Old Fire Station Blog

News, happenings and goings on from the Old Fire Station, Oxford

Barbara Kruger at Modern Art Oxford

Barbara Kruger’s name first cropped up in my art history module at Banbury OCVC. A fleeting photo of a billboard, included in a lesson about pop art & post modernism; I was intrigued by the idea of public art that made a statement. Several years later, I see her name again; she’s giving a talk in Oxford to support a new show of hers, at Modern Art Oxford.

I go, I get a press pack, I see her, curly haired, 60s, vivacious, New-York-Jew witty, reminding me of Woody Allen movies.  I hang on her every word. I feel awestruck.  Her work is iconoclastic, playful, yet profound, trying to find meaning in a society where meaning is subsumed by consumerism.

I ask her some questions during the Q&A session: Does the fact that we’re taking photos instead of writing journals mean that we’re not engaging emotionally, or not examining our experiences critically, the way we used to? She responded,

“We know very young children are wired differently now, and that origins of desires, the notion of eye contact with another human beings, has changed because of working the fingers and doing the screens, and that changes social relations, there’s no doubt about that. “Being Here Now”, and I don’t want to celebrate this as being unproblematic,   has been incredibly interfered with by the fact that “I am here, now look at this”, “I am writing to you now telling you that I am here now” so things are changing.”

Can Art be Revolutionary and should it be?

“The word has its own valourisation, a self-heroism, its in its own movie of triumphalism and being on the right side of the angels, and, in fact, social changes come by through increments and fits and start, and whenever I hear the term revolution or feminist revolution, as if feminists themselves weren’t engaged in the deconstruction of this singularity, the masculinism of that triumphalism; I always have problems with  that. It gets better then it gets worse. Do I wish for a time when there’s more social justice, more emancipatory allowance? yes… one person’s revolution is another person’s hell. That’s a little Binary [laughs]”

At the end, I go up and ask her if she’s considered how, as public spaces are now secondary to cyber space, she might move to take over those spaces in a similar way to her take overs of public and art  spaces.  She replied that of course she had, but only thought of the ease at which her work could be replicated.

I said she should team up with the Anonymous network and take over websites. This seemed to make her uncomfortable. I then quipped that instead of a 500 word review, I should just use one sentence from her talk and post it instead of an image.

Well, I kind of caved in to convention, but at the top and bottom of this piece you’ll find two pieces I did in response to her talk and exhibition – what do you think? – I’m trying to play with her use of ‘found’ pictures (which were all someone else’s work originally) and copyright; what constitutes plagiarism?; homage or rip-off?  The images  used are images from the public domain,  one of Blair, the other of Bobby Kennedy after his assassination (The chicano busboy Juan Romero said he felt responsible for not stopping Sirhan Sirhan from fatally shooting Kennedy, who he’d been shaking hands with.) The texts are 2 phrases she used in her talk.

As for Kruger’s exhibition at MAO, which continues until the end of the August, when I first saw it I wrote this –

Oscillations, white lines and uprights, a sense of dislocation, seasickness. People as objects on the art, messing with the sense of scale, “you’re not meant to feel stable in there” she says when I see her in the cafe. Of the text used, the statement “the joyful, brutal, fearful end of it all” is categorically not apocalyptic, nor does it refer to her looking at the end of life or career as a senior artist. It’s “just a text” but Barbara, when pressed, indicated that she’s not completely sure what influences her choices. Subconscious fears at work?

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