Where Art Belongs

Where Art Belongs (Semiotext(e) / Intervention) BY Chris Kraus. Semiotext(e). Paperback, 160 pages. $12.

The cover of Where Art Belongs (Semiotext(e) / Intervention)

In a recent issue of the London Review of Books, Eliot Weinberger used Michel Foucault’s essay “What Is an Author?” to account for George W. Bush’s absence from his own autobiography, a text that enacts Foucault’s idea of “a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.” While the former president’s book exemplifies the dissolution of the author function, Weinberger’s analysis cautioned autobiographers and writers alike. Writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus is searingly aware of the discourse in which she functions, and transforms it into something redolent of Simone Weil’s poeticism and its daunting theoretical undercurrents. Autobiographical elements are evident in Kraus’s fiction, including 1997’s I Love Dick (a brilliant reworking of the epistolary novel), 2000’s Aliens & Anorexia (a transfixing whirligig of suffering, art, and activism), and 2006’s Torpor (on the delinquent entanglement of academia and domesticity in the art world). Proactive knowledge is pivotal to her art writing, as in the 2004 collection Video Greenon the LA art scene born of MFA programs—and in her new collection, Where Art Belongs, which covers international collectives, artists, and writers who use time as a medium that is reliable only for its fleetingness.

The four sections of Where Art Belongs—“No More Utopias,” “Body Not Apart,” “Matrix,” and “Drift”—are connected by Kraus’s exploration of how time is shared. “No More Utopias” opens with a short history of Tiny Creatures, an artist-run gallery in LA’s Echo Park. Kraus’s treatment calls to mind other vital temporary collectives, such as New York’s Orchard Gallery (2005–2008) and the Dadaist enterprises at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire (1916–17). Tiny Creatures developed during the Bush years—“after the arrest of Buffalo artist Steve Kurtz on terrorism charges, but most likely before the preemptive detention of the Muslim doctor in Boca Raton”—and featured known and unknown artists from Ariel Pink to Jason Yates. While the space dissolved due to the financial pressures it abhorred, Tiny Creatures recently had a show at LA’s DIY Gallery.

In the ensuing essays, Kraus discourses on projects that disavow time while exceeding it. She writes of artists who find solace in other temporalities, such as photographer Moyra Davey. “Index Cards,” an essay about Davey’s photos, quotes Nadine Gordimer by way of David Rieff: “You must write as if you’re already dead.” Kraus discusses how art collective Bernadette Corporation’s use of images from the fashion world in their 2009 show, “The Complete Poem,” described the prevalence of branding in all cultural worlds. She charts the release of the Amsterdam-based magazine Suck—The First European Sex Paper, started by luminaries including activist Germaine Greer and model Jean Shrimpton. Launched in 1969 following global political uprisings, Suck offered a response that integrated worker and sexual politics. Kraus details how Suck’s editorial meetings realized the magazine’s mission. During breaks, some staffers engaged in coitus. One former editor, while he enjoyed the labor model, thinks fully staffed orgies might have been more fitting.

The past is complicated in Kraus’s writing, which is peppered with unattributed works that undergird her content. She considers a play staged by Tadeusz Kantor—portraying aged men and women seated in a primary school—to be a “modernist nightmare of constant return and repetition.” Commenting on structuralist filmmaker Hollis Frampton’s view of the rectangular screen as a “mandala of feedback,” she highlights Frampton’s awareness of its potential to become “a navel, a sucking and spitting vortex into which the whole household is drawn.” Kraus too returns, but to a time that conjures its future. The book’s final piece hovers around a friend’s three-day Maori funeral, which launches her once again into thoughts of the utopian project. She writes, “There’s no such thing as a failed utopian community; or, if the collective is an experiment in shared time, how can time fail?” The collective, establishes Kraus, is rather about individuals’ desire to become something else. A transformation we must remain open to, regardless of the time.