Ben Baer on 20 Jul 2000 14:06:17 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] False Memory Syndrome

False Memory Syndrome:
Thoughts on "Exposure #0001: Information For The Other Sides Of Here"

They say that if you can remember the 60s then you werenıt really there. 
"Exposure #0001: Information For the Other Sides of Here" seemed to be an 
act of re-memoration of a certain 1960s, by and for a group of people who 
were too young even to have been able to forget that decade. It seems that, 
to a certain extent, the Anglo-US artworld is in the grip of an attempt to 
"remember" the 1960s in some way or other. What has provoked the recent 
emergence of numerous publications re-thinking (or even just re-presenting) 
material from that era? Or, on the register of aesthetic production, works 
which specifically address themselves to the question of remembering, and 
mis-remembering ­ or are they the same thing? ­ the art practices of the 
60s? (I am thinking most specifically of Silvia Kolbowski's "an inadequate 
history of conceptual art" shown recently at the Whitney Biennial, but Art & 
Language's recent exhibition at PS1 would do just as well as a way of asking 
about what is at stake in the desire to remember and re-present a history of 
a practice).

Cary Peppermint's "Exposure #0001" seemed to try and capture something like 
the texture of an art event of the 1960s or early 70s, rather than be a more 
academic reconstruction of what might have "happened" at one. For someone of 
Peppermint's generation, that texture is, strictly speaking, historically 
unavailable. An exercise of imagination therefore becomes necessary, if 
something as hard to pin down and specify as a texture is going to be 
produced, or experienced.   "Exposure #0001" took place in the artist's 
studio, just like many of the best events of the 1960s are supposed to have. 
Although that decade was to some extent the rediscovery of work done 
"outside the studio" (involving a critique of the site of production of art) 
it was also a moment when the studio itself was re-opened as a site of 
consumption and distribution. We know what has happened to the supposedly 
"critical" desire to exit the studio: Daniel Buren-style State Dada, Alfredo 
Jaar-style save-the-third-world-missions. Yet obviously, having a studio 
event today is nothing new, as the proliferation of studio-sited 
"alternative" art spaces attests, and Peppermintıs piece could simply be 
placed within this structure, which has itself become highly organized and 
institutionalized. The "alternative" space is itself another niche in the 
artworld, occupied by aspirants waiting for a more spectacular success 
elsewhere. In this sense we can say that the alternative is produced by the 
dominant, yet often presents itself as somehow oppositional. Peppermint is 
working with the painful implications of this situation, by trying to 
re-imagine an aspect of its historical emergence.

As I have already tried to suggest, then, Exposure #0001 appeared to be 
displacing these problems into the thinking of a moment when they were a bad 
dream, or a monstrous premonition. The strange hermeticism of Peppermintıs 
piece, the rooftop beer-drinking session, the passage through the building 
into the studio itself, and the weird "party" held in the studio space, 
could have been ways of trying to bracket the world of pushy professionalism 
and aggressive self-promotion. Not that the 60s were devoid of these things: 
we are imagining they may have been attenuated in certain ways, compared to 
today. (For instance, a few days later one person asked me how much I had 
paid to get in to this event, and was surprised to hear that it was free, 
interpreting the lack of entrance fee as a lack of success on behalf of the 
artist. Of course artists need to eat, but the comment was symptomatic of a 
moment in which big, self-avowedly "transgressive"  blood and-guts 
performance art brings in the dollars almost as efficiently as the Broadway 
musical Chicago).

The event was loosely organized around three distinct spaces in the studio 
building (a warehouse on Harlem's west side, overlooking the Hudson River). 
The rooftop provided a scopic view of the street's car wash, the west side 
highway, meat markets, fortified supermarket, NJ etc. ­ you couldnıt have 
asked for a better "life-art" dualism. This convenient viewpoint (art as 
elevated perspective) was itself overlooked by a pedestrian bridge, which 
emphasized the interstertial nature of the location, and detracted from the 
idea that this place might possess a privileged vantage point, as the 
topography of a studio rooftop or window would at first imply. Pissarro's 
1890s paintings of Parisian boulevards seen from above may have been 
critical attempts to map the spectacular re-development of the city with a 
mobile, elevated perspective, but here the idea that art could even attempt 
to master the city-as-spectacle was subtly undermined in the placement of 
the first section of the event. Its autonomy was marked as fragile, and 
sheerly relative.

Many of the elements comprising what I can only call the "props" for 
"Exposure #0001" appear to have been drawn from Peppermintıs personal 
grammar of memory: his father's taste for Budweiser Beer, for example, was 
manifested in the copious supplies of warm Budweiser consumed by the 
participants. The piece's main focus occurred in the studio room itself, in 
which a strange kind of party was held. To come back to the remembering of 
the 60s, the idea of artwork-as-party does not necessarily reproduce actual 
events (it probably does), but rather attempts to cathect the moment when an 
art community managed to connect art-making and sociality, however 
problematically and briefly. I am not saying that this does not happen 
anymore, but the age of the palm pilot and the teenage stockbroker leaves 
less and less space for hanging out, for extended, undirected discussion. 
Technocratically determined speed-up and workaholism have certainly pushed 
us into thinking fairly instrumentally about what we do, and this way of 
thinking is not necessarily a bad thing. We cannot afford the simple 
nostalgia of a world without instrumentalities. In a sense, Peppermint's 
staging of a party in which the participants were made very aware of their 
activities (by being videoed and photographed with polaroids which were then 
made available) was a way of trying to articulate this state of affairs. The 
participants were vaguely requested to behave as if at a party (talking, 
dancing etc.) but to freeze in position when the music and lights faded. 
These moments would be recorded on polaroids, which resembled shots taken of 
"life" rather than the tableaux they were. It was the interruption of 
sociality in a way that made visible another agenda, pointing away from the 
simple memorialization of a 1960s art-and-sociality towards an indication of 
the distance we are from that moment. The difference between the 
indexicality of the photographs, and the virtual imaging of video staged the 
time differential in an exquisite way.

It has always struck me as ironic that the technocratic utopians of the 
1960s promised that the automated future would mean an endless leisure 
utopia, where no-one would have to work. Of course it is quite the reverse. 
More technology equals more work, and more intense work. Peppermint's 
anxious attempt to remember a certain 1960s, while being obliged to 
interrupt that memorialization with the indices of   "our time", was 
precisely an uncoercive "exposure" ­ a setting-forth or laying-out ­ in 

Ben Baer
NYC 2000

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