Early Objects

by Joshua Decter

“The poetic or the ecstatic is that in every disclosure which can open itself up to the absolute loss of its sense, to the (non-) base of the sacred, of nonmeaning, of un-knowledge or of play to the swoon from which it is reawakened by throw of the dice.”

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference

“By subtle subversion I mean, on the contrary, what is not directly concerned with destruction evades the paradigm, and seeks some other term: a third term, which is not , however , a synthesizing term but an eccentric, extraordinary term. An example? Perhaps Bataille, who eludes the idealist term by an unexpected materialism in which we find vice; devotion, play, impossible eroticism, etc.; thus Bataille does not counter modesty with sexual freedom but Éwith laughter.”

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

Arts fails if it is indiscernible from reality, and It equally if oppositely fails if it is not; within the domain of Aesthetics, this paradox continues to haunt the Geek formula which posits that the individual takes pleasure in art in direct proportion to the pleasure he finds in limitations (this, under the presupposition that the thing itself is an imitation and not the denotation of the Real). Evidently, it is the tautological failure of mimesis which engenders an illusionistic discrepancy between art and reality; if art succeeds in erasing this discrepancy, it returns us to what we already always have-i.e., reality. Yet within the Platonic model, art functions as a type of perversion, a compensatory substitute activity engaged in so as to construct a condition of absolute imitations which remains, ultimately, unattainable. Ironically, it is possible to locate within a particular trajectory of modern and postmodern cultural practice that seeks to collapse the apace between art and reality-e.g., the programmed anarchic sublations of Dada and Fluxus, the high/low conflictions of Pop, or the homological similitudes of Simulationism and Appropriationism- a material/symbolic act of redemption concerning the ontological status of the artwork. Therefore, when Rauschenberg announces, “painting relates to both art and life — (I try to work in that gap between the two),” he implies that this abyss can be filled up with what might be defined as un-entrenched objects, a notion co-extensive with the genealogy of the “readymade” paradigm.

“The boundaries between are and reality, indeed become internal to art itself. And this is a revolution. For when one is able to bring within oneself what separates oneself form the worldÉ everything is profoundly altered. And in curious way, the Platonic challenge has been met. Not promoting art but by demoting reality, conquering it in the sense that when a line is engulfed, what lies on both sides of that line is engulfed as well. To incorporate one’s own boundaries in an act of spiritual topology is to transcend those boundaries like turning oneself inside out and taking one’s external environment in as now part of oneself.”

Yet as these parameters are “transcended”, so are they transgressed and transfigures, thereby catalyzing a trans-valuation of the Real through the machinery of assimilation-as-reconfiguration. The polysemous work of Vik Muniz participates in the vicissitudes of this paradoxical re-investment of exteriority with the signs of interiorized meditation-there-mystification of the commonplace. It is a practice infused with the non-equivalencies of the consummately hybrid condition, the tautologies of non-closure and the vacillations of indeterminate signification. Through a material and symbolic re-construction of untrenched objects-in the world, Muniz constructs a game where in the obviousness of resemblance of the literary of similitude is exaggerated beyond recognition into a theater of subversions. Estrangement and de-realization occur in subtle doses. While not unrelated to the paradigms associated with the surrealist object of symbolic use, Muniz’s objects appear to repudiate the primary of the unconscious-or the de-sublimated tokens of the dream-state-in order to engender a neutral sign of ambivalent reference-vis-ˆ-vis the meta-readymade construct. The notion of the “crisis of the object” has become a reified historical category, abstracted into a succession of stylistic codes and conventions; Muniz’s work operates as a meditation upon this condition, evoking Breton’s exegesis concerning the de-rationalization of everyday objects 9i.e., a subversion of the equivalences obtained between the Rational and the Real): ” The objects which assume their places within the framework of the Surrealist exhibition of May 1936 are, above all, likely to lift the prohibition resulting from the overpowering repetition of those objects which meet our glance daily and persuade us to reject as illusion everything that might exist beyond them here as elsewhere , the mad beast of custom must be hunted down.”

For Muniz, a subtle material translation coaxes the recognizable object into an unstable physical and symbolic identity, displacing the rational prohibitions which administer the bureaucracy of predetermined correspondences. Muniz re-configures the tactics usually associated with bricolage into strategy of playful, unpredictable subversion; trail and error are utilized in incorporate elements of heterogeneous origin within an architecture of inflectional metastasis. An overarching order of clinical presentations (e.g., the stabilizing economy of the pedestal/display case) offers the guise of closure.
“Because it has already begun, representation therefore has no end. But one can conceive of the closure of that which without end. Closure is the circular limit within which the repetition of deference infinitely repeats itself. That is to say , closure is its playing space. This movement is the movement of the world as play; this play is cruelty as the unity of necessity and chance.”

A pyramid of Lego in units, cast in bronze pedestaled (“Lego Pyramid”); a bronze care, leaned inconspicuously against the corner of a room (“Care”); a stack of broken whites plates, visible through the unzippered opening of a custom-fit black leather casing, pedestal, mounted on wooden rockers “Untitled (Rocking Pedestal)”. These hybrid objects, re-configured from an everyday vernacular, spiral into a system of plural metaphoric values; the visual pun operates as the most obvious conduit for the reciprocity of necessity and chance. Here, the fetishistic re-framing of the object underscores an intrinsic desire for ontological presence-divorced form the excess spillage of linguistic appellation, naming, and regulation. Yet Muniz’s works may also referred to as heterotopias, as they undermine language, making it virtually impossible to name this and that within binary flow of attributions; common identification are tangled, eroding the underlying syntactical structure which cause things to assume coherence. It the similitude of Muniz’s objects, the “anchor” of reference is indexed, and then evacuated through; the “model” of the Real constitutes itself as trace, as identifiable absence.
“There are those who want a text (an art, a painting) without a shadow, but this is to want a text without fecundity, without productivity, a sterile text (see the myth of the Women without a Shadow). The text needs its shadow: this shadow is a bit of ideology, a bit of representation, a bit of subject: ghosts, pockets, traces, necessary clouds: subversion must produce its own chiaroscuro.”

By definition, the excess id outside reason, Bataille claims. In Muniz’s work, the chiaroscuro of ambiguity and obscurity exceeds the boundaries of reason, yet it is the vestiges of rationality which re-organizes excess into the mutability of nonmeaning’s sporadic laughter.

1989 Joshua Decter