Wednesday, March 14

Who wants Yesterday’s Newspaper?

One of Dave McKenzie’s two contributions to Just Kick It Till It Breaks is called Yesterday’s Newspaper. The set-up is simple: a gallery assistant places a folded copy of the New York Times—straight from the newsstand—on a low wooden base every day the gallery is open. As the work’s title indicates, the issue is not that particular day’s edition but the one before.

The press release for McKenzie’s last solo exhibition, held January 5–February 10, 2007, at Small A Projects in Portland, Oregon, says that Yesterday’s Newspaper “is an object that is at once useless and historical, disposable and archived. It is also a sculpture that amplifies the disappointments of the present while anticipating the brighter possibilities of the future. Yesterday’s Newspaper relies on a caretaker (in this case, the gallery) for its maintenance.” The press release’s author compares this activity to the replenishing of ephemeral work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres; Robert Gober also worked with newspapers in the early 1990s with a different purpose. But I digress.

As the major theme of the Kitchen exhibition is reappropriation using a wide nexus of quotes and source material—more on that later—Yesterday’s Newspaper references an earlier moment and another artist, Dan Graham. McKenzie’s work is a literal manifestation of Graham’s idea of the “just-past,” which in turn was borrowed from Walter Benjamin (who cribs from Marx and the Surrealists). Graham articulated this theory in a short talk that was published in the first Discussions in Contemporary Culture (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 1987). He writes:
I believe now that the task of the artist is in part to resuscitate the just-past—that period in time made amnesiac by commodity culture—and apply it as “anti-aphrodisiac” (Walter Benjamin’s phrase). The Rolling Stones’s song “Yesterday’s Papers”—“Who wants yesterday’s papers? Who wants yesterday’s girl? No one in the world”—make this anti-aphrodisiac aspect of the just-past clear.

According to Benjamin, “progress,” the 19th-century scientific and ultimately capitalistic myth, is expressed in commodities, fashion goods which “produce a sense of eternal newness.” This makes progress a mythical goal, never to be reached, for there is always the new and it is always superceded by the next new. For Benjamin, then, progress is actually a state of stasis. And yet it is this very stasis that makes the recovery of the just-past potentially subversive.
It’s amusing to see an artist make a work of art based directly on Graham’s theory, whether intentional or not. The Graham essay is scanned and posted below—it’s only three pages long, four with the footnotes and well worth the read. Everything in the text illuminates a lot of what’s going on in Just Kick It Till It Breaks. The essay could also potentially work against the exhibition, much of which focuses on the revolutionary sixties, and make McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper surprisingly stronger than the other works because it focuses on the importance of what’s happening now without a whiff of nostalgia. Consider Graham again, this time in conversation with the video artist Michael Smith in the May 2004 Artforum:
DG: I thought Outstanding Young Men was hilarious. You were reviving ‘80s disco culture, but it was a ridiculous revival. I think it’s very important to look at how ridiculous the “just past” is.

MS: The what?

DG: The just past: Walter Benjamin said the just past is very important—it’s a little like “Yesterday’s Papers” by the Rolling Stones. They ask, “Who wants yesterday’s papers?” Nobody. Nobody wants to look at the just past. People almost always look to a few decades before instead. And every time you have a neo-’60s or a neo-’70s, like we’re seeing now among artists, you’re canceling out the just past. I was trying to get at the just past in the Dia Art Foundation roof piece, for example, combining the corporate atrium of the ‘80s and the alternative space of the ‘70s.

MS: I’m thinking that the “just past” is always Mike’s present. It’s fresh for him, since he’s always behind the times. Everything has been absorbed and digested before Mike even considers a taste.


Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating excavation you guys have going with this show.

I was on craigslist yesterday, browsing the 'for sale' section, and one post included the line at the end, "No tire kickers." A funny and ridiculous sentiment! After all, I'm the consumer, I'll kick the damn tires if I want. But I guess that's the condition we're in. No tire kicking.

So it's really interesting to me that you two have been kicking the tires of this show; you're not there to buy, just checking it out to see if it's up to snuff. My hunch is that the treads might be a little bald, on closer inspection.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing about hunches, I think, is that they often can be wrong. Perhaps only one or two tires need replacement.