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<nettime> Cary Peppermint's "Curiously Strong" Americana
Laila Mohammed on 26 Mar 2001 23:34:00 -0000


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<nettime> Cary Peppermint's "Curiously Strong" Americana


Cary Peppermint's "Curiously Strong" Americana

By Brian Lennon


A question for for net.artists *maudit*: How much would you pay for something
real? This question is posed by "An American Work of Art in Progress," which
plays Zwischenology (Monique Roelofs) within the new+/-old commodity aesthetic
of what one might, with a semicolon-wink to Teilhard, now term "noomedia." But
then, holding that in your mind, think of the old: Gray's Elegy, Kis's
Encyclopedia of the Dead, Benjamin's angel of skyward debris, Mike Davis's
Llano del Rio---the ruins of L.A.'s alternative future: flush here with the
literary capital that net.art.criticism buries its head for, I mean to point to
the romantic function of alienated labor in dejecta: "Someone, somewhere made
me; someone, somewhere, used me: I am still here"---spoken by a forlorn pop
can, or Lispector's Macabea, from the pale of the gutter. The poetry in Marx's
notion of commodity fetishism has to do with this sadness of trash, of unloved
objects: update it to account for mechanical reproducibility, and you get the
"plague of fantasies" according to Zizek: Che vuoi? hot off the press,
receivable only in a state of distraction, more radically unloved for their
"spectralization" of a real (really desired) object. Update to account for
digitalization, and one speaks then of an englobement or enworldment of
fantasy; what divides reproduction from simulacrum is a vanishing plane.
Peppermint's invitation to a party "where you already happen to be" offers an
event occurring in advance, a "born posthumously," post modo---the flung
clothing, as it were, of an invisible sex machine. Am I hot, or what? Think of
it as a "Happy Hour For Every Hour Between Right Now And The Unbelievable Yet
Forthcoming Hour When All Happy Hours Are Over For Good and Discontinued
Throughout The Entire World." You can *do* things with this artwork in
progress. In the auction component, you buy useless items, images of useless
items, or instructions on how to perform with useless items and then auction
them off... In the gift shop, you placate the kids with a Hanes Beefy-T or a
coffee mug or a mouse pad inscribed with the Restless Consumer Warning:
artifacts triply bogus, twice ontically (as object and image) and then again
"because" their art-energy autodestructs when purchased. Or so they say. In the
photo album component, you look at pictures of a girl dancing in camouflage
pants and someone's wrestling T-shirt. Who is she?? Who is the guy?? Behind a
nimbus or aura, photo or muzzle flash of identicity, each iteration of her face
is subject and other, empty set and dollar sign. How much would you pay for
something real? Then there's the music store---well, not really; where you can
taste "undiscovered" talent and hunger for more. 

Everything's up for sale, yes. But that's too easy. Each component fashions
itself from the D.I.Y. machine of mid-tier services (Evite, Ebay, Mp3.com,
Zing) offering prepackaged experiential formats for the vox populi to adopt at
its leisure. "An American Work of Art in Progress" lives in that interior
public sphere accessed via the dual mode of "home privacy" plus logged invasion
and governed by the social contract including sincerity. But when the servant
becomes the master, daring to wipe from its face the expression of indigence,
"everything that it now does bears the mark of dissimulation" (Nietzsche). I
want to avoid easy conclusions---for instance, that we perform "resistance" by
violating such ad hoc and largely unsupervised conventions. First of all---who
notices? The problematic of simulation is that, well, some can tell and some
cain't. Yet Peppermint's Americana does not rest on the matter of "who gets
it." It is curiously strong. At least one of the larger questions it asks is:
Why are there always arriving new powers and knowledges (not least, new arts
bureaucracies) to help us confuse "living" with "making a living"? Also: Whose
are these nationalisms of art practice and art concept? Contra globalization
(and Net hype), all this---America, art, questions---is limited by one's own
location, one's own horizon, one's own capricious relating to a depoliticized
"new media art" everywhere fed by the illusion of a free lance. One didn't fall
to Earth, after all, only to lament.  There's more to say...

But back to the party. We have drained our penultimate glass of cash.  If the
"morning after" is ipso facto spectral (replicant memory), it is because we are
still waiting for a---the!---love affair. We do not yet realize how it arrived.
Where *was* that party, anyway? We're not simply "nowhere"---except in so far
as "nowhere" means some place you might have been, on the best of days. This is
the "future of art" conceived as an effort to see where "things are going" and
what we creatures are going to do about it. But while the future is empty in
art talk, it brims with quotidian Nextness in "real life." Which is finally
what Peppermint's components reference---deictically, as Barthes said of
chopsticks: indicating without ordering. Anarchic klik, break-it-down klik,
becomes e-commerce, build-it-up klik. Is it a brave new world? We mean to speak
here of genealogical, not revolutionary change, and of couvade, "sympathetic
pregnancy," as the new future. Peppermint's American artwork is in the
semidemilitarized zone, aspiring to fully coded commerce the way the Prairie
Lights bookstore in Iowa City aspires to San Francisco's City Lights---that is
to say, not really at all, although the signs converge: an instance of what
Gayatri Spivak, in an altogether different context, has called "the
spectralization of the rural." We are on the back end of The Sharper Imagism,
of Hammacher Schlemmerung. Detournement is an older name for it. But we prefer
to speak, with Zizek, of the art of pointless functionality, "the paradox of a
purpose without purposiveness," hypertrophying the instrument so as to remind
us---or to figure out in the first place---why we "do" anything at all.

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