Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 3)
Chapter 2: The Cultural Life of Detritus: From Objet Trouvé to the Art of Assemblage
Arjun Appadurei et al’s The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, 1986) marked a return to objects as a focus for anthropological study. This discusses the varying commodity potential of all things; dependent on their social history or cultural biography. (p.31)
Whiteley cites Allan Kaprow’s comments on his preference for using the debris of mass culture – ‘the medium of refuse’ – as part of a purposeful attempt to ‘abandon craftsmanship and permanence’: “…the use of obviously perishable materials such as newspaper, string, adhesive tape, growing grass or real food… so… no-one can mistake the fact the wok will pass into dust or garbage quickly.” (New Forms – New Media exhibition catalogue, New York, 1960). (p.33)
Assemblage is the main feature of this chapter. In the section Curiosities, Collections and Memorabilia, Whiteley describes assemblage as a “fundamental proves of collecting, sorting and arranging objects and paper-based ephemera. (p.34)
She also relates assemblage to museum classification and categorisations systems i.e. sorting by chronology, shape, material and location. Here she cites Mark Dion (Colleen J. Sheey’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Mark Dion and the University as Installation, 2006), Neil Cummings and Marysa Lewandowksa’s The Value of Things, Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive exhibition (2005, Barbican) and Susan Stewart’s On Longing, Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (1984) p.151: “In contrast to the souvenir, the collection offers example rather than sample, metaphor rather than metonymy.” Furthermore on souvenirs: “Souvenirs act as surrogate experiences, second-hand experiences. The souvenir is always a referent hence always incomplete, and the narrative of the souvenir is not related to the object but to the possessor. Objects can be viewed as indexical of collective memory or as agent of imagined community but the subject rather than the object provide the narrative.” (p.35-36).
The chapter section The Art Assemblage largely focuses on the seminal exhibition of the same title held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1961, curated by William Seitz with Peter Selz. Whiteley asserts that Seitz chose to link assemblages much more to poetics than politics (p.45). She also notes that although extensively researched, the participating artists were mainly from North America and Europe (p.49).
From the exhibition catalogue, Seitz is quoted, “When paper is soiled or lacerated, when cloth is split, weathered, or patterned wit peeling coats of paint, when metal is bent or rusted, they gain connotations which unmarked materials lack.” (p.84-45 The Art of the Assemblage, NY, 1961)
Whitely concludes the chapter asserting that museum as institution has framed the canon of assemblage (p.51) and that the show “broke down disciplinary boundaries and provided trash with a new narrative, a cultural life of its own.” (p.53)
Chapter 3: Dissenters, Drifters and Poets: ‘Placing’ Assemblage in the San Francisco Bay Area
In this chapter, Whiteley provides a genealogy of Californian assemblage and junk artists. “In the late 1980s Sandra Starr equated Californian assemblage with Dada – not for the use of trash, but because she identified their shared sense of disgust with the world at large” (Lost and Found in California).
Lucy Puls’ “hoarding unwanted objects” (p.54)
Marcia Tanner’s “transforming consciousness” and the “mystical attraction of the unknown” (p.54)
Doreen Massey’s “No authenticity of place” (Space, Place and Gender, London, 1994, p.121) (p.54)
Clay Spohn’s Museum of Unknown and Little Known Objects (1940s) California School of Art (p.57)
Mike Kelley “thrift store aesthetics” – Jacques Ranciere: the Politics of Aesthetics (2000, London NY) (p.59)
Lana Davies: ‘the epiphany of the everyday’ sourced to Stephen Dedulus’ enlightenment in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (p.61)
Gordon Wagner making art out of detritus since 1940s, beach combing. (p.66)
Bruce Conner – self-described as radical not political, theatrical as opposed to Rauschenberg ‘painterly collagiste.’ Solnit associates with folk art over Dada [repugnant objects and formless materials]. (p.68-9)
Rat Bastard Protective Group (people who were making things from the detritus of society) named after San Francisco refuse collectors and acronym of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) (p.71-2)
Kathryn Space’s interest in methodologies of classification (subvert classification) collaboration and ‘relational’ practices, participative rather than polemic. (p.74)