waz on 15 Dec 2000 23:30:05 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> This artwork degrades women.

On nettime, all over the world, Simon Penny presented his email 'This
artwork degrades women', in which a work of art by Alexander Brandt
lying face down is projected (life size) into a crumpled heap in the
waste basket. The only way to interact with this email is to stomp on
the work of art, and the only reward is that you can feel smug and
self-satisfied about having made a judgement about something you have
not seen. If you read it a lot, Alexander Brandt himself fades away. The
work of art never objects or defends itself, but neither does it request
this treatment. It is simply the only possible mode of understanding it
presented to the user. If there is anything more to the email, it
escaped me, though other people who have read it may not agree with me.

It bears emphasising that this email was not a fetishised object of
academic literature, it was not published in print form or posted onto a
website, there is nothing about the writing contrived to induce
pleasure. The tone is greyed out and pale, its eyes are closed, we are
abject. A soundtrack of a plaintive wailing song sung by a Professor of
Art, Design and Media (my lack of better ethnomusicological knowledge
prevents greater precision) adds to the air of misery.

Of the possible combinations of words and sentences which are available
to desktop computer based email practice, this combination could
conceivably arise as a possibility. But it is difficult to understand
why one would decide to proceed with its realization. It is even more
difficult to understand why the curators of the list decided that this
email (and not another) deserved the international spotlight. One can
only assume there were no works of art represented on those committees.
Perhaps it was considered an issue of freedom of speech. It looked more
like hate-speech to me. Has art criticism waned that much? Or perhaps
there was a post-modernist tradition to uphold, the tradition of nettime
posters dragging naked ASCII characters around on the floor, daubed in

Lets try a little freshman-level analysis-by-replacement. What if it had
been a book, or a film, or a song? A sculpture in ice, a poem written to
be performed in public? A painting by a friend of yours? The situation
would be more complex if we knew what kind of genitals the person who
wrote it had, and much more complex still if they were multilingual. But
inescapably, the audience is invited to make judgements about a work of
art it has not seen.

But of course, its only an email, isn't it? Just a harmless email? Well,
an email which viscerally responds to my intense desire to feel
self-righteous in the world, but still, just an email. And when
struggling artists take day jobs that drain them of all creative energy
and desire to express themselves this in no way trains them to stop
being artists. And when writers focus on using their skills to give
other people a kicking, the skills they develop don't transfer to the
real world, do they?

On reflection, one might build this narrative: when I kick hard, art of
ideas that I don't like recedes and drifts away, eventually becoming
invisible. So: the thing I must do is kick it, and the reward I get is
that it appears to go away from me: it no longer offends my sight. But,
phoenix-like, the same ideas recur in the work of other artists, lying
again prone, as if asleep, before me. And so I have to stomp on it again
and again. Its a Sisyphean labor of eradication.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the email was designed to provoke the kind of
reaction I am describing. There were no clues that this was the case,
but perhaps such clues would have let me off the hook. Even if the title
'This artwork degrades women' holds a key to some sort of reflexivity in
the piece, it is excellently obscured by the fact that few readers of
nettime will be that familiar with pinyin (see Note 1).

Even if the argument is made that the description of a work of art can
function critically, the argument stumbles here in two ways. Firstly, it
is not just a description of a work of art, but an actual limb-from-limb
dismembering of it, in which the reader is presented with a single point
of view. And secondly, if there is any critical framing, it is so weak
in comparison to the power of the single opinion running through the
email that it is overwhelmed. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion
that the description of the work of art is intended to damage forever
the view of that work and of the artist in the reader.

Is it that abusive reviews are somehow acceptable in the cutting edge of
electronic media art reviewing? Another email with similar undertones of
questionable artistic sensibility was sent to nettime in the last year,
but that was dealt with sufficiently in another parody.

In the old days of net art criticism, one would see emails discussing
art which actually gave the artist credit for some level of
intelligence. It was good solid simple discussion. Now we get calls for
people who have not seen a particular work to go and deface it based on
hearsay. So, what of the many artists presumably reading nettime? Is the
risk that Simon Penny might decide that your work 'degrades women' not a
perfect object for study, action, even old fashioned
consciousness-raising? Is it not an excellent case study of the
potentiality of electonic representations to encourage or reinforce
prejudice and/or censorship of artistic expression in the real world? Or
is it OK to stomp on the faces of artists who presumably are ideally
suited lying naked, prone and passive on a rag on the cold floor, just
crying out for Professors of Art Design and Media to stomp on them?

Wayne Myers 15/12/2000

Note 1.
pinyin has about as much to do with this email as it did with the one of
which this is a parody. if you don't know what it is, you can look it up
on the internet, if that kind of thing bothers you.

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