music from Our Literal Speed Soundtrack Recordings, Dreamsong by The Size Queens


6 APRIL 2006, PERFORMED AT THE ASSOCIATION OF ART HISTORIANS CONFERENCE, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS, UK

OUR LITERAL SPEED

“Institutional Critique as Institution”

Presented by the Jackson Pollock Bar

Directed by Christian Matthiessen

A male actor performing the role of a questioner in the audience confronts two actors in a conference room: Eve Meltzer (seated on left) and Andrew Perchuk (seated on right). All actors are mouthing the words of a preexisting recording performed by other actors at an earlier date. The actual Eve Meltzer was in California. The actual Andrew Perchuk was seated in the back row of the room in silence.

[an excerpt]

Questioner [rises and speaks into unplugged microphone stand, heatedly]: “But aren’t you arguing that the art historian should become an artist? In your presentation, you even erroneously refer to Charles Harrison as an artist. This is a dangerous confusion that you are advocating, an undermining of critical competence in favor of expressionist fictions. It’s theatricality run amok. If one follows your path, then art history will be transformed into degraded academic cabaret.”

Perchuk [defensively, somewhat surprised by the vehemence of the attack]: “Uh, uh, actually…I think that I am attempting to describe our professional situation with greater precision and accuracy. My underlying point is that criticality must find forms appropriate to specific situations. Today, we need modes of academic engagement that recognize aspects of the ‘aesthetic’ that already determine the character of our professional activity. We are not inventing new forms here -- we are performing already existing, nameless ones.”

[pause]

“You can’t work constructively with something that you do not recognize or understand. Unfortunately, we have been working in a medium that we have not seriously examined as a medium.”

Questioner: “Yet in advocating the slide lecture, or, as you implied, the powerpoint lecture, as a new vector of critical engagement for art historians, aren’t you simply capitulating to corporate forms of ‘discourse,’ or even worse, buying into the tired myth of new image technology as some kind of libratory agent?”

Perchuk: “No, no. Not at all. [pause] The aesthetic we are interested in subsists only through interaction between scholarship and technology –-- this is not a blind faith in the technological. We want to think about what the projected image in the lecture actually does, or what it has already done generatively…

[interrupts] Questioner: “All the same, your project seems to lack a critical imperative. How does this sort of artifice add to our understanding of the material that you have presented? I found it impossible to concentrate on your paper. This is all so distracting and contrived [gestures, waving hands]. I fail to see how this project is the least bit critical.” [returns to seat]

Meltzer: “My point is that art history needs not only dissenting, critical opinions, we need dissenting forms. We need scholarly approaches that question the unquestioned, examine the unexamined. Even if this process seems at first to be trivializing, or somehow insincere, or even difficult to comprehend as a [scare quotes] ‘scholarly activity’. There’s no way to know which academic procedures will be the most [scare quotes] ‘useful’ in the future. I think that a younger generation of art historians is simply trying to find a way to keep the critical achievements of the past thirty years active in a transformed public sphere. I want art history to be more rigorous, but also more experimental. Too often we imagine that all innovation takes place on the level of the verbal and textual. But this is obviously not true.”

Perchuk [taking up Meltzer’s tone]: “So, we have to experiment with new forms. Clearly the established forms are no longer serving anyone’s needs, and mostly are just adding lines to people’s CV’s. Perhaps, the most critical gesture today is just to be wrong, completely wrong. In public. Unafraid to fail horribly and publicly.”

Meltzer [with a weirdly happy smile]: “Yes, this entire panel may have failed, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe we need a generation of failed art historians.”

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