Thursday, January 31, 2008

Critique on Harrell Fletcher's practice by Steve Reinke

This blog was pulled from a site if anyone is interested in visiting it for other critiques. I just thought this particular one on Fletcher was relevant to our class since we're working in public space so much. Any thoughts on it?

Oh, and if you don't know Harrell Fletcher's work, it's one of the linked sites here on the blog and you should check him out. 

~~After Harrell Fletcher’s presentation Thursday — and in light of the my post-talk questions and comments, which seemed to many to be, despite my overt praise of the work, to be covertly critical — I’ve been asked what I really think about Fletcher’s work.

Well, I like and enjoy much of it, though I find little to admire. (One work, “Blot Out the Sun,” is one of my favourite videos in recent years, a perversely effective and affecting screen adaptation of Joyce’s “Ulysses.”)

Fletcher’s work is based on various types of social interaction, though the interactions tend to be staged with the control of a politician’s photo-op. It is reminiscent of two things I like very much: an old segment on “Sesame Street” with the theme song “These are the people in your neighbourhood,” and a Christmas-themed commercial for Coke, of which there’ve been several versions over the years, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” I have to admit, as a child the beauty of the commercial’s sentiment made me weep; if it were to have the same effect on me today it would be for very different reasons.

In Fletcher’s work the social is presented as benign, participatory, homogenous, quirkily interesting, sweetly concerned. Kind of like Disneyland, but with organic food and recycling.

Certain types of advertising (and all political photo-ops) carefully select their social subjects even as they are meant to stand in for everyone: good people, everyday people, people like you, hard-working, sincere, just trying to get ahead and do the right thing, hopeful, salt of the earth. It is all very controlled, with only positive participation allowed. Everything else is disavowed.

Ernst Zundel lives in my neighbourhood in Toronto. He’s a very active holocaust denier, his tracts known worldwide. I think it’s fine to have work that foregrounds the nice people in a neighbourhood, but they’re not really a concern to me. I feel a greater need to know about the problematic ones. But in Fletcher’s neighbourhood, holocaust deniers simply do not exist. They’ve been disavowed, repressed. Could Zundel participate in a Fletcher piece? Yes, he would be able to come and give a demonstration of his macrame. That other stuff, the disagreeable stuff, would remain unspoken and unacknowledged. Disavowed, repressed.

This is a horrible thing, antithetical to my view of art and my idea of ethical living.

Hence my initial question to Harrell: “How would collaborate with people who you hate, or find disagreeable or boring?” He could not, of course, admit to the existence of hateful or disagreeable people, though he was able to say a few words about the boring: he would simply not participate with them.

Do you know the compulsory happiness, optimism and enthusiasm of pep rallies and Disneyland? Everything works fine as long as you play along and smile and clap your hands, but if you challenge it with some sort of negativity, the mouse will kill you. Nobody likes a party pooper.

I fear we have entered into an era as charming and insipid as the 1950s is reputed to have been. If this is so, Harrell Fletcher is the artist we deserve: cynically affirmative, allowing no space for difference, dissent, irony or negativity. Deeply conservative, Fletcher adopts the conventions of advertising, political photo-ops and civics for Kindergarteners, deploying an aggressively anti-critical and anti-theoretical stance to keep his bullshit real and untouched by any kind of thinking.~~

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