Ai Weiwei on Globalization…/tate-modern-sunflower-seeds-review

This article, published by The Guardian, analyzes and appreciates Ai Weiwei’s installation at the Tate Modern Sunflower Seeds. It consists of 100 million tiny hand made porcelain sunflower seeds, all in all weighing 150 tons.

Key ideas that relate to Globalization in this article: 

• “[this work is] A lesson in Chinese history and western modernization, and the price individuals in China pay for that.”

• “Most contemporary Chinese art is a product made for western consumption”

• “However absurd his works might appear to be, he understands the place of the artist, recognizing that his work exists in a global world of social, cultural and economic relations.”

• The sunflower seeds were all made in China, in a village that is known for it’s craftsmanship in ceramics. Western culture associates something being “made in China” as a cheap and mass produced item, and Ai Weiwei is engaging and challenging this idea as well.




The “Talking Picture”

(Cover image, Vito Acconci, 12 Steps)

George Baker has a primary argument that he tries to get across in Photography’s Expanded Field: that there is an exciting intersection in photography that is between complete stasis and complete narrativity. He says that contemporary art photography is constantly facing an identity crisis (his words are “an object in crisis”) and thusly undergoes major transformations. The specific transformation he is referring to is the significant shift to digital capture and  editing, and in turn, the growing interest in the cinematic rather than photographic.

“Photography itself has been foreclosed, cashiered, abandoned—outmoded technologically and displaced aesthetically.” Baker cites artists like Jeff Wall, someone who has incorporated classical painting techniques, Philip Lorca DiCorcia who uses cinematic lighting, and Rineke Dijkstra who videos her subjects and shows them alongside the photographic manifestations.

Movement in photography is a interesting idea, and not an aspect that is normally discussed in relation to a medium that is always thought of as static, singular, and fixed. I liked how Baker attempted to track this progression, starting with photographers who explored seriality through similar poses or aesthetic styles of their picture making.

(August Sander)

Baker references the theorist Rosalind Krauss pretty often because of her exploration of how sculpture can be both “not landscape” and “not architecture”. Baker finds inspiration in this in between-ness, as he spends the whole essay justifying how photography can be both “not narrative” and “not stasis”. This is when he starts to lose me slightly, but I stuck with him till the end. Baker says that Cindy Sherman’s film stills open the door for this conversation because her photographs do not just function as photographs- “[they] would not call themselves photographs, and that would hold open the static image to a cultural field of codes and other forces of what I am calling not-stasis.”

I really love the artists he starts to reference towards the end, like the Douglas Gordon 24 Hour Psycho piece, in which he slows down the movie 24 Hour Psycho to such a degree that it plays over a period of 24 hours. At two frames a second, I think this piece does exactly what Baker is so interested in. It appropriates an entire Hitchcock movie but somehow references back to photography (???) because we have the time to visually see each frame as it was captured. I love this piece!!

(Douglas Gordon)

“Given these potential expansions, we need now to resist the lure of the traditional object and medium in contemporary art, just as much as we need to work against the blindness and amnesia folded into our present, so-called ‘post-medium condition.'”

Some other work I’m really into that I think fits into this topic of discussion: 

(Rineke Dijkstra, Buzzclub)

This is one of my favorite pieces of all time. It does all the things Dijkstra’s photographic portraits do (heighten the complete vulnerability of teenagers figuring out their bodies), but even to a more extreme degree. I think the viewer gets something really unique and special with the amount of movement from the subject, plus the music, that would never be possible with her portraits. She has a bunch of these on youtube, fairly poor quality, but you’ll get the idea!

(Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency)

Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency is supposed to be shown as a slideshow (with the sound of the slides switching) and a musical soundtrack. This work would function very differently if seen as individual framed photographs on a wall.


Status of the Commodity: Art and the Internet

Four years ago when I was just starting out in the photography program, I remember being pulled into a lot of conversations about the “fate” of photography as art, and the fears of older and more established (usually male) photographers were palpable. How are talented and classically trained photographers supposed to receive recognition when some 17 year old on Instagram just booked a Nike campaign? How can photographer’s with “true” talent be seen when everyone with an iPhone is now an artist? I was always fairly undisturbed by these questions, and felt that photography is more exciting and more fresh than ever before; everyone can have a voice, and the rules for making “good” photographs are being questioned and torn down to make way for new and exciting approaches. This is made possible by the internet; young artists, poor artists, marginalized artists, can all put their work online and gain deserved recognition without the permission of the elusive and elite art-world gatekeepers (museums, galleries, collectors, academic institutions).

This starts to echo the question from the very first week of class, is photography over? Or is photography merely shifting and breaking off from traditional and historical methods of picture making?

In Online Photographic Thinking, Jason Evans explores the artistic freedom and audience reach that comes with having photographs exist solely online. “My work is no longer hemmed in by the deadening, hyper-accelerated capitalist objectification of magazine advertising as in my editorial days. I feel free.” Evans is clear that he believes that art on the internet is inclusive, affordable, and democratic, and while he doesn’t think the internet is the “only frontier for independent image making”, he does see this time in photography’s history as very unique and full of exciting opportunity.

While Evan’s essay is interesting, I found the responses to his work that he included equally so. Amir Zaki brings up the interesting perspective of there being a lack of community in the online photographic scene, and thusly it is low risk and safe because there is no one to hold the artist accountable. There is no chance for failure because only the artist will know if her site is viewed or not. Nicholas Grider questions how to profit from work online, when authorship is not as relevant. David Weiner worries that photographs online do not constitute “sustained looks” and that viewers spend one second with the image and then move on. However, I felt that the most profound response came from Penelope Umbrico. She sees a multitude of similarities between the image maker and the “web surfer”. Both look through screens, whether the back of a camera of through a computer display, both offer new realities and new ways of seeing. “Both make the local global, and the global local; both foster a pseudo intimacy of sharing private aspects of life; and both work by remote tactile control mediated by machine.” She says the internet is unique platform to engage with ideas of truth and perception, individuality, decontextualization, and the loss of aura.



(Penelope Umbrico, TV’s from Craigslist)


I chose to read the essay by Brad Troemel titled “Art After Social Media” in the book You Are Here: Art After the Internet. Troemel begins by saying that there is a new and very significant wave of young artists who are distributing their work through social media platforms. He outlines three historical “rules” that are challenged by this new era of art making: One, that “authorship must be attributed to a work of art”, two, that “art is a form of property”, and three, “art must be placed in a context that declares it to be art.” Art on social media can be reblogged, reposted, retweeted so many times that the identity of the creator become’s lost in the subject’s notoriety. And work that exists only online disrupts the consumer/collector culture around art for it cannot be bought or displayed for others to view. When artwork exists outside of a deem able ” art” context, it is challenging the idea that only art in museums is legitimate, and everything else is apart of real life and is positively not art. “Art after social media is paradoxically the rejection and reflection of the market.”

While her artwork is also featured in gallery spaces and publications, Petra Collins went “viral” when her Instagram account was taken down for posting a picture of her unwaxed body in a bikini. This started to politicize the selfie, and made social media the battle ground between self expression and internet censorship.


On a very unrelated note, the work of Ai Wei Wei utilizes social media as a political platform. His series “Leg Gun” started as him posting a picture to his Instagram in honor of the anniversary of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, where he is posing with his leg as if it’s a gun.

e5b18fe5b995e5bfabe785a7-2014-11-01-22-59-01 (1)

Now thousands of posts can be found on Instagram under the hashtag #leggun.


Representation and its Complications: Dana Schutz, Jason Lazarus, Vivian Sassen

Each article I read this week offered a new perspective to ideas I previously thought had been concrete. The moral turmoil begun as I read about the Dana Schutz painting at the Whitney Biennial of  Emmett Till titled Open Casket. 

till whitney

I have a problem with the way Till is represented: abstracted and stylized as if there was no regard for the function of the original photograph- to make the world wholly aware of the horrors of racist violence. I had a problem with a white woman thinking she had the right to appropriate this image for her own use. Part of me understood the perspective offered in the article Censorship, Not the Painting, Must Go, and I agree that not all provocative or controversial art should be burned or trashed. However, if through her art, Dana Schutz is most concerned about being empathic towards mothers who have survived their children, she should not have assumed the responsibility of re-representing Emmett Till’s disfigured corpse. Produce a painting of Till’s mother if that is the source of your strife (yet you will never understand the burden of being a black mother with the privilege you have as a white mother).

I briefly tried to re-evaluate my claims against Schultz when reading the Darby English essay in Black Is Black Ain’t. I was inspired by his complicated analysis of Emmett Till and how he can be represented. Ideas of desire, optimism, interracial intimacy, are all weaved into what Till is a symbol for; he cannot be simplified into only being an “avatar for separation” (English).  I thought, is Schultz adding necessary complication to Till’s image by her abstraction and the fact that she is a white woman? But Schultz does not allow the space for questioning like Jason Lazarus does in Standing at the Grave of Emmett Till. Lazarus makes it a point to question his relationship with Till, an interracial relationship, which is at the heart of the reason for Till’s murder. Schultz’ representation of Till adds nothing new to the conversation. While yes, she is bringing his image into the public dialogue once more, she does not justify to me why she needed to be the artist to do it.




Regarding the work of Vivian Sassen, I did not feel like the articles did a very good job in describing the complexities of her work. In Racism as Style, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa analyzed her work alongside photographers putting white models in blackface, which I thought was a slightly unfair treatment.

Sassen’s work is highly personal and refers to her childhood, her fears, her places of comfort. Her work is also highly mysterious. While there were titled sections at the MoCP show, the pieces themselves were not titled, making our distance from the content clear. I understand how this could be seen as problematic with the inclusion of black people, and her lack of information about them. This could be seen as exploitation of a group of people for her own gain. However, I would argue that all her subjects remain a mystery, even her landscapes.


I do not believe she is exoticising the African population. Doesn’t Sassen offer the same conversation about interracial relations that Lazarus offers? The relation of Sassen to Africa (living there for three years), her intimate relation to African people while also feeling like an outsider? I’m not sure if this the correct response because, of course, we need to critically engage with any work that may be tending towards exploitation of any under represented people. But I also feel that her motives and practice are not fully examined in either of the articles posted. “Sassen is not summing up Africa” (Robert Leonard), she is attempting to explain her experiences through her art.

Ideas For Final

I have been very interested in this idea of the “spectacle”. I first was introduced to this concept when reading Guy Debord’s essay, Society of the Spectacle in relation to my own personal work surrounding media and celebrity culture. And then I was excited to hear the term again when we read Susan Sontag’s essay Regarding the Pain of Others:  

According to a highly influential analysis, we live in a “society of spectacle.” Each       situation has to be turned into a spectacle to be real- that is, interesting-to us. People themselves aspire to become images: celebrities. Reality has abdicated. There are only representations: media.” 

I am interested to how we consume and digest images when we live in this era of the spectacle, how do images function in an image saturated world? I want to discuss how the internet plays a part in fueling our obsession with spectacles, and how social media has impacted this as well. Hopefully Omar Kholief’s book You Are Here: Art After the Internet will prove helpful.
I think I will write a research paper on this subject, as I am still researching this idea and trying to find images to support my thesis.

Photography and the Pain of Others

Much of the  essay Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag spends critiquing and reworking her own ideas stated in her famous piece On Photography. She goes on to lay out a couple key ideas that she will explore:

“The first idea is that public attention is steered by the attentions of the media-which means, most decisively, images. When there are photographs, a war becomes ‘real’.”


The second being,  “in a world saturated, no, hyper-saturated with images, those that should matter have a diminishing effect: we become callous. In the end, such images just make us a little less able to feel, to have our conscience pricked.”

On Sontag’s first idea, I find it interesting to think about a hierarchy of viewership: what images of pain we are allowed to see (by the media gatekeepers) and what images are not given “airtime”. When we see more images of dead Middle Eastern civilians and see no images of dead American soldiers (examples taken from Reinhardt’s essay), how does this shape our cultural consciousness? But even a more broad idea, that seeing images makes things “real”. The Vietnam war, being the first televised war, provided images that mobilized anti war action, because we could see the atrocities for ourselves.

But now, it is not just television and nightly news that provides us with daily images of violence and horror; it is our phones, our apps that notify us when Trump has signed an executive order, it is social media and our 1,000 ‘friends’ all posting multiple times a day. Sontag suggests that we become numb to these images.”Image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content.”

This brings us to the idea of the spectacle, which Sontag suggests is a tactic to shock us with imagery as a way to gain attention. News has become entertainment, which is especially apparent in today’s politics, it is like we are witnessing real life SNL. But this is where it gets interesting, she suggests that being able to view news critically as entertainment is privileged viewership, and assuming that everyone can afford to be a spectator. “There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.” This is the danger of televised images of pain and suffering, and being consumers of these images: If the news is trivializing images of war by treating them as entertainment and as a spectacle, it is suggesting that there is no “real suffering in the world”.

The inherent component of photography is sight, and in regards to viewing photographs of war and pain and suffering, that’s all we can do, see them from a distance. “Neither is the photograph supposed to repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering it picks out and frames. Such images cannot be more than an invitation to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine the rationalizations for mass suffering offered by established powers.” But she also says there is nothing wrong with standing at a distance, seeing, and thinking, when confronted with these images. For as long as we don’t have amnesia (Sontag’s word) to the horrors of the world, we are not heartless.


I found Reinhardt’s essay profoundly difficult to digest, so I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and ideas in class. I’ll go through the primary ideas I gained from Picturing Violence: 

Images of pain and suffering are burned into our cultural memory. “It is hard to forget them, even if we want to do so.”

The anxieties that surround the of aesthetization of photographs of suffering. The primary critique of these images being: “Aestheticising suffering is both artistically and politically reactionary, a way of mistreating the subject and inviting passive consumption, narcissistic appropriation, condescension, or even sadism on the part of the viewer.”

I found the comparison between Joel Meyerowitz and Thomas Ruff interesting. Both making images from the 9-11 attacks, Meyerowitz having granted insider access to make images on ground zero, and Ruff taking jpeg images from the internet of the actual towers falling, as an outsider. Ruff’s image causing more of a moral predicament for viewers, for Ruff’s image being from the actual attack, where actual people were dying inside the building.


Although I’m unsure the positions Sontag or Reinhardt would take on this piece, I thought of the work by Carrie Mae Weems that we saw at the MCA a while back. There is a use of text that offers historical reference, but she is not photographing the actual incident, or including images of people. Does this aestheticize suffering too? Does it trivialize the events at Ebo Landing? Or does it give us knowledge and awareness to such violence?



Michael Fried: The Tableau


Michael Fried begins the chapter with the statement that the tableau form is “arguably the most decisive development in the rise of new art photography…”. What this means is that all of a sudden in the late 1970’s and 1980’s we have a major shift from photographs that are small, portable, and intimately viewed, to photographs that are made for the wall and provide a largely confrontational experience for their audience. Viewers are no longer just looking at a photograph in relation to its content or subject matter, but they are viewing the photograph and its relation to space, light, and vision.


The term “tableau” was coined by a French art historian and art critic, Jean-Francois Chevrier, from his book The Adventures of the Tableau Form in the History of Photography. Like I stated previously, Chevrier defines the tableau by being “designed and produced for the wall”. Meaning that these photographs cannot be collected and stored in a box, and how this sharply contrasts with how we usually experience photographs, i.e in magazines and books (especially now on our smartphones). He says, “The photographers of today who consider themselves and manifest themselves as artists – taking into consideration the public space in which they exhibit – can no longer merely ‘take’ pictures; they must cease them to exist, concretely, give them the weight and gravity, within an actualized perceptual space, of an ‘object of  thought’”. He also states that even if these photographs are returning to the formalist ideas of painting, it is not to elevate photographic art to the level of painting, it is about creating a more fragmented, open, and contradictory viewing experience.


The first photographer Fried references in relation to  his ideas about the tableau is Thomas Ruff. In Ruff’s early work, shown here, he photographed his friends and colleagues on colored backdrops with a view camera and a single flash. Focused on eliminating any sense of the personal psychology of any of his sitters, he photographed them as “busts” (from the shoulders up) and encouraged them to give as neutral expressions as possible.  Ruff is quoted saying “photographs show only the surface of things anyway”, so basically what’s the point? Fried references an interview in which Ruff answered questions in a very matter of fact and brash way. He’s probed to answer why he wants to frustrate viewers by not giving them hints as to who these people are, he says, “Do they want to know the person’s name, address, or what they do for a living, or do they want to know something about their inner lives? What good would that do?” THE TABLEAU (4)

As his work progresses, Ruff makes the leap to producing large “tableau” style prints, which Fried credits to Jeff Wall making his lightbox images at this time, which he suggests, probably inspired Ruff. In the chapter, this work is referred to as “monumental icons of blankness”; a huge amount of detail in the subject, but at the same, revealing nothing about any one of these subjects. Fried brings up the term “facingness” to identify the extremely frontal expression from these subjects- with this large-scale “facingness”, and lack of psychological representation, we relate to these photos more as surfaces rather than subjects- which, falling in line more with painting, abstracts and confuses our idea of what portrait photography should do (usually, to discover some social identity) and absolutely supports Freud’s ideas around tableau photography.


Fried spends a fair amount of time comparing Ruff’s portraits to those by Manet. In the same way Ruff want’s his photographs to just be thought of as photographs, Manet’s portraits directly reference painting in the way you can see the brush strokes, and line qualities. They both represent anonymous subjects, and draw attention directly back to their medium. While Fried doesn’t want to compare these two too closely, he wants to acknowledge the importance of the roles they played in their separate movements: Manet for modernist painting, and Ruff for the rise in large scale art photography.


In Ruff’s other work, we see the same themes at work. The frontal quality of his subjects, the “facingness” as Fried says, and so detached and objective that they become mere shells of the objects we would normally identify with, and in this sense, abstracted. THE TABLEAU (7)

Fried spends the majority of this chapter talking about Andreas Gursky. Gursky is a year younger than Ruff, and studied at the same school. THE TABLEAU (8)

There are some definite aesthetic themes running through Gursky’s work, one of which, is Fried’s own term of “anti theatricality” (as in the subjects are unaware of the photographer). Fried also discusses the hyper-distance between Gursky and his “subjects”, if you can call them that, so much so that the viewer does not feel a connection to any of them. Fried references a time when Gursky, only after seeing his printed images, did he realize that there were hikers on the landscape that he did not previously notice. Fried calling this, “the oldest, simplest, and most rewarding pleasures of photography”- the discovery that the camera can capture subject matter that the human eye does not identity at the time of the exposure. This distance is key to Gursky’s work: he severs the relationship between subject and beholder, and there are simultaneously microscopic and macroscopic elements- tiny figures that require close examination, and expansive landscapes that require the viewer to step back to take it all in. THE TABLEAU (9)

In addition, his unusually high vantage point not only drives home the importance of distance (both physical and psychological) but also completely assuring the viewer that it would be impossible for his subjects to be aware that they are being photographed (aka anti theatricality). THE TABLEAU (10)

The next phase of Gursky’s development, Fried argues is another major development in art photography, is the move towards “all-overness”. Still having small figures in the frame, but having them fill the frame in a chaotic and dense mass. While the photographs seemingly represent a whole world, Fried notes that we are far from a part of that world. Fried cites an art critic, Galassi, when he says, “We may study its details at our leisure, we may even elect ourselves to sit in judgement upon it, but we will never become participants”.


Fried notes that the act of seeing is directly emphasized in all of Gursky’s work. We able to see things because of the photograph that we wouldn’t be able to see with our eyes, and this is different from anything previously known. Fried argues that with the lack of emphasis on the photographer as well as the viewer, the photograph can truly become abstract, “where abstraction stands not simply for the subordinate of subject matter to compositional principles, but rather for the picture’s exclusive preoccupation with its own inner purposes, whatever they may be”.  THE TABLEAU (12)

Lastly, we have Luc Delahaye. He is a photojournalist turned fine art photographer, and similar to Ruff and Gursky, Delahaye uses a view camera to produce large-scale photographs, and emphasizes the importance of distance and psychological detachment. He started photographing the Parisian homeless population, but would look away at the time of the exposure, while they were alone in a photobooth. More recently, he makes expansive and almost panoramic war style photographs, but is such a great distance away from anything that would of interest to a photojournalist, and he often digitally composites elements from various photos. THE TABLEAU (13)

Again, like Ruff and Gursky, he faults on the side of being overly objective, and thus faces the criticism of being distant and emotionally detached when depicting such controversial subject matter. Delahaye says, “I am cold and detached, sufficiently invisible because sufficiently insignificant, and that is how I arrive at a presence to things, and a simple direct relation to the real.” Fried suggests that we should feel disturbed by the the details found in the scene- the way a piece of straw falls across the dead soldier’s face. Delahaye presents a wealth of information in the frame, but leaves it up to the viewer to what he/she wants to focus on, and wants to become as invisible in the process as possible and also wants to appear indifferent. THE TABLEAU (14)

To wrap up, Clement Greenberg says photography is the most transparent of the art mediums. Greenberg says that this is why it’s so difficult to make the photograph transcend its almost inevitable function as a document and act as a work of art as well. The viewer wants to see directly through the surface to the “real” subject matter, unlike in painting where the surface is inevitably seen first. I’ll quote Fried in the concluding section when he says, “the function of the tableau form has been to counteract or compensate for the transparence of the photographic surface by keeping the viewer at a distance from the latter, not just physically… but also imaginatively.”