Two Manifestos and a Strongly Worded Suggestion

by Liby Hays

published April 29, 2016

The Mini Manifesto

(It is important for the purposes of this argument that you note the semantic difference between Minimalism and Mini-malism.)

There is little in the sphere of contemporary art that Duchamp, in his genius, failed to anticipate. His prankish and provocative creations have informed the work of conceptual artists, kinetic sculptors, installation artists and the like from their inception through to the present day.  But there is one crucial way in which Duchamp still remains more progressive than most of the contemporary art world in 2016: his embrace of the MINI. Duchamp’s Box in a Valise (1935-41)—created in an edition of 20—contained, along with pictorial reproductions of the artist’s most famous paintings and readymades, tiny replicas of select works themselves, such as Fountain. It can be interpreted as both the artist’s attempt to reclaim his legacy by summarizing the scope of his accomplishments, and an ironic jab at the reproductions of artworks that museums hocked to generate revenue. The shrinking allows the works to be considered all at once, but also further complicates their relationship to functionality and commodification. But since Duchamp, the mini’s presence in the art world has been scarce, and contemporary sculpture has been, to a great extent, wedded to the human scale.  That is to say, a large percentage of the objects accepted as sculpture within the fine arts sphere approximate the dimensions of the human corpus (it’s the one formal characteristic that unifies most of Minimalist sculpture, for example). The mini, on the other hand, is seen as pure illustration; souvenir; kitsch—incapable of self-reflection—and is more or less excluded from highbrow discourse. 


The mini, in fact, has potential to transcend these categories and actually become a symbol of FREEDOM and EQUALITY for artists. It comes down to the fact that not everyone has the SPACE, TIME or RESOURCES to produce large-scale works. To create a mini, one needs no studio space, power tools, or technical education. There are virtually no health risks (RIP Raymond Johnson, crushed underneath Richard Serra’s “Sculpture No. 3”) and one can easily work with scraps acquired for FREE. And since they are so low-cost to produce, there is less pressure to sell mini works—guarding them from the pressures of today’s increasingly trendy and market-driven art world. 

There is the presumption that the mini can produce only certain affects, lacks a presence in the room, and is inexorably tied to femininity and babies. It is the mission of the Mini-malists to CHALLENGE these assertions, perhaps through photography, video, and other curatorial and display strategies, in order to prove that Minis, too, can be self-aware and critical. Not to mention, scale is void when it comes to online documentation. Indy readers, the time has come: clench your nimble fingers into a fist and join the Mini-malist revolution today!


The Spine Manifesto

There has been much feminist consternation over the puerile bent of psychoanalytic discourse, which can’t seem to completely uncouple the idea of the “phallus” as a sort of active, privileged symbol that anchors the symbolic order, from the penis, a biological organ we associate with maleness. In literature and art criticism, too, anything instrumental (a pen, a sword) or longer-than-it-is-wide is interpreted as a reference to the phallus/penis. Despite the common objection that these associations promote a patriarchal world order—that even in attempts to dismantle these prejudiced structures, connecting power with penises creates an inherent bias towards the masculine—it is difficult to counteract this collective mentality.


My solution is one of substitution. In a proportional (as well as symbolic) sense, humans themselves are phalluses. This is due to the integrality of the SPINE to human anatomy. What I propose to counteract phallogocentrism is a reconstitution of the empowered columnar object as a metaphor for the SPINE, the vital nexus of nerve information that separates us from the squids and clams! The spine may very well be the UR-SYMBOL, as it is LITERALLY the body’s conduit for symbolic messaging from the brain. It is the endogenous, rather than extraneous, mechanism of power and extension. Its main relationship to instrumentality lies in its transference of internal information—although it also serves as an external signifier. Like the penis, its power is related to rigidity: a stiff, upright spine signifies confidence and authority, whereas a hunched spine signifies weakness and subservience. So the next time you want to interpret a skyscraper as a steel and glass embodiment of the male member, think again. Perhaps it instead echoes the evolutionary triumph of the human race—our arched, apish backs unfurling over the millennia until we finally stood tall enough to look over the tall grasses at approaching predators. #RECLAIMTHESPINE! 


The Printer Page Hack

As a general rule, 20th century modern artists honed a certain “shtick” and stuck with it—Georgia O’Keeffe renders erotic close-ups of nature, John Chamberlain mashes up industrial materials, Lawrence Weiner does starkly poetic, sans-serif wall text, etc. Entering a gallery show by one of these artists, you would know, roughly, what to expect. But contemporary art is increasingly defined by a different pattern of activation. The shows that feel most successful emphasize the cross-disciplinary diversity of a single artist’s efforts. Paralleling how corporations have diversified to the extent that a golf club brand might also market bags, apparel, apps and the like, the most exciting contemporary artists are working in every medium at their disposal. The incongruous artworks shown side-by-side (or on adjacent walls, floors, and ceilings) may now be engaged in a pataphoric (beyond metaphoric) dialogue. For example, a casually framed and hung school portrait might stand in contrast with a labor-intensive anal-expulsive plaster assemblage. The most involved, hyperrealistic wax body sculpture might be offset by a flippant three-minute wall drawing. (Think of the otherworldly object juxtapositions of Helen Marten, Parker Ito, Ed Fornieles or Dineo Seshee Bopape, to name just a few.) The works on display are countercharged by one another: i.e. streamlined perfection can be offset by simple, sloppy, painterly, or overtly sentimental works which reveal the artist’s heart and hand. At the same time, these intimate products must be legitimized by tasteful framing, or be surrounded by other technically accomplished works. The discordances of a group show are accomplished by a single schizoid creator, the unofficial Master of Everything. The near-mythic narrativization of the work’s making becomes its crux, its freshness, the core of its energies. Wall captions are another tool to exploit for poetic potential, detailing the nitty-gritty specifics or sentimental significance of certain objects and materials used. For example, Brad Troemel will specify he’s using not just any kale juice but Whole Foods organic kale juice to paint with. A recent (albeit inconsequential) Dylan Lynch sculpture is captioned: “Sandblasted steel on dyed Merino wool, knit by the artist’s mother.” These artists’ desire for their work to be carefully parsed, each of the constituent objects or materials vibrating in its urgent obsolescence. They fetishize exactitudes and niche markets, in another corporate parallel. The intertextuality that enlivens these works elevates gallery shows to the level of superfictions: as if there is a mysterious, artful conspiracy afoot whose creative corruption exists on an institutional scale. It’s a new spin on the gallery as medium, in which what was formerly supplemental comes to the fore.

In summation, contemporary art values heterogeneity, specificity, nostalgia and the aestheticization of failure. As I see it, it has created a perfect storm for personal printer art. For there is no medium more impoverished than an 8 ½ by 11 print out, and therefore none more ripe for countercharging another more formally developed piece. In addition, the specificity of the printer itself could one day lend it cache as a material, particularly once that model of printer is discontinued. As a test run, try printing some of the google results for “wrinkled face collectible” or “baby shrek plush” (two of my personal favorite things to google.)  As I described in the Mini Manifesto, this strategy eliminates economic and technical barriers to entry for the gallery scene. You may one day be able to sell a printed page for thousands, if you take note of its specifics. I can’t recommend everyone do it, because it would stop being cool (this is no manifesto), but at this moment, at least, it is a highly legitimate and chic fabrication strategy.