A Seth Price Redux
by Claudia La Rocco & James Voorhies

al·go·rithm /ˈalɡəˌriT͟Həm/

noun
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

a procedure or formula for solving a problem, based on conducting a sequence of specified actions.

Seth Price, Untitled Film/Right (2006)


It was a runaway success. Customers were excited and relieved to plunge into the frisson of the old/new, and restaurants all over the city, and then internationally, adopted the formula. Soon came high-end tweakings of meatloaf, mac and cheese, donuts, PB&J sandwiches, chicken wings, and even Twinkies: all cherished comfort foods that no one had previously thought to rework as pricey lifestyle fare. It must have been the times, he mused, because something similar had happened in the movie industry, which overwhelmingly pursued remakes of best-forgotten films, the crappier the better. (1)

Keep Hollywood Close (2)


It is a probable future, the future under consideration. What’s happened is a general decline of the United States of America. (3)

We shall delight in dangerous allegiances. To put it another way; we will solve the traveling salesman problem once and for all. (4)

Meanwhile, the Internet represents a different order of information technology altogether. Its interactive nature distinguishes it from traditional media’s “total flow,” which may well run 24 hours a day, yet may only be switched on or off. Moreover, the Internet is composed of disparate media previously available only in controlled broadcasts, or locked into discrete consumer objects such as videotapes and records. At least theoretically, then, the historical archive of pop culture becomes accessible, and, just as importantly, mutable: this is an opportunity not simply for preservation, but for re-circulation and recombination along new lines.

An archive like this allows for an experience of history that is quite personal. (5)

Pastiche is yet another key feature that I outlined at the Whitney in my analysis of postmodernism. Pastiche involves imitation or, better still, the mimicry of other styles and particularly the mannerisms and stylistic twitches of other styles. It gives us a chance to sense the specificity of the postmodernist experience of time. Postmodernism expresses the inner truth of that newly emergent social order of late capitalism, a new type of social life and economic order⎯what is often euphemistically called modernization, postindustrial or consumer society, the society of the media or the spectacle, or multinational capitalism. It can be dated from the postwar boom in the United States from the late 1940s or early ’50s or, in France, from the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. (6)

After Patrick Delany’s death, Mary would, perhaps as an act of mourning, perhaps as an act of survival, begin the work of her life, collages for which her education, scant in our terms, might have been preparing her since she was a child. (7)

These kind of forms all talk to each other in the same way they kill each other off. They talk to each other. (8)

The new social order has turned into an all-encompassing, completely integrated human relationship with communication and technology. This condition has emerged partially because of the dissolution of an avant-garde vis-à-vis the end of Modernism, precipitating a new kind of relationship with time that privileges constant accessibility to everything, a kind of forever present. Today, who is interested in “making it new,” pushing it forward? Who and what are the avant-garde? And, if they exist, which culture are they pushing forward or reacting against? How does an avant-garde get ahead of a continual present that has no desire to differentiate among cultures? (9)

Capital Cities, Safe and Sound, 2011 (10)


The free speech crowd certainly does know how to speak, and their central success has been publishing articles that reinforce the idea that antifa scares away allies and emboldens the right. These pundits clearly do speak for a segment of the population, and it's possible that black bloc outfits and videos of street fighting⎯touted incessantly by right-wing media⎯are turning them away from the antifascist cause. The more alienated these observers feel, the more correct they consider themselves in condemning antifa. But antifa isn't trying to earn the support of 51 percent of any electorate. Our main concern is winning, and we don't need nearly that many people to do it. (11)

(12)

It isn’t a question of what’s more or less compelling about Seth Price’s work. It’s this nagging question: what is the ultimate object of Seth Price’s work? (13)

There are no results found for Seth Price and antifa. (14)

Our interest in technology has eclipsed our interest in humanity. The characters’ roles seem to slip and destabilize. These kind of forms all talk to each other. These mindless glitches. How the glitches are maybe a place, you sense. This coming from a more marginalized space is more compelling. These things you’d never be able to show. The thing about Seth Price...he’s constantly asserting his autonomy. He’s a construct. He’s like a data assemblage. He’s a collection of everything that made him, but he can’t get beyond it. He’s relieved when he’s erased. Whatever the artist does will be eclipsed by the technology of the form. The construct becomes a prison. Is that the authentic self or is the authentic self who they were in the beginning? (15)

(16)

Nothing on this page can possibly help you. (17)

But what is the problem? Is the question one of transmission or reception? When we arrive at the continual present, it has already left. (18)

His successor, President Trump, is now taking the first step toward restoring sanity to the rule of law as it applies to the Constitution and immigration.
By rescinding the Obama-created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program that gave a deportation reprieve to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Trump is returning legislative authority to the legislature. He is reinstating the separation of powers that are fundamental to our democracy. (19)

It is a probable future, the future under consideration. What’s happened is a general decline of the United States of America. Expanding to fill the political space is the looming specter of a New Europe, the European Union, one nation under an odd blend of Info-capitalism and creaking socialism, a shadow stretching across the globe. And behind this cloak of might lurks the endless ocean of China, which, with the help of the Europeans, has leapt from its twentieth century grind of industrializing poverty straight into the 21st century’s digital economy, of course at the expense of millions, just as she had done with her Great Wall, centuries before. China, the rough but sturdy lad, a bit dumb but ravenous and determined, joins hands with the aging but vicious grand dame, she who has seen the bloom of her beauty turn into a decrepit travesty… It is a dangerous allegiance.

But this is not the only fateful pairing. The United States sees the military/industrial complex grow to encompass the entertainment industry. To the accompaniment of crushing heavy metal and orgiastic holographic display, fans will see what they can comfortably assume are staged deaths, but which they know on some level might be the real executions of political prisoners. For America in those dark days was a malignantly tolerant nation⎯the secular humanist state pushed to the nth degree⎯a Godless country where every belief was encouraged except the narrow notion that there is a God, one God, and his son Jesus Christ. Christian prayer was not allowed, while the children of Druids, Afrocentrists, Queer Nation, and others were allowed to practice their bizarre rituals in the name of diversity. All copyright will be outlawed then, because information is clearly a free entity⎯as endorsed by the cities of virtual people, descendants of our modern-day hackers, who have coded their minds into strips of magnetic binary data and passed on, in a mockery of the Rapture⎯their first computer transcendent called Enoch thereafter. A realm of bodiless beliefless people, a true socialist society, invisible and omnipresent. (20)

American culture, he mused, rested on a kind of fundamental folklore, which had something to do with infinite mutability and the interchangeability of all things. This manifested in some obvious ways that supported the ideological framework of a free-market democracy, e.g., that a “virgin” territory could be hewn and shaped into a mighty nation through work and discipline; that the citizens of that nation were equal, none better than any other; and that a poor man here might transform himself into a wealthy man. It was apparent also in less obvious ways, for instance in a comic strip about a man who became a spider, which itself became a TV show, and thence a movie, from which someone made a play and a musical, plus lunch boxes, dolls, and video games; or the fact that Joe Schmoe could become a pop star, and then an actor, and then an entrepreneur with a line of clothes, perfume, or furniture. But surely art was different? (21)

(22)

When you start out as a young American, he thought, it’s all about open doors. (23)

Disclosure: my firm represents interests in the fossil fuel industry. (24)

Choose an image, or any digital file. Make it material by forcing it to inhabit a genre that it can adapt to, but make it one that is still somewhat foreign and will require some disfiguration. Give it the look and feel of a luxury good, a CD, a calendar, or a line of clothing. Each comes with (and demands) its own set of existing materialities, economies, rituals, distribution networks, and built-in styles—and each offers different meanings and opportunities for use and misuse. (25)

To Work Levi’s Go Forth for Braddock, PA, 2012


“Maybe the world breaks on purpose so we can have work to do.” (26)

How⎯does critical art compete? (27)

We wanted to start with an expert, he tells us. Tools are always late, she tells us. We wait for them to appear. And yet users are always playing catch up. I look up at the white rafters. They’re so beautiful. The expert keeps giggling strangely, as if titillated by the pedestrian art. There is a total recognition that human suffering persists regardless, she tells us. No shit, Sherlock. The readymade itself begins to incorporate its own obsolescence, she tells us. Bomber jackets. Breasts and fists. A great deal of user obsolescence. The expert is reduced to bad poetry. (28)

Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue (2011)
(29)

Braddock, Pennsylvania, was once a thriving steel town before the town’s industry collapsed. It’s where LaToya Ruby Frazier grew up, like her mother and grandmother before her, and it’s where the visual artist and 2015 MacArthur fellow has returned to document the change her community has endured. (30)

(31)

What does this juxtaposition mean today at a time when the Internet, Facebook and Instagram deliver surprising and incongruent overlaps, ranging from pictures of cats and babies to police riots, Earthquakes in Mexico, floods in Houston, and fires in Oregon, all set against a scrolling backdrop of photographs of friends in Minorca, birthday parties at the Four Seasons, and Ivy League graduations. Has society become increasingly numb to the appearance of politically-engaged art because of the prevalence of these kinds of amalgams in visual culture? Whereas consumers once purchased material goods⎯desired so badly through those storefront windows⎯in order to create an identity, now they operate by way of another kind of window⎯the screen⎯using social media and the Internet to project their identity digitally into the public sphere. The photographic image today is a circulating, marketable commodity where individuals (that’s us) are both producers and consumers, all in service to these corporations. We are working for Instagram and Facebook with eventual devastating consequences to the fabric of our society. We should take urgent note of that.

So, where is the critique when our knowledge and experience of the vast intersections of commodity, media, and politics are too sophisticated to easily generate a pause in the conflations of images of mass consumerism and antiwar protests? (32)

I guess we haven’t gotten to the central question we argued about. (33)

If the “digital” has led to a crisis of meaning⎯where all can be packaged, mediated, filtered, and altered at any time⎯the question, moving forward, is how can art survive it? (34)

Annie Dorsen now makes “algorithmic theater.” In her latest piece we sit inside a rubber pop-up planetarium inside a theater in Midtown, staring up at fake stars, a fake universe that is part of the “real” universe. A woman reads to us, words gleaned from Reddit and 4chan and other horrifying, predictable corners of the internet. Cocks and bots and abused dogs and the end of the world. Such an old game. Why build your own archive when you can mine someone else’s? (35)

I begin to wonder if it’s not just the modernist paradigm kicking in, that a metadiscourse is always more satisfying: painting about painting, photographs about photography, and writing about writing. I can always be engaged by discipline⎯or medium-specific metaproductions. [...] So much of what we see in galleries is responding to the imperative to overproduce, overenlarge, overconsume, and, for artists with ascending and funded careers, this trajectory can seem all but unavoidable. As Roberta Smith points out, the primary meaning of these works is often: “I made this because I can.” [...] A simple appreciation of materials becomes taboo. (36)

Answers pop up if you are always carrying on a sub-rosa search for them. (37)

Emotional core … please! What Seth Price does really well is he skews perception. The strategies here, they’re so constrained, they’re so airless.

Is it a useful despair?

What was your great hypothesis, that was devastatingly formed?

I have a lot of them.

We got into a lot of questions that we didn’t resolve.

We’re literally using a magic wand in an algorithm. It makes no sense.

It makes a lot of sense.

The clumsy limitations of the tool. (38)

Interpretation does not so much discover meaning as release it, and loose it upon the world so as to liberate it [...] His dispersal comes to seem cunning, vain, frantic, sometimes dilettantish, sometimes animated by an aspiration to cultural power⎯a dazzling distraction from the possibility that there may have been nothing lasting at the core. (39)

[That’s] a question to which no artwork has an answer, to which every artwork is susceptible, which is, so what? There is no answer. You ask it of yourself, as an artist, and there’s only silence. It’s not a nihilistic question, or pointless skepticism, because the silence produced is actually useful. This silence records an echo: the artist has made a noise and prepared some kind of recording device to capture the echo that comes back. Your utterance now has a shadow that cannot be cast off. This shadow is the work. (40)

Cassini vanishes into Saturn, its mission celebrated and mourned. (41)

.+*

Claudia La Rocco is the author of the selected writings The Best Most Useless Dress (Badlands Unlimited) and the novel petit cadeau (The Chocolate Factory Theater). July, the debut album from animals & giraffes, her duo with musician/composer Phillip Greenlief, was released by Edgetone Records in 2017. She is editor in chief of SFMOMA’s interdisciplinary arts and culture platform Open Space.

James Voorhies is a curator and art historian of modern and contemporary art. He is Dean of Fine Arts, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, and Acting Chair of the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. His book Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968 was published by MIT Press in 2017.


Notes:
(1) ^ Seth Price, Fuck Seth Price (New York: The Leopard Press, 2015), 9.

(2) ^ Seth Price, “Keep Hollywood Close,” September 7, 2010, video and music track, 2:28, recorded in 2001 on Army Jacket, MP3 audio,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5NtXmXasoc&t=3s.

(3) ^ Seth Price, “Probable Future,” 2001, adapted into a spoken-word track, featured on the LP Constructive Engagement (Free 103.9), http://www.sethpricestudio.com/writingarchive/ProbableFuture.pdf.

(4) ^ CLR

(5) ^ Seth Price, “The Museum of Modern Art Video Viewpoints,” May 4, 2001, http://sethpricestudio.com/writingarchive/IndustrialSynthesis.pdf.

(6) ^ Frederic Jameson. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (New York: New Press, 1998), 129.

(7) ^ Molly Peacock, “Passion Flowers in Winter,” in The Best American Essays 2007, ed. David Foster Wallace (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), 181.

(8) ^ CLR, notes from meeting of Seth Price group at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, September 11, 2017.

(9) ^ James Voorhies, a forever kind of present (San Francisco: Bureau for Open Culture, 2012), 15.

(10) ^ Capital Cities, “Safe and Sound,” track 1 on In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, Capital Records, 2013, music video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWZr2F0qohA.

(11) ^ Malcolm Harris, “Why the Media Refuses to Understand Antifa,” Pacific Standard, August 31, 2017, https://psmag.com/social-justice/understanding-antifa.

(12) ^ Internet screenshot of event details for The Auratic Film: Artists’ and Curators’ Workshop, Date Accessed, https://www.facebook.com/events/809609065783510/.

(13) ^ CLR, notes from meeting of Seth Price group, 2017.

(14) ^ CLR.

(15) ^ CLR, notes from meeting of Seth Price group, 2017.

(16) ^ Internet screenshot of MoMA’s description of Seth Price’s Essay with Knots, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/143367.

(17) ^ Seth Price, How to Disappear in America (The Leopard Press, 2008), 14.

(18) ^ CLR.

(19) ^ “Gregg Jarrett: Trump, in DACA decision, restores constitutional sanity to immigration laws,” FOX News Network, September 5, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/09/05/gregg-jarrett-trump-in-daca-decision-restores-constitutional-sanity-to-immigration-laws.html.

(20) ^ Seth Price, “Probable Future,” 2001.

(21) ^ Fuck Seth Price, 2015, 26-27

(22) ^ Internet screenshot of Yashar Ali (@yashar) and Jason O. Gilbert (gilbertjasono) tweets, CLR’s Twitter feed.

(23) ^ SP, remixed by CLR.

(24) ^ The Washington Post, via CLR’s Twitter feed; wasn’t fact checked.

(25) ^ Anthony Huberman, “Introduction,” The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2017, http://www.wattis.org/view?id=490.

(26) ^ “‘To Work’ Levi’s Go Forth for Braddock, PA,” 2012, uploaded by Tyler Whisnand https://vimeo.com/40491476.

(27) ^ James Voorhies, “You Just Have to Experience It,” (lecture, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, September 18, 2017).

(28) ^ CLR, notes during Michelle Kuo lecture at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, September 16, 2017.

(29) ^ LaToya Ruby Frazier, Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue, 2011, gelatin silver print, © LaToya Ruby Frazier.

(30) ^ “MacArthur fellow LaToya Ruby Frazier captures the town that survived,” interviewed by Jeffrey Brown, PBS NewsHour, January 5, 2016, audio and video, 6:38, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/macarthur-fellow-latoya-ruby-frazier-captures-the-town-that-survived/.

(31) ^ Adrian Piper, It’s Just Art, 1980, image of video still taken by CLR in the Lévy Gorvy gallery, NYC.

(32) ^ James Voorhies, “You Just Have to Experience It,” 2017.

(33) ^ CLR, notes from meeting of Seth Price group, 2017.

(34) ^ Anthony Huberman, “Introduction,” 2017.

(35) ^ CLR.

(36) ^ Moyra Davey, Long Life Cool White: Photographs & Essays by Moyra Davey (Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press, 2008), 89–97.

(37) ^ Molly Peacock, “Passion Flowers in Winter,” 2007.

(38) ^ CLR notes from meeting of Seth Price group, 2017.

(39) ^ Leon Wieseltier, preface to Walter Benjamin’s Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, edited by Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1978/2007), ix.

(40) ^ Seth Price, “Redistribution,” video transcript in Price, Seth (JRP/Ringier Kuntsverlag AG, 2010), 101.

(41) ^ Headline from Kenneth Chang’s article in The New York Times, September 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/science/cassini-grand-finale-saturn.html.

The Rules

  • Permitted to excerpt parts of texts by Seth Price.
  • Permitted to excerpt language and other media from variety of sources.
  • Permitted to insert culled media and text into working Google Doc.
  • Permitted to add original language to bridge culled texts and media.
  • Permitted to recycle and/or manipulate each other’s texts, and our own.
  • Distribute the reading Visualizing Algorithms by Mike Bostock to group October 6, 2017.
  • At start of meeting on October 16, 2017, distribute a PDF script for “A Seth Price Redux” to the group, and have each part read aloud by individual group members.