Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein

by Travis Jeppesen on May 20, 2008

Alien Insurrection: A Note on Theory

by Travis Jeppesen on May 20, 2008


I’ve been reading off and on this since shortly after I attended the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art exhibition in London. I was intrigued by the title, so I picked it up. I have to say, I’m finding it quite dull. Theory seems to do little more than ruin one’s experience of a work of art. The older I get, the less interested I am in walking around with other people’s ideas jumbled in my brain – especially when I look at something – they just get in the way. History seems so much more important. History answers questions that theory can only poke at.

A question to artists: Is theory more important to you than literature (fiction, poetry, etc.)? Why? (Ignoring criticism at the moment, considering it to be a separate field, separate from both “theory” and “literature,” as vaguely designated above. The reason is complicated, and I will attempt to explain it later.)

Rauschenberg: 1925-2008

by Travis Jeppesen on May 20, 2008

It’s hard not to fall into the trap of thinking about Robert Rauschenberg from a historical perspective. Like two of his lovers, Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly, he is frequently seen as a transitional figure, and perhaps more than the others, he was the artist whose work formed a bridge from the Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s to the Pop Art of the 1960s. By circumstance, he was also the first artist to introduce the enfant terrible notion into the American art world, becoming infamous – if not openly despised by the critical establishment – with his first exhibited works, which no one could make sense of at the time. For many, that struggle continues.

One typically becomes the establishment by resisting it for the vast duration of one’s life. Rauschenberg got “in” early, then went back “out” as soon as he could, living for much of the latter half of his life on an island off the coast of Florida in relative isolation from the rest of the so-called art world. He never really evolved much as an artist – his work either stayed the same or grew less interesting as he got older. He kept making it, though. I haven’t seen enough of the later work to pronounce judgment on it, but perhaps some enterprising institution will throw together a definitive exhibition of the later work, from 1970 up to 2008, to allow the public to decide.

My own relationship to Rauschenberg’s work is so personal that it makes it difficult for me to trust my own judgment. I wasn’t able to start looking at art seriously until 1997, when I moved to New York for college. Wandering through that city’s great permanent collections, Rauschenberg’s combine paintings had a strong impact on my developing sensibility (which some might call an anti-sensibility.) There was something jarring and anti-aesthetical about his work from the 1960s that I most likely related to through punk rock, my sourceless anger. Rauschenberg assumed the role in art that Kathy Acker assumed in literature. I tried – unsuccessfully, of course – to imitate both, because imitation is what you do early on in life when you have yet to find your own way.

As I grew up, traveled, and looked at more art, I began to have severe doubts about my initial estimation of much of Rauschenberg’s work. The problem for many, of course, is the fact that Rauschenberg’s work rarely looks good. I could never wholeheartedly subscribe to a blanket denunciation of his work (such as Jed Perl’s), because some of it does cohere on a visual level. There are a lot of failed experiments out there, but there’s a quality of motion and rhythm in a lot of his larger paintings that I find completely compelling, even when they make me dizzy and nauseous. A lot of his paintings seem like anti-design. In actuality, I think they represent total design – by going back to foundational design principles.

Still, what remains the most disruptive feature of Rauschenberg’s art is its brutal lack of definitionality. He famously quipped that he wanted to erase the artificial barrier separating art from life, and thus became an ambassador of openness – the American equivalent to Joseph Beuys, but with a markedly different way of going about it. Just as he once erased a de Kooning, he might as well have erased himself, because he wanted his art to be viewed by the world as a creation of the world. The world in its comeuppance, its severe vision of things. He started out as a naïve outsider from a provincial nowheresville, and graduated back into the obscurity from whence he came. With Rauschenberg, it is perhaps still too early to assess the true value of his work.


This piece originally appeared in Think Again, Prague’s free city magazine in English. 

Color Theory

by Travis Jeppesen on May 10, 2008

Carsten Nicolai

Eigen + Art, Berlin

Through June 28th, 2008

The day was a pinkish orange thing, and as I entered the gallery, the orange overwhelmed the pink in a way that was unbearable – especially the heat. It is generated by a large neon wall that reflects nothing – just the scent of its own burning. Surrounded by three panels of yellow – one on the left, two on the right – unilluminated. Four silver rocklike formations on a table in front. They reflect the light and energy of the neon, perhaps even radiate with a heat of their own. You suddenly realize that the heat is coming from above, not just in front of you. You look up and nearly go blind – four mega-watt bulbs burn your eyes out. You can’t see what other purposes they would serve – the light coming from the orange is bright enough – so they must have been placed there on purpose.

The exhibition is called “Tired Light.” It has to do with a theory that fascinates the artist, a theory that has it that light loses energy when it travels far distances – hence, tired light. But the light in the gallery is not tired. It is right in front of you. The tired light theory was later abandoned. The space-time continuum became more important. Some say it still is.

If you stare long enough into the orange – if your eyes can handle it – you start to see wavy lines. The orange wall is comprised of three rectangular panels, all equal in height and width. The yellows are much smaller. Where the orange is harsh, the yellow is absorbing. The silver balls reflect. So: protrusion, absorption, reflection. A sensate language lacking a vocabulary. This is not a necessity that burns. It is a heat whose source can immediately be discerned.


Climbing the Anal Staircase: The Art of No Bra

by Travis Jeppesen on May 4, 2008



They say No Bra is all tits and wonder, but they’re wrong. There’s also a lot of cock, and even some fake mustache. This isn’t music for the masses; it’s music that makes fun of the masses – or at least that quotient of the masses that imagines it constitutes an elite.

Susanne Oberbeck dreams of fags and slags, then writes songs about those dreams. She’s singing to herself; the homeless guy on the street. She makes up her own rhythms rather than morphing her madness into someone else’s. There is no other music like this. There’s no spite or cynicism in the stories she tells about the people around her, the people in her dreams. Just a curiosity, which is a natural curiosity; it is rooted in an awareness that people are unknowable, that no matter how close you get to another person, they will always remain a stranger. At a time when electronic music has devolved into fashion and most of its practitioners are visionless victims of pathetic trends, No Bra inserts something closer to the grit of realism into its sound. No Bra doesn’t seem to care if you dance or not. This is a music that isn’t necessarily social, although it can be. It’s an introspective kind of music, introspective and personal. It mumbles and it beeps. Yet it remains whorish and singular and tough to digest.

Oberbeck is fascinated with the illusion of gender – an illusion that, in its systematic guise, has been transmitted throughout the holes and hollows of history, bringing us into the now. She questions this weirdness, and is thus viewed as weird herself. She understands that what can’t be readily understood gets people’s attention. This is why No Bra never feels the need to declaim anything musically; it is rather presented as a form of being – something we’d much rather experience, anyway, as long as that experience is visceral and transitory.

This leads us into the threat of violence that so much of this is predicated upon. No Bra’s characters go to the gay sauna, get their hearts and necks broken. This makes sense; there are many types of pain, why should the pop song only focus on one?

“You make me feel like a woman – You make me feel DEAD.”


Why don’t I chop my own cock off and give it to you as a present (i.e. as a present absence)? Maybe you’d be able to discover a use for it that I’d never, it currently being in my possession, if you can call it that when it’s up someone else’s ass, when I’m literally attempting to invade something, someone I can never comprehend. What is my cock doing while I’m sitting here writing this. Is it asleep. Polka-dot boxers. My first pair. I don’t own them anymore, I don’t remember what happened to them. Chairs on the TV, and when we go by the river at night, are the lights contained inside it? Submerged? I am starting to think there are answers. Answers that make sense. As though we lived in such a world. When the lights dim, does the Actual start to appear? My father was a teenager once. I didn’t know him then. Should I be angry with him because every time he jerked off, it meant I could’ve been born sooner? No, for what if I’d have cancer now, as a different being. I call certain people up in my mind, remember to tell them things it may be too late to be saying. Instead all morphs into shadow. We begin to block out the circumstances. It shows great concision. Those aspects of ourselves we pour so much psychic energy into ignoring, the hopeful result to be that others won’t notice them. Those others become fixtures in our thought landscapes. A nebulous guide. The fields generate their own sadness. You don’t need to lie to yourself to imagine boiling. You are just taking a picture – yourself in another vein. Or perhaps vain. You solve problems every day, you build an engine. No one else inside. Just the pathetic memory of being there, the substances consumed, the blunders made. The railing meant to keep out the goons – but not their stares.


To allege control over circumstances once seemed worth it.

There is a certain interpretation of loss being proffered here. One that entails a misjudgment, or the positing of misjudgment as a possible alibi. Where exactly in the soul does guilt come to be located?

Pastiche is fucked, so is irony.

A voice is there. It makes you aware.

What do your friends look like. When you begin to destroy your surface. Being dead and alive at once. You fall asleep inside yourself, all external reactions pre-programmed. That sort of sci-fi gayness, retrofuturistic faggotry, assert a nod to this week (month/year)’s whim. Grimness is saturated in the desertion of all principled stances, observational annoyances registered in the gesticulation of a tic. The city with its ridiculous way of talking – the darkness and absurdity in its gross dialects. Don’t judge my detritus; I’ll pretend not to notice yours.


Susanne Oberback by Christophe Chemin

hear me read, see me lick…..

by Travis Jeppesen on May 2, 2008

I read out loud (a slightly edited version of) “What the Witch Doctor Says” at Foyles Bookshop in London.

I eat pussy on Bruce LaBruce’s blog.

While we’re on the subject of aliens…

by Travis Jeppesen on May 1, 2008

I wrote this review for Think Again magazine; I thought I’d include it here because I picked up the book at the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art show at the Barbican when I was in London. It was actually the only book on ufology that they were selling at the Barbican, which leads me to believe that it likely represents the curators’ sole effort at digging into the subject, which is rather unfortunate….

UFO Religion by Gregory L. Reece


Ufology is a boundless field that, in many ways, is not a field. Its practitioners come from a wide array of backgrounds, and include amateurs, esoteric fanatics, alleged contactees, and academics, many of whom claim to possess some vital nugget of truth related to those lights and phallic discs that occasionally appear in the night skies, only to vanish into the very blackness from which they materialized.


Given the highly speculative nature of the field, ufology differs from other subjects of study in that just about anyone who wants to can declare himself or herself an expert. This has given birth to a vast body of literature, some of which is quite profound and wide-ranging in its implications, while a lot more is quite simply bunk. In recent years, Brenda Denzler’s The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs, a masterful sociological history of the ufological movement that carefully and intricately probes that undefined area situated at the intersection of science and religion, fits into the first category. I expected something similar from Gregory L. Reece’s recent book, UFO Religion, and was let down.


Subtitled “Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture,” UFO Religion crudely summarizes the major sighting incidents, contactee movements, and popular theories regarding the origins of UFOs. A cynical skeptic, Reece offers no new theories of his own – nor is he likely qualified to. He is identified in his bio only as “an independent writer and scholar based in Montevallo, Alabama,” wherever the hell that is, and is unaffiliated with any university. His writing is devoid of any persuasive arguments or compelling tidbits of information; rather than employing impassioned debate against the saucer phenomenon rooted in some subtle form of scientific, sociological, and/or psychological analysis, Reece relies on lazy cynicism and jokes that aren’t funny. While the book is chock full of citations and comes equipped with a modest bibliographical compendium, the book reads like a 200 page long Wikipedia entry. One suspects that this is where Reece conducted most of his research.


Far from taking us “inside” the culture and quasi-religious tendencies of ufology, UFO Religion repeats what anyone with a vague understanding of the feral subject already knows. Anyone who’s new to the field would be better off starting with the sources and forming their own conclusion, rather than wasting time on this misleading excuse of a study, which is as lacking in insight as it is in seriousness and integrity.

Ground Control

by Travis Jeppesen on April 23, 2008


The Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art

Barbican Art Gallery, London

Through May 18th, 2008


The Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art is a hilarious piss-take on the anthropological impulse that tends to taint so much contemporary curatorial practice – not to mention contemporary art.


It all started off with curators Francesco Manacorda and Lydia Yee being asked to organize a survey of current trends in sculpture, and somehow morphed into something otherworldly along the way.


The launching pad seems to be the first chapter of Thierry de Duve’s Kant After Duchamp, which attempts to understand art through the eyes of a Martian anthropologist visiting Earth. In his quest to understand this human phenomenon called art, he gathers as many specimens as he sees fit to bring back to his planet, divides them into representative categories meant to represent Earthling art in the context of Earthling culture, and voilà.


The exhibition begins with Sherrie Levine’s bronze tribute to Duchamp’s urinal – an image also reproduced in the beginning of Duve’s book; Tacita Dean’s documentation of her search for Spiral Jetty; and Maurizio Cattelan’s portrait of Picasso as a Lichtenstein, among others. This is the “Kinship and Descent” section of the museum, in which the terrestrials pay homage to their artistic gods. The Martians are presumably unable to see the irony in pieces like Douglas Gordon’s Self-portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe (reproduced above.) All the more fun for us, then.


Mike Kelley’s Frankenstein is presented under the “Totems” section; Warhol’s Mao and Scott King’s Cher enliven the “Icons”; Bruce Nauman’s My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon is an instance of “Interplanetary Communication”; Jimmie Durham and Jason Rhoades contribute to the “Unclassified Objects.” Etcetera, etcetera.


The assumption behind all of this – Duve and the curators alike – is that art must somehow be totally unique to humanity, completely outside Martian consciousness. What if it’s not, though? What if, for instance, the extraterrestrials know nothing outside of art? Or, what if our art happens to be infinitely more sophisticated than theirs? “No, it could never be” – this seems to be the common assumption. But why?


Had the curators dug a bit further into the mind boggling field of ufology, they might have managed to probe questions of a deeper philosophical, rather than anthropological, nature – which would have resulted in a much more serious exhibition. (Anyway, why do Manacorda and Yee’s Martians have anthropologists but not artists? Is this a question the curators ever stopped to ask themselves?) At the same time, it would have also taken a lot of the fun away. This is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time, and the organizers should be commended for bringing laughter back into the gallery space. Why must art be so stuffy all the time, anyway?


All in all, the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art shows an interesting means of reverting to a zero degree standpoint, wherein we may attempt to forget everything we know about art and try to see these objects in a new light. This is something of a challenge, as the work that the curators have chosen is so densely saturated in cultural meaning, we cannot but trip over extra-sensory overload wherever we turn. I’m talking about the focus on work that refutes the sort of self-containment and self-referentiality of Modernism; the “contemporary” as defined by the Duchamp canon. Perhaps this tells us a little bit more than we’d like to acknowledge about what art has become. But only by seeing the limitations of the “contemporary” in all their nudity can we begin to surpass them. And you don’t need an anthropologist to tell you that.


The Institute of Psychoplasmics

by Travis Jeppesen on April 18, 2008

I’m proud to be a part of the Institute of Psychoplasmics, a group exhibition currently on (through May 26, 2008) at the Pump House Gallery in London’s Battersea Park.

The Institute of Psychoplasmics, curated by the Pil and Galia Kollectiv, is an exhibition about cultic social groupings and how they challenge the integrity of the social body by producing another within it. It takes its name from the eponymous fictional institute in David Cronenberg’s film The Brood, in which rage is encouraged to take the form of a cancerous schism within the body. Recreated within the Pump House gallery, the institute will investigate cults, brainwashing, war games, rituals and other explorations of the body politic as a metaphor for the social body, through videos,   paintings, sculptures, sound and object-based installations, live work, a discussion panel and a publication.

My contribution to the exhibition is a short story, “What the Witch Doctor Says,” which appears in the exhibition catalog.


My Life in Meat: Death as Art, Art as Death

by Travis Jeppesen on April 16, 2008

This essay was originally published in Czech translation in 2005. It appears here in the original English version for the first time. It is part of the forthcoming collection, Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the “Contemporary” (Social Disease, 2008).




I’m writing this in the United States of America, which, in case you didn’t know, is the fattest nation on Earth. Glancing at all the lard asses surrounding me, I sometimes wonder how I got let off the hook. I mean, I was a normal American kid by most standards. I grew up in the south, where the local cuisine dictates that everything including vegetables must be fried in animal fat, ate at McDonald’s several times a week, never exercised, often skipped out on gym class to smoke cigarettes and dope. Yet I was always a lightweight.

    For a while I even stayed away from meat. I became a vegetarian, mostly to piss off my parents. It didn’t last long. Resisting the cunning allure of dead animals proved to be a futile effort, and I soon found myself eating them once again on a more or less regular basis. 

Then one day, I became obsessed with serial killers. Of course I’d always known that monsters depicted in slasher films like Friday the 13th and Psycho existed in real life. What I learned in my research, though, is that a killer’s mania often stems from a lifelong fascination with dead things.

At a party, I was once fortunate enough to meet a sociologist whose research focused extensively on serial killers. We ended up talking at length about the psychopathology of every day life, and although we were freebasing cocaine at the time, her answers nevertheless shone some interesting light on the subject. For instance, the myth of pornography. Shortly before Ted Bundy was executed, he made some statement along the lines of “pornography is what made me savagely rape and butcher to death dozens of girls.” Of course pornography doesn’t cause psychopathic behavior; in fact, according to my crack-smoking sociologist friend, the common thread that links most of history’s more brutal serial killers isn’t porn, but horror films. Necrophiliac killer Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, used to watch The Exorcist 2 compulsively. In real life, Dahmer fetishized death in the same way that he saw it fetishized on screen. In the uncanny way that art and life feed off one another, Dahmer became an artist – a meat artist – keeping body parts of his victims around the house to play with and eat, with the ultimate goal of building a sort of shrine made out of his victims’ body parts – a shrine that he felt would heal him. Unfortunately, he was arrested before he had a chance to complete this masterpiece.

Ed Gein, a figure whose life was later used as a model for numerous horror films including Texas Chainsaw Massacre, took things even further. When police arrived at his Wisconsin farmhouse in the late ‘50s, they found a vast collection of meat art. In the woodshed of the farm was the naked, headless body of Bernice Worden, hanging upside down from a meat hook and slit open down the front. Her head and intestines were discovered in a box, her heart on a plate in the dining room. The skins from ten human heads were found preserved, and another skin taken from the upper torso of a woman was rolled up on the floor. There was a belt fashioned from carved-off nipples, a chair upholstered in human skin, the crown of a skull used as a soup-bowl, lampshades covered in flesh pulled taut, a table propped up by a human shinbones, and a refrigerator full of organs. The four posts on Gein’s bed were topped with skulls and a human head hung on the wall alongside nine death-masks – the skinned faces of women – and decorative bracelets made out of human skin. The stunned searchers also uncovered soup bowls fashioned from skulls, a shoebox full of female genitalia, faces stuffed with newspapers and mounted like hunting trophies on the walls, and a “mammary vest” flayed from the torso of a woman. Gein later confessed that he enjoyed dressing himself in this and other human-skin garments and pretending he was his own mother.

Then there are the numerous performance artists who have used meat – that is, the flesh of dead animals – in their actions. The most notable contributions to meat art were made in the 1960s by the Vienna Actionists (Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Hermann Nitsch, Otto Muehl, and Gunter Brus). Their actions, which rifled the feathers of the stiff Austrian public and resulted in jail time for many of the participants, often included the ritualistic slaughter of animals, whose innards were then smeared over the performers’ bodies, which were in turn treated like meat via self-mutilation.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a whole new generation of musicians who had been weaned on slasher flicks began forming metal bands, making a lot of terrible noise while belching out lyrics using grotesque medical terminology to describe impossibly fatal and disgusting bodily quandaries. Grindcore was born, and in the center of it all was a band called Carcass, with song titles like “Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency” and “Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites.” While Carcass isn’t around anymore, this initial strain of grindcore still exists today in the form of gore metal, represented by bands like Haemorrhage and Exhumed.

For the first time in history, the last century’s carnivorous artwork has assigned a new pertinence to dead flesh – namely, meat as muse and matter. These artists have made the ultimate Cartesian split, refusing to deify the human body by viewing it as merely another material in the penultimate vision guiding their creations. In an aesthetic universe, vision alone takes precedence over everything else, transcending all the conflicts and traumas imposed on the psyche by the meat we carry around inside us – the very meat that unites us with nature and guides us in our efforts to destroy this nature as loudly as possible. For it is in those desultory orgiastic explosions of violence – the ultimate desecration of the sacred body – that truth subsides on this lowly earthly plane. 

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ... 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 Next