Sunday, September 7, 2014

Foucault in wood? Denuded Lens by Roxy Paine at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea NYC

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The folks who saw Roxy Paine’s opening at Marianne Boesky Gallery were blown away by the raw visual impact of seeing various types of complex machinery intricately carved out of maplewood. So why would an artist do this?

Of course Duchamp jokingly pointed out that one aspect that makes something ‘art’ is its uselessness.  So he deliberately went about rendering things useless, which then opened them up for interpretations separate from but based on their functions – an upside down urinal, a stool with a bicycle wheel screwed to the seat etc. Paine also makes useless stuff by creating these objects in wood and removing all the color of all the visible parts and replacing all the industrial materials with one type of wood. Through this method we tend to focus more on the essence of the object and possible symbolic meanings while feeling a sense of powerless desire in the presence of the fake thing.

Also, I think we become more keenly aware that we live in a world of complex things that we, ourselves, cannot make. By looking at carved machines out of wood we become aware that we simply see the outsides or the packaging of complex machines. We have no idea what the inner workings of the stuff around us are. I have a fan running next to me and I have no idea how it really works.  I don’t really know what goes on in my computer, or the light socket in my room.  We live in a world of buttons and switches and we live our lives exhibiting a type of faith in, basically, magical processes – if I push this button, this will occur. If I turn on this switch, I will get a continuous gust of air.  In a secularized, scientifically dominated and technological world, we live more simply than hunter gatherers while engaging in the same basic if/then belief system they used in their religious practices.

By extension, we can say the same thing about ourselves.  We know very little about what’s under the surface of ourselves and others and our relations to others are as push-button as our relations to the complicated objects around us.

The centerpiece of Paine’s show, which dazzled everyone, is his huge diorama of an airport security scan checkpoint.  Through this Paine invites an investigation of how the threat of world terrorism has trickled down to penetrate each of our lives and how this threat may be used or may play into the larger picture of how, using Foucault here, our bodies are further controlled and disciplined by various forces in society.  Is this security system benign and meant to ensure safety or does it have ulterior consequences? Foucault wrote that visibility is a trap and he wrote about inducing a “…conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power…” To Foucault our bodies become trained to be ‘docile’ through this visibility process.

So in order to travel and exercise our freedom as empowered consumers, first we must humble ourselves to high school graduates in polyester uniforms who have the authority to potentially see intimate images of our bodies through invasive equipment. 

We are taught a lesson each time we exercise this freedom – sure you think you are somebody, but under various pretexts you can be made to stand with your arms in the air while someone of dubious educational ability gets to check out your ass. How do you feel about that?     

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