Filed under: by: Wesley

Are you folks familiar with those canned audio tours museumgoers can purchase to guide them somnambulistically through art galleries the world over? Well, the Rose Art Museum is currently collaborating with Brandeis' cultural production M.A. program, together with our very own Andreas Teuber, to supplant this recorded humdrummery with cans of mutant, shapeshifting mindworms. Mark Auslander, the director of the cultural production program, has solicited your help. That's right pop-cods, they want to get down and get weird with each of you...philosophically, that is. Will you rise to the occasion? Contact Profs. Auslander and Teuber for more info and strut your culture-learnin' feathers today, you proud young cock-sparrows, you.

To light the fuse, here is my submission to be recorded for Andy Warhol's Saturday Disaster (1964):

Behold before you Andy Warhol’s Saturday Disaster. What do you see? No, scratch that. What don't you see? Indulge me for a moment: take a step back...not from the canvas but from your vision. You know that there's some vision going on and that this gaze reveals something. Some content, a duplicated photograph of an automobile accident perhaps. But what, pray, is the content of this gaze, of the seeing, itself? And on what grounds can you even call it yours? Let us approach Saturday Disaster with an eye towards revealing how we might answer these questions. That is to say, let us approach it as an interrogation of the gaze.

Warhol's work exploits an image of death to expose the death of the image. The death of the gaze. The site of this exposure – disaster ground zero – is one in which all human involvement has been expunged, and before which we stand as so many slack-jawed bystanders. The image could have been culled from the pages of any daily newspaper, a medium condemned in earlier times by Kierkegaard as the public sepulcher of Christianity, a mass grave in which all our meaningful commitments are buried, and a quotidian “reminder that the human race has invented something which will eventually over power it.”

Ask yourself, where have we seen this gruesome scene before? We know we're supposed to be appalled, shocked, horrified by it. But somehow these days we're not. By condensing death into mass-produced images, wresting it violently from its living context, and re-contextualizing it into sensationalist reportage to be cropped and crammed into columns of text betwixt stock market tallies and toothpaste adverts, the press levels the unacceptable, the unconscionable, the unspeakable into depthless, decathected surfaces of spectacular ephemera. Revel in these surfaces. Shuffle them in your hands. Allow them to seduce you. Get high on them. Dance upon them, ecstatically. But beware, twice beware, for you dance upon a grave. A graven image. A craven grimace. A surface impenetrable.

We want to say that we have first-hand experience of works like Saturday Disaster. We want to say we have privileged access to such experiences: an inner theater behind our foreheads in which images are projected before an audience of one. Is this not how we come to know death, as we dream, as we die, alone? But what becomes of this privileged access with first-hand experience outmoded? With all trust in it betrayed? The mass media has come to saturate every unmediated aspect of perception to become the dominant intermediary between us and the real. It has monopolized mimetic representation of the world and of ourselves, such that subject and object alike are made tangible only in the ink-black residues deposited on our hands or in the dull, phantom ache of yesterday’s keystrokes on our fingertips. At the reel of the projection booth in the inner theater there lurks an unbidden stranger.

The more readily we recognize our perception in the images propagated by this usurped apprehension of the world, the less we understand of our perception and of ourselves. We experience the abundance it generates – the ceaseless replication, the overproduction of the image – as an abundance of dispossession (estrangement from the world and from each other). Little wonder that the circulation of information, largely a byproduct of the circulation of commodities, is advertised in the aspect of a bargain bin of cheap, disposable, consumer goods. Such is the dispossession of information conveyed by the senses. The gaze no longer belongs to us, but to someone else who purveys it for a nominal fee. A fee which Hegel once likened to “the life, moving of itself, of that which is dead.”

How might art revitalize the gaze and restore it to the percipient? By introducing a mass-produced image, an over-mediated image, a duplicated dead image (of the dead) into the critical spaces of the gallery, Warhol enjoins us to take a stance towards all automatic, alienated modes of perception, and in particular, towards the ways in which we experience death. Saturday Disaster re-appropriates an image of the dead to raise the image from the dead. To reclaim perception as a work, and death as the constant work of our lives.

In this altered context form no longer overdetermines content. Photography, arrogated by the blind, mechanical forces of the mass media to mortify the living, functions in this piece to vivify the dead on both sides of the canvas. The content of Saturday Disaster thereby re-emerges with renewed immediacy. We are shaken into a brutal awareness of this fatal fusion of man and his technologies. The gore, the corpses strewn about, the primal cries of failing brakes and men. So that the work of this content is to double-expose the fatal fusions - the failing brakes and tortured corpses - within each of us. Where once we saw only a dead image, a surface, a dispossession, we now encounter something living, something profound, something human to which we add in human store. It is thus in Warhol’s vision that we come to discover our own.