3.5 / Review

Corrected Slogans

By Patricia Maloney November 16, 2011

The night after Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was assaulted by police in their raid on Occupy Oakland, the art historian Julian Myers presented Corrected Slogans at Kadist Art Foundation. Taking its title from a 1975 album produced in collaboration between the collective Art & Language (A&L) and the band Red Krayola (RK), Corrected Slogans staged new collaborations: first, with the collective Claire Fontaine (CF), and then with the artist Natasha Wheat and musician Jim Fairchild. Myers and Claire Fontaine selected CF’s 2005 work, Requiem for Jean-Charles de Menezes—based on the assassination of a Brazilian immigrant by the London police, who mistook him for a terrorist—and invited Wheat and Fairchild to interpret it as they chose. The resulting event included Wheat and Fairchild performing the songs they created from the text of Requiem and a conversation between Myers, Wheat, Fairchild, and the audience about the histories, conditions, and forms of the numerous collaborations this project entails.

Below is an abridged and edited version of my subsequent email exchange with Myers and Wheat reexamining that evening, along with videos of both the performance and the discussion that followed. The decision to use a dialogic approach for a review followed from the evening’s discussion and from the collaborative and investigative nature of the project at its center. What became of interest to me was the consideration of how any form of engagement proposes its own risks and limitations.

________

Patricia Maloney: At the event, you resisted the title of curator, instead framing the presentation as a form of art historical research rather than as a realized project. Did that resistance preclude the possibility for failure?

Julian Myers: I don’t believe so. I am an art historian; how I think, speak, and write about an artwork, how I research it, all necessarily evolve from the history of art’s body of knowledge and in complex, often critical relationship to it. Curatorial practice is an adjacent discipline and increasingly has its own specializations, methods, and forms of thought.

I posed Corrected Slogans as a form of “heuristic research,” a term I drew from the discourse of A&L themselves. Referring to art students’ activity in the studio, it means, simply, learning through speculation, experiment, and trial and error. How might such techniques be brought to bear in my own area of competence? That this mode of working necessarily includes the potential for failure is obvious—as is the necessity of a critical thinking-through of each “trial.” But one also needs to decide the question of criteria here: “fail,” according to what standard or measure? Does the value of anything (any politics) really play out along such yes/no, fail/succeed binaries? That is really a parody of judgment.

Jim Fairchild and Natasha Wheat performing at the Kadist Art Foundation, in San Francisco, October 26, 2011.

PM: My question about curatorship was essentially a query into your motivations for bringing this research to an audience—to bring the speculative, experimental, maybe-it- will-fall-apart approach into full public view. Did you have expectations for how the audience would receive the performance and/or the larger research project?

JM: I didn’t, except I hoped, as I always do, that those present would attend to the material at hand with good will, critical attentiveness, and a willingness to engage discursively. Nor did I make many proscriptions for what Jim and Natasha might perform.

I did, however, have a specific ambition for the Requiem piece. In our planning for the event, I said to CF that, “our aim is for the words and the work to retain as much force as we can give them. [We see this as] one possible way (through repetition) to inscribe them more deeply.”

PM: Natasha, can you say something about how you approached the CF work?

Natasha Wheat: Although the songs that Jim and I made have lyrics that are taken from an artist’s text, they are ultimately songs. Music is often direct and impulsive, and benefits from being left that way. That is how I believe it has survived the partial castration that art continuously undergoes through being consumed by the academy. Thank whatever god or possibly a lack of ability to be contained by the cognitive for musicians not getting MFAs or PhDs in rock ’n’ roll.

I found it intrepid of Julian to commission songs as a form of investigation into his overarching research. This instigates something rather than only assuming. Although these were songs and clearly not performance art, I believe that Peggy Phelan’s notion that “performance’s only life is in the present” is transcendent and that it then becomes very messy to attempt to explain a process or postulate about what has occurred. This difficulty is also heightened in the direct presence of the work.

PM: I admire the risk in setting up a series of experiments and allowing them to unfold—the result being this multivalent event that invites the audience to forge allegiances with one element or another, or a few, or several. But, Julian, what you describe as a parody of judgment, I perceive as allowing for those allegiances to manifest.

I’m not using the term allegiance lightly. I experienced a significant disconnect between the performance and the conversation; they encouraged radically different perceptions of the evening’s purpose. I was compelled by your gesture to Natasha and Jim to activate the language. That gesture was powerful. As Natasha describes above, it produced the affect of being present in the work. It followed from the pragmatic notion that ideas produce their clarity by the impact of their actions.

Corrected-Slogans-Singing-Man-1975

Art & Language. Singing Man, 1975 from Corrected Slogans 1; silkscreen and liquitex on newsprint; 76 x 61 inches. Courtesy of Julian Myers.

PM (con't): But none of the energy or urgency of the poem that Natasha and Jim’s performance conveyed carried over to the conversation beyond your initial impassioned introduction. The esoteric and tedious turns the conversation took suggest that the translation of the Requiem succeeded in one form but failed in another. The conversation didn’t allow the words (both CF’s and A&L’s) to retain their force.

JM: Can this “forcefulness” not take multiple forms and temporalities? What CF produced was not a political speech, exactly, but a political speech as a work of art, and that adds layers that need to be unfolded—and perhaps that unfolding demands a different mood than exhortation. Historical and geographical distance matters here as well: the Requiem’s date is 2005, and the charge the piece had then is necessarily different from the resonance it might have now. Does that difference make repetition (naming, remembering) any less worthwhile?

Jim and Natasha’s contribution added further layers of repetition and of distance, extrapolation, and reflection. My proposal for the event was simple enough, but the elaboration of the work itself introduced unforeseen complications and alienations. As Natasha said during the event, she didn’t always agree with the words she was singing. And for me, the extreme helplessness I felt in 2005, after the invasion of Iraq and the re- election of George W. Bush, feel very far away to me now as capitalism sways and protest seems to find purchase in Tahrir Square, Frank Ogawa Plaza, and elsewhere.

To your question about allegiance: don’t solidarity and allegiance almost of necessity come along with complications and alienation? I think Corrected Slogans (the album) is (in part) a musical drama about just that.

PM: I agree with you that the geographic and temporal distance of both A&L collaborations with RK’s and CF’s work are further dislocated by current events, and that such dislocation merits the repetition. But whereas you may have anticipated the complications and alienations from the enactment, I am a bit unnerved that my position as a participant in the conversation produced that alienation. Or maybe more precisely that, in the analysis, I felt removed from the political agency that was the subject of both CF’s work and the Corrected Slogans album.

Research can necessitate an open-ended, even meandering course of exploration, and research in general would suggest a detachment from the type of urgency this work extols. But the conversation and reflections had no correspondence to the fact that we are operating in a moment of very visible individual political agency. It reinforced the notion that artistic production occurs only in a limited sphere.

Maybe my resistance came from as simple a fact as the evening beginning with music performed. Performances and lectures have radically different rituals that inscribe expectations for the role one plays. I am intrigued by the idea that conflating rituals breaks open such expectations, and I am trying to use my frustration with the evening to explore that.

 

Julian Myers presenting Corrected Slogans at the Kadist Art Foundation, in San Francisco, October 26, 2011.

JM: I understand the difficulties you and Natasha have marked. But I think the remove and the sense of impotence is there in Corrected Slogans and in the Requiem. We just followed it along. This might be what makes their gestures feel foreign to us now. The years 1975 and 2005 were dismal moments, hopeless moments. Maybe ours isn’t, or at least not in the same way.

For what it’s worth, though, I didn’t understand the event as agitprop—even though various aspects of the presentation reference agitprop, from CF’s Requiem to Jim and Natasha’s punk idiom to the Corrected Slogans album. I thought that the event was equally about composition, collaboration, and form. These were the places where revelations came for me in the discussion. How do groups produce art or music together, and to what end? I had this realization on stage, as it were, after playing “Plekhanov” [from the album] for the crowd. “The crucial question is that of groups,” I said, “the political vanguard, the artistic avant-garde, and the psychedelic rock group, and their different, mutual promises of emancipation—whose potential, by 1975, had all seemed to have vanished from the earth.” That perhaps modest realization is where the research and discussion led.

 

 

Corrected Slogans was presented at the Kadist Art Foundation, in San Francisco, on October 26, 2011.

Comments ShowHide