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Art and Authenticity

Lund Humphries, 2012 | CONTRIBUTOR

art authenticityArt and Authenticity explores a range of questions around the ideas of authenticity, originality and replication in art. The authors move far beyond the fundamental question of ‘Is it genuine?’ to themes and definitions surrounding authenticity as a concept operating across different periods and contexts. The chapters consider empirical aspects of art analysis but also more conceptual and theoretical understandings of authenticity. For example, is there such a thing as authentic presentation and display of artworks? Can the idea of authenticity be applied to subject-matter and style? How do the art market and the art world respond to the perceived authenticity of artworks? This book addresses a wide range of topics within the arts and will appeal to a broad readership, from students and art specialists to art-world enthusiasts. Historically, the idea of scientific verification has arisen as a reaction against the perceived excesses of the connoisseurial tradition, a tradition which has fallen from favour over the last 50 years. The idea of individual ‘expert knowledge’ rests uneasily in the current climate. However, recent attempts by experts to develop definitive scientific methods for authenticating artworks are also proving to be problematic. Connoisseurship, it will be argued, still has its role to play within these debates. Therefore, through the broad range of artworks and perspectives developed within this volume, the book suggests that although the concept of authenticity is not without validity or usefulness, it nonetheless poses a continually moving target within the frameworks of varied cultural and historical constructs. The authors challenge a narrow interpretation of ‘authenticity’ as a concept applied to the art world, for the issues surrounding authenticity are rarely black and white.

Chapter authored: Authenticity, Originality and Conceptual Art: Will the Real Elaine Sturtevant Please Stand Up?

To purchase a copy of Art and Authenticity please follow this link.

127 Cuerpos: Teresa Margolles and the Aesthetics of Commemoration

01 October 2009

Teresa Margolles

Teresa Margolles, 127 Cuerpos (127 Threads), 2006 (and details) as installed in Kunstverein für die Rhein, Lande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf Photo: Achim Kukulies

Death is most frightening, since it is a boundary.
– Aristotle

A length of thread, stretched tight from one wall to another, spans the wide, corridor-like gallery space of the Düsseldorf Kunstverein (fig.46). At more or less waist height, it cuts off one third of the gallery along its longitudinal axis, leaving the viewer with the majority of the space in which to walk and examine the thread. On closer inspection, this turns out to be 127 separate pieces of cotton thread that have been tied together using a basic knot. On each of these threads there are uneven stains; mottled, reddish-brown traces that call to mind the colour of red wine dried on a white tablecloth. And that is it. Apart from this enigmatic installation by the Mexican-born artist Teresa Margolles (b.1963), there is nothing else to look at in the Kunstverein on this day in 2006. Whilst this may appear ‘minimalist’ in the extreme, and Margolles’ work does draw upon a minimalist aesthetic in its display, the sheer, if not vertiginous, ‘emptiness’ of the room encourages us to look more closely at this length of thread. There is, after all, nothing else to look at – nothing else in which to take visual refuge. (more…)

An Ethics of Engagement: Collaborative Art Practices and the Return of the Ethnographer

September 2009

Renzo Martens, Episode III, 2008, colour video, sound, duration 88 minutes. English subtitles, courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery London

The conditions under which contemporary art is produced, disseminated, displayed and exchanged have undergone significant changes, if not radical transformations, in the last three decades. In a broad sense, this period has been concomitant with a series of incremental shifts from object-based to context-based practices to, more recently, artworks that primarily utilise forms of collaboration and participation – or so-called socially engaged artworks. I am, of course, abbreviating a highly complex system here and it would not be very difficult to find a number of conceptual holes in such a schema. I should also note that I am not promoting a teleological reading to such developments. Participation and collaboration, for example, could be dated from the period covering Dada onwards, in particular the spectacle of audiences participating, willingly or not, in the Dada Season in Paris in April 1921. To this we could add the collaborative gambits of Situationism in the mid- to late 1950s and the participatory improvisations employed by Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clarke throughout the 1960s. Moreover, if we were to broaden the scope of contemporary art to include theatre we could also cite Bertolt Brecht’s ambition to ‘re-function’ it to a new and more collaborative form of social participation and political engagement.[1] Nevertheless, and putting to one side my own truncated account of the possible pitfalls inherent in my opening statement, the fact of collaborative and participative-based practices in contemporary art has certainly become more notable of late, and with this other more immediate concerns have emerged too, not least the sense that contemporary critical discourses are struggling to both criticise and, indeed, support such practices. (more…)

Cultural Theory

SAGE Publications, 2010 | CONTRIBUTOR

Cultural theoryThis four volume collection brings together papers from a range of different journals from different fields, sub-disciplines and disciplines that address the central problem of the relation between culture and society. In doing so, it frames understandings of experience, text, meaning, power, stratification, identity, representation, practice, discourse, materiality, image, technology, and the many other concepts and categories in the context of this fundamental interrelationship.

Although the themes of culture and society provide the broad parameters of these four volumes, Cultural Theory makes visible some of the different objects of theoretical discourse that different schools of thought and theoretical paradigms have thrown before us. The four volumes traverse the disciplines of, amongst others, sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, literary theory, media and communication studies, and science and technology studies, to provide a sense of the development and extension of cultural theory from initial and longstanding questions about power and agency, ordinary and popular cultural practice, and representation to ones about the body, sensory experience and identity to the changing natural and built environment and questions about global humanity and justice to developments in the global cultural economy concerning information, technology and value.

Throughout this collection, the editor offers a coherent, complex, and multiply inflected narrative which is both grounded in the substantive histories of the field and oriented to some of its most exciting and forward looking ideas and prospects.

Chapter authored: Zones of Indistinction: Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Bare Life’ and the Politics of Aesthetics.

To purchase a copy of Cultural Theory please follow this link.

At the Limits of the Image: Torture and its Re-Presentation in Popular Culture

Spring 2009

iconoclastia 1

On April 28, 2004, a series of images from Abu Ghraib prison were aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes II. This was the first time that these photographs would be seen in public and they counted amongst their number an image that was to become instantly iconic. A man, in a penitential shroud, stands aloft a box with a hood on his head and what appears to be electric wires attached to his fingertips. The image is poorly taken, stark, and under-lit but, in all its purgatorial undertones and abject hopelessness, it would sear its way on to television screens and the front pages of newspapers worldwide; its iconographic wretchedness acting as a lightening rod for both anti-American and anti-war protestors alike.[1] And yet, for all the opprobrium and shock directed towards both this image and the perpetrators of this ghastly scenario, I have to admit that I did not find this image shocking as such. More images would follow this one, some more disturbing in their content, some obviously depicting torture, others showing a dead and obviously abused Iraqi—later identified as Manadel al-Jamadi—packed in ice and wrapped in cellophane. A significant number of images depicted forced acts of prisoner-on-prisoner fellation and masturbation; prisoners in enforced stress positions with women’s underwear draped on their heads; and prisoners stacked one upon another in a grotesque human pyramid. Others showed a man with a leash around his neck being led naked from a cell and a faeces-besmeared man standing forlornly with his arms akimbo in the face of his gun-toting tormentor. Amidst this abecedarium of abuse, specific images stood out, none more so than a petrified prisoner with a snarling dog inches from his face. But none of these photographs were as redolent as the hooded man standing on the box. This was surely, in all its casual arbitrariness and yet methodical application, the brute fact of what Giorgio Agamben has termed “bare life”: the application of a brute sovereign form of power upon that most vulnerable of entities: the rightless and thereafter forsaken subject. (more…)