3 Figures: Context is the Postmodern Medium

  • Sumo

Context is the postmodern medium. So when artists and critics appropriate, they re-contextualize nouns such as people, places, and things and thereby draw our attention to meaning-as-such rather than to the material-as-such. Material-as-such has been the more traditional site of commerce, endeavor, publication, etc. However, the information industries have caused both maker and viewer to conjugate their realisms according to one’s wakefulness to one’s relative subject position and its instability. Such a focal flip between modern material-as-meaning (John Ashbery’s reviews of Larry Rivers’ collages) to postmodern meaning-as-material (Roland Barthes’ essays on the death of the author or the grain of voice), frames my desire to discuss my own work with found objects. I will discuss 3 digital images of alley-traffic flattened red cardboard (presented as figures on white background).

Against the traditions of semiotic criticism and deconstructive free play, I want to ask how and what these found images (or alternately, alley trash) might mean. Does appropriative intervention subvert the art market differently today than in Mina Loy and Marcel Duchamp’s day? Does it subvert the biography of the maker (or of the one who contextualizes or mediates or publicizes the found noun)? What happens to the practices and understandings of individual style, talent, and vision when meaning replaces material as the site of attention? Do appropriative interventions help us to increase tolerance, or help us to learn from history so we are less shackled to cliché, or help us to conceptualize others’ intentionality?