Andrea Fraser

Galerie Nagel Draxel | Antwerp

“I’ve always been very ambivalent about my field, and I made a kind of career out of that . . . ambivalence, but recently, it’s gotten extremely difficult. . . .” In the right-hand channel of her most recent DVD installation, Andrea Fraser is projected at life size and repeatedly bursts into tears. She speaks about feelings of failure, her “long history of commitment to certain principles,” desire for recognition despite her own privileged position, feelings of envy and shame, and admittedly all-too-indecisive rejection of the marketplace and its logic of injustice. Alternately, Fraser is also projected on the left-hand channel—but here, rather than slouching barefoot in an orange Arne Jacobsen armchair with her legs tucked under her, as on the opposite wall of the gallery, she is instead sitting upright and seems composed. She speaks insistently at times, now pointedly, now reassuringly, sometimes questioning the authenticity of the emotions as well as the self-understanding exhibited by her counterpart (“Right now . . . I mean, are these tears genuine, or? They don’t seem to be a performance”; “I don’t consider you a threat to social norms—but you do”) and ultimately denying the ineluctability of the institutionalization of contemporary art: “If you leave this system behind . . . what are you losing?”

Projection, 2008, is based on therapy sessions in which Fraser took part as a patient and which have been transcribed from video recordings and divided into two scripts consisting of five monologues each. In the process, Fraser turned past tense into present and switched personal and demonstrative pronouns. As always, the artist gives a highly convincing performance before the camera, playing the roles of both therapist and patient. In this condensed reenactment, the “talking cure” is now simultaneously dialogue and soliloquy, forcing the viewer into a voyeuristic position in relation to the artist’s seemingly unabashed exhibitionism. In this show, then, Fraser has recoded the socioeconomic framework of contemporary art as a site of psychoanalytic transference. It is nearly impossible to distance oneself either from the emotional impact or the enigmatic entertainment value of this scene, which at the traditional length of a therapeutic session of fifty minutes oscillates between supposedly liberating confession and the unbearable banality of self-help culture.

In a text from 2005, Fraser argued that institutional critique could be defined only in terms of a “critically-reflexive site-specificity” that includes “our relations to that site and the social conditions of those relations.” And she pointed out the inherently melancholy structure of this form of critique, which can exist only as “an enactment of the splitting of the institution of art into subject and object of artistic investigation.” By explicitly bringing this “splitting” (which has its source in the self-criticism of the avant-garde as an institution) to bear on the psychoanalytic process of transference, in which unconscious desires are projected onto an object in the framework of a specific relationship, Fraser has once more made clear that it is the institutional framework itself that makes possible both analysis and critique—yet by the same token represents the greatest resistance to them. Since the anxieties and self-doubts “confessed” by Fraser in Projection seem just as private as banal, the specificity of this critique paradoxically lies in a relentless acknowledgment of both the generic nature of the structures it faces (“Transference,” as Jean Laplanche famously noted, is “the very milieu of analysis”) and the limits of self-reflexivity it defines. In the face of the necessity “to make a kind of career out of that . . . ambivalence,” the critic’s judgment likewise can only be a projection bearing witness to, among other things, unconscious desires, conflicted aspirations, and, indeed, ambivalences.

André Rottmann

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.