Elsewhere in Contemporary Art: Topologies of Artists' Works, Writings, and Archives

By Osthoff, Simone | Art Journal, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Elsewhere in Contemporary Art: Topologies of Artists' Works, Writings, and Archives


Osthoff, Simone, Art Journal


On September 2004, when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro on my way to the 26th São Paulo Bienal, images of Eduardo Kac's GFP Bunny-his transgenic rabbit created in 2000(1)-were strategically placed throughout the city on three types of advertising displays: illuminated advertising signs mounted above digital clocks and thermometers showed the enigmatic, fluorescent-green bunny; panels at bus stops announced Kac's solo exhibition at Laura Marsiaj Arte Contemporânea in Ipanema; and constantly rotating displays in kiosks presented images of cultural events in the city, among them Kac's GFP Bunny and Bebel Gilberto's new CD album cover. A week later, at the São Paulo Bienal, Kac presented a transgenic installation entided Move 36, which along with Paulo Bruscky's apartment/ studio/archive-one of the biennial's eight special rooms-was identified by the media as a "must-see" among the works by 135 artists from 62 countries. Interviews with both artists and images of their installations appeared in the major newspapers and magazines of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo prior to, during, and after the opening of the exhibition.2 I have explored aspects of Kac's and Bruscky's multifaceted works elsewhere, and in this article I focus on the issues raised by Bruscky's archive and by Kac's recent books, as well as the unsettled place of this theoretical and archival material within their own work and in art institutions, including the writing of art history and criticism.3

A classic mathematical joke states that "a topologist is a person who doesn't know the difference between a coffee cup and a doughnut," as both forms belong to the same class of round objects with a hole in them-topologically called a torus-and can theoretically be transformed into one another. The use in art history of such a broad and uncommon term as topology allows one to go beyond the "vanishing point" and the habit of thinking about art in terms of the "projections" of perspective theory. "Points of view come packed with a full kit of ready-made subjects and objects, planes of representation, and radiating 'cones of vision.'"4 Topology allows for linking near and far, up with down, in with out, in a paradoxical continuous space most easily understood by the classic example of the Möbius strip. Furthermore, topology underlines a reader-response theory. In a participatory paradigm, the artwork often unfolds in real time, and the viewer-reader must complete the work's meaning. As the boundaries between art's inside and outside become less clear, meaning and authorship become more collective and distributed. In a participatory paradigm, for instance, completeness is no longer possible, desirable, or taken for granted. The artist's role as theoretician and archivist further disrupts boundaries between art production and its documentation, and therefore the traditional hierarchies between artists, critics, and art historians. Bruscky's and Kac's simultaneous practices of art making, archiving, and writing, as they move through various media, sites, institutions, and fields of knowledge, put into practice topological approaches to art.

Since the beginnings of their careers in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, Bruscky (born 1949) and Kac (born 1962) have often performed outside traditional art institutions and practices, forging complex relations between word and image, concept and medium, performance and documentation. Approaching art and life without regard for national borders or the categorical boundaries of traditional media, they have eschewed traditional venues, opting instead to invent new ones. While both artists were born in Brazil, Bruscky has always been based in that country. Kac, however, spent only the first nine years of his career in Brazil (1980-88) and emerged in the subsequent years with the international art scene and the internet as his natural environments. Like other artists who have engaged art with sites and knowledge from elsewhere in the cultural field, such as Robert Smithson and Hélio Oiticica, Bruscky and Kac have continuously drawn elements from art, technology, science, visual poetry, philosophy, and popular culture, promoting the blurring of distinctions among the artist and the theorist, the curator, the archivist, the historian, and the cultural critic. …

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