Musings and Mullings

Musings and Mullings

where is the power began as a musing over power in the world, past and present, and within the individual. I came across the following sketchbook notes and thought that, as the exhibition is drawing to a close on Saturday, this would be a good time to go public with my early musings and mulling over of the topic of power.

— Late night musing over power in the world and in the self — 

What if the obvious associations are foils for the real power that moves, motivates and produces growth or action within the individual? What is the power dynamic? Is it all about holding sway? Can there be power in a powerless situation? Can the inanimate have power over humans – object over subject?

What is the value of this pursuit? Is there power in the question? What if these four words—where-is-the-power —in this form could be considered without punctuation or hierarchy of case? Is that possible? If not, why? Isn’t language a tool, a product of human intention? Or has language claimed power? Many of my inquiries on the subject of power have led me to a particular melancholia concerning our tendency to use our tools/what we create as aides in life, against ourselves. We seem to invest such “aides” with power and potential for growth, to the extent that they have the power. Language for example seems utilitarian until we realize how it has molded our existence.


The notion of power in the world, the misperceptions and philosophical pursuits

There are the obvious relationships between power and knowledge — having something over others — and of course physical power.

But what about personal power — power within one’s self?


The power of memory — Remembrance of Things Past

“life needs redeeming by analysis and reflection.” Proust 

Does memory define us? Do we then lose definition when memory fades?

This could go on and on because these notes on power and related subjects have been accumulating for the past three years. But I will close this post with notes on realizations I had while reading Virginia Woolf.

I am rereading A Room of One’s Own, an essay based on two papers Virginia Woolf read to Arts Society at Newnham and the ODTAA at Girton in October 1928 – and the source of my inquiry into the phrase “where is the power.” On her topic and presentation, Woolf writes in her diary in 1929, “…I am afraid it will not be taken seriously…. It is a trifle, I shall say; so it is, but I wrote it with ardour and conviction…”

A trifle pursued with ardour and conviction might be how I would describe my investigation, endeavor to date. It is why I have hoped that it would be used and presented by others (to relieve the pressure and give it potential beyond me). As usual, I feel unqualified as a spokes person for such a loaded topic with so many facets in fields I have only viewed from the outside. This is the artist as amateur. The self-imposed, exhilarating and, with an ounce of wisdom or at least humility, intimidating/even terrifying burden of making art. Amateur in French means “lover of” and that certainly describes my various pursuits in the name of art. The fear is whether the love will be returned and if so, will I be worthy?

Woolf opens her essay playing out the multiple readings of a single phrase, “women and fiction.” What is the most beneficial reading or just what are all the possibilities? She landed on considering the subject in the way she found most interesting. She realized however that the fatal drawback to her chosen pursuit was that she “should never be able to fulfill what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer — to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks…” All she could do was to offer “… an opinion upon one minor point…”

“One can only give one’s audiences the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.”


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The workplace/work and place of Alejandro Cesarco

I found a great image online but I can no longer locate my source. It is presumably a picture of the artist, Alejandro Cesarco’s desk/work area. Whatever the subject, it is extremely clean and ordered with one of Cesarco’s framed WHEN I AM HAPPY I WON’T HAVE TO MAKE THESE ANYMORE text pieces hanging on the wall to the left and above the desk. As is the case with Cesarco’s “when I am happy” pieces, the bold, multi-colored letters in all caps and justified to the left, attract attention and initiate humor. Which is a great way to set-up my exploration of this image, a glimpse into an artist I have come to adore for what he is putting out in the world and contributing to my life personally as I am getting to know his work and follow his career. There is also a framed snapshot of arranged toys by Felix Gonzales-Torres at the back of the desk leaning against the wall. Or perhaps it is an image of the original Gonzales-Torres snapshot. I don’t care if Felix Gonzales-Torres or someone related gifted Cesarco the actual photo or if it is a reproduction. What I treasure is the fact that Cesarco appreciates the image and its source and that he wants it in his environment. I assume Cesarco acquired the image I see framed here as a result of the stunning book, A Selection of Snapshots Taken by Felix Gonzales-Torres that Cesarco produced through A.R.T. Press in 2010.

I feel fortunate to own that book and I visit it often. It is mostly pictures like the one of two cats curled together on top of a bed in which plastic toys (Fred Flintstone, Charlie Brown, Porky Pig and Tweety-Bird) are tucked in with their little heads peering out from under the covers and pressed against the bed’s two pillows. Some are paired with a shot of the back of the photo where a note has been written by Gonzales-Torres. The cat and toy photo includes a note that begins “slow morning. to count our blessings, our losses, our hopes …” and ends “… to a summer full of slow mornings.”

Along with other images, books and various objects on what I am assuming is Cesarco’s desk, there is a wooden box or styled block with the word SILENT printed across the top. I imagine it to be a box, a container that is either demanding silence while holding unrelated items such as paper clips and rubber bands or a container announcing its contents, proclaiming that this box holds silence. Who knows? Not knowing is of value here. It allows for exploration, assumptions and associations.

“Inadvertent memory” 

I also came across a Cabinet magazine from Summer 2010 with a beautiful piece by Cesarco that reconstitutes all passages in Cabinet’s 1st thru 37th issues including the word or idea of memory. The piece reads like a strange and lovely poem or story.


Inadvertent memory

Millions and millions of pixels, stored in memory, waiting in databases.

This memory of being recognized by the victim is quite common among soldiers; however, military statistics show that the bayonet is rarely used in war and that most of the killing in war is done from a distance where the killer remains anonymous.


The Center decided to keep the original gallery name, “Pavilion Veljkovic,” in memory of the family.

Who wouldn’t consider, however briefly, a Borgesian schema, that of a labyrinthine universal library (pace Alain Resnais’s documentary on the old Bibliotéque Nationale, “Toute la memoire du monde”—“all the memory of the world”), where each reader is lead through a surreptitious but efficacious rhetoric to his or her own utopia?

During fieldwork in 1989, one Inuk elder told me that he had drawn detailed maps of Hiquiligjuaq from memory, …

Of course it goes on, beautifully spread across six pages and, given the current glut of information available to most of us, these excerpts feel like enough, like everything, “Toute la memoire du monde”—“all the memory of the world.” They allow for exploration, assumptions and associations. They allow for imagination.

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john wilcox, “TENDER”

In a beautiful and intelligent essay for the exhibition, John Wilcox: New York City, 1988-89, Dr. Frances Colpitt writes, “As if to counteract the incessant, grueling crush of death, this body of work is characterized by a Zen-like emptiness that is full, bursting with the resonance of a single word floating on a generous white rectangle or a radiant field of accumulated brushstrokes. Wilcox’s expressive process imparts meaning through every thoughtful mark, conveying discipline, restraint, and, above all, humility.”

The body of work to which Colpitt refers is a year-long endeavor by artist John Wilcox who, living in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic, responded with a series of abstract paintings on canvas and texts painted on paper. In spring of 2010 Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas showed Wilcox’s New York City, 1988-89 paintings. The entire exhibition was extremely moving in content and form. Each canvas glowed with layered brushstrokes that read collectively as fields of color but individually spoke of touching and being touched. The various texts seemed to operate as punctuation in the exhibition’s entirety, but with intimate consideration, each clearly represents a world of its own.

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richard wentworth, “walking sticks”

“The once mute … appears intimate and troubling … Reconfigured as art, these components own a gravitational field which draws you into their world, whatever that stilled yet heady place, in which appearances, values and sensations are the same but rearranged…”  —Michael Bracewell, ‘So Much Depends’: An Introduction to the Art of Richard Wentworth for Richard Wentworth, Tate

A curator’s confession: My heart aches for the work that is absent in this exhibition. Such is certainly true with the work of Richard Wentworth. The sincerity of every piece he presents fills me with love and makes me resent the cruel realities of curating a show. Nevertheless, the piece made available by the artist and his gallery for where is the power, is enormously satisfying in its signature matter-of-factness, absurdity and melancholy.

Thus, two black canes touchingly joined, is installed above eyelevel. In The Tears of Things, Melancholy and the Physical Object, Peter Schwenger unknowingly speaks to the “where” in where is the power as he writes of another of Wentworth’s walking stick sculptures, “Merely hooking a black cane over a glass rectangle projected near a gallery ceiling makes Walking Stick, 1987, jauntily free of any human step, into a pure and soaring line. This is a readymade, transformed merely by its position.”

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valeska soares, “love stories II”

Valeska Soares’ Love Stories IIas seen in where is the power, is an elegant presentation of 250 books, harmonious in size and palette, sitting on two long, white shelves. With this visually direct but complex and ambitious piece, Soares plays on the power of desire as she takes on the topic of love. Presenting a variety of books, spanning the romantic languages, that each share the word “love” in their title the artist entraps the viewer as she adds a sense of longing to desire by actively filling her beautifully bound books with nothing – emptiness.

Each page of each book is accounted for with page numbers and titles imprinted in the thick paper that fills each uniform book jacket but the content/the story is missing. This void is seemingly a secret from the viewer but is perhaps felt in closely observing each book’s careful construction, their coded display, and the uniformity of the whole as well as the inevitable assumption of loss and forbidden love when considering the classic topic of Love Stories II.

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fred sandback, “two preparatory drawings”

“For me, what makes Sandback’s work so moving is not that he did so much with so little, but that he did so little. The extreme reticence of Sandback’s work is not something I experience as an act of withholding but rather as an act of extraordinary generosity. By removing himself to the extent that he does, he makes a place for me. It’s not a place in front of his work, or next to his work, or inside his work … It makes a place for me inside the institution that the work is inside….”  —Andrea Fraser, Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry, Grey Room 22, Winter 2005, MIT Press

In his essay, Remarks on My Sculpture 1966–1986, Fred Sandback explains, “The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid—a 2 x 4 inch—lying on the floor. It was a casual act, but it seemed to open up a lot of possibilities for me.” That “casual act” was in fact a profound gesture that cut-through-the-chase of the Minimalist endeavor. Activating what the artist has referred to as “pedestrian space,” Sandback’s installations employee space as a material that is sliced and held with acrylic string to delineate planes and establish structures of absence/emptiness.

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chris powell, “twin”

Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object’s loss—
Perception in itself a Gain
Replying to its price—

The Object Absolute—is nought—
Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far— 

Emily Dickinson 

where is the power appreciates the significance and inevitability of absurdity in art as in life. Such can be found in twin, 2006-2011 by Chris Powell. A number of Powell’s works pair, or “twin,” made and found objects – setting up  conversations. In this case it is two recovered chairs placed back to back and joined with the application of plaster. Naturally, twin brings to mind the metaphor of a chair as a body, suggesting a narrative of two becoming one or one splitting in to two and so on. Nevertheless, while an untold story beckons, there is also an undeniable visceral response to the rectitude of the two chairs back-to-back, compressing the space between them, plastered and joined into a complete form satisfying to the eye and body. Beautiful and absurd, it creates a tug-o-war between seeing and accepting. The continuous but divided form of twin, with its pseudo-function and implications, forcibly demands consideration despite the sculptures neutral palette and unpretentious deportment – a quiet but absolute power.

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Discussion with TCU faculty guests on power in our society

Please join us at FWCA on Monday, Sept 24 from 7 – 8 pm for an open, salon-style discussion with TCU faculty guests about the concept and uses of power in our society. This is complimentary programming for our current exhibition where is the power, curated by the Modern’s Terri Thornton.

Our TCU faculty guests for the evening are:

J. Sage Elwell, Assistant Professor of Religion, specializing in Religion in Visual Culture

Jeff Ferrell, Professor of Sociology

Dr. Blake Hestir, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Philosophy

Paul King, Professor and Department Chair of Communication Studies

Here’s the kicker: Given the range of guests we’ve invited, we will not necessarily be discussing art, and we don’t expect to. All forms of communication, plus religion, philosophy and social anthropology each contribute to our understanding and handling of power.

Thus, as Thornton writes:

“The discussion that we are hoping transpires is not intended to necessarily address the exhibition. It is in fact an effort to expand on what the exhibition proposes. TCU has a talented faculty and we are looking to tap into that talent by bringing several of [them] from various disciplines together to have a discussion about, or in relation to, the phrase ‘where is the power.'”

Terri Thornton and Christina Rees will guide the discussion.

We hope to see you there.

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kris pierce, “the red telephone”

The “red telephone” is the famous hotline that linked the White House via the National Military Command Center with the Kremlin during the Cold War. As a description it might also bring to mind the historical and beloved British phone box. And finally, The Red Telephone is the title of the “summer of love,” 1967 pop song by the rock band Love. None of which is lost on artist Kris Pierce, and related or unrelated, it all offers an interesting lens through which to consider his 2012 piece by the same title.

For where is the power, Pierce connects people alienated from one another due to geographical segregation within Fort Worth by placing three red (non)pay phones in key locations throughout the city in his piece titled The Red Telephone. Modified with a wireless transmitter, the phones become public confessionals that, streamed to a web-based station, disclose dialogue, bridging distance and difference while giving power to voice. The Red Telephone, 2012 is a performative work offering individuals the opportunity to confront insecurities, speak their mind and connect to strangers who listen to their recordings as well as those who participate from disparate locations. Participation with The Red Telephone is abstract and the connections hypothetical but the live and archived recordings are revelatory as they reflect the various communities while highlighting differences and some similarities.

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cornelia parker, “bullet drawing”

Cornelia Parker’s early installations brought her a great deal of attention and for good reason. They are ambitious in every way. Imposing in scale and visually stunning, the punch they pack is delivered upon the realization of what is being viewed and how it came to be. Politically and culturally astute, Parker’s work always offers layers of discovery, prompting thoughts that the initial, highly visceral encounters actually delay. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View of 1991 is a collection of charred building fragments that appear to float as they hang from the ceiling to reconfigure the garden shed that they once were, prior to being exploded upon Parker’s request by the British Army. Before reading the museum label or hearing about the origins of this piece the viewer is confronted with a beautiful but daunting form floating in the center of the gallery with a single light bulb, suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the piece as a source of light that casts dramatic shadows across the gallery wall. Enchanting yet frightening, like the monstrous shadows of a child’s room at night, the shadows expand the already impressive form to fill the room. Then the layers begin to peal away and the light becomes illumination as the viewer works through numerous implications from a humorous cartoon-like explosion that evokes the absurd; to the inference of violence and military force; to the philosophical, as the shadows bring to mind Plato’s cave and notions of reality.

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