PRINT December 2005

John Kelsey

1 HURRICANE KATRINA Ask Stockhausen. As if timed for the opening of the Whitney’s Robert Smithson retrospective, this was arguably less a natural disaster than a case of Land art gone horribly wrong. An environmental and political tragedy of Spielbergian proportions, Katrina produced images of the sort of “naked life” we’d previously only identified with non-sites like Iraq. The drowned ghetto, the shooting of homeless looters, the police suicides, the forced evacuations, the superdomes filled with refugees—these are visions we can only try to erase. For some reason it was impossible not to imagine the hurricane as a terrorist act. And I guess it was—Made in USA.

2 RIOT THE BAR (BARD COLLEGE, ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY) A sort of antimonument to the Stonewall riots of 1969, RIOT THE BAR was a nightly drinking party and chaotic program of music, dancing, bonfires, talks, games, etc., culminating in the bar being auctioned off and then promptly destroyed in a nearby field. This week-long collaboration between Bard summer MFA students and faculty was conceived and “choreographed” by performance artist Ei Arakawa, who was inspired by his memory of a failed gay pride march in Tokyo and subsequent encounter with the banality of official gay culture in New York. Nothing remains but the zine Arakawa assembled to document the event: “It took some years to realize that WE ARE EVERYWHERE. Aren’t you tired of this motto? Yes, you are . . . welcome to RIOT THE BAR.”

3 POOR THEATER The Wooster Group’s Poor Theater appropriated, cunningly travestied, and thereby exorcized various demons that have long possessed its director: Jerzy Grotowski’s legendary experimental theater in Poland, avant-garde choreographer William Forsythe, Max Ernst, and Hollywood westerns. Involving fewer pyrotechnics than usual, the Group accomplished its magic with little more than bodies and language. Absorbing and then suddenly discarding Grotowski’s hard-core physical exercises, alternating between Polish and English, playing back the tape-recorded commentary of a disappointed theater critic, launching into delirious danced monologues, and finally disappearing under the floorboards, Poor Theater was stripped-down for speed and as astonishing as anything Liz LeCompte and company have ever done.

4 THE READYMADE ARTIST How should we measure our distance from the avant-garde role models we learned about in school? How can we begin to treat the subjective whateverness of the contemporary artist? Coined by the Paris-based art collective Claire Fontaine, the term “readymade artist” seems perfectly adjusted to a situation where something like the “artist’s life” no longer seems possible. No longer prophetic or revolutionary but professional and post-everything, we have no influence over the cultural apparatus that employs us, still less over its political function. Overexposed, inflated, instrumentalized beyond recognition, imposters in our own styles, miraculously outlasting our own purpose, as readymade artists we can begin to surpass our shared incompetence only by confronting the fact that contemporary art is no longer destined to act directly on reality.

5 MY LIFE IN CIA: A CHRONICLE OF 1973 (DALKEY ARCHIVE PRESS) Harry Mathews’s new novel is based on true events from his life in Paris during the year 1973, when he joined the experimental literary group Oulipo and unwittingly earned a reputation as an under- cover CIA agent. Rather than deny his “true” profession (his repeated denials only made others more suspicious), Mathews decided to assume this new identity and play it to the hilt. All authors are imposters anyway. Mathews reinvents the memoir and himself by applying the language games he invented (with fellow Oulipians Georges Perec and Raymond Queneau) both to his experience of everyday life and to its recollection. My Life in CIA is a manual for escaping bourgeois literature through bourgeois literature, an autobiographical thriller packed with “evasive tactics,” paranoia, fine wines, and false bottoms.

6 GALERIE MEERRETTICH (BERLIN) Artist Josef Strau curates this tiny glass “pavilion” (or giant vitrine) near Rosa-Luxemberg-Platz in Berlin. It is always there and almost always closed (except for openings). I was there one night in June for a live rooftop performance: Paulina Olowska and two friends used their bodies to spell out poems by Strau and others.

7 “JACQUELINE HUMPHRIES: BLACK LIGHT PAINTINGS” (NYEHAUS, NEW YORK) The most memorable painting show in New York this year was Humphries’s tripped-out, daringly queasy exhibition of “Black Light Paintings” and painted light boxes. Her plugged-in works literally heated up the darkened rooms like ovens and melted down the boundary between painterly abstraction and sweaty nightclub decor.

8 THE ACCIDENT OF ART (SEMIOTEXT(E)) The latest in a series of dialogues between Sylvère Lotringer and Paul Virilio that began with Pure War in 1983, The Accident of Art attempts to diagnose the crisis of aesthetics in the age of the cruise missile and the implant. Known for his extreme theories on speed and disappearance, Virilio claims that if contemporary art continues to deny the missing ground beneath its feet it will soon be past the point of producing anything worth-while. Lotringer believes the crash has already happened, saying that art’s proliferating market is nothing but camouflage for its own postmortem condition. Virilio replies that an accident is not the same as the end of art: There’s still hope if art can live up to its own catastrophic destiny.

9 WAR OF THE WORLDS 9/11 revisited as multimillion-dollar B movie, embodied by unstoppable acting-machine Tom Cruise.

10 COCAINE KATE Destroy your favorite celebrity with a cell phone.

A New York–based artist and writer, John Kelsey is a member of Bernadette Corporation and codirector of Reena Spaulings, New York.