Magazine article Artforum International

Terry Atkinson

Magazine article Artforum International

Terry Atkinson

Article excerpt

"'No poetry after Auschwitz and Hiroshima,' Adorno is reputed to have written! Who is he trying to kid? The statement itself is poetic." So writes Terry Atkinson in a short essay justifying his continued interest in historical and political representation and Modernism. But Atkinson's sense of the quote is slightly askew. Theodor Adorno did not mean that poetry could not or should not exist but that poetry could no longer be thought of as a humanizing force. As far as Adorno is concerned, the concept of civilization embodied in the Enlightenment ideal of Reason ended definitively one day in August, 1945.

As bleak as that sounds, this terminus is, nevertheless a beginning for all of us of the post-World War II generation. Atkinson places a decal--at times so miniscule it is barely visible--of Enola Gay against a lurid monochrome and calls these pictures "Mutes" as if to needle us about our expectations of the "voice" of art. The decal leads us to a politico-esthetic decalescence: the acidic monochrome becomes a symbol for the confluence of poetry, the potential humanizing force of esthetic purity, and the most horrific acts of unbridled instrumental Reason.

In Atkinson's conceptualization of Civilization Lost, a profound metaphysical mistrust of Reason is revealed which manifests itself as a critique of the certainty of "grammars." Bracketed by the problematics of painting in the shadow of 1945, Atkinson tackles the possibility of engagement between various communities of language-users: the artist(s) and her multiplicitous audiences. Paradoxically, this is also the point where he diverges from Adorno's well-worn conclusion about art's role in capitalist society, in works that literally careen between material instability and uncertainty.

Some of the artist's most recent works deal with the signature as factura. They are "a kind of history painting," writes Atkinson, "which deals with the history of one kind of modern painting, one genre: the monochrome...." By selecting and transforming the classical genre of heroic history painting, Atkinson is able to make pictures out of the social and political ruin of the "signature" in opposition to Adorno, who implies that "agency" has been vaporized. …

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