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Friday, December 22, 2006

Postmodern Paradox and Practice

Paradox and Practice: Architecture in the Wake of Conceptualism, is an exhibition of conceptualist installation art held at the Room Gallery at The University of California, Irvine, supposedly offering a reconsideration of the "notion of 'site,' as it exists between art and architecture." The exhibit’s first but unintended contradiction is to be encountered in its title, which refers to conceptualism in the past tense. We think it proper to infer that conceptualism is a spent force in art - but we’re certain that’s not what the curators of this exhibit had in mind.

According to the postmodernist artspeak of curators Juli Carson and Nana Last, Paradox and Practice supposedly "re-thinks the legacy of Conceptualism vis-à-vis the philosophical operation of paradox." While we find fault with the overall thrust of the entire exhibit, it was the following preposterous hyperbole from the show’s press release that got our attention:

"(…) the curators of Paradox and Practice argue the progressiveness of thinking non-dialectically as an aesthetic and political act."

Understanding that dialectics is the science of arriving at the truth by way of logical argument, the curators and artists in this show have opted to abandon reason in favor of the incoherent and the irrational. That is not an unusual stance for postmodernists to take, but it has nothing to do with any accurate definition of "progressive," especially since Paradox and Practice masquerades as cogent political discourse in opposition to the excesses of the Bush administration. Reading further, the press release states:

"Thinking about paradox and conceptualism is no formal exercise; it is a political imperative. Take, for example, last year’s infamous Torture Memo, drafted by Alberto Gonzalez, in which any paradoxical notion of a 'state of statelessness' was denied. Within such logic, the Geneva Convention could be dismissed as 'irrelevant' to those lacking clear national status.

We’d like to remind the curators of Paradox and Practice that the Bush administration has already declared that so-called "unlawful combatants" do no have any rights under the Geneva Convention. That fact aside, one cannot imagine Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, or anyone in President Bush’s administration, pondering the efficacy of paradox and conceptualism - as these notions simply have no use in practical statecraft. Whatever one may think of the Bush regime, it did not end up in the White House through the exercise of non-dialectical thinking. Despite insistent pleading from the exhibit’s curators, thinking about paradox and conceptualism is not a political imperative; it is however a monumental distraction - and even less valid as a political/cultural response to undemocratic practices in government.

Aesthetic and political acts borne of non-dialectical thinking are castles made of sand, and they are prone to melt away after a brief moment of glory. In terms of contributing anything meaningful towards an understanding of our world, non-dialectical postmodern aesthetics can only offer stupefaction and bewilderment.