John Welchman


    THE NARRATIVES TAKEN on in Warren Neidich’s recent photographic diptychs engage perhaps the two most controversial and repressed passages in modern U.S. history: the everyday life of blacks in the mid-19th-century pre-Abolitionist South, and the internment camps that held Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. These are passional moments of American history, moments of national trauma, of mass blindness and mass complicity, moments that still figure in our construction of “racial” difference, moments that return in the flash of a stereotype or at the butt of a joke; moments that

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    In the historical shadow of the “new nationalisms” of postcolonial Asia and Africa, we are now witnessing a powerful resurgence of older nationalist agitations in places the West doesn’t like to remember. Nowhere is this more visible than in the fomenting cordon of dissident nations strung out from the Baltic to Lake Baikal along the most extended and multinational border in the world. The jackboot of repressive Soviet centrism has laid mighty hard on the 140-plus national groups that have comprised the Soviet conglomerate for much of the present century. After World War II, many of the smallest

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    DURING THE LAST few years, the concept and the conditions of nomadism have made a striking appearance in critical theory (and elsewhere) as both a model and a metaphor of human behavior and development. Certain characteristics of nomadic societies have been adduced (and assumed) in order that we (sedentary, urban, Western civilians—if that is what we are) might know something about what we are not, what we have never been, how we have never lived, and against what “outside” there has been a historical struggle in our social, technological, and political formations. Let us mark three moments on

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    Incidents in Leticia, Amazonas.

    IN THE MATTER OF NAMES, the Amazon was so-called after Father Carbajal’s account of Francisco de Orellana’s inaugural colonialist voyage along the length of the river in 1541, during which he reported seeing about a dozen female warriors who “appeared to be very tall, robust, good-looking, with long hair twisted over their heads. . . and bows and arrows in their hands with which they killed seven or eight Spaniards.”1 Thus these early adventurers, whose oral and visual narratives of the New World are notoriously imbricated with the aberrant sociosexual conditions

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    NOT THAT THERE IS really any way to crack the nut of national character, and not that I insist on trying; but we might say that the mortuary consciousness of a culture is probably a better index of its crucial attitudes to life than the more familiar and cliché-prone revelations of the laughter of its people (the national humor) or the rigmaroles of climatological determinism, or whatever canticles of national formation make it through the clamor of change in an age of speed. So it is, at least, with death in Mexico; and so it is especially on the Day of Death, All Soul’s Day—el Día de los



    Thy head is like a rough-hewne statue’ of jeat,

    Where marks for eyes, nose, mouth, are yet scarce


    Like the first Chaos, or flat seeming face

    Of Cynthia, when th’earths shadowes her


    —John Donne, Elegie: The Comparison

    THE FACE IS PROBABLY the primary site of visual representation, and has shaped the very conditions of visuality. In the history of visual culture, the face’s significance is continuously attested to, and not just at the moments of its greatest visibility and diffusion—the cultic head, the “individualized” Renaissance portrait, the TV talking head—but also in those

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    AMERICA HAS BEEN SUBJECT to representation by a whole phalanx of out-siders and other-continentals—romantic prophets and the mawkishly curious, intellectual imperialists and political spectators, moral fanatics and doomsayers, discoverers, conquistadors, and social fantasists, from Chateaubriand and Tocqueville to Reyner Banham and Jean Baudrillard. These attentions have usually already begun their particular labor of interested misrepresentation in the utterance of their very first syllables, which so often collapse the body of the Americas into the short hand of “America,” the America, for

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    THERE WILL ALWAYS be a photographic anniversary at hand; and this year we have a double centenary—a double excuse for the kind of dubious speculative symmetry to which we all abandon ourselves from time to time. In 1888, then, there transpired two developments of note for the history of the mechanical image. A certain Amedée Denise, about whom I have been able to find out virtually nothing, is said to have mooted the possibility of rocket photography; perhaps he doodled and perhaps he dabbled (in the manner of a Saxon engineer who launched a gunpowder-funded photography rocket in 1903)—I have

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    I HAD A CHOICE on Easter Sunday. It was either a deep draught of religio-pantheism at a dawn mass on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon—a touch of in situ sublimity and à la lettre gorgeousness—or a journey eastward across Arizona’s Navaho and Hopi reservations. Sensing a kind of irresistible incongruity between fattening candles and the chasm, and a craving to avoid the pitfalls of well-intimated spectacular sentimentality, I went east.

    Hopiland is inscribed on the map inside the greater Navaho compound, not far from that apogee of territorial rectilinearity and arbitrariness, Four Corners,

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    WHATEVER ELSE HAS ACCRUED to it in the much-vaunted moment of its art-world upturn and euphoria, Los Angeles has had its “other side” written out or written over. The pomp and circumstance of regional self-assertion has necessarily ignored, disavowed, or effaced whatever resistance to tickertape and tinsel arrivisme has survived the incorporation within the LA art scene of new structures, new managerial protagonists, and new pretensions. And now that the dust has settled on the various institutional unveilings, real questions are emerging about the whole constitution of the LA scene. These

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    THE COORDINATES OF THE COLLEGE Art Association’s (CAA) annual obstetric, its cirque imaginaire, are (conventionally) a place—this year Houston; a locale—the assembly halls and concourse zones of the corporate hotel; a new body of disciplinary, worked materials—papers, voices, slides; and a panoply of would-be disciplined “others”—margins, reinterpretations, and intertexts (words on gender, on philosophy, and notably on the place [or nonplace] of contemporary visual practice and criticality in the privileged domain of “history”).

    The guarantors of these positions—the axes, if you like, that fix