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FINAL SHOWDOWN IN THE PEOPLE'S HOME. ART AS A RHETORIC OF NATIONALITY - AND OF ART

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FINAL SHOWDOWN IN THE PEOPLE'S HOME. ART AS A RHETORIC OF NATIONALITY - AND OF ART
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    Voume 2 Numero 3 Automne 1997 - Hiver 1998 FORM ES IDENTITAIRES 7 PRESENTATION DU NUMERO • PRESENTATION Marie Carani 9 FINAL SHOWDOWN IN THE PEOPLE'S HOME. ART AS A RHETORIC OF NATIONALITY· AND OF ART G6ran Sonesson 29 MIGRACl6N Y TRANSFORMACl6N CULTURAL. ARTISTAS LATINOAMERICANOS EN SUECIA Ximena Narea 47 TRANSSEXUALITY, METASEMIOTICITY, AND PHOTOGRAPHIC SURREALISM Anders Marner 61 POUR UNE SEMEIOT/QUE DE LA CREATION ARTISTIQUE Serge Legare 71 LES STRATEGIES DU TERRIER. POUR UNE MODELISATION DU CADRE DANS LE CADRE Anne Beyaert-Geslin 87 NACHLEBEN DE WARBURG Stefa'nia Caliandro 105 LA SEMIOTIQUE VISUELLE EST-ELLE UNE APPROCHE FORMALISTE ? Marie Carani COMPTES RENDUS 129 RUPTURES OU ECARTEMENT? (c.r. de Daniel Arasse, e sujet dans le tableau. Essais d iconographie analytique, Paris, Flammarion, 1997) Stefania Caliandro 135 ART ET PSYCHANALYSE (c.r. du col oque Art et psychanalyse, revue Parachute, Montreal, 5-6 decembre 1977 Stefania Caliandro 141 RESUMES •ABSTRACTS Ce numero sur les Formes identitaires a ete prepare sous la responsabite scientifique de Goran Sonesson (U. de Lund) et de Marie Carani U. Lava). Ths issue that focuses on Fonns of dentity has ben put ogether by Goran Sonesson (Lund U.) and Marie Carani U. Laval) ••• 5  E erybody knows that the Swedes, after leading a dull and yet (paradoxically) eventful life divided between free sex and rigid socialism, all end up (understandably) com mitting suicide. Everybody knows it but the Swedes. This is so because, for constitutional rea sons - reasons having to do with the constitution of our culture-, we are usually unable to look at ourselves from the outside. And, of course, it is connected to the fact that there has never been any particularly impressing amount of suicides, nor sex or socialism in Sweden, as testified, in the first instance, by statistics (and there is a lot of statistics in Sweden), and in two other instances by lived experience, mainly that of disappointed foreigners on the one hand and of disappointed Swedes on the other. Moreover, the little we once had of one of those uvery Swedish" goods, that is, socialism, has largely disappeared in recent decades, its remains continuing to crumble further every day in a pro cess which began before the fall of more sturdy socialist empires. This process, launched long before the short-lived liberal interregnum, has actual- © VISIO, 2, 3, automne 1997 - hiver 1998, 9-28. FINAL SHOWDOWN IN THE PEOPLE'S HOME. ART AS A RHETORIC OF NATIONALITY - AND OF ART • • Goran Sonesson Lund University ly gained in momentum with the return to power of the Social Democratic party, which, one upon a time (in Swedish fairy-tale time) created the Welfare state, also known as the Swedish Model, but which was familiar to the Swedes themselves as the People's Home. The latter term, literally translated into English, hardly conveys the cozi ness which the Swedish equivalent once evoked: it served in fact to transform the representatives of the State into Fatherfigures - or rather perhaps Motherfigures: i.e. benign protectors of the well being of each and every Swede. The exodus out of this newly devastated People's Home stands at the beginning of a rhetoric of nationality 1. 1. BEYOND THE THRESHOLD OF THE PEOPLE'S HOME In spite of the sarcastic view we have taken on sex, socialism, and suicides as the definitional features of Swedishness, we are not preoccupied with suggesting a rival trinity (although the Swedish artist Mcl.ns Wrange, in one if his most recent works, has made a forceful case for sports and statistics as two of its potential key members). Rather, ••• 9  • Formes identitaires the point of these remarks is to single out one spe cific kind of stereotype about a country, the one favoured by people who are members of other cultures. It is a kind of stereotype formed by persons who have no personal acquaintance with the cul ture in question and who then tend to project onto its image the (negation of the) values intrinsic to their own culture. In spite of what is often claimed about the utopical information society, present day mass-media, just like old time village gossip, tend to foster this kind of stereotyping because of the fragmentary nature of the information they convey. Thus, as an example of such an inverted stereotyping, several recent documentaries on Swedish television that featured a lot of authentic footage, have pictured the Mexican population as consisting of a small group of immensely rich per sons and a maj9rity of extremely poor ones, that is, a mass of olvidados, conjuring entirely out of existence thereby the important Mexican middle class. Another kind of stereotype is conceived by immigrants who do have a direct experience of the culture involved, but whose encounter with it is predetermined by the values of their own culture. It is essentially a mirror image, and thus function ally identical to the more familiar prejudices which the inborn population tends to hold about such immigrants. Since nowadays about thirteen per cent of the Swedish population is estimated to be made up of first and second generation immigrants, this kind of stereotyping is an essential ele ment of Swedish culture itself. Working in conjunction with the xenophobia of the Swedes, stereotypes of that kind account for the increasing ghettoization of immigrant cultures in contempo rary Swedish society, a ghettoization which large ly impedes the cross-fertilization that has been characteristic of earlier societies comprehending different cultures. Instead of evolving a new cultural identity developing out of a state of cultural (as well as social and racial) mestizaje, Sweden tends to dissolve today into several different soci eties. Then there is also the kind of stereotypes form ed by the members of a culture for the benefit of persons from other cultures, namely for the benefit of tourists. It is a kind of stereotyping created srcinally by cultural insiders, using and abusing all kinds of historical material, including regional characteristics of the country in question, the re sult of which is a mish-mash made with a lot of mauvaise foi usually for an economic motive. Unli ke the earlier types of stereotypes, instances of this kind tend to acquire pictorial forms, which pennit them to be multiplied, manipulated, and sold piece by piece. In Sweden, the regions of Norrland and Da ecarlia are two parts of the country most exploited as such tourist stereotypes of Swedishness. This is particularly paradoxical in the case of Norr and, the northern part of Sweden, the forlorn forest landscape of which most resembles the pic torial stereotypes known in other countries as Swedishness (complete with elks and Lapps), although to most Swedes, who predominantly ive in Sweden's Southern parts, it appears to be a ra ther marginal part of the country. Finally, and perhaps more surprisingly, there is a kind of stereotype which a culture forms about itself. This is, as we shall see, the most interesting form of stereotyping since it seems to be at the heart of the culture itself2, and thus seems to all appearances to be identical to the real culture, that which is the subject filtered by the other kinds of stereotypes. 2 CULTURE AS A STATE OF LIMITED INFORMATION At this point it is important to distinguish stereotypes from those generalizations which are part and parcel of ordinary life in any culture. Indeed, a culture is a sphere of existence in which certain things are taken for granted, for instance a particular socio-cultural Lifeworld in which the knowledge necessary for survival largely takes the form of typifications, thus permitting us to identify the shoemaker not only as an individual person but also as a shoemaker (which is useful when we want to have our shoes repaired), and a writer as an art critic (which might be useful, if you mistake me for one, when complaining about the way this essay has been written). Stereotypes, however, are bad typifications: they are abusive generalizations which are not cor rected for individual cases before being applied to them. Indeed, they may be seen as impediments to interpretation, as deformed texts about a culture received in another culture -or in the same culture, as in the case of auto-stereotyping. Stereo-es which a culture forms about itself, such as typ . t stereotypes (from which the former are not tour1s · · 1 I Ys easy to distinguish) often take a pictona awa 1. td f Moreover they are often strong y mves e rm. with values and sentiments. . We thus end up with a little table, cross-classifyin two states of knowledge and two states of s aJal proximity (which is equivalent to the .po エ accessibility to information) (fig. 1). Foreign er's stereotypes, which are the kind we nnme diately think of when we hear the tern:, are low both scales. On the one hand, they are rn a way, because we simply lack the mformat10n to correct them. On the other, we should not need to ake abusive generalizations about our own cul :re since we are supposedly entirely fa".'iliar ith it· nor should a group, the culture of which is w , b' atially contained in our own, be su Ject to, or sp · If' I itself entertain stereotypmgs of the engu mg cu - ture since in principle information can always pas; in both directions. In fact, at least in s and most probably in all other cultures, both kmds of stereotypes are with us all the time. Culture is I. e in a state of incomplete information. Thus the i . dealings of culture with culture are continuous deformations. DEGREE OF high (inside the culture) SPATIAL - PROXIMITY low (outside the culture) FIGURE 1. FOUR KINDS OF STEREOTYPES In our table, low spatial proximity and high familiarity may seem at first to be an impossible combination, not only because even our newest media of communication. have shown themselves incapable of overcoming the information .gap (as in the case, cited above, of Swedish television pre sentations of third-world countries). Rather because that consequence would seem to follow insofar as we take familiarity here with the fact of being a member of a culture, in which case. spatial distance is an impossibility -if we do not rnclude Final Showdown in the People's Home • a time factor and take into account a person living in diaspora i.e. a person who is native to a 」 but is now living in another country. By havmg instead a comfortable detachment for judging objectively one's own culture, one believe this to be an ideal position for entertaining no ウ types at all; in fact, it is quite possible that this dis tance will, in many cases, simply contribute to for tify the normal auto-stereotypings. There is no place in our table for what we have called tourist stereotypings: they really represent a movement from one square to another, starting out as auto-stereotypes, which are not entertained seriously, and ending up, with luck, in foreigner's stereotypes, in which case the country セ have become richer (and certainly some of its members), not in cultural capital; but in more ordinary brands. 3 AGONIZED COFFEE PARTIES IN RED LITTLE COTTAGES . t it n today's border ess information socie y, may seem that national ゥ must cease t? exist in the visual arts as well as m all other vehi cles セ information. In fact, national identity seemingly is continuously conveyed in the ウ of our own and other cultures by means of the fil ters imposed on the immense information fl?w. If we look behind appearances, however, ョ ity now emerges as one of the many circu lating in the limitless market wher:' pictures and other signs are exchanged world-wide. . . . i contemporary Swedish art, nahonahty is still often naively incorporated into works of art as part of the artist's oself-expression ; in ?ther ca.ses, however, which seem much more ュ Swedishness, or rather stereotypings of Swedish ness, are made the intrinsic subjects of the artworks. In those latter cases, national stereotypes are usually de-automatized, as the Russian Forma lists were wont to call it, i.e. they are put forward in such a way that their presentation fails to 」 form to the expectancies resulting from our ordi nary perception. In that way, Swedi.sh art may stand out as a value in relation to its different others non-Swedishness as well as non-art. From 。 point of view, it might be said, following Bakhtin (1984: 199) that, in the first place, we have here a unidirectional double-voiced work or a sty-  • Formes identitaires lization, and in the second place, a varidirectional double-voiced one or a parody3. But parody then comes out as much more complex than it is ordinarily taken to be. Stereotypes of the kind mentioned above may easily by exemplified via the contemporary Swe dish art scene. Indeed, preconceived ideas which others hold about the Swedes, including the mythic triad with which we started out, are embodied in many recent works made by Swedish artists. Thus the group Casmo Info (Alfredo Castro and Hans Anders Molin) offers as one item of their series of windbreaker displays called Swedies, an emblematic extract from the very film (i.e. "She danced for one summer ) which probably srcina ted the Swedish reputation for sexual openrnindedness; but it is presented here only as one film amongst the glittering pieces of that gigantic kaleidoscope which international picturelore adds up to. Similarly, Stig Sjolund's representation of "The Famous Scandinavian Anguish", expressed in such homegrown materials as toy trains, or, alternative ly, by means of such straps as are used for transporting goods on the roof of one's own car, deau tomatizes the "suicide" aspect of the stereotypical stereotypings formed by foreigners about Sweden. Finally, Mans Wrange' coffee party piece, significantly called Monument (fig. 2), can be thought of as representing the "socialism side" of the Swedish FIGURE 2. MANS WRANGE, MONUMENT, 1993. • • • 12 stereotype, in particular the idea of reducing differences to sameness, thus of distributing (to all appearances) the same amount to everybody (but there is much more to it, as we will suggest below)•. The main point of reference for the tourist stereotypes are the collected works of Peter Johansson, as exemplified in his fake picture postcards (secondarily turned into real ones for the benefit of an are exhibit) which show a typical blond Swede who is looking about, while an enor mous painted wooden horse of the kind sold in the souvenir shops of Dalecarlia, and of Sweden generally, towers above him (fig. 3); or that repre sent folk dancers and musicians displaying the in struments used in Swedish folk music. The fact that Johansson himself appears disguised as the typical Swede in the different ritual role-playings of these pictorial scenes is reminiscent of course of a common artistic practice from Marcel Duchamp to Cindy Sherman, but it serves here essentially to mark the distance that exists between pictorial state FIGURE 3. PETER JOHANSSON, ASS/NT AN EXPLORATION EXPEDITION, 1992. ments and corresponding stereotypes. When Johansson cuts real, ordinary-sized, wooden, Dalecarlia horses into transversal pieces, and then wraps them up in plastic film as if they had been the meat of some exotic creature offered for sale at the butcher's shop, he seems to suggest further that nationality is a mere market value. In many works by Casmo Info, tourist stereotypes, such as elks, are deautomatized by being confronted with a common mixture of international commercial imagery, that is, by being presented for what they really are: pawns in the same multimedia game in which other visual tokens are exchanged. More importantly for the constitution of Swe dish nationality are undoubtedly those preconceived ideas that the Swedes hold about them selves, of which the petrified visual form most commonly represented may be the "little red cottage with its corners painted white" which has recurred for many years in works by Casmo Info, most forcefully in the over-sized jigsaw puzzle which disintegrates on its lower side, the title of which, Home Swede Home, is an ironical grimace in itself (fig. 4.). That little red cottage, as such, stands emblematically for a series of values essential to most Swedes, values which are connected with Nature as the authentic domain of life and which are celebrated by a mythic return to the countryside. Every year, at the time of the summer vaca- FIGURE 4. CASMO NFO, HOME SWEDE HOME, 1993. Final Showdown in the People's Home • tions in fact, that return ritually reverses the process of urbanization which occurred in Sweden at the beginning of this century. Many Swedish stereotypes about the Swedes also appear in Johansson's pictures, when he stages himself as a participant in the Vasa ski race or as a lone wan derer contemplating the immensity of the desolate Northern landscape. Less domesticated versions of this call of the wild are found in the cruvre of Max Book, perhaps the most celebrated Swedish painter of the artsponsoring eighties, and also in works by Ernst Billgren, who somewhat later was a favourite in that same camp. Billgren' s vision, often focused on wild and yet in a way homely animals, is itself filtered by the visual concepts elaborated by an earlier Swedish school of Nature depiction, that of National Romanticism, represented, notably, by Bruno Liljefors. Billgren' s art appears as a kind of loving paraphrase of kitsch art, a fact visible in particular in its super-abundance of representation, a representation which even invades the fra me to the point where it may be difficult to know where the kitsch ceases -if anywhere - and the paraphrase takes over. Indeed, Billgren' s work seems to hover between a Bakhtian stylization and a parody. Max Book, on the other hand, takes a more direct approach, both by directing his attention to the landscape itself rather than to its inhabitants, and by dispensing with procedures of distanciation such as the representation of an earlier artistic style. Although he often seems to start out from an abstract constellation (which is perhaps a state of mind), Book arrives, almost as if by accident, at a kind of landscape, which, rather than an industrialized wasteland, suggests the incarnation of Nature, although in its more contemporary pol luted state. There is more of frank Nature romanticism in much of Tuija LindstrOm' s work, notably in his photographic series, The Girls at Bull s Pond, in which the girls, rather than dancing through the summer, choose instead to take a swim in some forlorn mere, deep inside the forest wilderness. LindstrOm' s work, like that of Book, may even leave Bakhtian stylization behind to speak with the single voice of Swedish stereotyping. In a more recent work, Casmo Info directly addresses Nature as the ideological core of Swedish Culture. The message of this work is • •• 13  r • Formes identitaires clearly double-voiced, starting with the title, Trygg kan ingen vara (literally, Nobody can be secure) which refers to a well-known Sweedish prayer for chil dren which actually reads Nobody can be as secure/as God's own children/ (fig. 5.). By changing the form of the adjective and by taking away the comparison, Casmo Info actually transforms the message into its opposite. But even this mes sage seems insecure, if we refer it to the picture which shows a microwave oven placed in a soli tary Northern landscape and containing a scene from downtown Umea (which could be any other town in Sweden), in which a fox pops up its head. Thus Nature contains Culture (the microwave), which contains Culture (the townscape), which again contains Nature (the fox). That parallel of opposites is underlined by both the microwave and the fox's head appearing on the waterline. The fipal irony, however, Consists in the fox being ac tually taken from a work by Billgren, which is not only, as we just saw, an explicitly culturalized view of Nature, but actually a remake of another already culturalized vision, that of Swedish Nature Romanticism of the last century. So it certainly turns out to be true that in interpreting this mes sage, nobody can ever be secure. FIGURE 5. CASMO INFO, NOBODY CAN BE SECURE, 1996. Not all stereotypes have a determined visual form. This is the case, for instance, with character istic behavior patterns of a culture which are not normally made conscious as such. The artist will therefore have the arduous task of discovering a visual (and/ or linguistic) embodiment for them. Thus Mans Wrange' s Monument (fig. 2.) is not the ••• 14 kind of monument most Swedes would raise to themselves; yet it certainly embodies typical Swedish behavior patterns. It is not only, as Wran ge would observe, that Swedes drink more coffee than any other people in the world, except the Finns, and that they even had the world record for coffee consumption between 1920 and 1970, which accounts for one level of meaning; or that the Swedish model, known in Sweden itself as the utopia of the People's Home, was supposed to give equal shares of everything to all its inhabitants, just as coffee is evenly distributed in each cup on the table, which accounts for a second level. Actually, there is another aspect to Wrange' s inonument, which he does not himself mention but which cuts across those two levels. Public man, the person taking part in discussions about the means and ends of the State and about other aspects of public life and, beyond that, about all essential intellectual preoccupations, first came in to his own in the English coffee houses and then flourished in the French cafes before and during the Revolution (Habermas 1962; Sennett 1977). Later on, those cafes played a similar role all through Europe in the emergence of the different Modernist movements; and, at least in France have continued to this very day to have a カ important role to play in intellectual life, giving rise, for instance, to structuralism (and thus to semiotics) as well as to poststructuralism and postmodernism. But in Sweden, coffee drinking never acquired that public character: it still takes place essentially in the private homes of friends and acquaintances, and is associated with gossip rather than with serious discussion; moreover, by Swedish tradition, it is mainly considered to be a woman's practices. Even traditional cafes in Swe den fail to manifest the public character they have acquired in many other countries: they do not open up onto the streets, but are most often found behind the counters where pastries may be bought for home consumption. Thus, Wrange's work may be seen also in that regard as a monument to the lack of public life in Sweden. So far, we have offered a provisional typology of (stereo)types. But we have also initiated, cer tainly not an explanation of all of Swedish art, but nonetheless a discussion of Swedish nature/culture dialectics which takes the form of confirma-tions and/ or reactions to various visual state ments made by some contemporary Swedish artists. 4. THE FRAMEWORK OF CULTURAL SEMIOTICS In the present essay, our framework is the semiotics of culture, as I have developed it recent ly, starting out from the Tartu School (cf. Sonesson 1992; 1997; 1998). In this conception, cultural semiotics is preoccupied with making a modeliza tion of the model implicitly held by any member of a culture (fig. 6.). It is taken for granted that, ordinarily, members of any culture will think of themselves as insiders, while persons from other cultures are viewed as outsiders. On the inside, life in a culture is ordered and meaningful; outside of it, it is chaotic, disorderly, and impossible to un derstand. Also, the inside is normally more highly valued. Culture (Textuality) vs. Nature イ Mechanisms of . . text generation Mechamsms of exclusmn + Accumulation of information +t Exchange of information + Mechanisms of translation Repertory of texts + Mechanisms of inclusion Inside Outside FIGURE 6. THE CANONICAL MODEL OF THE TARTU SCHOOL (AS INTERPRETED BY SONESSON 1992). Chaos Disorder Barbarism Under those circumstances, "texts" (which, as a first approximation, are anything inside a culture which can be understood) cannot exist outside culture: but there is at least a potentiality for non texts" coming from the outside of being trans formed into "texts". More commonly, however, non-texts are excluded by the peculiar mecha nisms of exclusion which· exist inside a culture; or they are received, but in a deformed way, by the mechanisms of inclusion. In due time, however, the accumulation of many deformed texts may give rise to a new mechanism of interpretation which makes it possible to understand them inside culture; and even to a mechanism of genera- Final Showdown in the People's Home • tion, which allows culture to create its own texts of the kind existing earlier only outside culture. The Tartu School uses this model to understand, for instance, the relationship between Russia and the West during the time of Peter the Great and the slavophiles for whom respectively the role of culture is played by the West and Russia. For my part, I have also suggested that the art-sphere, particularly during Modernism, could be conveniently understood using the same Tartu School model, by substituting the opposition between art and non-art for that between culture and non-culture (Sonesson 1992b; 1994a, 1994b; 1995). The same rules of inclusion/ exclusion, translation, impossibility of translation, and trans lation as deformation, will then be present. I am not familiar with any use by the Tartu School members of this model to study the relationship between art and non-art. Yet, in order to adopt this model, the art world has simply to be conceived as a sub-domain, that is, a sub-culture , inside the totality of Occidental culture, which, under the regime of Modernism, has tended to absorb other "sub-cultures" in its domain. In discussing the process of inclusion into the art world, I have given mainly two notable examples, in both cases works by Marcel Duchamp: his L.H.0.0.Q. consists of a reproduction of Leonar do' s La Gioconda with a moustache and a pointed beard. Since similar La Gioconda modifications ha ve appeared before in satirical magazines, we could consider this a transference from another .sphere of picture production. Duchamp' Fountain is simply a urinal placed in the context of an art exhibition; it is, so to speak, transferred from the sphere of tools or useful objects to that of cesthetic contemplation. The whole history of Modernism may be seen as a process of transforming ever more fully non texts into texts. However, within Modernism, there is also a second movement, which tends to ex clude more texts from the artistic domain, by try ing to isolate that which is really "art". The latter is particularly true of such artistic currents as Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and every thing that the American art critic Clement Green berg would call Modernism. Those movements started out from Dadaism and include what is nowadays called Postmodemism. However, even ... 15
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