Thanks Raoul and Markues for the tour on Tuesday (as well as Vince and Alicia and NGBK for the curatorial project: Father Figures Are Hard to Find). I had to reconsider a bit of my own feelings of displacement within this context after hearing the very candid and loving ways in which you both spoke of the works you selected for this exhibition. It was very smart because it was honest. I hate when people try to shroud exhibitions in obscure non-language, leaving pieces as strangers in a room. I really appreciate your forthcoming reveal of intention in this exhibition theme, which initially for me was simple and direct yet somehow still difficult to manage. It’s hard to know what level to take things in art… the lived at odds with the performed… staged honesty, if you will, can feel really well intended but can also feel incredibly fake.
I do not want to take away your right to be disappointed in me. It’s 100 percent okay to be disappointed and annoyed. I am not the solution. I’m not a solutions broker. I’m a problem. With a historical present full of inarticulate problems it is important to see problematizing as fruitful. It acquaints us with their variable dimensions. I’m not attached to the idea of always being an artist… I’m not in need of turning this shtick into a career model… I’m happy to realize myself as ‘part of the problem’ so long as the problem becomes more known in this process. We have to recognize the problem. For most college educated white kids born in the right hemisphere, daddy isn’t the problem… it’s the search… the interrogation of an imaginary in which others had the ‘real’… what was supposed to be… This indulgent exercise of not feeling a father as some guiding divinity requires a reckoning with cliché and the management of expectations more so than a struggle to actualize a self in therapy. Therapists are affective sales consultants and so are artists.
In the name of expectations management, I would like to say what you’re not going to get from me first: Entertainment. People expect to be entertained by gender performance and increasingly in art. I however prefer to stock my boredom in the same place as its surplus. Especially among gay people… since the invention of beards en masse it’s such a lacking erotic imaginary that I feel merits my very apathetic approach to the production of smiles, adoration or whatever a ‘queen’ is supposed to accumulate in the place an honest profession. I don’t do masculinity studies, nor do I acknowledge masculinity studies as a legitimate sphere of thought. Instead conceiving of myself as some social blockage in the digestion of an art fag network is only my symbolic means of feigning off apocalypse. I’m not a spectacle provider… I prefer uninvited advances… sexual offers with no follow through… Always alien to lip synching (which perhaps explains my alienation to professional practice in general), I’ve been most interested in the distracted ear and its intersection with unsolicited truth, when the serious sounds like a joke. I’m difficult. But this is not a strategic move, because honestly, there is no calculation in what I do with my life. So in a gesture of rare doing, I might for a moment imagine this exhibition as some interrogation room built to fill many holes in the story. I think so much of the perceived paternal conundrum stems from the normalization of lack or scarcity in a neurotic cult of self-actualization—this thing we are never sure actually happens.
Identities are a house of cards. It’s the same wind that blows it down every time. You might get faster and more intricate with each rebuild, but again the same inevitable wind blows, and for a moment, one might feed on this subverted status that so violently collapses as there certainly is a meditative repetition involved in such persistence; however, the heartbreak of realizing such a limited project of selfhood and its unimaginative doneness is rarely survivable. So for a moment let me explore in this interrogation room the lack, the thing that art does not do, so that we might together avoid the rather explicit violence of art usually buried under the rubble of good intentions. Viewing Art. Curating Art. Creating Art… these are seemingly well intended but the outcome, the product, the discourse cannot simply avoid its lack with the invocation of good intentions. So here in my case, there is a lack of confidence in my speech, a strong disbelief or mistrust in my ability to register truth or evaluate injustice, in addition to a very suspect addiction to negativity while also hosting a strong ambivalence toward the project of fathering which will make me welcome here for all of 10 seconds. Because it’s hard to make expressions of lack a teachable encounter, especially in an art world increasingly more individual (a territory always assumed to be whole), and explicitly fetish with regards to difference and its repackaging as fashion. Difference cannot be the empty hole you were born into… no it must be that defining undeniable characteristic you must name and account for it. The lack and absence always add complexity to the reading of an encounter… lack is so often palpable and yet because it’s a not-encounter it never survives critique as actual evidence.
If I had a physical object practice… If I was a painter let’s say, I would probably just install an airbag in a canvas designed to keep you from looking too closely, to save you from searching too long for something that cannot be found in a painting. There is so much wrong with our very tangible present that I don’t believe we’re ready for intricacy. A bloody nose is a better, more meaningful outcome than the study of brushstrokes and shadow. But isn’t the idea of an airbag exploding from a canvas… breaking your neck to save you from the black hole of painting… isn’t the idea better than actually making it happen? Making a painting about the dead horse of painting is not worth my efforts… because I don’t want to contribute to the belief that painting does something…
Please don’t place me in a category of real. Some piece of Eurotrash who expected accolades for riding the winds of change toward modernity once asked me if I wanted to be a real queen… cause she knows someone… This is not a positive self-representation right? THIS IS NOT A WORKABLE SELF! Please forget the other scenes of realness and simply register this (me, body before you) as a fairly bitter portrait of actualization. I’m not utopic. I don’t believe that I’m in communion with all queens, queers or genderfucks. But regardless of difference in aim or value, I don’t believe that I’m in a rat-race competition either. This attitude echoes on to how I feel about art.
Admitting what is not here is not speaking for those entities, but rather registration of our lacking ability to see them. I believe this is what makes the search for a father figure hard… it’s the confusion of togetherness and belonging, inheritance and endowment, alongside the lesser desirable anachronisms and their binding, violent masturbatory repetition in a senseless becoming. Father figures could quite simply be scaffolding for power. Belonging isn’t currency I exchange. Legacy for me is burdensome love. Therapy practitioners are affective renovators guided mostly by prejudice and immature science.
What if art actually reflected life instead of ego and spending power? Monuments can always be overturned … stories and memories told differently so what is the toil with objects… making objects for ideas? I have said that people animate objects with meaning so as to absolve themselves the burden of living with meaning on the inside. I see the telling of a Father story as mostly the telling of a self with a puppet, so the first portion of this moment we share will be a more direct introduction, because I’m not under the impression that I’m known to each of you… and certainly you haven’t heard my side of the story recently.
The form of tonight was initially the form of a 2014 intervention I entitled Master’s Tool Is Unpaid Labor Feminist Practice? I assembled various relic documentations from a series of haphazard choices I had lived randomly as art. I am not sure I would call those videos art anymore, but I used their production model of self-finance from a day job and their ambivalent road-to-nowhere aesthetic, presentation and perspective to remind self-identified queer/feminist producers in Berlin that in a post-conceptual art world, no amount of money will replace the lacking idea… no camera lens or professionalized crew will make a bad script string of clichés into something watchable or worthwhile, let alone politically moving. That politics, when played before the camera but abandoned within the production, are only an artistic media rather than heart. That we cannot let Feminism become a marketing line, so if professionalized artistic career is your aim over political exploration, then careers in art which suck blood via unpaid interns, crew, crowd-funding websites and social media campaigns certainly is your prerogative albeit not a Feminist one. I understand the artist invoking exploitation in their get-rich-quick scheme, but within models of community and friends, know that alienation comes long before the riches… Best intentions are not an acceptable defense in the face of failed feminism. Political lenses are about changing the self much more than the singular ‘self’ changing the world.
I don’t crowd-fund. My parents would never spend money to support my artistic pursuits so I do not expect my friends to either. Patrimony was another reading I performed in summer 2015 that I believe is the reason for my inclusion here in the father figures search party. Patrimony is the money or the estate left behind by a father… Patrimony was also for me the hidden media that so many, so so many creative city kids used within their projects: living in apartments purchased by their parents, traveling abroad, expensive schools also partially or entirely funded by parents… etc. They speak as though it’s natural to work for free or underpaid, as though they also understand struggle, which isn’t true at all. Patrimony was in my imaginary what I would do if I were to crowd source… What would I do with bodies or labor? So I read my theory shtick before breaking my audience, mandating that their perspectives become that of furniture in a psychoanalyst’s office… that they embody the non-human perspective that certain theory snobs use to avoid the admission of their complicity in needing hierarchy… I made my audience into my Freudian couch, then I laid down hard and spilled my guts out, before blaming them for following my lead in the first place. Because Art, in the participatory that which requires an affective hand in order to become, is not worth it.
Slowly in this form, one that is neither academic nor particularly artistic (though maybe a faithless drag number of the two), I’ve actually gone on to make commentary on the crisis of art and the strategic violence of these good intentions. I believe that good intentions should be naked. Their aim and failure are valid resources for learning. This would be the process of learning together rather than performing togetherness under forged assumptions of sameness. Artistic hopefuls must imagine themselves, their ideas and aesthetics in addition to their political profile, as superior. The best means to dupe is when Abstraction Is Bubble Wrap for Damaged Goods. A video and accompanying essay, I made earlier this year about call-out culture and the stage for abuse when everyone must believe the artist well intended… When their violence gets labeled passion or authenticity. While call-out culture resembles more the urge to reposition social orders instead of learning change together, I don’t believe bringing to question the outcomes of specific artist projects is about reordering so much as relearning. Why if you have all needs met do you expect to be pleased? Is that what art does? Insider jokes? Cult mythologies believed as life changing truths? Tapping into the universal as if that’s not actually just the PLAIN… the typical? Discovering artistic personas FIRST like oil booms and gold rushes… When artistic neighborhoods rebrand the ugly as beautiful and trash as expensive.
Moving beyond my disclosures of a questionable standing as an artist maybe I should utilize this entire space as a means to cast my shadow over a historical present… is this maybe a grasp at lineage … a means of measuring … But first remember that the reach of my power has been managed right? Didn’t the title of tonight already manage to disappoint you regardless the outcome? Let me just admit that I don’t believe myself capable of doing what I’m going to do… Furthermore, a critique or even a scathing review is not a thing when packaged from this source… If Mysti says you’re not feminist who cares?!? Authority, I have none. Really, let us not make political sewage from a question we should all be asking ourselves. I don’t view feminism as an argument, I see it as a solution. If you’re a bad father, or a wretched little brat, this is a subjective stance and you probably know immediately the ways in which you are not bad… unless of course you are, bad. (Again, how does rugged individualism bring us to a group social that mandates unconditional affirmation? I’m not saying love yourself, that mantra got us here… but the management of your identity is a project of yours alone, neither fathers nor friends can help you from feeling the worst labels as a very real possibility.) Feeling alien is a prescription for health in late capitalism. Shit doesn’t sell the way it used to. Belonging only ever established an exterior. So efforts to exist here among objects that I find too overtly reflect the very anachronism the show claims to pervert … have me at odds with your expectations that I should do art right now. But, I love to disappoint, ask my dad…
We need to sacrifice divine origin. We need to just be people… People who can simply step aside when they’ve said their piece… People who don’t monetize their friendships or see spending money as the mandate of real in artistry. Artists of the Western hemisphere don’t make themselves from nothing. Part of registering lack is admitting what is not nothing… For what duration do I expect to be loved by you my pathetic substitute for an Art World, especially when I slip in that value judgment? When should I wean myself off the spotlight so as to preserve my dignity? If here I am to contend with the masters… in a room of people working without masters… First I might ask: What if art is a disappearing act? What if rather than a means to immortality and legacy, it’s a fracture… something you’ll barely recognize next year? Even some of my beloved James Baldwin’s later novels went on to disappoint me, and all for the best.
Dahn Vo is contemporary art’s daddy’s boy and let me say he’s not the problem. This would be a stupid intervention if this were its claim because he’s rich, he won, 2 pavilions simultaneously. Let me ask: Why is everyone drinking the same Kool-Aid? When everyone drinks that same Kool-Aid do we really see the same differently? Or are we just gonna fucking die dull boring deaths like everyone else? Duh, he’s not the problem, but I will say that family or human beings as media is a problem. Again, biology and paternity are not inherently sacred nor is the spectacular violence of such a system ever seen outside the mundane yawn of life as anything other than a bearable hurtle. Sacred paternal journeys of immigration do not saint-like spawn ordain. Please don’t read them as such.
The Statue of Liberty reproduced but left unassembled alongside the uni-bombers typewriter… I could have a slide of this work projected. It probably is unfair to summarize a much more complex work with these words, but art isn’t about justice. And, since what I’m doing is having the conversation with my father about this room, a conversation that won’t happen, an exchange that will not be, I will favor the style of discourse with my father that I remember… cause if I were talking to my father about this piece of work he would shut me up. The gaze of my father… looking at Vo’s work would see it ridiculous, laughable at best, if not offensive. And if I dared press him for an opinion he would say: That’s fucking stupid. Maybe this is a beautiful moment in art… that across a great many barriers in thought and experience, values and systemic perspective, on this particular piece my father and I are brought together in agreement: Production costs, storage, shipping. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Meaning. Trite.
I’ve watched Vo’s father write a letter, while Vo and Marc Siegel attempted to unpack the complexity of the performance… one entirely dependent upon the audience believing that family members cannot exploit one another and that affective performance of such literal reenactments is not fetish but enlightening, not merely projection but universal. I’ve heard it said that his father writes the letters because he’s very well compensated for his role in their physical production and mailing, while the affective attachment to his relation to Vo might be the cache for Vo’s career it remains to me an uncomfortable question… Because if I had money, an internationally collected practice, and if my father needed money… He would think me an asshole if I offered him a job instead of just giving him money… Especially if that employment required the public performance and long winded narration in addition to its documentation of his new role as a father employed his son. People when you get rich, you’re supposed to give people money.
The gravestone for his father, which features neither his name nor his birthdate instead a quote sourced from John Keats, is also art. It was purchased by the Walker Art Center, and it will reside in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden until his father dies at which point it swaps for some personal items of his father before being shipped to the family plot in Europe. Yes, folks, Vo has made the death of his father a working day for your affective wonder and for his considerable profit. Do you know what my father would say if I asked to design his head stone as art? Didn’t name him? Wrote in a language he doesn’t speak, that my siblings can’t read? There are many layers in that grudge… none of which would produce poetry worthy of declaring a person Art, because Art isn’t always the highest standing and for good reason. When you reduce his work to personal loss as Artistic spectacle, you find a very difficult precedent for young artists within a cannon that mandates seeing itself in their work. Are we all to go forth making our most private relationships symbolic happenings? Rather than affect as a mechanism for learning it degrades into manipulated material for production with curious intentions.
If I assumed the role of artist and propositioned my father as a similar medium in my oeuvre would I be a bad artist if I couldn’t convince him? A bad son? Would my father lend himself so speechlessly to being a channel of art? No, he wouldn’t trust me, and he wouldn’t indulge such a vapid audience either. Hard to find… Father is everywhere in this story… making it harder to identify the objective of this search party. I don’t see poetry there… it’s just not. And anything above a trite maybe characteristically sadistic cliché it will not be… such resources dedicated to such individual specificity places the mass, the unforgivable flight of many under the affective monumental rubble of one…one who wants to wear a Rolex watch. Whose singular tale of migration is worth more than the entirety of now? Our lack: those behind fences, bulldozed in Calais, a warehouse of souls in Greece long since starved of democracy… those who simply wish to move into Germany’s burning buildings.
Our search party continues…finding the conversations we are not having. I am not here speaking on their behalf. I’m establishing our lack. The thing that’s hard to find here in our search… what promise if found does it hold? If I wasn’t so certain that the obsession with paternity, or ‘where your parents come from’ didn’t instantly bring us to the cesspool of white supremacy and European elitism disguised as a bland cultural soup, I might actually dry some tears tonight. Smile at some family photos. Put my mouth on some DILF dick. But, we’re at an impasse of art. The conversation isn’t abstract it’s just not here. That is the nature of value outside the imaginary. There are so many variations of paternity… Love has also a not dissimilar quality to perpetually evade our grasp as long as we redefine its terms, promises and compromises without end. Money and means and the establishment of worth could also be theoretical. An unchanged art market sells non-object ideas as gold… but my question is when will these ideas exchange? When can we abandon the encryption of objects and artifacts for a more direct way of saying things, one honest about its non-discovery, its kinship with prejudice, and waste, shameless waste? Call off the search party and just sit with what is… Not a taboo just a lack?
What am I doing here? Creating a poor, albeit conversational summary of three of my projects alongside 3 professional, monumentally known works of Vo?? Am I here to do the show? Shake the cannon like a jar of bees? Take these artworks like they’re my props. Spit blood and declare what’s MINE? When oblivious intention uses accident and coincidence like destiny before claiming divination? What I always knew to be mine… these conditional sentiments made forcibly an altar unto the self. With so many trying to teleport, reading the same text simultaneously in 4 hemispheres, exposing photos in diametric opposite ends of the globe on solstice or some eclipse… Marrying things that previously technology and travel denied possibility and now bored art kids find them reasonable expenses to present literal processes for trite, sentimental and apolitical or politically neutered assumptions as if a shared discovery of that insurmountable distance that Art tries to deny by making us see the wonder of abstracting the impossible. Metaphysics of micro phoning the inside of a tree trunk and radioing its deafness into a gallery… recording sunlight levels from last week and running up an electricity bill recreating that light frequency one week later… Open my can of shit in 10 years and tell me I’m god then… Smell god.
Post Colonial, Post National, Post Gender. Premature ejaculation trigger warnings. Help me I’m an artist trying to die for my work… I am dying to be on both sides of history and then righteously ambivalent about everything else thereafter. Race through space—fucking everywhere—yet somehow miraculously left in one uninteresting piece. One should revel in the arbitrary nature of celebrity… the import/export politics. I’m not trying to usurp that throne. I’m just trying to imagine a space actually outside a cannon. Because aesthetics don’t unite, they are at best authenticity drag, if not camouflage for accidental albeit violent tyranny. Or complicity? Irony of art is that the sacrificial is only the perceived means rather than a shared destiny… burden… or transformative promise. I think that’s why so many kids cling to daddy… He pacifies deadly dreams while convincing you that you were always good. A port in the storm of Neoliberalism.
I’m gonna loosely quote Spivak of all people right now… She said it’s a very Christian idea to believe that suffering makes you a good person. My problem is that we in a room contemplating parental pains and conflicts of cannon have a very separate threshold for suffering… so let us suspend our belief that gravity affects us the same… make folly of the struggle to flatten… pervert or whatever… And see a different destiny, one in which the object of the idea… the document the ephemera or the pseudo-social contract decompose when we together lose our shit. Lose our shit because we might not be worthy of being Art Princesses and Conceptual Priests, that maybe the world we want to create doesn’t have room for those personalities… Maybe it’s not an art critique, but call to lose control, or your delusion of controlling legacy, which is relatively limited in capacity anyway. Expanding the horizontal sacrifices stardom… makes most of your spectacular mundane… probably also unworthy of meditation. Thus, the power of art consumes inevitably the self and its worth, when finally the soul breaks enough times to become stranger to herself. There’s no monument, no shrine, no sacred lineage and no ever-existing mythology to the author doing that…