Day One: Punk, Abstraction, Cake.

Meg Santisi

Day One, A quick recap:


Taking Mad Notes

Taking mad amounts of notes at each session…









What a full day! For energy between sessions I opted for a $3.00 bag of pretzels (!) from the Hilton gift shop, made many trips to the third floor bathrooms for those complimentary hand-exfoliants, and took a brisk walk through Grant Park (cold).

The Hilton is packed full of us art types, as we carry our black tote bags between sessions, and scan the names on badges for friends and colleagues. It helped enormously to have game-planned in advance. Knowing a bit about the panelists, their papers, and artwork allowed me to bounce around more easily between sessions and even ask a few questions.

The sessions I spent the most time at: Visual Culture Caucus: On the Industrial Sublime and Articulating Abstraction. I also caught bits of Towards A Loser’s Art History: Artistic Failure in the Long Nineteenth Century and accidentally missed (dang!) On Sampled Time: Artist’s Videos and Popular Culture. I witnessed a fiery audience-to-panel argument at Sensitive Instruments (A Painting Discussion) and moved on to cocktails with my fellow bloggers and our Columbia College sponsors Amy Mooney and Duncan Mackenzie. At the end of all that I ate a giant slice of my birthday cake and fell fast asleep…

 Here’s (just a few) things from Day One:
@ Visual Culture Caucus: On The Industrial Sublime
Guggenheim curator Nat Trotman’s excellent paper “Re/Search Magazine 1980-84” looked at the punk ‘zine Re/Search, founded in San Francisco by the then City Lights bookstore employee V Vale. Re/Search is still around today.
Re/Search Magazine (IMG:

Re/Search Magazine (IMG:

Like punk (and subsequent industrial music), Re/Search promoted anti-institutional politics and civil disobedience. It reported on conspiracy theory and drug culture while documenting abject-bodily performance art. Written in an assaultive and ironic voice, ‘zines like Re/Search and Search & Destroy focused on a bottom-up, anti-institutional set of tactics, all while recognizing the zine’s own place as part of a hegemonic media “machine.” Here I found myself thinking of Arthur Magazine, a contemporary ‘zine that covers similar ground…


Some slides from Nat Trotman’s presentation “RE/Search Magazine 1980-4”

Trotman’s presentation rightfully links Re/Search to other politically and aesthetically avant-garde movements such as Surrealism (specifically Bataille’s base-materialism), Situationism, and the Burroughs-meets-Ginsberg breed of San Francisco counter culture. Uncannily, I’ve been lately reading Bataille’s The Story of the Eye, editing some of my writing on abjection and the sublime, and thinking of several performances with Artaud in mind – and so Trotman’s presentation proved the perfect first experience of the conference, leaving me feeling like I couldn’t wait to get the next session.

@ Articulating Abstraction: A highly attended session regarding the contemporary state of abstract painting.


Keltie Ferris, O*P*E*N* (left) and Siasec Yem (right) (IMG: School of Visual Arts)

Chaired by Sharon L. Butler, Brown University, the panel was composed of the following artists and critics: Barry Schwabsky, The Nation Magazine and Artforum; Timothy Nolan, independent artist; Alexander Kroll, independent artist; Keltie Ferris, independent artist; Rebecca Morris, Pasadena City College; Terry R. Myers, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Jessica Stockholder, University of Chicago.

What a talented panel. I wanted to attend this session for two reasons: firstly, to hear from artists talking about their own practices; secondly, I am lately fascinated by how abstraction and its rhetoric is applied to performance. I often adopt the language of abstract painters when writing and thinking about theatre, film, new media etc, but feel unsure of its usage in that context.

Perhaps an abstract performance? Robert Wilson's The Black Rider

I ask: Is there such a thing as “abstract performance”? / Still from Robert Wilson, The Black Rider. (IMG:

The task of the panel is the same: As artists and scholars how do we ARTICULATE the urge toward abstraction? After the session I’m left with no real answers, only more thoughtful questions, each in the words of the panel:

…Why do we have to keep “murdering” Clement Greenberg? …Does the idea of “victimization” as abstract artists work to our advantage?  …What, really, does formalism mean? …Does it mean remaining inside the fictive at the expense of reality? …How do we define abstraction without having to define it against something else? …Is all painting abstract? (And for that matter, is all performance?) …And is this ALL JUST A VEILED DISCUSSION OF VALUE?

Friends, I’m writing all this in the middle of Day 2.  And there’s so much to see and hear and write about.

More soon, stay tuned!

-revised 2/13 11:25pm



Day One: Punk, Abstraction, Cake.

Day One, A quick recap:                 What a full day! For energy between sessions I opted for a $3.00 bag of pretzels (!) …

BA Art History '13 Meg Santisi,
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605