<%BANNER%>

Puppet Masters: The Object as Performer in Art


PAGE 1

1 PUPPET MASTERS: THE OBJECT AS PERFORMER IN ART By NATALIE HADDAD A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

PAGE 2

2 Copyright 2006 By Natalie Haddad

PAGE 3

3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The completion of this thesis would not have been possible without the support of many individuals. Firstly, I would like to thank my committee chai r, Alexander Alberro, for going above and beyond the office of an academic advisor, for encouraging my ideas, and for always guiding me in the best direction. I would like al so to thank Nora Alte r, whose knowledge and insights proved indispensable, and Eric Segal, w hose help at the worst of times allowed me to complete my work. In addition, I am indebted to Diedrich Diedrichsen fo r his generous counsel and personal accounts as I research ed Martin Kippenberger. I am thankful as well to Marcia Isaacson for her instrumental role in my efforts to research overseas, and to Kristin Flierl, who was available to help whenever problems arose. Outside of UF, thanks are due to my former Editor-in-Chief, Jonathan Mahalak, for continua lly pushing me to improve my writing. And my final chapter would have lacked any virulence without its original in spiration, Alan Vega. I am extremely grateful to my friends a nd family. Jaime Henderson, Robyn Reese, and Lauren Turner shared in my scholarship and encouraged me through a sometimes-arduous writing process. Meghan Cruz and Angela Perez provided the comfort and care of a family, as did Selim Pasho. Finally, I wish to express my immense gratitude to my parents, Jan and Cam, and, above all, my sister, Alexandra, for their abiding love and support.

PAGE 4

4 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................3 LIST OF FIGURES................................................................................................................ .........5 ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... ..............7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................... .8 2 MARTIN KIPPENBERGERS IDEOLOGICAL OBJECTS................................................19 3 MIKE KELLEYS BANAL OBJECTS.................................................................................47 4 SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATO RIES NIHILISTIC OBJECTS..............................76 5 CONCLUSION.....................................................................................................................100 LIST OF REFERENCES.............................................................................................................102 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................106

PAGE 5

5 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1.1. Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series 1974, silver gelatin prints......................16 1.2. Chris Burden, Through the Night Softly 1973, performance still.........................................17 2.1. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, Canada, 1995.............................35 2.2. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, interior detail..............................36 2.3. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Syros, Greece, 1993..........................................37 2.4. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, Germany, 1997...................................38 2.5. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, front entrance......................................39 2.6. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Crushed) Metro Pictures, New York, 1997...................40 2.7. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Transportable) Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, 1997........................................................................................................................... .........41 2.8. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (above ground), Munster, Germany, 1997........................................................................................................................... .........42 2.9. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (underground), MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, 1998.................................................................................43 2.10. Martin Kippenberger, Knechte des Tourismus (Vassals of Tourism) 1979........................44 2.11. Martin Kippenberger, 21 Jahre unter Euch, Kippenberger 1953-1974 (21 Years Among You, Kippenberger 1953-1974) 1974, detail........................................................45 2.12. Martin Kippenberger, Jahrhundert Kippenberger al s einer von Euch, unter Euch, mit Euch ( Century of Kippenberger as One of You, Among You, With You) 1978........................................................................................................................... .........46 3.1. Mike Kelley, Dialogue #1, 1991........................................................................................63 3.2. Mike Kelley, Dialogue #5 (One Hand Clapping), 1991.....................................................64 3.3. Haim Steinbach, basics 1986, plastic laminated wood shelf, polyester, plastic and foam bears, vinyl bear.............................................................................................................. ...65 3.4. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1991.........................................................................................66 3.5. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology detail.................................67

PAGE 6

6 3.6. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology detail.................................68 3.7. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1991........................................................................................................................... .........69 3.8. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart detail..............................................................70 3.9. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart photograph....................................................71 3.10. Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, 1995.......................................................................72 3.11. Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, overhead view........................................................73 3.12. Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, detail......................................................................74 3.13. Mike Kelley, Educational Complex working drawing.....................................................75 4.1. Survival Research Laboratories, advertisement, Boulevards magazine, 1978......................91 4.2. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices : A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish Los Angeles, 1985, performance still.......................................................................................92 4.3. Survival Research Laboratories, Flame Whistle................................................................93 4.4 Survival Research Laboratories, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief 1988, film still.........94 4.5. Survival Research La boratories, Inchworm.......................................................................95 4.6. Survival Research Laboratories, Mummy Go Round........................................................96 4.7. Survival Research Laboratories, Rabot..............................................................................97 4.8. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices : A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish performance still.............................................................................................................. ..98 4.9. Survival Research Laboratories, The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts, Austin, Texas, 1997, performance still...........................................99

PAGE 7

7 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts PUPPET MASTERS: THE OBJECT AS PERFORMER IN ART By Natalie Haddad December 2006 Chair: Alexander Alberro Major Department: Art History Performance art is a genre in which the artist s actions, or actions directed by the artist, are the product. In much perfor mance art, the artist is the ar t. Phenomenology posits that the body precedes the mind in its dialogue with the phe nomenal world; thus th e artist in performance is also an object in performance. This thes is addresses through a framework of phenomenology the potential of inanimate objects in art to communicate as performe rs. By occupying a role that diverges from or parodies its in tended function, the art object can act upon or affect the viewing subject and create a dynamic that approximates the exchange between a viewer and a live performer. The thesis is organi zed into three models of perfor mance. The first model examines the object as a performer of ideology through a series of installations and printed works by Martin Kippenberger (German, 1953-1997). Th e second model examines the object as a performer of banality, through a series of installations by Mike Kelley (American, b. 1954). The third model examines the object as a performer of nihilism, as represented by the machine performances of San Francisco-based art colle ctive Survival Research Laboratories (formed 1978). In all three models, the objects action upon th e subject calls into que stion the authority of the subject over the object, as enforced by Ca rtesian subjectivity, and, furthermore, foregrounds the fundamental objectness of the human subject.

PAGE 8

8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Olympias image hovered above his path in the air and stepped forth out of the bushes, and peeped up at him with large and lustrous eyes from the bright surface of the brook. Claras image was completely faded from his mi nd; he had no thoughts except for Olympia.1 In E.T.A. Hoffmans 1817 story The Sand-Man the protagonist, Na thaniel, abandons his betrothed, Clara, to pursue a de lusional and fitful love for his professors daughter, the automaton Olympia. Any theoretical analysis of The Sand-Man should take for granted the symbolic topography of the narrative. In The Uncanny, Freud portrays Ol ympia as a peripheral vehicle for the storys central theme, the fear of castration. Neither human nor machine, Freuds Olympia is a dead gaze toward Nathaniels Oe dipus complex. Remove the symbolism, however, and the story is no less uncanny. The subject Nathan iel falls in love with an object. The dark fantasy of Hoffmanns romance thus bodies forth a te xt as rich and strange as the storys subtext. Nathaniels attraction to Olym pia exceeds her human appearance and her beautythe most beautiful mannequins are still marked as other to humans, objects singul arly statuesque and soulless, which represent an ideal, but never embody it.2 Olympia attracts not because she mirrors a human, but because she performs as one. This thesis contends that objects have the capacity to co mmunicate in relation to the conscious subject through means traditionally reserved for the subject. As they signify, the objects occupy roles through which th ey act upon or affect their ot hers, including the subject. In other words, the objects perform. To some degree, the object has always been acknowledged within performance: obviously, in puppetry; less obviously, though signi ficantly, in the stage 1 E.T.A. Hoffman, The Sand-Man, Weird Tales, trans. J. T. Bealby (New York: Books for Libraries Pr ess, 1970), 199-200. 2 Hoffman, 205.

PAGE 9

9 props that facilitate an actors performance. Yet in both cases, the objects performance is a product of the subjects agency. I propose to rec onsider the object as a potential performer in itself, not merely as the subject s prop. The visual arts offers an effective entry into the subject matter because performance is pref igured in the exchange that takes place between the viewing subject and the object that is on display expressly to be viewed. The thesis is organized into three chapters; each addresses the performing objec t through a model of performance and through representative works by a specifi c artist or art collective. Defining an object as in perfor mance requires first ascribing to the object the agency to perform. Because agency is typically thought as something enabled by consciousness, and thus given over to the subject, the performing object is be st understood in terms of the subjects performance. In Performances: Belief in the Part One Is Playing, Erving Goffman attempts to carry the subject in performance beyond the pros cenium. According to Goffman, a performance is all the activity of an indi vidual which occurs during a peri od marked by his[/her] continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers.3 Thus, any activity which takes place in front of observers, and to which the observers respond, is a performance (Goffmans examples include doctors treating patient s with placebos and mechanics checking tire pressure for anxious women motorists).4 J.L. Austins seminal lecture series, How To Do Things With Words, delivered in 1955 at Harvard, addresses a concept relative to Go ffmans everyday performance, the performative utterance. The performative u tterance is a statement that does something or, per Austin, it allows 3 Erving Goffman, Performances: Belief in the Part One Is Playing , The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 61. 4 Goffman, 60.

PAGE 10

10 the speaker to do something (as in I do in a wedding ceremony).5 The power of words to do things is therefore pr edicated on the speakers agencybut the word, as opposed to the speaking subject, is the agent of the effect. As the doing shifts from the speaker to that which is spoken, the locus of the effect becomes the word itself. The semiotic sleight of hand that allows the words I condemn you, for example, a real consequencethat someone is condemned to somethingprompts a redistribution of power which is founded in performance (in this case, the words performance), and which unsettles the subjects hege mony over the object.6 The concept of performativity, which encompasses the performative utterance, is more abstract (Austin confined the la tter within strict and subsequen tly contested parameters). In Henry Bials words, the performative is similar in form, in intent, in effectto a theatrical performance.7 Bials statement underscores the diffi culty of defining performativity. But it points to at least an ob lique relationship with performance. In reductive terms, the performative is the evidence of the performance. Jointly, th e two above positionsGoffmans and Austins provide a foundation for the performing object. Pe rformativity demonstrates a link between the word or object and the act of performan ce, and the everyday performance recognizes the role of the observer, along with the performer. The pr oblematic of the object in performance (as opposed to the performative object) is thus negotiated by the positions, but neither one allows for its resolution because both secure the performance or the perfo rmative to the subject. Paradoxically, though, the subject is simultane ously the fundamental performing object. Against the Cartesian discourse of the subject as disembodi ed consciousness, phenomenology 5 J.L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words, The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 17. 6 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 16. 7 Henry Bial, Performativity, The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 145.

PAGE 11

11 proposes an embodied subjectivity. It posits that the subject experiences the world as a sentient body prior to his/her cognitive engagement; in brief, the body precedes the mind. In his 1964 essay The IntertwiningThe Chiasm (publis hed posthumously), Ma urice Merleau-Ponty addresses in particular the phenomen ological subject-object exchange. The chiasmus refers to the intertwining between the subj ect and his/her surrounding worl d. According to Merleau-Ponty, the two partsthe subject and the ob jectare inseparable as what he calls the flesh of the world. He writes, Where are we to put the limit betw een the body and the world, since the world is flesh? The world seen is not in my body, and my body is not in the visible world ultimately: as flesh applied to a flesh, the world neither surrounds it nor is surrounded by it.8 Merleau-Pontys chiasmus finds a poignant expression in the work of body artists from the late 1960s and the 1970s. In contrast to pr evious performance artis ts, for whom the action typically presides over the actor, the body artist produces an object-based art in which the body is privileged; the perf ormance is the apparatus through wh ich the body manifests itself. Early feminist artists such as Hannah Wilke and Ca rolee Schneemann, for instance, responded to western cultures masculinist objectificat ion of the female body by hyperbolizing the its visibility.9 Coextensively, the masochistic performances of artists like Gina Pane, Vito Acconci, and (probably most notoriously) Chris Burden trea ted the body as an expressive surface, wrested apart from its ruling subjectivity.10 The feminist and the masoch istic artists equally foreground the body-as-object in performance; yet in both ca ses, the work implicitly enforces the hegemony 8 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The IntertwiningThe Chiasm, The Theory of Difference: Readings in Contemporary Thought ed. Douglas L. Donkel (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 122. 9 I am thinking of works such as Wilkes Hannah Wilke: Through the Large Glass (1976-78) and Schneemanns Naked Action Lecture (1968) and Interior Scroll (1975). 10 Each of the artists here used self-abuse as a form of expression: for example, Acconci repeatedly bites his body in Trademarks (1970) and Pane cuts her stomach in Action Psyche (1974). Regarding Chris Burdens notoriety, one can see works such as Shoot (1971) and Through the Night Softly (1973).

PAGE 12

12 of the subject. The body in the former is weighted with the politics of it s particularity (gender, race, shape, appearance) and ex teriorized as object in order to reassert a particularized subjectivity. Similarly, the act of self-abuse in th e latter asserts the will of the subject over the object. In other words, the obj ect performs, but the subjec t receives all the credit. More recently, the performance art of Vane ssa Beecroft has inaugurated a space for the body finally free of the subj ects inexorable will. Fo r performances such as vb47 (2001), Beecroft instructs an assembly of nude or nearly nude models to pose, essentially, as objects: they move slowly and self-consciously, if at al l; mute and on display, as bodies to be viewed. The models act as agents upon the viewer not in spite of, but because of their sheer objectness. The body is here theatricalized as an impassive su rface that tempts subjects projections in order to shoot them back. Thus Beecrofts desubjectified bodies give way to Hoffmanns automaton. Functionally, the models and the automaton are equivalent: th e viewer/reader projects the difference. And it serves only his/her interests. For all intents and purposes, subj ectivity for Beecrofts models and for Olympia is superfluous; more, it may be a hindrance. The success of both performances lies in their ability to unsettle the subjectindee d, to unsettle subjectivit y. As they provoke the revenge of the Cartesian subject against the ph enomenological one, they lay bare our collective insecurity as bodies threatened by our embodiment and, thus, our visibility. As Jacques Lacan writes, The picture, certainly, is in my eye. But I, I am in the picture.11 In particular, Olympias performanceand her concomitant power to act upon the viewerposes a threat because it grants the object the subjects agency. Still, Olympias pe rformance is relatively easy to assimilate into 11 Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), 96.

PAGE 13

13 a traditional performance framework because she appears to be human.12 But if, as MerleauPonty proposed, the object is the flesh that is the subject, the performing object is not limited to the anthropomorphic one. The object mediates the subjects engagement with the world and, in Lacanian terms, it gazes back, as Lacans sardine can gazed back at him.13 No single definition exists to distinguish the ob ject that performs from one that evidently does not; any object is potentiall y a performer. For clarity, howe ver, a provisional definition is worthwhile. The performing object, like the performative utterance, is one that does something. It acts upon its environmentincluding the viewin g subject; it enacts a role removed from its ostensible function. The chapters that follow address the performing object within art through three broad models of performance: 1) the ideological; 2) the banal; and 3) the nihilistic Like any models, these are intended as guidelines; if th e object performs, it also slipslike the subject between positions and purposes. Chapter one addresses the dialogue between the performing object and the ideological structures that organize western society through a series of works by German artist Martin Kippenberger. Kippenberger exteri orizes the strategies of we stern ideology by appropriating them into his own art practice. Id eologies situate our relationship with art, yet art allows a space in which those ideologies may be infiltrated and inverted. Kippenbergers worksin particular his early self-portraits and tourist photographspe rform identity and thus transform the artist himself into a grand gesture, a performing object. Similarly, his Metro-Net World Connection a trompe loeil subway system, theat ricalizes the performativity inherent in our negotiation of ideologies. Furthermore, the doubling devices of parody and irony expose the structures through 12 This theme is apparent in science fiction movies featuri ng automata or androids, from the early science fiction of Fritz Langs Metropolis (1927) to such late dystopian films as Ridley Scotts Blade Runner (1982). 13 I m referring to Lacans anecdote in which a sardine ca n caught in the sunlight s eems to gaze at the author. Fundamental Concepts 95.

PAGE 14

14 which they signify. As a result, the works never fa ll prey to the ideologies that they seek to interrogate, as is the possible pitfall of political artwork Chapter two abandons Kippenbergers grand gestures and transitions to the quotidian side of ideology vis--vis American artist Mike Kelley. Kelleys wo rk with craft materials and infamouslysoiled stuffed animals from the 1980s exploits both the pat hos and the relentless banality of the objects. Th e pieces address foundational ideologies including religion and Cartesianism in order to debase themto reduce them to the detritus of Middle America. In his Dialogue series Kelleys stuffed animals distantiat e the disembodied subject by performing their own (inevitably failed) disembodiment. They pers onify waste as they beckon projection, and in turn they initiate a chiasmic exchange in whic h the flesh of the world is pockmarked. His work with Repressed Memory Syndrome, specifically the architectural model Educational Complex, extends the banal into the invisible spaces of repressed memory as the model enacts a metanarrative of repressed trauma The chapter examines the ways in which a prosaic object (here, the architectural model) can, like the toys, hype rbolize its banality, by performing against it. Finally, chapter three considers the objects capacity to perform the implosion of meaning. The performing machines of Mark Pauline and his San Francisco-based collective Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) serve as a nihilistic attack on the other two models. The machines signal a radical return to the kinetic object in art. Yet where previous kinetic pieces posited the artwork primarily as a novelty or as an avat ar of technological prog ressionthus a utopian objectSRL repositions the object within a dystopian framework.14 The performances, which pit 14 Works such as Jean Tinguelys Study for the End of the world No. 1 (1961) and The Dissecting Machine (1965) serve as obvious precedents for SRLs destructive machines. However, in early kinetic works, such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagys Light Space Modulator (1930) and Alexander Calders mobiles (first shown in 1932), an emphasis on the constructive properties of technology is far more apparent than Tinguelys later emphasis on destruction.

PAGE 15

15 machines against one another in battles without winners, articulate a sphere emptied of meaning and consequence. They integrate violence, technology (primarily military), political iconography and deathrepresented by animal skeletons and carcassesinto an absurd anti-spectacle, which ultimately produces nothing, and, moreover, which impedes the valuation of anything produced within its sphere. Performance, as an act or as a concept, is el usive. It exists in tr ansitionas much in the interstices between acts as on the stage. The performer accommodates the performance by transitioning with it. The object, without consciou sness, is the performers apparent antithesis. However the act is not located within the actor: it is inscribed in the events and in the objects that constitute the world. And if the vi ewer is necessary to the performance, it is as witness, not as master.

PAGE 16

16 Figure 1.1. Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series 1974, silver gelatin prints.

PAGE 17

17 Figure 1.2. Chris Burden, Through the Night Softly 1973, performance still.

PAGE 18

18 Figure 1.3. Vanessa Beecroft, vb47 2001, performance still.

PAGE 19

19 CHAPTER 2 MARTIN KIPPENBERGERS IDEOLOGICAL OBJECTS In 1993, two years after his monumental installation Tiefes Kehlchen ( Deep Throat ) in an auxiliary construction tunnel for an underground transit system in Vienna, Martin Kippenberger began work on his Metro-Net World Connection Billed in his 1995 Metro-Net catalogue as a world-wide subway, the Metro-Net was a netw ork of trompe-loeil subway entrances and ventilation shafts installed in improbable lo cations throughout the world. By 1998, it comprised three sited entrances (in Syro s, Greece; Dawson City, Yukon, Canada; and Leipzig, Germany), a transportable entrance for Documenta X (Kassel, Germany), a crushed entrance for Metro Pictures (New York), and two ventilation sh afts (MAK Center, Los Angeles; Mnster, Germanytransportable). Against physical and te chnological limitations, the project conjured an illusory system of global containment. It also de monstrated the capacity of objects to perform. Kippenbergers project belongs to a vast genealogy of perf ormative art objects: in 1961, for example, Piero Manzoni produced Socle du Monde, an iron and bronze pedestal with the titled inscribed upside-down. In Socle du Monde the pedestal and the (literal or implied) body of the viewer transform the piece from a purely semiotic exercisea pedestal of the world carried out through languageinto a performative act. Yet where Manzonis gesture is primarily an extension of the readymadean interrogation of the artworks limitationsthe Metro-Net negotiates the boundaries of ideology by performing an impossible system. In the Metro-Net the objects capacity to perform is bound neither to a conventional performan ce nor to an essential characteristic of the object (as in Mike Kelle ys stuffed toys); the projects performance, particularly vis-a-vis th e viewer, transcends its objects. The project performs in the theatrical sense of the term: it plays what it is not; objects, as actors, perform a global transit system as an allegory of the ideological syst em of globalism. In Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,

PAGE 20

20 Althusser writes, What is represented in ideology is not the system of real relations which govern the existence of individuals but the imaginary re lation of those indivi duals to the real relations in which they live.1 Ideology is thus a system of perf ormed relations that is perpetually denied access to the real relations it performs. The Metro-Net materializes Althussers formulation by enacting a real (m aterial) relational system that stands in for, without ever accessing, an imaginary (ideological) system. The subway, in particular, is an apt metaphor for globalism, which is both born from and doomed by a larger ideo logical system, utopianism. A subway is a modernist system, a technologized network in which lin es of travel are (theoretically ) neither isolated (as with air travel) nor hampered (as with ground travel). The subterranean structure is veiled, but open; it functions through unification. The Metro-Net sublates the mechanics of the system to a point of transcendence in the sense that it operates outside of physi cal limitationsi.e., oceans and continents. The utopian encoding of its fantastica l technology is inscribe d throughout the project. The modernist technocracy and the postmodern global village are interf aced to (per)form a utopian body that is simultaneou sly immaterial (liberated from the world) and encompassing (containing the world). The Metro-Net inevitably fails as utopian, however, because its material, and thus ideological, system does not exist. As Steven Prina writes, Kippenberger substitutes an ongoing, fragmented program that promises, but never delivers, a to talizing structure.2 The Metro-Net desublimates the ideological system that it conjures by acting out, through its own material fragmentation, the impossibility of an unbroken global network. The immateriality of the system is inverted into absence; the totaliz ing structure is a pant omime horse. In his essay, 1 Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation), Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays trans. Ben Brewster (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 2001). 2 Steven Prina, Regard the Pit, Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West ed. Peter Noever (Los Angeles, CA: MAK Center for Art and Architecture, 1998), 11.

PAGE 21

21 Crash, Baudrillard writes, [T]echnology is the mortal deconstruc tion of the bodyno longer a functional medium, but the extension of death.3 Baudrillards referent is a ritual body of a modernist dystopia (as in the novel/film Crash )one still harnessed to a utopian-dystopian binary in which one term is always the precondition for the other.4 By contrast, the Metro-Net is a product (at least contextually) of the alienated body of postmodernism; yet, it implicates the binary in the sense that the systems strategi c failure inverts its utopi an encoding. However, by performing the transit system a nd its concomitant ideological system, it instead undermines the binary: the absurdity of the project lays bare the utopian and the dystopian as naturalized constructs posed as essential (if impossible) stat esas performances. It denaturalizes by flaunting the fissures of a global system through a double in terrogation, of globalism s mythic whole and of its own futility as a critique of an impossible system. In Br echtian terms, it performs the performance (as opposed to the role) in order to expose bot h performances as fakes.5 The relationship between the individual objects their illusory networkis integral to the efficacy of the performance: the objects can only form a system by transcending their materiality. However, the Metro-Net s identity is contingent on th e particularity of the pieces. Each one performs its own role, in dialogue with its context, and is stra tegically removed from its referent in reality.6 Of the three installed entrances, only Leipzig is closed from the exterior (Syros and Dawson City allow the viewer to desce nd a flight of stairs be fore encountering locked gates/doors). The entrance, almost twice as deep as those in Syros and Dawson City and painted 3 Jean Baudrillard, Crash, Simulacra and Simulation trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 111. 4 Because a dystopian body, or system is the inverse of the utopian, it is still anchored to a whole. The fragmentation of the body in Crash is literal, or represented through th e literal bodies of automobiles. The fragmented body is alienated from its metaphysical wholeness only because of its dystopia n state; but the wholeness is acknowledged. 5 I am referring here to Brechts Verfremdungseffekt, or es trangement effect, which Bial describes as a theatrical technique that makes the familiar ap pear strange and/or the strange a ppear familiar. Bial, Performing, The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial (New York, NY: Routledge, 2004), 183. 6 By referent in reality, I simply mean an actual, functioning subway system.

PAGE 22

22 an industrial gray, is locked with steel gates be aring the insignia of Kippenbergers pseudo mens club, the Lord Jim Lodge.7 Paradoxically, the absence of a body (l iteral or implied) within the structure promotes the illusion because the viewer approaches an evidently nonfunctioning system rather than an inexpli cable underground termination (the interior point at which the performance ends).8 The artifice of the entrance is inscribe d in its context (Leipzig Trade Fair) and in the absurdity of the system, therefore the illusion is stripped as it is built. By blocking off the termination, though, the reality of an absence is collapsed into the same metaphysical sphere as the illusion of a presence. While the Leipzi g entrance proposes an equivalence between nonexistence and nonfunction, it additionally poin ts to the slippage between function and nonfunction. It reverses the order of the readym ade which, in reductive terms, is a functional object performing as a nonfunctional object.9 The entrance is, rather, a nonfunctional art object performing as a nonfunctioning utilita rian object. But because the reversal is performed, it serves to destabilize the functio n-nonfunction binary on which the rea dymade is predicated. It redefines the terms of nonfunction by assigning to both the functiona l and nonfunctional object the same function, of performance, thereby expos ing the binary as a social construct. By contrast, the Syros and Dawson City entrance s flaunt their fictions In both sites, the viewer descends the stairs into a corridor, in wh ich he/she is immersed in the structure, and its attendant illusion. Where the Leip zig entrance facilita tes the portrayal of an actual subway system by distancing the viewer, the Syros a nd Dawson City entrances absorb the viewer, 7 It is worth pointing out that, according to Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West the bars are wide enough to squeeze through. By locking the gate, ho wever, Kippenbe rger presumably intended the entrance to be closed off. Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West 54. 8 The illusion of a nonfunctioning subway is furthered in the introduction to the catalogue to the exhibition Nach Kippenberger, in which the exhibitions curator begins an anecdote with an out-of-order subway. See, Eva MeyerHermann, Nach Kippenberger, Nach Kippenberger ed. Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Knig, 2003). 9 One can think of perhaps the most famous readymade, Duchamps Fountain (1917 ), which was essentially a urinal performing as an artwork.

PAGE 23

23 specifically into the Metro-Net system, in what Amelia Jone s in another context (following Merleau-Ponty) calls the chiasmic in tertwining of the self and other.10 The exchange has two principal effects: 1) it foregr ounds the performativity of the view er, and 2) it replaces the dubious utopianism of the global network with an alte rnative structure that elides the networks technological and ideological problematics. The viewers performativity is foregrounded by the chiasmic intertwining in the sense that he/she acts according to, and along with, the performed c odes of the viewed (i.e., the structure, the site, and the like). For instance, the discrepancy between playing and being a subway-rider is located not in th e absence of a subway, but in the viewers awareness of the absence. Both are performed behaviors (no pers on is a subway-rider). In the latter, however, the performance is naturalized by social conditioni ng: a real subway is entered and ridden; the transaction between performance (s ubway rider) and effect (riding on subway) is literalized. The Metro-Net as a performance of a subway perpetually de fers the literalization of the viewers act and thus distantiates the viewer from his/her performance. The viewer simultaneously performs as art viewer to the art object Metro-Net The two rolessubway rider and art viewerare imbricated with one another. They define a nd are defined by the objects performances as artwork, subway system, and ideological system. Th e efficacy of the entrances is thus contingent on the viewers complicity and engagement with the objects performance. More significantly, their efficacy is contingent on the disparity between the Metro-Net system and an actual subway system, underscored in the Syros and Dawson C ity entrances. The project becomes an ideal system only because it detaches from an actual system; it exists as a system outside of the historical and the material. By acting withi n, and according to, its parameters, the viewer actualizes the Metro-Net as its own system, and is actualized as a participant within its sphere. 10 Amelia Jones, Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 41.

PAGE 24

24 Individually, the transportable entrance and ventilation shaft, as well as the crushed entrance, instantiate and interrogate a commodity system of infinite substitution and exchange by negating the nonfunctional object.11 The transportable object instantiates the commodity exchange system that undergirds late capitalis m and hyperbolizes its own commodity status by posing as a functional object diverted from its function (as opposed to the active nonfunction of the Syros and Dawson City entrances). Without us e, the objects use-value (which, here, is a pretenseits use-value is anti-uti litarian) petrifies and the object itself changes from an expanding to a perpetually suspended body, an object in ex cess of its objecthood. The hyper object is purely a commoditythat is, its use-value is its exchange value, and its significations (however multiple) inevitably point back to its commodity status.12 By the mid-1990s, the theme of the hypercommodity was prevalent in art.13 Its significance in terms of the Metro-Net lies in the objects circulation of cultural ideology. According to Prin a, the transportable entrance or ventilation shaft had the potential to beco me a mass-produced element of the Metro-Net World Connection that could be deployed wherev er the network might extend.14 The transportable pieces therefore perform both on the level of the pure commodity, as objects that are re produced to perpetuate the system of reproduction, and on the level of th e utopian, as objects re produced to perpetuate the system of globalism. Yet, because Kippenberger customized the objectsand because he customized them for a fictive systemtheir in finite reproduction woul d reproduce the commodity system only within Kippenbergers own pa rameters, and according to his own rules.15 Lucy 11 It should be noted that the crushed entrance was not initia lly intended to be crushed. It was crushed to fit through the doors of the Metro Pictures gallery in Manhattan. By the time of its exhibition, the gallery had moved and the new location allowed room for the entrance in its original state; however, it had already been crushed. 12 The object is made for exchange. Any additional significationsstatus, etc.are related to its exchange value. 13 The hyper-commodity was prevalent particularly in the Ne w York art scene, for exampl e, in the commodity-based works of Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, or the Neo-Geo artists. 14 Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West 54. 15 Individually, the entrances were customized according to their location: for example, the Dawson City entrance was constructed from local timber and the Leipzig entrance was given an industrial look to reflect the industrial

PAGE 25

25 McKenzie writes, Kippenbergers is a system of self-perpetuat ion and justification, which does not allow for half measures. He cancels out the possibility of his own failure; the Complaints Office is closed.16 McKenzie (addressing Kippenbergers oe uvre) points to the process in which the Metro-Net forecloses on failure by reinscribing th e parameters of the ideological system here, globalismthrough his own system of self -perpetuation and justif ication. The process extends beyond Kippenbergers ow n art practice. In particular the crushed entrance annuls failure by theatricalizing the art objects excess. It performs its paralysis in lieu of its prescribed (or, here, performed) function; thus it not only performs non function, as in Syros and Dawson City, but it forms the art object from a matrix of anti-function. Through its sheer objectnessnot functional, not enterable, not (f easibly) exchangeableit exteriorizes the objects entropy: it articulates the art object precise ly as unstructured, randomly dire cted energy, a functional failure. In Myth Today, Barthes proposes that the best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it in its turn, and to produce an artificial myth. 17 The crushed entrance applies the same principle to the art object as failure (failure to functi on, failure to be art). Kippenberger produces an object that performs its failure, an artificial failure and thus ensures the ar t objectin all of its commodity excessagainst the cultural terms of failure. Kippenberger also applies Bart hess principle to the produc tion of his own identity. Barthes writes, [M]yth is a pecu liar system, in that it is cons tructed from a semiological chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign (namely the associative total of a concept and an image) in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in city. In addition, the Lord Jim Lodge insignia, on all of the entrances, marked them as Kippenbergers projectsand further separated them from any actual subway system. 16 Lucy McKenzie, Now That This Has Been Do ne It Will Never Have to Be Done Again, Nach Kippenberger ed. Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Knig, 2003), 191. 17 Roland Barthes, Myth Today, Mythologies trans. Annette Lavers (New Yo rk, NY: Hill and Wang, 1983), 135.

PAGE 26

26 the second.18 By performing an identity founded in myth (i.e., myth of the artist, myth of the transcendent subject), Kippenberger re-mythifies, and thus produces, himself as artificiala fake, but one which cancels out the naturalized distinc tion between the performe d and the real self, and therefore cancels out the fake. The effect is most evident in his sel f-portraits. Kippenberger emerged at a moment (mid 1970s) when the se lf/subject-as-construct had and was undergoing a critical interrogation in art.19 Kippenbergers self-portraits are distinctive in the sense that they refuse to interrogate the self-as-construct. Instea d, per Barthes, they take it as their point of departure. As opposed to performing the other or being himself, Kippenberger performs himself, as himselfwhat Diedrich Diedrichse n refers to as Selbstdarstelle r, literally, a self-performer.20 Jones defines the transcendent artist/subject as the unmarked (white European male) body which projects its immanence onto a partic ularized (non-white, non-male and/or nonheterosexual) other. Kippenbergers self-per formance, as a white/European/male subject, apparently reiterates the codes and reinforces th e cultural hegemony of the transcendent subject. According to Jones, however, the subjects (i llusory) transcendence is paradoxically undone by his exposure as a body.21 The body, shown in action (Jones uses the example of Hans Namuths photographs of Jackson Pollock), is made imma nent. Kippenbergers de liberate and hyperbolic visibility embraces the terms of Joness argument, but under the conditions of the (intentionally) performed self. In the postcard series Knechte des Tourismus ( Vassals of Tourism 1979), 18 Barthes, 114. 19 This was particularly evident in feminist art of the time, for example, Hannah Wilkes performances in which she interr ogated her objectness by emphasizing it. 20 Diedrich Diedrichsen, Selbstdarsteller: Martin Kippenberger between 1977 and 1983, Nach Kippenberger ed. Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Knig, 2003). 21 Jones, Performing the Subject

PAGE 27

27 Kippenberger (with Achim Schchtele) poses as the consummate tourist in tourist spots around the United States. The series para llels the performative self-portraits of artists such as Cindy Sherman and Claude Cahun, to the extent that the arti st plays a role. Yet where Sherman and Cahun perform themselves as other than themselves (I am not what I im agined myself to be22), and therefore articulate the (here, particular ized) subjects alienati on from him/herself, Kippenberger conflates his surface w ith his self; in effect, he performs as a surface without a self. In all cases, the artist cl early performs. Yet by playing a ro le that is identifiable as notCindy-Sherman, Sherman safeguards a self as an other to the photogr aphs subject. By contrast, Kippenberger performs in Knechte des Tourismus as Kippenberger. He poses in four separate images: with a Disney actor in a Goofy costume; in a cowboy costume; in a prison cell (with bars bent for easy escape); and with a fake missile against a horizon of skyscrapers.23 As a result, the series dismisses the self-portrait as a mean s of conveying the artist-as-artist, via image or, significantly, absence. Neither doe s it posit the artist as a sovereign subject, for whom any identity is colonized under the name of the Subject.24 What it begins to demonstrate is the fluidity of Kippenbergers self-performance. He adopts the tropes of the Western touristtropes which are nonspecific and precede the i ndividual touristbut always in the role of Martin Kippenberger.25 And in doing soby posing as a vassal of tourismhe poses himself as a trope, the tourist. The act serves to relinquish in part his subjectivity, as a singular individual, and, 22 Hal Foster, Obscene, Abject, Traumatic, October Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), 110. 23 The series also included two portraits of Schchtele, one in costume and one illustrated in the style of a street illustrator. 24 I am thinking of an artist such as Madonna. Madonnas changes, in style, music, etc., are owned by her singular identity. For example, worn by Madonna, a kimono or a cowboy hat becomes her; she does not change to accommodate their prior significations. 25 He does not play the subject Kippenbe rger, as in the Madonna example. Kipp enberger is, in effect, the guide in the travelogue, but the cowboy costume does not become him.

PAGE 28

28 moreover, to relinquish his transcendence, not just by making him visibl e, but by exposing his subjectivity (already acknowledged as construc ted) as replicating and replicable. The tourist is a paradoxical fi gure: He/she is positioned as originary source in a touristtoured exchange (parallel to a viewer-viewed exch ange in art), the subject to the others object. Simultaneously, he/she is nonspecific, a general nor mative to the other, but infinitely repeatable and interchangeable with other tourists. The tour ist is thus always already a copy. Kippenberger complicates the paradox. His exaggerated self-performance26 exposes the fiction of the figure, and of photography as an apparatus for truth. Virtually any staged photograph, however, could have the same effect. More significant is th e parodic dimension of the self-performance (as tourist). The images mock the tourists imagined hegemony over the toured by theatricalizing his/her absorption into and desubj ectification via the ideological sy stem of tourism. He reassigns to the tourist a specific subjectivit y (his own), but a subjectivity that is performed in the service of a performed tourism, and that, furthermore, is serialized. The touris t is produced as a mass identity, but no longer as an anonymous I; Ki ppenberger fills in, and is filled in by, the identity. The process 1) disperses his subjectiv ity (and thus singularity) across the diffuse body of the tourist figure; and 2) i nverts the dispersal by encoding th e body as Martin Kippenberger, thus instating him as the t ourist identityin effect, the copy from which all copies are made. In other words, by projecting himself as (not onto ) the tourist, he coalesces all tourists as Kippenberger. The vassal of tourism becomes the vassal of ideology, but in Kippenbergers version of the phenomenon, the ideo logy is filtered through him. Roberto Ohrt writes, To rereview Kippenbergers first signa ls in the s is to disc over that they are almost all notifications of, advertis ements for, a position in the social and public sphere Kippenberger 26 Amelia Jones, The Eternal Return: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment, Signs Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 2002), 949.

PAGE 29

29 is rehearsing his role, testing images. He presen ts himself as if for a moment he has grasped success.27 Kippenbergers early self-portra its further the inversion in Knechte des Tourismus particular those portrai ts advertising his 21st and 25th birthdays: a stamp series, 21 Years Among You, Kippenberger 1953-1974 and a poster, A Quarter Century of Kippenberger as One of You, Among You, With You .28 Again, Kippenberger desublimates himself as the object of representation, but in such a way th at his immanence as a body is lo st to the image (his surface). Jones writes, [The masquerade is] the production of the self as the thing most expectedbut marking this thing as fake In the masquera de the victim exaggerates the very modes of passivity and object-ness projected onto her[/him] via the male gaze.29 Clearly, Jones is addressing the female subject (here, Cindy Sherman), subjugate d in Western society by the (white European) male gaze. The female subject, as recipient of the gaze, is constructed in and by society to be viewed; her sel f is always performed, theref ore the naturalized gap between real and performed subjectivity is negated. The male subject view s; his (fictive) wholeness as a transcendent subject is undone by its doubling as performative.30 Kippenberger, as the unmarked male, reverses the gaze by making it conspicuous. Furthermore, he orchestrates his objectness.31 But by taking place in representation, and repli cating the representation, he not only objectifies himself; he objectifies the transcendent male subj ect as another replicable sign to be passively consumed in the system of commodity exchange. 27 Roberto Ohrt, Kippenberger (Cologne: Taschen, 1997), 19. 28 Kippenberger made several posters promoting occasions, including his birthdays. The works discussed here are just two examples. 29 Amelia Jones, Tracing the Subject with Cindy Sherman, Cindy Sherman: Retrospective (Chicago, IL: Museum of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, CA: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997), 35. 30 From this perspective, the woman does not double; she is constructed entirely through performance. 31 Kippenberger poses himself as the object Kippenber ger, therefore he retains the agency that objectness evidently relinquishes through the same exaggeration that Jones, in her quote, ascribes to Sherman.

PAGE 30

30 In Knechte des Tourismus Kippenberger performs as hims elf playing others (or, per tourism, playing an other). In this sense, he performs through the doubling mechanism of parody. The viewer can thus still claim a distinction ( however artificial) betw een Kippenberger as the subject of the photographs and a real Kippenberger (ostensibly the Kippenberger orchestrating the pictured parody). Th e birthday announcements Quarter Century in particularbreak down the distinction on the side of the image/ performance, aided by reproduction and text.32 The doubling effect of Kippenbergers pe rformance, of himself as himself, is multiplied in the two series by the reproductive capac ity of his media, photography and lithography. The subject Kippenberger, distilled into his own performative surf ace, is replicated as image in a process that loosely parallels Andy Warhols self-portraits. In both cases, th e artist performs himself as image, but denies an other to the performed self. The artwork has no essential, shrouded meaning; its meaning is all inscribed on the surf ace. Yet where Warhol attempted to empty the sign of meaning, thus producing pure image, Kippe nberger attempts the opposite. In other words, if Warhols image is intended to mean nothing, Kippenbergers means everything.33 He exaggerates his objectness (or, more precisely, hi s surface-ness), per Jones, but presents it as an overdetermined subjectivityagain, what Barthe s identifies as mythifying the myth. In Quarter Century he poses in a restaurant with an old man. Kippenberger sits; the old man, standing, presses up to him with one ar m around Kippenbergers shoulder. The other arm holds the artists hand. A table, with cigarettes, flowers, and a gingham tablecloth, is in the background against a wall. The text, /4 Jhdt. Ki ppenberger als einer von Euch, unter Euch, mit 32 This is opposed, for example, to family photographs, for which the indexical image is presumed to represent the reality of the subject. 33 Clearly, an image can mean neither noth ing nor everything. However, Warhols attempts to evade both a fixed and a human identityas in his famous clai m that I think everybody should be a machine in a 1963 interview with Gene Swensonseem to sugg est nothing as his goal.

PAGE 31

31 Euch, is printed on the bottom corner and descriptives are printed in beams around Kippenbergers head. Twenty One Years is a set of forty-eight stam ps printed in pink and white, all but one with a portra it photo of Kippenberger at a different age (the one without the portrait is blank).34 In both pieces, Kippenberger forms his narrative through a play of (in Barthess terminology) mythical signifiers, bu t also through what Craig Owens identifies as the rhetoric of the pose, or the Medusa Effect. Owens writes, [ T]o strike a pose is to present oneself to the gaze of the other as if one were already frozen, immobilized that is, already a picture.35 Therefore, Kippenbergers perfor mance replicates his subjectivity, rather than splitting it, because he performs himself through the posein Owenss words, as already a picture. The pose, then, preordains the replication. In Clone Story, Baudrill ard writes, [W]hen the double materializes, when it becomes visi ble, it signifies immanent death.36 In terms of cloning, the double inaugurates the death of the subject by fulfilling his/her desire to be replicated. Kippenbergers replication has none of the literal immanence of Baudrillards clone, but the threat of death remains intact: his staged im agereproduced with (the oretically) neither a beginning nor an endabandons the myth of the unique subject for a culturally produced and mediated mass subject. The narra tive performed in the images is exteriorized as image; its replication/repetition evacuates it s apparent singularity (which is itself a dead residue of modernism), thereby reproducing Kippenberger as a trope: Kippenberger.37 As Benjamin 34 It is worth noting that Kippenbergers painting series, Uno di voi, un Tedesco in Firenze (1977) foreshadowed many of the devices used in both Knechte des Tourismus and the birthday ads, such as the phrase one of you and the use of touristy tropes as art images. 35 Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994), 198. 36 Jean Baudrillard, Clone Story, Simulacra and Simulation trans. Sheila Faria Glas er (Ann Arbor: MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1994) 95. 37 This is similar to the effect of Knechte des Tourismus in which Kippenberger is produced as the trope of the tourist, but the tourist become s him. In this case, however, no other identity (tourist) intervenes; the trope is Kippenberger.

PAGE 32

32 writes, [T]he work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility.38 The system of subjectivity is reprodu ced by perpetually deferring subjectivity itself. The reproduction of the image has its counter point in the text. In Twenty-One Years, Kippenberger is among you; in Quarter Century he is one of you, among you, with you. In both works, the text corroborates the rhetoric of the image, and harnesses the image to two theoretical identities, Kippenberg er and you. According to Aus tins illocutionary model, the statement performs its deed at the moment of the utterance;39 it fails as a performative if it does not accomplish what it stat es. Kippenbergers statement perf orms, but its performance is abstractamong you is a metaphori cal condition predicated on th e presence of an ideological you. What it achieves, however is the ideological dispersa l of its subject (the trope Kippenberger) amongand thus in tertwined with (one of, among, with)you. In this sense, it functions according to Austins illocutionary mode l to the extent that it locates one theoretical subject among, or as one of, another. As opposed to Austins primarily legal examplesi.e., I sentence youthe statements openness is precise ly what enables its performative successit can be disproven no more than it can be proven. In addition, the work interpella tes the viewer as it engages with him/her. But because the you is unspecified, it may attach itself to all that is not Kippe nberger: the old man in Quarter Century Kippenbergers peers, etc. Thus the you is addressed not just to the viewer, but to an 38 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writi ngs, Vol. 2, part 2, 1931-1934 eds. Howard Eiland and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005). 39 This definition comes from Judith Butler. She also defines the illocutionary as speech acts that, in saying do what they say, and do it in the moment of that saying. Butler, 3.

PAGE 33

33 anonymous, unfixed, and infinite ly replicated/replicable body.40 The relationship between Kippenberger and the audience ( you) therefore forms an invisible ideological networka populist analogue to the Metro-Net s invisible global network: both are premised on a utopian, and inevitably impossible, syst em of collectivity and inclusiveness. But here the network assumes a distinctly political designation. The ar tist plays the politicia n, the one as the many. The egalitarianism of the text is betrayed by th e repetition of Kippenbergers image: the one is Kippenberger, but the many, paradoxically, is an abse nce to be filled in by the ones presence. The result is that Kippenberger is not made one of the people; the people are made into Kippenberger.41 The images and the text are therefore deployed as ideological devices via the reproduction and dissemination of a grassroots rhetoric (among you), from one ideological body to another. Kippenberger is co nstructed in rhetoric, but the construction is his own, and the rhetoric is deliberately deployedonce agai n, it is marked as fake, as parody. In this, as in all of the aforementioned works, both positionsKippenbergers and the viewers (or you)are performances. What the pieces demonstrate above all is that social systems are made real because they are perf ormed. In other words, by performing themand integrating a network of viewer s into the performanceKippenberg er simultaneously constructs them. And because the pieces perform through pa rody, they serve to expose what so many systems hide, that our objects exercise a power to perform our systems. By claiming authorship/authority, the subject a ppropriates and exploits the system s tools. Yet the tools the 40 Owens identifies a similar phenomenon with Barbara Kruger s use of shifters in language. He writes, Kruger appears to address me, this body, at this particular point in space. But as soon as I identify myself as the addressee of the work, it seems to withdraw from me to speak imperson ally, imperiously to the world at large. Owens, 192. 41 It is worth acknowledging the significance of Kippenbergers German heritage here. He had previously addressed German and, specifically, Nazi history in works such as the 1984 paintig Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz erkennen (To the Best of My Ability, I Can See No Swastika). Fr om this perspective, Quarter Century and related works can easily be read as parodies of Hilterian propaganda. Thanks to Dr. Nora Alter for bringing this to my attention.

PAGE 34

34 transit stations, the disseminated images, the pr opagandistic icons that enforce ideology through naturalization are objects. Kippe nbergers ideological revisions are limited, but they provide a glimpse of the objects veiled authority. That which does our bidding is not at our will.

PAGE 35

35 Figure 2.1. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, Canada, 1995.

PAGE 36

36 Figure 2.2. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, interior detail.

PAGE 37

37 Figure 2.3. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Syros, Greece, 1993.

PAGE 38

38 Figure 2.4. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, Germany, 1997.

PAGE 39

39 Figure 2.5. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, front entrance.

PAGE 40

40 Figure 2.6. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Crushed) Metro Pictures, New York, 1997.

PAGE 41

41 Figure 2.7. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Transportable) Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, 1997.

PAGE 42

42 Figure 2.8. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (a bove ground), Munster, Germany, 1997.

PAGE 43

43 Figure 2.9. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (underg round), MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, 1998.

PAGE 44

44 Figure 2.10. Martin Kippenberger, Knechte des Tourismus (Vassals of Tourism) 1979.

PAGE 45

45 Figure 2.11. Martin Kippenberger, 21 Jahre unter Euch, Kippenberger 1953-1974 (21 Years Among You, Kippenberger 1953-1974) 1974, detail.

PAGE 46

46 Figure 2.12. Martin Kippenberger, Jahrhundert Kippenberger als einer von Euch, unter Euch, mit Euch ( Century of Kippenberger as One of You, Among You, With You) 1978.

PAGE 47

47 CHAPTER 3 MIKE KELLEYS BANAL OBJECTS The best way to fuck something up is to give it a body/ A voice is killed when it is given a body./ Whenever theres a body around, you see its faults/ Theory proves that/ The body of a famous critic came to our class the ot her day/ Now we dont believe its writings anymore/ Its writings became theatre/ And the pr esence of all that flesh made us think of all the things he didnt speak of of what was left out/ Authoritative voices must be disembodied to work/ A philosopher should neve r be seen!/ Its so sadit makes you think of money, prostitution/ We would never ma ke that mistake/ We would never give ourselves a physical manifestation/ Thats why we are writing a book.1 The discourse of disembodiment looms large in Mike Kelleys 1991 installation Dialogue #1. Language, as both a semiotic and a philosophic system, vies for its transcendence from the physical, from the body to which it is attributed. It fights the form of the word with the infinity of the text, qualifies its spoken voice as an abstr action in spacea phantom presence, weighting the institution with its own deni al. The actual dialogue in Dialogue #1 is a reco rding; in a literal sense, then, the piece succeeds in distancing, if not severing, its discourse from a physical body. Kelley hides behind the curtain of a mechani zed surrogate, a boombox speaks its Cartesian subjectivity. In practice, howev er, the piece exposes in the act of its utterance the fiction of disembodiment that it weaves. By speaking th e discourse, the voice implicates a body in the textit becomes performance. A nd, Dialogue #1 (along with sim ilar Dialogue pieces) has its performers, which crush any claim to transcendence with their own banality. Not just present, the performers are inexorably embodied. Dialogue #1 is part of a series of Dialogue pieces that followed Half a Man (1988), the exhibition from which Kelley gained fame and notoriety for his use of stuffed animals and craft materials. With the exception of Dialogue #5 (One Hand Clapping), which has one animal, the 1 Excerpt from Dialogue #1. Reprinted in Timothy Ma rtin, Janitor in a Drum: Ex cerpts from a Performance History, Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes ed. Elisabeth Sussman (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993), 85-86.

PAGE 48

48 Dialogue pieces are composed of two secondhand stuffed toys facing one another on a blanket on the gallery floor, with a visible stereo playi ng their conversation. The recorded dialogue is performed both by Kelley (as author) and by the toys; however, the conver sation clearly belongs to the toys. In both Half a Man and the Dialogues, Kelley conf ronts the viewer with explicitly performative objectshomemade stuffed toys and other populist craftsthat simultaneously elicit empathy and reek (sometimes literally) of past lives. And in both cases, the banality of the objects foregrounds the viewer-viewed exchange as a socially constructed behaviora performance of Kantian disinterest that re-inscrib es the object according to its context (here, the art institution) and delivers it to the viewers sovereign gaze. The primary difference between Half a Man and the Dialogues is that the toys in the Dialogue s speak; they assume dual roles, that of the passive object (animated by th e viewer) and of the activ e object (animated from within). Thus the disparity between the objects and the institutions significations is performed by the objectthe toyitself. As a resu lt, the surface jokethe used toy in the white cubefunctions to break down the illusion of tran scendent subjectivity through which the viewed is subordinated to the viewer : the toy objectifies the view er by performing him/her. In subject-object relations, the toy is animated as a perf orming body through the subjects projections. In psychology, it corresponds to the transitiona l object. According to D.W. Winnicott, the transitional object is an infants first not-me possession. It serves to transition the infant into the world of objects, but it is ne ither of nor other to the infant. It symbolizes, rather, the place in space and time where and when the mother is in transition from being (in the babys mind) merged in with the infant and alte rnatively being experienced as an object to be perceived rather than conceived of.2 Stuffed toys occupy the in-between space as simultaneous 2 D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London and New York: Tavistock Publications, 1980), 96.

PAGE 49

49 subjects and objectsas me and not-me. When th e subject advances from child to adult object relations, he/she abandons the animated toy. Thus, faced with the toy, the adult subject reanimates it through a reserve of archiv ed performances. The used toys from the Half a Man exhibition are animated from two separate points: from the viewers position (structured by past experience) and from the toys implied pasts. They therefore reflect the vi ewer only to the extent that the viewer canor want s toproject onto them. The dynamic allows the viewer simultaneously to identify with the toys and to instate a subject-object hierarchy which ensures the ascendance of the se lf above the other. The Dialogues complicate the subject-objec t hierarchy, because the toys speak, and because they speak themselves as transcendent Kelleys discourse of disembodiment proposes the toys as subjects independent of the viewer thus denigrating the viewers role in the performance and short-circuiting the hierarchy. Not only is the viewer denied as originary source of the performanceand therefore of the toy s subjectivitybut the perf ormance relegates the viewer to the role of passive re cipient, a mute mirror of the to ys spoken subjectivity. In theory, then, the Dialogues are self-su fficient. The viewer activates the jokethe disparity between the discourse and the speakerbut as an abstract referent. In practice, however, the viewer is both referent and targeta mirror of the banal bodies in the dialogue, pretending at transcendence. As a result, the Dialogues undermine the empath etic bond that the toys themselves prompt 1) by usurping the viewers voice, and 2) by exposing the viewer as object. By assuming the viewers voice, the toy atte mpts to supersede the viewer as sovereign subject. Inevitably, the toy fails because its voi ce mimics the viewers, it does not eliminate it. More significant to the empathetic exchange is the toys denial, vi a the discourse, of its embodiment. By denying its body, the toy disavows the necessary surface for the viewers

PAGE 50

50 projections. In this sense, the toys visible, mate rial, and forever inanimate form is overruled: in as much as the toy posits its transcendence, it al so refuses to perform in the viewers image and thus to cohere him/her as subject. By exposi ng the viewer as object, the toy in effect plays Medusa to the viewers Perseus. The disembodi ed gaze through which the viewer, in Lacanian terms, captures the object is captured a nd returned by the toys discursive pose of disembodiment. And as he/she receives it, the gaze, in Hal Fosters words, mortifies this subject.3 That is, the viewer is simultaneously th e viewed. Kelleys speaking toys precisely mortify the subject (the viewed), but the mortification does more than just expose the viewer as the viewed. The Dialogues spectacularize the b ody in performancein its absurd juxtaposition with its dirty, used body, the discourse paradoxic ally hyperbolizes the sp eakers objectness. And because the viewed parodies the viewer, its obje ctness projects back onto the viewer. In other words, if the returned gaze establishes the viewer as viewed, as in effect a subjectified object (or an objectified subject), the toys annihilate the cogito altogether: the viewer is no more than a ramshackle thing, the punchline to the joke of his/her own subjectivity. Kelley was just one artist in the 1980s and 90s to graft the concep t of the performing body onto the inanimate objectJohn Welchman notes sp ecifically his dialogue with Haim Steinbach and the latters slick stuffed bears.4 However, the wry theoretical posturing that undergirded the commodity objects performance in the s (and, frequently, reveal ed the artists fantasies of disembodiment), is imploded in Kelleys t oys by the physicality of the object, and by the ramifications of the abject. The abject, as it has been applied to Ke lley, is drawn from the theories of Georges Bataille and Julia Kristeva. Kristeva understands abj ection both as a process 3 Hal Foster, Obscene, Abject, Traumatic, October Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), 106. 4 John C. Welchman, The Mike Kelleys, Mike Kelley (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1999), 71.

PAGE 51

51 (to abject) and as a state (to be abject), the latter of which is attached to a referent.5 Conversely, Bataille conceives of abjection as an abstraction, that which defies naming. Yet, the two theories overlap to the extent that they both assign the con cept to the realm of the low. As a result, the abject is easily reduced to waste matter, thus Ke lley and Bataille have typically been associated based on their mutual preoccupation with scatal ogy and substances. The Dialogue toys cite Batailles and Kristevas abject obliquely, as avat ars of lowness. Here, however, the abject is an entry point into Batailles theo ry of heterology, [t]he science [study] of what is completely other.6 In heterology, all human impulses are co dified through a dialectical process of appropriation and excretion represented by th e poles of homogeneity and heterogeneity. The homogeneous accounts for all social ized structures (e.g., religion, pol itics). The heterogeneous is all that cannot be appropriate d, the irreducible waste products.7 By performing a structural opposition between high and low, the Dialogues enact the dialectic: the discourse performs as homogeneous; the toys, as alien to the discourse, perform as hetero geneous. Yet, Bataille also emphasizes the paradox of theorizing the heteroge neous, which is resolut ely placed outside the reach of scientific knowledge, which by defi nition is only applicable to homogeneous elements.8 The heterogeneous occurs through a pro cess of negation. By this logic, its literalization results in its immediate appropriatio n. In this sense, then, the material toys are denied as heterogeneous just as the discourse denies, th rough negation, their homogeneity. 5 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection trans. Leon S. Ro udiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982). 6 Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 ed. and trans, Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 102. 7 Bataille, 96. 8 Ibid.

PAGE 52

52 The paradoxthat the toys at once cannot and cannot not be appropriatedproblematizes any uncritical identification between Kelley and Bata ille, as it problematizes any application of Batailles dialectic to the worl d of material objects. But it does not invalidate the association. The dialectic functions here as a concept in performance; the toys perform a symbolic expulsion of the socialized body of the viewer/institution to a ruptured space, to sit alongside of all the ineffable matter that lies in homogeneitys wake In the Dialogues, the viewers attempt to animate the toyto appropriate it via projec ted subjectivityfaces off with the objects performance of the appropriated subject. Both actions play at the subjects coherencefirst, in the subjects (imagined) capacity to animate the object and second in th e objects pose of transcendent subjecthood. But th e latter outperform the former by literally speaking over it. Furthermore, both actions are carried out through the body of the object, subjectified only via projection and projecting its make-believe subjec tivity onto the body of the viewer. As a result, the empathetic bond is perverted into a mutual expulsion. The obj ects parody reciprocates the subjects animating gaze, but on the objects term s: as a masquerade, a veil of transcendence over an intrusive bodyalways other to the subject it sustains. The inverse of the mask, in which an absence is veiled by a presence, the toys expos e the futility of the invisible as a mask for the visible. When the veil of transcendence falls away, subjectivity evis cerates and the object becomes master. The toys in Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology (1990) and Craft Morphology Flow Chart (1991) exploit the same empathetic impulse as those in the Dia logues: they coerce the viewer into an exchange in which she simultaneously projects onto a nd absorbs the object. In both projects, Kelley turns the perf ormativity of the toys against the viewer, as he does in the Dialogues. Here, though, he turns it also agains t the toys themselves. According to Kelley, the

PAGE 53

53 two projects were a response to audience projecti ons of infantile recidivism and assumptions of abuseto the toys and to Kelley. He reacted, in Elisabeth Sussmans words, by killing them.9 In the Empathy Displacement series, the toys are laid to rest in black wood boxes on the gallery floor, in front of large black and white i llustrations. In Craft Morphology Flow Chart the toys are exposed again, but as specimens, orga nized by type (sock monkeys, rag dolls, etc.) on thirty-two folding tables and accompanied by sixty illustrations in which the height and characteristics of the types are detailed. In bot h cases, the treatment of the toys, and their juxtaposition with the illustrati ons, serves to sever the illusory relationship between the viewer and the viewed. By killing the toys, Kelley es tablishes a dynamic in which they refuse the viewers projected animationnot as sovereign su bjects (as in the adult play of the Dialogue toys), but as objects. The resu lt is that the toys are both inanimate and insubordinate; the pathos thus issues from the viewers attempted resuscita tion of the inanimate object as a dead (mortal) subject. In the Empathy Displacement series, Kelley confounds the viewer-viewed exchange by substituting for the (visible) t oy the box and the oversized illu stration. The visual correlation between the box and a casket is emphasized by its black paint, but the unadorned box and its repetition in the installation, undercuts the singula rity of the corpse/toy inside. The illustration, by contrast, has two opposing effect s: it desublimates the toy as object and it memorializes the toy as (now-transcendent) subject. It desublimat es by confronting the viewer with the objectness of the subjectified toy. The toys being is a phantasm of the viewe rs identification: its received subjectivity is circumscribed by and reflexiv e of the viewer. Blown up and deadpan, the 9 Elisabeth Sussman, Introduction, Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes ed. Elisabeth Sussman (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993), 32.

PAGE 54

54 illustration exposes the toy as al ien and anathema to the human viewer, like the Stay Puft marshmallow man in Ghostbusters No longer a submissive surface for the viewers projections, then, it becomes objectresidual and expelled by the subject. At the same time, the illustration memorializes the toy. By reasserting the toys be ing against the absence of the box, the image, as Jones writes of photographys fetishizing aspect, d esire[s] to retrieve or maintain the past in the present.10 Together, the two parts perform a silent elegy that traces the absence of the material toy. Jones continues, [I]n spite of its obvious promise of delivering an unmediated, indexical image of the real or of the deep emo tional thoughts and feelings of its maker it is also an inexorable sign of loss and absence.11 The juxtaposition therefore invokes the toy, but as a symbolic performer, in Lacanian terms, as a lost object of desire ( lobjet a ).12 According to Lacan, the object of desire is conjured when an infant enters the stage of the symbolic ; the subject becomes subject in relation to an unattainable Other. The object of desire signifies the subjects f undamental lack. It existsas an other, but also as integral to the subjectprecisely because it cannot be attained. In other words, it confirms the subject through absence: by circ umscribing his/her lack, it imagines his/her coherence. The transitional objec t is the inverse of the desired object: it confirms the subject through presence, as a material surf ace onto which the subject projects his/her desire. It relates to the object of desire as the infants supplement: fo r example, a blanket corner supplements for the 10 Amelia Jones, The Eternal Return: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment, Signs Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 2002), 953. 11 Ibid. 12 Lacan advances this theory in Seminar 11 of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis ed. Jacques-Alain Miller and tran s. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978).

PAGE 55

55 mothers breast.13 Both objects (transitiona l and desire), however, ar e founded on the same lack; thus as the transitional object supplements for the lack, it also perpetuates it. So while the toy in the Empathy Displacement series maintains its empathetic lure as phantom transitional object, its absence redoubles the void left by the original object of desire. The transgressive effect of the piece thus emerges from this paradox: the toy, wh ich performs as a phantasmatic extension of the viewer to compensate for the ob ject of desire, is disembodied, but not gone. It stands in the impossible position, as simultaneously unattainable object and transitional obj ect. Or, rather, the viewer has the impossible task of animating a pha ntom to subrogate for a void. Furthermore, the surrogate objects engage the viewers projec ted empathy in an antagonistic showdown. The (formerly) embodied toy is denied its body, but its significations are suspended and remapped onto two closed surfaces, thus performing the toy as a refusal. And because the toys performance is the viewers, the viewers subjecti vity is splintered and confirmation of the self is, along with empathy, bounced into a mis-en -abyme of perpetual misrecognitions. The toy does reemerge in material form a year later, in Craft Morphology Flow Chart However, Kelley now exploits it from the other si de: that of the pure ob ject. Again, the project served to annul the empathetic lu re of the toys, here re-present ed, according to Sussman, as if they were dead bodies in a morgue.\14 But, as opposed to the trans cendent transitional object in Empathy Displacement which displaces its projected subjectiv ity into an absence, the toys in Craft Morphology are desubjectified via accumulation and taxonomic organization. Here, the toy is appropriated (per Bataille) into the sociali zed sphere of the specime n. Its humanoid features are still manifest; but as object-type, it deflects empathetic pr ojection in the same way that the 13 Winnicott gives this example in Playing and Reality 14 Sussman, 33.

PAGE 56

56 photograph, for Walter Benjamin, de flected the art objects aura.15 Its use-value is located now in its form, rather than in its projected subjec tivityits potential for reproduction is infinite. Yet, as Sussmans statement indicates, it is sp ecifically the correlation between the corpse and the specimen that impels Craft Morphology s performance. The toy here is dually unsettling. It plays deadSussman refers to the installation as an afterlife.16 But its death is alien, that of the other. In Powers of Horror Julia Kristeva writes, In that compelling, raw, insolent thing in the morgues full sunlight, in that thing that no longer matches and therefore no longer signif ies anything, I behold th e breaking down of a world that has erased its borders: fainting aw ay. The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Imaginary uncanniness and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us.17 Following Kristeva, the toy as corpse interpellate s the viewer; it absorbs him/her in its death. In this sense, Kelleys proposal that the installation sever the empathetic bond is less an effect of the toys desubjectification than of their projection of death onto the subject. More significantly, however, th e toys deny the empathetic bond by defying the terms of death. Kristevas concept of the corpse predicat es its abjection, as a body without soul, a nonbody,18 on its past life: just as the corpse proves non-body through its decay, it also proves humanas Foster writes, It [the ab ject] is a phantasmatic substance not only alien to the subject, but intimate with ittoo much so, in fact.19 The toys, in contrast, ar e the ultimate alien bodies, deaths without decay. They continue to elicit empathy, via their visibility in the installation. But they refuse to reciprocate as live subjects, and th ey refuse to die. What Kelley thus instates is a 15 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in th e Age of its Technological Reproducibility, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 2, part 2, 1931-1934 eds. Howard Eiland and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005). 16 Sussman, 33. 17 Kristeva, 4. 18 Ibid, 109. 19 Foster, 114.

PAGE 57

57 perverse foil to the empathetic bond: the t oys perform as immortal. The immortal body is paradoxically neither a (human) life nor a corpse. It denies all that it embodies, all soul, all nature. Non-state upon non-state, it abjects itself into infinity. Here, the role of the immortal body is also that of the specimen, redoubled by th e taxonomic process. By using homemade toys in his craft pieces, Kelley conjures the illusion of an original performance, of which the mass commodity is incapable. The taxono my calls into question the si gnifications of the homemade toy by positing the same originality as replicable The toy thus becomes bo th victim of Kelleys ethnological profiling and other to its (fic tive) subjectivity. Above all it gives the individuality of the subjectthe toy or the viewerover to the particularity of the subject-type. Finally, it consumes our subjectivity in a ha ll of mirrors that ends when the bond is severed, and ends in our own illusions. In his work with Repressed Memory Syndrome (RMS) and False Memory Syndrome (FMS), Kelley inverts the performative structur e of the craft pieces by replacing the absolute presence of the used toy with an absence in spac e through which the banal is reimagined as a site of repressed trauma. The work cu lminated with the 1995 exhibition Towards A Utopian Art Complex and, specifically, the exhibitions centerpi ece Educational Complex. An architectural model of all of the schools Kelley had ever attended, along with his childhood home, Educational Complex is a sprawling structur e composed from photogr aphs and some floor plans, and from memory. Kelley addressed RM S by blocking off all of the areas he had forgotten; the blocked spaceswhich account for approximately eighty percent of the complex are posed as the sites of his repressed trauma.20 20 Mike Kelley, Architectural Non-Me mory Replaced With Psychic Reality, Minor Histories: Statements, Conversations, Proposals ed. John C. Welchman (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004), 318.

PAGE 58

58 Kelley fetishizes the architectural absences in Educational Complex by paralleling them with absences in memory; each absence equa ls a repressed trauma, and, conversely, each repressed trauma compensates for a lack (in me mory). According to the terms of RMS/FMS, however, the victim only knows the trauma as an absenceas, in effect, a non-memory. Furthermore, the dynamic outlined by RMSnega tive (absence of the me mory) signifies the trauma by erasing positive (presence of the memo ry)fails to register the ambiguity of the memorial space. Absence in memory neither prov es nor disproves the presence of a trauma, it plays the lacuna in the space. Kelley heightens th e ambiguity by reinscribing the significations of the architectural absences. In other words, he ex changes an absence for an absence. The act of appointing the absences as site s of repressed trauma has an obvious semiotic function: the utterance (i.e., that which Ive forgotten must be trauma) weights the em pty signifier (space) with an invisible menace. The words reify the tr auma without materializi ng it; they re-presents the nothing as its inverse, the black hole. Kelleys semiotic subterfuge introduces th e performative dimension into the work. Nonmemory is weighted with the implications of trau ma, as it is in RMS. But, in the place of the real repression is a sort of spectral theater, a performance of th e sinister crystallized in the absence of the thing itself (the repressed). In addition, the emphasis on space underscores the performative dimension of the two types of space here, architectur al and memorial. Architectural space is fundamentally performative (as Kippenberger demonstrated) in the sense that it accommodates and interacts with the body. Memori al space produces its own fluid architecture in which its parameters are perpetually rene gotiated and its framework is under construction. Educational Complex visualizes memorial archite cture; as a spatialized memory it stages its failed theater, memorys forever compromised performance of its phantasmatic object reality.

PAGE 59

59 Kelley further theatricalizes the space by introduci ng the screen memory. In Freudian terms, the screen memory is a narrative (spatial for Kelley; temporal for Freud) authored by the subject and understood as the genuine event.21 For the RMS sufferer, the screen memory supplants the trauma. In Educational Complex, the screens are Kelleys memories of the structures, which he describes as too perfect, the scenes are too staged to be real. They must be implanted fictions.22 The screen memory here symbolically sp lits the architectural and memorial space into a background (the trauma) and a foreground (the screen). But because the traumas in Educational Complex are faked, both the b ackground and the foreg round are performed; the background is a foundational fi ction and the foreground is the i mplanted fiction, literalized in the anatomy of the structure (minus the blocked spaces). FMS inverts the structure of RMS in regards to the screen memory. In RMS the screen memory blocks the trauma. In FMS, by contrast the recovered trauma (the trauma must be recovered to constitute FMS) is the screen memory; it blocks the reality that no trauma occurred. Educational Complex fuses the two. The remembered architecturefor which the inaccurate layout signifies the screen memor yand the blocked spacesfor which no memory remainsare both facades for the absence of trau ma. The same memorial void underpins FMS; in Educational Complex, however, the trauma is not recovered, thus the structure is three-tiered: absence (repression)>presence (trauma)>absence (reality). Educational Complex therefore deploys spatial absence and presence in order to simultaneously perform repression and trauma and both are performed as (deliberate) surrogates for the lost object of the banal. Kelleys strategy, then, inextricably li nks the unknownor worse, the unknow n traumato the realm of the 21 Sigmund Freud, Screen Memories, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud trans. James Strachey (London : The Hogarth Press Ltd., 1962). 22 Kelley, 321.

PAGE 60

60 banal. The trauma and its repression together theatricalize the dark matter of the unconscious, like a play staged behind the curt ain, but both exist only in (symbolic ) contrast to Kelleys real life. Simultaneously, the banal (Kelleys reality) ex ists in contrast to the (fictive) repressed trauma also through a process of negation: by manife sting as absence, the fi ction (the repression) negates itself, thus positing, as its dialectical remainder, the r eality. Yet precisely because the piece performs both fiction and re ality as absences, it obscures th e distinction between the two. Moreover, the biographical material and the lies are constructed fr om the same psychical matrix. As a result, Educational Complex collapses the bipoles of fic tion and reality into a theatricalized Mbius strip. Materially, the model uses the banalmunda ne institutional school buildingsas a starting point for an impossible architecture, to be seen, according to Ke lley, in relation to the tradition of utopian architecture.23 He continues, Ideological, or psychic, functions are clearl y dominant over workaday concerns in fantasy architecture. In utopian projects, moral a nd aesthetic dimensions are presented, often openly and dramatically, as mirrors of each other. Of course, my project is a perversion of such an attitude: I present an obviously dystopi an architecture, reflec ting our true, chaotic social conditions, rather than so me idealized dream of wholeness.24 The model performs the dream space as an allegory for the realyet it is a real made by memory, that is, a real which fails as a structural opposition to the dream. In the same way that memory constructs its architecture as a body in progre ss, the model posits th e instability of real architectural space in memory (in his essay Arc hitectural Non-Memory Replaced With Psychic Reality, Kelley gives the example of his misrecolle ction of his elemen tary school) and the contingency between architectural space and the body with which it engages.25 23 Kelley, 319. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid, 318.

PAGE 61

61 Phenomenologically, the exchange is produced by the subject-object binary which it seeks to undo: as Jones writes, [W]e are both subj ect and object simultaneously, and our flesh merges with the flesh that is the world.26 Here, the phenomenological dimension of architecture is exploited in order to be breached. In an e ssay on British postwar architecture, Adrian Forty writes, Generally speaking, works of art are judged failures when they deny the subject any prospect of engagement or participation in them, when they are so closed off from experience as to appear empty and meaningl ess, when they offer nothing to edify us, nothing to uplift us in any moral or spiritual way. Customarily, art that denies any place whatsoever to the human subject, that forces the subject not even into a state of selfreflectiveness, but merely into a state of abj ect nothingness is considered to be a failure.27 Educational Complex strate gically overdetermines Forty s position. The models utopian thrust issues from a modernist ideology of f unctionalism. The exterior locates the Cartesian subject as a product of a utopian education system, for which the architectural st ructure is the temple of the Logos. Simultaneously, the models interiorfragmented, blocked, nonfunctional forecloses on the utopia promised by the exteri or. The dynamic dislodges the chiasmic exchange from its own utopian center, in which the one a nd the other intertwine into a fleeting whole: where the exterior here opens to the (implied) body, the interior denies it. The interior, however, has its own implied bodiesthe abusers and the abused, the failed bodies of the repressed trauma. The chiasmic bodies are here inverted into a flesh that strangulates as it intertwines. But the dystopian interior fails as a counterpo int to the utopian exterior in the same way that the fictive and the real fail as sym bolic antipodesboth found their performances on a 26 Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 41. 27 Adrian Forty, Being or Nothingness: Private Experi ence and Public Architectur e in Post-War Britain, Architectural History Vol. 38 (1995), 26.

PAGE 62

62 slippery claim to truth. Utopian architecture necessarily opposes function because it can exist only in theory, and theoretical architecture accommodates only theoretical bodies. The model, then, fails as utopian due less to the secret of abuse than to its conflation of fiction and reality. Where utopia and dystopia transcend the real, Educatio nal Complex enacts the real as a dissimulation. The model performs neither fiction nor reality because it performs both and, furthermore, because it performs at all. This is the point at which Educational Complex converges with the craft pieces. As the objects act upon the subject th ey propose a psychical beyond to the banal surfaces of used toys and sch ool buildings. That is, they perform the banal precisely to constitute its other, and the other is not the unattainab le real, but rather the phantasm of an extraordinary subject, traumatized, debase d, usurped by the object and negated. The binary structure of theateronstage/offstageposits finally a subject that is complete in its negation, on the other side the performance. What Kelleys wo rks, and in particular Educational Complex, demonstrate, however, is that the other side is the surface refracted and revised by its performative architecture, always already approp riated because it is spoken by the performance. The fantasy of trauma, of negation, and of a subj ect that is naught, is for kids. And any sorryassed performer can clean up and start again.

PAGE 63

63 Figure 3.1. Mike Kell ey, Dialogue #1, 1991.

PAGE 64

64 Figure 3.2. Mike Kelley, Dial ogue #5 (One Hand Clapping), 1991.

PAGE 65

65 Figure 3.3. Haim Steinbach, basics 1986, plastic laminated wood sh elf, polyester, plastic and foam bears, vinyl bear.

PAGE 66

66 Figure 3.4. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1991.

PAGE 67

67 Figure 3.5. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology detail.

PAGE 68

68 Figure 3.6. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology detail.

PAGE 69

69 Figure 3.7. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1991.

PAGE 70

70 Figure 3.8. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart detail.

PAGE 71

71 Figure 3.9. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart photograph.

PAGE 72

72 Figure 3.10. Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, 1995.

PAGE 73

73 Figure 3.11. Mike Kelley, Educa tional Complex, overhead view.

PAGE 74

74 Figure 3.12. Mike Kelley, Edu cational Complex, detail.

PAGE 75

75 Figure 3.13. Mike Kelley, Educatio nal Complex working drawing.

PAGE 76

76 CHAPTER 4 SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATO RIES NIHILISTIC OBJECTS [S]ince we have been denied the first [the Bi g Bang], we might as well put all our energies into accelerating the end, into hastening things to their de finitive doom, which we could at least consume as spectacle.1 Mark Pauline is the greatest performance artist in the Unite d States, theres no doubt about it. He endangers peoples lives, he threatens to kill people. I think its what we need today. I think we should have more threats and more endangerment of human life.2 In February, 1979, Mark Pauline staged Machin e Sex, the first of over 50 performances under the name Survival Research Laboratorie s (SRL). Founded by Pauline in November 1978, SRL is a mechanized theater in which robotic machines and props, all made by the group from scavenged parts and secondhand technology, are pit against one another in a science-fiction spectacle of anarchic destruc tion. Over the years, Survival Research Laboratories has streamlined its machines and its productions. In 1988, Paulines primary collaborator, Matthew Heckert, left the group and Eric Werner, another co re collaborator, left so on after; Pauline, as artistic director, now works with an evolving group of collaborato rs. However, little has changed in the groups methodology since 1979. SRL producti ons coalesce the fields of performance art and weapons technology into a spectacle that foregrounds the anta gonism between the two fields. The events are held in arenas or outdoors, and the pace and atmosphere parallel the theatricalized competition of sporting events or monster truc k rallies. The machines themselves are DIY corruptions of yesterdays technology: flamethrowers, catapults and cannons, ram cars, crawling robotic insects, all cannibalized from used or obsolete machinery and weaponry. Parody, of performance art, of popular culture, of ritual violence and of military technology, informs the 1 Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End trans. Chris Turner (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992). 2 Anonymous spectator, A Scenic Harvest from the Kingdom of Pain VHS, directed by Jona than Reiss and Joe Rees (San Francisco: SRL, 1984).

PAGE 77

77 events, and an iconography of political subversion plays acro ss the surface. Yet while the iconography evokes a political agenda, it evades a coherent position; ideology is subsumed in the directionless aggression of th e fight, soundtracked by industrial music and absurd sound montages. The machines enact a toy apocalypse in which literal destruction is hyperbolized by its symbols (i.e., animal carcasses, smoke, fl ames, noise) and the combat ends when the machines are no longer operable. Far more explicitly than Kippenbergers or Kelleys, SRLs objects perform. Pauline and his associates direct them with remotes, but the machines are the actors. Furthermore, the flawed technology of the projects, along with a degree of programmed agency, engenders an uncanny choreography of erratic and apparently illogical movement and an illusion of incipient posthuman subjectivity. The more significant difference between SRL and Kippenberger or Kelley is located in the ideological position of th e performance. As the previous chapters argue, Kippenberger and Kelley both exploit ideologi cal structures: Kippenberger reproduces the structures and Kelley debases them. In contrast SRLs machines perfor m their undoing. On the SRL website, the group describes itself as an or ganization of creative te chnicians dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, produc t or warfare.3 In other words, the performances direct their technology away from productive use, from the development of ideological structures, and toward the perver sion of the structures into pure spectacle. In a sense, then, the SRL performance is its own spectacular endan analogue to film or TV. With film and TV, though, the spectacle is c onsumed as entertainmentand as entertainment it acquires its commodity status and thus its function in ideol ogy. The SRL performance not only 3 Survival Research Laboratories, Survival Research Laboratories Home Page 15 July 2006, < http://www.srl.org > (1 August 2006).

PAGE 78

78 diverts its technology from practicality, product or warfare, but it unde rcuts the ideological organizations (specifically, the government and military) that engender the technology by severing production from intention, and it frustr ates the spectacles consumption by disallowing its resolution in either entertainment or social cr itique. What results is a field of combat without cogito, a performance of negation. In The Will to Power Nietzsche writes, Radical nihilism is the conviction of an ab solute untenability of existence when it comes to the highest values one recognizes; plus the realization that we l ack the least right to posit a beyond or an in-itself of things that might be divine or morality incarnate. Existence has no goal or end; any comprehensive unity in the plurality of even ts is lacking: the character of existence is not true, is false One simply lacks any reason for convincing oneself that there is a true world.4 The SRL machines reify Nietzsch es definition by emptying actions of meaning, as a symbol of the true world. They sever the act of fighting from the ideol ogical formations through which acts cultivate meaning by, in effect isolating the gestures of figh ting (e.g., violence spectacle) in a sort of invisible fortress: an airless sphere fore ver sealed from the transcendent space of belief, like the Fortress of Solitude in which Superman preserved his home city Kandor. In contrast to Supermans city, though, the SRL spectacle is de liberately alienated: the machines reject the fundamental rationale of ideology that action is motivated by r eason, or that effects are caused by proposing a battleground in which the winner is ir relevant (if one emerges at all) and actions are freed of logic and consequence. As a conseq uence, the machines are additionally freed of (positive or negative) social productivity. Baudrillard addresses a similar phenomenon in hi s analysis of chaotic form. He defines the immanence of chaotic development as the unfolding of events which are themselves also without meaning and consequence and in whichwith effects substituting themselves for causes there are no longer any causes, but only effects The world is there, effectively There is no reason 4 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House, 1967), 9, 13.

PAGE 79

79 for this, and God is dead.5 In the SRL performances, the cau ses of violence are displaced by their spectacular effectsand logi c, as the value of the effect, vanishes: the effect is no longer illogical; it just is In Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish (Los Angeles, 1985), for example, a pig carcass is ripped in half by two machines; in The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts (Austin, 1997), a prop is affixed with a cartoon image of a boy and a girl riding bicycles; in a performance and installation at Area nightclub in New York (1985), political pictures are stabbed by a mechanized knife; a nd in various performances (including Area) Paulines guinea pig, Stu, operates a machine. The dominance of violence effaces the relative relations between political and potentially subversive symbols. E ffects without cause construct an iconography without logic, thus, in David Gravers words, They [the machines] do not speak from a particular subject position, but, rather, quiver and shake like a demented body throes of fever or death.6 The substitution of effects for causes sugge sts a slippage between postmodernism and nihilism: both oppose essentialism as a means of valuing the object. Yet where postmodernism attempts to undo the essentialist li nk between the signifier and th e signified, and reveal it as arbitrary, nihilism bypasses the link, and rejects the ideological structures through which all signification is mediated as absurd. The SRL machin es acknowledge the link as it is necessary to the performance of negation. The act of violen ce or destructionspeci fically without cause communicates as a negation (or at least a rejection) of social structures because it is encoded as aggressive. The negation is legible, the n, but it is unspecifi c and without logic ( not illogical). In 5 Baudrillard, Illusion 121. 6 David Graver, Violent Theatricality: Disp layed Enactments of Aggression and Pain, Theatre Journal Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar. 1995), 57.

PAGE 80

80 this sense, aggression is no longer a cause for violence; it is an eff ect equivalent to violence. The Flame Whistle/Boeing, for example, is a Boeing jet reconstructed as a flamethrower with a police whistle attached, making it the loudest flamethrower in history.7 The combination of flames and noise creates a reciprocal circuit of aggression and violence in which neither term engenders the other, but they flow into one anothe r, with no origin, as e ffects. In performance, the Flame Whistle/Boeing has two functions: it fights other machines and it produces flames and noise. The former function remains in the realm of theater because it takes place without the before and after (cause and consequence) of the r eal. In fact, its nihilism is contingent on the theatrical anatomy of the fight. I nherently, the expression of nihili sm conflicts with subjectivity: the futility of ideological structures can only be expressed through those structures, and, within the context of the real, any such expression is necessarily produ ced by a subjecta person already assimilated into the same structures. Thus the nihilist subject is inevitably a paradox. The SRL performance attempts to circumvent the paradox by unhinging the nihilistic expression from the realm of the real, and from the human subject. The performance neither rejects nor embraces the act of fighting: the fight is an effectan acting out of gestures. The latter function is also a fight, but one that alienates the machine from within: the volume of the police whistle serves to undercut the dynamic spectacle of the flames; the fire poses a visceral threat which subsumes the invisible threat of the noise. Each element undermines the other for a tension without reason that abolishes the coherence of the machine and detaches it from any productive (political, social) end in violence or aggression. Graver writes, [U]nlike more conventional indictments of social justice, SRLs spectacles do not allow 7 Survival Research Laboratories, Flame Whistle, 15 July 2006, < http://www.srl.org/machines/flamewhistle/ > (1 August 2006).

PAGE 81

81 their audience to rest comfortably with a se lf-righteous message. For SRL, violence takes precedence over social critique. The social criti que gives discursive weight to the violence while the violence prevents the social critique fr om becoming a stable point from which to view the spectacle.8 The difference between the SRL performance and a fight performed by human actors, for example in a play, is that the SRL violence is re al (that is, the fight is actually violent, the performers are actually debilita ted and/or destroyed). Violence is therefore deployed as both a threat and an actaimed at the machines and, indi rectly, at the audienceto subvert the spectacle of performance as it unfolds. The chaos of the show (i.e., noise, simultaneous and multidirectional activity, operators running on and off the stage) additionally subverts the spectacle and disrupts any narra tive coherence. Yet where the live shows bury the complex of anti-narrative devices in the field of chaos, the 1988 video A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief (staged in the SRL workshop and made specificall y for recording), exposes it. The video comes closest to narrative in its sugge stion of a fight between a snarling mechanized animal skeleton and the Inchworm, a crawling, scorpi on-like robot with functional arms. The performance culminates when the Inchworm destroys a marginal machine and disappears into flames but the episode follows a fractured montage which disl ocates the gestures in the video from their narrative matrix. The montage conflates the prehisto ric (skeletons, cave, vi scous carcasses) with the posthuman (the Inchworm and auxi liary machines, industrial music). It instigates a play of signifiers, but it signifies at le ss than zero; it erodes meaning. 8 Graver, Violent Theatricality 57.

PAGE 82

82 In this way, Bitter Message visualizes Baudrillards reversibility between the ending and the beginning.9 As Fredric Jameson writes in Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future? [I]n order for narrative to project some sense of a totality of experience in space and time, it must surely know some closure (a narrativ e must have an ending, even if it is ingeniously organized around the structural re pression of endings as such).10 Bitter Message and the live performances are able to tran spose beginnings and endings be cause they dismember narrative form. Narrative surfaces in the shows, in fights between machines, in the destruction of props by the machines, and in the disorienting choreogr aphy between movement and sound. However, it builds up just to collapse under its own entropy, as the machines perform an inversion of Artauds Theatre of Cruelty, in wh ich violence implodes the real. In the past, Mark Pauline has established th at the SRL performances are not meant to inflict any physical violence on the audience; to date, few view ers have been injured and none have been killed. The performance of real vi olence fails to confuse theater and reality because it never attempts to: the machines are manifestly machines. Rather, the performance appropriates the real into the theater. The violence still acts as an affront to the audience, but the affront is itself an effectit serves no purpose. It is an inversion of entertainment and its mirror image, a theater of nihilism wh ich succeeds because it reflects all that orbits itall causality, all consequence, all meaning as fiction. The machines correspond as actors. Within the show, they perform the roles (to the extent that the show al lows for roles). Yet, as opposed to live actors, the machines have no other to the perfor med self: they exist in performance. 9 Baudrillard, Illusion 121. 10 Fredric Jameson, Progress Versus Ut opia, or, Can We Imagine the Future? Science Fiction Studies Vol. 9 (1982), 148.

PAGE 83

83 To exist in performance is to exist as a fully exteriorized thingas an object. The machines perform as subjects in so far as they exploit their agency, to fight, to destroy, or, in Gravers words, to quiver and shake. But the performance is absurd: no viewer mistakes the machines for conscious beings, and no one is expected to. Instead, the division betw een subject and object, as the machines enact it, invokes another division, between interior and ex terior: the duality of the conscious self. The subject a nd the object are comparable in the sense that neither one can ultimately transcend his/her (or its) body. However, consciousness compels the subject to dream at transcendence. The illusion splits the subj ect between body and mind and thus forecloses on his/her transcendent wholeness. The objectthe SRL machine, or any objectlacks the interiority produced by consciousness; withou t interiority it has no need for transcendence and it remains intact. Moreover, the objects wholeness inverts the disembodied wholeness of the theoretical subject into a black hole which absorbs the expa nse of consciousness into the object sphere. It closes to all that is not itself it has no dreams, and as a result it existswholly and resolutelyat the center of a dead, Godless universe. The SRL machine could thus conceivably be read as a commentary on the threat of technology. Furthermore, the groups animal/m achine hybridsmachines like Heckerts Mummy-Go-Round (1982), in which leaping car casses are mounted on a spinning carousel suggest a subtext of moralism: theoretically, th e animals subjugation is one step away from mankinds subjugation to its own creation. The dystopianism embedded in the discourse of western science fiction upholds both positions. So evidently does Paulines assertion that Its just become more and more appare nt that its how [people] deal with their creations thats of significance and their lives have no significance at all. The more powerful the creations they make, the more they harness technology and nature the more insignifican t theyre gonna be and

PAGE 84

84 the more death is gonna pass into that realm of instantaneousness.11 Paulines statement follows the logic that technological progress is mankind s death knell; it ordains our capitulation to new and increasingly efficient forms of death. Yet he proposes another dimension to the position: man makes machine in order that machine may overtake man. Mankind can only truly be validated as creator by losing to machineour coup is our ruin. Or, alternately, as William Fisher writes of Blade Runner The effective breakdown of physis and nomos has given birth to a manmade anti-environment that now exacts revenge from its creator.12 Fisher points up one of the primary themes of dystopian science fic tion and of SRL: the triumph of machine over man. The machines triu mph posits a realm in which the machine not only asserts its threateni ngly absolute exteriority13 over mans interiority, it also heralds the obsolescence of interiority. The conquest pr ovokes a chain through which all of mankinds ideological structures are systematically inve rted according to the machine. Mortality is neutralized because the mach ine can rebuild itself. God, as mans will to power,14 dies because the concept is absurd to the machine; and alongs ide God dies all belief systems, beginning with the one closest: Cartesian subj ectivity, which empowers man to subordinate the machine. Theoretically, the machines triumph is represented in the SRL show by the absence of human actorsthe machines are the main attraction. Outside of Bitter Message (along with some edited videos of live performances), though, the group ne ver completely veils its presence: Pauline and his associates are visible as ancillary players, entering the arena to fix malfunctioning machines, 11 The Virtues of Negative Fascination: 5 Mechanized Performances VHS, directed by Jon Reiss (San Francisco: SRL, 1986). 12 William Fisher, Of Living Machines and Living-Machines: Blade Runner and the Terminal Genre, New Literary History Vol. 20, No. 1, Critical Reconsiderations (Autumn, 1998), 193. 13 Graver, Violent Theatricality 54. 14 Nietzsches phrase seems an appropri ate way to characterize mans ideological relation to God, but I do not mean to directly implicate Nietzsche in my use of it.

PAGE 85

85 to fire cannons, or to reposition props. Yet th e collective presence of the machines dominates over the human presence. Particularly in early sh ows, efforts to control the machines by remote are undermined by the machines temperamentth eir improvised actions which result from the crude technology, but translate live as a crude artificia l intelligence. In mo re recent shows, the machines are programmed to act semi-independently from their operators. The process initiates a self(and subject-)defeating cycle in which mankind is christened as God by creating a machine which topples mans gods. Mankinds concession to the mach ine often plays out in scie nce-fiction as a delusional master-slave dialectic: the machine takes cont rol by promising to improve the master. The SRL machines perform technologys promise to man of super powers, slave labor or immortality through a sort of atrocity exhibition, to us e J.G. Ballards phrase, but with the defused macabre of an Alice Cooper cabaret show.15 The animal-machine hybrid mocks both the manmachine ideal that haunts modernist science ficti on and the utopian gesture of reviving the dead; technology again triumphs because the machine is necessary for the animals reanimation. ( In one performance, for example, a ra bbit called the Rabot is shocked so that it spasm; in another, a kinetic machine is covered with a cow carcass. ) Here, the resurrected is reimagined as a putrid Lazarus, and the machine performs simultaneously as Dr. Frankensteinthe creatorand as his undead creation. The animal-machines further theat ricalize the failed ideal as they lumber and convulse through repeated deaths. The multiple d eaths collapse the animal into the objects cycle of planned obsolescence by performing it as alwa ys already obsoletedead before it hits the stage. More than the machine, then, the animal is the locus of SRLs nihilism. It acts as both metaphor for mankind and as an avatar of the soci al structures which, like the technology of the 15 I am referring here to Ballards novel. J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (San Francisco, CA: RE/SEARCH, 1990).

PAGE 86

86 machines, are redirected from their productive function. Food products or pets are denied as physical or mental nourishment; the life is rekind led by the machines strictly to be destroyed. That death and destruction ar e equivalent terms in the SRL show is a symptom of the performers disengagement from the potential rami fications of their effect sdeath itself is an effect, not a mourning. Simultaneously, destruc tion is emptied of its meaning because the machines and props destroying (or attempting to destroy) one another are made from obsolete technology. But where obsolescence signals a transiti on, from one objects term to another, the destruction of technology, in very practical terms, equates a de struction of mankinds means of survival. Or, rather, as the secondhand machines signify mankinds self-made obsolescence as a species which perpetually seeks to outdo itself, the destruction of technology, in effect, signifies a self-destruction. The dystopia is a vivid allegory for science fi ctions leitmotif of pathological technology. Its imagery articulates an apocalyptic/post-apocal yptic sphere inextricably entwined with the Judeo-Christian foundations underpinning western ideology, wherein the a pocalypse is the final act before all existence bifurcates, for better (uto pia) or worse (dystopia) According to Jameson, western cultures contemporary fascination with utopia stems from our inability to imagine it. He argues that utopias are created in fiction as means of problematizing their creation.16 The dystopian imagination follows the same recupera tive impulse. The dystopia is not the result of our failure to imagine utopia, it equals utopia; and as its antipode, it equally escapes us. Within this formation utopia and dystopia are opposite sides of the same ideological fabric. By importing the dystopian imagination into a fictitiousand meaninglesssphere, SRL allows for a dystopia freed from ideology and moralityin othe r words, a dystopia freed from utopia. As a 16 Jameson, 156.

PAGE 87

87 result, the show denies the potential fo r salvation implicit in the ideological dystopia. It invokes the moral subtext of dystopiathe apo calypse mythstrictly to destroy it. The actual SRL show performs its apocalypse like a B-movie performs its drama: the inherent impossibility of visualizing the a pocalypse, which undermines any production, is comically foregrounded in the chaos of sputteri ng machines, directionless pyrotechnics and a sort of funhouse lightand sound-show. The gloss of the spectacle, though, is peripheral to the attack. The machines are able to destroy the symbols of apocalypse because they destroy its logic: death, to machines, is neither real nor unreal; the nihilist que stion for what? as Nietzsche puts it, is no longer even posed.17 In The Illusion of the End Baudrillard writes, Our Apocalypse is not real, it is virtual And it is not in the future, it is here and now. 18 He follows a similar arc in Fatal Strategies: The sadistic irony of catastrophe is that it secretly awaits for things, even ruins, to regain their beauty a nd meaning only to destroy them once again. It is intent upon destroying the illusion of eternity, but it also plays with that illusion, since it fixates things in an alternate eternity.19 The mythical apocalypse is the production of ab solutes, of irrevocable ends and rebirths. The SRL machines deploy a rhetoric of annihilati on which gives rise to a virtual apocalypse that is not Baudrillards simulacral model, but one wi thout want of even a simulacral Godplayed by machines, and replayed at will. The strategy ex tricates the machines from the ideology through which their destruction is marked as fake. Their end is meani ngless and reversible, but within 17 Nietzsche, Will 16. 18 Baudrillard, Illusion 119. 19 Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies, Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings ed. Mark Poster (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 200.

PAGE 88

88 their context (or, per Baudrillard, their alternate eternity) it is literal; and they perform their own resurrections. Specifically, the destruction of the apocalypse is located in the machines capacity to repeat it. In his essay on pop art, That Old Thing Art, Barthes contends that the stakes of repetition are [T]he destruction of art but also (moreover, they go together) anot her conception of the human subject the Warholian subject (s ince Warhol is a practitioner of these repetitions) abolishes the pathos of time in hi m[/her]self, because this pathos is always linked to the feeling that something has appear ed, will die, and that ones death is opposed only by being transformed into a second some thing which does not resemble the first.20 By repeating the apocalyptic signifiers in a ge stural loop of fire a nd brimstone within the show, the machines share with Barthess Warhol the (attempted) destruction of the represented, which, in both cases, translates into an attack, to use Benjam ins term, on the aura: through repetition, the aura of the image or gest ure begins to deteriorate. Furthermore, the obsolete technology of the SRL machines anni hilates the temporalwhich, in regards to the apocalypse, is synonymous with the teleological. It posits a scen ario that has already crossed over the real end into the perpetual return. The result is an apocalypse that is simultaneously a postapocalypse, in which the finality of the end is re peatedly evacuated; the dead rise and fall and rise again in a convulsive ataxia. Barthes also argues that the pop art object (in his case, Wa rhols objects) is no longer anything but the residue of a s ubtraction: everything left over from a tin can once we have mentally amputated all its possibl e themes, all its possible uses.21 The pop artist thus produces an object which signifies nothing; or, rather, the signified has no history and no interioritythe 20 Roland Barthes, That Old Thing Art, The Responsibility of Forms trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1985), 200. 21 Ibid, 201.

PAGE 89

89 object or image is its own essence The machines produce their obj ects (their gestures, their narrative) through a negation that follows the p op artists, according to Barthess outline. The difference is that the SRL negation is pe rformed by material objects (the machines) not by their creators thus the negation is free from the affect that encumbers the pop artists asymbolic object. (In other words, the artists performan ce as a machine, like Warhols, is unnecessary because the SRL performers are machines.) The process of negation parallels Baudrillards production of effects without cau se: by abandoning meaning, the machines eliminate cause; by repeating the effects without cau se, they strip violencethe show s structuring effectto its essence. What results is a liquidation of the id eological platform on wh ich violence signifies and, moreover, on which performance itsel f rests as an other to the real. The show is about achieving complete freedom from the restraints of civilization. And one way to achieve complete freedom from the re straints of civilization is to burn civilization down. Then youre free of it.22 Mark Paulines statement is an ambitious assessment, yet it illustrates the paradox that emerges when the show is codified as metaphor and reinserted into an ideological framework. Ultimately, the SRL show achieves nothing outside of its hallucinatory realm (what Pauline has referred to as the world we created for them23), but not because the performances are fake. It achieves nothing be cause achievement is denouement, forever fixed in the subjects ideology. Pau line is right, though: the show is free from the restraints of civilization, at least the civili zation that it conjures. Because its foundation is destruction, anything producedfrom its specta cle to its subversionis captured and brought down again. This may be the nihilist subjects fa ntasy (in as much as he/she maintains fantasies), but only the 22 Mark Pauline, Survival Research Laboratories: 10 Years of Robotic Mayhem DVD, directed by Jon Reiss (Oaks, PA: Music Video Distribution, 2004). 23 Ibid.

PAGE 90

90 object can perform it: at its core reality is destroyed, along with the subjectivity from which reality arises. The question for wh at? finds its answer in the sile nce of exteriority; the machine extinguishes the last gasp of bewildered meani ng as the subject dies on its knees pleading for life.

PAGE 91

91 Figure 4.1. Survival Research Laboratories, advertisement, Boulevards magazine, 1978.

PAGE 92

92 Figure 4.2. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish Los Angeles, 1985, performance still.

PAGE 93

93 Figure 4.3. Survival Research La boratories, Flame Whistle.

PAGE 94

94 Figure 4.4 Survival Research Laboratories, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief 1988, film still.

PAGE 95

95 Figure 4.5. Survival Research Laboratories, Inchworm.

PAGE 96

96 Figure 4.6. Survival Research La boratories, Mummy Go Round.

PAGE 97

97 Figure 4.7. Survival Research Laboratories, Rabot.

PAGE 98

98 Figure 4.8. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish performance still.

PAGE 99

99 Figure 4.9. Survival Research Laboratories, The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts, Austin, Texas, 1997, performance still.

PAGE 100

100 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION The Sand-Man ends with the protagonist Nathanie ls accidental death: following a psychotic seizure, he flings himself over th e edge of a tower. As the slumped body draws a crowd, it produces a performance severed from the subjectivity through which it was named man. Nathaniel is thus exposed as what he had always been: an object, in a world of objects, acted upon by and acting upon those around him. In the characters death, and in his fumbling romance with an automaton, The Sand-Man lays bare the correlation between the performing object and phenomenology-in part icular, Merleau-Ponty s chiasmus. Nathaniel is exposed as an object, just as he subjectifies Ol ympia by refusing her otherness. What Merleau-Ponty achieves with his theory is the democratization between the subject and the object-not a poststructu ralist equivalence of signs, but the undoing of the subjects hegemony. Consciousness allows us to define the object as subjectified, bu t the subject creates the world through objects, and is reif ied vis--vis those objects. I have proposed in this thesis that the objects capacity to perform has ramifications that surpass the democratization and de-center the subject. Where the objects ma teriality reflects our own materi ality as bodies in space, its performance reflects the subjects agency, which is concomitant with his/her consciousness. By enacting agency, the object confronts the subject as an other that is no longer willed by subjectivity. No longer subordi nate, no longer silent and, abov e all, no longer obedient, the object reverses the terms of subject-ness and obj ect-ness without changing the names. In other words, the objects action does not transform it into a subject; it ca lls into question the ideological infrastructure of subjectivity.

PAGE 101

101 In his Critique of Judgment Kant describes the sublime as a formless object, so far as in it or by occasion of it boundlessness is represented, and yet its totality is also present to thought.1 The sublime is thus knowable (present to thought) but beyond our comprehension. The individual object is incapable of realizing Kants ineffable su blime. Yet, by doing something it suggests a system outside of and closed to cons ciousness-boundless, in re lation to the subject, and sublime. It displaces the subject as the object s keeper and it annihilates the ego that claims to be its maker. In Cartesian terms, the ego thin ks itself into existence. It thinks its world, it thinks its objects. By acknowledging the di fference between the obj ects reification via consciousness and it s subordination to a consciousness the subject allows the object an agency, but within a Cartesian system The performing object exteri orizes the difference. And, furthermore, it does so from its perspective: as an immortal, diaboli cal thing. Its systems play subordinate to ours, but never yi eld. Ultimately, the object that perf orms situates the subject as the other. And as we build up its armies, it reminds us that we are outnumbered. 1 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment: Introduction, Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory ed. Stephen David Ross (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 121.

PAGE 102

102 LIST OF REFERENCES Althusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideologica l State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation). In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays Translated by Ben Brewster. New York and London: Mont hly Review Press, 2001. Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words. In The Performance Studies Reader Edited by Henry Bial. London: Routledge, 2003. Ballard, J.G. The Atrocity Exhibition San Francisco, CA: RE/SEARCH, 1990. Ballard, J.G. Crash New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973. Barthes, Roland. Myth Today. In Mythologies Translated by Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983. Barthes, Roland. That Old Thing Art. In The Responsibility of Forms Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 Edited and translated by Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: Univer sity of Minnesota Press, 1985. Baudrillard, Jean. Fat al Strategies. In Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings Edited by Mark Poster. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End Translated by Chris Turner Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulations Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writi ngs, Vol. 2, part 2, 1931-1934 Edited by Howard Eiland and Gary Smith. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005. Bial, Henry, ed. The Performance Studies Reader London: Routledge, 2004. Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postm odern Science Fiction Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. Butler, Judith. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative London: Routledge, 1997. Diedrichsen, Diedrich. Selb stdarsteller: Martin Kippenbe rger between 1977 and 1983. In Nach Kippenberger Edited by Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger. Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003. Fisher, William. Of Living Machines and Living-Machines: Blade Runner and the Terminal Genre. New Literary History Vol. 20, no. 1, Critical Reco nsiderations (Autumn, 1998): 187-198.

PAGE 103

103 Forty, Adrian. Being or Nothingness: Private Ex perience and Public Architecture in Post-War Britain. Architectural History Vol. 38 (1995): 25-35. Foster, Hal. Death in America. October Vol. 75 (Winter, 1996): 36-59. Foster, Hal. Obscene, Abject, Traumatic. October Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996): 106-124. Freud, Sigmund. Screen Memories. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Translated by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press Ltd., 1962. Goffman, Erving. Performances: Belief in the Part One Is Playing In The Performance Studies Reader Edited by Henry Bial. London: Routledge, 2003. Graver, David. Violent Theatricality: Displa yed Enactments of Aggression and Pain. Theatre Journal Vol. 47, no. 1 (Mar. 1995): 43-64. Graw, Isabelle, Anthony Vidl er, and John C. Welchman. Mike Kelley London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1999. Groetz, Thomas, ed. Homage to Martin Kippenberger: Gitarren die nicht Gudrun heissen Berlin: Galerie Max Hetzler: Holzwarth Publications, 2003. Hoffmann, E.T.A. The Sand-Man. In Weird Tales Translated by J.T. Bealby. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970. Jameson, Fredric. Progress Versus Utopi a, or, Can We Imagine the Future. Science Fiction Studies Vol. 9 (1982): 144-151. Jones, Amelia. Body Art: Performing the Subject Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Jones, Amelia. The Eternal Return: Self-Portrait Photogra phy as a Technology of Embodiment. Signs Vol. 27, no. 4 (Summer, 2002): 947-978. Jones, Amelia. Tracing the S ubject with Cindy Sherman. In Cindy Sherman: Retrospective Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art; Los A ngeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment: Introduction. In Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory Edited by Stephen David Ross. Alba ny: State University of New York Press, 1984. Kelley, Mike. Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism Edited by John C. Welchman. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003. Kelley, Mike. Minor Histories: Statements, Conversations, Proposals Edited by John C. Welchman. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.

PAGE 104

104 Koch, Uwe. Annotated Catalogue Raisonne of th e Books by Martin Kippenberger 1977-1997. New York: D.A.P., 2003. Krauss, Rosalind. Inform e Without Conclusion. October Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996): 89-105. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Kumar, Krishan. Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times Oxford: Basil Blackwell, Ltd., 1987. Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller and translated by Alan Sh eridan. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978. McKenzie, Lucy. Now That This Has Been Done It Will Never Have to Be Done Again. In Nach Kippenberger Edited by Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger. Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The IntertwiningThe Chiasm. In The Theory of Difference: Readings in Contemporary Thought Edited by Douglas L. Donkel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. Meyer-Hermann, Eva, and Susanne Neuberger, eds. Nach Kippenberger Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power Edited and translated by Walter Kaufman. New York: Random House, 1967. Ohrt, Roberto. Kippenberger Cologne: Taschen, 1997. Owens, Craig. Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture Berkeley: University of California, 1994. Prina, Steven. Regard the Pit. In Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West Edited by Peter Noever. Los Angeles: MAK Center for Art and Architecture, 1998. Survival Research Laboratories. Survival Research Laboratories Home Page. 30 July 2006, http://www.srl.org (accessed 14 August 2006). A Scenic Harvest from the Kingdom of Pain VHS. Directed by Jonathan Reiss and Joe Rees. San Francisco: S.R.L.: Dist ributed by Art Com, 1984. Survival Research Laboratories: 10 Years of Robotic Mayhem DVD. Directed by Jonathan Reiss. Oaks, PA: Music Video Distributors, 2004. Sussman, Elisabeth, ed. Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993. Virtues of Negative Fascination: 5 Mechani zed Performances by Survival Research Laboratories VHS. Directed by Jonathan Reis s. San Francisco: S.R.L., 1985, 1986.

PAGE 105

105 Winnicott, D.W. Playing and Reality London and New York: Tavistock Publishing, 1980.

PAGE 106

106 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Natalie Haddad received her bachelors degree in fine arts from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where she also wo rked as Arts Editor for a newspaper.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0016283/00001

Material Information

Title: Puppet Masters: The Object as Performer in Art
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0016283:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0016283/00001

Material Information

Title: Puppet Masters: The Object as Performer in Art
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0016283:00001


This item has the following downloads:


Full Text





PUPPET MASTERS: THE OBJECT AS PERFORMER IN ART


By

NATALIE HADDAD













A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006

































Copyright 2006

By

Natalie Haddad









ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The completion of this thesis would not have been possible without the support of many

individuals. Firstly, I would like to thank my committee chair, Alexander Alberro, for going

above and beyond the office of an academic advisor, for encouraging my ideas, and for always

guiding me in the best direction. I would like also to thank Nora Alter, whose knowledge and

insights proved indispensable, and Eric Segal, whose help at the worst of times allowed me to

complete my work. In addition, I am indebted to Diedrich Diedrichsen for his generous counsel

and personal accounts as I researched Martin Kippenberger. I am thankful as well to Marcia

Isaacson for her instrumental role in my efforts to research overseas, and to Kristin Flierl, who

was available to help whenever problems arose. Outside of UF, thanks are due to my former

Editor-in-Chief, Jonathan Mahalak, for continually pushing me to improve my writing. And my

final chapter would have lacked any virulence without its original inspiration, Alan Vega.

I am extremely grateful to my friends and family. Jaime Henderson, Robyn Reese, and

Lauren Turner shared in my scholarship and encouraged me through a sometimes-arduous

writing process. Meghan Cruz and Angela Perez provided the comfort and care of a family, as

did Selim Pasho. Finally, I wish to express my immense gratitude to my parents, Jan and Cam,

and, above all, my sister, Alexandra, for their abiding love and support.









TABLE OF CONTENTS



A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ...............................................................................................................3

LIST OF FIGURES ...................................................... .5

ABSTRACT .................................................. ..... .......................7

CHAPTER

1 INTRODUCTION .................................... .. ........... ...................................... ...8

2 MARTIN KIPPENBERGER'S IDEOLOGICAL OBJECTS.......................................... 19

3 M IK E K ELLEY 'S BAN AL OB JECTS .................................................................................47

4 SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATORIES' NIHILISTIC OBJECTS...........................76

5 C O N C L U S IO N ................................................................................................ ... ... .. 10 0

L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ....................................................... ................................................ 102

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .................................................... ............................................. 106




























4









LIST OF FIGURES


Figure page

1.1. Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series, 1974, silver gelatin prints................... 16

1.2. Chris Burden, Through the Night Softly, 1973, performance still ....................................17

2.1. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, Canada, 1995. ..........................35

2.2. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, interior detail...........................36

2.3. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Syros, Greece, 1993..................................37

2.4. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, Germany, 1997. ..............................38

2.5. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, front entrance.................................39

2.6. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Crushed), Metro Pictures, New York, 1997. ................40

2.7. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Transportable), Documenta X, Kassel, Germany,
19 9 7 ........................................................................................................... 4 1

2.8. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (above ground), Munster, Germany,
1997 ........................................................................................................... 42

2.9. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (underground), MAK Center for Art
and A architecture, L os A ngeles, 1998............................................................ ................ 43

2.10. Martin Kippenberger, Knechte des Tourismus (Vassals of Tourism), 1979.....................44

2.11. Martin Kippenberger, 21 Jahre unter Euch, Kippenberger 1953-1974 (21 Years
Among You, Kippenberger 1953-1974), 1974, detail. ............. ..................................... 45

2.12. Martin Kippenberger, Jahrhundert Kippenberger als einer von Euch, unter Euch,
mit Euch ('4 Century of Kippenberger as One of You, Among You, With You),
197 8 ........................................................................................................... 4 6

3.1. M ike K elley, "D dialogue # 1," 1991 ........................................ ........................ ................ 63

3.2. M ike Kelley, "Dialogue #5 (One Hand Clapping)," 1991................................ ................ 64

3.3. Haim Steinbach, basics, 1986, plastic laminated wood shelf, polyester, plastic and foam
b e ars, v in y l b e ar ............................................................................................................... .. 6 5

3.4. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, Whitney Museum of
A m erican A rt, N ew Y ork, 1991......................................... ........................ ................ 66

3.5. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, detail ...............................67









3.6. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, detail ...............................68

3.7. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh,
199 1 ......................................................................................... ................... . .......... 69

3.8. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, detail.........................................................70

3.9. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, photograph. ..............................................71

3.10. M ike K elley, "Educational Com plex," 1995 .................................................. ................ 72

3.11. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex," overhead view...................................................73

3.12. M ike K elley, "Educational Com plex," detail ................................................. ................ 74

3.13. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex" working drawing................................................75

4.1. Survival Research Laboratories, advertisement, Boulevards magazine, 1978 ...................91

4.2. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events
Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish, Los
A ngeles, 1985, perform ance still ........................................ ....................... ................ 92

4.3. Survival Research Laboratories, "Flam e W histle". .......................................... ................ 93

4.4 Survival Research Laboratories, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief 1988, film still ........94

4.5. Survival Research Laboratories, "Inchw orm ". ................................................. ................ 95

4.6. Survival Research Laboratories, "Mummy Go Round". ..................................................96

4.7. Survival R research Laboratories, "R about .................................. ................... ................ 97

4.8. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events
Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish,
p erfo rm an ce still. ............................................................................................................... 9 8

4.9. Survival Research Laboratories, The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately
Engineered Artifacts, Austin, Texas, 1997, performance still......................................99









Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

PUPPET MASTERS: THE OBJECT AS PERFORMER IN ART

By

Natalie Haddad

December 2006

Chair: Alexander Alberro
Major Department: Art History

Performance art is a genre in which the artist's actions, or actions directed by the artist,

are the product. In much performance art, the artist is the art. Phenomenology posits that the

body precedes the mind in its dialogue with the phenomenal world; thus the artist in performance

is also an object in performance. This thesis addresses through a framework of phenomenology

the potential of inanimate objects in art to communicate as performers. By occupying a role that

diverges from or parodies its intended function, the art object can act upon or affect the viewing

subject and create a dynamic that approximates the exchange between a viewer and a live

performer. The thesis is organized into three models of performance. The first model examines

the object as a performer of ideology through a series of installations and printed works by

Martin Kippenberger (German, 1953-1997). The second model examines the object as a

performer of banality, through a series of installations by Mike Kelley (American, b. 1954). The

third model examines the object as a performer of nihilism, as represented by the machine

performances of San Francisco-based art collective Survival Research Laboratories (formed

1978). In all three models, the object's action upon the subject calls into question the authority of

the subject over the object, as enforced by Cartesian subjectivity, and, furthermore, foregrounds

the fundamental objectness of the human subject.









CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

Olympia's image hovered above his path in the air and stepped forth out of the bushes, and
peeped up at him with large and lustrous eyes from the bright surface of the brook. Clara's
image was completely faded from his mind; he had no thoughts except for Olympia.


In E.T.A. Hoffman's 1817 story The Sand-Man, the protagonist, Nathaniel, abandons his

betrothed, Clara, to pursue a delusional and fitful love for his professor's "daughter," the

automaton Olympia. Any theoretical analysis of The Sand-Man should take for granted the

symbolic topography of the narrative. In "The Uncanny," Freud portrays Olympia as a peripheral

vehicle for the story's central theme, the fear of castration. Neither human nor machine, Freud's

Olympia is a dead gaze toward Nathaniel's Oedipus complex. Remove the symbolism, however,

and the story is no less uncanny. The subject Nathaniel falls in love with an object. The dark

fantasy of Hoffmann's romance thus bodies forth a text as rich and strange as the story's subtext.

Nathaniel's attraction to Olympia exceeds her human appearance and her beauty-the most

beautiful mannequins are still marked as other to humans, objects "singularly statuesque and

soulless," which represent an ideal, but never embody it.2 Olympia attracts not because she

mirrors a human, but because she performs as one.

This thesis contends that objects have the capacity to communicate in relation to the

conscious subject through means traditionally reserved for the subject. As they signify, the

objects occupy roles through which they act upon or affect their others, including the subject. In

other words, the objects perform. To some degree, the object has always been acknowledged

within performance: obviously, in puppetry; less obviously, though significantly, in the stage


1 E.T.A. Hoffman, "The Sand-Man," Weird Tales, trans. J.T. Bealby (New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970),
199-200.
2 Hoffman, 205.









props that facilitate an actor's performance. Yet in both cases, the object's performance is a

product of the subject's agency. I propose to reconsider the object as a potential performer in

itself, not merely as the subject's prop. The visual arts offers an effective entry into the subject

matter because performance is prefigured in the exchange that takes place between the viewing

subject and the object that is on display expressly to be viewed. The thesis is organized into three

chapters; each addresses the performing object through a model of performance and through

representative works by a specific artist or art collective.

Defining an object as in performance requires first ascribing to the object the agency to

perform. Because agency is typically thought as something enabled by consciousness, and thus

given over to the subject, the performing object is best understood in terms of the subject's

performance. In "Performances: Belief in the Part One Is Playing," Erving Goffman attempts to

carry the subject in performance beyond the proscenium. According to Goffman, a performance

is "all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his[/her] continuous

presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers."3

Thus, any activity which takes place in front of observers, and to which the observers respond, is

a performance (Goffman's examples include doctors treating patients with placebos and

mechanics checking tire pressure for "anxious women motorists").4

J.L. Austin's seminal lecture series, "How To Do Things With Words," delivered in 1955

at Harvard, addresses a concept relative to Goffman's everyday performance, the performative

utterance. The performative utterance is a statement that does neithigiiii, or, per Austin, it allows




3 Erving Goffman, "Performances: Belief in the Part One Is Playing," The Performance Studies Reader, ed. Henry
Bial (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 61.
4 Goffman, 60.









the speaker to do something (as in "I do" in a wedding ceremony).5 The power of words to "do

things" is therefore predicated on the speaker's agency-but the word, as opposed to the speaking

subject, is the agent of the effect. As the doing shifts from the speaker to that which is spoken,

the locus of the effect becomes the word itself. The semiotic sleight of hand that allows the

words "I condemn you," for example, a real consequence-that someone is condemned to

something-prompts a redistribution of power which is founded in performance (in this case, the

word's performance), and which unsettles the subject's hegemony over the object.6

The concept of performativity, which encompasses the performative utterance, is more

abstract (Austin confined the latter within strict and subsequently contested parameters). In

Henry Bial's words, the performative "is similar-in form, in intent, in effect-to a theatrical

performance" Bial's statement underscores the difficulty of defining performativity. But it

points to at least an oblique relationship with performance. In reductive terms, the performative

is the evidence of the performance. Jointly, the two above positions-Goffman's and Austin's-

provide a foundation for the performing object. Performativity demonstrates a link between the

word or object and the act of performance, and the everyday performance recognizes the role of

the observer, along with the performer. The problematic of the object in performance (as

opposed to the performative object) is thus negotiated by the positions, but neither one allows for

its resolution because both secure the performance or the performative to the subject.

Paradoxically, though, the subject is simultaneously the fundamental performing object.

Against the Cartesian discourse of the subject as disembodied consciousness, phenomenology

5 J.L. Austin, "How to Do Things With Words," The Performance Studies Reader, ed. Henry Bial (London and New
York: Routledge, 2004), 17.
6 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 16.

7 Henry Bial, "Performativity," The Performance Studies Reader, ed. Henry Bial (London and New York:
Routledge, 2004), 145.









proposes an embodied subjectivity. It posits that the subject experiences the world as a sentient

body prior to his/her cognitive engagement; in brief, the body precedes the mind. In his 1964

essay "The Intertwining-The Chiasm" (published posthumously), Maurice Merleau-Ponty

addresses in particular the phenomenological subject-object exchange. The chiasmus refers to the

intertwining between the subject and his/her surrounding world. According to Merleau-Ponty,

the two parts-the subject and the object-are inseparable as what he calls the "flesh of the world."

He writes, "Where are we to put the limit between the body and the world, since the world is

flesh? ... The world seen is not 'in' my body, and my body is not 'in' the visible world

ultimately: as flesh applied to a flesh, the world neither surrounds it nor is surrounded by it."8

Merleau-Ponty's chiasmus finds a poignant expression in the work of body artists from

the late 1960s and the 1970s. In contrast to previous performance artists, for whom the action

typically presides over the actor, the body artist produces an object-based art in which the body

is privileged; the performance is the apparatus through which the body manifests itself. Early

feminist artists such as Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann, for instance, responded to

western culture's masculinist objectification of the female body by hyperbolizing the its

visibility.9 Coextensively, the masochistic performances of artists like Gina Pane, Vito Acconci,

and (probably most notoriously) Chris Burden treated the body as an expressive surface, wrested

apart from its ruling subjectivity.10 The feminist and the masochistic artists equally foreground

the body-as-object in performance; yet in both cases, the work implicitly enforces the hegemony


8 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Intertwining-The Chiasm," The Theory of Difference: Readings in Contemporary
Thought, ed. Douglas L. Donkel (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 122.
91 am thinking of works such as Wilke's Hannah Wilke: Through the Large Glass (1976-78) and Schneemann's
Naked Action Lecture (1968) and Interior Scroll (1975).
10 Each of the artists here used self-abuse as a form of expression: for example, Acconci repeatedly bites his body in
Trademarks (1970) and Pane cuts her stomach inAction Psyche (1974). Regarding Chris Burden's notoriety, one
can see works such as Shoot (1971) and Through the .i '.t Softly (1973).









of the subject. The body in the former is weighted with the politics of its particularity (gender,

race, shape, appearance) and exteriorized as object in order to reassert a particularized

subjectivity. Similarly, the act of self-abuse in the latter asserts the will of the subject over the

object. In other words, the object performs, but the subject receives all the credit.

More recently, the performance art of Vanessa Beecroft has inaugurated a space for the

body finally free of the subject's inexorable will. For performances such as vb47 (2001),

Beecroft instructs an assembly of nude or nearly nude models to pose, essentially, as objects:

they move slowly and self-consciously, if at all; mute and on display, as bodies to be viewed.

The models act as agents upon the viewer not in spite of, but because of their sheer objectness.

The body is here theatricalized as an impassive surface that tempts subject's projections in order

to shoot them back.

Thus Beecroft's desubjectified bodies give way to Hoffmann's automaton. Functionally,

the models and the automaton are equivalent: the viewer/reader projects the difference. And it

serves only his/her interests. For all intents and purposes, subjectivity for Beecroft's models and

for Olympia is superfluous; more, it may be a hindrance. The success of both performances lies

in their ability to unsettle the subject-indeed, to unsettle subjectivity. As they provoke the

revenge of the Cartesian subject against the phenomenological one, they lay bare our collective

insecurity as bodies threatened by our embodiment and, thus, our visibility. As Jacques Lacan

writes, "The picture, certainly, is in my eye. But I, I am in the picture.""11 In particular, Olympia's

performance-and her concomitant power to act upon the viewer-poses a threat because it grants

the object the subject's agency. Still, Olympia's performance is relatively easy to assimilate into




11 Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts ofPsychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1978), 96.









a traditional performance framework because she appears to be human.12 But if, as Merleau-

Ponty proposed, the object is the flesh that is the subject, the performing object is not limited to

the anthropomorphic one. The object mediates the subject's engagement with the world and, in

Lacanian terms, it gazes back, as Lacan's sardine can gazed back at him. 13

No single definition exists to distinguish the object that performs from one that evidently

does not; any object is potentially a performer. For clarity, however, a provisional definition is

worthwhile. The performing object, like the performative utterance, is one that does something.

It acts upon its environment-including the viewing subject; it enacts a role removed from its

ostensible function. The chapters that follow address the performing object within art through

three broad models of performance: 1) the ideological; 2) the banal; and 3) the nihilistic. Like

any models, these are intended as guidelines; if the object performs, it also slips-like the subject-

between positions and purposes.

Chapter one addresses the dialogue between the performing object and the ideological

structures that organize western society through a series of works by German artist Martin

Kippenberger. Kippenberger exteriorizes the strategies of western ideology by appropriating

them into his own art practice. Ideologies situate our relationship with art, yet art allows a space

in which those ideologies may be infiltrated and inverted. Kippenberger's works-in particular his

early self-portraits and "tourist" photographs-perform identity and thus transform the artist

himself into a "grand gesture," a performing object. Similarly, his Metro-Net World Connection,

a trompe l'oeil subway system, theatricalizes the performativity inherent in our negotiation of

ideologies. Furthermore, the doubling devices of parody and irony expose the structures through

12 This theme is apparent in science fiction movies featuring automata or androids, from the early science fiction of
Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) to such late dystopian films as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982).
13 I m referring to Lacan's anecdote in which a sardine can caught in the sunlight seems to gaze at the author.
Fundamental Concepts, 95.









which they signify. As a result, the works never fall prey to the ideologies that they seek to

interrogate, as is the possible pitfall of political artwork.

Chapter two abandons Kippenberger's grand gestures and transitions to the quotidian side

of ideology vis-a-vis American artist Mike Kelley. Kelley's work with craft materials and-

infamously-soiled stuffed animals from the 1980s exploits both the pathos and the relentless

banality of the objects. The pieces address foundational ideologies including religion and

Cartesianism in order to debase them-to reduce them to the detritus of Middle America. In his

Dialogue series Kelley's stuffed animals distantiate the disembodied subject by performing their

own (inevitably failed) disembodiment. They personify waste as they beckon projection, and in

turn they initiate a chiasmic exchange in which the flesh of the world is pockmarked. His work

with Repressed Memory Syndrome, specifically the architectural model "Educational Complex,"

extends the banal into the invisible spaces of repressed memory as the model enacts a

metanarrative of repressed trauma. The chapter examines the ways in which a prosaic object

(here, the architectural model) can, like the toys, hyperbolize its banality, by performing against

it.

Finally, chapter three considers the object's capacity to perform the implosion of meaning.

The performing machines of Mark Pauline and his San Francisco-based collective Survival

Research Laboratories (SRL) serve as a nihilistic attack on the other two models. The machines

signal a radical return to the kinetic object in art. Yet where previous kinetic pieces posited the

artwork primarily as a novelty or as an avatar of technological progression-thus a utopian

object-SRL repositions the object within a dystopian framework. 14 The performances, which pit


14 Works such as Jean Tinguely's Study for the End of the world No. 1 (1961) and The D,1 ..... ,ia Machine (1965)
serve as obvious precedents for SRL's destructive machines. However, in early kinetic works, such as Laszlo
Moholy-Nagy's Light Space Modulator (1930) and Alexander Calder's mobiles (first shown in 1932), an emphasis
on the constructive properties of technology is far more apparent than Tinguely's later emphasis on destruction.









machines against one another in battles without winners, articulate a sphere emptied of meaning

and consequence. They integrate violence, technology (primarily military), political iconography

and death-represented by animal skeletons and carcasses-into an absurd anti-spectacle, which

ultimately produces nothing, and, moreover, which impedes the valuation of anything produced

within its sphere.

Performance, as an act or as a concept, is elusive. It exists in transition-as much in the

interstices between acts as on the stage. The performer accommodates the performance by

transitioning with it. The object, without consciousness, is the performer's apparent antithesis.

However the act is not located within the actor: it is inscribed in the events and in the objects that

constitute the world. And if the viewer is necessary to the performance, it is as witness, not as

master.





La
U


0





Figure 1.1. Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series, 1974, silver gelatin prints.


r -A Ak ^




























Figure 1.2. Chris Burden, Through the Night Softly, 1973, performance still.



















Figure 1.3. Vanessa Beecroft, vb47, 2001, performance still.










18


"'--'--4%
-,
U.









CHAPTER 2
MARTIN KIPPENBERGER'S IDEOLOGICAL OBJECTS

In 1993, two years after his monumental installation Tiefes Kehichen (Deep Thit ,,it) in an

auxiliary construction tunnel for an underground transit system in Vienna, Martin Kippenberger

began work on his Metro-Net World Connection. Billed in his 1995 Metro-Net catalogue as a

"world-wide subway," the Metro-Net was a network of trompe-l'oeil subway entrances and

ventilation shafts installed in improbable locations throughout the world. By 1998, it comprised

three sited entrances (in Syros, Greece; Dawson City, Yukon, Canada; and Leipzig, Germany), a

"transportable" entrance for Documenta X (Kassel, Germany), a crushed entrance for Metro

Pictures (New York), and two ventilation shafts (MAK Center, Los Angeles; Miunster,

Germany-transportable). Against physical and technological limitations, the project conjured an

illusory system of global containment. It also demonstrated the capacity of objects to perform.

Kippenberger's project belongs to a vast genealogy of performative art objects: in 1961,

for example, Piero Manzoni produced "Socle du Monde," an iron and bronze pedestal with the

titled inscribed upside-down. In "Socle du Monde" the pedestal and the (literal or implied) body

of the viewer transform the piece from a purely semiotic exercise-a "pedestal of the world"

carried out through language-into a performative act. Yet where Manzoni's gesture is primarily

an extension of the readymade-an interrogation of the artwork's limitations-the Metro-Net

negotiates the boundaries of ideology by performing an impossible system. In the Metro-Net, the

object's capacity to perform is bound neither to a conventional performance nor to an essential

characteristic of the object (as in Mike Kelley's stuffed toys); the project's performance,

particularly vis-a-vis the viewer, transcends its objects. The project performs in the theatrical

sense of the term: it plays what it is not; objects, as actors, perform a global transit system as an

allegory of the ideological system of globalism. In "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,"









Althusser writes, "What is represented in ideology is ... not the system of real relations which

govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real

relations in which they live."1 Ideology is thus a system of performed relations that is perpetually

denied access to the real relations it performs. The Metro-Net materializes Althusser's

formulation by enacting a "real" (material) relational system that stands in for, without ever

accessing, an imaginary (ideological) system.

The subway, in particular, is an apt metaphor for globalism, which is both born from and

doomed by a larger ideological system, utopianism. A subway is a modernist system, a

technologized network in which lines of travel are (theoretically) neither isolated (as with air

travel) nor hampered (as with ground travel). The subterranean structure is veiled, but open; it

functions through unification. The Metro-Net sublates the mechanics of the system to a point of

transcendence in the sense that it "operates" outside of physical limitations-i.e., oceans and

continents. The utopian encoding of its fantastical technology is inscribed throughout the project.

The modernist technocracy and the postmodern global village are interfaced to performm a

utopian body that is simultaneously immaterial (liberated from the world) and encompassing

(containing the world). The Metro-Net inevitably fails as utopian, however, because its material,

and thus ideological, system does not exist. As Steven Prina writes, "Kippenberger substitutes an

ongoing, fragmented program that promises, but never delivers, a totalizing structure."2 The

Metro-Net desublimates the ideological system that it conjures by acting out, through its own

material fragmentation, the impossibility of an unbroken global network. The immateriality of

the system is inverted into absence; the "totalizing structure" is a pantomime horse. In his essay,



1 Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)," Lenin and
Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 2001).
2 Steven Prina, "Regard the Pit," Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West, ed. Peter Noever (Los Angeles, CA:
MAK Center for Art and Architecture, 1998), 11.









"Crash," Baudrillard writes, "[T]echnology is the mortal deconstruction of the body-no longer a

functional medium, but the extension of death."3 Baudrillard's referent is a ritual body of a

modernist dystopia (as in the novel/film Crash)-one still harnessed to a utopian-dystopian binary

in which one term is always the precondition for the other.4 By contrast, the Metro-Net is a

product (at least contextually) of the alienated body of postmodernism; yet, it implicates the

binary in the sense that the system's strategic failure inverts its utopian encoding. However, by

performing the transit system and its concomitant ideological system, it instead undermines the

binary: the absurdity of the project lays bare the utopian and the dystopian as naturalized

constructs posed as essential (if impossible) states-as performances. It denaturalizes by flaunting

the fissures of a global system through a double interrogation, of globalism's mythic whole and

of its own futility as a critique of an impossible system. In Brechtian terms, it performs the

performance (as opposed to the role) in order to expose both performances as "fakes."5

The relationship between the individual objects-their illusory network-is integral to the

efficacy of the performance: the objects can only form a system by transcending their

materiality. However, the Metro-Net's identity is contingent on the particularity of the pieces.

Each one performs its own role, in dialogue with its context, and is strategically removed from

its referent in reality.6 Of the three installed entrances, only Leipzig is closed from the exterior

(Syros and Dawson City allow the viewer to descend a flight of stairs before encountering locked

gates/doors). The entrance, almost twice as deep as those in Syros and Dawson City and painted


3 Jean Baudrillard, "Crash," Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: MI: The University of
Michigan Press, 1994), 111.
4 Because a dystopian body, or system, is the inverse of the utopian, it is still anchored to a whole. The
fragmentation of the body in Crash is literal, or represented through the literal bodies of automobiles. The
fragmented body is alienated from its metaphysical wholeness only because of its dystopian state; but the wholeness
is acknowledged.
5 I1 am referring here to Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, or "estrangement effect," which Bial describes as "a theatrical
technique that makes the familiar appear strange and/or the strange appear familiar." Bial, "Performing," The
Performance Studies Reader, ed. Henry Bial (New York, NY: Routledge, 2004), 183.
6 By "referent in reality," I simply mean an actual, functioning subway system.









an industrial gray, is locked with steel gates bearing the insignia of Kippenberger's pseudo men's

club, the Lord Jim Lodge.7 Paradoxically, the absence of a body (literal or implied) within the

structure promotes the illusion because the viewer approaches an evidently nonfunctioning

system rather than an inexplicable underground termination (the interior point at which the

performance ends).8 The artifice of the entrance is inscribed in its context (Leipzig Trade Fair)

and in the absurdity of the system, therefore the illusion is stripped as it is built. By blocking off

the termination, though, the reality of an absence is collapsed into the same metaphysical sphere

as the illusion of a presence. While the Leipzig entrance proposes an equivalence between

nonexistence and nonfunction, it additionally points to the slippage between function and

nonfunction. It reverses the order of the readymade which, in reductive terms, is a functional

object performing as a nonfunctional object.9 The entrance is, rather, a nonfunctional art object

performing as a nonfunctioning utilitarian object. But because the reversal is performed, it serves

to destabilize the function-nonfunction binary on which the readymade is predicated. It redefines

the terms of "nonfunction" by assigning to both the "functional" and "nonfunctional" object the

same function, of performance, thereby exposing the binary as a social construct.

By contrast, the Syros and Dawson City entrances flaunt their fictions. In both sites, the

viewer descends the stairs into a corridor, in which he/she is immersed in the structure, and its

attendant illusion. Where the Leipzig entrance facilitates the portrayal of an actual subway

system by distancing the viewer, the Syros and Dawson City entrances absorb the viewer,



7 It is worth pointing out that, according to Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West, the bars are wide enough to
squeeze through. By locking the gate, however, Kippenberger presumably intended the entrance to be closed off.
Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West, 54.
8 The illusion of a nonfunctioning subway is furthered in the introduction to the catalogue to the exhibition Nach
Kippenberger, in which the exhibition's curator begins an anecdote with an out-of-order subway. See, Eva Meyer-
Hermann, "Nach Kippenberger," Nach Kippenberger, ed. Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne:
Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003).
9 One can think of perhaps the most famous readymade, Duchamp's "Fountain" (1917), which was essentially a
urinal performing as an artwork.









specifically into the Metro-Net system, in what Amelia Jones in another context (following

Merleau-Ponty) calls the "chiasmic intertwining of the self and other."10 The exchange has two

principal effects: 1) it foregrounds the performativity of the viewer, and 2) it replaces the dubious

utopianism of the global network with an alternative structure that elides the network's

technological and ideological problematic.

The viewer's performativity is foregrounded by the "chiasmic intertwining" in the sense

that he/she acts according to, and along with, the performed codes of the viewed (i.e., the

structure, the site, and the like). For instance, the discrepancy between playing and "being" a

subway-rider is located not in the absence of a subway, but in the viewer's awareness of the

absence. Both are performed behaviors (no person "is" a subway-rider). In the latter, however,

the performance is naturalized by social conditioning: a "real" subway is entered and ridden; the

transaction between performance (subway rider) and effect (riding on subway) is literalized. The

Metro-Net as a performance of a subway perpetually defers the literalization of the viewer's act

and thus distantiates the viewer from his/her performance. The viewer simultaneously performs

as art viewer to the art object Metro-Net. The two roles-" subway rider" and "art viewer"-are

imbricated with one another. They define and are defined by the object's performances as

artwork, subway system, and ideological system. The efficacy of the entrances is thus contingent

on the viewer's complicity and engagement with the object's performance. More significantly,

their efficacy is contingent on the disparity between the Metro-Net system and an actual subway

system, underscored in the Syros and Dawson City entrances. The project becomes an ideal

system only because it detaches from an actual system; it exists as a system outside of the

historical and the material. By acting within, and according to, its parameters, the viewer

actualizes the Metro-Net as its own system, and is actualized as a participant within its sphere.

10 Amelia Jones, Performing the Subject, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 41.









Individually, the transportable entrance and ventilation shaft, as well as the crushed

entrance, instantiate and interrogate a commodity system of infinite substitution and exchange by

negating the nonfunctional object.11 The transportable object instantiates the commodity

exchange system that undergirds late capitalism and hyperbolizes its own commodity status by

posing as a functional object diverted from its function (as opposed to the active nonfunction of

the Syros and Dawson City entrances). Without use, the object's use-value (which, here, is a

pretense-its use-value is anti-utilitarian) petrifies and the object itself changes from an expanding

to a perpetually suspended body, an object in excess of its objecthood. The hyper object is purely

a commodity-that is, its use-value is its exchange value, and its significations (however multiple)

inevitably point back to its commodity status. 12 By the mid-1990s, the theme of the hyper-

commodity was prevalent in art.13 Its significance in terms of the Metro-Net lies in the object's

circulation of cultural ideology. According to Prina, the transportable entrance or ventilation

shaft "had the potential to become a mass-produced element of the Metro-Net World Connection

that could be deployed wherever the network might extend."14 The transportable pieces therefore

perform both on the level of the "pure" commodity, as objects that are reproduced to perpetuate

the system of reproduction, and on the level of the utopian, as objects reproduced to perpetuate

the system of globalism. Yet, because Kippenberger customized the objects-and because he

customized them for a fictive system-their infinite reproduction would reproduce the commodity

system only within Kippenberger's own parameters, and according to his own rules. 15 Lucy



11 It should be noted that the crushed entrance was not initially intended to be crushed. It was crushed to fit through
the doors of the Metro Pictures gallery in Manhattan. By the time of its exhibition, the gallery had moved and the
new location allowed room for the entrance in its original state; however, it had already been crushed.
12 The object is made for exchange. Any additional significations-status, etc.-are related to its exchange value.
13 The hyper-commodity was prevalent particularly in the New York art scene, for example, in the commodity-based
works of Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, or the Neo-Geo artists.
14 Martin Kippenberger: The Last Stop West, 54.
15 Individually, the entrances were customized according to their location: for example, the Dawson City entrance
was constructed from local timber and the Leipzig entrance was given an "industrial" look to reflect the industrial









McKenzie writes, "Kippenberger's is a system of self-perpetuation and justification, which does

not allow for half measures. He cancels out the possibility of his own failure; the Complaints

Office is closed."16 McKenzie (addressing Kippenberger's oeuvre) points to the process in which

the Metro-Net forecloses on failure by reinscribing the parameters of the ideological system-

here, globalism-through his own "system of self-perpetuation and justification." The process

extends beyond Kippenberger's own art practice. In particular, the crushed entrance annuls

failure by theatricalizing the art object's excess. It performs its paralysis in lieu of its prescribed

(or, here, performed) function; thus it not only performs nonfunction, as in Syros and Dawson

City, but it forms the art object from a matrix of anti-function. Through its sheer objectness-not

functional, not enterable, not feasiblyy) exchangeable-it exteriorizes the object's entropy: it

articulates the art object precisely as unstructured, randomly directed energy, a functional failure.

In "Myth Today," Barthes proposes that "the best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it

in its turn, and to produce an artificial myth."17 The crushed entrance applies the same principle

to the art object as failure (failure to function, failure to be "art"). Kippenberger produces an

object that performs its failure, an artificial failure, and thus ensures the art obj ect-in all of its

commodity excess-against the cultural terms of failure.

Kippenberger also applies Barthes's principle to the production of his own identity.

Barthes writes, "[M]yth is a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain

which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign (namely

the associative total of a concept and an image) in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in




city. In addition, the Lord Jim Lodge insignia, on all of the entrances, marked them as Kippenberger's projects-and
further separated them from any actual subway system.
16 Lucy McKenzie, No% That This Has Been Done It Will Never Have to Be Done Again," Nach Kippenberger,
ed. Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003), 191.
17 Roland Barthes, "Myth Today," -A \/.. trans. Annette Lavers (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1983), 135.









the second."18 By performing an identity founded in myth (i.e., myth of the artist, myth of the

transcendent subject), Kippenberger re-mythifies, and thus produces, himself as artificial-a fake,

but one which cancels out the naturalized distinction between the performed and the "real" self,

and therefore cancels out the fake. The effect is most evident in his self-portraits. Kippenberger

emerged at a moment (mid 1970s) when the self/subject-as-construct had and was undergoing a

critical interrogation in art.19 Kippenberger's self-portraits are distinctive in the sense that they

refuse to interrogate the self-as-construct. Instead, per Barthes, they take it as their point of

departure.

As opposed to performing the other or "being" himself, Kippenberger performs himself, as

himself-what Diedrich Diedrichsen refers to as "Selbstdarsteller," literally, a self-performer.20

Jones defines the "transcendent" artist/subject as the unmarked (white European male) body

which projects its immanence onto a particularized (non-white, non-male and/or non-

heterosexual) other. Kippenberger's self-performance, as a white/European/male subject,

apparently reiterates the codes and reinforces the cultural hegemony of the transcendent subject.

According to Jones, however, the subject's (illusory) transcendence is paradoxically undone by

his exposure as a body.21 The body, shown in action (Jones uses the example of Hans Namuth's

photographs of Jackson Pollock), is made immanent. Kippenberger's deliberate and hyperbolic

visibility embraces the terms of Jones's argument, but under the conditions of the (intentionally)

performed self. In the postcard series Knechte des Tourismus (Vassals of Tourism, 1979),



18 Barthes, 114.
19 This was particularly evident in feminist art of the time, for example, Hannah Wilke's
performances in which she interrogated her objectness by emphasizing it.
20 Diedrich Diedrichsen, "'Selbstdarsteller': Martin Kippenberger between 1977 and 1983," Nach Kippenberger, ed.
Eva Meyer-Hermann and Susanne Neuberger (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2003).
21 Jones, Performing the Subject.









Kippenberger (with Achim Schachtele) poses as the consummate tourist in tourist spots around

the United States. The series parallels the performative self-portraits of artists such as Cindy

Sherman and Claude Cahun, to the extent that the artist plays a role. Yet where Sherman and

Cahun perform themselves as other than themselves ("I am not what I imagined myself to be"22),

and therefore articulate the (here, particularized) subject's alienation from him/herself,

Kippenberger conflates his surface with his "self;" in effect, he performs as a surface without a

self. In all cases, the artist clearly performs. Yet by playing a role that is identifiable as not-

Cindy-Sherman, Sherman safeguards a self as an other to the photograph's subject. By contrast,

Kippenberger performs in Knechte des Tourismus as Kippenberger. He poses in four separate

images: with a Disney actor in a Goofy costume; in a cowboy costume; in a prison cell (with bars

bent for easy "escape"); and with a fake missile against a horizon of skyscrapers.23 As a result,

the series dismisses the self-portrait as a means of conveying the artist-as-artist, via image or,

significantly, absence. Neither does it posit the artist as a sovereign subject, for whom any

identity is colonized under the name of the Subject.24 What it begins to demonstrate is the

fluidity of Kippenberger's self-performance. He adopts the tropes of the Western tourist-tropes

which are nonspecific and precede the individual tourist-but always in the role of Martin

Kippenberger.25 And in doing so-by posing as a vassal of tourism-he poses himself as a trope,

"the tourist." The act serves to relinquish in part his subjectivity, as a singular individual, and,




22 Hal Foster, "Obscene, Abject, Traumatic," October Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), 110.
23 The series also included two portraits of Schachtele, one in costume and one illustrated in the style of a street
illustrator.
24 1 am thinking of an artist such as Madonna. Madonna's changes, in style, music, etc., are owned by her singular
identity. For example, worn by Madonna, a kimono or a cowboy hat becomes her; she does not change to
accommodate their prior significations.
25 He does not play the subject Kippenberger, as in the Madonna example. Kippenberger is, in effect, the guide in
the travelogue, but the cowboy costume does not become him.









moreover, to relinquish his transcendence, not just by making him visible, but by exposing his

subjectivity (already acknowledged as constructed) as replicating and replicable.

The tourist is a paradoxical figure: He/she is positioned as originary source in a tourist-

toured exchange (parallel to a viewer-viewed exchange in art), the subject to the other's object.

Simultaneously, he/she is nonspecific, a general normative to the other, but infinitely repeatable

and interchangeable with other tourists. The tourist is thus always already a copy. Kippenberger

complicates the paradox. His "exaggerated self-performance"26 exposes the fiction of the figure,

and of photography as an apparatus for truth. Virtually any staged photograph, however, could

have the same effect. More significant is the parodic dimension of the self-performance (as

tourist). The images mock the tourist's imagined hegemony over the "toured" by theatricalizing

his/her absorption into and desubjectification via the ideological system of tourism. He reassigns

to the tourist a specific subjectivity (his own), but a subjectivity that is performed in the service

of a performed tourism, and that, furthermore, is serialized. The tourist is produced as a mass

identity, but no longer as an anonymous "I;" Kippenberger fills in, and is filled in by, the

identity. The process 1) disperses his subjectivity (and thus singularity) across the diffuse body

of the tourist figure; and 2) inverts the dispersal by encoding the body as "Martin Kippenberger,"

thus instating him as the tourist identity-in effect, the copy from which all copies are made. In

other words, by projecting himself as (not onto) the tourist, he coalesces all tourists as

"Kippenberger." The vassal of tourism becomes the vassal of ideology, but in Kippenberger's

version of the phenomenon, the ideology is filtered through him. Roberto Ohrt writes, "To re-

review Kippenberger's first signals in the '70s ... is to discover that they are almost all

notifications of, advertisements for, a position in the social and public sphere ... Kippenberger


26 Amelia Jones, "The 'Eternal Return': Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment," Signs Vol. 27,
No. 4 (Summer, 2002), 949.









is rehearsing his role, testing images. He presents himself as if for a moment he has grasped

success."27

Kippenberger's early self-portraits further the inversion in Knechte des Tourismus,

particular those portraits advertising his 21st and 25th birthdays: a stamp series, 21 Years Among

You, Kippenberger 1953-1974, and a poster, A Quarter Century of Kippenberger as One of You,

Among You, With You.28 Again, Kippenberger desublimates himself as the object of

representation, but in such a way that his immanence as a body is lost to the image (his surface).

Jones writes, "[The masquerade is] the production of the self as the thing most expected-but

marking this thing as fake .... In the masquerade the victim exaggerates the very modes of

passivity and object-ness projected onto her[/him] via the male gaze."29 Clearly, Jones is

addressing the female subject (here, Cindy Sherman), subjugated in Western society by the

(white European) male gaze. The female subject, as recipient of the gaze, is constructed in and

by society to be viewed; her "self' is always performed, therefore the naturalized gap between

"real" and performed subjectivity is negated. The male subject views; his (fictive) wholeness as a

transcendent subject is undone by its doubling as performative.30 Kippenberger, as the unmarked

male, reverses the gaze by making it conspicuous. Furthermore, he orchestrates his objectness.31

But by "taking place in representation," and replicating the representation, he not only objectifies

himself; he objectifies the transcendent male subject as another replicable sign to be passively

consumed in the system of commodity exchange.


27 Roberto Ohrt, Kippenberger (Cologne: Taschen, 1997), 19.
28 Kippenberger made several posters promoting occasions, including his birthdays. The works discussed here are
just two examples.
29 Amelia Jones, "Tracing the Subject with Cindy Sherman," Cindy Sherman: Retrospective (Chicago, IL: Museum
of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, CA: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997), 35.
30 From this perspective, the woman does not double; she is constructed entirely through performance.
31 Kippenberger poses himself as the object "Kippenberger," therefore he retains the agency that objectness
evidently relinquishes through the same exaggeration that Jones, in her quote, ascribes to Sherman.









In Knechte des Tourismus, Kippenberger performs as himself playing others (or, per

tourism, playing an other). In this sense, he performs through the doubling mechanism of parody.

The viewer can thus still claim a distinction (however artificial) between Kippenberger as the

subject of the photographs and a "real" Kippenberger (ostensibly the Kippenberger orchestrating

the pictured parody). The birthday announcements-Quarter Century, in particular-break down

the distinction on the side of the image/performance, aided by reproduction and text.32 The

doubling effect of Kippenberger's performance, of himself as himself, is multiplied in the two

series' by the reproductive capacity of his media, photography and lithography. The subject

Kippenberger, distilled into his own performative surface, is replicated as image in a process that

loosely parallels Andy Warhol's self-portraits. In both cases, the artist performs himself as

image, but denies an other to the performed self. The artwork has no essential, shrouded

meaning; its meaning is all inscribed on the surface. Yet where Warhol attempted to empty the

sign of meaning, thus producing pure image, Kippenberger attempts the opposite. In other words,

if Warhol's image is intended to mean nothing, Kippenberger's means everything.33 He

exaggerates his objectness (or, more precisely, his surface-ness), per Jones, but presents it as an

overdetermined subjectivity-again, what Barthes identifies as "mythifying" the myth.

In Quarter Century, he poses in a restaurant with an old man. Kippenberger sits; the old

man, standing, presses up to him with one arm around Kippenberger's shoulder. The other arm

holds the artist's hand. A table, with cigarettes, flowers, and a gingham tablecloth, is in the

background against a wall. The text, "1/4 Jhdt. Kippenberger als einer von Euch, unter Euch, mit


32 This is opposed, for example, to family photographs, for which the indexical image is presumed to represent the
"reality" of the subject.
33 Clearly, an image can mean neither nothing nor everything. However, Warhol's attempts to evade both a fixed and
a human identity-as in his famous claim that "I think everybody should be a machine" in a 1963 interview with
Gene Swenson-seem to suggest "nothing" as his goal.









Euch," is printed on the bottom corner and descriptives are printed in beams around

Kippenberger's head. Twenty One Years is a set of forty-eight stamps printed in pink and white,

all but one with a portrait photo of Kippenberger at a different age (the one without the portrait is

blank).34 In both pieces, Kippenberger forms his narrative through a play of (in Barthes's

terminology) mythical signifiers, but also through what Craig Owens identifies as the rhetoric of

the pose, or the "Medusa Effect." Owens writes, "[T]o strike a pose is to present oneself to the

gaze of the other as if one were already frozen, immobilized-that is, already a picture."35

Therefore, Kippenberger's performance replicates his subjectivity, rather than splitting it,

because he performs himself through the pose-in Owens's words, as "already a picture." The

pose, then, preordains the replication. In "Clone Story," Baudrillard writes, "[W]hen the double

materializes, when it becomes visible, it signifies immanent death."36 In terms of cloning, the

double inaugurates the death of the subject by fulfilling his/her desire to be replicated.

Kippenberger's replication has none of the literal immanence of Baudrillard's clone, but the

threat of death remains intact: his staged image-reproduced with (theoretically) neither a

beginning nor an end-abandons the myth of the unique subject for a culturally produced and

mediated mass subject. The narrative performed in the images is exteriorized as image; its

replication/repetition evacuates its apparent singularity (which is itself a dead residue of

modernism), thereby reproducing Kippenberger as a trope: "Kippenberger."37 As Benjamin


34 It is worth noting that Kippenberger's painting series, Uno di voi, un Tedesco in Firenze (1977) foreshadowed
many of the devices used in both Knechte des Tourismus and the birthday ads, such as the phrase "one of you" and
the use of "touristy" tropes as art images.
35 Craig Owens, Beyond' ..... '011,-0. ,1 Representation, Power, and Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 1994), 198.
36 Jean Baudrillard, "Clone Story," Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: MI: The
University of Michigan Press, 1994) 95.
37 This is similar to the effect of Knechte des Tourismus, in which Kippenberger is produced as
the trope of the tourist, but the tourist becomes him. In this case, however, no other identity
(tourist) intervenes; the trope is "Kippenberger."









writes, "[T]he work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for

reproducibility."38 The system of subjectivity is reproduced by perpetually deferring subjectivity

itself.

The reproduction of the image has its counterpoint in the text. In "Twenty-One Years,"

Kippenberger is "among you"; in Quarter Century, he is "one of you, among you, with you." In

both works, the text corroborates the rhetoric of the image, and harnesses the image to two

theoretical identities, "Kippenberger" and "you." According to Austin's illocutionary model, the

statement "performs its deed at the moment of the utterance";39 it fails as a performative if it

does not accomplish what it states. Kippenberger's statement performs, but its performance is

abstract-"among you" is a metaphorical condition predicated on the presence of an ideological

"you." What it achieves, however, is the ideological dispersal of its subject (the trope

"Kippenberger") among-and thus intertwined with (one of, among, with)-you. In this sense, it

functions according to Austin's illocutionary model to the extent that it locates one theoretical

subject among, or "as one of," another. As opposed to Austin's primarily legal examples-i.e., "I

sentence you"-the statement's openness is precisely what enables its performative success-it can

be disproven no more than it can be proven.

In addition, the work interpellates the viewer as it engages with him/her. But because the

"you" is unspecified, it may attach itself to all that is not Kippenberger: the old man in Quarter

Century, Kippenberger's peers, etc. Thus the "you" is addressed not just to the viewer, but to an




"Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility," Walter
Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 2, part 2, 1931-1934, eds. Howard Eiland and Gary Smith
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005).

39 This definition comes from Judith Butler. She also defines the illocutionary as "speech acts
that, in saying do what they say, and do it in the moment of that saying." Butler, 3.









anonymous, unfixed, and infinitely replicated/replicable body.40 The relationship between

Kippenberger and the audience ("you") therefore forms an invisible ideological network-a

populist analogue to the Metro-Net's invisible global network: both are premised on a utopian,

and inevitably impossible, system of collectivity and inclusiveness. But here the network

assumes a distinctly political designation. The artist plays the politician, the one as the many.

The egalitarianism of the text is betrayed by the repetition of Kippenberger's image: the "one" is

Kippenberger, but the many, paradoxically, is an absence to be filled in by the "one"'s presence.

The result is that Kippenberger is not made one of the people; the people are made into

"Kippenberger."41 The images and the text are therefore deployed as ideological devices via the

reproduction and dissemination of a grassroots rhetoric ("among you"), from one ideological

body to another. Kippenberger is constructed in rhetoric, but the construction is his own, and the

rhetoric is deliberately deployed-once again, it is marked as fake, as parody.

In this, as in all of the aforementioned works, both positions-Kippenberger's and the

viewer's (or "you")-are performances. What the pieces demonstrate above all is that social

systems are made "real" because they are performed. In other words, by performing them-and

integrating a network of viewers into the performance-Kippenberger simultaneously constructs

them. And because the pieces perform through parody, they serve to expose what so many

systems hide, that our objects exercise a power to perform our systems. By claiming

authorship/authority, the subject appropriates and exploits the system's tools. Yet the tools the

40 Owens identifies a similar phenomenon with Barbara Kruger's use of "shifters" in language. He writes, "Kruger
appears to address me, this body, at this particular point in space. But as soon as I identify myself as the addressee of
the work, it seems to withdraw from me to speak impersonally, imperiously to the world at large." Owens, 192.
41 It is worth acknowledging the significance of Kippenberger's German heritage here. He had previously addressed
German and, specifically, Nazi history in works such as the 1984 painting "Ich kann beim besten Willen kein
Hakenkreuz erkennen (To the Best of My Ability, I Can See No Swastika)". From this perspective, Quarter Century
and related works can easily be read as parodies of Hilterian propaganda. Thanks to Dr. Nora Alter for bringing this
to my attention.









transit stations, the disseminated images, the propagandistic icons that enforce ideology through

naturalization are objects. Kippenberger's ideological revisions are limited, but they provide a

glimpse of the object's veiled authority. That which does our bidding is not at our will.




































Figure 2.1. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, Canada, 1995.













:' 174


Figure 2.2. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Dawson City, interior detail.


















-I---


-~T'47


Figure 2.3. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Syros, Greece, 1993.




















- 'Lg~4
~.'


Figure 2.4. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, Germany, 1997.


T I;










































Figure 2.5. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net entrance, Leipzig, front entrance.































Figure 2.6. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Crushed), Metro Pictures, New York, 1997.







































Figure 2.7. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net (Transportable), Documenta X, Kassel, Germany,
1997.































Figure 2.8. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (above ground), Munster,
Germany, 1997.

























Figure 2.9. Martin Kippenberger, Metro-Net ventilation shaft (underground), MAK Center for
Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, 1998.













































Figure 2.10. Martin Kippenberger, Knechte des Tourismus (Vassals of Tourism), 1979.











21 21 21"






m im-Tm nA.?4 KN'?IUEU USI *J-

21 21 21
*







** ***** *** ****** *
Figure 2.11. Martin Kippenberger, 21 Jahre unter Euch, Kippenberger 1953-1974 (21 Years
Among You, Kippenberger 1953-1974), 1974, detail.

*o ,o o beo e eeoe .ee ooeo',
FiueS .1 Mati Kipnegr91JheutrEcKpebre 9317 2er
Amn9oKpebre 9317) 94 eal


































Figure 2.12. Martin Kippenberger, Jahrhundert Kippenberger als einer von Euch, unter
Euch, mit Euch (' Century of Kippenberger as One of You, Among You, With You),
1978.









CHAPTER 3
MIKE KELLEY'S BANAL OBJECTS

The best way to fuck something up is to give it a body/ A voice is killed when it is given a
body./ Whenever there's a body around, you see its faults/ Theory proves that/ The body of
a famous critic came to our class the other day/ Now we don't believe its writings
anymore/ Its writings became theatre/ And the presence of all that flesh made us think of
all the things he didn't speak of ... of what was left out/ Authoritative voices must be
disembodied to work/ A philosopher should never be seen!/ It's so sad-it makes you think
of money, prostitution/ We would never make that mistake/ We would never give
ourselves a physical manifestation/ That's why we are writing a book.1

The discourse of disembodiment looms large in Mike Kelley's 1991 installation "Dialogue

#1." Language, as both a semiotic and a philosophic system, vies for its transcendence from the

physical, from the body to which it is attributed. It fights the form of the word with the infinity of

the text, qualifies its spoken voice as an abstraction in space-a phantom presence, weighting the

institution with its own denial. The actual dialogue in "Dialogue #1" is a recording; in a literal

sense, then, the piece succeeds in distancing, if not severing, its discourse from a physical body.

Kelley hides behind the curtain of a mechanized surrogate, a boombox speaks its Cartesian

subjectivity. In practice, however, the piece exposes in the act of its utterance the fiction of

disembodiment that it weaves. By speaking the discourse, the voice implicates a body in the

text-it becomes performance. And, "Dialogue #1" (along with similar "Dialogue" pieces) has its

performers, which crush any claim to transcendence with their own banality. Not just present, the

performers are inexorably embodied.

"Dialogue #1" is part of a series of "Dialogue" pieces that followed HalfaMan (1988), the

exhibition from which Kelley gained fame and notoriety for his use of stuffed animals and craft

materials. With the exception of "Dialogue #5 (One Hand Clapping)," which has one animal, the



1 Excerpt from "Dialogue #1". Reprinted in Timothy Martin, "Janitor in a Drum: Excerpts from a Performance
History," Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes, ed. Elisabeth Sussman (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art,
1993), 85-86.









"Dialogue" pieces are composed of two secondhand stuffed toys facing one another on a blanket

on the gallery floor, with a visible stereo playing their "conversation." The recorded dialogue is

performed both by Kelley (as author) and by the toys; however, the conversation clearly belongs

to the toys. In both Halfa Man and the "Dialogues," Kelley confronts the viewer with explicitly

performative objects-homemade stuffed toys and other populist crafts-that simultaneously elicit

empathy and reek (sometimes literally) of past lives. And in both cases, the banality of the

objects foregrounds the viewer-viewed exchange as a socially constructed behavior-a

performance of Kantian disinterest that re-inscribes the object according to its context (here, the

art institution) and delivers it to the viewer's sovereign gaze. The primary difference between

Halfa Man and the "Dialogues" is that the toys in the "Dialogues" speak; they assume dual

roles, that of the passive object (animated by the viewer) and of the active object (animated from

"within"). Thus the disparity between the object's and the institution's significations is

performed by the object-the toy-itself. As a result, the surface joke-the used toy in the white

cube-functions to break down the illusion of transcendent subjectivity through which the viewed

is subordinated to the viewer: the toy objectifies the viewer by performing him/her.

In subject-object relations, the toy is animated as a performing body through the subject's

projections. In psychology, it corresponds to the transitional object. According to D.W.

Winnicott, the transitional object is an infant's first "not-me" possession. It serves to transition

the infant into the world of objects, but it is neither of nor other to the infant. It symbolizes,

rather, "the place in space and time where and when the mother is in transition from being (in the

baby's mind) merged in with the infant and alternatively being experienced as an object to be

perceived rather than conceived of."2 Stuffed toys occupy the in-between space as simultaneous


2 D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London and New York: Tavistock Publications, 1980), 96.









subjects and objects-as me and not-me. When the subject advances from child to adult object

relations, he/she abandons the animated toy. Thus, faced with the toy, the adult subject

reanimates it through a reserve of archived performances. The used toys from the Halfa Man

exhibition are animated from two separate points: from the viewer's position (structured by past

experience) and from the toys' implied pasts. They therefore reflect the viewer only to the extent

that the viewer can-or wants to-project onto them. The dynamic allows the viewer

simultaneously to identify with the toys and to instate a subject-object hierarchy which ensures

the ascendance of the self above the other.

The "Dialogues" complicate the subject-object hierarchy, because the toys speak, and

because they speak themselves as transcendent. Kelley's discourse of disembodiment proposes

the toys as subjects "independent" of the viewer, thus denigrating the viewer's role in the

performance and short-circuiting the hierarchy. Not only is the viewer denied as originary source

of the performance-and therefore of the toy's subjectivity-but the performance relegates the

viewer to the role of passive recipient, a mute mirror of the toys' spoken subjectivity. In theory,

then, the "Dialogues" are self-sufficient. The viewer activates the joke-the disparity between the

discourse and the speaker-but as an abstract referent. In practice, however, the viewer is both

referent and target-a mirror of the banal bodies in the "dialogue," pretending at transcendence.

As a result, the "Dialogues" undermine the empathetic bond that the toys themselves prompt 1)

by usurping the viewer's voice, and 2) by exposing the viewer as object.

By assuming the viewer's voice, the toy attempts to supersede the viewer as sovereign

subject. Inevitably, the toy fails because its voice mimics the viewer's, it does not eliminate it.

More significant to the empathetic "exchange" is the toy's denial, via the discourse, of its

embodiment. By denying its body, the toy disavows the necessary surface for the viewer's









projections. In this sense, the toy's visible, material, and forever inanimate form is overruled: in

as much as the toy posits its transcendence, it also refuses to perform in the viewer's image and

thus to cohere him/her as subject. By exposing the viewer as object, the toy in effect plays

Medusa to the viewer's Perseus. The disembodied gaze through which the viewer, in Lacanian

terms, captures the object is captured and returned by the toy's discursive pose of

disembodiment. And as he/she receives it, "the gaze," in Hal Foster's words, "mortifies this

subject."3 That is, the viewer is simultaneously the viewed. Kelley's speaking toys precisely

mortify the subject (the viewed), but the mortification does more than just expose the viewer as

the viewed. The "Dialogues" spectacularize the body in performance-in its absurd juxtaposition

with its dirty, used body, the discourse paradoxically hyperbolizes the speaker's objectness. And

because the viewed parodies the viewer, its objectness projects back onto the viewer. In other

words, if the returned gaze establishes the viewer as viewed, as in effect a subjectified object (or

an objectified subject), the toys annihilate the cogito altogether: the viewer is no more than a

ramshackle thing, the punchline to the joke of his/her own subjectivity.

Kelley was just one artist in the 1980s and '90s to graft the concept of the performing body

onto the inanimate object-John Welchman notes specifically his dialogue with Haim Steinbach

and the latter's slick stuffed bears.4 However, the wry theoretical posturing that undergirded the

commodity object's performance in the '80s (and, frequently, revealed the artists' fantasies of

disembodiment), is imploded in Kelley's toys by the physicality of the object, and by the

ramifications of the abject. The abject, as it has been applied to Kelley, is drawn from the

theories of Georges Bataille and Julia Kristeva. Kristeva understands abjection both as a process



3 Hal Foster, "Obscene, Abject, Traumatic," October, Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), 106.
4 John C. Welchman, "The Mike Kelleys," Mike Kelley (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1999), 71.









(to abject) and as a state (to be abject), the latter of which is attached to a referent.5 Conversely,

Bataille conceives of abjection as an abstraction, that which defies naming. Yet, the two theories

overlap to the extent that they both assign the concept to the realm of the "low." As a result, the

abject is easily reduced to waste matter, thus Kelley and Bataille have typically been associated

based on their mutual preoccupation with scatalogy and substances. The "Dialogue" toys cite

Bataille's and Kristeva's abject obliquely, as avatars of lowness. Here, however, the abject is an

entry point into Bataille's theory of heterology, "[t]he science [study] of what is completely

other."6 In heterology, all human impulses are codified through a dialectical process of

appropriation and excretion represented by the poles of homogeneity and heterogeneity. The

homogeneous accounts for all socialized structures (e.g., religion, politics). The heterogeneous is

all that cannot be appropriated, the "irreducible waste products."7 By performing a structural

opposition between high and low, the "Dialogues" enact the dialectic: the discourse performs as

homogeneous; the toys, as alien to the discourse, perform as heterogeneous. Yet, Bataille also

emphasizes the paradox of theorizing the heterogeneous, which is "resolutely placed outside the

reach of scientific knowledge, which by definition is only applicable to homogeneous

elements."8 The heterogeneous occurs through a process of negation. By this logic, its

literalization results in its immediate appropriation. In this sense, then, the material toys are

denied as heterogeneous just as the discourse denies, through negation, their homogeneity.




5 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1982).
6 Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected '~ ; ,. 1927-1939, ed. and trans, Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 102.

Bataille, 96.

8 Ibid.









The paradox-that the toys at once cannot and cannot not be appropriated-problematizes

any uncritical identification between Kelley and Bataille, as it problematizes any application of

Bataille's dialectic to the world of material objects. But it does not invalidate the association.

The dialectic functions here as a concept in performance; the toys perform a symbolic expulsion

of the socialized body of the viewer/institution to a ruptured space, to sit alongside of all the

ineffable matter that lies in homogeneity's wake. In the "Dialogues," the viewer's attempt to

animate the toy-to appropriate it via projected subjectivity-faces off with the object's

performance of the appropriated subject. Both actions play at the subject's coherence-first, in the

subject's (imagined) capacity to animate the object and second in the object's pose of

transcendent subjecthood. But the latter outperform the former by literally speaking over it.

Furthermore, both actions are carried out through the body of the object, subjectified only via

projection and projecting its make-believe subjectivity onto the body of the viewer. As a result,

the empathetic bond is perverted into a mutual expulsion. The object's parody reciprocates the

subject's animating gaze, but on the object's terms: as a masquerade, a veil of transcendence

over an intrusive body-always other to the subject it sustains. The inverse of the mask, in which

an absence is veiled by a presence, the toys expose the futility of the invisible as a mask for the

visible. When the veil of transcendence falls away, subjectivity eviscerates and the object

becomes master.

The toys in Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology (1990) and Craft Morphology

Flow Chart (1991) exploit the same empathetic impulse as those in the "Dialogues": they coerce

the viewer into an exchange in which she simultaneously projects onto and absorbs the object. In

both projects, Kelley turns the performativity of the toys against the viewer, as he does in the

"Dialogues." Here, though, he turns it also against the toys themselves. According to Kelley, the









two projects were a response to audience projections of infantile recidivism and assumptions of

abuse-to the toys and to Kelley. He reacted, in Elisabeth Sussman's words, by "killing" them.9

In the Empathy Displacement series, the toys are laid to rest in black wood boxes on the

gallery floor, in front of large black and white illustrations. In Craft Morphology Flow Chart, the

toys are exposed again, but as specimens, organized by type (sock monkeys, rag dolls, etc.) on

thirty-two folding tables and accompanied by sixty illustrations in which the height and

characteristics of the types are detailed. In both cases, the treatment of the toys, and their

juxtaposition with the illustrations, serves to sever the illusory relationship between the viewer

and the viewed. By "killing" the toys, Kelley establishes a dynamic in which they refuse the

viewer's projected animation-not as sovereign subjects (as in the adult play of the "Dialogue"

toys), but as objects. The result is that the toys are both inanimate and insubordinate; the pathos

thus issues from the viewer's attempted resuscitation of the inanimate object as a dead (mortal)

subject.

In the Empathy Displacement series, Kelley confounds the viewer-viewed exchange by

substituting for the (visible) toy the box and the oversized illustration. The visual correlation

between the box and a casket is emphasized by its black paint, but the unadorned box and its

repetition in the installation, undercuts the singularity of the corpse/toy inside. The illustration,

by contrast, has two opposing effects: it desublimates the toy as object and it memorializes the

toy as (now-transcendent) subject. It desublimates by confronting the viewer with the objectness

of the subjectified toy. The toy's being is a phantasm of the viewer's identification: its received

subjectivity is circumscribed by and reflexive of the viewer. Blown up and deadpan, the


9 Elisabeth Sussman, "Introduction," Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes, ed. Elisabeth Sussman (New York: Whitney
Museum of American Art, 1993), 32.









illustration exposes the toy as alien and anathema to the human viewer, like the Stay Puft

marshmallow man in Ghostbusters. No longer a submissive surface for the viewer's projections,

then, it becomes object-residual and expelled by the subject. At the same time, the illustration

memorializes the toy. By reasserting the toy's being against the absence of the box, the image, as

Jones writes of photography's "fetishizing aspect," "desire[s] to retrieve or maintain the past in

the present."10 Together, the two parts perform a silent elegy that traces the absence of the

material toy. Jones continues, "[I]n spite of its obvious promise of delivering an unmediated,

indexical image of the real or of the deep emotional thoughts and feelings of its maker ... it is

also an inexorable sign of loss and absence."11

The juxtaposition therefore invokes the toy, but as a symbolic performer, in Lacanian

terms, as a lost object of desire (l'objet a).12 According to Lacan, the object of desire is conjured

when an infant enters the stage of the symbolic; the subject becomes subject in relation to an

unattainable Other. The object of desire signifies the subject's fundamental lack. It exists-as an

other, but also as integral to the subject-precisely because it cannot be attained. In other words, it

confirms the subject through absence: by circumscribing his/her lack, it imagines his/her

coherence. The transitional object is the inverse of the desired object: it confirms the subject

through presence, as a material surface onto which the subject projects his/her desire. It relates to

the object of desire as the infant's supplement: for example, a blanket corner supplements for the





10 Amelia Jones, "The 'Eternal Return': Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment," Signs, Vol. 27,
No. 4 (Summer, 2002), 953.

1 Ibid.
12Lacan advances this theory in Seminar 11 of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacan,
The Four Fundamental Concepts ofPsychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller and trans. Alan Sheridan (New York:
W.W. Norton, 1978).









mother's breast.13 Both objects (transitional and desire), however, are founded on the same lack;

thus as the transitional object supplements for the lack, it also perpetuates it. So while the toy in

the Empathy Displacement series maintains its empathetic lure as phantom transitional object, its

absence redoubles the void left by the original object of desire. The transgressive effect of the

piece thus emerges from this paradox: the toy, which performs as a phantasmatic extension of the

viewer to compensate for the object of desire, is disembodied, but not gone. It stands in the

impossible position, as simultaneously unattainable object and transitional object. Or, rather, the

viewer has the impossible task of animating a phantom to subrogate for a void. Furthermore, the

surrogate objects engage the viewer's projected empathy in an antagonistic showdown. The

(formerly) embodied toy is denied its body, but its significations are suspended and remapped

onto two closed surfaces, thus performing the toy as a refusal. And because the toy's

performance is the viewer's, the viewer's subjectivity is splintered and confirmation of the self

is, along with empathy, bounced into a mis-en-abyme of perpetual misrecognitions.

The toy does reemerge in material form a year later, in Craft Morphology Flow Chart.

However, Kelley now exploits it from the other side: that of the pure object. Again, the project

served to annul the empathetic lure of the toys, here re-presented, according to Sussman, "as if

they were dead bodies in a morgue." 14 But, as opposed to the transcendent transitional object in

Empathy Displacement, which "displaces" its projected subjectivity into an absence, the toys in

Craft Morphology are desubjectified via accumulation and taxonomic organization. Here, the toy

is appropriated (per Bataille) into the socialized sphere of the specimen. Its humanoid features

are still manifest; but as object-type, it deflects empathetic projection in the same way that the



13 Winnicott gives this example in Playing and Reality.
14 Sussman, 33.









photograph, for Walter Benjamin, deflected the art object's aura.15 Its use-value is located now

in its form, rather than in its projected subjectivity-its potential for reproduction is infinite.

Yet, as Sussman's statement indicates, it is specifically the correlation between the corpse

and the specimen that impels Craft Morphology' s performance. The toy here is dually unsettling.

It plays dead-Sussman refers to the installation as an "afterlife."16 But its death is alien, that of

the other. In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva writes,

In that compelling, raw, insolent thing in the morgue's full sunlight, in that thing that no
longer matches and therefore no longer signifies anything, I behold the breaking down of a
world that has erased its borders: fainting away. The corpse, seen without God and outside
of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. ... Imaginary uncanniness
and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us.17

Following Kristeva, the toy as corpse interpellates the viewer; it absorbs him/her in its death. In

this sense, Kelley's proposal that the installation sever the empathetic bond is less an effect of

the toys' desubjectification than of their projection of death onto the subject.

More significantly, however, the toys deny the empathetic bond by defying the terms of

death. Kristeva's concept of the corpse predicates its abjection, as a "body without soul, a non-

body," 18 on its past life: just as the corpse proves non-body through its decay, it also proves

human-as Foster writes, "It [the abject] is a phantasmatic substance not only alien to the subject,

but intimate with it-too much so, in fact."19 The toys, in contrast, are the ultimate alien bodies,

deaths without decay. They continue to elicit empathy, via their visibility in the installation. But

they refuse to reciprocate as live subjects, and they refuse to die. What Kelley thus instates is a

15 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility," Walter Benjamin: Selected
' ,; Vol. 2, part 2, 1931-1934, eds. Howard Eiland and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005).
16 Sussman, 33.

17 Kristeva, 4.

18 Ibid, 109.

19 Foster, 114.









perverse foil to the empathetic bond: the toys perform as immortal. The immortal body is

paradoxically neither a (human) life nor a corpse. It denies all that it embodies, all soul, all

nature. Non-state upon non-state, it abjects itself into infinity. Here, the role of the immortal

body is also that of the specimen, redoubled by the taxonomic process. By using homemade toys

in his craft pieces, Kelley conjures the illusion of an original performance, of which the mass

commodity is incapable. The taxonomy calls into question the significations of the homemade

toy by positing the same originality as replicable. The toy thus becomes both victim of Kelley's

ethnological profiling and other to its (fictive) subjectivity. Above all it gives the individuality of

the subject-the toy or the viewer-over to the particularity of the subject-type. Finally, it

consumes our subjectivity in a hall of mirrors that ends when the bond is severed, and ends in

our own illusions.

In his work with Repressed Memory Syndrome (RMS) and False Memory Syndrome

(FMS), Kelley inverts the performative structure of the craft pieces by replacing the absolute

presence of the used toy with an absence in space through which the banal is reimagined as a site

of repressed trauma. The work culminated with the 1995 exhibition Towards A Utopian Art

Complex and, specifically, the exhibition's centerpiece "Educational Complex." An architectural

model of all of the schools Kelley had ever attended, along with his childhood home,

"Educational Complex" is a sprawling structure composed from photographs and some floor

plans, and from memory. Kelley addressed RMS by blocking off all of the areas he had

forgotten; the blocked spaces-which account for approximately eighty percent of the complex-

are posed as the sites of his repressed trauma.20



20 Mike Kelley, "Architectural Non-Memory Replaced With Psychic Reality," Minor Histories: Statements,
Conversations, Proposals, ed. John C. Welchman (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004), 318.









Kelley fetishizes the architectural absences in Educational Complex by paralleling them

with absences in memory; each absence equals a repressed trauma, and, conversely, each

repressed trauma compensates for a lack (in memory). According to the terms of RMS/FMS,

however, the victim only knows the trauma as an absence-as, in effect, a non-memory.

Furthermore, the dynamic outlined by RMS-negative (absence of the memory) signifies the

trauma by erasing positive (presence of the memory)-fails to register the ambiguity of the

memorial space. Absence in memory neither proves nor disproves the presence of a trauma, it

plays the lacuna in the space. Kelley heightens the ambiguity by reinscribing the significations of

the architectural absences. In other words, he exchanges an absence for an absence. The act of

appointing the absences as sites of repressed trauma has an obvious semiotic function: the

utterance (i.e., that which I've forgotten must be trauma) weights the "empty" signifier (space)

with an invisible menace. The words reify the trauma without materializing it; they re-presents

the "nothing" as its inverse, the black hole.

Kelley's semiotic subterfuge introduces the performative dimension into the work. Non-

memory is weighted with the implications of trauma, as it is in RMS. But, in the place of the

"real" repression is a sort of spectral theater, a performance of the sinister crystallized in the

absence of the thing itself (the repressed). In addition, the emphasis on space underscores the

performative dimension of the two types of space here, architectural and memorial. Architectural

space is fundamentally performative (as Kippenberger demonstrated) in the sense that it

accommodates and interacts with the body. Memorial space produces its own fluid architecture

in which its parameters are perpetually renegotiated and its framework is under construction.

"Educational Complex" visualizes memorial architecture; as a "spatialized" memory it stages its

failed theater, memory's forever compromised performance of its phantasmatic object "reality."









Kelley further theatricalizes the space by introducing the screen memory. In Freudian terms, the

screen memory is a narrative (spatial for Kelley; temporal for Freud) authored by the subject and

understood as the genuine event.21 For the RMS sufferer, the screen memory supplants the

trauma. In "Educational Complex," the screens are Kelley's memories of the structures, which he

describes as "too perfect, the scenes are too staged to be real. They must be implanted

fictions."22 The screen memory here symbolically splits the architectural and memorial space

into a background (the trauma) and a foreground (the screen). But because the traumas in

"Educational Complex" are faked, both the "background" and the "foreground" are performed;

the background is a foundational fiction and the foreground is the "implanted fiction," literalized

in the anatomy of the structure (minus the blocked spaces).

FMS inverts the structure of RMS in regards to the screen memory. In RMS the screen

memory blocks the trauma. In FMS, by contrast, the recovered trauma (the trauma must be

"recovered" to constitute FMS) is the screen memory; it blocks the reality that no trauma

occurred. "Educational Complex" fuses the two. The "remembered" architecture-for which the

inaccurate layout signifies the screen memory-and the blocked spaces-for which no memory

remains-are both facades for the absence of trauma. The same memorial void underpins FMS; in

"Educational Complex," however, the trauma is not recovered, thus the structure is three-tiered:

absence (repression)>presence (trauma)>absence (reality). "Educational Complex" therefore

deploys spatial absence and presence in order to simultaneously perform repression and trauma-

and both are performed as (deliberate) surrogates for the lost object of the banal. Kelley's

strategy, then, inextricably links the unknown-or worse, the unknown trauma-to the realm of the


21 Sigmund Freud, "Screen Memories," The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works ofSigmund
Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press Ltd., 1962).
22 Kelley, 321.









banal. The trauma and its repression together theatricalize the dark matter of the unconscious,

like a play staged behind the curtain, but both exist only in (symbolic) contrast to Kelley's "real

life." Simultaneously, the banal (Kelley's reality) exists in contrast to the (fictive) repressed

trauma also through a process of negation: by manifesting as absence, the fiction (the repression)

negates itself, thus positing, as its dialectical remainder, the reality. Yet precisely because the

piece performs both fiction and reality as absences, it obscures the distinction between the two.

Moreover, the biographical material and the lies are constructed from the same psychical matrix.

As a result, "Educational Complex" collapses the bipoles of fiction and reality into a

theatricalized Mobius strip.

Materially, the model uses the banal-"mundane institutional school buildings"-as a

starting point for an impossible architecture, to "be seen," according to Kelley, "in relation to the

tradition of utopian architecture."23 He continues,

Ideological, or psychic, functions are clearly dominant over workaday concerns in fantasy
architecture. In utopian projects, moral and aesthetic dimensions are presented, often
openly and dramatically, as mirrors of each other. Of course, my project is a perversion of
such an attitude: I present an obviously dystopian architecture, reflecting our true, chaotic
social conditions, rather than some idealized dream of wholeness.24

The model performs the dream space as an allegory for the real-yet it is a real made by memory,

that is, a real which fails as a structural opposition to the dream. In the same way that memory

constructs its architecture as a body in progress, the model posits the instability of real

architectural space in memory (in his essay "Architectural Non-Memory Replaced With Psychic

Reality," Kelley gives the example of his misrecollection of his elementary school) and the

contingency between architectural space and the body with which it engages.25


23 Kelley, 319.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid, 318.









Phenomenologically, the exchange is produced by the subject-object binary which it seeks

to undo: as Jones writes, "[W]e are both subject and object simultaneously, and our 'flesh'

merges with the flesh that is the world."26 Here, the phenomenological dimension of architecture

is exploited in order to be breached. In an essay on British postwar architecture, Adrian Forty

writes,

Generally speaking, works of art are judged failures when they deny the subject any
prospect of engagement or participation in them, when they are so closed off from
experience as to appear empty and meaningless, when they offer nothing to edify us,
nothing to uplift us in any moral or spiritual way. Customarily, art that denies any place
whatsoever to the human subject, that forces the subject not even into a state of self-
reflectiveness, but merely into a state of abject nothingness is considered to be a failure.27

"Educational Complex" strategically overdetermines Forty's position. The model's utopian

thrust issues from a modernist ideology of functionalism. The exterior locates the Cartesian

subject as a product of a utopian education system, for which the architectural structure is the

temple of the Logos. Simultaneously, the model's interior-fragmented, blocked, nonfunctional-

forecloses on the utopia promised by the exterior. The dynamic dislodges the chiasmic exchange

from its own utopian center, in which the one and the other intertwine into a fleeting whole:

where the exterior here opens to the (implied) body, the interior "denies" it. The interior,

however, has its own implied bodies-the abusers and the abused, the failed bodies of the

repressed trauma. The chiasmic bodies are here inverted into a flesh that strangulates as it

intertwines.

But the dystopian interior fails as a counterpoint to the utopian exterior in the same way

that the fictive and the real fail as symbolic antipodes-both found their performances on a


26 Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 41.

27Adrian Forty, "Being or Nothingness: Private Experience and Public Architecture in Post-War Britain,"
Architectural History, Vol. 38 (1995), 26.









slippery claim to truth. Utopian architecture necessarily opposes function because it can exist

only in theory, and theoretical architecture accommodates only theoretical bodies. The model,

then, fails as utopian due less to the secret of abuse than to its conflation of fiction and reality.

Where utopia and dystopia transcend the real, "Educational Complex" enacts the real as a

dissimulation. The model performs neither fiction nor reality because it performs both and,

furthermore, because it performs at all. This is the point at which "Educational Complex"

converges with the craft pieces. As the objects act upon the subject they propose a psychical

beyond to the banal surfaces of used toys and school buildings. That is, they perform the banal

precisely to constitute its other, and the other is not the unattainable real, but rather the phantasm

of an extraordinary subject, traumatized, debased, usurped by the object and negated. The binary

structure of theater-onstage/offstage-posits finally a subject that is complete in its negation, on

the other side the performance. What Kelley's works, and in particular "Educational Complex,"

demonstrate, however, is that the other side is the surface refracted and revised by its

performative architecture, always already appropriated because it is spoken by the performance.

The fantasy of trauma, of negation, and of a subject that is naught, is for kids. And any sorry-

assed performer can clean up and start again.





























Figure 3.1. Mike Kelley, "Dialogue #1," 1991.




























Figure 3.2. Mike Kelley, "Dialogue #5 (One Hand Clapping)," 1991.



























Figure 3.3. Haim Steinbach, basics, 1986, plastic laminated wood shelf, polyester, plastic and
foam bears, vinyl bear.




























Figure 3.4. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, Whitney Museum of
American Art, New York, 1991.




































Figure 3.5. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, detail.



































Figure 3.6. Mike Kelley, Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology, detail.










I&t~L


Figure 3.7. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh,
1991.




































Figure 3.8. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, detail.
































Figure 3.9. Mike Kelley, Craft Morphology Flow Chart, photograph.







































Figure 3.10. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex," 1995.







WA


-*......*,i,*:' ,{* *
. .......,l .,.., .
r I"


-.l "


a S
~1I


-I S

ml U.N.



IrU

a U -In'


Figure 3.11. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex," overhead view.


I





























Figure 3.12. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex," detail.



























Figure 3.13. Mike Kelley, "Educational Complex" working drawing.









CHAPTER 4
SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATORIES' NIHILISTIC OBJECTS

[S]ince we have been denied the first [the Big Bang], we might as well put all our energies
into accelerating the end, into hastening things to their definitive doom, which we could at
least consume as spectacle.1

Mark Pauline is the greatest performance artist in the United States, there's no doubt about
it. He endangers people's lives, he threatens to kill people. I think it's what we need today.
I think we should have more threats and more endangerment of human life.2

In February, 1979, Mark Pauline staged "Machine Sex," the first of over 50 performances

under the name Survival Research Laboratories (SRL). Founded by Pauline in November 1978,

SRL is a mechanized theater in which robotic machines and props, all made by the group from

scavenged parts and secondhand technology, are pit against one another in a science-fiction

spectacle of anarchic destruction. Over the years, Survival Research Laboratories has

streamlined its machines and its productions. In 1988, Pauline's primary collaborator, Matthew

Heckert, left the group and Eric Werner, another core collaborator, left soon after; Pauline, as

artistic director, now works with an evolving group of collaborators. However, little has changed

in the group's methodology since 1979. SRL productions coalesce the fields of performance art

and weapons technology into a spectacle that foregrounds the antagonism between the two fields.

The events are held in arenas or outdoors, and the pace and atmosphere parallel the theatricalized

competition of sporting events or monster truck rallies. The machines themselves are DIY

corruptions of yesterday's technology: flamethrowers, catapults and cannons, ram cars, crawling

robotic insects, all cannibalized from used or obsolete machinery and weaponry. Parody, of

performance art, of popular culture, of ritual violence and of military technology, informs the



1 Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, trans. Chris Turner (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).
2Anonymous spectator, A Scenic Harvest from the Kingdom of Pain, VHS, directed by Jonathan Reiss and Joe Rees
(San Francisco: SRL, 1984).









events, and an iconography of political subversion plays across the surface. Yet while the

iconography evokes a political agenda, it evades a coherent position; ideology is subsumed in the

directionless aggression of the fight, soundtracked by industrial music and absurd sound

montages. The machines enact a toy apocalypse in which literal destruction is hyperbolized by

its symbols (i.e., animal carcasses, smoke, flames, noise) and the combat ends when the

machines are no longer operable.

Far more explicitly than Kippenberger's or Kelley's, SRL's objects perform. Pauline and

his associates direct them with remotes, but the machines are the actors. Furthermore, the flawed

technology of the projects, along with a degree of programmed "agency," engenders an uncanny

choreography of erratic and apparently illogical movement and an illusion of incipient

posthuman subjectivity. The more significant difference between SRL and Kippenberger or

Kelley is located in the ideological position of the performance. As the previous chapters argue,

Kippenberger and Kelley both exploit ideological structures: Kippenberger reproduces the

structures and Kelley debases them. In contrast, SRL's machines perform their undoing. On the

SRL website, the group describes itself as "an organization of creative technicians dedicated to

re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from

their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare."3 In other words, the

performances direct their technology away from productive use, from the development of

ideological structures, and toward the perversion of the structures into pure spectacle.

In a sense, then, the SRL performance is its own spectacular end-an analogue to film or

TV. With film and TV, though, the spectacle is consumed as entertainment-and as entertainment

it acquires its commodity status and thus its function in ideology. The SRL performance not only

3 Survival Research Laboratories, Survival Research Laboratories Home Page, 15 July 2006,
(1 August 2006).









diverts its technology from "practicality, product or warfare," but it undercuts the ideological

organizations (specifically, the government and military) that engender the technology by

severing production from intention, and it frustrates the spectacle's consumption by disallowing

its resolution in either entertainment or social critique. What results is a field of combat without

cogito, a performance of negation. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche writes,

Radical nihilism is the conviction of an absolute untenability of existence when it comes to
the highest values one recognizes; plus the realization that we lack the least right to posit a
beyond or an in-itself of things that might be "divine" or morality incarnate. ... Existence
has no goal or end; any comprehensive unity in the plurality of events is lacking: the
character of existence is not "true," is false. One simply lacks any reason for convincing
oneself that there is a true world.4

The SRL machines reify Nietzsche's definition by emptying actions of meaning, as a symbol of

the "true world." They sever the act of fighting from the ideological formations through which

acts cultivate meaning by, in effect, isolating the gestures of fighting (e.g., violence, spectacle) in

a sort of invisible fortress: an airless sphere forever sealed from the transcendent space of belief,

like the Fortress of Solitude in which Superman preserved his home city Kandor. In contrast to

Superman's city, though, the SRL spectacle is deliberately alienated: the machines reject the

fundamental rationale of ideology-that action is motivated by reason, or that effects are caused-

by proposing a battleground in which the winner is irrelevant (if one emerges at all) and actions

are freed of logic and consequence. As a consequence, the machines are additionally freed of

(positive or negative) social productivity.

Baudrillard addresses a similar phenomenon in his analysis of chaotic form. He defines the

immanencee of chaotic development" as "the unfolding of events which are themselves also

without meaning and consequence and in which-with effects substituting themselves for causes-

there are no longer any causes, but only effects. The world is there, effectively. There is no reason

4 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House, 1967), 9, 13.









for this, and God is dead."5 In the SRL performances, the causes of violence are displaced by

their spectacular effects-and logic, as the value of the effect, vanishes: the effect is no longer

illogical; it just is. In Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events Designed to Instruct Those

Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish (Los Angeles, 1985), for example, a pig carcass is

ripped in half by two machines; in The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered

Artifacts (Austin, 1997), a prop is affixed with a cartoon image of a boy and a girl riding

bicycles; in a performance and installation at Area nightclub in New York (1985), political

pictures are stabbed by a mechanized knife; and in various performances (including Area)

Pauline's guinea pig, Stu, operates a machine. The dominance of violence effaces the relative

relations between political and potentially subversive symbols. Effects without cause construct

an iconography without logic, thus, in David Graver's words, "They [the machines] do not speak

from a particular subject position, but, rather, quiver and shake like a demented body throes of

fever or death."6

The substitution of effects for causes suggests a slippage between postmodernism and

nihilism: both oppose essentialism as a means of valuing the object. Yet where postmodernism

attempts to undo the essentialist link between the signifier and the signified, and reveal it as

arbitrary, nihilism bypasses the link, and rejects the ideological structures through which all

signification is mediated as absurd. The SRL machines acknowledge the link as it is necessary to

the performance of negation. The act of violence or destruction-specifically without cause-

communicates as a negation (or at least a rejection) of social structures because it is encoded as

aggressive. The negation is legible, then, but it is unspecific and without logic (not illogical). In


5 Baudrillard, Illusion, 121.
6 David Graver, "Violent Theatricality: Displayed Enactments of Aggression and Pain," Theatre Journal, Vol. 47,
No. 1 (Mar. 1995), 57.









this sense, aggression is no longer a cause for violence; it is an effect equivalent to violence. The

"Flame Whistle/Boeing," for example, is a Boeing jet reconstructed as a flamethrower with a

police whistle attached, making it "the loudest flamethrower in history."7 The combination of

flames and noise creates a reciprocal circuit of aggression and violence in which neither term

engenders the other, but they flow into one another, with no origin, as effects. In performance,

the "Flame Whistle/Boeing" has two functions: it fights other machines and it produces flames

and noise.

The former function remains in the realm of theater because it takes place without the

before and after (cause and consequence) of the "real." In fact, its nihilism is contingent on the

theatrical anatomy of the fight. Inherently, the expression of nihilism conflicts with subjectivity:

the futility of ideological structures can only be expressed through those structures, and, within

the context of the real, any such expression is necessarily produced by a subject-a person already

assimilated into the same structures. Thus the nihilist subject is inevitably a paradox. The SRL

performance attempts to circumvent the paradox by unhinging the nihilistic expression from the

realm of the real, and from the human subject. The performance neither rejects nor embraces the

act of fighting: the fight is an effect-an acting out of gestures.

The latter function is also a fight, but one that alienates the machine from within: the

volume of the police whistle serves to undercut the dynamic spectacle of the flames; the fire

poses a visceral threat which subsumes the invisible threat of the noise. Each element

undermines the other for a tension without reason that abolishes the coherence of the machine

and detaches it from any productive (political, social) end in violence or aggression. Graver

writes, "[U]nlike more conventional indictments of social justice, SRL's spectacles do not allow

7 Survival Research Laboratories, "Flame Whistle," 15 July 2006, (1
August 2006).









their audience to rest comfortably with a self-righteous message. For SRL, violence takes

precedence over social critique. ... The social critique gives discursive weight to the violence

while the violence prevents the social critique from becoming a stable point from which to view

the spectacle."8

The difference between the SRL performance and a fight performed by human actors, for

example in a play, is that the SRL violence is real (that is, the fight is actually violent, the

performers are actually debilitated and/or destroyed). Violence is therefore deployed as both a

threat and an act-aimed at the machines and, indirectly, at the audience-to subvert the spectacle

of performance as it unfolds. The chaos of the show (i.e., noise, simultaneous and

multidirectional activity, operators running on and off the "stage") additionally subverts the

spectacle and disrupts any narrative coherence. Yet where the live shows bury the complex of

anti-narrative devices in the field of chaos, the 1988 video A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief

(staged in the SRL workshop and made specifically for recording), exposes it. The video comes

closest to narrative in its suggestion of a fight between a snarling mechanized animal skeleton

and the "Inchworm," a crawling, scorpion-like robot with functional "arms". The performance

culminates when the "Inchworm" destroys a marginal machine and disappears into flames but

the episode follows a fractured montage which dislocates the gestures in the video from their

narrative matrix. The montage conflates the prehistoric (skeletons, cave, viscous carcasses) with

the posthuman (the "Inchworm" and auxiliary machines, industrial music). It instigates a play of

signifiers, but it signifies at less than zero; it erodes meaning.


8 Graver, Violent Theatricality, 57.









In this way, Bitter Message visualizes Baudrillard's "reversibility between the ending and

the beginning."9 As Fredric Jameson writes in "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the

Future?" "[I]n order for narrative to project some sense of a totality of experience in space and

time, it must surely know some closure (a narrative must have an ending, even if it is ingeniously

organized around the structural repression of endings as such)."10 Bitter Message and the live

performances are able to transpose beginnings and endings because they dismember narrative

form. Narrative surfaces in the shows, in fights between machines, in the destruction of props by

the machines, and in the disorienting choreography between movement and sound. However, it

builds up just to collapse under its own entropy, as the machines perform an inversion of

Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, in which violence implodes the real.

In the past, Mark Pauline has established that the SRL performances are not meant to

inflict any physical violence on the audience; to date, few viewers have been injured and none

have been killed. The performance of "real" violence fails to confuse theater and "reality"

because it never attempts to: the machines are manifestly machines. Rather, the performance

appropriates the real into the theater. The violence still acts as an affront to the audience, but the

affront is itself an effect-it serves no purpose. It is an inversion of entertainment and its mirror

image, a theater of nihilism which succeeds because it reflects all that orbits it-all causality, all

consequence, all meaning-as fiction. The machines correspond as actors. Within the show, they

perform the "roles" (to the extent that the show allows for roles). Yet, as opposed to live actors,

the machines have no other to the performed self: they exist in performance.




9 Baudrillard, Illusion, 121.

10 Fredric Jameson, "Progress Versus Utopia, or, Can We Imagine the Future?" Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 9
(1982), 148.









To exist in performance is to exist as a fully exteriorized thing-as an object. The machines

perform as subjects in so far as they exploit their agency, to fight, to destroy, or, in Graver's

words, to "quiver and shake." But the performance is absurd: no viewer mistakes the machines

for conscious beings, and no one is expected to. Instead, the division between subject and object,

as the machines enact it, invokes another division, between interior and exterior: the duality of

the conscious self. The subject and the object are comparable in the sense that neither one can

ultimately transcend his/her (or its) body. However, consciousness compels the subject to dream

at transcendence. The illusion splits the subject between body and mind and thus forecloses on

his/her transcendent wholeness. The object-the SRL machine, or any object-lacks the interiority

produced by consciousness; without interiority it has no need for transcendence and it remains

intact. Moreover, the object's wholeness inverts the disembodied wholeness of the theoretical

subject into a black hole which absorbs the expanse of consciousness into the object sphere. It

closes to all that is not itself, it has no dreams, and as a result it exists-wholly and resolutely-at

the center of a dead, Godless universe.

The SRL machine could thus conceivably be read as a commentary on the threat of

technology. Furthermore, the group's animal/machine hybrids-machines like Heckert's

"Mummy-Go-Round" (1982), in which "leaping" carcasses are mounted on a spinning carousel-

suggest a subtext of moralism: theoretically, the animal's subjugation is one step away from

mankind's subjugation to its own creation. The dystopianism embedded in the discourse of

western science fiction upholds both positions. So evidently does Pauline's assertion that "It's

just become more and more apparent that ... it's how [people] deal with their creations that's of

significance and their lives have no significance at all. The more powerful the creations they

make, the more they harness technology and nature, the more insignificant they're gonna be and









the more death is gonna pass into that realm of instantaneousness."11 Pauline's statement follows

the logic that technological progress is mankind's death knell; it ordains our capitulation to new

and increasingly efficient forms of death. Yet he proposes another dimension to the position:

man makes machine in order that machine may overtake man. Mankind can only truly be

validated as creator by losing to machine-our coup is our ruin. Or, alternately, as William Fisher

writes of Blade Runner, "The effective breakdown ofphysis and nomos has given birth to a man-

made anti-environment that now exacts revenge from its creator."12

Fisher points up one of the primary themes of dystopian science fiction and of SRL: the

triumph of machine over man. The machine's triumph posits a realm in which the machine not

only asserts its "threateningly absolute exteriority"13 over man's interiority, it also heralds the

obsolescence of interiority. The conquest provokes a chain through which all of mankind's

ideological structures are systematically inverted according to the machine. Mortality is

neutralized because the machine can rebuild itself. God, as man's "will to power,"14 dies because

the concept is absurd to the machine; and alongside God dies all belief systems, beginning with

the one closest: Cartesian subjectivity, which empowers man to subordinate the machine.

Theoretically, the machine's triumph is represented in the SRL show by the absence of human

actors-the machines are the main attraction. Outside of Bitter Message (along with some edited

videos of live performances), though, the group never completely veils its presence: Pauline and

his associates are visible as ancillary players, entering the arena to fix malfunctioning machines,

11 The Virtues oJ '.. ,c, .. Fascination: 5 Mechanized Performances, VHS, directed by Jon Reiss (San Francisco:
SRL, 1986).
12 William Fisher, "Of Living Machines and Living-Machines: Blade Runner and the Terminal Genre," New
Literary History, Vol. 20, No. 1, Critical Reconsiderations (Autumn, 1998), 193.

13 Graver, Violent Theatricality, 54.
14 Nietzsche's phrase seems an appropriate way to characterize man's ideological relation to God, but I do not mean
to directly implicate Nietzsche in my use of it.









to fire cannons, or to reposition props. Yet the collective presence of the machines dominates

over the human presence. Particularly in early shows, efforts to control the machines by remote

are undermined by the machines' "temperament"-their improvised actions which result from the

crude technology, but translate live as a crude artificial intelligence. In more recent shows, the

machines are programmed to act semi-independently from their operators. The process initiates a

self- (and subject-)defeating cycle in which mankind is christened as God by creating a machine

which topples man's gods.

Mankind's concession to the machine often plays out in science-fiction as a delusional

master-slave dialectic: the machine takes control by promising to improve the master. The SRL

machines perform technology's promise to man of super powers, slave labor or immortality

through a sort of "atrocity exhibition," to use J.G. Ballard's phrase, but with the defused

macabre of an Alice Cooper cabaret show. 15 The animal-machine hybrid mocks both the man-

machine ideal that haunts modernist science fiction and the utopian gesture of reviving the dead;

technology again triumphs because the machine is necessary for the animal's reanimationn." (In

one performance, for example, a rabbit called the "Rabot" is shocked so that it spasm; in another,

a kinetic machine is covered with a cow carcass.) Here, the resurrected is reimagined as a putrid

Lazarus, and the machine performs simultaneously as Dr. Frankenstein-the creator-and as his

undead creation. The animal-machines further theatricalize the failed ideal as they lumber and

convulse through repeated "deaths." The multiple deaths collapse the animal into the object's

cycle of planned obsolescence by performing it as always already obsolete-dead before it hits the

stage. More than the machine, then, the animal is the locus of SRL's nihilism. It acts as both

metaphor for mankind and as an avatar of the social structures which, like the technology of the


15 I am referring here to Ballard's novel. J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (San Francisco, CA: RE/SEARCH,
1990).









machines, are redirected from their productive function. Food products or pets are denied as

physical or mental nourishment; the life is rekindled by the machines strictly to be destroyed.

That death and destruction are equivalent terms in the SRL show is a symptom of the

performers' disengagement from the potential ramifications of their effects-death itself is an

effect, not a mourning. Simultaneously, destruction is emptied of its meaning because the

machines and props destroying (or attempting to destroy) one another are made from obsolete

technology. But where obsolescence signals a transition, from one object's term to another, the

destruction of technology, in very practical terms, equates a destruction of mankind's means of

survival. Or, rather, as the secondhand machines signify mankind's self-made obsolescence as a

species which perpetually seeks to outdo itself, the destruction of technology, in effect, signifies

a self-destruction.

The dystopia is a vivid allegory for science fiction's leitmotif of pathological technology.

Its imagery articulates an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic sphere inextricably entwined with the

Judeo-Christian foundations underpinning western ideology, wherein the apocalypse is the final

act before all existence bifurcates, for better (utopia) or worse (dystopia). According to Jameson,

western culture's contemporary fascination with utopia stems from our inability to imagine it. He

argues that utopias are created in fiction as means of problematizing their creation.16 The

dystopian imagination follows the same recuperative impulse. The dystopia is not the result of

our failure to imagine utopia, it equals utopia; and as its antipode, it equally escapes us. Within

this formation utopia and dystopia are opposite sides of the same ideological fabric. By

importing the dystopian imagination into a fictitious-and meaningless-sphere, SRL allows for a

dystopia freed from ideology and morality-in other words, a dystopia freed from utopia. As a


Jameson, 156.









result, the show denies the potential for salvation implicit in the ideological dystopia. It invokes

the moral subtext of dystopia-the apocalypse myth-strictly to destroy it.

The actual SRL show performs its "apocalypse" like a B-movie performs its drama: the

inherent impossibility of visualizing the apocalypse, which undermines any production, is

comically foregrounded in the chaos of sputtering machines, directionless pyrotechnics and a

sort of funhouse light- and sound-show. The gloss of the spectacle, though, is peripheral to the

attack. The machines are able to destroy the symbols of apocalypse because they destroy its

logic: death, to machines, is neither real nor unreal; "the nihilist question 'for what?'" as

Nietzsche puts it, is no longer even posed. 17 In The Illusion of the End, Baudrillard writes, "Our

Apocalypse is not real, it is virtual. And it is not in the future, it is here and now." 18 He follows a

similar arc in "Fatal Strategies": "The sadistic irony of catastrophe is that it secretly awaits for

things, even ruins, to regain their beauty and meaning only to destroy them once again. It is

intent upon destroying the illusion of eternity, but it also plays with that illusion, since it fixates

things in an alternate eternity."19

The mythical apocalypse is the production of absolutes, of irrevocable ends and rebirths.

The SRL machines deploy a rhetoric of annihilation which gives rise to a virtual apocalypse that

is not Baudrillard's simulacral model, but one without want of even a simulacral God-played by

machines, and replayed at will. The strategy extricates the machines from the ideology through

which their destruction is marked as "fake". Their end is meaningless and reversible, but within





1 Nietzsche, Will, 16.

18 Baudrillard, Illusion, 119.

19 Jean Baudrillard, "Fatal Strategies," Jean Baudrillard: Selected ~; ,0ai', ed. Mark Poster (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 2001), 200.









their context (or, per Baudrillard, their "alternate eternity") it is literal; and they perform their

own resurrections.

Specifically, the destruction of the apocalypse is located in the machines' capacity to

repeat it. In his essay on pop art, "That Old Thing Art," Barthes contends that the stakes of

repetition are

[T]he destruction of art but also (moreover, they go together) another conception of the
human subject ... the Warholian subject (since Warhol is a practitioner of these
repetitions) abolishes the pathos of time in him[/her]self, because this pathos is always
linked to the feeling that something has appeared, will die, and that one's death is opposed
only by being transformed into a second something which does not resemble the first.20

By repeating the apocalyptic signifiers in a gestural loop of "fire and brimstone" within the

show, the machines share with Barthes's Warhol the (attempted) destruction of the represented,

which, in both cases, translates into an attack, to use Benjamin's term, on the "aura": through

repetition, the aura of the image or gesture begins to deteriorate. Furthermore, the obsolete

technology of the SRL machines annihilates the temporal-which, in regards to the apocalypse, is

synonymous with the teleological. It posits a scenario that has already crossed over the "real"

end into the perpetual return. The result is an apocalypse that is simultaneously a post-

apocalypse, in which the finality of the end is repeatedly evacuated; the dead rise and fall and

rise again in a convulsive ataxia.

Barthes also argues that the pop art object (in his case, Warhol's objects) is "no longer

anything but the residue of a subtraction: everything left over from a tin can once we have

mentally amputated all its possible themes, all its possible uses."21 The pop artist thus produces

an object which signifies nothing; or, rather, the signified has no history and no interiority-the


20 Roland Barthes, "That Old Thing Art," The Responsibility of Forms, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and
Wang, 1985), 200.
21 Ibid, 201.









object or image is its own essence. The machines produce their objects (their gestures, their

"narrative") through a negation that follows the pop artist's, according to Barthes's outline. The

difference is that the SRL negation is performed by material objects (the machines)-not by their

creators-thus the negation is free from the affect that encumbers the pop artist's symbolici"

object. (In other words, the artist's performance as a machine, like Warhol's, is unnecessary

because the SRL performers are machines.) The process of negation parallels Baudrillard's

production of effects without cause: by abandoning meaning, the machines eliminate cause; by

repeating the effects without cause, they strip violence-the show's structuring effect-to its

"essence." What results is a liquidation of the ideological platform on which violence signifies

and, moreover, on which performance itself rests as an other to the real.

"The show is about achieving complete freedom from the restraints of civilization. And

one way to achieve complete freedom from the restraints of civilization is to bum civilization

down. Then you're free of it."22 Mark Pauline's statement is an ambitious assessment, yet it

illustrates the paradox that emerges when the show is codified as metaphor and reinserted into an

ideological framework. Ultimately, the SRL show achieves nothing outside of its hallucinatory

realm (what Pauline has referred to as "the world we created for them"23), but not because the

performances are "fake." It achieves nothing because achievement is denouement, forever fixed

in the subject's ideology. Pauline is right, though: the show is free from the restraints of

civilization, at least the civilization that it conjures. Because its foundation is destruction,

anything produced-from its spectacle to its subversion-is captured and brought down again. This

may be the nihilist subject's fantasy (in as much as he/she maintains fantasies), but only the


22 Mark Pauline, Survival Research Laboratories: 10 Years ofRobotic Mayhem, DVD, directed by Jon Reiss (Oaks,
PA: Music Video Distribution, 2004).
23 Ibid.









object can perform it: at its core, reality is destroyed, along with the subjectivity from which

reality arises. The question "for what?" finds its answer in the silence of exteriority; the machine

extinguishes the last gasp of bewildered meaning as the subject dies on its knees pleading for

life.




















































Rj4ES a" 4a

1-- -- -- --- -- -- mi.. ---------------2


Figure 4.1. Survival Research Laboratories, advertisement, Boulevards magazine, 1978.

































Figure 4.2. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events
Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish, Los
Angeles, 1985, performance still.






























Figure 4.3. Survival Research Laboratories, "Flame Whistle".


































Figure 4.4 Survival Research Laboratories, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief 1988, film still.



































Figure 4.5. Survival Research Laboratories, "Inchworm".





























Figure 4.6. Survival Research Laboratories, "Mummy Go Round".

































Figure 4.7. Survival Research Laboratories, "Rabot".





































Figure 4.8. Survival Research Laboratories, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events
Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish,
performance still.













7


^7


p


Figure 4.9. Survival Research Laboratories, The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately
Engineered Artifacts, Austin, Texas, 1997, performance still.









CHAPTER 5
CONCLUSION

The Sand-Man ends with the protagonist Nathaniel's accidental death: following a

psychotic seizure, he flings himself over the edge of a tower. As the slumped body draws a

crowd, it produces a performance severed from the subjectivity through which it was named

man. Nathaniel is thus exposed as what he had always been: an object, in a world of objects,

acted upon by and acting upon those around him. In the character's death, and in his fumbling

romance with an automaton, The Sand-Man lays bare the correlation between the performing

object and phenomenology-in particular, Merleau-Ponty's chiasmus. Nathaniel is exposed as an

object, just as he subjectifies Olympia by refusing her otherness.

What Merleau-Ponty achieves with his theory is the democratization between the subject

and the object-not a poststructuralist equivalence of signs, but the undoing of the subject's

hegemony. Consciousness allows us to define the object as subjectified, but the subject creates

the world through objects, and is reified vis-a-vis those objects. I have proposed in this thesis that

the object's capacity to perform has ramifications that surpass the democratization and de-center

the subject. Where the object's materiality reflects our own materiality as bodies in space, its

performance reflects the subject's agency, which is concomitant with his/her consciousness. By

enacting agency, the object confronts the subject as an other that is no longer willed by

subjectivity. No longer subordinate, no longer silent and, above all, no longer obedient, the

object reverses the terms of subject-ness and object-ness without changing the names. In other

words, the object's action does not transform it into a subject; it calls into question the

ideological infrastructure of subjectivity.