Jean Fisher

  • Yinka Shonibare

    DUTCH WAX-PRINTED COTTON FABRIC masquerades as authentic African textile both for Westerners and for Africans seeking to break with Western dress, despite the fabric's passage from Indonesia through Holland and the mills of Manchester to the markets of Africa, North America, and Europe. It has become a signature of Yinka Shonibare's work, which emerged at the end of the '80s as installations of small chunky “canvases,” frequently overpainted on the sides or faces with an acrylic impasto of biomorphic forms and installed in grids on a monochrome wall. Considering the pressures on black artists

  • “Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa”

    Exhibitions based on ethnic interpretations of multiculturalism that arise from the current fashion for curatorial globetrotting have mostly failed to advance an understanding of contemporary visual art from beyond the Western metropolis. In Britain, a glance at recent exhibition reviews touching on such themes as “New Art from China (or India, Cuba, etc.),” is enough to confirm the suspicion that the esthetic concerns of individual artists continue to be neglected in favor of redundant assumptions about ethnicity or poorly informed comparisons with Western Modernism. Why this continues to occur


    I am standing before James Coleman’s La Tache Aveugle (The blind spot, 1978–90), a slide projection derived from a brief sequence, less than a second long, of the 1933 film The Invisible Man. I witness an outrageously attenuated and inexorable dissolve—20 minutes duration for each frame, the whole cycle taking several hours to complete. Virtually nothing happens except almost imperceptible shifts in perspective; nobody, of course, materializes.

    This dramatized deferral of the moment of revelation that one anticipates from the image, from film, strikes me as immensely comic, in a Borgesian


    IT IS PERHAPS DIFFICULT now for the West, where the miraculous has long been banished by rationalism, to imagine the crisis of knowledge precipitated 500 years ago on both sides of the Atlantic by the Spanish conquista. From the European perspective, other imaginary worlds, divine and profane, had long preoccupied the Greco-Judaic consciousness, but these had been the product of a fixed world order. Confronted by a reality challenging the projections of space and time that he had structured through his mythic texts, the European was suddenly no longer the privileged subject of knowledge. The

  • Anselm Kiefer

    As far as I can tell, Anselm Kiefer’s work is devoid of any recognizable sense of humor. Weighty and monumental, it takes itself seriously, in the solemn tradition of history painting. This might not be worth mentioning, but for the fact that several of the pieces here play with notions of truth and knowledge as they are embodied in the book or library. This strategy calls to mind Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, 1983. The power of Eco’s book lies in the Rabelaisian frivolity with which the notion of learning is dismantled and reduced to a kind of dessicated narrow-mindedness. Books,

  • “Magiciens de la terre” in Paris


    According to the Great Encyclopedia, the first museum in the modern sense of the word (meaning the first public collection) was founded in France by the Convention of July 27, 1793. The origin of the modern museum is thus linked to the development of the guillotine.
    —Georges Bataille1

    The slaughterhouse is linked to religion insofar as the temples of by-gone eras . . . served two purposes: they were used both for prayer and for killing. The result (and this judgment is confirmed by the chaotic aspect of present-day slaughterhouses) was certainly a disturbing convergence of

  • Keith Piper

    Keith Piper is part of a vital constituency of British-based artists of color, a group that by no means speaks with a homogenous voice. These artists, in fact, are engaged in a complex debate on the nature and possible directions of alternative arts from within a plurality of cultural experiences and a diversity of esthetic strategies. Piper, who often identifies the author of his work as “Black Art by Machines,” is a political activist. Yet despite his dependence on the use of familiar sociopolitical subject matter, his vocabulary is considerably more subtle than the plaintive rhetoric of ’70s

  • Joan Fontcuberta And Pere Formiguera

    “On August 7, 1955, Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen drove alone to the north of Scotland. Three days later his car was found on the coast, near a cliff. His body was never found. . . . ” Thus, in mysterious fashion, ended the career of an obscure German zoologist who had spent his life discovering and classifying hitherto unknown species of world fauna. Did he commit suicide, or was he killed by one of the creatures he conjured into human consciousness? In any case, his disappearance is not without trace; what remains is the “Fauna” series: fragments of his archives of personal memorabilia, and


    (The passages of this essay that are printed in boldface were written by Jimmie Durham, those in lightface by Jean Fisher.)

    Don’t worry—I’m a good Indian. I’m from the West, love nature, and have a special, intimate connection with the environment. (And if you want me to, I’m perfectly willing to say it’s a connection white people will never understand.) I can speak with my animal cousins, and believe it or not I’m appropriately spiritual. (Even smoke the Pipe.)

    I’m assuming there is an audience interested enough in American Indians to read this. Like V. S. Naipaul, I imagine the possibility of

  • Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark

    Kathryn Bigelow, who worked in the ’70s with Art & Language and collaborated with Lawrence Weiner on films and videos, was co-author and codirector of the cult biker movie The Loveless, 1982. Bigelow has reappeared as the director of a beautifully crafted feature film, Near Dark, 1987, that explores some unsettled shadows in the American consciousness. It is an astute blend of genres: a vampire horror film that condenses the nature/culture conflict of the western with the problem of the rootless body expressed in the road movie. It is bound by an atmospheric soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.


  • “Rooms With A View”

    “Rooms with a View,” curated by Fred Wilson and designed by Curt Belshe and Lise Prown, was a richly textured, seriocomic interrogation of the cultural and esthetic codes of three types of stereotypical museum spaces, installed, with fine irony, in the old P.S. 39 building in the Bronx. The views in question were those of the turn-of-the-century Salon, the Modernist “white box,” and the ethnographic museum, addressing “the struggle between culture, content, and the context of art.” What is particularly to the point is that in cross-referencing from one space to another, a politicized ethnographic

  • Rasheed Araeen

    Few people have challenged British institutional racism with the intelligent persistence of Rasheed Araeen. His retrospective in a public gallery, albeit a provincial one, is a fairly provocative event. During the 20 years since he arrived in Britain from Pakistan, Araeen has struggled to gain respect as a contemporary artist against an establishment that has consistently insisted on his marginal “ethnic” status. Araeen’s testimony to this struggle, Making Myself Visible (published in 1984), confirms the assertion by other writers that political imperialism thoroughly contaminates such liberalist