Boris Groys: Two Sets of Notes

Attended the Boris Groys lecture tonight at School of Visual Arts, titled "Everyone is an Artist." Paddy Johnson also attended and her twitter notes follow these transcribed handwritten notes of mine. Groys teaches aesthetics, art history, and media theory at the Center for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany, and at NYU. He has written on Ilya Kabakov and other artists and, per Wikipedia, "re-evaluated socialist art production [and] challenged the norms of aesthetics by [advancing] a thesis based on Walter Benjamin in the... interpretation of politics, claiming that modernism had survived in the 'total artwork' (Gesamtkunstwerk) of Stalinism." (Which sounds like the statement that got Stockhausen in trouble after the 9/11/01 attacks.)

My notes:

--The deprofessionalization of art is a form of professionalism. Transition from "Old masters --> Malevich --> Duchamp --> 'weak' video loop" still occurs within a specialized field.

--The artist is a secularized apostle, spreading the gospel that time is contracting, time is viscous.

--The avant garde isn't about change but creating weak transcendental repetitive patterns that allow others to recognize and decode images (Kandinsky shows painting is just shapes and colors). These perceptions transcend their time period.

--This creates clarity but also confusion, when the Kandinsky is put next to the Old Master. Now the Kandinsky is historicized, dated.

--This process of clearing and confusion is good and needs to happen periodically; it is how the avant garde democratizes Plato's privileged "philosophical gaze."

--We need new clearing/confusion, new weak signs, new repetitive simplification. Groys shows Francis Alÿs' animated/rotoscoped video loop of woman pouring liquid back and forth between two glasses.

--Groys believes social media and the internet is the new arena for the avant garde's production of "weak signs and low visibility"; the masses creating their own work for minuscule audiences in the 21st Century vs consuming the spectacles created by mass media in the 20th. He mentions people putting up websites about their cats (a late '90s example).

--An audience member asked him how big-box Chelsea galleries could implement these weak signs. He said that a certain part of the art world tries to compete for the production of "strong images" (Madonna, Michael Jackson) and shouldn't.

--I asked him if the professional apparatus he had described earlier (art schools, museums, biennials) needs to retool itself to sift through social media, or if it serves any function at all at this point. He said the Biennales still serve a function--millions of people attend them. It's where they get their ideas. He believes the social media producers would shrivel and die without this stimulus and inspiration. I don't agree. Essentially he's saying cat sites would disappear unless we have art schools.

--A woman objected to his constant use of the word weak. See Paddy's notes below. He also said a "weak sign is not a sign of weakness." He believes you destroy a fortress, city, pyramids, etc when people lose interest in them and become interested in something else. He sees the "weak gesture" as that alternative and believes it can be powerful.

Paddy Johnson's Twitter Notes:

--Groys asks how one distinguishes between the artist and the non-artist. Answer: the artist is simply a "professional."

--Living in Ultra-modern time means nobody has time. It's not an impression or feeling, it is a condition of our social being.

--The true goal of avant garde should not be innovation but transcendental repetitive reductive art.

--The contemporary condition is a repetition of repetition.

--The avant garde opened the flood gate for the "weak gesture."

--Millions of people now producing text and images for the few who have little to no time to view them. Reversal from the media used to work.

--Weak images are without a spectator. Strong images are 9-11, Madonna, Michael Jackson, etc. Art is competing with strong images.

--Groys does not believe the art world is strong enough to compete.

--True belief in art was originally shown through permanent collections. The slowing of this practice represents a deep skepticism in art.

--Groys is crazy: he basically just said kitty websites would disappear without art school.

--Someone just told Boris Groys that he didn't mean to call images weak. Groys says he not only meant to say that but to create a weak lecture.

Update, May 26, 2010: eFlux posted Groys' essay The Weak Universalism.