Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Undoing work and the work of undoing: research, production… play?

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies
2008-09: Research Programme
Undoing work and the work of undoing: research, production… play?

John C. Welchman
Actions Against the State: Paul McCarthy's Pirate Project

Tuesday November 11, 2008
4:30 – 6:00pm, Room G19,
Old Mining Building

Departing from a close reading of McCarthy's recent Pirate Project, part of his major 2005 exhibition La La Land and Parody Paradise (Haus der Kunst, Munich and Whitechapel, London), I discuss some of the wider social, political and esthetic questions raised by his work in performance, mega-installation, drawing and video. McCarthy engages with multiple declensions of the piratic including the inheritance of Anglo-European pirate lore, a densely associative redistribution of the pirate persona and the slapstick reconstitution of sea-bandit Americana. These and other resources are overlaid in a zoning system organized around three structures that are also locations--the house boat, the frigate and the underwater world--and then reanimated in a sizzling series of generic and performative interventions that twist and spin the semantics of the maritime buccaneer in a serio-comic centrifuge of artistic, subjective and political compulsions. Pirate Project, I will argue, dwells in the distressed social algorhythms lodged between events, historical records, representation, and reinvention. It is the fulfillment of McCarthy's decade-long interest in both the historical and symbolic potency of the pirate figure, whose actions are caught up in a beguiling compound of social and libidinal drives which the artist incorporates, satirizes and recathects. The pirate regime represents a continuous destabilization and revectoring of the violence and desires of the body: it participates in unique forms of community formation and group action; it is subject to special kinds of economic organization; and it engenders important forms of extra-legal, counter-statist dissidence. With video clips from Pirate Project

John C. Welchman is Professor of art history in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego. His books on art include Modernism Relocated: Towards a Cultural Studies of Visual Modernity (Allen & Unwin, 1995), Invisible Colours: A Visual History of Titles (Yale UP, 1997) and Art After Appropriation: Essays on Art in the 1990s (Routledge, 2001); he is co-author of the Dada and Surrealist Word Image (MIT Press, 1987) and of Mike Kelley in the Phaidon Contemporary Artists series (1999); and editor of Rethinking Borders (Minnesota UP, 1996).

He has written for Artforum (were he had a column in the late 1980s and early 90s), Screen, the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, the Economist and other newspapers and journals; and contributed catalogue essays for exhibitions at the Tate (London and Liverpool), Reina Sophia (Madrid), Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), the LA County Museum of Art, the Sydney Biennial, Vienna Museum of Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), the Ludwig Museum (Budapest), and the Haus der Kunst (Munich).

His current and recent book projects include editorship of the collected writings of Mike Kelley (the first vol., Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism, was published with MIT Press in 2003; the second, Minor Histories, also, with MIT, arrived Spring 2004; and the third Mike Kelley: Interviews, Conversations, and Chit-Chat, 1988-2004 with JRP|Ringier, Zurich in 2005; volumes on music and sound culture, and performance scripts are in preparation). A study of the Portuguese artist Vasco Araujo was published with ADIAC, Lisbon, in 2006; and a book on the drawings, paintings and related 2D of Tony Oursler with JRP|Ringier in 2008. He finalizing two books on the relation between art, film and the representation of faces (The Celluloid Face and Faces and Powers).

Welchman's most recent exhibition projects are: "The Uncanny and Visual Culture" for Mike Kelley's The Uncanny (Tate Liverpool/Vienna Museum of Contemporary Art (Spring-Fall, 2004); "First Mate's Blood Flux," for Paul McCarthy: LaLa Land Parody Paradise, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, June-July 2005 [text in German and English]; "Relational Equilibrium" a discussion between John Baldessari and John Welchman, for John Baldessari: Drawn From Life, Carré d'Art Musée d'Art Contemporain de Nîmes, France, October 2005 to January 2006. [text in French and English]; "Of(f) White," for Gunter Brus: Nervous Stillness in the Horizon, Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona [MACBA] Spain, October 11, 2005 - January 15, 2006 [text in Catalan and English]; "A Museum of Unnatural History "for Xavier Veilhan, Musée d'Art Moderne, Strasbourg, France, Fall 2005. [text in French and English]; "Fête Accompli: Mike Kelley's Day is Done" for Day is Done, Gagosian Gallery, New York (2005), catalogue published by Yale University Press, 2006. He is currently working on the catalogues for retrospective exhibitions of John Baldessari (Tate Modern, LACMA, Metropolitan, NY) and Mike Kelley (Stedelijk, Pompidou, Reina Sofia, Whitechapel).

Welchman also writes on food and culinary history—he co-authored Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook (Workman, 1989) and Terrific Pacific (1995) with Anya von Bremzen, and provided the photography for Fiesta! (Doubleday 1997)—the first and last won James Beard awards.

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