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Longing for Belonging?

(review of: Chris Kraus: Where art belongs)

I like how Chris Kraus always contextualizes the art she talks about. Art is always a product of circumstances (Xavier LeRoy) first and foremost. It is never just “the work” that stands on its own, at best informed by some unmutable history. Art to Chris Kraus is a subjective result of an attitude that is as much rooted in the artists condition of production as in the observer’s vantage point. “I am trying to find a way to work”, says Moyra Davey (pg. 108) while Janet Kim’s work as curator rests in her community as well as in her ability to build this community. The “Sex Workers Art Show” turns the conditions of production into a label and preserves enough proletarian drive to be not just art but also of political consequence.

Where art belongs” – the longing in the title already betrays the romantic in Chris Kraus. And that the romantic elements often closely relate to the conditions of production is my major problem with her writing. Why – when it touches the hardship and the alienation – does her writing avoid the confrontation by fleeing into a romantic world?

Confluency and conflation of personal history (Ce┼Łar and the Nazis) evoke Pynchon’s magical realism. In these essays meaning is given to art works and to attitudes of artists’ almost like a spell. By not quite saying the word, as if speaking it would render the magic void. This of course is just a different reading of the “romantic” touch in Chris Kraus work.

In this book Chris Kraus concentrates her art criticism on writing, like the poem of the Bernadette Corporation, or Moyra Davey’s Index Cards. Strange that I don’t feel the need to comment on the art works Kraus describes. This obviously is to do with the fact that I don’t know any of the works she describes. But it is not just that, her writing always contains a literary component (such as the topical juxtapositions in “Long century” and “Untreated Strangeness“) that shift the focus of analysis away from the art work and onto her own writing. Art describes art – so to speak. Maybe that – the literary form – is also what drives her interest concerning text and poetics in art. And she writes essays about art while writing as literary author. She even comments on the fact that writing about art is often expected to be available free off charge – even by artists who should know better. Another instance of keeping the focus of the conditions of productions.

Because to me the text “Where art belongs” is first and foremost about writing. These are – notwithstanding their valid explicit topics – ponderings on how to write. Form (cut ups), attitude (Suck), plot (creatures), all are more or less explicitly discussed in literary terms or using metaphors from writing.

“Specificity preempts boredom” (pg. 156). That’s Kraus, not boring, but specific, but also unable to generalize except on an artistic level. Chris Kraus employs in her writing – as has been pointed out in a number of the responses – a similar strategy to the editorial strategy of “Suck” magazine she describes in her essay “May 1969“. This strategy simply consists of not only not trying to remove the specific, i.e. the personal from the text and in consequence form the critical line of fire but instead in inviting that fire to be directed at the specfic/personal thereby very much missing the political.

A key question remains: Who is American Apparell? To me this is an exercise in how to create a villain. Attractive but disturbing, ambigious descriptions that could be ironic or not. A strange departure from the art market that is an important protagonist in the rest of the book. Instead American Apparell ventures beyond the art market, and by cutting out the middle man directly commodifies its (creative?) output. This might be brilliant, producing a higher ROI, but it is also giving up even the pretense of resistence, a conflict that remains central to what is meaningful about art. American Apparell is thus a villain, a brilliant villain maybe, but a villain nontheless.