– Spring/Summer 2007

Prohibitions... Props... Performatives: Surefire (and other) ways to do away with property

Shepherd Steiner

Tags: Conceptual art, Karl Marx, Michael Fried, Paul McCarthy

Jennifer Bornstein, Margaret Mead in Authentic Samoan Dress, 2003, copperplate etching, 33 x 23cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Jennifer Bornstein, Margaret Mead in Authentic Samoan Dress, 2003, copperplate etching, 33 x 23cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The abolition of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of
all human senses and qualities, but it is this emancipation precisely
because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and
objectively, human. The eye has become a human eye, just as its
object has become a social, human object - an object made by man for man.

- Karl Marx 1

Two points to consider (read: turn on) in the copperplate etchings of Jennifer Bornstein:
1) her works function as props for acts;
2) her works function as props for meaning.
A third point, if we can call it that, independent of the former hierarchy and which permits this systematisation of experience to flip into its obverse, involves the interface between meaning and actions - something we can describe as the parasitisation of the one by the other. For example, having been drawn into the orbit of a single etching titled Margaret Mead in Authentic Samoan Dress (2003), an interpretative horizon comes into focus. Questions of subject matter, choice of themes and the potential reveal of everyday relationships, presumably governed by Mead's anthropology, interpersonal relations and her notion of field research, open up a vista that is totalising in its logic and indifferent to the works' other ontology of action. At this moment the body of work becomes a humorous set of autobiographical documents, possible fictions, future and past projects in film and three dimensions, a compilation of favourite artists and writers, as well as an odd peer group. Numbering more than one-hundred discrete etchings, the meet-and-greet includes Teenage Roommate Reading National Geographic, Marvin with his Skateboard,

  1. Karl Marx, 'Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844', Volume 3, Marx and Engels: 1843-44, New York: International Publishers, 1975, p.300.

  2. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 3 November 2005-9 January 2006.

  3. Andrzej Warminski frames the problem in what should be a touchstone for rethinking the political subject today: 'If we do not take still another step to rewrite, reinscribe, the terms of the inversion differently, otherwise, in an other text, we remain in danger of merely confirming the system of binary, hierarchical oppositions, ourselves identifiable as those who are merely opposed, who are merely contre, and who are therefore easily recuperable for the dialectical resources of any hegemonic system.' Andrzej Warminski, 'Prefatory Postscript', Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p.xxxv.

  4. See especially Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History, Princeton University Press, 2004, pp.82-123.

  5. See Michael Fried, 'Art and Objecthood', Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp.148-72.

  6. Jennifer Bornstein, Documentation of Events That May Not Have Taken Place, Ghent: Imschoot, uitgevers, 1999.

  7. Jennifer Bornstein quoted in Ann Goldstein, 'Between Bodies and Objects', Jennifer Bornstein, Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2005, p.56.

  8. See W.B. Michaels, op. cit., p.2.

  9. Jennifer Bornstein, How to Ride the Bus, London: Four Corners Books, 2007 (forthcoming),p.4.

  10. Ralph Waldo Emerson quoted in Thomas Wentworth Higgins, 'Preface from Poems 1890', M.L. Todd and T.W. Higginson (ed.), Collected Poetry of Emily Dickinson, New York: Gramercy Books, 1982, p. xix.

  11. See Arthur Rimbaud, 'Ma Bohème', Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works, New York: Harper Colophon, 1967, p. 41. The filmic equivalent would be Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), in which Jack Nicholson takes a ride on a chain of substitutive relationships.

  12. See Anne Goldstein and Anne Rorimer, Reconsidering the Object of Art, 1965-1975 (exh. cat.), Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995.

  13. Bornstein's general orientation here is to the historical moment in the 1970s when film had little or no market value.

  14. Alan Sekula, 'Michael Asher, Down to Earth', Afterall, Issue 1, 1999, p.11.

  15. See Louis Althusser, 'Contradiction and Overdetermination: Notes for an Investigation', For Marx, London: Verso, 1969, pp.87-128.

  16. See J. Bornstein, How to Ride the Bus, op. cit., p.37.

  17. I follow Fried's choice of the word 'hypostatised' on page 153 of 'Art and Objecthood'. His use is succinct; it implicates the Minimalists' treating of the body (something conceptual) as if it were real. See Fried, Art and Objecthood, p.153. On the sure-fire effects of Minimalism as 'a kind of heightened perceptual experience' see Fried, 'An Introduction to My Art Criticism', Art and Objecthood, op. cit., p.40. The performative, as J. L. Austin, Paul de Man, Shoshana Felman, Judith Butler, Andrzej Warminski and Cathy Caruth tell us, is only action.

  18. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973, p.29.

  19. Cathy Caruth, 'Past Recognition: Narrative Origins in Wordsworth and Freud', Modern Language Notes, vol.100, no.5, December 1985, pp.935-48.

  20. J. Bornstein, How to Ride the Bus, op. cit., p.43.