Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Art Basel 42, Interview with artist Jimmy Raskin

written by Peter Duhon in Basel, Switzerland

Art Comments caught up with New York based artist and author, Jimmy Raskin, during the biggest art week of the summer, at Art Basel in their section devoted to important, mid-career artists, Art Statements. Raskin's work is being presented by the Miguel Abreu Gallery from New York.

Known for seductive confessions that expand the notion of confession and the work, similarly his art practice isn't restricted to critique alone, rather, it combines scholarly rigor with imaginative productive fantasy that captivates without appearing sentimental or too romantic.

Jimmy Raskin is an artist we 'bookmarked' awhile ago as someone to keep an eye on, so we were truly delighted to speak with him. His relaxed demeanor, coupled with his intellectual breadth were not overbearing but served as an example of what makes Art Basel a key event for curators, dealers, collectors and artists.

Art Comments: Your work looks great in the booth, did you create the work specifically for the space and this exhibition?

Jimmy Raskin: I think that most artists here do that, you have to submit a proposal 6 months in advance and you have to stick pretty close to what you propose. So I think that for something like Statements, artists pretty much have something in mind or make something specific for this project. The work here in Statements comes from work that I've had going on for a bit but I definitely made it for this exhibition.

AC: The press release for your presentation, The Burden of Display (The Return of the Drunken Boat), states, "Raskin posits that one must acknowledge these two crucial events - Arthur Rimbaud's epic Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) and Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra - of cultural history in order to strive toward the new artwork, and the new artist; a poetic spirit seeking to trumpet the sublime." Is this a form of a manifesto for you?

JR: It's interesting, this has been a kind of healthy debate that I've had with the gallery: one doesn't need to know these texts to get the work. They've activated the sculptures as an electric charge you might say but they're definitely functional without having to know those texts. With that said, you mentioned manifesto, they have that function because for me they act as essential doctrines more than manifestos. Because they both have in common that they test the poets relevancy as a kind of transitional figure or mode of expression. So for Nietzsche, it's specifically focused that the new being is combined with a poet and philosopher, and after the destruction of meaning based on non-meaning the poet becomes all the more relevant but the poetry more than the poet, meaning that Nietzsche very carefully through the story of Zarathustra critiques the vanity and false beliefs of poets in order to take on poetry in service of philosophy.

So what I've always been interested in is the poet as a sort of martyr figure in my work long before I even investigated Zarathustra. But I found it most potent in the prologue of Zarathustra that he goes through his own kind of lesson in the prologue where he was still too much a poet, he was still a bit too much on the side of nostalgia and the belief in the performance of poetry that kind of blinded him from foreseeing a critique by the audience. In the prologue I always see that as the last ground of this kind of more classic flamboyant poet who is not controlled by the philosopher or controlled by critical distance. That kind of flamboyant naiveté and vanity is kind of there. I did a lot of work on Zarathustra through my art, and through lectures, sort of like going back and making sure we understand the sort of martyr position of the poet that he critiques.

With Rimbaud, specifically, he's a dual figure of critique and inspiration in the sense that in his youthful kind of zeal, he believed in the poet as voyeur and as a seer in a kind of flamboyant belief of the poets function that way. On the other hand, he is sort of a precursor to semiotics in the sense that language became the focus itself and that the author moves into the background, but for every move he made to have a tension on language itself, he inserted a kind of lines vanity in his writing. So it is almost like the last call for the author before the author is destroyed.

For this show in particular, I bring back Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat poem which was created just before prose was really taken on, the structure poem just before the openness of prose. So I'm kind of bringing us back to that moment just before breaking through.

Jimmy Raskin, Miguel Abreu Gallery at Art Basel Statements

AC: There's a character you've created who is in this exhibition, Pinn, someone you've been working with for several years now. Has Pinn matured or grown throughout the years?

JR: No, as you can see, he's passed out, sleeping underneath the display case. But what he has gone through is like that stone that has been on the beach for awhile that gets smoothed over, simplified, and purified. He began as a rendering cartoon of what the poet performer might look like as a diagram but also there's always a fight between the diagram as a function and the cartoon that it becomes when it is not watching itself it gets its own legs and becomes flamboyant and exaggerates. So Pinn is sort of like the diagram that's been trapped in a cartoon. He represents a possibility of meaning and he is sort of there waiting to be filled. He's been consistent that way for a long time.

AC: Could tell us about the upcoming book, On Becoming an Ass: Jimmy Raskin's Poetics of the Misfire?

JR: That's a fun book, and what's interesting about it is that it is written by someone I've known for many years, a fantastic artist named David Colosi. We have a relationship over the years related to text, he's a writer and an amazing poet, and we've read together as long as 20 years ago. He sprung this book on me that I didn't know he was writing and the premise of the book is that he has documented crucial mistakes that I've made in my writings for over 20 years which are both grammatical and the wrong interpretations of other writers. But he calls them the right kind of mistakes. Meaning that the mistakes are aspects of leaping, a bit prematurely in some cases but cleverly, he is able to talk about my work through these errors. Which I realize that if anyone reads it, it is not a humiliating thing the way he cites them. For example, he references other errors that writers have made that they've learned to keep. There's the famous one with Heidegger where instead of saying, "think your way into being" he says, "thing your way into being". And it is hard to argue whether or not he kept it and then worked with it or it was just a mistake.

What he specifically writes about is a book that I wrote called The Poet, The Poltergeist &The Hollow Tree where I theorize that a character from Nietzsche's Zarathustra escapes through Pinocchio because there's a connection where a central metaphor in the beginning of the book is this tightrope walker that's the first metaphor used by Zarathustra publicly in front of an audience. The tightrope walker dies and instead of burying him he put's him into a hollow tree. And I theorize that this is the spirit that became Pinocchio as a way for this metaphor to become a real boy and to be buried appropriately.

Colosi diggs into my theory and disproves it because of the time of the two stories. But then again, he also says that the artist has creative freedom.

AC: Thank you for your time and the interview.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Report: Art Fair Hong Kong 2011

ART HK 26th- 29th May 2011
They came, they saw,  yet they didn't buy much

written by Bharti Lalwani

HK Art Fair returned with its fourth edition firmly establishing itself as one of the world's premier art fairs. What was different this year was that the fair was split into two floors - The lower level for established galleries while the upper floor was reserved for Art Futures (younger galleries) and a new feature Asia One where Asian galleries could exhibit solo shows by emerging artists, allowing for more breathing space for artworks as well as between booths unlike last year when, on the day of the Vernissage, you couldn't move two feet without hearing the sound of breaking champagne flutes! New participants this year were Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Blum & Poe, Peter Nagy's Nature Morte from Delhi and Vitamin Creative Space from Hong Kong.

Blue chip galleries this year took a risk by bringing in a variety of works by recognizable artists - White Cube, instead of solely focusing on works by Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin, brought a good selection of other artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hellscape Dass Kapital ist Kaput? Ja? Nein! Dummkopf! (2008) which surprisingly sold to an Asian collector for £525,000 and Hauser & Wirth from London which sold Bharti Kher’s An eye for an eye, (2011) to a Beijing-based collector for US$265,000. Note that all sales figures mentioned are from ART HK's post fair press release where there is no mention of a Warhol sale, surprisingly. Speaking of Warhol, I spotted Jose Mugrabi (reportedly the biggest individual collector of works by Andy Warhol) at a NY gallery's booth. The main floor on the whole felt dull, empty even, and the sales seemed slow in comparison to the upper section Asia One and Art Features where works were not only affordable but also more experimental, edgy, uninhibited and apparently “fun” judging by the number of families out with kids to explore art! But here's the thing, for an art fair in Asia, who do you think will make better sales- the overseas gallery selling Venessa Beecroft, Olafur Eliasson or Yinka Shonibare or the Asian gallery selling Chinese or Indonesian artists such as Liu Wei, Yan Pei-Ming, Fx Harsono or Heri Dono, whose representatives can speak at least Cantonese or Bahasa? After all, why should a Chinese or a Southeast Asian collector buy Tracy Emin, for instance, when her work has absolutely no resonance with this particular audience?

L & M's (NY) Francois Renet explained his decision for bringing in heavy-weight works which would be new and unfamiliar to the Asian audience such as a 1961 soft sculpture by Claes Oldenburg as well as a Jeff Koons Walrus Trash can which went unsold (his Orange Monkey Train painting did sell to an Asian buyer for USD 3.5 million). Basically L&M and many other galleries are in agreement with fair director Magnus Renfrew that the primary focus is not on making “blockbuster sales” but instead on educating the diverse audiences many of whom are treading towards an art fair for the first time. The fair then becomes a hub for an exchange of ideas and not just about “Asian Audience” learning about “western artists” but the other way round as well.

As we all know now Art Basel has bought into Art Hk (which has bought into India Art Summit-now India Art Fair) so it will be extremely interesting to watch the eastern hemisphere with 2012 kicking off with former Basel head Rudolph Lorenzo's Art Stage Singapore (or A.S.S) 12-15th January, then India 25-29th of the same month followed by Hong Kong 2-5th February. But before you think “fair fatigue”, get this- Lorenzo was at Art Hk to assure potentially interested galleries that he would be willing to change the dates around as its too close to India and HK, while I have it on good authority that Magnus will keep the May dates as businesses will be shut during the Chinese New Year for the entire month starting end of Jan 2012! Unless I'm completely wrong and Art HK maintains its Feb dates on the presumption that the locals will forgo their lunar holidays just because there's an art fair in town!