@petitemaoiste I read readers' reports for a thing I sent to a press and it feels like listening to eulogies at your own funeral in a good way.#academentialess than a minute ago via web
Anonymous reader reports are fundamental for academentia, the premise of objectivity in peer-reviewed publications validates you as a scholar and is the basis for hiring and tenure. This is trickier than it sounds, since if you are collegial, a team player, go to a school where a particular subject area is prominent either as a student or teacher, and this leads others with shared interests to go there too, you end up being friendly or close friends with other people working in areas similar to yours. However, the reviewers for books, articles, tenure, etc. are supposed to be impartial. So in this way, paradoxically, being a collegial person or working collaboratively or being recruited as part of efforts to develop a core of faculty in a particular area might actually make this type of evaluation difficult. In my case, I was lucky to find people who were not close friends, who were anonymous reviewers, and who supported my project and gave me fabulous feed-back. On top of this, they had to address my standing in my field and were very complementary, hence my reaction that it felt like I was listening to eulogies at my own funeral. If you are working in the high-pressure world of academentia, you need to have a sense of humor!
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The second leg of my summer vacation took me to visit a dear friend who no longer lives in the same city as me (one of the perils of academentia is ending up alone in the city where you went to grad school and made close friends) got off to a dramatic start. Summer storms led to a hours-long delay, followed by delight at boarding for the long flight and the announcement of imminent take off. Until I saw a flurry of flight attendants sprinting to the First Class section (I had scored a coveted exit row seat directly behind) of the plane. The head cabin attendant got on the PA and asked if there was a doctor on board to silence, quickly followed by a staccato: any nurses, nurse practitioners, paramedics? Please ring your call button. Two women rushed forward towards the huddled mass of uniformed personnel and the feet of the prone passenger covered by one of the blankets I had sought but could only obtain - at a price. I saw the gestures familiar from movies and TV - one of the people was trying to massage the passenger's heart back into operation. For at least 20 minutes. Simultaneously, the plane was careening back towards our gate. At this point, my Recovering Catholic Stockholm Syndrome was kicking in and I made the sign of the Cross and prayed silently. They explained there was a sick passenger and that we had to return to the gate in order for paramedics to come. But suddenly two NYC cops entered, took a sweeping glance into the cabin, and took out notebooks following which the flight attendant asked the two women who performed CPR to come speak to them. It seemed to me that the passenger was dead. In any case, the blanketed feet disappeared, another passenger departed on foot following. Again over the PA a flight attendant called out a name, and a man came up from the rear and was moved to First Class. Yes, he was on standby for an upgrade, and this was his opportunity. That's airplane travel today folks, survival of the fittest. (I was wondering why would they not offer the upgrade to the Good Samaritan who tried to resuscitate the passenger.) And we were on our way.
After the requisite calming speech from the Captain including the "our thoughts and prayers are with our fellow passenger," I spoke to one of the shaken flight attendants who told me it was the wife in a couple that had left NY en route to their country of residence (intending to make a connection in the city where I was headed) after celebrating their 50th anniversary with family.
Although I have had many family members and close friends my own age die, I have never seen a person in the act of dying, if you can call what I saw precisely that.
To make things even more surreal, when we learned of the second or third delay at the airport, I called my friend to bitch in Spanish and noticed out of the corner of my eye a cute guy. (I always wonder if this is the flight where I will meet an exciting stranger, but always end up with the crying babies etc. instead) During the excruciatingly long flight, the cute guy and I began to flirt sporadically (after the requisite commiserating about the tragic events, it would be in poor taste otherwise), which I guiltily enjoyed tremendously.
Once I got off the plane, I sought him out at the baggage claim, but as my luck would have it, he must have taken his stuff on board. So for the first time, I tried out the Craig's List Missed Connections feature, crafting what I hoped was a sufficiently insouciant and witty sentence that evoked our playful banter on board. Of course I never heard from the guy.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
My fascination with reality TV dates back to 1998, when I saw the first Gran Hermano (Big Brother) on Spanish television. I have written here before about the ways in which I believe such programming naturalizes the state of being under surveillance. Indeed in some cases, it can glamorize it, or at least bring the promise of wealth and celebrity even at the cost of over-share and humiliation. It is precisely the latter aspect that for me posed the greatest danger because the format of these shows seems designed to foster a collective bonding experience that is most often based on mutual loathing for a scapegoat. Brute competition, ruthlessness, and lack of empathy are particularly useful in shows like Big Brother, Bad Girls Club, and Real Housewives.
In some cases, such as the latter, the participants are supposed to act as aspirational figures for our own longings, but at the same time, this provokes resentment and schadenfreude (see the gleeful reactions to the recent 11 million dollar bankruptcy filing by barely literate lavish spender Teresa Guidice from the New Jersey version of Bravo's franchise). The aspirational aspect now extends to the mysterious artworld which according to breathless media reports brings in a lot of money. Curators are also glamorous jet setting, designer clothes rocking stars, taking the protagonism away from the artists who should be the subject of our interest. The prestige now represented by formerly nerdy curators was discussed in recent New York Times article that pointed out examples of the appropriation of the term curate to apply to everything from window displays to DJing.
In any event, my response to the launch of a reality TV show designed to select "the next great artist" was skeptical to say the least. Although there are exceptions to the Social Darwinist Panopticon created by this newish televisual genre, by and large it is our baser instincts that prevail. I for one experience mixed feelings whenever a group that I identify with to some extent is represented in one of these fictional passing as real programs. This was particularly true of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. At the same time, I think I was secretly thrilled to see part of my life allegedly reflected on the screen. Of course by now people who participate and viewers are for the most part aware that editors and producers are writing these shows, intervening to create "characters" that in some ways are as fake as those in regular acted sitcoms, dramas, and soap operas. (eg. Nao as the arrogant bitch, Miles as the hot hipster, Abdi as the naive generous youngster untainted by the cynicism of the artworld, etc.) And it is the self-consciousness of the characters, encouraged by telling asides during scenes (see RHONY's and Bethenny's Getting Married? Bethenny Frankel) or by the by now hackneyed "Confessional" scenes where participants de-brief with producers (sometimes seemingly ignorant of the fact that their bitchy comments will be aired, which only adds to the thrill of listening in to them) that enhances the voyeuristic thrill of watching.
Twitter may exacerbate this phenomenon, when some of us, hiding under the virtual veil of anonymity, make snarky comments under #workofart or most often #workoFart (I speak about myself here, obviously) and feel a web of connection with other members of the "artworld" who are equally skeptical about the incorporation of our area of interest/practice/study into this now ubiquitous genre.
This notwithstanding, and despite the 140-character limitations, in addition to hours of laughter [for fun recaps see the Artlog and Hyperallergic blogs at http://hyperallergic.com/7080/work-of-art-recap-tweet-digest/ ] I gained insights into the functioning of the artworld [for this see especially this tweet from the awesome c-monstah at http://c-monster.net/?s=work+of+art and ArtF ag city here http://www.artfagcity.com/2010/08/12/work-of-art-abdi-farah-to-exhibit-at-the-brooklyn-museum-of-art/ as well as those mentioned above ], the role of critics and critical reception [see judge Jerry Salz's posts on New York Magazine's Vulture blog, in particular his de-brief at the end of the show here http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/08/jerry_saltzs_work_of_art_final.html and Christopher Knight's rather venomous rebuttal here http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/08/bravos-work-of-art-and-art-criticism.html], and the new types of interaction made possible by digital communication.
In relation to the latter debate about criticism, I would tend to agree with Knight, that the power dynamics at work in terms of critical reception as a tool of artistic legitimation have not changed. Saltz's utopian claim that the dialogue has somehow expanded as a result of viewers' reactions to the show seems implausible. Did we get to vote like spectators of American Idol? No. Were smart bloggers or artists who make work analyizing artworld dynamics, such as William Powhida [see his blog here http://www.williampowhida.com/] represented in the jury? No. This was a superficial and distorted view of artistic production and reception. Not to mention the fact that it was based on the provincial New York vantage point.
The show allowed me to indulge my nerdolicious academentia/alleged scholarly interest in the internet and reality TV (let's keep it real, a pretext to indulge my love of Bravo's reality TV franchise) to a new level by attending the finale of the show at Soda Bar. Here, friendly groups of artnerds gathered on comfy couches, crackberries, Androids, and iPhones in hand, to chat, live tweet, and watch the show on a large projection screen. To the right, a cascade of Work of Art hashtag tweets was visible. In a charmingly low-fi manner, however, we could vote for who would be eliminated from each episode by checking a piece of paper with glued on photos of contestants.
Although I am not adept at this type of simultaneous digital/analog/visual/verbal interaction/reception, I found myself fascinated by the new type of experience it generates. At one point, I found myself retweeting smart comments made by my friend as we were seated next to each other, watching, reading the #workofart feed, and chatting. This kind of disassociated consciousness is heightened when you are tweeting under a pseudonym (which for professional reasons I must employ). At the same time, it is odd to feel like there are multiple "versions" of me operating simultaneously. My inner-monologue, exterior dialogue, and digital monologue/dialogue happening all at once. And just like the "reality" show contestants are performing roles predicated on realness, immediacy and accessiblity, I was performing the role of droll commentator on twitter, accessible to all, yet in fact removed.
Getting back to what the show was supposedly "about" the work of art, as smart twitterer and media phenomenon @MuseumNerd observed, this distancing also affected our ability to evaluate the merits of the works produced each week. Because aside from the obvious drawback of the format - you cannot apply the Top Chef, Project Runway etc. temporality to the making of art work, nor is it fair to artists to impose a "challenge" that forces them to make work based on pre-determined subjects or working with limited media, since this may not respond to their concerns and practices -- how can you judge an artwork by fleeting glimpses of it on television? This is something I remind my students about repeatedly - go to a museum! Go to galleries! Go to studios! Don't read Gardner's, look at Powerpoint slides, or do Google image searches to understand works of art.
I was underwhelmed by the works when I saw them at the opening yesterday (for a nice photographic tour of the show see @MuseumNerd's Flkr series here http://bit.ly/9xcdmH) My so-called documentary contribution has to do with my obsession with fashion, and here is the extremely petite and thin Jaclyn Santos' shandisimo of an ensemble, skin tight flesh colored lycra dress that was perilously on the verge of exposing her rear end, worn with a striped bra (partially peeking out from the back and shoulders) and matching thong. Beige stilettos punctuated by a rather sinister row of straps moving up her tiny ankle and matching Chanel bag.
Joan Rivers' Red Carpet pseudo-coverage aside, the work seemed to me to be quite well-executed, the drawings in particular, but the theme seemed heavy-handed and the sculptures seemed fragile (I remember him having trouble keeping them intact because of problems with his materials). I worry that such immediate potential fame at such a young age might hinder his artistic development. But that is not what the TV show was about. It was geared towards narrative flow, instant gratification, and fake insight into a trendy, glamorous, and for many, remote, elusive and cliquey world. That much of the recent glamour ascribed to the so-called artworld is due to mass media coverage of astronomical and inflated prices particularly for contemporary art was reinforced by the "honor" offered to the contestant: inclusion of in one of the charming Simon de Pury's auctions. This type of straight to the sale room marketing cutting out the gallerist, critic, and museum curator as practiced by Damien Hirst had been the subject of much criticism and raise ethical questions for many. But for the presumably broad TV audience, such nuance and context was omitted.
Also not acknowledged was the problem of curatorial independence, expertise and art historical judgement that side-stepped when the Brooklyn Museum agreed to (presumably sight-unseen) grant a one-person show to the winner, akin to the one year contract as a Cover Girl spokesperson granted to the victor in America's Next Top Model. For some, this manouver suggested a PR gambit on the part of the much-criticized museum. I for one am, despite my dismay at the Director's re-organization of the curatorial departments, which are no longer led by specialists in areas represented in their fantastic collection, a fan of the museum. I appreciate the diverse audiences they attract, and one could argue that this TV tie-in is part of these populist efforts.
Respected curator Eugenie Tsai's introductory text attempted to frame the show in historical terms, reminding viewers of the long artistic tradition of juried exhibitions. This may well be the case, but it elides important differences. First, the competition was extremely limited in number and not directed by the Brooklyn Museum. Second, the judges were not curators but rather gallerists/collectors, critics and artists. Third, although the genres were limited in Salon exhibitions, I don't think you can analogize this to the show's "challenges." Indeed, such genre-specificity has nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary art practices.
Ironically a more recent development and artistic precedent for instant artistic celebrity and the incursions of the artworld into the media, the work and practice of Andy Warhol, were ommitted. This was particularly odd given the fact that immediately across from the fifth floor gallery where Abdi's work was shown was the second part of the late Warhol exhibition at the museum.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Like the Duquesa de Alba and many others, during the Summer months I have been traveling and will be going away again soon. I will have loads of hopefully amusing cultural commentary related to my trips in Spain and Italy when I return!!!