robotic figure is a sexual object and the work addresses “the violence of objectification”. Without being aware of this, the viewer can already feel it when standing in the gallery with the robot.

She is a blonde woman dressed as a hypersexualized pop star: she wears a semitransparent skirt through which her underwear is visible, thigh-high boots, and long gloves. She is completely in white, the color of virginity. Her body appears dirty, but the reason for this is unknown. Her face is concealed by a mask of a witch’s face — this symbolizes infertility, according to Wolfson, while the movements her body makes simply scream fertility. Because her face is hidden, it feels as if the mask makes her more of an object rather than a person.

She is attached to a pole — as if it forces her to keep dancing. Even when no music is playing and she addresses the audience, she continues to dance. From behind the mask, her eyes constantly follow the crowd in the room, unnerving the viewer. She is fixed in place, and her audience cannot leave. She is continuously “performing” for the public. And, as a spectator, the viewer can do nothing. Read More »

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Uncategorized March 27th, 2017

Entertainment as medium: The ludic quality of Jordan Wolfson’s robotic sculptures

By Megan Mullarky

To enter a sculptural installation of Jordan Wolfson is comparable to accepting a dare. Subjecting oneself to the gaze of a robotic figure, one which grotesquely references human features and movements and yet at the same time makes actually being human seem ludicrous, the visitors must subject themselves to the formidable ridicule of the robot. The Howdy Doody/Huckleberry Finn robot doll in the first part of the two-segment exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, entitled Colored Sculpture, is dragged through the air by thick, metal chains from which his bodily shell is repeatedly dropped violently to the floor. With abnormally large, illuminated blue eyes mechanized by motion-tracking software, he is able to silently gaze directly in the face of viewers and perceive their expressions while only seconds later flopping bizarrely to the ground like a sadistic, overgrown puppet. In contrast, Female Figure is relatively stationary, a white-clad robotic female dancer who is in this case attached to the mirror via a moderately short, un-extendable pole. Yet as the music starts and her gaze begins to follow the visitors to her cavernous, white cube enclosure, it becomes clear that to be in her presence is a far from calm experience. This time, unlike Colored Sculpture, her position shifts only slightly, and as a result the direction of her gaze is not betrayed by her body language. Instead, it is only her eyes, partially hidden behind her green mask, which flit from face to face, suddenly catching the eye of an unsuspecting viewer.

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Uncategorized March 8th, 2017

Everything to Lose but our Chains

Colored Sculpture and Female Figure conjure the wreckage of past, present, and future. Both are time machines: this boy entangled in chains, smashing to the ground, yet with a will, an energy that seems self-motivated; this girl, with her super-smooth subtly spasming limbs and her eyes behind the mask, are congealed histories. On the body of each surfaces from the past the half-whispered, half-heard, mutated and mutilated legacy of Romanticism. Romanticism’s puppets, its beautiful feminine automata, philosophies of will and direction, terror at mechanization and delight in the uncanny, its fascination with the soulless and the spirited, with artifice and authenticity, surface and depth, subject and object, grace and gravity, its recognition of ambivalence, of opposites charging each other in a force field – all this plays here in these hard bodies that speak of softness.

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Uncategorized March 8th, 2017

Everything to Lose but our Chains

Colored Sculpture and Female Figure conjure the wreckage of past, present, and future. Both are time machines: this boy entangled in chains, smashing to the ground, yet with a will, an energy that seems self-motivated; this girl, with her super-smooth subtly spasming limbs and her eyes behind the mask, are congealed histories. On the body of each surfaces from the past the half-whispered, half-heard, mutated and mutilated legacy of Romanticism. Romanticism’s puppets, its beautiful feminine automata, philosophies of will and direction, terror at mechanization and delight in the uncanny, its fascination with the soulless and the spirited, with artifice and authenticity, surface and depth, subject and object, grace and gravity, its recognition of ambivalence, of opposites charging each other in a force field – all this plays here in these hard bodies that speak of softness.

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Uncategorized October 14th, 2015

SEHGAL AND ENTERING THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

The Stedelijk Museum regularly invites guest bloggers to share their experiences and ideas about a particular subject, work or exhibition. Aernoud Bourdrez is a lawyer for the art world and a collector of contemporary art. He talks about the distinction between the “world of systems” and the “world we live in”, and considers that this is reflected in the works of Tino Sehgal.

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Uncategorized September 29th, 2015

”This Agreement”: Performance and the Contract Form

GenericService (2)[originally published in full in Metropolis M, 2015 no. 3]

‘Classical contract theory, is I would insist a social cosmology that is deeply performative—that is to say: it is oriented to installing the future it imagines.’
Angela Mitropoulos, Contract and Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia, 2012.

‘… He had accused her of moping around to the point where it was slowing down her performance. He received a magazine called Business Bits free in the mail, and evidently he’d been reading it.
“Oh, my performance,” said Louise, “you must excuse my performance”.’
Tom Drury, ‘Accident at the Sugarbeet’, The New Yorker, February 1992.

Tino Seghal’s performance piece This is Exchange (2006) holds an allegorical place within the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on a busy Monday morning. It takes place within a room on the second floor—also occupied by Sol le Witt’s WALL DRAWING #1804 (2013).

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Essay Essay Essay August 27th, 2015

Tino Sehgal: Constructed Situations, Joyce and Beuys

The Stedelijk Museum regularly invites guestbloggers to share their experiences and thoughts. In this blog Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, professor in art history at the University of Amsterdam, compares Tino Sehgal’s constructed situations to novels of Joyce and Beuys.

Tino Sehgal’s likes and dislikes have been written about quite extensively. Today I will focus on one of the things he says he is not so interested in, novels,[1] – and also a little on what he told me he was very taken by during our thus far one and only conversation. That exchange – at a recent party – was surprising: Sehgal is at pains to avoid the tag performance art for what he does. Speaking of Joseph Beuys then, the subject of my PhD, may have been foolhardy. However, I managed to say that “my” Beuys is the one who did not arrive with a large sculpture in Northern Ireland, but came at one of the most difficult times of the “Troubles” (in 1974) to make friends. He did bring drawings to have a starting point for the museum to host him and for people to attend what would become a 3 ½ hour public lecture and discussion. As the most enduring of his contributions, however, he identified artists who were working in important ways in that context, kept his friendships with them alive, invited them to contribute to a migration workshop at documenta 6, 1977, even asked them along to his retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and eventually paid the initial rent for their performance and exhibition space. What emerged, the Art and Research Exchange, can be viewed as a branch of the Free International University for Interdisciplinary Research, which Beuys set up around that time. This legacy of artists’ self-organised initiatives in an environment that still has no commercial contemporary art galleries is alive in Northern Ireland today. Sehgal was excited to hear all this: “The first time that Beuys appeals to me”, he said.

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