A reflexive week, as if by last week’s post I was trying to draw attention to myself, or bend back my writing. My google alerts entry returned to me by the logical, but unexpected medium of… Google alerts and Drugs in Milk, who recommended me links, continuing this never-ending network of references. What did I expect? My strategies of fracture, distanciation, interruption, discontinuity were thrown back at me and, as a reader, I felt slightly baffled by my own image in the mirror. A little as if it really wasn’t me. Who then? Embrace the link, the quote, the reference, the poach… Dylan is still in touch… Reflexivity also came back at me through the issue of spectatorship, this week. I attended the very excellent lectures that Jean-Michel Rabaté gave at Glasgow University. The one on formalism was a master class in the creativity involved in theorizing. The second one, a more intimate workshop on Duchamp, Art and Crime, circled my revered Étant Donnés.
The discussion was good, even through it focused too much on the factuality or historicity of his claims, something he brushed aside quickly in the name of creativity, in coherence with his previous talk. I was surprised, though, that the conversation about this object focused solely on its meaning or the historical circumstances of its creation. I felt that the fact that this is an art piece that is meant to be engaged with, encountered and, above all, looked at, was not considered. The viewer was not considered, yet, she is crucial. Part of the problem is the fact that very few of the company had actually experienced the work and were referring to it through a black and white image of what lies behind the door, printed on the programme. Also no doubt (as students present seemed diligent) on a few internet searches. The door is important, Jean-Michel said. Of course it is. It positions us, it pins us, it makes us aware that we are looking, a little like Lacan’s inverted bouquet trick. So I asked the question of spectatorship and I got the answer of self-reflexivity. Nice and neat.
At lunch, I had the opportunity to chat to Jean-Michel. We talked a little more about spectatorship and he mentioned that Étant Donnés might have been moved once or twice, to the L’Informe and/or Femininmasculin exhibitions and the Pompidou. Could have they been hideous (or otherwise) fakes like in the Duchamp Man Ray Picabia show? Interlibrary Loan requests for the catalogues are, of course, under way, as this could be an interesting and important datum for my argument on position (which, for the Duchamp piece, is before anything else, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and its dead end room 183). He also mentioned that this was taking place:
Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés
July 7, 2009 – November 1, 2009
Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic assemblage Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) has been described by the artist Jasper Johns as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” Permanently installed at the Museum since 1969, this three-dimensional environmental tableau offers an unforgettable and untranslatable experience to those who peer through the two small holes in the solid wooden door. Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the work going on public display, this exhibition consists of Duchamp’s extraordinary assemblage, along with close to eighty works of art related to its installment, including all the known studies, photographs, erotic objects, and other materials.
This landmark exhibition and the accompanying two hundred-page catalogue explore the history and reception of Duchamp’s final masterpiece, as well as its legacy for contemporary artists such as Ray Johnson, Hannah Wilke, Robert Gober, and Marcel Drama
Michael R. Taylor • The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art
Galleries 181–183, first floor
B-but of course! I forgot it was the 40th anniversary of its unveiling. I wonder if I will be able to go.
When I got home from the event (and via the library with some further reading), Neil asked me: ‘did you tell him the anecdote of your encounter with Étant Donnés?’ He knows me too well. I blushed. I can never resist telling it. This time, though, it paid off, as Jean-Michel seemed interested and asked me to send him some of my writing. Well, I am honoured! You see? Reflexivity, indeed, like in my photographs, like in seduction.