Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Antek Walczak @ Real Fine Arts

Who constitutes the constituency of Jay-Z's recent hit, Empire State of Mind? Simple, Jay-Z himself. In this chintzy jingle advertising a city of one, Jay-Z offers a retrospective look at the able adaptation of his self to the mythic social technique of swapping destitute criminality for the assimilable constitution of respectable elites. Jay-Z's cashes in on the social machine that collapses illegality into legitimate being, the entrepreneurial spirituality that refines the streets on which anyone can walk into the limelight that shines only on, and for, you.

One could also view Antek Walczak's current show, "Empire State of Machine Mind," as a cash-in as well, albeit one mobilized for very different ends. Known previously for his involvement in Bernadette Corporation as well as a writer and filmmaker in his own right, compared to these diffuse, object-resistant projects Walczak's (one could say in the spirit of enterprise) latest artistic venture is a legitimately conventional one: painting—an object so conventionalized that even its ironic iterations are admitted to its assimilable pantheon.

"Empire State of Machine Mind" includes four large canvases whose sole formal element is a schematic illustration of the chorus of Jay-Z's obnoxious anthem compressed by the Lempel Ziv Welch algorithm hand-painted onto primed canvas. Visually and conceptually updating Picabia's machine paintings, OULIPO's textual laboratories and Warhol's dance diagrams for a virtual present, Walczak's paintings also seem fabricated for a contemporary moment that prefers painting "beside itself;" paintings as historically-privileged discursive objects whose commodity status is ostensibly unmoored by dispersive relationships to socially-networked productivity. Yet unlike many of Walczak's New York-based peers whose work operates within this broad rubric–a rubric that largely serves to legitimize epistemologically ineffectual object-based practices–"Empire State of Machine Mind" goes one step further by not taking it–the reprocessing of cultural artifacts into networkable datum, that is–all so sincerely.

Like Broodthaer's famous realization of poetry's impossible object as an insincere work of art, Walczak's use of the contemporary canvas mobilizes a similar critical resolve. By instrumentalizing the code of networked painting to this programmatic chorale of Gothamite success, Walczak's objects achieve a critical posture not through the sincere reterritorialization of medium-specificity across the spectrum of post-Fordist productivity (or perhaps is it just the indexical by-product, the gentrifying ordure of financialized conviviality?) but rather through the insincere re-presentation of such an art's epistemological use as the ideal object of governable subjects, as assimilable codes of being situated around the metropolitan canvas. "Empire State of Machine Mind" reminds viewers of the criminal artifact that informs contemporary art's legible objects. That it is within the coded translation, or compression, of illegitimate life–with its impossible poetry and criminality–into the enforced world of ledgered value rests the critical potential that is to be found within, or beside, the contemporary painted object.
Is it by working through the machinations of contemporary (maybe advanced?) artistic production—which in Walczak's case is the supplementation of the ontological priorities of "transitive" commodity production with the material by-product of information capital, that art might conceivably defect from its servile conscription in finance capital's endless war? Picture if you will, "I prefer not to…" forged from the soul of an IT technician. Or more likely, an IT technician whose illusions of artistic grandeur presents a momentary crisis of value.

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