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New Art in New York Now
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

Before us lies an array of acts, thought, and practices that are at once artistic and curatorial, public and private, random and determined. We are both within and beyond the white-cube space designed for the autonomous art object, within and beyond site-and context-specific art project, within and beyond the “black cube” space of the video projection, within and beyond the dissolution of art in technology and everyday life, and beyond practices based on postmodernist critique. To move in the field before us involves keeping these different levels of experience in mind and shifting constantly from one to another. It also asks that we avoid any binary thinking- between vertical and horizontal, history and geography, local and global, center and periphery, self and other, individual and collective, web and site.

Having moved to this city only recently, my position in the collective process of making Greater New York has been one of learning, surprise, and marvel at the many different art practices that are located here simultaneously. In some ways, though,a superficial gaze was helpful- a gaze that might revers, even while it mimicked,the colonial gaze, a gaze shaped by experiences in southern Europe and in the so-called “margins” of cultural practice, and looking from them at the art world“center” that New York has been for so many decades. We tried to map the metropolitan area for new and emerging art, and then to organize it into coherence by juxtaposing works to around styles, mediums, or themes but around sensibilities and shared principles in the construction and use of knowledge. Any list of what might be topical in art today is likely to be reductive and laden with misunderstanding; yet perhaps it will allow the unstated to be stated. The obvious to be revealed a new, and the different to be coordinated with the whole.

We found a great sense of optimism that artistic practice can in fact operate in today’s matrixial or border zone of varied fields of interest, that it might be a metaphor for the construction of a new form of subjective autonomy within a hybrid state- a state characterized by the paradigmatic shifts in cultural practice ushered in by the internet, but the “geneticization” of experience and knowledge in the digital age, and by the break down of the world’s division from a few main blocks into a myriad grassroots politics around the world. Some of that is topical in Greater New York relates to those general and global conditions: references include issues of translation and untranslatability, the presence and absence of the body in the digital age, plural disciplinarity, science fiction, and the imagining of fantasy worlds schizophrenia, and multiple identities. Some seems instead to relate more to the cultural contest and history of New York City, and is therefore, to a certain extent and tow an external gaze, more exotic: here the references are celebrity, “props” (in allusion to set and commercial design), a new aesthetic recalling Pop art, Americana, utopian communities of transcendental reminiscence; and paranoia in the corporate world ( a very Manhattanite question).

The idea of a globalized world is grounded in an assumption that all discourse is translatable. What escapes this frame, however, is the untranslatable leftover or residue, the nonintellectual moment between ignorance and knowledge, the genetically unmappable, the undigitizable, the unpatentable, the noninteractive, that which is or can be misunderstood. It is in this area that much artistic practice today is located.

One artist both reveals and questions the digital age’s almost religious faith in the mystery of transubstantiation through a seemingly fluid image of a hovering basketball, made by digitally re-editing thousands of segments of video footage tracking the motion of the ball in play. Another addresses the memory of modernist painting by re-proposing it tangibly, in cut-out red felt that hangs straight at the top edge but inevitably droops and losses its grandeur as gravity pulls it near its bottom. Similarly, sculpture here can be the sensual pushing and morphine of a shape through a “schoolhouse” green wall, so that it emerges on the other side, in another room, within the real and mental space of the white cube, rather than just in the virtual sphere of software. Or the white cube itself might even land, as if from cyberspace, in the cold, dark, damp basement boiler-room of P.S.1.

A similar optimism we found may be expressed in neo-aestheticist work in which the artist willfully capitulates to speculate yet reclaims autonomy through the creation of fantasies and props. Some works suggest that painting can no longer legitimize itself except through the lack of self-legitimation implied by its need for glitter, or for a prop to reveal its prop like nature; others that sculpture is a ship in a bottle, a relic to which we devote a neoromantic scrutiny through the special-effects filtering lens of a docudrama-like rewriting of history- that sculpture, in other words, desperately needs a soundtrack, and a cinematic architecture that recalls the mausoleum and the modernist architecture of power as much as it suggests a gigantic audio speaker or PA system.

A paradoxical optimism may also emerge by making failure the subject and object of the artist’s practice. An artist might spend time absurdly covering an entire press office in white paper and black marker, or might elaborate a fragile full-scale gurney out of a single sheet of paper- unfolding, continuously, seamlessly, super-whitely. In this direction there are also examples of “poor” animation, reactions, through individual, hand-crafted marks, to the overwhelming seamlessness of sophisticated 3-D computer animation.

Overall, leisure is an important presence in the Greater New York landscape. Many works suggest a time for introspection, a time corresponding to the articulation of thought in the mind (albeit affected by artificial prostheses), a time for a negotiation of the personal and for a renewed sense of self. Although this self seems distinct from the urgent agency of New York’s critical and confrontational art practice in the 1980s and’90s, it is neither apolitical nor amoral. Leisure appears in the portrayal, in video and photography, of a parasitic, anarchistic use of corporate space by jogging over cubicles, lying hidden under a desk, or wasting toilet paper in the bathroom. It also appear sin the notion of taking the time for a sauna in P.S. 1’s courtyard, while questioning how one negotiates between public and private, intimacy and exhibitionism.The experience of leisure comes through in a portrait of a young man lying down; his left arm is raised, and bears a watch, yet his eyes are not focused on looking at the time. There is also the leisure of playing with toy trains and constructing a miniature utopian community, and the leisure or the resistance to the social obligation of productivity, inherent in the decision to spend ten years carefully constructing a metaphoric machine for the circuitry of Manhattan life- a machine as yet unfinished, and one that, once completed and activated, will live out its life in a week. There is a leisure in the state of mind one might have when wearing an altered watch on which a day lasted twenty-eighth ours; having four hours more than everyone else has, one might enter a blissful yet autistic and disrupted dimension of the self. And finally a white room filled with swirling sound offers a kind of leisure; the luxury of not having to look at anything in particular. Profoundly noninteractive, this work can be experienced only by standing still, and doing as little as possible, while the sculpture of sound takes shape around you.