09 July 2012

Orbital Exile

There were those who deemed it an atrocity from the moment its plans were first unveiled -- a monstrous eyesore in the offing. Or some inverted, modern-day travesty of Tatlin's Tower. So I suppose this might (or might not) translate into schadenfreude for the detractors. This particular quote (pulled from an initial glowing profile in an industry publication, no less) grabs my attention...

"Mittal Steel has found the Chinese government to be an accommodating partner for foreign firms, especially when compared with the Mittal family's home country, India. 'With India being a democracy, setting up operations can be difficult,' Mittal says. 'I don't mean to denigrate democracy. But it takes time. You negotiate with all different levels of government. You negotiate with tribal people. It can take two or three years. It's a more difficult process than in the United States.'

'But I remember going to China. I flew into the airport, and there was literally red-carpet treatment. Then I’m in a car on a highway, and there is no one else on the road. So I ask, What’s going on here? And they say, The party secretary wanted to give you a nice welcome. This highway isn’t actually open yet. Then I get to the plant site, but I don’t see any land. I see houses, lots of houses – a village. And I say, Where’s the land? And the party secretary says, Right here. In 90 days, everyone will be gone."

Can't help but notice -- to my utter lack of surprise -- how Richard Serra turns up in this, cited as one of ArcelorMittal's former artworld clients. And relatedly, how the quote above echoes some issues raised in this piece circa 1990...

"Minimalism's partisans have all along insisted that it is wrongheaded to look for, let alone to interrogate, any found subject or author behind the art's patently object-like and desubjectivized facade. Thus Douglas Crimp insists, for instance, that 'Characterizations of Serra's work as macho, overbearing, oppressive, seek to return the artist to the studio, to reconstitute him as the work's sole creator, and thereby to deny the role of industrial processes in his sculpture.' We can be interested in Serra's use of industrial processes, however, and still hold him to account as the creator (not to say fabricator) of his work - work that plainly manifests certain personal ambitions and interests, its industrial facture notwithstanding. That Serra's artistic gestures have less in common with the sculptor's conventional rituals than with the rituals of the industrial magnate who merely lifts the telephone to command laborers to shape tons of steel according to his specifications, and the rituals of the foremen or construction bosses who oversee the processes of fabrication and installation, does not render those gestures altogether impersonal."

To be honest, I've always been a bit dubious about Anna Chave's essay "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power." Something about the way it cherrypicked its information to bolster its thesis, its (at times) borderline scattershot scholarship, as well as the heated pitch of its own rhetoric...it all reminded me too much of an article in some sensationalizing tabloid, all of which made it a little too easy to dismiss a lopsided hatchet-job. Yet certain parts of it raise valid points, especially in regards to Serra's work and nagging questions about the nature of civic responsibility in the years following the Tilted Arc controversy. There was also an underlying thrust to Chave's thesis that dealt with the role such grand works play in relation to a larger political economy; and argument that it seems the Kapoor/ArcelorMittal flap illustrates a little too perfectly.

Although I imagine neither Kapoor or Serra ever think to to worry about or vet these sort of details. For the sake of staying focused on the project at hand, their chief concern probably doesn't exceed that of anyone who hires a contractor -- simply finding someone who can get the job done, who can make the vision a reality. But there are always inherent risks involved in that sort of process...

Forget it, Jake...it's Chinese drywall.

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