Archive of RM Vaughan

RM has written 15 article(s) for AFC.

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RM Vaughan

An Interview with Aleks Slota: Language is a Shell Game

by RM Vaughan on June 9, 2017
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Years ago, if you read Derrida, Lacan and their fellow travelers and then came to the conclusion that language is inherently unreliable, you were considered at best pretentious and at worst mentally ill. Here, for instance, is Lacan on one of the various, maddeningly indirect ways in which words acquire meaning, or a lack thereof: “… insofar as it forms part of language, the signifier is a sign which refers to another sign, which is as such structured to signify the absence of another sign …”. Um, yeah, exactly. Language is a shell game.

Now, in the post-truth era, all that giddy philosophizing (presented in a style as nutty as the ideas it proffered) suddenly rings true. Hell, it clangs. The relationship between words and their assigned meaning(s), never all that comfortable in the first place, now strikes us as illusory, if not deceitful. You can’t trust your own reading glasses.

Multimedia artist Aleks Slota’s latest works ask a further question: if all of the above is true, how can you trust an artist?

A Berlin-based Polish-American, Slota has built a career out of being, in the larger and best sense of the modifier (signifier?) an irritant, or “irritainer” as the Canadian artist Andrew Harwood coined; an artist who puts his audience’s his own comfort aside in pursuit of new, less easy revelations. His performances typically involve acts of endurance, for both artist and witness, and no end of noise.

But in his latest projects are markedly more pensive. We met for a chat at Berlin’s Ex Girlfriend Gallery on the final day of his understated exhibition of text works It Happened Here. And a few weeks before our get together, Slota presented Meat Puppet at the Berlin literary centre Lettretage – a concise performance wherein he attempted to verbalize into sense a word salad derived from President Trump’s barking. Better him than us.

Slota’s new works acknowledge the simple fact that we are all part of the now-heightened language/meaning problem, because unless you’re a hermit you too are contributing to the constant cross-talk and, by extension, the reduction of words to mere noise. There is no getting away from the collapse of the familiar formula of words = distinct (or at least agreed upon) meaning. We burned that barn down. Nor is it useful to simply blame this slippery slope on Trump and his imitators and not acknowledge our own complicity. Slota wants us, instead, to own the chaos.

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Angela Bulloch at Esther Schipper: When Three Sculptures Feel Like a Ballet

by RM Vaughan on June 5, 2017
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The following might sound like a backhanded compliment, but stick with me. Angela Bulloch’s gorgeous new sculptures, on view at Esther Schipper, are happily in sync with what we traditionally think of as summer fare: big, colorful, distracting and kid-friendly. All that’s missing is the popcorn.

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Long Live Dusty Whistles’s New Flesh (with no apologies to David Cronenberg)

by RM Vaughan on March 28, 2017
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Berlin-based, NYC-born artist Dusty Whistles practices a purpose-driven drag that blends futuristic post-gender, post-human iterations with front line political messaging. In Berlin, where mainstream drag can be boiled down to two show types, Cabaret/Sally Bowles re-castings and Hausfraus in bad wigs low comedy, Whistles is part of a new drag generation that wants to put the pocket knife back in the queen’s purse. Drag is political, and always has been. Sometimes, however, drag culture needs a bit of a tune up. Whistles is here to help.

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No Paintings for Old Men: I’m Done With Amy Feldman

by RM Vaughan on February 24, 2017
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I have to hand it to NYC-based painter Amy Feldman: not every artist can cause me to temporarily lose the will to carry on writing and the energy to carry on chronicling our bankrupt, post-meaning culture. What, I wondered as I walked around the palatial Blain/Southern Gallery, is the damned point anymore? Confronted on all sides by Feldman’s aggressively vacuous, massive canvasses, I can’t even argue conclusively that Feldman’s work is good or bad. It operates so outside of any qualitative value scale that I understand—as if attacking the very idea of value—that it defeats all rational readings of art or art making. All I can do is respond. And respond I must.

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On Power: A Teachable Moment for the New Year

by RM Vaughan on January 3, 2017
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The arts have a way, a particularly cruel way, of making sure everybody knows the pecking order and thus where to set their beaks, big and sharp or tiny and soft.

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Matthew Metzger’s Sweet Peace

by RM Vaughan on November 28, 2016
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We live in terrible times. I need not explain that assertion. And while I do not subscribe to the reading of art as always and/or necessarily “therapeutic”, it would be silly of me to not acknowledge that art can be therapeutic, even healing. To wit, Matthew Metzger’s exhibition The Shade of a Line is the Xanax in my tea.

Metzger is a Chicago-based painter whose work tilts back and forth between neo-Minimalism and neo-Color Field. I normally have nothing good to say about Minimalist work, as I find such works have nothing to say (and, yes, that is reductive, but so is the style). However, in Metzger’s case, the paintings vibrate with buried colors and dreamy pools of semi-occluded light. They teem with an interior life that reminds me of staring into precious stones, of the first hues of the morning, of being less than lucid. Put plainly, Metzger’s paintings are pretty. Let us give thanks for prettiness in an ugly world.

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The Hellion is a Lonely Hunter (with apologies to Carson McCullers)

by RM Vaughan on October 27, 2016
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After wandering through “Golem”, the Jewish Museum Berlin’s occasionally insightful but too often flat meditation on the fabled creature of medieval European-Jewish folklore, I was left with a curiously empty feeling. Hardly what one expects from an exhibition depicting a monster of such long-standing and resonant legend; a homunculus whose story has influenced all things horrific from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein to Disney/Marvel’s evil robot Ultron to those adorably gangly “grey aliens”.

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Being Dieter Meier

by RM Vaughan on September 30, 2016
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What becomes a near-legend best? A fresh new mantle of re-invention. Plus a few bitter truths held up to the baldest light.

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A Melancholic Stroll through the Sony Photography Awards

by RM Vaughan on September 7, 2016
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Only a terribly mean person could find fault with the traveling edition of the annual Sony Photography Awards. As both a showcase of a specific kind of photographic venture (more on that in a moment) and, likely more to the point, a brand-enhancing exercise in “excellence” promotion, the exhibition does exactly what it promises and is devised to do.

The competition specializes in the subset of photography most of us identify with National Geographic Magazine and its world-of-wonders aesthetic.

I know that sounds snarky but I do not mean it that way. Everybody loves this kind of photography, me included, for a reason – it is lovely and provocative, a moment of otherness, of not us/not here viewed from a safe distance. I buy a lot of postcards, and I have no shame when it comes to finely focused close ups of adorable mammals with pink ears.

What prompted my unease after wandering around this exhibition was a strong feeling that in a half-generation or less, shows like the Sony Photography Awards will be, at best, retro-cute, or at worst antique and irrelevant.

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The Berlin Biennale: An Act of Passive Compliance

by RM Vaughan on June 28, 2016
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Since the last Berlin Biennale, Europe has undergone a currency and debt crisis, watched far right political entities grow from obscure clusters of nutjobs into massive populist movements, dealt, badly, with the millions of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, and been subjected to terrifying and brutal acts of terrorism by all manner of extremists.

In all of these crises, Berlin, the capital of the EU’s richest and most politically powerful country has played a central and keynote-determining role.

I can thus think of no better way, given the circumstances, to reinforce the popular perception that contemporary art has nothing to say about the world that surrounds it than by hiring the NYC-based fashion bloggers DIS to curate the ninth edition of the Berlin Biennale. I have rarely seen such a profound case of not giving the people what they want, of so many heads so far up so many assholes.

Just walk away, Berlin. Go have a strong drink. Read a good mystery novel. Take too much MDMA and pee your slacks. Sit in an empty room and cry. Do anything but waste 26 Euros on the Berlin Biennale.

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