Tag Archives: postmodernism

Contemporary Art (7) – Marlene Dumas

“My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information).”

Marlene-Dumas-Jule-die Vrou




Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Cape Town) – one of the most important, influential figurative painters working today.

With Dumas one may easy get into a trap of ‘an infatuated viewer’. Trap she has crafted herself – deliberately or not- it is working well, and blinding all those moths that had dared to approach these paintings too close, well beyond the line of their personal zones…

They are there to seduce, to spit at taboo, to provoke, to lit the flames of all sorts of powerful emotions… Embodied femmes fatales, dark and alluring, doomed and the born survivors…

To form any theoretical apparatus for Dumas’ work is a waste of time. Yet, it doesn’t mean the paintings are irrational. Quite opposite is true – to experience them means to approach them with some sort of a keen intelligence, yet it’s a special kind of intelligence; even not the emotional one – more sensual, passionate one… And some deeply fleshly logic has to be put to hard work… Painted with brooding, intense sensations they reveal themselves under the touch of a viewer’s neurological stir…

As paintings-artworks they are deliciously painterly and ardent in execution. Paint is being laid (poured) loosely and in a number of visceral, beautifully transparent layers; highly expressive marks co-exist with a smooth, detailed finish in one part or another. The overall impression is that of a juicy, bitter-sweet forbidden fruit – to be taken of left behind….


“Floating Culture” and the Thickness of things…

Check out these two last posts on Henri Art Magazine:

In Hyperaesthetics – 19 sixty he describes our culture – POMO (Postmodernism) of an unacceptable lightness:

We are somnambulists and voyeurs, lost in the hallucinatory world of light-speed and lenses. We are no longer grounded. We float in the digital subjective, our voices not quite our own, because we have merged into the great electronic collective. (…) We lack depth and heft. We are light as a feather on the breeze – a world of Forrest Gumps. (…) We signify rather than converse. We develop games rather than create poetics. We program applications rather than create mythologies. Our vision determines nothing in the free floating vacuum of space.

Hm, interesting… It reminds me about Japanese Ukyio-efloating world, floating culture from 19th. century, which Hokusai captured in his great woodcuts. That was the world of hedonism, light-weight and extravagance, ‘unbearably light’ as M. Kundera would say. In Hokusai’s ” Great Wave” a disaster strikes dwarfing the frantic efforts of men in boats, who are about to perish. A big metaphor and vision at the same time?

Then, Jerry Saltz is being quoted as commenting on the “Generational: Younger than Jesus” (what an awkward title, after all) exhibition:These young artists show us that the sublime has moved into us, that we are the sublime; life, not art, has become so real that it’s almost unreal. I would disagree – that “Man is the measure of all things” – that’s nothing new; in fact, it has been said in 5th B.C. (Protagoras) and has been repeated endlessly in different forms from then till now. But, hardly ever before man was less ‘sublime’, if one takes traditional/dictionary meaning of the word as : elevated, noble, lofty, awe-inspiring, majestic and out-of-this-world… Well, one could agree on the last adjective Floating in today’s cyber-space, creating avatars and entire parallel worlds/lives online, living in the complex, globalized, absolutely commercialized spacethe contemporary man is, indeed, out-of-this-world. But, if the world he inhabits belongs to the ‘sublime’ experience is rather a questionable point…

Another post: Rough Trade – Thick is a logical consequence of the first one. We are too light, our art is too light… Solution? We have to become thicker… Actually, I find it fascinating – this author from another continent, another generation expresses, in slightly different terms, what I defined as: painting independent ‘living organisms’,  rather than just another image/representation. We echo each other intuitions, as if this mood and a need of a change was in the air:

It is not the “fresh air…around the painting” that we need to be looking at. We’ve had fresh air around painting for FAR TOO LONG. We need fecund, thick air in the painting itself. We need to be panting, gasping for air, in front of the painting. And it’s here that we get to the thickness of things. It’s like when one holds a thing in one’s hand – it has heft and weight, volume and form. It has temperature and texture, it asserts its existence. These are exactly the same things that happen when we look at things without the critical play, when we look at things straight away and it should happen when we look at art. We should see the Thickness of things and by seeing it, we should feel it…


Henri – Mark Stone – is an American painter. To see his personal site click here.

Liminality in Art (1)

This is meant to be an attempt in coining a new term in the Art Theory field.

Curiously enough, the term Liminality continues not to be recognised by the modern dictionaries of English; even though numerous (stated below) researchers have been using it in academic papers. It doesn’t exist as an aesthetic concept or any distinguished phenomenon in the contemporary fine art. Yet, what I would like to claim and what is the reason of this article is my knowledge that this very notion has been persistently influencing the way of defining and interpreting art of the last decades at least. Though never or very rarely (in its adjective form of the liminal) applied as such by the art critics and scholars it has been circulating in the air each time the hybridity, borderline qualities, formlessness or intersemiotics of the Postmodernism has been loathed or admired.

From Latin limen meaning threshold ‘liminality’ is an existential (metaphysical) subjective, state and realm of hovering ‘between and betwixt’ of two (or more) different planes, spaces and/or existential qualities. First described in anthropology (Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner) as a social theory of the liminal states – spaces of a ‘temporary outcast’ when an individual or a group is being placed by the society on its margin in a ritual of purification and/or recognition. It has got also its usage in the contemporary psychology where the liminal means sub- or unconscious state with one’s sense identity being ‘hold’ or dissolved to some extent. In contemporary philosophy J. Derrida  has been called the ‘philosopher of the liminal’ due to his deconstruction attempts of the integral and solid tissue of materiality (more about it in the next parts of this series).

In visual art the ‘threshold’s ‘ aesthetics has been described on the theatre, cinema and performance field (notably S. Zizek, S. Broadhurst) and some curatorial and critical attempts has been made to embrace the liminality of the contemporary artistic expression done by more or less traditional media. Yet, it’s basically the ‘no man’s land’ when painting or sculpture is considered – those realms remain, for the today’s critique and theory (and not surprisingly, by any means) immune to any ‘revolutionary’ ‘new’ aesthetic refurbishment; it became a sort of an ideological cliche – that it’s more convenient to blame painting for its impotency (it’s ‘dead’ anyway, why bother then?…) than to inject any potent conceptual spirit into it by an affirmative reflection.

When J-F. Lyotard has called Postmodernity the nascent state, the state of a permanent ‘becoming’ (The Postmodern Condition, 1979) he basically admitted its innate liminal character; and those artworks that seek to address this condition (both deliberately or not) are probably best recognised for their aesthetics (or anti-aesthetics) of incompleteness – sculptures/installations look as if the artist ran out of the materials to finish them to a decent level; paintings seem to be painfully ‘hanged’ by their own guts with indescribable forms, unidentifiable colours and freaky techniques; videos cry out for any structure, even a hint of a narrative. Their ‘becomingness’ is the only existence they know and it comes invariably as disquieting or even disturbing for the audience. No without a reason the primitive societies considered the liminal states as dangerous, unclean (Turner); and those affected were isolated ‘pro publico bono’.

As hazardous and monstrous in moments as the liminality in art (and beyond it) seems to appear it is also probably the only truly creative state, which – if used wisely – can result in some profound discoveries and metamorphoses. This fructile chaos and the storehouse of possibilities (Turner) is a goldsmith’s workshop of the contemporary art; even though some purists rise an alarm that the state of the constant flux and indeterminacy (where ‘everything goes’) will annihilate all the miserable bits of art that left – let’s be positive… Art is best cared for if it’s accepted just as it appears and shapes itself through the mill of the human spirit; even if refuses to ‘become’ and fit any new uniform – so what?… As far as  minds and hearts are enflamed by it, even with a doubt, even with a turmoil – it fulfills its calling of the ‘fifth element’ – the force of life and death, possibility and danger, sanctus and profane


In the further studies on Liminality in Art (being a part of my studies on the Contemporary Art) I would bring closer the views of the scholars, philosophers mentioned above, as well as I will try to illustrate the theory with some artworks.

Art as seen by Louise Bourgeois

Art is a privilege, a blessing, a relief. (…) Privilege entitles you when you deserve nothing. Privilege is something you have and others don’t.

Art was a privilege given to me and I pursue it even more than a privilege of having children. (…) It’s a fantastic privilege to have access to the unconscious. I have to be worthy of this privilege and to exercise it. It was a privilege also to sublimate. A lot of people cannot sublimate. They have no access to their unconscious. There is something very special and very a painful in the access to your unconscious. But there is no escape from it and no escape from an access once it’s given to you, once you are favoured with it, whether you want it or not…The life of an artist is basically a denial of sex…

(…) I’m not interested in art history (…) Art is not about art, art is about life and that sums it up (…)

Modern art(…) is about the hurt of not being able to express yourself properly, to express your intimate relations, your unconscious, to trust the world enough to express yourself directly in it. It is about trying to be sane in this situation, of being tentatively and temporarily sane by expressing yourself. All art comes from terrific failures and terrific needs that we have.

It is about the difficulty of being a self because one is neglected. Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.

Louise Bourgeois in an interview with D. Kuspit; excerpts from her Destruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998

What can be said more? Perhaps, being a bit bold – that art is not a therapy alone. Art is not an introspection only. Art is about the Other, about the conscious, real, about the self-rejection of the sublime and about cherishing sex. Because sex means to cherish the Other. The Other can be and is your Sublime. No one sane could possibly claim – I’m the only source of my art, of the sublimity, of the privilege and – of the pain my unconscious implies and my art excavates…

Modern, postmodern and conceptual – a date with the ‘now’

Let’s imagine that they met as actual beings – the ‘modern’, the ‘postmodern’ and the ‘conceptual’ – at a round table in a cafeteria. The ‘modern’ is classically beautiful yet it wears rebellious clothes, there is a spark of a charismatic idealism in its eyes; the ‘postmodern’ is the ‘modern’s twin sister, yet it does everything to look bleak and ugly, the ‘conceptual’ is a thoughtful man, who looks like he lost before even he had started for good… They are apparently on a date – the three of them… You cannot be aware of what is going around today without meeting them – and where one name is mentioned the others follow like shadows. But the date lasts for the last hundred years of more… Our trio would like sometimes to perform a cold-blooded murder in order to get rid of, at least, the one of them… c’mon, who would stand a love-hate relationship for a hundred years?…

Did conceptual art mark the end of Modernism? Is Modernism really “gone” – since we still use terms interchangeably – those of the ‘modern’ and the ‘contemporary’ (just look to any modern (!) dictionary of English), and we still live the dream of Matisse’s passions for painting’s powers or Picasso’s gutsy genius of the revolt? If it’s not ‘gone’ – why is – the ‘postmodern’ so tempting and unavoidable in a sense, that even in order to mock the vices of that cynical, deliberately ‘ugly’ twin sister we are bound to use its own way of reasoning, which is never purely ‘logical’ or ‘innocent’ but always syncretic and questioning? What about the ‘conceptual’ (‘Art’) condition of today? How is it (if at all) defending itself against ever-growing accusations of its complete ideological and ontological failure? And – why on Earth – why still do these three keep our contemporary minds under the spell, so it seems impossible to think, feel and create beyond the world of their ongoing date?

In 1994 speaking in the Independence Hall, Philadelphia Czech Republic’s “philosopher-president” Vaclav Havel defined our times as those where”‘everything is possible and nothing is certain”… But – wasn’t it, after all, our grand-grandfathers’ intuition and our fathers’ truth? And what exactly – if – again – anything at all – has finished or underwent a substantial metamorphosis after the trauma of the last century bloody wars? Is our ‘human condition’ different today than it would be at the turn of the 19th and 20th c.? What is it what we undisputably share with the engineers and ‘shakers’ of the last century? Wouldn’t be that never truly expressed, yet always painfully alive sense of the new and forever Paradise Lost – of a serious and one-way Exodus from the Great Romantics sublime universe of the perfect unity, profound meanings and a superior order. This is what the human genius in its pure Kantian, Nietzschean, Darwinian, Freudian, Einsteinian form, exploding on different fields and within comparatively short period of time has left us with – with our world and our human condition as a multifaceted, ever-changing, mighty storm… But the storm in itself is illuminating and a huge step forward (as it appears to be even on a purely scientific basis), yet – in most cases it has been used to wash people’ brains, to throw them into lives, which they are – themselves – the least controlling factor of…

Is there any way to make us – on a bigger scale – to discuss it all, to become aware and to foster a change, a turn ?… anything what would bring us back to ourselves, to what we really are (or used to be), what we are truly capable of ?… Would art be one of the possible answers – art, which – just as at our above-mentioned ‘date’ – sits at the same table with the past, which always refuses to go and with the present, which always refuses to become?… Can art be any answer at all? You are right to doubt seeing some of the most popular artistic ‘mascots’ of today, celebrated the way Matisse’s least significant apprentice would refused to be engaged in…

But ‘the date’ is on – we can mock it, we can join it, we can invent an alternative. But first of all – we cannot be afraid of thinking on our own. We have to come back to the true value of a disciplined thinking, because – as one of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters puts it: “Either you think or others will have to think for you – and they will take all the powers from you”…

For further reading, for fun as well:

A World History of Art, (ed.) Honor, H. and Fleming, J., 5th Edition, Great Britain, 1991
Baudrillard, J,. The Hyper-realism of Simulation, 1976 in Art in Theory 1900-1990, (ed.) Harrison, Ch. And Wood, P., Oxford, 1993, pp. 1049-1051
Hopkins, D., After Modern Art 1945-2000, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000

Godfrey, T., Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press, London 1997

Kosuth, J., Art after Philosophy, 1969 in Art in Theory 1900-1990, (ed.) Harrison, Ch. And Wood, P., Oxford, 1993, pp. 840-849
Sokal, A., Bricmont, J., Intellectual Impostures, Economics Books, New Ed edition, 2003

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