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READING POSITION FOR A SECOND DEGREE BURN - 1970 - re-staged in 1993 - updated in 2007

Oppenheim Sunburn Remix -1993Oppenheim Sunburn Remix -1993
I’m looking at the works I did fourteen years ago to understand what I was trying to get at. The works were done as I was beginning to work with the internet. One of the web sites I created was called Faux Conceptual Art. I was thinking about the burgeoning business of counterfeit products such as watches and designer label products coming from China. Since I live a few blocks from Canal Street in New York, I am aware of all the counterfeit products being sold on the street. I thought that the fakes were a very interesting by product of globalism. They also functioned as a linguistic game. The game is about a shift in the idea of creativity. It also extends the 1980’s discussion of appropriation into the 1990’s debate about intellectual property. The shift in creativity is subtle. This also has it’s basis in the famous essay by Walter Benjamin, Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction. What Benjamin says is that art loses its’ “aura” when it is reproduced. The discussion is about the qualities of an artwork. This presupposes that art is about a unique object, a masterwork. The copy supposedly has no “aura.” What conveys uniqueness or the quality of art to an artwork? This becomes a central question for every generation of artists.

In other essays (1), I’ve talked about how in the 1980’s all artistic styles were viable. The Modernist notion of reaching a minimal, scientific, non-superstitious type of art that built on a dialectics of art history had been exhausted. Anything that was recognizable to a buyer of art as an artwork was indeed a work of art. This creates a circumstance where the signifier art object does not have any signified other than the notion that it is recognized as an art object, that can be traded in the art market. In other words what constitutes an artwork is its monetary value. The market dictates what is art. Art is simply another luxury good within a global market.

The products, logos and signature styles are all part of the signifiers of global luxury products. An important part of these products has to do with a recognition of the style and logo. This conveys power and status to the owner. I thought that art should be included in the category of luxury goods.

Recognition is a key sensation embodied within the art process. A viewer sees something that resembles a vase in a painting and recognizes it as a vase. This extends to the art/anti-art dialectic that plays a game of recognition. Creating something that is supposedly not art by an artist expands the definition of art. There is however a different reason to make fake art works especially conceptual art works.
Aside from the rather droll notion of Faux Conceptual Art, there is another reference to photographic reproductions in art magazines, books and catalogs that present and promote art. These mass media reproductions and distributions have unintended side effects. There is a commingling and confusion between the original artwork, the meaning and intention of the artist and the photographic reproduction. Conceptual Art was often done in front of a camera to “document” the event. What this does is create a mediated layer of information between the artist and the public. When the work is reproduced in a magazine it seamlessly fits within the context of a magazine. It also becomes part of the information narrative within that specific context but also in a larger information sphere that both Marshall McLuhan and Regis Debray allude to. This is the point in post modernism where the subjective and objective position has collapsed into one another.

With the Internet and digital reproduction the complications are multiplied. Indeed, it is now apparent that any copyright protection for any type of intellectual property is problematic. This is especially true of art works that refers to other works or use bit and pieces of digital copies. My intention for Faux Conceptual Art was to add more mediated layers to a conceptual artwork. This would be similar to going to a museum and copying an old master painting, however I used photography, photocopy technology, and early Internet site design. I also enlarged the context to include a web site and a set of proposals for a special project room in a museum or a gallery installation.

One of the pieces I had re-staged for the web was the 1970 piece by Dennis Oppenheim titled, “READING POSITION FOR A SECOND DEGREE BURN.”
reading position re-mix 2007reading position re-mix 2007
The accompanying text for the original piece says this:

Stage I and Stage II.
Book, skin, solar energy. Exposure time: 5 hours.
Jones Beach, New York
“The piece incorporates an inversion or reversal of energy expenditure. The body is placed in the position of recipient … an exposed plane, a captive surface. The piece has its roots in a notion of color change. Painters have always artificially instigated color activity. I allow myself to be painted … my skin becomes pigment. I can regulate its intensity through control of the exposure time. Not only do the skin tones change, but change registers on a sensory level as well. I feel the act of becoming red. : (D.O.)”

This particular artwork is rather rich in inference. There is a reference and a challenge to both painting and photography, “(…Painters have always artificially instigated color activity…)” and “(…I can regulate its intensity through control of the exposure time…) More to the point is the idea of performance and documentation. The residual of the performance is the photograph and the text.
The “masterpiece” is the sunburn on Oppenheim’s body that has faded. What is left is a fairly interesting graphics art piece. What constitutes the aura in this artwork? How does one fake or redo such a piece, if the actual art work is a sunburn? If you notice there are two parts to this art work, Stage I and Stage II. Stage one is the book covering Oppenheim’s chest at the beginning of the five hours and stage II is the book removed after five hours.

For my re-staging of the work I created a fictitious book titled, Conceptual Art, to replace the Tactics book used in the original. I escalated and extended the reference to previous art forms that Oppenheim had first presented. He was challenging painting and photography, I was challenging, conceptual art, photography and documentation. I was also proposing a new position and use for art information in the media-sphere. For the sunburn I decided to do the inverse or negative imprint. Under the book on my chest I stained a red square using beet juice (red as a beet). Recently I have escalated the challenge by using Photoshop to enhance the red channel in a selected square over my chest. When I first presented the work on the website, Faux Conceptual Art, people took the Oppenheim re-make on face value. Some even assumed it was done by a well-known conceptual artist. Indeed, I was also receiving email queries asking where one could purchase the book laying across my chest.
My own particular art historical reference for the sunburn piece can be traced way past Oppenheim back to Duchamp’s piece, Apolinére Enameled.

This brings up an interesting characteristic of the media-sphere and the information environment. That is the potential for information to create it’s own reality. Just as a photograph is believed to record and document an event, a web page can be viewed as presenting primary source information. This will become more the case as paper printing becomes secondary to digital imprimature.

Part of my original project done in 1974 was skewing of search engines to point to my work. This is still true in 2007. A Google search of the term, “Joseph Kosuth prices,” puts Faux Conceptual Art as the third ranking item of the search. In 1974, there were no references to conceptual art or Joseph Kosuth, or Dennis Oppenheim. Anyone searching at that time would come across my web site. There are also several images of the Dennis Oppenheim sunburn piece.

This particular project I’m engaged in has a new component added to the original Faux Conceptual Art web site and that is this blog. This is a re-investigation of a series of art works. I am partially inspired by Duchamp’s valise piece titled, La Boite en Valise. I see the Internet as extending the art discourse and adding an area of information plasticity.

Getting back to the original idea Faux Conceptual Art and a signature style, the question I posited is; can one make a fake conceptual art piece given that the work is about an idea. Looking at the Oppenheim piece and many other conceptual art works, a set of instructions is what constitutes the art.

This is, of course the way Sol LeWitt has operated for many years with his wall pieces. For example, LeWitt’s directions for Wall Drawing #146 state: “All two-part combinations of blue arcs from corners and sides and blue straight, not straight, and broken lines. September 1972. Blue crayon: dimensions vary with installation. If you follow this piece using the logic implicit in it the end result is a blue wall. There is a series of limits that actually make a LeWitt work. It has to do with the physical ability of the people executing the piece, the time allotted to create the work and the artist looking over and guiding the process so that it is executed and finished based upon his unique vision.

The executed piece has, much to do with the place and the people doing the work. LeWitt is also a Modernist. He believes in the modernist dialectic. In a separate discussion on Sol LeWitt, Paul Johnson pointed out that LeWitt had done a Wall Drawing at PS1 in Queens that had been covered over by some new walls. It had recently been uncovered much to the consternation of the LeWitt estate that demanded the piece be destroyed. This brings up a really interesting question about authorship and conceptual art. Here we have an actual piece by LeWitt’s workers. Why can’t he simply withdraw authorship? In other words de-authorize the piece? Why does the piece need to be destroyed?

The partial answer to the question is that conceptual art has some signature. It is stylistic even if it is not the traditional notion of brushstroke. This means for instance that I can take pressure sensitive transfer letters and stencil them on a wall to create a fake Lawrence Weiner. If I stencil letters on the wall is it a tribute to Lawrence Weiner, does it dilute his trade mark style, is it a forgery or is it a simulation of a conceptual art work?