On Kawara’ Depiction of History

painter ≠ artist

Most elementary school class excursions to the museum conjure childhood memories of paintings by Rembrandt, Van Eyck, Picasso, Miro, Kandinsky, Dali etc. The artist they didn’t introduce you to on those field trips was the late Paul Delaroche who said:

  “Painting is Dead.”

Now let me clarify, painting is not dead, per se,  but it is going through a crisis.  Since the advent of the camera photography has super-ceded painting as the predominant media for most accurately depicting visual reality.  So in this sense I would venture to interpret Delroches prophetic pre-Duchampian dictum as a call to liberate artists from relegation by conventional media.

Most artists today work outside of the traditional.  Since the death of “avant garde” the battle cry of post-modern art has been “make it new.”  So those artists who use paint do so in very unconventional ways. In the 1960’s the painter On Kawara  rose up to face this painting crisis. For centuries painting had been the method for capturing the spirit of the times.  It was a typology for events and moments in time.  In this way art kept track of human history. Kawara saw this and created a strict set of rules for his new paintings.  He would give himself one day to paint them, if the painting was not finished it would be destroyed and the image would be a simple reference to the days day in a Gregorian format.

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By doing this Kawara makes a depiction of history into an interpersonal affair.  By referring simply to a date we need not be fixed to a myopic depiction of the artists immediate environment but a call to the viewer to recall his or her own history.

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A Brief Introduction to Post-Modernism

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The structure is crumbling. No longer is there a prevailing monolithic permeating absolute for us to gaze upon and collectively fall to our knees in submission. The golden calf has forever fallen into the fissures of the earth and the commandments from the heavens cracked and left on the mountain steps.
Even the power of scientific knowledge cannot contain the budding multidimensionality of humanity.
The Gods of our fathers have been torn down from their perch in the heavens and made to dance in our sideshows as we throw them peanuts. We are the children of the post-modern age.
Post-Modernism suggests the succession of modernism hence the latin prefix “post.” Modernism was a school of thought among intellectuals during the enlightenment period .They said human progress came by weight of reason and scientific knowledge. But in the early 20th century the modern age brought with it things like gulags and concentration camps that were built in the name of human progress. Since World War II people no longer agree that modernism held all the answers to our problems.
To explain post-modernism I need to first give a counter example. I’ll start with Feudal society. The twelfth century Europeans had a prevailing structure that formatted their lives. This was the manorial caste system which regimented them into categories and subcategories of Lords, Clerics, Knights, Artisans and Serfs. A feudal society was homogenized meaning that each person existed as a subject part of a larger corporate body. There was a place for every man and every man knew his place. Think of their culture as a chain, each link being welded to the other by one central permeating theme. The theme holding them together is a glue and that glue was the the biblical narrative. The stories of the bible provided a centralized constant by which every man could identify himself as being a part of a bigger history. Big stories like these help groups of people to unify their knowledge and consciousness. The myth legitimizes itself through the society to which it is told. Big stories are called “meta-Narratives” in Post-Modern lingo.getThumbae8f
But look at our society nowadays. Historical identity is fragmented we can’t unify past-present-or future to recover a normalized historical consciousness. The glue of the meta narrative is no longer strong enough to hold the chain together and all the links break apart to form smaller stories. We call these small stories “micro-narratives.”
Think of 911 for example. There was the commission report which was basically a government big story which attempted to dominate all other narratives to provide an absolute fact or truth. However because we live in a post-modern society we aren’t satisfied with one single story claiming a monolithic worldview. Now we have thousands of eye witness accounts, micro-narratives, detailing the experience of the attack. There are stories of 9/11 as it happened within the towers as people watched their coworkers cooked alive or the accounts of those that watched from the streets as the last desperate individuals leapt from the smoking heights of the tower. We have the stories of the fire men and police officials who threw themselves into the fray of the furnace and pulled the corpses from the rubble. There are those who watched the cataclysm unfold from the comfort of their own homes and for many the events were interpreted to them through the media. On top of that theres an endless stream of conspiracy theorists and religious clergy completely distorting and rearranging their own interpretation of the events. There is no dominating narrative It is just this onslaught of disjunctive and excessive mediated imagery and information that penetrates our private space like a schizophrenic mania. This is why the modernist intellectual ideal of social progress could no longer dominate as a singular world view. Post-Modernism is a world of diverse interconnected catalogues and rapidly changing codes of identity, reality, culture, gender, technology, economy and cyberspace colliding into one another and growing again into something else entirely constantly changing.
Everything in post-modernism is so drastically destabilized that reality itself inevitably collapses into fiction. We are so incapable of mapping our subject-position to this center less heterogenous world we need to create simulations just to interact with reality.

It’s like the story of the map maker who made a map so precise and accurate that it covered the entirety of the terrain it was meant to represent. This map was so accurate that the people of the country just started living on it as if it were the land itself. In this story the map becomes a “Simulacrum”. Simulacrum is a Post-Modern vocabulary word for a false copy of something which overshadows the “real” thing itself.

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Simulacra are used to create hyper realities. A hyper reality is like “Disneyland.” When you go to Adventure land or Pirates of the Caribbean it is meant to be a simulation. If you thought pirates of the Caribbean was real you’d pick up a sword and start jabbing the animatronic pirates, walking the plank and gutting the park patrons. But no, you sit in your boat and quietly watch the simulation unfold. But once you leave the park you think “On I’m in Anaheim, I’ve left the hyperreality of Disneylands simulations and now I’ve entered into real reality.” No! You’ve simply entered from one simulation into another.

Here’s an example of why we are living in a giant simulation. Think of a boy who is raised by wolves. He acts like a wolf and identifies himself as a wolf, he howls at the moon and hunts elk with the pack. Post Modern people are like the boy raised among wolves only they are the people raised among these false copies of reality or Simulacra.
Throughout our lives we are bombarded by endless solicitation from advertisements of market products. These commodities gain their value through a type of fetishism that causes them to take on deeper theological meanings. For example Coca-Cola becomes a hyper-real projection that transcends simple indulgence in a beverage beyond itself toward this point of ecstatic simulation of itself. As consumers these commodities help us to find meaning in our lives until our culture becomes just a hodge-podge of hollywood stereotypes and faux mickey mouse religious experiences.  On top of that you have the media no longer giving us reality but instead using competing forms of spectacle and rhetoric try to to convince us of ITS OWN version of reality.
Look at capitalism. It functions on crisis constantly destroying itself and recreating itself with new products on the market. Like the phoenix it dies and emerges a new. Self sustaining, self revolutionizing with new products rapidly changing the landscape around us. Everything is a giant rhizome constantly budding and flowing in such a hurry we have no time for history. We’ve become an amnesiac culture casting off lessons of the past to voraciously feast upon the great spectacle of new products, new celebrities, new technology, new ideals. A battle cry can be heard from the mountaintops of the post-modern, it says: Make it new for the Avant Garde!

Inventing Mythology: Constructing Cultural Identity with a Comic Book


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For the past two months I have been putting out a comic book in my home city of San Diego.  It has libidinal elements which fetishize it into commodity.  This disguises it among the myriad of market products.  It appears specialized, almost as if it comes from a cultural institution like a church or a political group.  It has specific lettering which mimics tribal and meso-american art and it mixes the symbols of the sacred with the profane.At first glance it would appear that this small leaflet is a reference to some sort of academic text; perhaps a legend, mythology or a manifesto.

A person might not immediately realize that these books don’t refer to any preexisting established narrative.  Despite being entirely fiction it gains it’s own authenticity simply through codifying itself within a framework of existing settings and symbols.  e.g.,  regions, traditions and historical peoples. In this way my comic book uses a narrative to distort the preexisting cultural elements as an attempt to generate its own ethos with the illusion of historicity.  It thus places the context of meaning within the these symbols it borrows. This would be ethnogenic as upon reading and referring the tale to the socially established codes which it refers  it would promulgate a cultural identity that had not previously existed.  This is coming from the premise that cultural identity temporalizes itself through historical narrative.

This implied historicity makes my comic a hyper real simulation of cultural identity.  Cultural identity is the result of interdependent forces that define roles, reward status, govern behavior and order power relations of its members.  Since the post modern person today adjusts ones social being to different contexts it is possible to introduce a new model which presents itself as  a pseudo identity without interfering with the normal social order.

I hope to write more on this later:

The History of San Diego: Part 2

Our ancient civilization has endured over the millennium.  These great lands and noble people have shaped the landscape of our histories. We have a distinctly San Diegan ethos which we must cultivate and let blossom.Here in its second installment is part 2 of the epic tale of the lands under the sacred sun.  These books honor the foundation of our culture and solidify our personal identity as San Diegans, setting us apart in solidarity as a people.  Here is the tale of Lord Ranchero Santa Fe and how he thought he could sit on high and thus be entitled as a “true” San Diegan.These stories instill us with a sense of our noble morality.  Forever shall the classics endure in the minds and hearts of our children as we pass them on to future San Diegans for generations to come.

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see more at:

http://www.davidthegreat.net