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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Subversive signs: Hal Foster

Nitya Santosh
Thesis Statement: This work does not bracket art for formal or perceptual experiment but rather

seeks out its affiliations with other practices (in the culture industry and elsewhere); it also tends

to conceive of its subject differently.

Paragraph 1

Topic sentence: The most provocative American art of the present is situated at such a crossing –

of institutions of art and political economy, of representations of sexual identity and social life.

Supporting sentences: >Assumes its purpose to be so sited, to lay in wait for these discourses so

as to riddle and expose them or to seduce and lead them astray.

>Its primary concern is not with the traditional or modernist properties of art; nor is it involved

with an epistemological investigation of the object or a phenomenological inquiry into subjective


Key words: affiliations with other practices - conceive of its subject differently.

Paragraph 2

Topic sentence: The artists active in this work use many different forms of production and modes

of address, and yet they are alike in this: each treats the public space, social representation or

artistic language in which he or she intervenes as both a target and a weapon.

Supporting sentences: >The artist becomes manipulator of signs more than a producer of art

objects, and the viewer an active reader of messages rather than a passive contemplator of the

aesthetic or the consumer of the spectacular.

>This shift remains strategic if only because even today few are able to accept the status of art as

a social sign entangled with other signs in systems productive of value, power and prestige.

Key words: a target and a weapon - manipulator of signs - active reader of messages.

Paragraph 3

Topic sentence: The situational aesthetics of this art – its special attention to site, address

and audience – is prepared by the varied institutional critique of such artists as Daniel Buren,

Michael Asher, Dan Graham, Hanms Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, Lawerence Weiner, John

Baldessari and Joseph Kosuth.

Supporting sentences: >Yet if Kruger, Holzer et al. Inherit the conceptual critiqueof the given

parameters of art production and reception, they do so not uncritically.

>Just as conceptual artists extended the minimalist ananlysis of the art object, so too these

later artists have opened up the conceptual critique of the art institution in order to intervene in

ideological representations and languages of everyday life.

Key words: contemporary rejection of all istitutional critique.

Paragraph 4

Topic sentence: As is well known the investigation of Buren, Asher, Haacke and Broodthaers

focuses primarily on the instituional frame, and secondarily on the economic logic, of the

modern art object.

Supporting sentences: >These four artists sought to reveal -ways in which production and

reception of art are instituionally predetermined, recuperated, used.

>Since 1965 Buren has stressed the spatiotemporal predisposition. - Since 1969 Asher has

foregrounded the functional delimitation. - In 1976 Broodthaers allegorically doubled the ways

in which the museum acculturates heterogeneous objects and activities as art. - Since 1970

Haacke probed the material bases of the fine art apparatus which, repressed, allows for its

pretenses of social neutrality and cultural autonomy.

Key words: instituional frame - economic logic.

Paragraph 5

Topic sentnence: It was the need to expose this false idealism of art that initially led these artists

to its "mystical body", the modern museum, for it became clear that its supposedly supplemental

role of "preservation, enclosure and refuge" (Buren) actually preconditioned art production,

predisposed it to an ideologyof transcendence and self-sufficiency.

Supporting sentences: >As opposed to the argument - ' avant-garde practice had attempted to

destroy the instituion of art' – these practioners held that modern artists had not comprehended it

– its conditions of production, exhibition and exchange.

Key words: exposing of its "alibis" - Foregrounding of its "framework".

Paragraph 6

Topic sentence: Clearly this is an important intervention, but it is a necessarily (de)limited one.

Supporting sentences: >Firstly, by its very attention to institutional frame; secondly, posed within

the gallery/museum, it is often referenced to the given forms of art; however residual, these

categories are sustained even as they are demonstrated to be logically arbitrary, ideologically

laden and/or historically obsolete.

Paragraph 7

Topic sentence: This is not to suggest that these artists neglect the exhibition framework.

Supporting sentences: >Lawler and McCollum collaborated on an installation 100 hydrocal

sculpture pedestals.

>Here the abstraction of modern sculpture, its passage from sited, figurative monument to

siteless, autonomous sign, was decoded as its "abstraction" by the commodity-form.

Key words: passage from sited, figurative monument to siteless, autonomous sign.

Paragraph 8

Topic sentence: This displacement of art by its own support, by its own spectacle, is both a

characteristic strategy and a historical demonstration of Lawler and McCollum.

Supporting sentences: >Functional indifference of art objects produced in the studio/gallery/

museum nexus is shown by McCollum to be no less determined by the market.

>"empty surrogates" – reduction of content.

Key words: Empty surrogates.

Paragraph 9

Topic sentence: Other artists, no less influenced by conceptual work, have sought to reflect

critically on representations outside the art apparatus – and from there to turn back to address

discourses within it.

Supporting sentences: >For these artists, ideology cannot be reduced to one language, then

critiqued, or the institution of art to one space, then charted.

>The position of the subject must be taken into account, and it is at the point of production of the

subject rather than of the art object that this work intervenes.

>This art cannot afford to take the demonstrations of institutional critique for granted.

Key words: "situationist" strategy .

Paragraph 10

Topic sentence: Both Kruger and Holzer are concerned with the power at work in social

representations; Holzer's site of intervention is language.

Supporting sentences: >Barthes wrote – Language is legislation, speech is its code... To utter a

discourse is to subjugate... The performance of a language system – is neither reactionary nor

progressive; it is quite simply fascist.

> Holzer seeks to undo this "fascim"- her works suggest not only how language subjects us but

how we may disarm it.

>The tactic is subversive complicity: "It is within speech that speech must be fought, led astray

– not by the message of which it is the instrument, but by the play of words of which it is the


> "theater" becomes a bedlam of voices which mocks the certainty of personal credos and the

neutrality of public discourse.

Key words: bedlam of voices.

Paragraph 11

Topic sentence: This bedlam-effect is strongest in her Truisms (1977), an alphabetical list of

statements which together confound all order and logic.

Supporting sentences: > The Truisms not only "place in contradiction certain ideological

structures that are usually kept apart" but set them into open conflict.

>This contestation-by-contradiction is also contextual.

>Truisms expose the false homogeneity of the signs on the signs on the street among which they

are often placed.

Key words: contestation-by-contradiction – entanglement in discourse.

Paragraph 12

Topic sentence: This entanglement is a continual displacement- to the point where the reader

begins to see, first, that (s)he is not an autonomous individual of free beliefs so much as a subject

inserted into language and, second, that this insertion can be changed.

Supporting sentences: >The experience of truistic entrapment cedes to a feeling of anarchic


>This release comes of the recognition that meaning is a rhetorical construction of will more

than a Platonic apprehension of an idea – that, however directed toward truth, it is finally based

on power.

>This is not a nihilistic insight: it allows for resistance based on truth constructed through


>One genuine truth that the Truisms expresses: that only through contradiction can one construct

a self that is not entirely subjected.

Key words: meaning is a rhetorical construction of will.

Paragraph 13

Topic sentence: Entanglement in discourse is most extreme in the Inflammatory Essays (1979-

82), which also appeared first as street posters and then as signs, books, art works.

Supporting sentences: >Here again the voices are provocative: imperative commands and

subjunctive inducements mix with the impersonal mode of truth.

>Essays are more arguments than statements, and they do not taxonomize ideologies so much as

hyperbolize political rhetoric.

>Some voices insinuate, others demand. A few almost convince, but finally each voice is

convinced, conquered by its own speech.

Key words: force of language.

Paragraph 14

Topic sentence: In 1981 through 1983 Holzer worked (in part with Peter Nadin) on the Living


Supporting sentences: >With these signs and plaques Holzer functioned more in given art spaces;

at the same time she drew more on everyday talk.

>The language of Living series is omnivorous.

>In the Living texts especially, Holzer meets the subtle subjections active in social discourse

with wit and play.

Key words: A sign is a social directive.

Paragraph 15

Topic sentence: Her recent Survival series is again more desperate: these short texts about class

domination, racial oppression, sexual subjection and nuclear annihilation rebut the Panglossian

feel-goodism of the Regan era.

Supporting sentences: >Here it is uncertain whether Holzer represents the rhetoric of "crisis" or

whether she succumbs to it.

Paragraph 16

Topic sentence: Like all her work, the Survival series is involved in a delegitimation of power, in

a rhetorical exposure of its discursive guises and ploys.

Supporting sentences: >In this critique, it is said Holzer is not specific: her work is too anarchic,

too atopic.

Key words: shifting crosswords – effective resistance.

Paragraph 17

Topic sentence: In her panels, posters and books Kruger appropriates photographs (mostly of

women) from media sources, blows them up and crops them severely, then combines them with

short texts.

Supporting sentences: >Alternated image and text – montaged them in a parody of display ads –

combined them in the declarative address of signs in the street.

>This "interception" of the stereotype is her principle device.

>Such foreclosure implied not only that such cultural fictions and subject positions are more

absolute than they are but also that the artist is in a transcendent relation to them.

Paragraph 18

Topic sentence: Aware of these problems, Kruger has suggested that image appropriation, rather

than question "the original use and exchange value" of representations, contradict "the surety of

our initial readings" and strain "the appearence of naturalism," may in fact confirm them.

Supporting sentences: >Her later work evades this closure, for in its oscilliation "from implicit

to explicit, from inference to declaration" neither photograph nor text, neither connotation nor

denotation is priviledged as a stable site or mode of truth.

>This is not to say that they are arbitrary.

Paragraph 19

Topic sentence: The women in the images used by Kruger are most often posed or pursued but in

either case passive, there to be gazed upon, saved, found out, used.

Supporting sentences: >These positions of capture presuppose a male subject who seeks to fix

his image of desire and/or who identifies with the assumed protagonist of the situation.

>This accords with the ways in which Hollywood cinema plays upon the scopophillic drives and

ego identifications of the masculine viewer.

Paragraph 20

Topic sentence: Such disruption might also be grasped by general reference to the Lacanian

orders of the Imaginary and the Symbolic.

Supporting sentences: Lacan spoke of the Imaginary in terms of a dialectic of self and image,

and of the Symbolic in terms of the mediation of language.

Key words: the Imaginary and the Symbolic.

Paragraph 21

Topic sentence: For Lacan, as soon as the subject is represented in language, (s)he is excluded or

absented from it, and so is literally divided by it.

Supporting sentences: Kruger resists this disavowal of the body, for with it goes a disavowal of

the productive, of the transformative.

Key words: rejects the manipulation

Paragraph 22

Topic sentence: Her critique, then is not a single or simple sabotage: it seeks to catch our various

desires and disciplines that position the body and invest representation.

Supporting sentences: >Her work has had to be reflexive.

>Her recent pieces are concerned as much with the economic manipulation of (her own) art as

with sexist subjection

>Finally is the interest of her work: reflexivity with which it considers the discourses, with

which it is engaged.


Anonymous said...

I found this essay to be confusing as all hell. Read it over 3 times and am still having trouble understanding it

Anil Pinto said...

Dear Anonymous, you read this blog post or read the essay proper?